You are on page 1of 10

Summer 2003

Volume 9, Nos. 1 & 2

International Journalof Turkish Studies

This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17 u.s. Code)

government terminated in the 1930s their political activities in order to maintain good relations with the former Soviet Union. Celikpala deals with o~e of the main nationalist Caucasian groups in Europe which hoped to establish a~ independent state. This group represented the non-pan-Turanic element of Russia's Turkic and Muslim populations. By contrast, the pan-Turanic faction was relatively small in

both Russia and Turkey. i

In sum, the.articles in this collection offer a much-needed look a~ the Ottoman borderlands and their role in the survival and in the demise of the Ouoman state. The overall picture reflects the complex interaction between a centralizing state and its far-flung territories inhabited by economically, ethnically and religiously diverse

populations. I

University of Wisconsin, Madison

Gabor Agoston




Ever since Frederick Jackson Turner introduced his "frontier thesis" of American history in 1893, the frontier has been an inspiring theme for many historians. In Ottoman history, Paul Wittek's "ghaza" thesis has become one of the most enduring concepts, and has gone through many reincarnations since its first publication in 1938. pespite criticisms of the originalghaza thesis, the notion of the expanding Ottoman frontier still exerts a powerful influence on the general perceptions of Ottoman history. The period from l300 to 1700 is generally viewed as a continuous expansion of the frontier, a proces-s, many historians argue, which explains the empire's social and economic structures and the predominance of its military class. I

Mainstream historiography maintains that after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman sultans embarked upon their centralizing project, which

.-. during the century that followed - resulted in the establishment of the "classical" Ottoman state, with its "peculiar" prebendal land tenure and kul-devsirme systems, as well as centralized administration. The Ottoman government in istanbul is said to have attained its perfection during this period: former frontiers were integrated into the imperial system, and the central government increased its control over the more far-flung territories. In discussing the "classical age" students often become victims of their sources. If one looks at the sultanic decrees sent from Istanbul to the provinces during the mid-sixteenth century, the impression gained is one of an Ottoman central government whose will prevailed even in the most remote frontier areas. Further, provincial tax registers ttahrir defterleriy also suggest that the administrative and taxation system was extremely uniform and efficient. However, one should not forget that the systematic study of this rich material (and here we are talking about tens of thousands of sultanic decrees and several hundred provincial tax registers) have only started in recent years. It is symptomatic that although at the end of the sixteenth century the empire was divided into at least thirty-two provinces, we possess less than half a dozen monographs that are devoted to the

I Colin Heywood, "The Frontier in Ottoman History: Old Ideas and New Myths," in Frontiers ill Question: Eurasian Borderlands. 700-1700, eds. Daniel Power and Naomi Standen (London, 1999), pp. 228-250; repr. Colin Heywood, Writing Ottoman History (Aldershot, 2002) I.

16 Gabor Agoston

comprehensive study of a certain province. Former historical reconstructions of Ottoman administrative practices. and capabilities are based on random evidence, often from the core provinces of the Balkans and Asia Minor, that have very little to say about regional variations outside the core zones. The minutes of local judicial courts, complaints of provincial authorities, and the communication between the central and local authorities present a different picture and demonstrate the limits to centralization. In these sources local and central government appear to have enjoyed a relationship that was far more complex than the one-sided command-and-execute relationship put forward by historians in the past.

In general texts, apart from the vassal or client states that in the sixteenth century were not integrated into the empire, differences between the provinces get only cursory attention, ana only in the context of the timarlt and salyaneli provinces. In the so-called timarli provinces agricultural revenues in the form of fiefs, the smallest arid ll1()st C()Il1Il1()11 6fwhich was calleel timar, were assigned to cavalrymen (sipahi), the backbone of the Ottoman provincial army, and to their military commanders, the sancak beyis. The latter also functioned as governors of the basic administrative-military units of the empire, called sancaks. Several sancaks comprised a province, generally called beyLerbeyilik after its governor-general, the beylerbeyi, who was the "bey of the beys," the commander-in-chief of the provincial forces and the highest administrative official of Ottoman provincial administration. Ottoman provinces in Europe and Asia Minor as well as some Arab territories are said to have belonged to the first category. The Arab territories in the Maghrib and the Middle East, however, were rather distant from Istanbul and lay well outside the main direction of the Ottoman advance. Thus in these areas political, military and economic factors tended to favor a different type of administration. Accordingly, tax revenues of these territories were not distributed as fiefs but were collected with the help of-tax farmers (miiltezim). Subsequently, the beylerbeyis deducted their own annual income from this revenue, as well as the salaries of the sancak beyis and other local functionaries who. were subordinate to them, and also used this sum to pay the soldiers in the province and cover the costs of defense and administration. If a province was self-sufficient and there was a surplus, any remaining income was sent to the sultan's treasury in IstanSul. This sum, which was submitted annually, was called the irsaliye or harine, while the provinces were called salyaneli provinces after the beylerbeyi's annual salary (salyane). 2

In 1534, three of the fifteen provinces were salyaneli provinces. According to the list of Ayn Ali, which was drawn up in 1607 but was based in many instances on tax registers of the period between 1560 and 1580, nine of the thirty-two provinces were of this type. Meanwhile, mid-seventeenth-century sources mention thirty-four provinces, nine of which are placed in the category of salyaneli provinces. The

2 Halil Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age /300-1600 (London, 1973, repro London, 1994). See also idem, "Eyalet," Encyclopedia of Islam, CD-ROM Edition (Leiden, 1999); the best study of Ottoman provincial administration is I. Metin Klint, The Sultan's Servants: The Transformation of Ottoman Provincial Government, 1550-1650 (New York, 1983).

A Flexible Empire

geographical distribution of the salyaneli provinces well illustrates the polit! economic pressure that led to their formation: Istanbul was unable or unwillii introduce the timar system in Egypt, Yemen, Habes (Abyssinia), Basra(so~lt Iraq), liahsa (al-Hasa, present-day Kuwait), Baghdad (northern Iraq), Trablus-i I (northern parts of present-day Libya), Tunis, and Cezayir-i Garb (the coastal str Algeria), which art preserved some degree of local autonomy.'

