Soldiers on an Ottoman Island: The Janissaries of Crete, Eighteenth-Early Nineteenth Centuries

in Turkish Historical Review
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This essay is a contribution to the study of provincial janissaries through the case of Crete. After a brief survey of the history of the janissary corps as the wider framework within which the janissaries of Crete have to be studied, the essay focuses on them, resolving the confusion between janissaries and other military groups, discussing the differences between imperial and local janissaries, and offering an explanation as to why various sources exaggerate the number of janissaries while officially they were relatively few. Finally, it is argued that, from a socio-economic point of view, the janissaries must be seen as inclusive and expansive urban and rural networks that placed their members at an advantageous position over others through legal privilege and access to funds.

Soldiers on an Ottoman Island: The Janissaries of Crete, Eighteenth-Early Nineteenth Centuries

in Turkish Historical Review




Imber ColinThe Ottoman Empire 1300–1650: The Structure of Power (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan2002) pp. 140–2; cf. Gibb H.A.R. and Harold Bowen Islamic Society and the West: A Study of the Impact of Western Civilization on Moslem Culture in the Near East. Vol. i: Islamic Society in the Eighteenth Century. Part i (London-New York-Toronto: Oxford University Press 1950) p. 62 and Ménage “Devshirme” p. 212. The latest mention of carrying out a levy of young men is as far as we know dated 1705: Vasdravellis Ioannis K. (ed.) Iστορικά αρχεία Mακεδονίας. B΄. Aρχείον Bεροίας-Nαούσης 1598–1886 [Historical Archives of Macedonia. ii. Archive of Veroia – Naoussa 1598–1886] (Thessaloniki: Hetaireia Makedonikon Spoudon 1954) pp. 112–14; cf. Ménage “Devshirme” p. 212.


ImberThe Ottoman Empire 1300–1650 pp. 142 257–8; Murphey Rhoads Ottoman Warfare 1500–1700 (London: ucl Press 1999) pp. 16 45; Murphey “Yeñi Čeri” pp. 322–4.


Tezcan BakiThe Second Ottoman Empire: Political and Social Transformation in the Early Modern World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2010) pp. 177–82.


ImberThe Ottoman Empire 1300–1650 p. 285. It should be noted however that there is convincing evidence that despite the fact that then it was still forbidden to do so even as early as the fifteenth century the janissaries married bequeathed their estates and janissary status to their heirs and were actively involved in economic life. See for instance Akdağ ­Mustafa “Yeniçeri Ocak Nizamının Bozuluşu” Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi ­Dergisi 5/3 (1947) 291–312; Mihailovic Konstantin Memoirs of a Janissary trans. ­Benjamin Stolz historical commentary and notes by Svat Soucek (Ann Arbor: The University of ­Michigan 1975) p. 159; Fleischer Cornell H. Bureaucrat and Intellectual in the ­Ottoman Empire: the ­Historian Mustafa Ali (1541–1600) (Princeton n.j.: Princeton University Press 1986) p. 222; Kafadar Cemal “On the purity and corruption of the janissaries” The Turkish Studies Association Bulletin 15/2 (1991) 273–80; Imber The Ottoman Empire 1300–1650 pp. 140–1; Murphey “Yeñi Čeri” p. 327; Lowry Heath W. The Nature of the Early Ottoman State (Albany: State University of New York Press 2003) pp. 103–4. On the prohibition to marry before retirement and to be active in the crafts and trade see Imber The Ottoman Empire 1300–1650 p. 140; Gibb and Bowen Islamic Society and the Westi:i pp. 62 63 and n. 2.


 See for instance Tezcan Baki“The 1622 military rebellion in Istanbul: a historiographical journey”International Journal of Turkish Studies8/1–2 (2002) 25–43; Tezcan The Second Ottoman Empire; Abou-El-Haj Rifa‘at Ali The 1703 Rebellion and the Structure of Ottoman Politics (Leiden: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te İstanbul 1984); Shaw Stanford J. Between Old and New: The Ottoman Empire under Sultan Selim iii 1789–1807 (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 1971) pp. 378–83.


ImberThe Ottoman Empire 1300–1650 p. 142.


GreeneA Shared World p. 87.


 Cf. GreeneA Shared World p. 37. It should be noted that titles such as beşe or ağa do not suffice to indicate to which military corps their bearers belonged. For the ambiguity of military titles see the note by Murphey to Table 1 “Yeñi Čeri” p. 329; Greene A Shared World p. 37 n. 87; Spyropoulos Yannis “Kοινωνική διοικητική οικονομική και πολιτική διάσταση του οθωμανικού στρατού: οι γενίτσαροι της Kρήτης 1750–1826” [Social Administrative Economic and Political Dimensions of the Ottoman Army: the Janissaries of Crete 1750–1826] Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation University of Crete 2014 pp. 69–70.


Rafeq Abdul-KarimThe Province of Damascus 1723–1783 (Beirut: Khayats1966) pp. 26–35 and passim; Rafeq Abdul-Karim “The local forces in Syria” esp. pp. 277–81; Barbir Karl K. Ottoman Rule in Damascus 1708–1758 (Princeton n.j.: Princeton University Press 1980) pp. 89–97. Cf. Hathaway with Barbir The Arab Lands p. 91.


GreeneA Shared World p. 38. Rafeq The Province of Damascus pp. 26–35 argues that the members of the local janissaries of Damascus became identified with the local population only after 1658–1659 in reaction to the establishment of janissary units sent in from Istanbul and that before that date they were not necessarily of local origin. Rafeq treats the local janissary corps as the champion of local interests in the eighteenth century; see for instance Rafeq The Province of Damascus pp. 224–6.


For 1741see boamad.d.6568: 363–384 389–403 663–695; for 1762 see boamad.d.6280: 567–584 691–704 915–940.


By 1774the decrease in comparison to 1741 was 46 per cent for Hanya 44 per cent for Kandiye and 16 per cent for Resmo; boamad.d.1717: 743–769 771–784 815–828; boamad.d.17415: 309–337 343–356 361–374.


Sources: for 1685Uzunçarşılı İsmail Hakkı Osmanlı Devleti Teşkilâtından: Kapukulu Ocakları vol. i (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu 1943) p. 329. For 1741–1742 boamad.d.6568: 363–384 389–403 663–695; boamad.d.4449. For the 1770s: boamad.d.17344: 157–188; boamad.d.1717: 743–769 771–784 815–828; boamad.d.17415: 309–337 343–356 ­361–374; boamad.d.824: 615–640 643–661 663–676; boamad.d.17942: 50–75 80–97; boad.bşm.d.4755; boamad.d.21189: 1–14. For the 1810s: boamad.d.17575: 29 36 55 71; boamad.d.4645; boamad.d.6461; boamad.d.4624;


PraktikidisΧωρογραφία p. 43. On the other hand Praktikidis records figures close to those of the official registers for several local corps Χωρογραφία pp. 43–4.


For instance in 1783Bonneval and Dumas Aναγνώριση p. 190 claimed that the imperial janissaries of Kandiye were roughly 12000 when according to Ottoman official figures they were fewer than 1800. As in the case of Praktikidis 35 years later the figures that Bonneval and Dumas provided about various local corps were much closer to those of the Ottoman registers.


GreeneA Shared World pp. 92–3.


GreeneA Shared World p. 43.


MurpheyOttoman Warfare pp. 28 158–9; Gülsoy Ersin Girit’in Fethi ve Osmanlı İdaresinin Kurulması (1645–1670) (Istanbul: Tatav 2004) pp. 189–90.


 Cf. Raymond“Soldiers in trade” p. 23.

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