MØNA2507 – Gunpowder Empires: Ottomans, Safavids and Mughals

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Course content

What is today the Middle East, Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia, Pakistan and India was long dominated by Islamic empires, who shared many cultural reference points, texts, technologies and techniques of ruling. In this course students learn about the main features of early modern Islamic empires, with an emphasis on the Ottomans, Safavids and Mughals. While the Ottoman polity emerged in Anatolia in 1299, and rose to prominence in the fifteenth century, both the Safavids and Mughals came to power in Iran and northern India respectively in the early sixteenth century. Emphasising the interconnectedness of this part of the world, the circulation of scribes, intellectuals and artists, and also the war-making practices of these three polities, the course tries to give students a historical depth of understanding of the dynamism and flexibility of these Islamic polities before European hegemony.

Learning outcome

The primary objective of the course is to familiarise students with the main political and cultural features of early modern Islamic empires from the Balkans to Bengal, and to realise that they represent much more than a stagnant backwater waiting to be expanded upon by Europeans. The secondary perspective is to provide students with a historical depth that can be used to contextualise contemporary legitimacy claims and the use of imperial history in political discussions. The course does this by providing students with in-depth knowledge of a rich Islamic tradition that shaped and brought together a wide geographic area – one that is markedly different from what is typically emphasised in courses on political Islam.

After having followed this course, you will have:

  • gained familiarity with the main developments and institutions of the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires.
  • acquired a grasp of historiographical and social-scientific approaches to explaining the rise and fall of early modern Islamic empires.
  • understand how these empires legitimised their rule
  • acquired the knowledge and tools you need to understand what ties these empires together historically, and to see contemporary politics in light of these commonalities.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.


Recommended previous knowledge

The teaching Language is English. You must be able to read the syllabus texts and follow lectures in English.

It is recommended to have studied one of the MØNA-courses at 1000 level (for instance MØNA1000 - Midtøsten: Permanent krise? Hvordan forstå Midtøsten eller MØNA1505 - Midtøstens moderne historie) but it is not required. Courses in History or Political Science might compensate for lack of area studies.


The course is based on a total of 12 two-hour lectures and 3 two-hour seminars. The lectures will focus on giving an overview over the various aspects of the history and historiography of the three empires, while the seminars will be based on group discussions of selected readings from the syllabus.

Mandatory tuition activities:

  • Two reflection papers: All students must submit two reflection papers based on the syllabus texts in the course of the term, one in February, another in April. Each reflection paper should be a small ‘book review’ of a single syllabus text (as indicated in the semester pages), and should not exceed one A4 page.
  • Attendance: Students must attend at least two out of three seminars in order to sit the final exam. Attending a third is not mandatory but highly recommended.

All compulsory activities must be approved in order to qualify for the exam. It is the student’s responsibility to check whether or not the compulsory activities are approved. This is how you apply for valid absence from compulsory activities/compulsory attendance.

It is strongly recommended to attend all classes.


Before you may sit the exam, you must have completed the mandatory activities, see the point “Teaching” above.

The final assessment will be based on a 4-hour sit-down exam. The grade achieved in the course is based solely on this exam.

Digital examination

The written examination is conducted in the digital examination system Inspera. You will need to familiarize yourself with the digital examination arrangements in Inspera.

Read more about written examinations using Inspera.

Explanations and appeals

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Special examination arrangements

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Facts about this course






Every spring


Every spring

Teaching language