Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: Turks

From Ghazi to Sipahi

May 2, 2008

The ghazi warriors who provided the original cutting edge of Ottoman expansion were land-hungry freebooters of diverse origins. An increase in the size of this group was essential if the Ottoman state was to continue expanding. The timar system provided an economic basis for a numerous class of such sipahis, whose obedience was ensured by institutionalizing denial of the hereditary principle in the Ottoman law of feudal land-holding, and whose appetite for warfare was stimulated by the enticing prospect of fresh plunder perpetually available across the frontiers of the empire. According to the Venetian ambassador…there were 80,000 sipahis in European Turkey in 1573 [C.E.] and 50,000 in the Asiatic provinces, together with 15,000 sipahis ‘of the Porte’, household cavalry who were paid by the treasury and did not receive timars. The sipahis remained an unruly class, militarily valuable but politically untrustworthy, whose turbulence it was necessary to balance and control by increasing the numbers and improving the efficiency of public administrators and by establishing a body of household infantry whose effectiveness on campaign and loyalty to the sultan were beyond question. It was in response to these requirements that the Ottomans of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries developed slavery as a fundamental social institution; organizing by this means a supply of obedient and talented soldiers and administrators on a scale suited to the demands of a great imperialist power.

Paul Coles, The Ottoman Impact on Europe, pp. 49-50

Seljuk Fiefs Were Not Hereditary

March 7, 2003

The Seljuk empire depended for its functioning on the granting of land, or the revenue that could be raised from that land, in return for annual tribute or military service to the Sultan. The fief, or iqta as it was called, was seen by the ruler as payment for services rendered and the grant was nothing like so absolute as in Western feudalism. The fiefs could be swapped around and all that mattered was that the changes should not be brought about in a way to cause anyone to lose face or, what amounted to much the same thing, money.

P. H. Newby, Saladin In His Time, p. 28

Ottoman Nobility: Pashas, Begs, and Beglierbegs

March 7, 2003

In [the] provincial government [of the Ottoman Empire] no distinction was drawn between civil and military authority. The administration of large cities like Damascus or great provinces like Egypt was entrusted to pashas, this being a title, not an office, indicating that its holder had been admitted to the highest ruling circle of the empire and membership of the Divan, or State Council. These officials were regularly transferred from one post to another, to prevent them from developing local loyalties or building personal systems of patronage and power. Practice was somewhat different in the conquered territories of Balkan Europe…where senior officials normally retained office for long periods of time. European Turkey was considered to be an administrative unity called the Eyalet of Rumeli, whose supreme governor was the Beglierbeg; during the 1540’s [C.E.] two new Hungarian beglierbegliks were created, with their capitals at Buda and Temesvar. The area was subdivided during the fifteenth century into sanjaks, most of which were reorganized during the sixteenth century into twenty-four pashaliks, governed, as their name implies, by officers of the rank of pasha, who were, however, as in other frontier regions of the empire, entitled begs.

Paul Coles, The Ottoman Impact on Europe, pp. 43-44

Emphasis mine.

Xenograg’s title of bey is a cultural variant of beg.

Three-Fold Root of Monarchy

March 7, 2003

Ottoman society revolved around and was shaped by the central institution of the sultanate. Historically the institution of monarchy has a three-fold root: in the monarch’s role as leader in battle, as law-giver, and as ecclesiastical official. Ottoman sultans functioned in all these capacities.

Paul Coles, The Ottoman Impact on Europe, p. 34

Justice with Common Sense

March 7, 2003

As has happened with other barbarians in history, the first three generations of Seljuqs made splendid rulers. Neither Tughril Beg nor his son, Alp Arslan, could read or write. But they were great fighters and, being men of simple minds unwarped by laws and traditions, they administered justice with common sense, without fear or favour.

Soldiers of Fortune, p. 28

Amir Grades of Rank

March 7, 2003

A brief explanation regarding the ranks of Mamluke ameers [sic] may here be useful. The government was divided into two distinct classes, “men of the pen” and “men of the sword,” civil servants and soldiers. The men of the sword at this period consisted solely of Turkish Mamlukes born on the steppes….

When the sultan wished to promote an efficient soldier to officer rank, he was given a commission and the rank of “an ameer of ten,” corrosponding, let us say, to a lieutenant. He was obliged to maintain ten mamlukes of his own, and was given a small fief of government land, on the income from which he had to live and maintain his ten mamlukes. In the event of war, the officer and his ten men served in the army, providing their own horses, weapons and supplies.

Next above an ameer of ten was an ameer of forty, who maintained forty trained mamlukes. We may compare this officer to a captain. At this stage, he was allowed to have a tablkhana, a small military band, consisting of drums, and possibly also cymbals, oboes and trumpets. The essential component was the drums, which were used in battle.

…The drums were not merely a military ritual, but played a vital part in battle. An ameer of forty was consequently often called “an ameer of drums”….

