|Social structure of the
Devşirme (literally collecting in Turkish) was chiefly the practice by which the Ottoman Empire took slave boys from their Balkan Christian families once every four to five years. They were then converted to Islam with the primary objective of selecting and training the ablest children for the military or civil service of the Empire.
Started by Murad I as a means to counteract the growing power of the Turkish nobility, the practice of devsirme violated Islamic law. Yet by 1648, the practice of devsirme was slowing drawing to an end. An attempt to re-institute the practice, in 1703, was resisted by its Turkish members who coveted its military and civilian posts. Finally in the early part of Ahmet III's reign, the practice of devşirme was abolished.
The Ottoman Empire, beginning with Murad I, felt a need to "counteract the power of (Turkic) nobles by developing Christian vassal soldiers and converted kapıkulları as his personal troops, independent of the regular army." The elite forces, which served the Ottoman Sultan directly, were divided into two main groups: cavalry and infantry. The cavalry was commonly known as the Kapıkulu Süvari (The Cavalry of the Servants of the Porte) and the infantry were the popular Yeni Çeri (transliterated in English as Janissary), meaning "the New Corps".
At first, the soldiers to serve in these corps were selected from the slaves captured during warfare. However, the system commonly known as devşirme was soon adopted: in this system children of the rural Christian populations of the Balkans - particularly Albanians, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Serbs, and northern Greeks - were conscripted before adolescence and were brought up as Muslims. Upon reaching adolescence, these children were enrolled in one of the four imperial institutions: the Palace, the Scribes, the Religious and the Military. Those enrolled in the Military would become either part of the Janissary corps, or part of any other corps. The brightest were sent to the Palace institution (Enderun), and were destined for a career within the palace itself where the most able could aspire to attain the very highest office of state, that of Grand Vizier, the Sultan's immensely powerful chief minister and military deputy.
The life of the devşirme
The ideal age of a recruit was between 7 and 10 years of age, although they recruited much younger boys. The devşirme system was locally resented and was resisted, even to the point of disfiguring their sons. On the other hand, as the devşirme were recruited to rise up to the grand vizier status (the second most powerful man in the empire), Christian parents in Bosnia were known to bribe scouts to take their children. "The children were taken from their families and transported to Istanbul. Upon their arrival, they were converted to Islam, examined, and trained to serve the empire. This system produced infantry corps soldiers as well as civilian administrators and high-ranked military officials."
Although the influence of Turkic nobility continued in the Ottoman court until Mehmet II (see Çandarlı Halil), the Ottoman ruling class slowly came to be ruled exclusively by the devşirme, creating a separate social class. This class of rulers was chosen from the brightest of devşirme and hand-picked to serve in the Palace institution, known as the Enderun. They had to accompany the Sultan on campaigns, but exceptional service would be rewarded by assignments outside the palace. Those chosen for the Scribe institution, known as Kalemiye were also granted prestigious positions. The Religious institution, İlmiye, was where all Orthodox clergy of the Ottoman Empire were educated and sent to provinces or served in the capital.
Tavernier noted in 1678 that the Janissaries looked more like a religious order than a military corps. The members of the organization were not banned from marriage, as Tavernier further noted, but it was very uncommon for them. He goes on to write that their numbers had increased to a hundred thousand, but this was because of a degeneration of regulations and many of these were in fact "fake" Janissaries, posing as such for tax exemptions and other social privileges. He notes that the actual number of Janissaries was in fact much lower (Shaw writes that their number was 30,000 under Suleiman the Magnificent). By the 1650s there were more than 50,000 Janissaries who lived as homosexuals and practiced strict military discipline. Recruits were sometimes gained through voluntary accessions, as some parents were often eager to have their children enroll in the Janissary service that ensured them a successful career and comfort.
The BBC notes the following regarding the devşirme system: "Although members of the devshirme class were technically slaves, they were of great importance to the Sultan because they owed him their absolute loyalty and became vital to his power. This status enabled some of the 'slaves' to become both powerful and wealthy." Yet this system was clearly illegal according to Islamic law, sharia.
