Early Ottoman Army

Medieval Armies DBA Page

Early Ottoman -- DBA 160a

By David Kuijt

Note: all images are thumbnails, and are clickable to see the larger original.

Army #160a (Early Ottoman) covers the rise of the Ottomans from a minor hill emirate to a nation on the rise, poised to unite the fractious Anatolian Turks and spread Islam to the Balkans.

The changeover from Early Ottoman to Later Ottoman comes when the army is restructured around 1362 by the establishment of feudal levies (timariots) in the newly-conquered Balkans, and the foundation of the Qapukulu and Janissary corps, initially from captured soldiers.

Composition of DBA Army 160a Early Ottoman (1281 AD - 1362 AD)

The DBA options:


Foes listed for the Early Ottoman are the Later Serbian (#142b), Later Bulgar (#147), Late Byzantine (#153), Mamluk Egyptian (#158), Knights of Saint John on Cyprus (#162a), Knights of Saint John on Rhodes (#162b), Catalan Company (#165), and Later Hungarian (#166).

Sadly, most of the above are clearly in error; they are largely enemies of the Later Ottomans. The Ottomans first crossed to Europe in 1348; they only established a foothold when they took Gallipoli in 1354. By the end of this list (and the beginning of the Later Ottoman list) in 1361 they were still entirely surrounded by Byzantium in the West, and entirely surrounded by other Anatolian Turkish Emirates to the South and East. Before the end of this list in 1362, the Early Ottomans had no border or conflict with the Serbians (#142b), Later Bulgars (#147), Mamluk Egyptians (#158), Knights of Saint John on Cyprus (#162a), or Later Hungarian (#166).

The major issue regarding historical matchups is what to do about the other Anatolian Turkish Emirates. The Ottomans were originally a small Turkish Emirate bordering Byzantium. These Emirates held power in the wake of total collapse of the Seljuqs after their defeat by the Ilkhan Mongols. The Ottomans were only one of many such Emirates.

I see two possibilities. Either the Authors intended the Early Ottoman DBA list to represent the other Anatolian Turkish Emirates as well, or there is no DBA list to represent them. If the Early Ottoman list is considered to represent all Anatolian Turkish Emirates, then the DBA Enemies of the Early Ottoman/Anatolian Turkish list (#160a) should be the following:

If, on the other hand, the Authors intended that the Early Ottoman list represent only the growing Ottoman state, then there is no DBA army listed that represents the other Anatolian Turkish Emirates. I suggest using the #159 Ilkhanid army as a fair approximation of what a DBA Anatolian Turkish army would look like (translated from DBM Book IV, army #49). The Ilkhanids defeated the Seljuq Turks and held (largely theoretical) dominion over all Anatolia, although their actual influence was more that of a bordering kingdom rather than an overlord. If this interpretation is chosen, the enemies list for the Early Ottomans should be as follows:

For the most accurate representation, I've created a variant army page on the Anatolian Turkoman army for DBA, army number 160c. If you use this variant, the Enemies list of the Early Ottoman army (#160a) should be as follows:

If you are using my variant army list for Byzantine armies after 1204, the Early Ottoman are only enemies of #153d, Palaiologan Byzantine.

Ottoman Infantry Note that #169 Italian Condotta is included as a possible enemy. The Genoese conquered the isle of Lesbos, right off the coast of the Ottomans, in 1354. Venetian-led naval crusading leagues fought with the Anatolian Turkish emirates of Aydin and captured the port of Smyrna in 1344. The Genoese conquered Chios and Phocaea in 1346, and the isle of Lesbos in 1354. If DBA army list 160a is considered to include the Turkish Emirates of Aydin, Karasi, Saruhan, and Mentese, then the Italian Condotta army list is an historical enemy. If the coastal Emirates are not represented by the Early Ottoman army then #169 is still a reasonable enemy -- Lesbos was right off the coast of the Ottoman-controlled territory while occupied by the Genoese, and naval victories were won by Italian-controlled forces over the Turks in 1334 and 1359.

