Diriliş: Ertuğrul – translated as Resurrection: Ertugrul in English – is a Turkish historical fiction TV series that has cost a huge amount and gained millions of viewers. It’s also divided opinion globally. And one must say – the Knights Templar don’t come across at all well. But it shows that medieval history continues to be a Netflix ratings winner.
Resurrection:Ertugrul – the founding of the Ottoman Empire
Since 2014, this series has run to five seasons. It’s got a massive fan base from from Turkey to Afghanistan but less well received down in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Because in some parts of the Middle East, there have been accusations that Resurrection: Ertugrul reflects a desire by Turkey to resurrect the Ottoman Empire.
And what was the Ottoman Empire – you might ask?
The Ottomans were a Turkic people who overthrew the declining Christian Byzantine Empire turning its capital Constantinople into what we now call Istanbul. That was in the year 1453. For the next four hundred years, most of the Middle East down to Mecca and Cairo was governed by this empire.
And the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul regarded himself as not only a ruler of land and people but by taking the title “caliph” – he was also the keeper of their Muslim souls. The guardian of the holy places (Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem).
Introducing the hero of Resurrection: Ertugrul – and his hatred of the Knights Templar
The hero of Resurrection: Ertugrul is a 13th century warrior called Ertugrul Ghazi and he is the father of Osman, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. In season one, he leads a Turkic tribe (the “Kayi”) that is supporting the dominant clan among the Turks in the period before the Ottoman ascendancy – the Seljuks.
It was the Seljuk Turks who sparked off the Crusades as they marched across what is now Turkey and menaced the Byzantine capital Constantinople. Terrified of the approaching threat, the Byzantine emperor appealed to the west, which brought crusader armies into the region. The forces from the west seized Palestine and parts of modern Syria and Turkey establishing Christian kingdoms. A new military order was formed to consolidate those gains: The Knights Templar.
So, Resurrection; Ertugrul is basically about a Turkish warrior fighting the Byzantines on one side, the Knights Templar on another and then the Mongols show up. I’ve blogged about the surprise Mongol invasion of the Middle East so use the search tab to find out more. For a while, both the Seljuk Turks and the Knights Templar thought the Mongols would dominate.
In the first episode of season one, while hunting in the forests, Ertugrul chances upon a group of Templars abusing a Seljuk prisoner. Now, as you know, the Knights Templar are either depicted as heroes or villains in fiction. In Resurrection: Ertugrul – they are definitely the bad guys. As this clip below shows.
Getting a medieval history drama to be a roaring success
Whatever you think of the historical angle of Resurrection: Ertugrul – the makers have certainly proved that medieval history drama can be massively successful. It’s a story told with conviction and flair. Is it biased? You bet. This is five seasons of Turkish patriotism. But in many ways, it reminds me of Victorian fictional depictions of the Middle Ages heroising “English” figures like Richard the Lionheart and Robin Hood.
Resurrection: Ertugrul is set in a period when the Knights Templar would have been in what is now Turkey. Ironically, it wasn’t the Seljuks that destroyed Constantinople in the 13th century but a western Christian army funded by Venice. I’ve blogged about this too – search for my posts on the Fourth Crusade. In the year 1204, crusaders breached the walls of Constantinople and shamefully looted a Christian city.
Constantinople never really fully recovered from that act of criminal treachery. The Byzantine Empire limped on until 1453 when the Ottoman Empire took it after a very eventful siege. That amazing last battle between the Byzantines and the Ottomans is the subject of a Netflix drama/documentary called Rise of Empires: Ottoman – which I watched on a long haul flight last year and was hooked to every episode.
Here’s the trailer for Rise of Empires.
In February this year – before the Coronavirus lockdown – I visited the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. This was once the palace of the Ottoman sultans. To say it’s ornate would be an understatement!