The main weakness of the above model is its tendency to differentiate bet' the provinces on the basis of a single aspect: revenue management. This aspect without doubt a priority of contemporary Ott-oman administration and, therefo dominates our sources. While this is a useful model to describe the provinces one important vantage point, it fails to show the differences between the core; and frontier provinces. In other words, provinces falling into the same care under the above model differed significantly from each other in terms of the co exerted upon them by the central administration.

The limits of the central government in the hereditary sancaks establish, eastern! Anatolia, mainly inhibited by nomadic Ttlrkmen and Kurdish tribes hardly mentioned." In general, Ottoman historians have paid scant attention t nomads, even though they amounted to almost one-fifth of the inhabitants of Minor In the sixteenth century. In the 1 520s, out of the 872,610 families living i provindes of Anadolu, Kararnan, Dulkadir, and Rum (an area approximately the of present-day Anatolia) 160,564 (18.4 percent) were nomads. Fifty years despitelOttoman attempts at sedentarization, 220,217 families (16 percent) livi the above provinces continued their nomadic way of life. More than half 0 nomads (116,219 families) were registered in the province of Anadolu. II province of Dulkadir nomadic Tiirkmens comprised 70 percent of taxpayers in whereas their proportion was 34 percent in the 1570s. In 1580, nomads comp

3 tnalclk, The Ottoman Empire, pp. 104-107; Donald Edgar Pitcher, All Historical Geog of the Ottoman Empire (Lei den, 1972), pp. 126-128; M. Ipsirli, "Eyalet (Tasra) Teskila Osmanlt Devleti ve Medeniyeti Tarihi, vol., I, ed. Ekmeleddin lhsanoglu (Istanbul, 1991 221-245; Ilhan Sahin, "XV. ve XVI. Asirlarda Osrnanh Tasra Teskilanmn Ozellikleri," ve XVI ASlrlan Turk Am Yapan Degerler, ed. Mahir Aydin (istanbul, 1999), p. 126; Goytmc] "Osmanh Devletinde Tasra Teskilati," in Osmanli, vol. 6, Teskilat, ed. Giller (Ankad, 1999), pp. 77-88; idem, "Provincial Organization of the Ottoman Empire il Tanzimat Period," in The Great Ottoman-Turkish. Civilisation, vol. 3, ed. Kemal (Ankara, 2000), p. 520. It should also be noted that not all of the above-meni beylerb~iliks. were always salyaneli provinces. Many of them were governed for shoi longer deriods according to the classical system, or at other times only certain sancaks

frovinc~ were administered as salyaneli. .

The hereditary sancaks are mentioned neither by Norman Itzkowitz nor Daniel Gol Although Goffman briefly mentions Ottoman flexibility on the frontiers, he reman general I and mixes vassal states with Ottoman frontier provinces. See .Norman ItL Ottoman.Empire and Islamic Tradition (Chicago, 1980), pp. 47-48; Daniel Goffmar OttOI1lEl~ Empire and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 99-105. The nuanced view in recent generalist literature is offered by Colin Imber, The OtlOIlUlII EJ 1300-/450 (New York, 2002), pp. 177-215, who mentions the hereditary sancaks (pp

189). !

18 Gabor Agoston


58 percent of the population of the province of Aleppo, ana 62 percent in the

province of Baghdad.' When scholarship deals with the her~ditary sancaks, it is suggested that the sultans' authority was maintained here through the Janissary garrisons.stationed in the important cities and major fortresses of these regions," Similarly, studies concerning frontier provinces in the Balkans, Hungary, and the Arab lands that showed the limits of Ottoman administrative capabilities outside the core zones and the continuity of pre-Ottoman institutions, are often neglected by the literature, or iftaken into account, are treated as deviations froth the classical model

of Ottoman administration and taxation.' I

The present essay examines the limits of the Ottoman administrative strategies and practices in the empire's northwestern and eastern frontiers, where in the sixteenth century the Ottomans faced their most formidable enemies, the Habsburgs and the Safavids. The article questions some of our received views concerning Ottoman administrative capabilities in the frontier provinces iduring the so~called "classical" period. Similarly, it argues that many of the "deviations" can be viewed as continuation of earlier, pre-sixteenth-century t1exible administrative strategies. In doing so, the present study de-emphasizes the often artificial difference between the remarkable flexibility and pragmatism of the early fifteenth century on the one hand, and the Suleymanic "golden age" on the other, during which qttoma)1 centralization is believed to have reached its perfection by successfully integrating the former frontiers.

Limits and Compromise in Establishing New Provinces

Ottoman pragmatism and flexibility - considered one of the strengths of the "Ottoman methods of conquest" .in the fifteenth century" - did not disappear in the following century. Recognizing the limits of its administrative capabilities in the eastern frontiers, the Ottoman government accepted the formation of numerous administrative units of special status, the so-called yurtluk (family property, family estates) and ocaklik (family estate) sancaks. The saneak beyis 9f such administrative units, usually former chieftains, administered these lands as "family property" or as


S Rhoads Murphey, "Some Features of Nomadism in the Ottoman Ebpire: A Survey Based on Tribal Census and judicial Appeal Documentation from Archives in Istanbul and Damascus," Journal of Turkisn Studies 8 (1984), p. 192; tlhan~ahin,1'Nomads," in The Great Ottoman- Turkish Civilisation, vol. 2, p. 361; idem, "Dulkadir eyaleti," Tiirkiye Diyanet Yakf:

• I

Islam Ansiklopedisi (henceforth TDVIA) vol. 9 (Istanbul, 1994), pp. 5~2-553.

6 lnalcrk, The Ottoman Empire, 107. I

7 From the latest literature, see Suraiya Faroqhi, Approaching I Ottoman History: An Introduction /0 the Sources (Cambridge, 1999), p. 83, where Hu*gary is portrayed as a frontier province that "cannot be regarded as typical of even southeastern Europe, let alone

other parts of the Ottoman realm." .

