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A Subterranean History: Paul Wittek (1894-1978) and the Early Ottoman State

Author(s): Colin Heywood


Source: Die Welt des Islams, New Series, Vol. 38, Issue 3, The Early Twentieth Century and Its
Impact on Oriental and Turkish Studies (Nov., 1998), pp. 386-405
Published by: BRILL
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A SUBTERRANEAN HISTORY: PAUL Wll'fEK (1894-1978)


AND THE EARLY OTTOMAN STATE
BY

COLIN HEYWOOD
London

"... there is a subterranean history of scholarship awaiting exposure".


I (2nd edn., London, 1992), 456.
DavidAbulafia,Frederick
"... my work covers only ... Ottoman studies and ... I am rather a historian than a linguist".
Paul Wittekl
1.
In the extensive literature which has appeared in recent years on
the work of refugee or self-exiled German-speaking historians during the Emigration2, little attention appears to have been paid to
those who concerned themselves with what may be termed, in the
broadest sense, oriental history. This is equally the case for German-speaking historians born within the boundaries of the Dual
Monarchy, as for that greater number who were by origin subjects
of the German Empire and its post-war successors. Thus, for example, Catherine Epstein's recently published and otherwise admirable prosopographic study of German-speaking refugee historians in
the United States3 makes no mention of the Vienna-born Islamicist
and medieval historian Gustave E. von Grunebaum, who had a
1 Wittek to Professor
Ralph Turner, Brussels, 6 March 1948. Autograph Letter. SOAS.
2 Hartmut Lehmann and
James Sheehan (ed.), An interrupted past: German-speaking historians in the United States after 1933 (Washington, D.C.:
German Historical Institute, and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991);
Catherine Epstein, A past renewed: a catalog of German-speaking refugee
historians in the United States after 1933 (Washington, D.C. and Cambridge,
1993); Ritchie Robinson and Edward Timms, Austrian exodus: the creative
achievements of refugees from National Socialism (Edinburgh:
Edinburgh
University Press, 1995 [= Austrian Studies, vi]).
3 Epstein, op. cit.
? Koninklijke Brill BV, Leiden, 1998

Die Welt des Islams 38, 3

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A SUBTERRANEAN HISTORY

387

long and distinguished career at the University of Chicago and, latterly, at the University of California, Los Angeles until his death in
1972.4 Equally overlooked has been the noted Sinologist Wolfram
Eberhard (1909-1989), who has some claim at least to be recognised as a historian as much as a social anthropologist. Eberhard,
like many Austrian and German refugees from Nazism, first found
refuge in Turkey, teaching at the University of Ankara before migrating to the United States in the postwar years.5 A number of his
most important publications on the history of early medieval China
were thus written in Turkish, which has perhaps contributed to the
undeserved oblivion to which his work has been largely but not entirely consigned.
Eberhard apart, the Turkish connection in German-speaking
refugee historical scholarship has been little explored outside of
the specialist literature. The present paper represents an attempt
to open up for discussion by an audience wider than that of professional Ottoman historians the career and writings of Paul Wittek,
one of the most significant but overlooked Austrian historians of
the Diaspora, who ended his professional career, from 1949 to his
retirement in 1961, as the first holder of the Chair of Turkish in
the University of London. Wittek was born in the outer Viennese
suburb of Baden bei Wien in 1894; he died in the outer London
suburb of Eastcote in 1978. His life spanned and in its external
course was moulded by the tragedies of his time, for he belonged
to that lost Austrian generation concerning which his friend the
writer Herbert Cysarz remarked that "it was not [political] systems,
states and armies that lost wars, but particularly age-groups, those
of the 1890s who went straight from the school bench or the university to the battlefield and who, if they returned, were anaesthe-

4 On G.E. von Grunebaum see, in particular, notices by A. Abel (Correspondence d'Orient: Etudes xvii-xviii (1970 [sic]), 3-5; C. Cahen (JESHO xv (1972), 1-2;
F. Gabrieli (J. Oriental Inst. Baroda xxi (1972), 87-88; F. Rosenthal, IJMES iv
(1973), 355-8, together with longer studies by G.C. Anawati, "Dialogue with
Gustave E. von Grunebaum", IJMES vii (1976), 123-8; Amin Banani, ,G.E. von
Grunebaum: towards relating Islamic studies to universal history", IJMES vi
(1975), 140-7), and Abdallah Laroui, 'For a methodology of Islamic studies. Islam as seen by G.E. von Grunebaum', Diogenes lxxxiii (1973), 12-39.
5 H. Widmann, Exil und
Bildungshilfe. Die deutschsprachigeakademischeEmigration in die Turkei nach 1933, (Bern 1973), 259-260.

