'Rise of Empires: Ottoman' Review: In-depth research and attention to period detail immensely adds to the brilliance of the series

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Netflix is taking new leaps in order to expand its reach in the international arena. As part of this outreach, Netflix recently released a Turkish historical docudrama series titled Rise of Empires: Ottoman. Its six-part first season, directed by Emre Şahin and written by Kelly McPherson, revolves around the young Ottoman Emperor Mehmed II and his quest to capture Constantinople—the coveted seat of the Byzantine Empire or the Eastern Roman Empire, in the year 1453. It’s not just a battle between two empires but a clash between Christianity and Islam whose outcome would set course of history for centuries. What makes Mehmed II’s quest nigh impossible is the fact that 23 armies before him, including one led by his own father Murad II, have failed in their attempt to capture Constantinople, commonly known as ‘The Red Apple’ (modern-day Istanbul) to the Turks.  

One needs to watch and appreciate Rise of Empires: Ottomon to understand what is often missing in our own historical offerings. The moment you touch history, the greatest blasphemy that you can commit is when you try to alter its actual course for dramatic purposes. While it’s important to avoid fiddling with historical details, it is also essential that you present the characters objectively. That's what Rise of Empires: Ottoman does really well.

Now, Mehmed II (aka Mehmed the Conquerer) is a legendary Turkish figure who conquered Constantinople at the age of 21 to put an end of the glorious history of the Roman Empire. Mehmed II's exploits at Constantinople and what all he achieved during his 30 year old reign (not to mention defeating the crusade led by John Hunyadi during his first reign as a child) changed the course of world history for the next 300 years. And yet the series doesn't portrayal him as some legendary figure. He is there pretty much in flesh and blood.

Also, the characterizations of other important historical figures such as Byzantine King Constantine XI, Ottoman grand vizier Çandarlı Halil Pasha, and Italian mercenerary Giovanni Giustiniani, who fought for the Romans, are quite accurate. Even the detailing about the legendary Janissaries (elite corps of slaves made up of kidnapped young Christian boys forcibly converted to Islam that formed the Ottoman Sultan's household troops) or the crazy-headed Bashi-Bazouks (the irregular soldiers of the Ottoman army) is done to a tee. It is something Bollywood can greatly learn from.

Rise of Empires: Ottoman needs to be commended for its strong focus on the different aspects of warfare, palace politics, religion, and intrigue. One gets to learn some much about what it was like to fight a war that continued for several weeks in the 15th century. One also learns about different strategies that the Ottomans and Romans employed at different points in time. Historically, it used to be considered impossible to take down the fort falls using any form of artillery, including cannon fire. But, Mehmed II changed the rules of the game by employing such heavy cannons which had the potential to bring down the fort walls. Everything about warfare changed after Mehmed II’s siege of Constantinople as kingdoms started paying more importance to the use of artillery as opposed to the earlier notion of just making the fort walls strong. The in-depth research and attention to period detail immensely adds to the overall brilliance of the series.

Rating: 8.5/10

A version of this review was first published in The Sunday Guardian.

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