R Halil lnalcik, "Ottoman Methods of Conquest," Studia lslamica ~ (1954): 104-29, repr., idem, The Ottoman Empire: Conquest, Organization and Econ~my (London, 1978). I; Feridun Emecen, "Beylikten Sancaga: Ban Anadolu'da 11k Osmanh Sancaklanmn Kurulusuna Dair Mtilahazalar," Belleten 60/227 (1996): 81-91.

A Flexible Empire 19.

"family provinces." According to official Ottoman documents, the sancak beyis received these properties from the sultan in return for their service and obedience at the time of the Ottoman conquest. The language of the sixteenth and seventeenthcentury Ottoman legal texts concerning the yurtluk and ocaklik sancaks is somewhat euphemistic, for it suggests that the Ottoman sultans did grant these lands(t~fi}iz ve temlik olunmusturi. In fact, these yurtluk and ocaklik sancaks, which usually comprised the traditional pasture lands of the Ti.irkmen and Kurdish tribes living in the area, were simply kept by their former owners, generally former chieftains, as a consequence of a political deal that reflected the balance of power and mutual interdependence in the frontier zones. While the beys of the yurtluk and ocakltk sancaks possessed the traditional symbols of power, that is, the drum and the Hag, according to the document that they received from the sultan itemessiilo, they could be neither dismissed nor appointed to other posts. Nonetheless; tax registers were drawn up in their sancaks, and the Ottoman land tenure system was also introduced. During military campaignS, the beys (like other sancak beyis) had to go to war accompanied by their troops. At such times they were placed under.the command of the governor-general of the province to which their sancak belonged. Contrary to general practice, if they were unable to fulfill their obligations, or if they died, their lands were received by their sons or relatives and could not be given to "outsiders." The only exception to this was if the whole family died out. In such cases, the sultan's government was free to decide whether to maintain the hereditary nature of the sancak or incorporate it into the normal group of sancaks'

Of course, changing power relations could and did alter the rules and principles established after the Ottoman conquest, and as the frontier moved eastward the Ottoman government tried and often managed to exert greater control. For example, the hereditary sancak (or vilayet) of Adana was headed by the beys of the Rarnazanoglu dynasty for almost a century, after they accepted Ottoman suzerainty in 1516. However, by 1608 Adana had become a regular Ottoman sancak'" The ocaklik sancaks that were established in the western half of the provin-ce of Erzurum, which can be considered as one of the most important .lrontier provinces of the empire from its founding in 1535 until the 1570s, were controlled mainly by Pir Hiiseyn, who had sided with the Ottomans in 1515, and by his sons. They were the descendants of the Saltukoglu Tiirkmen dynasty, which had ruled the Erzurum region before the arrival of the Ottomans. While Istanbul made occasional attempts

911han Sahin, "Timar Sistemi Hakkinda Bir Risale," Tarih Dergisi 32 (1979): 909-910,·923; Midhat Sertoglu ed., Sofyali Ali {:'avu~ Kanunnamesi (Istanbul, 1992), 57-58; It seems that this was true only for the ocakltks, whereas in the case of the yurtluk sancaks, a bey receiving the territory in the form of a yurtluk could only exercise the right to rule and to levy taxes for his lifetime. On the other hand, the use of the term ocaklik, or of the two terms together iyurtluk ve oeakllk), meant that the sancak was hereditary. In such cases, the title of saucuk beyi was passed on from father to son, or to the sancak beyi' : legal heirs. On this distinction, see Halil Sahilhoglu, "Osmanli Doneminde Irakin ldari Taksunau," Belleten 54/211 (1990): 1233-1254.

10 Yilmaz Kurt, "1572 Tarihli Adana Mufassal Tahrir Defterine Gore Adanu'run So~ Ekonomik Tarihi Uzerine Bir Arasnrrna," Belie/ell 54/209 (1990): 181. ~

20 Gabor Agoston

to absorb the hereditary sancaks of the province, the descendants of Pir Hiiseyn were usually able to fight off such endeavors by appealing to the sultan's original ahdname.' ,

The compromise is even more obvious in the case of the hiikiimets, These were mainly territories of Tiirkmen and Kurdish tribes, administered by their leaders as hereditary lands again in return for their service and obedience at the time of the Ottoman conquest. In these areas there was no introduction of the timar system and sancak censuses were not drawn up. The relationship between the tribal chieftains and the Ottoman government was regulated by an official document (ahdname) comprising the privileges and obligations. Under the terms of these documents, there were to be no Ottoman officials or soldiers on the territory of the hiikiimets. The l'.eys of the hilkiimets could be neither dismissed nor appointed to other posts, but, hlce the beys of the yurtluk and ocakhk sancaks, they too were obliged to go to war accompanied by their troops. 12

- Ottoman pragmatism may be observed in the provinces of Diyarbekir, Van,

Sehrizor, Aleppo, Baghdad and Mosul, where the hereditary sancaks were generally headed by the leaders of Ti.irkmen, Kurdish and Arab tribes. Of these, Diyarbekir was extremely important since it cut off the rebellious Kizilbas tribes in northern and southeastern Central Anatolia from their main supporters and the Ottomans' arch enemy, Safavid Persia. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the Ottomans maintained relative Kurdish autonomy in the province in order to win and maintain the support of the Kurdish tribes living in the region. This autonomy is reflected in an official list of the Ottoman provinces from 1521122, which enumerates only nine regular sancaks or Livas and twenty-eight smaller administrative units, called cema'at-i Kiirdan, that is, communities or assembly of the Kurds in the province of Diyarbekir. It is noteworthy that the territory in the hands of Kurdish beys was much larger than that of the regular livas under direct Ottoman administration. The fact that the income of these units under Kurdish control was never mentioned indicates that the timor system and cadastral surveys were not introduced here. Five years later, a similar list of Ottoman provinces mentions ten regular sancaks under direct Ottoman control in the province of Diyarbekir followed by seventeen eyalets of special status in the province (vilayet) of Kurdistan. A document relating to these Kurdish leaders and their autonomous territories, compiled around 1536, enumerates most of the privileges enjoyed by the hiikemets. As long as the emirs of these Kurdish provinces remained loyal to the House of Osman, Istanbul could not interfere; there were no Ottoman officials and tax collectors in their provinces; the province passed from father to son or to other relatives; if there were' no legitimate heirs, the province could not be given to "outsiders" or "foreigners" (eyaLeti haricden oLanLara ve ecnebilere virilmeyiib) but only to semebody from the region in agreement with the emirs of Kurdistan. Again, actual practices could have been and were indeed different, and Istanbul tried to control these territories. By 1608 the province of Diyarbekir consisted of eleven regular Ottoman sancaks, eight sancaks