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388

COLIN HEYWOOD

tised in their achievements through endlessly renewed conflict".6


Wittek's was a life for which we recognise the parallels in, for examthe life in exile-of his exact contemporary
ple, the novels-and
Roth:
an
upbringing in the evening glow of the Habsburg
Joseph
monarchy; university study in Vienna interrupted by the fateful
summer of 1914; service in the KLu.K.Armee; a postwar return to a
ruined and inflation-ridden Vienna and the post-Habsburg rump
of ,,Deutsch-Osterreich"; a career as a journalist and editor; and
the, from the mid-twenties, difficult years of reiterated exile, but
followed neither (as in the case of Roth) by despair and premature
death, nor (as with Cyszarz) by readjustment to the changed political realities of the time; finally, half a lifetime of residence and the
gaining of high academic office in England.7
Wittek's case, therefore, was somewhat different; in fact, like the
man himself, it was unique. Wounded on the Russian front in
Galicia in the early months of the war, and subsequently hospitalized in Vienna, Wittek later served on the Isonzo; finally, from
1917, he spent the remainder of the war on secondment in Turkey,
serving in Istanbul and later in Syria. In Turkey he aquired a mastery of Ottoman Turkish and was taken under the patronage of the
German consul in Istanbul, the scholar-diplomat Johann Heinrich
Mordtmann (1852-1932). Wittek was also taken up by certain Istanbul-based members of the George-Kreis, a connection and a devotion to which was to play a leading role in his development as a
historian.8 Having taken his doctorate (in classical studies) at the
University of Vienna in 1921, Wittek rapidly established himself as
6 Herbert
Cysarz, Zehn Jahre Prag, p. 77 (repr. in Prag, Wien: Karolinger,
1989).
7 For a vivid evocation of Wittek's
years as Professor of Turkish in London
see the unsigned notice in The Times, 16June 1978 [by V.L. Menage] and the supplementary notice, ibid., 24 June 1978 (by C.J.F. D[owsett]), and the appreciation by V.L. Menage, InternationalJournal of Middle Eastern Studies, xii (1980), 373.
Cf. further, Colin Heywood, 'Wittek and the Austrian tradition', Journal of the
Royal Asiatic Society, 1988, i, 7-25; ibid., "'Boundless dreams of the Levant": Paul
Wittek, the George-Kreis, and the writing of Ottoman history', ibid., 1989, i, 3250; ibid., 'Between historical myth and "mythohistory": the limits of Ottoman history", Byzantine and Modern GreekStudies, xii (1988), 339-40.
8 Further details in
Heywood, '"Boundless dreams'", 35-9; 40, ff. Cf. also, on
Wittek's links with the George-Kreis, the unsigned notice (by C.V. Bock) in
Castrum Peregrini, 28. Jg., 138. Heft (Amsterdam, 1979), 112-3, and the appreciation byJ. Wansbrough, BSOAS xlii (1979), 137-9.

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A SUBTERRANEAN HISTORY

389

a leading figure in the newly-founded academic discipline of Ottoman historical studies both as joint editor (with his teacher Friedrich von Kraelitz-Greifenhorst) and as a leading contributor to the
first scholarly journal of Ottoman history published outside of
Turkey, the Vienna-based Mitteilungen zur osmanischen Geschichte
(1921-26). Financially, he supported himself by journalism, most
of which was published in the conservative, Grossdeutsch-leaning
OsterreichischeRundschau, which he edited from 1922 until it
ceased publication in 1924. Thereafter followed some years of
uncertainty, until (in 1929) Wittek took up a post at the German
Archaeological Institute in Istanbul. On the Nazi seizure of power
in 1933 he quickly renounced a position which rendered him a
civil servant in the employ of the German state, and found refuge
(1934) in Belgium. He settled in Brussels, establishing a connection with the Universit6 Libre at Brussels and with its eminent
Byzantinist, Henri Gregoire. In 1940, with Belgium invaded, Wittek
escaped via Dunkirk to Britain, where he was to spend most of the
remainder of his life. In 1948 he was appointed to the newlycreated Chair of Turkish in the University of London, a post which
he held until his retirement, at the age of 67, in 1961.9
Wittek's scholarly output was small, but in terms of the field,
highly significant. A single monograph and a short series of lectures, products both of the 1930s, were the only works to appear
between their own covers in his lifetime. He also wrote few reviews;
the greatest part of his oeuvre, written in German, French or English according to its period, appeared for the main part in scholarly
journals devoted to oriental, Middle Eastern or Islamic studies. His
work is best remembered for two rather disparate qualities, which
were displayed (often to their mutual exclusion) in his various academic publications. On the one side stands a compact oeuvre of
closely argued and strictly text-based studies in the field of early Ottoman history. In this work Wittek displayed both an astonishing
precocity and a remarkable sense of continuity. Both his earliest
9 On Wittek's pre-war career in Turkey Belgium and his post-war activities in
London see Heywood, "Wittek and the Austrian tradition", 8-11, together with
the notices by Klaus Kreiser (in Istanbuler Mitteilungen xxix (1979), 5-6); [V.L.
Menage] (in The Times [London], 16 June 1978), and CJ.F. Dowsett (ibid., 24
June 1978). Cf. also K. Bittel, F.W. Deichmann, W. Grfinhagen et al., Beitrige zur
Geschichtedes Deutschen ArchaologischenInstituts 1929 bis 1979, i (Mainz, 1979), 65,
ff.

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390

COLIN HEYWOOD

published work-critical studies on the textual recensions of the


fifteenth-century Ottoman chronicler 'Ashlkpashazade, published
when he was still in his twenties-and his last, magistral series of
exegetic studies of early Ottoman documents, published after his
retirement and left uncompleted, display meticulous text-critical
and forensic skills of the highest order.10 On the other side there
exists an even smaller group of articles, publishing the reworked
texts of public lectures or conference papers delivered during a
few years in the mid to late 1930s in various academic centreswestern Europe. The published verParis, London, Leiden-in
sions of these lectures offer a remarkably prescriptive, often dogmatic, intuitive and assertive view of the early (and, by extension
and inference, the entire) history of the Ottoman state as an epistemological whole."1
The question may thus be asked: does Wittek's work fall within
the province of Ottoman studies, or that of history? Was Wittek an
orientalist who dabbled in history, or a historian equipped with the
oriental languages necessary to his subject? These are not unimportant questions, and Wittek himself was not in doubt as to their answer. As he wrote in March 1948, when the establishment in London of a Chair in Turkish, and Wittek's candidacy for the post,
were under active consideration by the authorities of the University, "I hope that the Advisory Council will be satisfied that my work
covers only the Ottoman studies and that I am rather a historian
10 P. Wittek, "Zum
Quellenproblem der altesten osmanischen Chroniken"
(mit Auszfigen aus Nesri)", Mitteilungen zur Osmanischen Geschichte, 77-150; 247;
Urkunden" I, WZKM, liii (1957), 300-13; II, ibid.,
,,Zu einigen frihosmanischen
liv (1957), 240-55; III, ibid., lv (1959), 122-41; IV, ibid., lvi (1960), 267-84; V,
ibid., lvii (1961), 102-17; VI, ibid., lviii (1962), 165-97; VII, ibid., lix/lx (1963-4;
published 1965), 21-23. The series was reprinted (with marginal cross-references,
additional continuous pagination [1-141] and Index [142-5] by V.L. Menage) in
Paul Wittek, La formation de l'empire ottoman (ed. V.L. Menage), London: Variorum Reprints, 1982, ?VII.
11 Wittek's
principal works in this genre are the following: (i) "Die Glaubenskampfer im Osmanenstaat", Oostersch Genootschap in Nederland, Verslag van
het achtste Congres (Leiden, 1936), 2-7; (ii) "Deux chapitres de l'histoire des Turcs
de Roum. (I. Les traits essentiels de la periode seldjoucide en Asie Mineure". 2.
Les Ghazis dans l'histoire ottomane.), Byzantion, xi (1936), 285-319; (iii) ,De la
defaite d'Ankara a la prise de Constantinople". Revue des Etudes Islamiques, 1938,
1-34; (iv) "Le Sultan de Rfim", Annuaire de l'Institut de Philologie et d'Histoire
Orientales et Slaves, v (Melanges Emile Boisacq, ii), 1938, 361-90; (v) The Rise of the
Ottoman Empire (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1938).

