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Economic Structures in the Ottoman Empire

Session XI-03, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • This paper explores the contested nature of the tavern as a blurred space between public and private space in Ottoman Istanbul in the 17th century. The focus of this research is Galata, the city’s cosmopolitan district and the home to the great majority of its taverns. I argue that the taverns, indispensable social agencies serving as meeting places, were integral to everyday life, both for locals and visitors. Not only did they provide livelihoods for keepers and servants, but the taverns contributed to social encounters between people from all walks of life. The social interactions were facilitated by the public consumption (alcoholic drinks, predominantly wine and arak, and food) and entertainment (music and dance) practices, which were the symbols of the multifunctionality and centrality of Ottoman taverns to urban life, like their European counterparts, as opposed to the general wisdom which does not usually associate taverns with the Islamic world. As a part of their social features, I argue that the taverns were spatially ambiguous or "contested spaces" since they simultaneously housed their keepers and hosted their patrons or members of the public. Existing on the boundaries between public and private domain, the taverns help us to better understand the tension between public and private space—one of the fundamental topics of the studies on the early modern Ottoman Empire and the larger early modern world. This tension resulted in disputes among the neighbors on the one hand; promoted sociability and fortified social networks on the other hand—incredibly well documented in the city’s Islamic court records, the main body of primary sources of this paper. This is not a contradictory picture, but a portrayal of the complex interplay between the taverns and the social life in Ottoman Istanbul.
  • During the early modern era Ottoman slavery had undergone quite a few changes. Ever since Mehmed II’s demands to establish a market in Istanbul to avoid the disruption of selling in the street, the Ottoman government bureaucratized the trade heavily. The reforms of Ebusu’ud Efendi at the end of the 16th century which sought to integrate the various madhabs of the expanding Ottoman state created further laws on slavery which were disseminated throughout the Empire’s Islamic legal system from the sheikulislam to provincial kadis. The extensive Ottoman legal concern with slaves meant that slaves not only appear in court sicils but also in the oft neglected shurut literature which served as example cases for kadis. This study examines slaves as they appear in the 1740s Sakk-i Vehbi manuscript, a shurut manual written by the Bursan judge Ahmed al-Burusevi and compares its advices with the rulings recorded in court sicils regarding slaves in and near Bursa in the 18th century. This study will attempt to show that legal theory in the Sakki-Vehbi and the practice of judges seemed to me very much in alignment with each other and as Wael Hallaq showed exist in a mutually informative dialectical relationship. When there are discrepancies, they have to do with local circumstances rather than issues in fiqh. The analysis of this relationship serves as a framework to view slavery in the 18th century Ottoman Empire and provides us an unusually detailed examination of the social history of slaves as changes in legal realities meant changes in the lived realities of slaves. Sources: Sakk-i Vehbi shurut manual, British Library OR1142 Kadi Sicilleri: ISAM kadi sicil published collection Miscellaneous published documents from the Ottoman Archive and Suleymaniye Library, Istanbul
  • The early seventeenth century was critical period of transition for the Ottoman Empire, in which a series of internal and external crises shook its institutional foundations. Strongly affected were the sultan’s household troops (kapıkulları), which developed beyond their role as a standing army, multiplying in number and taking on a variety of new official and unofficial functions. While much scholarly attention has been directed to the famous janissary infantry, this paper addresses the lesser-studied cavalry branch, called “the people of the six regiments” (altı bölük halkı). A highly dynamic organization, the cavalry increasingly took on administrative roles and, in conjunction with several rebellions in the capital, were able to consolidate a near-monopoly over tax-collection positions in the central provinces of the empire. The cavalry’s preeminence in this function reached its apogee following the regicide of Sultan Osman II (r. 1618-22) and continued thereafter until 1632. At that point, the reformist government of Sultan Murad IV (r. 1623-40) declared them to be usurpers and acted to curtail their privileged status in administration. At present, our knowledge of this episode in Ottoman history is dependent on the reports of later chroniclers and on declarations issued by the government of Murad IV. These sources portray the period as an aberration, in which the empire’s norms were temporarily and violently disrupted by thuggish cavalrymen intent on seizing control over the taxation apparatus. In order to complicate this portrayal, this paper approaches the period from the perspective of contemporary bureaucratic records preserved in the Ottoman Archives in Istanbul. A documentary investigation reveals the functioning of the institution by which the cavalry’s administrative role was established and perpetuated, referred by the term mülazemet. When the image of “usurpation” is subjected to critique, it becomes apparent that this represents only one of many contemporary points of view. The emergence and subsequent reaction against the cavalry’s predominance in tax collection should be understood as part and parcel of contemporary debates over the proper role of the household troops in Ottoman state and society.