II Dundar Aydin. Errurum Beylerbeyiligi ve Teskilau (Ankara, 1998), pp. 234-242.

I"~.. ... . .. I' ,.'"

A Flexible Empire 21

under Kurdi~h bevs and five hiikiimets. However, it is clear that while the Kurdish sancaks were stili hereditary, Istanbul managed to survey them and introduced the timar system."

However, to control the (mostly Kurdish) tribal leaders of the areas to the east, such as th~ provinces _of Mihrivan/Mehrivan and Pelengan/Pelenkan, proved a difficult task for the cJttomans. These leaders tended to support the Safavids, but when they f~lt the Ottomans to be stronger they swapped sides, receiving in return their formerlterritories or even the lands of rival tribal leaders as ocaklik. Generally, they only pretended to accept Ottoman rule, driving out the census-takers and taxcollectors. they also attached the lands of adjacent sancaks to their own ocakltks, not even sparing the Ottoman crown lands."

Similarly, the history of the Ottoman authorities' relationship with local Druze, Turcoman dnd Arab power-holders in Greater Syria is a complicated one which involved co~optation, co-operation and sheer military force, as well as the playing off of the rival Sunni Yamanis and the (mostly Druze) Qaysis against each other. The most r~markable story is related to Fakhr al-Din II Mani, the Druze leader of the Shuf. From 1593/94 until his execution in 1632 Fakhr al-Din II wield considerable power in the region, at times as the ally of Istanbul, yet other times as the Ottomans' main opponent Besides the Manids, other local power-groups also played some role in the region's history. For example, the Turkmen 'Assaf family

- controlled spme thirty villages and their mixed Muslim and Christian population in the northernmost nahiye of Kisrawan of the liva of Damascus."

An even more fascinating state of affairs developed in the far northeastern corner of the province of Erzurum. In the late fifteenth century, Georgia broke UJ: into various kingdoms (Imeretia, Kartli and Kakhetia). By the middle of the sixteenth century, the two great regional powers, the Ottoman Empire and. th. Safavid Empire, had swallowed up these kingdoms. Although the respective sphere: of influence of the Ottomans and Safavids were indicated in the peace treaty 0 Amasya of i1555, competition between the two powers over the Georgian territorie: - which was made even more complicated by the rivalry between the Georgiai princes whb ran first to one power and then to the other - resulted in a series 0 Ottoman-Safavid wars. The Ottoman-Safavid peace treaty of Kasr-i Sirin of 1639 which condluded a renewed bout of conflict, repeated the previous division 0 Georgia: th~ eastern Georgian kingdoms of Kartli and Kakhetia fell under Persia, rule, while the principalities of Guria, Imeretia and Mingrelia, lying to the northwes of the riverKura, were received by the Ottomans. As in the Balkarisin the fifteentl

I .


IJ Baki Tezean, "The Development of the Use of 'Kurdistan' as a Geographical Descriptio and the Inc~rporation of this Region into the Ottoman Empire in the 1611i Century," in Tl. Great Ottoman-Turkislt Civilisation, vol. 3, pp. 545-548.

14 One such ~ebel1ious bey was Miri Bey, leader of the Mukri Kurds, who annexed the Merag and the surrounding area to his own hereditary lands. Bekir Ki.iti.ikoglu. Osmanlt-lrun Siya MiJlUlsebetl~ri (1578 1612) (Istanbul, 1993), pp. 223-245.

15 Muhammad Adnan Bakhit, The Ottoman Province of Damascus ill the Sixteenth Cell/Ill (Beirut, 1982), pp. 164-181.

22 Gabor Agoston

century, and in Hungary in the mid-sixteenth century, the Ottomans occupied the strategically important southern territories of Georgia, and first I established several sancaks that were joined jo the province of Erzurum. Istanbul also left members of the former.Georgian ruling families at the head of the Georgian sancaks that were attached to the province of Erzurum. In some cases families whose members were still Christians received these territories esocaklik. Only later ~id they convert to Islam, probably in order to ensure that they could keep their lands and pass them on to their sons and grandsons. Later in 1578, the Ottomans e~tablished the new province of Cildrr (Ahiska/Akhaltsikhe) and appointed the region's former Georgian prince, Minuchir (who in the meantime had converted to Islam and took the name of Mustafa) as its first beylerbeyi. Together with his brother, who ~ad been given the sancak of Oltu, Minuchir was awarded a has (prebend) with a~ annual revenue of 900,000 akca. With some exceptions, the new province was ~dministered by the Georgian princes of Samtskhe as hereditary beys until the nlid-eikhteenth century. In the early seventeenth century, out of the fifteen sancaks of the /province four were ocakliks, while in the mid-seventeenth century these numbers i were fourteen and three, respectively. In the mountainous areas of Guria, Imeretia, Mingrelia Svaneti and Abkhazeti that were more difficult to conquer, the Ottomans wisely permitted the rule of vassal Georgian princes, who recognized the authority of the sultan by

