Before the 1700s, three of the major empires were called the Gunpowder Empires: the Ottomans of Turkey, the Safavids of Iran, and the Mughals of India. Although the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Empires had strong bureaucracies and economic prosperity, they also had absolute rulers who denied their citizens basic civil rights.
One of the strengths of the Gunpowder Empires was their strong bureaucracies based on meritocracy. Jahangir, a Mughal Emperor, stated that “where I found sufficient merit, I conferred an advance of rank,” showing that bureaucrats in his empire had to earn their positions. (Doc. 1) The ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor praised the Ottoman Empire for giving positions to worthy individuals instead of giving positions due to birth like the Europeans did. (Doc. 2)
Another strength was the economic prosperity of these empires. Eskandar Beg, advisor to Abbas I of the Safavid Empire, mentions that the total tax revenue for one month amounted to “some twenty thousand toman,” inferring that it was a generous amount given to charity for the month of Ramadan. (Doc 4) In the Mughal Empire, governors were directed to establish hospitals in every large city at the government’s expense. (Doc 1)
However, the Gunpowder Empires were ruled by absolute dictators who allowed their citizens very few freedoms and rights. Francois Bernier, a French traveler, points out that the leaders were “cruel and oppressive” and there were no governmental or legal checks to restrain the whims of these leaders. (Doc 3) Bernier would have emphasized the Ottoman rulers’ oppressive behavior in order to make his absolute monarch, King Louis XIV, look better. In Jahangir’s document, he consistently uses “I” concerning the achievements of the empire, showing that he had absolute control over everything that happened. (Doc 1)