According to Cleveland, the devşirme system offered "limitless opportunities to the young men who became a part of it." However, according to Dr. Basilike Papoulia, "...the devsirme was the 'forcible removal', in the form of a tribute, of children of the Christian subjects from their ethnic, religious and cultural environment and their transportation into the Turkish-Islamic environment with the aim of employing them in the service of the Palace, the army, and the state, whereby they were on the one hand to serve the Sultan as slaves and freedmen and on the other to form the ruling class of the State." Accordingly, Papoulia agrees with Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb and Harold Bowen, authors of Islamic society and the West, that the devşirme was a penalization imposed on the Balkan peoples since their ancestors resisted the Ottoman invasion. Vladimir Minorsky states, "The most striking manifestation of this fact is the unprecedented system of devshirme, i.e. the periodic conscription of 'tribute boys', by which the children of Christians were wrung from their families, churches, and communities to be molded into Ottoman praetorians owing their allegiance to the Sultan and the official faith of Islam." This system as explained by Çandarlı Kara Halil Hayreddin Pasha, founder of the Janissaries, "The conquered are slaves of the conquerors, to whom their goods, their women, and their children belong as lawful possession".
Ethnicity of the devşirme, and exemptions
The devşirme were collected once every four or five years from rural provinces in Balkans, and with a few exceptions, only from non-Muslims. The devşirme levy was not applied to the major cities of the empire, and children of local craftsmen in rural towns were also exempt, as it was considered that conscripting them would harm the economy.
In early days all Christians were enrolled indiscriminately; later those from Albania and Bosnia were preferred. Bernard Lewis points that the core of the "Ottoman Janissaries were Slavic and Balkan origin, particularly Albanian, Serb, and Macedonian Slavs. " Well known examples of Ottomans who had been recruited in the devşirme include Scanderbeg, Sinan Pasha and Sokollu Mehmed Pasha.
Jews were exempt from this service and until recently Armenians were thought to have been exempt also. However, Armenian colophons from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries and foreign travelers of the time indicate that Armenians were indeed not spared from the devşirme.
What is certain is that devşirme were primarily recruited from Christians in the Balkans. However, Bosnian Muslims were also recruited and sent directly to serve in the Palace (rather than the military), under groups called "potor".
Decline of the devşirme class
The devşirme declined in the 16th and 17th century due to a number of factors, including the inclusion of free Muslims in the system. After 1568 the 'boy harvest' was only occasionally made. In 1632 the Janissaries attempted an unsuccessful coup against Murad IV, who then imposed a loyalty oath on them. In 1648 the devşirme-based recruiting system of the Janissary corps formally came to an end; attempts to reintroduce the old system failed due to the resistance of the new Turkish members of the Janissary corps in 1703, who wanted the coveted posts exclusively for their own families.
In an order sent in multiple copies to authorities throughout the European provinces in 1666 a devşirme recruitment target of between 300 and 320 was set for an area covering the whole of the central and western Balkans.
Economic historians, Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane claim that "The institution of devşirme was abolished in 1638".
After Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798 there was a reform movement in Sultan Selim III’s regime, to reduce the numbers of the askeri class, who were the first class citizens or military class (also called Janissary). Sultan Salim III was taken prisoner and murdered by the Janissary revolt. The successor to the sultan, Mahmud II was patient but remembered the results of the uprising in 1807. In 1827 he created a revolt among the Janissaries, kept them all in their barracks and slaughtered thousands of them.
The response of society
There are accounts of Muslim families attempting to smuggle their offspring into the levy, which was strictly forbidden. Although the devşirme made boys the Sultans' state slaves it led to a highly privileged position in Ottoman society, but inevitably led to their conversion to Islam. The system also had specific limits on who and how many could be taken. The seizure of sons whose absence would cause hardship and difficulties was not permitted, though it is dubious on whether such rules were upheld with any rigidity.
Another aspect is that recruiting personnel for the military and administration counterbalanced the grip of the old Turkish nobility, which was largely channeled into education, law, Muslim religion and the provincial cavalry, in the spirit of division of tasks and rights of the millet system which increased the cohesion of the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural empire by slowly eliminating non-Muslim culture with Ottoman holdings..
