Rethinking the Eastern question

The decline of the Ottoman Empire and its impact on international affairs (politics, economics, trade)

Date: 31 August 2017, 02:30–05:00

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 307



During the 18th century, Russian expansionism southwards into Ottoman territory caused the rupture of the fragile equilibrium in South-Eastern Europe. The structural weakness of the Ottoman Empire was evident. At the same time, starting with the Treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji (1774), Russia was not only a disturbing agent of the status-quo, but asserted itself as a European Power.

The “Eastern Question”, as historiography called the events that led to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and the formation of Balkan states in the 19th and early 20th century, had a great number of implications in the international affairs and shaped the policy of Europe's Great Powers between 1774 and 1923. As a consequence, policies carried out by the European Powers were greatly connected with the instability of the Ottoman Empire and the making of a modern Near (Middle) East.

The papers gathered in this panel examine several political, diplomatic, commercial and business implications arising as a result of the crisis of the Ottoman Empire.

Focusing on the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Danubian Principalities, the Balkans and the Straits, our papers will embrace  a wider perspective considering the global repercussions of these events on the international scene from the late 18th to the early 20th century.


Salvatore Bottari (University of Messina)


Constantin Ardeleanu (Galaţi "Lower Danube” University / Utrecht University / New Europe College)


Constantin Iordachi (Central European University Budapest)


Salvatore Bottari (University of Messina)

Mirella Vera Mafrici (University of Salerno)

Constantin Ardeleanu (Galaţi "Lower Danube” University / Utrecht University / New Europe College)

Giampaolo Conte (Roma Tre University)



Salvatore Bottari: The clash of two empires: The Russo-Turkish conflicts in late 18th century and their echoes in international diplomacy

The Russo-Turkish wars of 1768-1774 and 1787-1791 marked the break between Western Europe and Central and Eastern Europe. France and Great Britain were focused on their colonial race, which, at least on the short term, marginalized the central and eastern part of the continent in the hierarchy of their geopolitical interests. At the same time, French influence and prestige in the Eastern Mediterranean, unchallenged up to a few years before, were dealt a heavy blow by the outcome of the wars between the Russian and Ottoman empires. It glaringly showed the structural weakness of the Ottoman Empire giving rise to the ‘Eastern Question’. Russia asserted itself as a leading player even in parts of Europe – such as the Mediterranean – which it had been previously excluded from. The tsar finally played a dominant role in the Black Sea after centuries of struggles, also increasing its influence in the Balkans. International diplomacy followed carefully the events. In some situations France, England, the Habsburg Empire and Prussia tried to influence the outcomes.

The aim of this paper is to examine the impact that the confrontation between Russia and the Ottoman Empire had on European foreign policy. I will in particular consider the impact on global developments by the geopolitical and economic interests of those in power. This research will be carried out by examining the diplomatic documents preserved in British, French, German, Austrian, Spanish and Italian archives.

Mirella Vera Mafrici: Politics and trade between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea during the French and Napoleonic Wars

This paper focuses on the global context of the Mediterranean States after the Russo-Turkish wars and their repercussions in the fields of politics and trade. The opening of the Black Sea to foreign trades and the freedom of navigation for Russia and later for Austria, France and other nations brought a new start in commercial relations between Black Sea ports and the Mediterranean ones. After the peace of Amiens (1802), ship-owners and merchants addressed to the Black Sea for their trade, but the Napoleonic Wars determined a change of the commercial relations in the Mediterranean. On the one side, the belligerent countries prevented the normal development of the maritime traffic resulting in a great increase of the prices of commodities; on the other side, the pirates and corsairs did not respect the international treaties concluded between the European states. Due to the Ottoman neutrality, Turkish ships replaced the French ones in the Levant trade. Moreover, the Continental System affected England’s interests and interfered with the revival of trade in the Kingdom of Naples, conquered by Napoleon in 1806. The Treaty of Tilsit (1807) between France and the Russian Empire definitely influenced the relations in the Mediterranean: the weakness of the Ottoman Empire was counterbalanced by the Russian Empire’ prestige. The end of the Napoleonic wars created a new equilibrium between the existing payers and the new actors of the area.

Constantin Ardeleanu: The opening of the Black Sea for international trade and shipping (1774–1853)

The paper presents the development of the Black Sea trade after the peace of Küçük Kaynarca (1774). During the next two decades, in a strained international context, Russia gradually developed a string of trading centres along the northern coast of the Euxine and encouraged foreign merchants to make full use of this new commercial route. European powers were quick in trying to take advantage of the rich agro-pastoral resources of the Black Sea area, but fruitful exchanges were often interrupted by military issues or the Porte’s reluctance to completely open the Black Sea to international trade and shipping. During a second phase, between the beginnings of the French revolutionary wars and the Peace of Adrianople (1829), Black Sea trade faced similar discontinuities and hindrances and was often interrupted by political and diplomatic problems. But the quasi-permanent war on the continent and the disruption of normal agricultural cycles made Russian grain an important and desired alimentary resource, which Mediterranean and western merchants employed to replenish their exhausted warehouses. After the complete opening of the Black Sea to foreign merchants and ship-owners in 1829, the Black Sea witnessed tremendous growth due to several factors. Vast areas of Ottoman territories on the eastern and western coasts of the Black Sea became profitable destinations for European merchants, while the Romanian Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia grew to become rivals of Southern Russia in exporting agro-pastoral goods. At the same time, the grain trade of the Russian Empire was oriented towards supplying its southern outlets with the rich harvests of the hinterland, turning the Black Sea into one of the largest grain markets in the world before the Crimean War.

Giampaolo Conte: Ottoman public debt as a consequence of the Empire's fall: 1854-1914

This study aims to analyse the most important phases of the Ottoman Empire’s public debt between 1854 and 1914. Examining the major financial operations that occured over a period of sixty years, one can document the way in which foreign loans, as well as increasing the empire’s public spending hastened not only the losa of financial independence, but also of the political one. At the same time, the choice for foreign loans and deficit spending seemed to be the only path towards some form of modernization of the state available to the Ottoman Empire and so to a role within the European context which, if not equal to that of the great players, might at least be that of a regional power. New comparisons with macroeconomic variables can give us a new perspective of the economic decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire.CV- Giampaolo Conte is attending a PhD course in history at University of Rome III. His main field of study is the political and economic history of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East between 19th and 20th century.

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