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A SUBTERRANEAN HISTORY

391

than a linguist".12 It is to Wittek as a historian, therefore, that the


present paper relates.
II.

How was Wittek trained as a historian? A certain weight may be


placed on his later recorded observation that the period of Ottoman history the events of which he knew best was that which he
had learned as a schoolboy in the last years of the Habsburg empire.13 Later, during his time as a student at the University of Vienna, just before and again immediately following the Great War,
he encountered such influential figures from the previous generation as the medieval economic historian Alfons Dopsch (18681953) and the German pioneer of sociology Max Weber (18641920).14 It is therefore

not surprising

to discover that by the time of

his return to Istanbul in 1924, Wittek's historical formulations concerning the genesis and nature of the early Ottoman state were already fully developed.
I have already analysed in detail the intellectual origins of these
formulations, and their projection on to the earliest period of Ot12 Cf. n.
1, supra.

13

Presumably Wittek meant by this the long years of the Ottoman-Habsburg


Tirkenkriege in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and in particular the
period of glorious victories for the Habsburgs which followed the unsuccessful
Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683. Paradoxically, this period, so much emphasised in Austrian school history textbooks, was one which lay quite outside
Wittek's own sphere of scholarly activity. For this concealed example of
Wittekian irony see J. Wansbrough, "Paul Wittek", BSOAS xlii (1979), 137.
14 It is perhaps worth recalling that Dopsch, like Wittek, was brought to England by the University of London in 1937. In February of that year, three months
before Wittek delivered the lectures which were published in the following year
as The Rise of the Ottoman Empire, Dopsch had also given three lectures in the University, in his case on "Economic Problems of the Middle Ages" (Heywood, "W.
and the Austrian tradition", 7). Weber's influence on Wittek can best be seen in
the latter's two early articles, "Konstantinopel, Islam und Kalifat", and "Tfirkentum und Islam, I [all published]", both of which appeared (in vols. liii (1925),
370-426, and lix (1928) 489-525, respectively), in the Archivfuir Sozialwissenschaft
und Sozialpolitik, the most prestigious sociological journal in Germany, to which
Weber had contributed some of his most significant works, and which he had coedited. Cf. also Wittek's article, "Der Katholizismus und der deutsche Geist", 6st.
Rund. XVI. Jg. (1922), 663-74, a portentous piece of journalism equally influenced by Max Weber, and also by Alfred Weber, Herman Hefele (also a contributor
to this issue of Ost. Rund.) and Stefan George.

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COLIN HEYWOOD

toman history from, firstly, his romantic vision of the medieval


Holy Roman Empire, and, secondly, the stimulus afforded to Wittek by the poetry of Stefan George and his own links with the
George-Kreis during and after the Great War.15 From the former
vision there developed by transfer Wittek's romantic picture of an
idealised imperium ottomanicum sacrum, and his re-creation of a
world more distant and even more recoverable only through the
imagination than his own lost pre-1914 Vienna. From the latter influence, precipitated by Wittek's youthful devotion to the historical
viewpoint of the George-Kreis, with its commitment to an idealised
heroic leader figure, derive many elements of Wittek's treatment
of early Ottoman history.16
Most of Wittek's leading ideas concerning early Ottoman history,
in which these particular influences are manifested, appear to have
developed fully in Vienna during the period from 1921 to 1924
when, both as editor and contributor, he was closely connected
with the Osterreichische
Rundschau, a conservative, Grossdeutsch political and literary fortnightly journal. They remained thereafter
unaltered and undeveloped, never the subject of reconsideration
or revision, for the remainder of his career as an Ottoman historian. Wittek appears never to have engaged in self-questioning, let
alone retraction, of his earlier views. It is both harsh and valid to
observe that there is no development in his historical thought, only
the endless reworking of elegant variations on a basically simple
theme. In this we may contrast him with other historians writing in
the German intellectual tradition who lived through the times of
catastrophe. One thinks here, for example, of Meinecke.17
Significant here for purposes of illustration is an early and nowadays quite overlooked piece of writing by the young Wittek. In 1922
he reviewed in the Osterreichische Rundschau a dissertation
entitled "Die Kulturbewegung im modernen Tiirkentum", written
by Ahmed Muhyieddin, lecturer for Turkish at the University of
Leipzig.18 In this review we find an already almost fully developed
expose of Wittek's historical thought concerning the Ottoman
15

Heywood, "'Boundless Dreams of the Levant"', passim Paul Wittek, the


George-Kreis, and the Writing of Ottoman History (1989).
16
Heywood, "'Boundless dreams of the Levant'", 35-9 and 40, ff.
17
Cf., on this point, Heywood, "Wittek and the Austrian tradition", 23-5.
18 OsterreichischeRundschau, XVIII.
Jg. (1922), 836-9: review by Wittek of

