Translating Ottoman Justice: Ragusan Dragomans As Interpreters of Ottoman Law

in Islamic Law and Society
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This article focuses on strategies of legal translation and interpretation adopted by dragomans of the Ottoman tributary state of the Republic of Ragusa. Based on hüccets, iʿlāms and draft-documents (minute) from the Turkish Chancellery of the Republic of Ragusa that shed light on the multiple roles played by Ragusan dragomans in Ottoman-Ragusan legal exchanges, I argue that these Ragusan expert-linguists were not disinterested parties in these legal communications; rather, they actively shaped and controlled the content of information in Ottoman-Ragusan legal interchanges, thereby influencing the outcomes of legal cases involving Ragusan litigants.




Paolo Preto, Venezia e i turchi (Florence: Sansoni, 1975), 101. Quoted in Eric R. Dursteler, Venetians in Constantinople: nation, identity, and coexistence in the early modern Mediterranean (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 36.


Peter Burke, “The Renaissance Translator as Go-Between,” in Renaissance go-betweens: cultural exchange in early modern Europe, eds. Höfele and W. Von Koppenfels (Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2005), 18.


Allan Cunningham, “The Dragomans of the British Embassy in Constantinople,” in Collected essays by Allan Cunningham, ed. Edward Ingram, 2 vols. (London, England; Portland, Or.: F. Cass, 1993), 2:1-22.


Suna Timur Agil, “Les Interpréters au Carrefour des cultures: Ou les drogmans dans l’Empire ottoman (XVIe -debut du XXe siècle),” Babel, 51:1 (2009), 1-19.


Dursteler, Venetians in Constantinople, 36-42; Rothman, “Interpreting Dragomans,” 776-80.


See, for instance, De Groot, “The Dragomans of the Embassies in Istanbul 1785 – 1835,” 130-58; Nora Şeni, “Dynasties de drogmans et levantinisme à Istanbul,” in Istanbul et Les LanguesOrientales, ed. Frédéric Hitzel (Paris: L’ Harmattan, 1997), 161-75.


Vesna Miović-Perić, Na Razmedju: osmansko-dubrovačka granica (1667-1806) (Dubrovnik: Zavod za povijesne znanosti hrvatske akademije znanosti i umjetnosti u Dubrovniku, 1997), 272-3, 306-7.


DSA, Acta Turcarum, 4027-48; 4061-66; 4068-9; 4076-7.


DSA, Acta Turcarum, 4302-4606; 4617; 4631-4646; 4648-4663; 4665-4675; 4677-4682; 4885-4887.


In 1978, Hans J. Vermeer wrote a seminal essay, Ein Rahmen für eine allgemeine Trans­lationtheorie, in which he laid the foundations for the skopos theory (skopostheorie) In this essay, Vermeer introduced the Greek term skopos (“aim”, “purpose”) as a technical term denoting the purpose of a translation and the action of translating. The skopos of the translation, according to Vermeer, determines all of the translator’s activities and strategies. From 1978 to 1984, Vermeer and his fellow-theorists continued to refine the theoretical underpinnings of this new, functional approach to translation. The result was Vermeer’s book, written in collaboration with Katharina Reiss, Grundlegung einer allgemeinen Translations theorie (Tübingen: M. Niemeyer, 1984). Grundlegung became the ‘manifesto’ of skopos theorists. For succinct reviews of the Vermeer-Reiss skopos theory and its functional approach to translation activities, see Mary Snell-Hornby, The Turns of Translation Studies: New Paradigms or Shifting View-Points? (Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub. Co., 2006), 51-6; Jeremy Munday, Introducing TranslationStudies: Theories and Applications (New York: Rouledge, 2001), 79-82.


Miović, Dubrovačka republika u spisima osmaniskih sultana, 63-97.


See, for example, Viorel Panaite, “The Legal and Political Status of Wallachia and Moldavia in Relation to the Ottoman Porte” and Tereź Oborni, “Between Vienna and Constantinople: Notes on the Legal Status of the Principality of Transilvania,” in The European Tributary States of the Ottoman Empire in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, eds. Gábor Kármán and Lovro Kunčević (Leiden · Boston: Brill, 2013), 9-42, and 67-91.


