John Gast - American Progress

The Concept of Frontier in American History and Ghâzâ Borders in Ottoman History

This article’s aim is to throw fresh light on the emergence of two prominent emperial powers of the world: United States and Ottoman Empire. This subject is very complicated and contreversial, but at the same time it is necessary to realize the long durée of the two world powers’ history. While preparing this article we used masterpieces of the field. When we talk about the concept of frontier, it is inevitable to mention great historian’s name: Frederick Jackson Turner.

It was in 1893 that as a young and unknown historian appeared before the American Historical Association and read a paper entitled “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”. The paper made him a scholar with honor in his own country, his brief essay is recognized as the most influential single piece of historical writing ever done in the US. Some historian believes that it altered the whole course of American historical scholorhip. The other significant masterpiece belongs to Walter Prescott Webb. His book, The Great Frontier, gave a new perspective on the concept of frontier. Webb assesses the concept beyond American History. He thinks that not only US had the frontiers but also many super and emperial power had its own frontiers. We’ll discuss their ideas on frontier later.

For the second part, we used invaluable masterpieces of Ottoman History. Halil İnalcık, in Bilkent University, has given much importance on the subject of the emrgence of Ottoman Empire and ghâzâ policy so that we used his book: The Ottoman Empire and various articles related to our subject. The other source about the question of the emergence and ghâzâ policy of Ottoman Empire is Paul Wittek’s book: The Ris of Ottoman Empire. In addition to this books and articles, we used other important sources about the emergence question and ghâzâ policy.

The Concept of “Frontier” And The Traits of The People of Frontier

The word frontier appears in similar form in nearly all the western European languages; and, as used in Europe, it means the boundary between two nations and is represented on maps by a thin line. It implies that the nations must not cross that line except by permission or at national peril; it is the sharp edge of sovereignty, the door or bastion of a neigbor, friendly or hostile as the case may be. There protocol and diplomacy become important and a frontier incident may well become an international affair. In the US the word frontier has an entirely different meaning, and carries a different set of implications and connotations. It becomes a concept with such wide ramifications and so many shades of meaning that it cannot be wrapped up in a neat definition like a word whose growth has ceased and whose meaning has become frozen. It is something that lives, moves geographically, and eventually dies.

In America the word is hardly used at all to indicate the nation’s limits. No American would refer to the line seperating the US from Canada or that from Mexico as the frontier, and to apply it to them in this sense would lead to misunderstanding. The American thinks of the frontier as lying within, and not at the edge of country. It is not a line to stop at, but an area inviting entrance. Instead of having one dimension, length, as in Europe, the American frontier has two dimensions, lenghth and breadth. In Europe the frontier is stationary and presumably permanent; in America it was transient and temporal.

In short, the frontier is the outer edge of the wave – the meeting point between savagery (?) and civilization (?). At the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man. He must accept the conditions which it furnishes, or perish, and so he fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails. Little by little he transforms the wilderness but the outcome is not the old Europe, the outcome is a new product that is American. At first the frontier was the Atlantic coast. It was the frontier of Europe in a very real sense. Moving westward, the frontier became more and more American. Thus the advance of the frontier has meant a steady growth of independence on American lines.

The continuous settlement at the western frontiers expanded over Rocky Mountains. After going beyond the mountains, the western frontier became more and more seperated from the metropolises (Eastern/New England Colonies). This expansion toward west made them free from the controls and regulations. On the other hand this continuous expantion forced the pople of frontiers to fight with native Americans. This desperate and dangreous atmosphere of frontiers made people more unified and consolidated. These frontiers stretched along the western border like a cord of union. The Indian was a common danger, demanding united action. This perception of common threat and unity facilitated the Revolution. So one can say that the frontiers identity tronsformed the sensation of nation and “American identity”.

But the most important effect of the frontier has been in the promotion of democracy here and in Europe, beceuse the frontier is productive of individualism. Complex society is precipitated by the wilderness into a kind of primitive organization based on family. The tendency is anti-social. It produces antipathy to control, and particularly any direct control. The tax-gatherer is viewed as a represetantive of oppression. In short, the frontier individualism has from the beginning promoted democracy.