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A SUBTERRANEAN HISTORY

393

Empire and its place in Islamic and world history:


,,Seit dem zehnten Jahrhundert unserer Zeitrechnung erhielt
die innerlich erlahmte, politisch sich atomisierende islamische
Hochkultur durch das widerholte Einstr6men tuirkischer Volkerschaften frische ethnischeKrifte und die M6glichkeit zu neuen, vornehmlich auf das Schwert gestitzten staatlichen Ordnungen. Die
erfolgreichste dieser Grfindungen, das osmanische Reich, erhob
sich im vierzehnten Jahrhundert am dusserstenRande der islamischen
Okumene,indem seine Begrfinder von einer staunenswertkleinen Basis
im Nordwest-Winkel Kleinasiens aus sich in die Fuigen des vermorschten byzantinischen Reichsbaues eindringten, alsbald (seit
1350 etwa) auf christlich-slawischenBoden ein groBes Reich schufen,
das nach kurzen Rickschlage (um 1400) sich in den Besitz der
weltberihmten Kaiserstadt Konstantinopel setzen konnte (1453)
und bald hernach (seit 1512) den gr6Bten Teil der islamischen
Welt unter seinen, die Kalifatswiirde bekleidenen Herrschern vereinigte".19
Here, within a single paragraph of no more than one hundred
and fifty words, are brought together most of the key elements in
Wittek's fully-developed historical construct concerning the origin
and development of the Ottoman state down to the sixteenth century:
- the ethnic emphasis on the rejuvenation of the Islamic world by
the "fresh ethnic strength" brought by the repeated inflow of Turkish groups (Volkerschaften);
- the further emphasis on the peripheral position of the Ottoman
state vis-a-vis the Islamic "oikoumene" and on the almost miraculous nature of the Ottoman successes "from an amazingly small
base" in north-western Anatolia;
- the underscoring of the "rottenness" of the Byzantine empire
contrasted with the almost uninterrupted rise of the Ottomans to
the creation of an empire "on Christian-Slavic soil (Boden)" and to
a position of primacy in the Islamic world via the conquest of Constantinople.
Only two elements from Wittek's later historical constructs are
Ahmed Muhiddin, Die Kulturbewegung im moderen Turkentum (Leipzig, 1921). Cf.
Heidi Stein, "Ahmed Muhiddin <1892-1923>. Leipzig'de bir Tfirk Bilimadami",
Tarih ve Toplum, Haziran 1993, pp. 356-358.
19 Ibid., 836. Italics added.

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COLIN HEYWOOD

missing from his 1922 review of Ahmed Muhiddin: the criticism of


the Ottomans' own historical traditions; and the leading role of the
ghazis in Ottoman history.
To deal with the latter element first. For an understanding of
Wittek's view as to the primacy of the ghazis, the proof-texts are his
exposes of the subject delivered at the 1936 meeting of the Dutch
Oriental Society and in March of the same year at the Sorbonne.20
But these essays date from 1936, a decade and a half later: where
then lay the roots of Wittek's obsession with the ghazis? Partly, as
already noted elsewhere, they lie in a "transference" between the
ritterlich ideals of the George-Kreis, and the whole ghazi ,,Mythenschau" which Wittek constructed out of his uncritical acceptance of the ethos-world of 'Ashlkpashazade and of those two now
suspect and much criticized indicators: the mosque inscription of
Orkhan in Bursa, and the famous passage in praise of the ghazis in
Ahmedis versified epitome of Ottoman history.21 These aspects of
the problem have already been dealt with elsewhere, but we may
seek a deeper level of personal involvement in Wittek's heroization
of the anti-Byzantine Turkish fighters of the fourteenth-century
north-west Anatolian borderland. The impetus came, again, from
those fateful years 1921-2 and from the then still undecided struggle between the Turkish Nationalists and the Greeks for the control of western Anatolia. In an article entitled "Die Tfirkei nach
dem Weltkrieg", yet another of the pieces which he contributed in
these years to the Osterreichische
Rundschau, Wittek wrote, with reference to the recent Turkish Nationalists' first victory at Innui
over a Greek army (10 January 1921), the following remarkable
piece of historicist-presentist fusion:
Nun kampft die tiirkische Krieger um durch die Geschichte geheiligten
Heimatboden-[der] Schlachtort ist wohl bekannt aus den alten Chroniken, die von Osman und Orchan, die beiden osmanischen Herrschern erzahlen. Man kann [sich nur] vorstellen, welche moralische Kraft den
Truppen MustafaKemals daraus erwichst.22

20 p.
Wittek, "Die Glaubenskampfer im Osmanenstaat", Oostersch Genootschap in Nederland, Verslag van het achtste Congres (Leiden, 1936), 2-7; ,Les
Ghazis dans l'histoire ottomane", "Deux chapitres", 302-19.
21 P.
Wittek, The Rise of the Ottoman Empire (London, 1938, 14-15.
22 P.
Wittek, ,Die Tfirkei nach dem Weltkrieg", Ost. Rund. XVII, Jg. (1921),
599-603, at p. 603.