The armies used by the Genoese and Venetians fighting in Greece were significantly different from those used on the Italian Peninsula. I've written a page elaborating details on variant armies for Italian Armies in the Eastern Mediterranean based upon the DBM lists in Army Book IV. If you have warfare between the Early Ottomans and any Genoese armies you should use the variant list, as the normal army #169 list has far too many armoured Elmeti (knights) for historical accuracy.

The Catalan Company were a large mercenary company hired by Byzantium to fight the Turks. They fought their way from the isolated Byzantine city of Philadelphia across the Turkish Emirates of Aydin, Saruhan, and Karasi in 1304. #165 Catalan Company is an appropriate enemy for the coastal Anatolian Turkish emirates, but in 1304 the Ottomans were still entirely inland. Contact and possible conflict with the Catalan Company would not have occurred until much later (under the Later Ottoman army list), in Greece.

The primary enemy of the Ottomans throughout this period was #153 Later Byzantines (1204 AD - 1460 AD). I've written a page elaborating details of the different Byzantine armies after 1204, based upon the DBM lists for these armies in DBM Army Book IV. The army list variants described are:

If you are using these army variants, then the Early Ottoman are only historical enemies for army #153d, Palaiologan Byzantine.

Sipahi with lance Army Notes

Cavalry represent feudal Sipahis, mounted feudal warriors who served in return for a small fief (Timariot). They had fair armour; at least a helmet, often mail. They fought mostly with bow and hand weapons; lances were rare until later (Late Ottoman). These would have been supplemented by mercenaries, some of whom were even Byzantine. The Cavalry formed the hard-hitting core of the Early Ottoman army.

Ghazis Light Horse are unarmoured Turkoman horse bowmen. Initially these would have been Ghazis, fanatics fighting for the religious glory of attacking the infidel, paid only with loot. By the end of the time period covered by this list they were replaced by (or renamed as) Akinjis (raiders) serving in return for a tax exemption and loot. In either case their equipment and appearance would be the same.

Azabs Psiloi were called Azabs (bachelors). They were infantry recruited from, and supported by, their home villages. They would be unarmoured and lightly equipped. One element might be equipped with slings, another might be equipped with round shield and javelin, but the balance would have a simple bow and little else.

Auxilia represent poor spearmen, probably from one of the larger towns like Bursa.

Notes on Tactics

The Early Ottomans are an army of speed and finesse, not pure hitting power. Nine of their twelve elements are light troops; they have no heavy foot at all.

What they do have is mobility and control of bad going. This is an excellent army for commanders who have mastered the use of Light Horse. The three parts of this army must be coordinated: the psiloi to occupy bad going, interdict movement, harrass enemy bowmen and slow heavy foot; the light horse to harrass and irritate in the open, threatening flanks and keeping the enemy turtled-up, and the cavalry as the striking arm, to hit the vulnerable part of the enemy army at the chosen time.

Ottoman Command Against most enemies the Early Ottomans will have tremendous flanking potential. The answer to light-horse flanking is often to base flanks on rough terrain; the answer to enemy psiloi advantage is usually to avoid rough terrain. Neither choice works against the Early Ottoman, as they have both. An Ottoman commander must attack enemy flanks both ways, and avoid the temptation to line up and duke it out. In a straight-up fight against a well-ordered enemy, the Ottomans will usually be outgunned and lose.

The primary focus of the Early Ottomans was the Byzantine Empire (#153 Later Byzantines). The Byzantine army in this period was a combined-arms force with a large contingent of mercenary light horse (Alans or Turks), nearly matching the Early Ottomans in both Psiloi and Light Horse.

Here are some articles on tactics in DBA that might be helpful to an Ottoman commander:

Notes about Figures and Pictures

All mounted figures are by Essex. The azabs are split between Essex and Grumpy's.

February 27, 1999. Added two images of Ottoman foot bow.

Page created: February 2, 1999.

The author may be contacted at kuijt@umiacs.umd.edu Please do not use any pictures or text from this page without permission.