In addition, the frontier also effected American intellectual and literatural life strikingly. The coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, intentive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in artistic but powerful to effect great ends, that restless, nervous energy that dominant individualism, buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom – these are traits of the frontier transforming American intellectual mind.

To sum up, the conception of the frontier is much beyond of border’s meaning. Its people’s characteristics made current democratic, innovative and productive American identity. So we can say that America as a super power evolved from the frontier life.

The Concept of “Ghâzâ Frontier/ Uc ” and the Traits of te People Ghâzâ Frontier

Turks founded lots of empires in history, and the powerful states emerged one after one. Turkish states had all time the idea of being dominant power. Their expantions was also toward west. For instance, Huns ( 3th millenium before christ) went through Assia to Europe. They established there Europe Huns, and became dominant power in European policy. Other Turkish states- such as Avars, Pecheneks, Ogurs- from Middle Asia followed their predecessor that is Huns.

In history, Turks always had the idea of the frontier. The mention this idea as a golden apple. To them golden apple means moving frontier toward west. They invaded lots of places and sovereigned over lots of nations. The most prominent example of these kinds of Turkish empires is, no doubtedly, Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Empire (14th – 20th centuries) rised as a ghâzâ state among the western Anatolian states.

At first, the Ottomans were the frontier of Seljuks – ruling power in central Anatolia – an their direction was samely west. As a ghâzâ state Ottomans invaded lots of Christian villages under the Byzantium. After taking Constantinople in 1453, Ottomans gained momentum of invasion (used in Turkish as feth). Ottomans took over Byzantium’s power in the Balkans, and ruled in long period (aprox. 6 centuries). After taking the Balkans, Ottoman’s new frontier became eastern and central Europe. For instance, Vienna was sieged by Ottomans under the Sultan Suleyman (The Magnificient) in 1529.

After taking Constantinople, Ottoman Empire established centralistic bureaucracy in the region, and Islamic orthodoxy emerged around Madrasah (Religious Schools) and Ulema (Scholars). The intellectual process was effected by this type of centralistic bureaucracy and religion. For instance, palace literature (“Divan Edebiyatı” in Turkish) emerged under the guard of Sultans.

On the other hand, people living on the ghâzâ frontiers were free from direct control of central power. They had their own religous approach, for example, Alevism and Bektashism embraced by people on the frontier. This type of religious approaches is called heteredoxy in History. It means the deviation from established (orthodoxy) religious approach.

In addition, people living in ghâzâ border had their own literature, and way of thinking. Public literatute grew out among these people. Like frontier’s people in American, the Ottoman frontier’s people were also against to tax-gatherers.

To sum up, the concept frontier in Ottoman history means the moving geography. Turks invaded lots of places and ruled over distinctive regions. People within the frontier had their own way of living, thinking and believing. This frontier features still effects modern Turkey’s structure or constitution.


The characteristics of the frontier and its people has the similarities but at the same time striking differences. America, while expanding its frontier, exterminated human beings. For example, it killed millions of Indians. One can call tha ethnic cleansing. On the other hand, Ottoman also used forces against people but it used it carefully. While Ottomans spreading their beliefs and way of living, exerted the peace( “İsti’malet policy used by Halil Inalcık) policy toward Christian people.

It is important to note that the frontier concept used by all super powers as a meaning of expansion and subordinating other people to its own power. So we emphasize that the frontier has the meaning of continous expansion on eart may be on space later.


  1. İnalcık, Halil, Makaleler II, Doğu-Batı, Ankara, 2008
  2. Kafadar, Cemal, Osmanlı Devleti’nin Kuruluşu, İki Cihan Âresinde, Birleşik, Ankara, 2010
  3. Nevins, Allan, ABD Tarihi, çev. Halil İnalcık, Doğu-Batı, Ankara, 2008
  4. Turner, Frederick Jackson, The Frontier in American History, University of Arizona Press, 1986
  5. Webb, Walter Scott, The Great Frontier, University of Nebraska Press, 1986

Yusuf Ünal

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