paying symbolic (but often irregular) tributes. 16 j

During the seventeenth century the central government 14st control of many eastern provinces, which is reflected in the growing number of hereditary sancaks-ui the area. According to a document compiled in 1653, eighteen of the twenty-two san.caks ~n the province of Diyarbekir were ordinary sancaks cOftrolled by Ottoman beys, while the other four sancaks were yurtluk-ocakltk: ones. Meanwhile, one of the six sancaks in the beylerbeyilik -of Aleppo, three of the fourteen sancaks in the province of Crldir, nine of the fourteen sancaks in the beylerbeyilik: of Van, thirteen of the nineteen sancaks in the province of Sehrizor, two of the! five sancaks in the province of Mosul, and seventeen of the twenty-fivesancaks inlthe beylerbeyilik of Baghdad wece.yurtluk-ocakhk sancaks.i' In the last third of the seventeenth century, the beylerbeyilik of Diyarbekir comprised six hukiimets, five ocakltks, and just nine ordinary sancaks. At the same time, nine of the seventeen sancaks in the beylerbeyilik of Erzurum, fifteen of the twenty-two sancaks I in the province of Crldir, eleven of the twenty sancaks in the province of Van.lfour of the sixteen sancaks in the of province Baghdad, five of the eighteensancak~ in the beylerbeyilik

of Sehrizor were ocakltk.18 !

16 Fahrettin Kirziogiu, Osmanlilar'm Kafkas-ellerini Felfli (1451-/:590) (Ankara 1976); Kutukoglu, Osmanli-Iran Siyasi.Munasebetleri; Feridun Emecen, "Cildir," TDVIA, vo!' 8 (Istanbul, 1993), pp. 300-1; Andres Birken, Die Provinzen des Dsmanischen Reiches (Wiesbaden, 1976), pp. 154 ff.

17 Sahin, "Tirnar Sistemi Hakkmda BirRisale.t-pp. 915-20.

18 Orhan Kihc, "XVIII Yuzyihn Uk Yansmda Osmanh Devleti'nin Eyalet ve Sancak Teskilatlanmasi," in Osmanii, vol. 6, pp. 89-110. The number of sancaks often varied even between sources of a similar date of origin. In the beylerbeyilik of Baghdad at the end of the sixteenth century the sources indicate, for example, twenty-nine sllncd,ks, at the beginning of

A Flexible Empire 23

Similar dynamics were at work after the conquest of Hungary in 1541.19 While the most strategically important central parts of the country were attached to the empire's regular provinces and were put under the control of the newly appointed beylerbeyi of Buda, in the eastern parts of the country two sancaks were created and given to Friar Georgius and Peter Petrovics, leaders of the pro-Ottoman Szapolyai party in Hungary. Although the status of these sancaks was somewhat ambiguous at the beginning, the fact that both Friar Georgius and Peter Petrovics were appointed by a berat, that is" the usual type of certificate used during appointments of regular sancak beyis (rather than byahdname or temessiik, which were usually given to the beys of the hereditary sancaks in Eastern Anatolia), probably ret1ects the intentions of Istanbul. Given the strategic Ipcation of Peter Petrovics's sancak, it is hardly surprising that it soon fell under direct Ottoman rule. In 1552, his sancak was used to establish the second Ottoman province in Hungary with a center at" Ternesvar. Thus, in this case the same route was taken -as in the provinces of Dulkadir and Adana or in several sancaks of the beylerbeyilik of Erzurum. However, the saucak of Friar Georgius, which lay far to the east of the principal routes of Ottoman expansion, evolved into the Principality of Transylvania, an Ottoman vassal state that enjoyed considerable freedom regarding domestic policies. 20

I f.·.





,f t



A common feature of the frontier territories was the condominium that is the j~in~ rule Qf. the former power elite and the Ottoman authorities. Whil~ exhibiting significant differences ?ver time and according to place, this sharing of authority for a sh~rte: or longer period exti~~ded to areas such as taxation, public administration, and Justice. As already noted, In the hiikiimets and in the provinces of the Kurdish emirs there was no introduction of the timar system and sancak censuses were not drawn up. The revenue of the territory went to the local power-holders and Istanbul received no .inc?me from these areas. This was different from the territory of the ocakllks,where part of the revenue might have been remitted to the sultan's treasury. Arab tribal leaders were also able to keep their former territories in return for cooperation with the Ottoman authorities. Their income often reached 200 000- 300,000 akra per annum, which roughly corresponded to the income receiv~cl by









the se.venteenth century ninet~en s(~ncaks, and in the middle of that century twenty sancaks,

of which twelve were ocaklik In which the sancak beyis had has. .

19 Following the Ottomans' withdrawal from Hungary after the battle of Mohacs in 1526, competing factions of the Hungarian nobility elected two kings, Janos Szapolyai (r. 1526-40), vaj?a 'of Transylva~ia and Ferdinand of- Habsburg (r. 1526-64). With Ottoman military assistance, Szapolyai controlled the eastern parts of the country, while Ferdinand ruled the nort.h~r~ and western parts of Hungary. When the death of Szapolyai (1540) upset the military equilibrium between the Habsburgs and Ottomans, Suleyman annexed central Hungary to his empire (l541). Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Habsburgs hac! [0 content themselves with northern and western Hungary, known as Royal Hungary.