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A SUBTERRANEAN HISTORY

395

Leaving aside the preposterous inference of the largely illiterate


Turkish troops of that era finding solace in the linguistic complexities of the then almost entirely unpublished fifteenth-century Ottoman chronicles we find here again Wittek's emphasis on what can
only be termed Blut und Boden history and on a romantic, mystical affiliation of land and people over a period of some centuries.
One may only say, without attempting further parallels, that Wittek
here presents an entirely bogus construct in his attempt to establish a historical connection between the Kemalist, nationalist present and the distinctly non-ethnic, dynastic Ottoman past.23 Colin
Imber has already made this point in another context in his dissection of one of Wittek's later, and most influential, articles,24 but it
is important to note the appearance of the theme at such an early
and formative period in Wittek's intellectual development.
III.
There are also other elements in Wittek's writings which provide
evidence for the infiltration of his mental processes by the ideas of
the George-Kreis. Much was made by Ottomanists in the inter-war
period of the significance, in the social and economic history of
Anatolia in the pre-Ottoman period, of the urban guilds and of the
so-called akh' corporations, the Muslim urban brotherhoods of
sufistic inclination. This is not the place in which to trace this history of this particular historiographic obsession back from Wittek
and Taeschner to the work of Louis Massignon, or forward to its
present-day proponents or detractors, but merely to make the
point that in Wittek's case the akhi-idea was also fitted neatly into
his ghazi world and his George-Kreiscosmology. In his 1938 Leiden
23

Cf., in this context, the concluding paragraph of Wittek's above-mentioned


article: ,So ist durch das bewundernswerte Geschick beherzter Manner das alte
osmanische Reich im Begriffe, verjiingt und gefestigt aus dem Chaos von 1918
hervorzugehen. Die groBen europaischen Machte, gestern daran, es aufzuteilen,
schatzen es heute als einen wertvollen Genossen bei der Verwaltung der Welt.
Die mohammedanische Welt, deren Vormacht es gestern als ein wohlgehaBter
Gebieter war, blickt heute in Liebe und Hoffnung nach ihm als ihrem Ffihrer
und Hort".
24 Colin Imber, "Paul Wittek's 'De la defaite d'Ankara a la
prise de Constantinople', Osmanli Arasttrmalarz v (1986), 65-81, reissued in ibid., Studies in Ottoman
Histo7y and Law (Istanbul, 1996), 291-304.

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COLIN HEYWOOD

paper, which even more than his London lectures of the previous
year on "the Rise of the Ottoman Empire", provides a revealing
synthesis of all Wittek's ideesfixes, Wittek attempted to account for
the establishment of a futuwwa organisation by the thirteenthcentury 'Abbasid caliph Al-Nasir. Principally, Wittek felt, al-Nasir
appeared to have had the ghazi movement in mind:
Denn es kam ihm ja darauf an, fur seine Politik, die auf Erneuerung der
Kalifenmachtzielte, ergebene Krieger zu finden. Dazu bot die Futuwamit
ihremTreueverhiiltnis
zwischenMeisterundjftngerein vorzfigliches Mittel.25
Here, in the stress (justified or not) placed by Wittek on the element of a "relationship of loyalty" (Treueverhaltnis) between a Master and his young male followers, is clear evidence of a transfer
into Ottoman history of Stefan George's own view of his ideal relationship as Meisterwith his disciples, which was a leading (if not the
fundamental) tenet of the George-Kreis. The Anatolian ghazis, indeed, in Wittek's elevated view, had become by this time, no longer
mere adventurers, but the title of ghazi was now recognised
throughout the Islamic world as signifying no less than Rittertum
und Adel-"Chivalry and Nobility".
An epitome and summation of Wittek's intellectual legacy is to
be found in his 1937 London lectures, already mentioned above.
These lectures, in their published form, have already been discussed elsewhere;26 here it is merely necessary to remember that
they contain in compressed form all of Wittek's historical formulations concerning the origins, character and destiny of the Ottoman
state. One such sweeping historical generalisation, which appears
to have gained wide acceptance, and which ties up the whole of Ottoman history in a couple of sentences, bears requoting. It was not
"naive curiosity", Wittek wrote, that impelled him to undertake his
study, "but rather the conviction that the history of the Ottoman
state ... becomes comprehensible only after one has accounted for
its origin. The well-known sentence, that every state owes its existence to the same causes that created it, holds good to the full extent for the Ottoman state ...".
"Today", he continued and assured his audience, "by having
gained a clearer comprehension of its origins, we are able to un25 Italics added.
26 See n. 8.

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derstand better the latter and even the most recent periods of Ottoman history".
But what was the source of Wittek's "well-known sentence", for
which he fails to provide a reference? To the Anglo-Saxon mind
the idea is at best a paradox, at worst a substitute for serious
thought on the processes of cause and effect. What, on further investigation, proves to be surprising is that Wittek's formulation, in
the context of English writing on Ottoman history, was by no
means a new one in 1937. Sixty years earlier, at the height of the
Eastern Crisis of 1875-8, Cardinal Newman, in the course of a long
essay on "The Turks in their relation to Europe",27 observed that
"the catastrophe of a state is according to its antecedents, and its
destiny according to its nature; and therefore ... we cannot venture
on any anticipation of the instruments or condition of its death,
until we know something about the principle and the character of
its life".28 The Wittekian parallelisms in this passage are remarkable: yet clearly it is unlikely (if not impossible) that Wittek had
read and was regesting Newman.29 It is worth recalling, therefore,
that the intellectual roots of enlightened English Roman Catholic
thought in the mid-nineteenth century-Newman's roots as much
as those of a more mainstream and significant historian like Lord
Acton-lay deep within the traditions of German historicism and
romantic medievalism. Acton's own intellectual debt to his mentor
Ignaz von D6llinger (1799-1890), theologian of Munich and president of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, is well documented;30
27 John
Henry Newman, Historical Sketches,i (London, 1876), 1-238.
28
Newman, Historical Sketches,i, 161.
29
is the correlation between Newman's historicist

Equally noteworthy
prefiguring of the conditions for the disappearance of the Ottoman empire"indestructable ... in the simplicity of its national [sic] existence ... while it remains faithful to its religion and its imperial line. Should its fidelity to either fail,
it would not merely degenerate or decay; it would simply cease to be" (Historical
Sketches,i, 220)-with Wittek's post-imperial rationalisation of the reasons for its
final disappearance (Rise of the Ottoman Empire).
30 Cf. David Mathew, Acton: the formative years (London, 1946), 67, ff.; idem,
Lord Acton and his times (London, 1968), 38, ff. Acton had a long, intellectually
unsatisfactory relationship with Newman; and in 1858 was instrumental in bringing Newman and Dollinger together-in
Birmingham (Mathew, Acton and his
times, 60). D6llinger's work as a historian was known in late-Victorian England.
His Studies in European History, "translated at the request of the author", were
published posthumously by John Murray in 1890: cf. his essay on "The significance of dynasties in the history of the world", originally delivered to the Royal

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Newman, drawing in his essay on the Turks a significant distinction


between what he termed "barbarous" and "civilised" states,31 was
capable of drawing on Schlegel's Philosophy of History (in Robertson's translation) for a reference to this history of China.32
IV.

