This panel draws upon recent developments in Ottoman economic and diplomatic history to underscore how the economic and diplomatic activities of diverse actors in the Ottoman Empire and beyond suggest a more comprehensive, complex, and contingent approach in thinking through the practices and relations of trade, diplomacy, and finance in the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth century. Ultimately, it considers how these practices and relations by diverse actors affected the ways in which the Ottoman Empire and inter-imperial relations operated.
The growth of domestic and international trade and inter-imperial contacts were some of the aspects that characterized the Ottoman Empire from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. Over the eighteenth century, commercial exchange, inter-imperial diplomatic relations, financial structures, and mobility not only evolved but also became fundamental to the functioning of the empire that allowed for the inclusion of both Ottoman subjects and foreign merchants into intricate social, economic, and diplomatic networks. Recent historical perspectives have challenged the views that Europeans were economically dominant, and that Ottoman socio-economic policy was oblivious and discouraging market competition and mobility of (non)economic actors during this period. Yet, such perspectives offered a limited understanding of the role and the nature of the involvement of various players in the functioning of the Ottoman empire and inter-imperial relations.
For this reason, the panel brings together graduate students and early careers scholars working on various aspects of Ottoman economy and inter-imperial relations across different geographies to think through these questions together. Paper 1 examines the credit relations between British merchants and Ottoman subjects/authorities in the eighteenth-century Aleppo by analyzing a variety of Ottoman registers and commercial correspondence of British merchants. Paper 2 explores the Treaty of Belgrade (1739) as a platform for Ottoman diplomatic and commercial expansion with Europe. Paper 3 analyses the commercial and financial activities of a ʿulamāʾ family in the eighteenth century across the Ottoman Empire. Lastly, Paper 4 considers the socio-economic and demographic dynamics of Ottoman subjects in the Habsburg domains by scrutinizing the registers kept by Habsburg officials.
Ottoman Diplomacy Between the Treaty of Belgrade and the Death of Sultan Mahmud I, 1739-1754
The Treaty of Belgrade in 1739 was one of the defining achievements of Sultan Mahmud I’s reign and a lynchpin for Ottoman diplomacy till the death of the Sultan in 1754. The period between 1739-1754 was thus one of the most creative and active eras in the Ottoman Empire’s diplomatic history, in which a series of treaties, Capitulations, embassies, and diplomatic innovations were attempted and enacted by the Sublime Porte. During this fifteen-year period, the Sublime Porte was led by powerful figures such as the Kızlar Ağası Hacı Beşir Ağa (death in 1746) and his successor Moralı Beşir Ağa (1746-1752), the wealthy and influential Gümrük Emini İshak Ağa (death in 1763), the emerging Ottoman diplomat Yirmisekizzade Mehmed Said Efendi (later Paşa, death in 1761), and the greatest Ottoman diplomat of his era, the Reisülküttab for most of this period, Tavukçubaşı Mustafa Efendi (death in 1749). This era also had two highly influential European ambassadors to the Porte, namely Austria’s ambassador the Baron Heinrich von Penckler (1741-1754, later 1762-1766) and the French ambassador the comte des Alleurs (1747-1754). The impact and legacy of the Treaty of Belgrade will be examined, as well as Yirmisekizzade Mehmed Said Paşa’s highly successful embassy to France between the years 1741-1742, the numerous Capitulations given to European powers during this period will also be discussed in this article. Additionally, the Porte’s offer of mediation to the belligerent powers in 1745 during the Austrian War of Succession will be discussed within the greater context of the Ottoman-Persian War of 1743-1746, the Ottoman Empire’s last war against Nadir Shah. The role that Ottoman women and the wives of ambassadors along with the patronage between European and Ottomans will also be discussed in this article. The reign of Mahmud I from the Treaty of Belgrade in 1739 until his death in 1754 was one of the most diplomatically and commercial active and expansive eras in the history of the Ottoman Empire, this article will examine this very unique period in Ottoman history from a diplomatic and commercial perspective.
Modern scholarship has taken great interest in exploring new structures and processes of public finance that emerged in the Ottoman Empire both as a result of, and as a parallel development to, the developments in provincial administration and methods of revenue collection over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The growing body of work demonstrated so convincingly the critical role of centrally appointed officials, local notables (aʿyān, singular), merchant-creditors (ṣarrāf, singular), and provincial communities in these complex administrative and financial mechanisms of revenue assignment, collection, and remittance. Notwithstanding these insights, exclusive focus on the role of, and the interplay between, local notables and Ottoman merchant-creditors in these processes overlooked the involvement of foreign merchants in provincial financial structures. On the other hand, the credit activities of European merchants in the Ottoman Empire have been analyzed with respect to commercial aspects, which obscured diverse functions and implications of cross-cultural credit activities.