20 Gabor Barta, Yajon kit! az orszdg (Budapest, 1988), p. 100; Pal Fodor, Magyarorszdg es a

torokh6d{las(Budapest, 1991), pp. 107, 113. ~

I i

24 Gabor Agoston

junior sancak beyis. In some cases the sum could be several times more. An example of this in the early seventeenth century was the bey of Karadag in the province of Baghdad, whose income from his hiikiimet was more than 800,000 akca per annum. This sum was on a par with the income of a provincial governorgeneral. 21

In many places, local legal customs with regard to land ownership and taxation were preserved too. The first provincial tax regulations of the saneaks in eastern Anatolia were often exact copies of the Akkoyunlu, Dulkadir or Mamluk regulations or kanuns. The Ottomans adopted the kanun of Alatiddevle of Dulkadir, which for instance served as a model for the legal code of the saneak of Bozok. The kanunname of the sancak of Diyarbekir was also a word for word copy of the legal code of Uzun Hasan (r. 1453-78), the ruler of the Akkoyunlu Turkmen confederation: The first kanunnames of many other eastern saneaks and nahiyes (e.g Ergani, Urfa, Mardin, Cimrik, Siverek, Erzincan, Kemah and Bayburt) were based iii part on the laws of Hasan Padishah, that is, Uzun Hasan. All of these legal codes, as well as the special regulations that applied to the nomadic Tilrkmen tribes (e.g. the Boz-Ulus), preserved the pre-Ottoman tribal customs of the Turkmens, which often contradicted the Ottoman kanuns, and retained the former rules regarding property relations. The abrogation of some of the pre-Ottoman regulations and the introduction of Ottoman provincial tax regulations took place only decades later. One reason for this was to reduce the tax-burden on subjects. Still, in many places double taxation survived for many generations."

The situation was somewhat different in the Hungarian provinces, yet also reflects shared possession and compromise. Although these provinces were part of the regular Ottoman administrative system with timars and regular cadastral surveys, actual administrative and _taxation practices were different from that of the core zones. The military balance of power and the armed strength of the Hungarian border fortress soldiers led to a real condominium and a joint or double HungarianOttoman taxation. In other words; the very same village had both a Turkish sipahi and a Hungarian landlord and paid taxes to both. While this situation may be hard for us to understand, it seemed natural fOli contemporaries, as- seen in a letter written by the Ottoman dizdar of the castle of Koppan to his Hungarian counterpart, Adam Battyany, the commander of the Hungarian forces in southern Transdanubia: "Your village, Nagyegros, is in my possession in Turkey, I mean, it is in your possession in Hungary." As a consequence of this condominium, apart from the Serbian populated Syrmium in southern Hungary, there was hardly any major region in the country that was not paying some kind of tax to the Hungarian side. Taxes to landlords were collected more regularly, while state taxes and taxes for the Church could be collected only from two-thirds of the Ottoman-held territories in the sixteenth century and only from half of it in the seventeenth century.r'

21 Sahillioglu, p. 1249. .

22 Orner Uitfi Barkan, XV ve XVllllel astrlarda Osmanlt Imparatorlugunda Zirai Ekonomisinin Hukuki ve Mali Esaslan. Kanunlar (istanbul, 1943), pp. 119-171.

2) !:;"prpnr .~7"ldlv Mnovnr ndn7tatt1.t a torok h6do/wlJ!ban (Budapest, 1981).

A Flexible Empire 25

Apart [from taxation, the Hungaro-Ottoman condominium also extended to jurisdiction and administration. The weakest of all the former Hungarian institutions that continued to exert some influence in Ottoman ruled territories were the noble counties. Mpst of them fell apart shortly after the conquest, and the work of the few remaining "refugee nobiliary counties" of the Ottoman-held territories was confined to legal transactions between the members of the Hungarian nobility. Although these counties passed regulatory decrees or statutes (sing. statutunu in any affair not governed (~r insufficiently governed) by the laws and decrees of the kingdom, their work should not be overvalued for they did not replace Ottoman authorities. "Even in the best bf cases, Turkish jurisdiction was not squeezed out, but just squeezed back, for the Turks debated the same affairs, inasmuch as they had an interest in them.,,24

The wprk of the magisterial authorities of the Hungarian market towns in the Ottoman-held lands was more successful than the nobiliary counties. Whereas in the handful of Ottoman garrison towns in Hungary it was the kadi who administered justice, in the more numerous Hungarian market towns (sing. oppidumi that had no Ottoman garrison, the tasks of maintaining law and order, crime prevention, inquiry and judgment remained the prerogatives of the local Hungarian authorities. The municipal records that have survived down through the years show that many towns in Ottoman.Hungary had already obtained the right to pass justice and issue death

. sentences iin the decades following the Ottoman conquest. The municipal magistrates [administered the disputes of guilds and artisans as well as matters of probate. They also imposed and collected tines. Towns in the heart of Ottoman Hungary acquired these rights more slowly and with greater difficulty than towns closer to Royal Hungary, but still under Ottoman rule. In this area, it is more accurate to $peak of a rather peculiar "division of labor" between the Ottoman and Hungarian ~uthprities. What this meant was that the tasks of maintaining law and order, crime prevention, inquiry and in many cases judgment remained the prerogatives of the local Hungarian authorities. From the mid-sixteenth century, il became common for such towns under Ottoman rule to purchase the rights associated with justice, including the right to pass and indeed administer the death penalty, while the Ottoman authorities had to remain content with the collection ol

fines.25 i

Although the Ottomans initially rejected the idea that the Hungarian estate: might collect taxes and administer justice in Ottoman-held areas, over time the military balance of power and, above all, the armed strength of the Hungarian borde fortress solcliers led to their introduction and day-to-day practice. Such phenomeru could also ije observed for longer or shorter periods in other areas of the empire tha were never fully conquered or absorbed by the Ottomans and where the former elin could preserve its positions and strength in arms. Many such areas existed in th( Balkans, in eastern Anatolia, and in the Arab territories.






\ f



j l !