To pass judgment on Wittek's historical formulations, sixty years


after their final crystallization, ought not to be a difficult matter.
Ideally, it should not be necessary; in any case, in historiographical
terms the field has moved on, although perhaps not as far as it
should. The problem, as already observed, seems to be largely an
Anglo-Saxon (or at least an Anglo-American) one: in Germany
(and in Austria) both radically new and traditional philology-based
Ottoman historical studies flourish without reference to the problem, although it is not irrelevant to note how for several decades
the critical period of Ottoman history prior to 1453 has been almost completely ignored in both countries.
It is, however, perhaps worth recalling the year 1935. This was
the year in which H.A.R. Gibb and Sir Denison Ross appear first to
Bavarian Academy of Sciences in 1880 (op. cit., I 25), which contains (pp. 6-8)
some deterministic, quasi-Wittekian, observations on the course of Ottoman history: "the fate of the empire was predestined by the Korean and the religious traditions of the Sunnis. Where polygamy, slavery, murder, religious oppression and
persecution are unassailable principles, sanctified by the example of the Prophet
himself, no reform and no recovery is possible for a body politic thus sick to
death". Four years later, in 1894, John Murray also published Dollinger's Addresses on historical and literary subjects, which contains, in an essay (pp. 50-72) on
"The founders of religions", an ecological justification for the emergence of Islam which finds distant echos in Wittek's apotheosis of the Anatolian frontier
zone as an area of special significance for the emergence of the Ottomans (cf.
Addresses, 57).
31 Newman, Historical Sketches, i, 162.
According to Newman, "civilised
states" "live in some common object of sense [sic] (defined as "secular interests,
country, home, protection of person and property"), and "are destroyed from
within" (by "civil contention, ... revolution, decay of public spirit); whereas "barbarous states" "live in a common imagination" ("religion, true or false ..., divine
mission of a sovereign or dynasty, and historical fame") and are "destroyed from
without" by "foreign wars, foreign influence, insurrection of slaves or subject
races, famine, accidental enormities of individual power ...."
32 Newman, Historical sketches,i, 177: "the whole
history of China, from beginning to end ..., displays one continued series of seditions, usurpations, anarchy,
changes of dynasty, and other violent revolutions and catastrophes".

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have set in train the academic processes which would bring Wittek
a distinguished visiting scholar in 1937; as an ento London-as
emy alien and refugee in 1940; as Professor of Turkish in the University of London in 1948. For already in 1935 the intellectual
shortcomings of the neoromantic school of history, together with
the baleful influence of Stefan George on a generation of impressionable younger historians, had been attacked in a seminal paper,
presented to the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in that year, by the
German medievalist Walther Goetz, a paper which presumably had
gone unread in Anglo-Saxon orientalist circles of the time.33 It is
possible only to speculate as to the extent to which, in 1935, Denison Ross and Gibb were aware of Wittek's ideological makeup,
and in particular of his devotion to the ideals of the George-Kreis
and to history as a genre of literature based on intuition and "Wesensschau". Possibly, to both English scholars, such ideas were congenial. Both Denison Ross and Gibb were romantics, and more orientalists than historians. It comes as no surprise to discover from
the late Elie Kedourie's revelations that Gibb, at least, appears to
have regarded academic history in much the same light as did the
German neoromatics of the period, "als bloBe Materialsammlung
und Beschreibung".34
V.

What finally can be said in conclusion concerning Wittek's


legacy as a historian? The positive side has been well set down by
those best qualified to do so. Was there also a negative aspect? Possibly there was, in that Wittek's historical concepts, which were
formed no later than the mid-1920s, were transplanted into the alien soil of British (and American) academia after the end of the
second world war. There, as exotic imports will, they took firm
root. This influence, when coupled with Wittek's methodological
conservatism, and with the inevitable reaction to it, determined
the trend of English (and much of American) work in early Otto33 Walter
Goetz, "Intuition in der Geschichtswissenschaft",

Sitzungsberichte
der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische
Abteilung,Jg. 1935, Hft. 5 (Minchen, 1935).
34 Goetz, 'Intuition in der Geschichtswissenschaft', 5.

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man history for half a century. Furthermore, the lack of critical


