Testimonies: Peter Frankopan – The Silk Roads


Regarding the Ottomans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the author says:

“The social structures in the Muslim world, which had developed along very different lines to those in western Europe, also proved to be an important factor. Islamic societies generally distributed wealth more evenly than their Christian counterparts, largely thanks to very detailed instructions set out in the Qur’an about legacies – including principles that were positively enlightened by the standards of the day when it came to the share women could and should expect from the estates of their father or husband. A Muslims woman could expect to be much better looked after than her European peer; but this came with the expense of allowing large-scale wealth to remain within the same family for a long period of time. This in turn meant that the gap between rich and poor was never as acute as it became in Europe because money was redistributed and recirculated more widely.”

He goes on to talk about the methods of distributing spoils among navy soldiers, stating:

“In order to become a lieutenant, it became necessary to spend three years at sea and to pass an exam conducted by superior officers. Subsequent promotions were based strictly on ability rather than on patronage, which meant not only that the ablest rose to the top, but that they did so with the endorsement of their peers. The incentivising transparency of this meritocratic system was further enhanced by a system that rewarded those who had served for longest in the most important capacities. It was broadly identical to the organisation put in place in the earliest days of Islam and which had proved so effective during the Muslim conquests. In England now too, spoils were shared according to a pre-set allocation, with officers and sailors rewarded in proportion to seniority and length of service. This made promotion highly desirable and lucrative, which again served to propel the most able to the top…”

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