24 Ferenc Szakaly, Magyar intermenyek a torok hodoltsdgban (Budapest, 1997), pp. 315-329.

25 Klara Heg~i, Torok berendezkedes Magyarorszdgon (Budapest; 1995), pp. 131-145.

26 Gabor Agoston


However, during times ?f ~onflict neither the Hungariar nor the O.ttoman authorities were able to rnamtam law and order and prevent plundering by Hungarian and Ottoman border fortress soldiers and robbery bylthe free hajdus and other semi-regular elements. A general deterioration in standards of public safety led to the formation of organizations of self-defense among the peasant farmers. These groupings or gatherings (sing. concursus) of peasants, called paraszt vdrmegye, that is, "peasant county" in Hungarian. or zapis in territoriesij1habited by Slavic population, were armed insurrections of peasants led by their captains.z6

The operation of "village militias" serving similar functions to those of the Hungarian "peasant counties" may be documented in other f~ontier zones of the empire. The sources refer to these village militias as il-eri or il-erleri, that is, "the bachelors of the province." Members of such groups were y~ung men from the villages who elected their own leaders called yigitbajls. Theiri task was to ensure public order and security in the villages and the surrounding areas, As in the case of the Hungarian peasant counties, the authorities, who were incapable of maintaining public order, were often in need of the assistance of the village militias. When the regular provincial forces led by the sancak beyis and beylerbeyis proved incapable of preventing the devastating attacks of rebels and the atrocities of brigands and bandits, the authorities. turned to the ii-eri.Historians still have to elaborate on the history of this organization and we do not know how far back its roots may be traced. What is clear, however, is that Istanbul would have liked to have kept the organization under its own control, and for this reason insisted that, after being elected by village chiefs, a leader should be proposed by !the kadts and then confirmed in Istanbul, where a certificate of appointment wouild be issued. Future research must determine whether this act of confirmation wa~ simply a formality and whether the local organs of tire center were capable of controlling the operation

of these organizations of self-defense. 27 I

In the middle of the sixteenth century, il-erleri operated both in the core provinces and in the frontier zones. The peasant militias were employed in many of the sancaks of the province of Anadolu and in the neighboringlvilayets of Karaman and Sivas, as well as in Rumelia and the villages of the Aegean and Black Sea coasts that were vulnerable to enemy attack. In general, the authorities used the militias against the robbers, brigands, rebels, insurgents and levends wlio were ravaging the


area, storming the villages and markets, devastating the gardens and vineyards, and

laying waste to the stables and flocks." In such cases, the sel~-defense units in the

. !

26 Ferenc Szakaly, Parasnvdrmegyek a XVII. is XVfIl. szdzadban (Bu~ape~t 1969).

27 Mustafa Akdag, Tiirk Halkuun Dirlik ve Durenlik Kavgast: Celali Isyanlan (Istanbul,

1995), pp. 210-211. i

28 For example, see Istanbul, Basbakanhk Osmanh Arsivi, Mllhirnme Defterleri (MD) 3, p. 76, no. 192: Against the brigands ravaging gardens and vineyards in/the vicinity of Ma1kara in 1559; MD 5, p. 78, no. 180: Against a bandit in the sancak of H,iidavendigar; MD 3, p. 185, no. 511: Against robbers in the vicinity of Alacahisar in 1559; ~D 3, p. 353, no .. 1044:

In the kaza of Tekirdag against 30-40 robbers; MD 3, p. 166, no. ~52: In the vicinity of \;orum and Amasya against the brigands and levends; MD 5, p. 473~ no. 1274: Chasing the Albanian robbers that have escaped from the prison of Bursa; MD 5,1 p, 322, no. 843: In the


A Flexible Empire 27

villages joined forces with the provincial cavalry forces of thesancak. Led by the sancak beyis and kadis, they attacked the rebels and evildoers. During such actions, members of the village militia might even kill the rebels. The sultan's decrees specifically instructed the kadts to inform the militiamen that nobody would hold them responsible for such deeds or demand blood money for the murdered brigand or rebel."

The above examples prove that peasants in various parts of the empire reacted in similar ways to the deterioration in public security, and they established their own militias of self-defense. The very existence of these peasant organizations of self .. defense and the Ottoman authorities' attitude towards them indicate the limits of Ottoman administration. It also shows an inevitable sense of Ottoman pragmatism that not only tolerated such organizations of self-defense but also used them in order

to maintain law and order. .


The Ottoman administration that was established 111 the frontier regions of Hungary and eastern Anatolia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries successfully fulfilled its main tasks: retention of the conquered territories and

. military support for renewed conquests. In each policy area, the pragmatism of the Ottomans permitted just enough flexibility to ensure the rule of the sultan, as well as the indispensable conditions of his rule, that is, the peace of his subjects and the normal working of the economy. If this was possible with the assistance of local institutions and in accordance with local legal customs, then the Ottoman government usually retained these elements and made no attempts to form the conquered territories in its own image. This flexible administrative practice, born of a necessity that was political, military and economic, may be observed to the full in the frontier zones of the empire, which the Ottoman government always treated differently from the core territories.

Ottoman pragmatism also can be viewed as the continuation of pre-sixteenth century Ottoman administrative strategies used in the Balkans and Anatolia before the "golden age" of Ottoman centralism. This early, t1exibility is demonstrated, among other things, by the fact that the new Ottoman sancaks, nahives and kazas were usually given the names of the old administrative units and oft~n covered the same territories." In Anatolia, after the annexation of the Turkish principalities of Saruhan, Karesi, Mentese, Aydin and Germiyan, the sancaks that were established on the territory of these principalities and the beylerbeyiliks that were established on

sancak of Mentese against the brigands; MD 5, p. 154, no. 365, and p. 189, no. 463: Against the outlaws and nomads who plundered the horses, camels and sheep of the Muslims from the meadows (1565). These volumes were recently published in facsimile and in Latin transliteration by the Archives.

29 MD 3, p. 153, no. 411; p. 166, no. 452.

30 lnalcik, "Ottoman Methods," and Sahin, "XV. ve XVI. Asirlarda Osrnanh Tasra Teskilannm Ozellikleri," p. 125.