spirit in Wittek's work, in the sense of the existence of real naivetes
in his treatment of the aetiology of causation and of short- and
long-term change in Ottoman history and (to put it more strongly)
both his trusting acceptance and his failure to question the selfproclaimed rationale at the heart of the "official" view of the Ottoman state as a ghazi state par excellence, must be noted, if not emphasized. Equally significant are the origins of these attitudes of
naive (because romantic) affection for the subject of Ottoman history, lying as they do in well-documented feelings of loss and personal deprivation for the vanished Dual Monarchy of his youth, all
of which tended to render childlike, almost, his historical responses to the broad characteristics of Ottoman history.35
35 How naive was Wittek in his historical
judgements? In this context it may
be useful to reexamine the published text of the two lectures which he gave at
the Sorbonne in 1938 ("De la defaite d'Ankara a la prise de Constantinople", Revue des Etudes Islamiques, xii (1938), 1-34, reprinted in Paul Wittek, La formation
de l'empire ottoman (ed. V.L. Menage), London: Variorum Reprints, 1983, ? II),
and in particular the lengthy section (pp. 15-26) which Wittek devotes to the
events of the fifnet devri, the near quarter-century-long Ottoman "time of Troubles", which followed on the defeat, captivity and death of Bayezid I at hands of
Timur in 1402-3. Colin Imber ("Paul Wittek's "De de defaite d'Ankara a la prise
de Constantinople", Osmanli Arastzrmalarz, v (1986), 65-82) has harshly criticised
Wittek's handling of this episode, and has taken particular issue (pp. 76, ff.) with
Wittek's treatment of the personalities and motivations ascribed Bayezid's sons,
Sfileyman, Muisa and Mehemmed, the major contenders for power during this period. Imber's demolition of the bases for Wittek's characterisations-of
the winesodden, debauched, Latinising Sfileyman; the austere, fanatical, revolutionary
Mfisa, and the essentially aristocratic but at the same time "heroic" national redeemer figure of Mehemmed, is more than adequate to expose the shaky foundations in historical reality of Wittek's imposing edifice, but Imber's argument,
sound as it is, can be taken a stage further, beyond the fundamental Quellenkritik
which informs it. Wittek's interpretation of the fitnet devri, the events of which
he tailored to fit his own purposes, is seriously flawed, most evident in his refusal
to admit evidence, or attested historical figures, whose existence and activities
during that time in themselves refute Wittek's hypotheses. Particularly significant
is the figure, neglected by Wittek, of the so-called 'Duizme' (or False) Mustafa,
the undoubted son of Bayezid so strangely neglected by Wittek. Why should this
be so? The answer would seem to lie in the fact that the course of 'Dfizme'
Mustafa's career cuts across the splendid 'tableau vivant' of Wittek's "De la
defaite": Mustafa in fact had a far harder time of it than did Mius. Carried off to
captivity in Samarkand, he returned more than a decade later, attempting twice
(1415-6; 1421-2) to establish a counter-sultanate in Rumeli. And yet, in his sixmonth reign at Edirne (late summer-midwinter, 1421-2) he behaved even more
irresponsible than did Sfileyman, whereas, on Wittek's reasoning of suffering as a
hardener of character, Mustafa should have been a second Musa, which he
patently was not.

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401

In this uncritical approach to Ottoman history Wittek did not


stand alone. One of the peculiarities of Ottoman historiography, as
it has developed since the demise of the Ottoman empire, has
been the almost entire lack of any spirit of revisionism, even for the
period of the Great War and its aftermath. Thus there has been
Fritz Fischer controversy in
nothing to equal-for example-the
postwar German historiography over the role of Germany in the
outbreak of the Great War. The reasons for this state of affairs are
obvious and need no elaboration in the present context.
It was not only in this context that Wittek's intellectual legacy as
a historian was, in the end, a tragic one. A refugee from dictatorship for half his life, he was, in his historical thought, both a victim
and a proponent of essentially autocratic views, albeit ones of an
intellectual and spiritual, rather than a crudely political, order.
The point had already been made with exemplary clarity by Wittek's countrymen and near-contemporary Robert Musil, in his diary
entries for 1934-7, the years in which Wittek, by then himself a
refugee from political and spiritual tyranny, was working out the
full development of his essentially authoritarian formulations on
Ottoman history. ,,Lange vor den Diktatoren", wrote Musil, ,,hat
unsere Zeit die geistige Diktatorenverehrung hervorgebracht.
Siehe George. Dann auch Krauss und Freud, Adler undJung ... Das
Gemeinsame ist wohl ein Bediirfnis nach Herrschaft und Ffihrerschaft, nach dem Wesen des Heilands".36
We are thus obliged to confront a cast of mind which is largely
alien to Anglo-Saxon modes of historical thought, and also, for the
most part, to those of Germany and Austria since 1945. The question may be asked: was this case of mind one which was unique to
Wittek, or can it be discerned in other refugee or expatriate historians of Central European origin in this period? An example which
springs to mind in the English academic context is that of Sir Lewis
Namier, another muhdjir historian of Dual Monarchy origins, albeit of rather more provincial ones than Wittek's. Namier was
longer resident in England than Wittek, and was infinitely closer to
the heart of the English academic establishment than he, but both
predominated equally, with a high and often intolerable ascend36 Robert
Musil, Tagebuch ?34 [1934-7],
Reden (ed. A. Frise), Hamburg, 1955, 398.

Tagebicher, Aphorismen, Essays und

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ancy, in their chosen fields. Relevant here would seem to be the


harsh judgement on Namier by the English historian J.H. Plumb,
who described him as a man of far-reaching intelligence, although,
he added, "his major preoccupations were confined, narrow and
deeply obsessional. Indeed, he was a curious mixture of the fine ...
specialist, excited by the minutiae of historical investigation ... and
a creative artist, alive to the nuances of human psychology". Namier was also, Plumb concluded, "imaginative, perceptive, at times
daring, capable of using techniques that bordered on the bogus
and gullible".37 Much the same was said, in his time, of Wittek's
George-Kreis Doppelganger, Ernst Kantorwicz, concerning whom
it is useful to recall David Abulafia's observation that he lived in
that atmosphere, characteristic of the George-Kreis, "where broad
sweeps of imagination and impudent generalisations were, if not
the norm, at least the ideal".38
Much the same might be (and has been) said concerning
Wittek. Evidence may be gathered from his 1953 essay on the Fall
of Constantinople, with its neo-Georgesque hero-worship of Mehemmed II and its plethora of (to borrow from Plumb) "techniques that bordered on the bogus and the gullible". Examples
may be chosen almost at random:
- In speaking of those who fell in the general assault on 19 May
1453: "All those who in that merciless fight bravely gave their lives
for the glory of their faith, Muslim and Christian alike, went-I am
sure-straightway to their respective paradise;39
- On Constantine XI: "His heroice decision to fight and die sprang
no doubt from his sense of the holiness of the imperial office ...";40

37J.H. Plumb, "The atomic historian" [on Sir Lewis Namier], The New Statesman (London), 1 August 1969, pp. 141-3. Cf. also John Brooke, "Namier and
Namierism", in George II. Nadel (ed.), Studies in the philosophy of history (New
York, 1975), 97-113 (originally published in History and Theory,iii/3 (1964), 33147).
38 FrederickII: A mediaval emperor, London 2 ed. 1988. D. Abulafia, "Kantorowicz and Frederick II", History, lxii (1977), 193-210, at p. 197. The article is reprinted in D. Abulafia, Italy, Sicily and the Mediterranean, 1050-1400 (London,
1987).
39 P. Wittek, "Fath mubin-'An
eloquent victory"', in: Steven Runciman, B.
Lewis, R.R. Betts, N. Rubinstein and P. Wittek, The Fall of Constantinople (London:
SOAS, 1955), 33-44, at p. 35.
40 Wittek, "Fath mubin", 42.

