Throughout its history, agriculture was the economic mainstay of the Ottoman Empire, which dominated North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, and southeastern Europe for over 600 years until the early twentieth century. Most cultivators possessed small landholdings, engaging in a host of tasks, with their crops and animal products mainly dedicated to self-consumption. But enormous changes over time prevailed in the agrarian sector. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, agriculture became more and more commercialized, with increasing amounts of produce going to sale to domestic and international consumers. At least three major engines increased this agricultural production devoted to the market, the first being rising demand, both international and domestic. Abroad, especially after 1840, the living standards and buying power of many Europeans improved substantially, permitting them to buy a wider choice and quantity of goods. Rising domestic markets within the empire were also important, thanks to increased urbanization as well as mounting personal consumption. In the late nineteenth century, newly opened railroad districts brought a flow of domestic wheat and other cereals to major coastal cities. Railroads also attracted market gardeners who now could grow and ship fruits and vegetables to the expanding and newly accessible markets of these cities. The second engine driving agricultural output concerns cultivators' increasing payment of their taxes in cash rather than in kind (that is, in agricultural or other products). Some historians have asserted that the increasing commitment to market agriculture was a product both of a mounting per capita tax burden and the state's growing preference for tax payments in cash rather than in kind. In this view, such government decisions forced cultivators to grow crops for sale in order to pay their taxes. Thus, state policy is seen as the most important factor influencing the cultivators' shift from subsistence farming to market agriculture. However, cultivators' rising involvement in the market was not simply a reactive response to the state's demands for cash taxes; other factors were at work. There was a third engine driving increased agricultural production – cultivators' own desires for consumer goods. Among Ottoman consumers, increasingly frequent changes in taste, along with the rising availability of cheap imported goods, "stimulated" a rising consumption of goods. This pattern of rising consumption began in the eighteenth century, as seen by the urban phenomenon of the Tulip Period (1718C1730) a time of urban revival and orientation toward the West and accelerated subsequently. Wanting more consumer goods, cultivators needed more cash. Thus, rural families worked harder than they had previously, not merely because of cash taxes. In such circumstances, leisure time diminished, cash incomes rose, and the flow of consumer goods into the countryside accelerated. Increases in agricultural production both promoted and accompanied a vast expansion of the area of land under cultivation. At the beginning of the eighteenth century and indeed until the end of the empire, there remained vast stretches of uncultivated, sometimes nearly empty, land on every side. These spaces began to fill in, a process finally completed only in the 1950s in most areas of the former empire. Many factors were involved. In many cases, families increased the amount of time at work, bringing into cultivation uncultivated land already under their control. They also engaged in sharecropping – agreeing to work another's land and paying that person a share of the output. Often such acreage had been pasturel – and for animals but now was given over to crop production. The extraordinarily fertile lands of Moldavia and Wallachia (modern Romania), for example, had been among the least populated lands of the Ottoman empire in the eighteenth century, but now saw large amounts of land brought under the plow. Significant concentrations of commercial agriculture first formed in areas easily accessible by water, such as the Danube River basin. During the nineteenth century, expansion in such areas continued, and interior regions joined the list as well. There were also some increases in productivity. Irrigation projects, one form of intensive agriculture, developed in some areas, and the use of modern agricultural tools increased. But more intensive exploitation of existing resources remained comparatively unusual, and most increases in production derived from placing additional land under cultivation.