28 Gabor Agoston

the territories of the principalities of Karaman and Dulkadir followed the borders of the old principalities. Apart from one instance (Gerrniyan), the new sancaks and beylerbeyiliks preserved in their names the memory of the old principalities. In addition, the first Ottoman tax registers demonstrate that many territorial and administrative terms were also borrowed from the era of the principalities. It is also known that the ruling families of the principalities were able to keep parts of their lands after the Ottoman conquest under Ottoman rule." This can be explained only partly by the fact that the annexed principalities belonged to the same culture as the Ottomans.V for a similar ability to accommodate may also be observed in the Balkans, where the Ottoman administrative units often followed the boundaries of the Serbian and Bosnian iupas or Byzantine themes. Here too, many of the Ottoman administrative units preserved the naInes of the previous rulers of the territories. The name of Konstantin Dejanovic was preserved, for instance, in the name of the :wncak of Kostendil, and the name of the Albanian Astin family in the nahiye of Astin in the pasa's sancak." As we have seen, Sultan Suleyman, the champion of Ottoman centralisn~, was also forced to folJow a similar policy in the eastern frontiers with regard to certain Tiirkmen, Kurdish and Arab chieftains, as well as the Georgian princes.

It is also known that the Ottoman government in the fifteenth century was careful to take account of local balances of power and attempted to win over local secular and religious leaders. Ottoman sultans tried to integrate cooperative groups and individuals belonging to the previous social elites into the privileged Ottoman ruling class (askeri). This is borne out by the presence of Christian timar-holders (sipahi) and privileged auxiliary units ivoynuks; marta loses etc.) both in the Balkans and on the territory of the former Empire of Trebizond. In many places the old forms of property ownership were adopted and retained; the empire accommodated the previous systems of agriculture and mining, and it adopted certain forms of taxation and coinage. Similarly, the continuation of pre-Ottoman local communal organizations, and the activity of knezes and primikurs and other leaders of local administration is well documented from Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece." Again, in the sixteenth century the Ottoman government, the model of absolutism for many

31 Feridun Emeeen, "Beylikten Sancaga," 88-91, idem, XVIAsmla Manisa Kazasi (Ankara, 1989), p. 20; Sahin, "XV. ve XVI. Asirlarda Osmanh Tasra Teskilatmm Ozellikleri," p, 125; H. Akin, Aydmogullan Tarihi Hakkmda Bir Arasurma (Ankara, 1968). pp, 56-63.

32 Sahin, "XV. ve XVI. Asirlarda Osmanh Tasra Teskilanrnn OzeIlikJeri," p. 125.

3.1 H. Sabanovic, "Upravna podjela jugoslovenskih zemlja pod turskom vladavinom do Karlovackog mira 1699 godine," Godisnjak lstoriskog druitva BiH IV. (1952): 171-204; Halil lnalcrk, Fatib devri uzerinde tetkikler ve vesikalar 2nd edn. (Istanbul, 1987), p. 148; Imber, The Ottoman Empire, p. 184.

34 Halil lnalcik, "Stefan Dusandan Osmanh Imparatorluguna," in idem, Osmanli lmparatorlugu: Toplum ve Ekonomi Ozerinde Ar~iv Calismalan, Incelemeler (Istanbul, 1993), pp. 67-108; Heath Lowry, Trabzon Sehnnin lslamlasmast ve Turklesmesi 2nd edn. (Istanbul, 1998); Elena Grozdanova, Biilgarskaia selska obstina prez XV-XVIII vek (Sofia, 1979); Geza David, "Administration in Ottoman Europe," in idem, Studies in Demographic

_rr> •• ._ " •• __ .. _.IT~'nnh .. 1 1007\ nn IR7_?04

A Flexible Empire 29

contemporary observers, from Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (the famous Flemish diplomat of Ferdinand I of Habsburg) to Niccolo Machiavelli, was forced to follow a similarly. flexible administrative practice in the frontier provinces. As demonstrated above, in Hungary and Georgia, Istanbul attempted to win over the members of; the pre-Ottoman Christian elite; in Eastern Anatolia and in Hungary the sultan accepted the condominium and the double taxation and jurisdiction. Although the local representatives of the central government, Ottoman kadts and sipahis, were present almost everywhere in the "regular provinces," that is, in territories where the timar system was instituted, when conducting daily business during the "classical age" the Porte had to rely on village headmen, "elders" or "notables of the province" (a 'van-i viiayeti, who were wealthier peasants generally chosen by their fellowvillagers from within the community. In Hungary they were called birds (judge), in the Arab lands ra'is al-fallahin (head of the peasants) or shaykh alcqaryo (elder 01 the villagej] In sixteenth-century Syria-Palestine the rais al-fallahin and the leaders of the Jewish community in Jerusalem (shaykh al-yahudi, presumably all preOttoman Marnluk institutions, were essential in arranging the day-to-day affairs ot the local cornmunities.P

It seems that apart from geographical constraints and limits arising from overextension, the existence of the Habsburg and Safavid Empires constituted the main obstacle to Ottoman central administration in its frontier zones. In other words

- the action-radius of Ottoman centralism was greatly reduced by its rivals. The faci that the condominium was maintained in Hungary throughout Ottoman rule was due to the survival of the former Hungarian elite and institutions in Royal Hungarj under Habsburg rule. The Hungarian estates sought refuge on the far side of th: military bcrder. From its base in Habsburg Hungary, with the assistance of tlu Hungarian iborder garrisons and the support of Habsburg diplomacy, the Hungariai elite was able to defend many of its interests in the fields of taxation, justice ant administration. In this endeavor the Hungarian nobles were more successful than tlu beys of the hereditary sancaks in eastern Anatolia. While in the first half of til sixteenth century the latter could count on the Safavids, after Suleyrnan' s conquest in Azerbaijan and Iraq their support was weakened considerably.

Georgetown University

35 See, fori instance. Amy Singer, Palestinian Peasants and Ottoman Officials: Rut, Administration Around Sixteenth-Century Jerusalem (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 32-39, and tl literature cited by her.

30 Gabor Agoston

Types and number of administrative units in the - province of Diyarbekir

1521 1526 1608 1635 A Flexible Empire 31

Regular and ocakhk sancaks in selected eastern provinces ill 1635

Diyarbekr Aleppo


Sehrizor Mosul Baghdad -

Regular, ocakhk, and hiikiimet sancaks in selected eastern provinces

- in the 1670s







Diyarbekir Erzurum


Baghdad Sehrizor

G regular .ocakhk

IlJ regular • ocakhk o hliklinet