See Yutaka Horii, “Some Characteristics of the Ottoman Capitulations in the Sixteenth Century: The Cases of Dubrovnik and Venice,” in The Mediterranean World, 20: 6 (2010), 199-206; Mladen Glavina, “An Overview of the formation and functioning of the institute of Capitulations in the Ottoman Empire and the 1604 Dubrovnik capitulation,” Prilozi za orijentalnu filolofiju 58 (2008), 139-61, and Bruce Masters, “Capitulations,” in Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, eds. Gábor Agoston and Bruce Masters (New York: Facts on File, 2009), 118-19.


Miović-Perić, Na Razmedju: osmansko-dubrovačka granica (1667-1806), 21-3.


Ivan Božić, Dubrovnik i Turska u XIV I XV veku (Beograd: SAN, 1952), 239.


Miović-Perić, Na Razmedju: osmansko-dubrovačka granica (1667-1806), 20.


Alexander H. De Groot, “Historical Development of the Capitulatory Regime in the Ottoman Middle East from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries,” in Ottoman Capitulations: Text and Context, Oriente Moderno,Nouva serie, Anno 33, 83:3 (2003), 592. For similar stipulations in a Dutch ahdname from 1614, see Maurits H. van den Boogert, “Intermediaries par excellence? Ottoman Dragomans in the Eighteenth Century,” in Hommes de l’entre-deux: parcours individuels et portraits de groupes sur la frontière de la Méditerranée, XVIe-XXe siècle, eds. Bernard Heyberger and Chantal Verdeil (Paris: Indes savantes, 2009), 98.


De Groot, “The Dragomans of the Embassies in Istanbul 1785 – 1834,” 130-58.


Fehim Efendić, “Dragomani i kancelarija turska u Dubrovniku,” Kalendar Gajret (1940), 4-8.


Robin Harris, Dubrovnik: A History (London: Saqi, 2006), 106.


Vesna Miović-Perić, “Dragomans of the Dubrovnik Republic: Their Training and Career,” Dubrovnik Annals 5 (2001), 81-94.


B. Krizman, O dubrovačkoj diplomaciji, 121.


Dursteler, Venetians in Constantinople, 38.


DSA, Lettere di Levante, 94: 30-1.


DSA, Lettre di Levante, 30-1.


Between 1377 and 1627, the Ragusan government designated several locations around the city of Ragusa as temporary quarantines for people and merchandise that came from plague-infested areas. These locations included Cavtat and the islands of Mrkan, Supetar, Bobara, Mljet and Lokrum. After the building of the Ragusan quarantine (Lazzarreto) was completed in 1627, it became the main location for the decontamination of suspected merchandise and people who recently arrived in Ragusa. Cf. Željko Baklaić, Mate Ljubičić and Josip Bakić, “Lazareti na istočnim obalam Jadrana,” in 600 Obljetnica karantenskog lazareta na otoku Mljetu sa početkom djelatne uslužnosti i dezinfekcije, 50 Obljetnica ustroja državne djelatnosti dddd u Republici Hrvatskoj (Split: Cian; Rijeka: Dezinsekcija; Zagreb: Sanitacija; Dubrovnik: Sanitat, 1997), 45-6.


Heyd, Studies in Old Ottoman Criminal Law, 244. For other examples of Ottoman legal procedures involved in the investigation of murder cases, see Rudolph Peters, Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law: Theory and Practicefrom the Sixteenth to the Twenty-first Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 246.


DSA, Acta Turcarum, 4090, a-b.


DSA, Acta Turcarum, 4090, b.


DSA, Acta Turcarum, 4090, a.


Cf. DSA, Acta Turcarum, 4633, a; 4634, a-b; 4642, a-b. In some cases, the kadı did not specify the names of the witnesses in his reports. Rather, he stated that the ‘facts’ of the case were confirmed by ‘many people of proper faith.’ See, for example, DSA, Acta Turcarum, 4646, a-b. Sometimes, Ottoman kadıs authorized other Ottoman legal officials to carry on legal investigations in Ragusa. For example, in 1750, the kadı of Ljubinje authorized the mufti of Blagaj to go to Ragusa and act on his behalf. DSA, Acta Turcarum, 4607, a-b-c.


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