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- On the Jewish population of Constantinople: "as for the no


doubt considerable number of enslaved Jews, it can be assumed
that their numerous coreligionists among the slavedrivers took
good care of them".41
Are these three examples merely flights of fancy, or, as has been
suggested by a sympathetic participant at the time,42 prime examples of Wittekian irony-or are they "history" cast in the mould of
the George-Kreis, Gundolfian even in their fine writing, but, in
their question-begging impudence, hardly to be accepted as serious history?
VI.
The present essay has been cast in terms of Ottoman historiography rather than of Wittekian biography. The elements in
Wittek's life and scholarly career which have been discussed are
taken in the main from his own writings and from the relevant observations of his critics and commentators. There has been an irreducible minimum of reference to biography as such. Should we
then be content to look at history rather than at the historian, at
the work rather than the individual who produced it? There is a respectable school of thought which holds that we should. The great
historian of Rome, Theodor Mommsen, who died in 1904, requested his family after his death "to prevent as far as possible the
publication of detailed biographies" and added, "let my books be
read as long as they may last: what I have been or ought to have
been, is no concern of the public".43 These are brave and proud
words-but are they proper to be uttered by a historian? Are we
ourselves, the foragers in so many private and public lives, so sacrosanct in our own persons? Probably, almost certainly, not. How
much poorer intellectually should we be without Gibbon's Letters
or Autobiography,or without Werner Kaegi's monumental biogra41 Wittek, "Fath mubin", 36-7.
42 The
suggestion was made by Professor Jacob Landau, in the course of a
conversation in Cambridge, July 1984. I should perhaps add that Professor
Menage was kind enough to observe to me in this context: 'I was there ... The
printed version [scil. of "Fath Mubin"] is vastly different from the rambling discourse W[ittek] gave-but I have destroyed my notes of what he actually said" (undated MS. note).
43 "Theodor Mommsen's Last Wishes", Past and Present, 1 (1953), 71.

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phy and collection of the letters ofJacob Burckhardt? That this paper has not gone so far in its discussion of Wittek as have, for example, recent studies on his contemporary fellow-historian and member of the George-Kreis, Ernst Kantorowicz, is only in part the result of our possessing at present a relatively smaller mass of documentation on which to draw.
And indeed, there are so many questions relating to our understanding of Wittek as a historian which remain perforce unanswered. What were the causes of his youthful obsession with and
lifelong devotion to the poetry and ethos of Stefan George. What
do we know of those early years about which Wittek apparently
spoke with affection late in life? Why the obsession with George,
and the apparently desperate need for an authority-figure in a
time of crisis? It may be worth recalling to mind a parallel instance
from the life of a greater mind than Wittek: Max Weber's interest
in the George-Kreis came much later in his life, following on a partial recovery from a paralysingly severe breakdown of several years'
duration.44 At that time this most rational of minds exhibited a
flight from the rational as evidenced by his increased interest in,
firstly, Marx's explanation of the nature and origin of capitalism;
secondly, in a surge of interest in Russian culture, as particularly
represented by the mystical and irrational side of Tolstoy's work;
and thirdly in the George-Kreis, and in what one perceptive observer (Y. Malkiel) has defined as "its glorification of instinct and
impulse".45
There is a need to know more. In a savage but perceptive review
of Wittek's sole monograph, Das Firstentum Mentesche (1932),
his former collaborator and contributor to the Mitteilungen zur
osmanischen Geschichte, Fr. Giese, spoke of Wittek having produced a bogus historical totality out of a series of "individual phenomena" (Einzelerkenntnisse)concerning the emirate of Menteshe
44 On the intellectual and personal background to Max Weber's relationship
with the George-Kreis see Arthur Mitzmann, The Iron Cage: an Historical Interpretation of Max Weber(New York, 1970), 261-71 and passim: further: cf. G. Roth, "Political Critiques of Max Weber: Some Implications for Political Sociology", in:
Reinhard Bendix and Guenther Roth (ed.), Scholarship and Partisanship: Essays on
Max Weber(Berkeley-Los Angeles-London, 1971), 55-71.
45 Yakov Malkiel, "Ernst H. Kantorowicz", in R.A. Evans,
jr. (ed.), On Four
Modern Humanists, Hoffmansthal Gundolf, Curtius, Kantorowicz (Princeton, 1970),
146-219, at pp. 171-2, 173.

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405

which did not in any way themselves add up to a meaningful


whole.46 Whether or not the Einzelerkenntnissedetailed above add
up to a meaningful whole, or where and how the present debate
may be continued, is equally still open to question.47

46 Fr.
Giese, [review of P. Wittek, Das Firstentum Mentesche (Istanbul,
1935)], Historische Zeitschrift, cliii (1935-6), 370-1.
47 It is now more than ten
years since my two earlier articles on Wittek appeared. Apart from some ill-tempered but non specific public criticism from certain quarters concerning the iniquities of 'younger' [sic] revisionist historians
(amongst whom I presume I have the honour to be included), the most recent
work on the emergence of the Ottoman state has still failed to take up the challenge of exploring further the subject's intellectual foundations.

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