This presentation therefore explores the multiple functions of British merchant capital and financial networks in the provincial economic structure of Aleppo through a close reading of the commercial correspondence of British merchants active in Aleppo and the Ottoman registers that contain cases regarding British credit/debt nexus. British merchants constituted one of the most dynamic trading communities in the empire who were engaged in credit activities as much out of necessity as a lucrative investment method. The emergence of new fiscal mechanisms of Ottoman public finance and a negative balance of British trade in the provinces and other local commercial dynamics resulted in the integration of British credit networks into provincial economic structures. British merchants provided local Ottoman merchants, provincial communities and officeholders with credit in the forms of cash, bills of exchange, and promissory notes. The relations the British built with different segments of Ottoman society helped the Ottomans meet their tax burdens or other expenses and acquire public offices. British merchants, in return, ensured access to Ottoman exports and nurtured personal/business connections with the Ottomans. In this context, such relations display diverse economic and social implications of cross-cultural credit, allowing us to view the complex relationships between trade, diplomacy, and finance.
Albeit the motives have not yet been firmly established, Ottoman subjects who were on
the Habsburg hereditary domains in 1823, 1824, and 1825 were registered by Habsburg
officials. However, only the time frame in which the registrations were made is implied by
these three years. A person's past fifteen or even thirteen years of information could
occasionally be found out in the registers. Name, age, religion, and/or nationality were listed,
as well as information about family members if they were travelling together, the location of
the registration, a description of physical characteristics and information about clothing details
or fashions, the date and place of birth, information about the person's occupation, and all
relevant passport details, such as the reason for the passport's issue as well as the date, location,
and authority responsible for it. Additionally, the registrar's own opinions or statements
towards the individual or group whose information he was tasked with registering may be
found in the registers. Intentions to remain in the destination were also questioned of those
These registers—conducted in German, Italian, and occasionally Latin—have been
preserved in three large books (Bücher in German) at the Austrian State Archives in Vienna.
Over the course of more than one and a half years, they were decoded into an Excel sheet for
a PhD project. Employing the information acquired, this study seeks to shed light on some
socioeconomic and demographic trends about these Ottoman subjects who travelled to, from,
and/or via Habsburg-ruled areas. This attempt would contribute in filling a noticeable gap in
historiography that has so far resulted in the disappearance of eighteenth and nineteenth century
Muslims in relevant literature composed of a large amount of work on non-Muslim
communities, particularly Orthodox merchants. The ultimate goal, however, is to inspire more
research into the topic by providing a more comprehensive picture of the socioeconomic and
political developments that took place in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and
that brought people from various societies together, with a focus on all Ottoman subjects,
regardless of their ethnicity or religious affiliations.
Scholars of the Ottoman Empire had long interpreted the eighteenth century as the age of decentralization due to the rising power of provincial notables (‘ayān) and privatization of the state lands, which was prompted by a new tax system (mālikāne). Historians of the eighteenth-century Ottoman Empire studied the actors of this new tax system, such as the provincial notables who facilitated tax collection, merchant-bankers who provided the necessary credit to the provincial notables to acquire the right to collect taxes, and the vizier households who consented to the nomination of any notable to the ‘ayānship. However, an important actor of the eighteenth century, the ‘ulemā families, was overlooked in the historiography despite their growing authority in high politics and significant enrichment. The proposed paper analyzes the role of the ‘ulemā’ families in the life-long tax farming system. As chief jurists (şeyḫ’ül-islām), judges of Anatolia and Rumelia (ḳāḍı‘asker) and judges (ḳāḍı) of major cities across the empire, ‘ulemā’ played a vital role in the execution of the mālikāne regime. In addition to their legal standing enabling this tax regime, their financial expertise and practices reflect the Ottoman administration’s broader transformation. Focusing on one of the eighteenth century’s major ‘ulemā’ families, this paper suggests that the ‘ulemā’ should be considered a central figure shaping the central and provincial economic policy. The members of the ‘ulemā’ family established an endowment cluster that functioned as a business facilitating the life-long tax regime. This paper adopts a long-term approach to the functioning of the institution of the endowment within the mālikāne regime. By consulting the endowment deed, various kinds of petitions, account registers, and estate inventories, the paper unearths the links between ‘āyān households, ṣarrāf and ‘ulemā’ families, which premises an alternative narrative to the decentralization paradigm whose critics have failed to argue otherwise convincingly.