The next rank above ameer of drums was that of ameer of one hundred, whom we may liken to colonels. The establishment of ameers of one hundred under Baybars was twenty-four. These senior ameers were each supposed to have one hundred private mamlukes. They had larger bands than those of the ameers of forty. The sultan’s own band was larger still, and was commanded by a band-master. The drums were presumably side-drums or kettle-drums, for they were beaten on horseback.

Ameers of one hundred are often described as “commanders of one thousand.” The one hundred were the ameer’s personal retainers, always under arms. In war time, when the reserves were mobilized, the ameer commanded a thousand troopers. All real Mamluke units were mounted. They had no infantry and disliked fighting on foot.

In peace time, the sultan and all ameers of a hundred were entitled to have their bands play outside their houses at sunset. History does not explain what happened if several ameers lived next door to one another in the same street, for in Egypt all ameers seem to have had houses in Cairo. The resulting evening cacophany must have been trying for civilian neighbours….

Reasonably enough, the right to beat drums was a military privilege….

Soldiers of Fortune, pp. 77-80

Outpouring from the Steppe

March 7, 2003

The dominant theme of the half millennium which began about the year 1000 [C.E.] was the outpouring of Turkish and Mongolian peoples from the Eurasian steppe. Infiltration or conquest by these barbarian nomads affected almost the entire civilized world. Only the poor and peripheral areas, scarcely worth the exertions of conquest, such as Japan or the medieval European west, escaped political dominion by steppe warriors. In geographical scope only the conquests of the bronze-working charioteers of the eighteenth to fifteenth centuries [B.C.E.] can compare with this ethnic inundation.

Paul Coles, The Ottoman Impact on Europe, p. 11

A Vast Encampment

March 7, 2003

Uninterrupted conquest was the law of life of Turkish society; the sultans emerged into the light of recorded history as leaders of a ghazi horde. Even when the empire had acquired a metropolis and was governed through a formal and elaborate administrative system, it remained almost continuously at war, a vast encampment rather than a state in the European sense. Until the advent of a succession of luxurious and fainéant rulers in the later sixteenth century [C.E.], sultans were active field commanders, usually quitting Istanbul with the army each spring and campaigning throughout the summer.

Archer Jones, The Art of War in the Western World, p. 34

Slavery in the Ottoman Empire

July 19, 1999

The comparatively mild character of Turkish slavery was due to the fact that slaves were not valued primarily for the economic usefulness of their labor. Slaves were used instead to satisfy the desire of upstart Ottoman notables (often slaves themselves) to accumulate a large household of attendants, thus attesting to their own personal greatness. Moreover, since a numerous, well-equipped, and loyal slave household helped to assure a great man’s personal safety, precautionary considerations impelled every Turkish magnate to treat his slaves with at least a modicum of generosity and kindness.

Slaves in Ottoman society, therefore, were primarily personal servants and bodyguards. Slave women also regularly played the role of concubine, and mothered the heirs of the Turkish ruling class. The great dignitaries directed the affairs of Ottoman society, especially statecraft and war, through their slave households. This meant that slaves managed important facets of Ottoman life. In particular, the imperial slave household administered the secular side of the sultan’s government, and constituted the backbone of the sultan’s field army.

Individuals who survived capture and the hardships of transport to the urban slave markets entered a strange, rich, wonderful new world. They migrated from remote, isolated, and often poverty-stricken villages to the metropolitan center of Ottoman civilization itself. The new style of life which opened to their eyes, with all its pomp and luxury, sophistication and scope, had wide appeal. This is not surprising, for the slave career among the Turks was sometimes extremely advantageous. The most powerful and wealthy men of the empire were slaves of the imperial household. Slaves commanded the Ottoman armies, governed the provinces, and framed the policy of the Ottoman state. Rise to the pinnacle of the Ottoman power structure was always unusual, of course; yet in the households of the great, even the humblest slave enjoyed, if only as a spectator, a richly variegated experience of the great world.

In the 15th and 16th centuries [C.E.], the energy and formidability of the Ottoman polity, the vigor of its officials, and the valor of it soldiers depended upon massive enslavement of peasant sons drawn from the fringes of the territories under Ottoman influence. Simple peasant boys, once drafted into the imperial household, were systematically trained for the tasks of defending, extending, and governing one of the world’s greatest empires, all on behalf of a monarch half-slave himself.

A career open to talents—wide open—regularly tended to project men of unusual abilities to the top of the official ladder; and so long as authority within the Ottoman state continued to be wielded by men who well remembered their peasant childhood, the bias of officials’ actions and inactions tended to show a modicum of sympathy for the peasantry whence they, as individuals, had sprung.

This meant, in particular, that the high officials of the Ottoman Empire exhibited a general will to enforce legal limits upon the goods and services a Muslim landholder could require from the peasants living on the lands granted to him in return for military service with the sultan’s army. A built-in tension between the sultan’s slave officials and the Muslim cavalrymen and fief holders resulted. It was from such a balance that both the sultan’s personal power and the welfare of the Balkan peasantries under the sultan’s administration proceeded. As long as this balanced tension was maintained, the Ottoman polity remained formidable.

William H. McNeill, Europe’s Steppe Frontier: 1500-1800, pp. 27-32