  • This paper is an attempt to fathom, using court records, how janissaries as regiments managed to make ends meet in the troublesome late seventeenth century when long wars bloated the number of soldiers and wage arrears were commonplace. Janissaries had to survive not only as individuals but as regiments, not completely giving up their military duties. What types of businesses were the regiments in, and who in a regiment were the main actors? Which regiments came to court more often than others? Did their regimental characteristics affect their economic activities? Janissaries in this period are mentioned in court records as members of their regiments more often than before, which seems to indicate that the regiment was becoming the center not only of their military activities but also economic. There were many janissary regimental waqfs that avidly acquired real estates, including those of the prominent regiments that were given special positions in processions. These waqfs were managed by mütevellis who were often also their odabaşıs, “junior officers” of the regiments. The visibility of odabaşıs as the key person of the regimental activities is noteworthy, and it seems that an odabaşı was often practically the head of his regiment. While focusing on the regimental waqfs in the main, this paper will also pursue the traces of other businesses that the regiments were unofficially and illicitly in. They must have been something that did not require too much time or refined technique and could be done with the help of the physical force of their manpower, such as transporting grains, firewood, dealing in coffee, or kidnapping free men and women to make them slaves. There are many clues in court records, which are underused largely because we tend to prejudge janissaries as irrelevant and external to the civilian activities done in court. Court records should be used all the more because new empirical studies of archival documents by Gülay Yılmaz and Abdülkasım Gül provide the big picture. This paper will base itself on published and unpublished court records of Istanbul main court (defters 9, 10, 11, 12, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23) and Istanbul Bab court (defters 3, 46, 54) together with Mühimme defters, Atik Şikâyet defters, and occasional chronicles of the same period.
  • Recently, agency has become a key concept in social history and dependency studies, with historians of slavery taking on this subject with special gusto. We still know very little about eighteenth-century slavery in the Crimean Khanate, and almost nothing about the agency of female slaves. At least in part, the present study fills this gap, dealing with non-elite female household slaves in the Crimean Khanate, with qadi court registers dating to 1701-1710 the principal source. To what extent did female slaves resist asymmetrical dependency in the Khanate? Was this resistance organized or did it take place on an individual level? What forms of agency undertaken by female slaves can we trace in the qadi court registers? The aim is to understand how female slaves perceived their condition and how they responded to or resisted the decisions of their masters or mistresses. How did these women react to social and economic bondage? This study attempts to reveal not only female slaves’ physical actions but in addition, discusses their intellectual and cognitive actions such as planning (to run away or stay), deciding (to commit suicide or not), converting, adapting, and learning as different forms of female slave agency. By taking this approach, the present study further suggests that various physical and cognitive forms of agency on the part of female slaves made them co-agents when it came to determining their fates, despite the social and structural constraints imposed by the Crimean Tatars. This study also challenges our understanding of ‘social death’ among slaves. That is to say, non-elite household female slaves made decisions, planned their actions in detail, mobilized witnesses, sued their masters, and went to court. With good fortune, they might even win their cases and obtain their freedom. If so, they might chose to stay in the Khanate or else leave, in the latter instance waiting for the right time to do so. While the options of female slaves were severely limited because of their gender and slave status, the most resistant among them found ways of exercising a degree of self-determination. Keywords: female slaves, eighteenth-century Crimean Khanate, asymmetrical dependency, agency, non-elite slavery