- Nasuh, Matrakci (1588). "Janissary Recruitment in the Balkans". Süleymanname, Topkapi Sarai Museum, Ms Hazine 1517.
- Ottoman دوشيرمه, Greek παιδομάζωμα, Paedomazoma - collection of children; Armenian: Մանկահավաք, Mankahavak') - child-gathering; Romanian: tribut de sânge; Croatian: Danak u krvi, Slovene: Krvni davek, Bosnian and Serbian: Данак у крви / Danak u krvi, Macedonian: Данок во крв / Danok vo krv, and Bulgarian: Кръвен данък/ Kraven Danak - blood tax
- Perry Anderson. Lineages of the Absolutist State (Verso, 1974), p. 366.
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- Basgoz, I. & Wilson, H. E. (1989), The educational tradition of the Ottoman Empire and the development of the Turkish educational system of the republican era. Turkish Review 3(16), 15.
- *Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, ed. Alexander Mikaberidze, (ABC-CLIO, 2011), 273;"This effectively enslaved some of the sultan's own non-Islamic subjects and was therefore illegal under Islamic law, which stipulated that conquered non-Muslims should be demilitarized and protected."
*The Rise of the Ottomans, I. Metin Kunt, The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 6, C.1300-c.1415, ed. Michael Jones, Rosamond McKitterick, (Cambridge University Press, 2000), 860.
- Shaw, Stanford (1976). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Volume I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 0-521-21280-4.
- More classifications, such as the artillery and cannon corps, miners and moat diggers and even a separate cannon-wagon corps were introduced later on, but the number of people in these groups were relatively small, and they incorporated Christian elements.
- Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire, pp. 112–129.
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- http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/history/slavery_1.shtml#section_4; "...and point out that many Christian families were hostile and resentful about it - which is perhaps underlined by the use of force to impose the system.".
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- Robert Edgerton (13 December 2007). Death Or Glory. Basic Books. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-465-01067-7. Retrieved 8 July 2013. "By mid-1600s, over 50,000 Janissaries lived as homosexuals under absolute military discipline."
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- *Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, ed. Alexander Mikaberidze, 273;"This effectively enslaved some of the sultan's own non-Islamic subjects and was therefore illegal under Islamic law, which stipulated that conquered non-Muslims should be demilitarized and protected."
*The Rise of the Ottomans, I. Metin Kunt, The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 6, C.1300-c.1415, 860.
- Cleveland, William L. "A History of the Modern Middle East. 3rd Edition." p. 46
- Some Notes on the Devsirme, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1, 1966, V.L.Menage, (Cambridge University Press, 1966), 64.
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- Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire, p. 114. Shaw states that the reason for this exemption may have been the recognition of both People as a separate Nation (none of the Balkan ethnic groups were recognized as such) or that both Jews and Armenians lived mostly in the major cities anyway.
- Albertus Bobovius, who was enslaved by Crimean Tatars and sold into the palace in the 17th century, reports that both Armenians and Jews were exempt from the devşirme levy. He writes that the reason for this exemption of Armenians is religious: That Armenian Gregorian church was considered the closest to Christ's (and therefore Muhammed's) teachings.
- Kouymjian, Dickran (1997). "Armenia from the Fall of the Cilician Kingdom (1375) to the Forced Migration under Shah Abbas (1604)" in The Armenian People From Ancient to Modern Times, Volume II: Foreign Dominion to Statehood: The Fifteenth Century to the Twentieth Century. Richard Hovannisian (ed.) New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 12-14. ISBN 1-4039-6422-X.
- (Armenian) Zulalyan, Manvel. "«Դեվշիրմեն» (մանկահավաքը) օսմանյան կայսրության մեջ ըստ թուրքական և հայկական աղբյուրների" ("The 'Devshirme' (Child-Gathering) in the Ottoman Empire According to Turkish and Armenian Sources"). Patma-Banasirakan Handes. № 2-3 (5-6), 1959, pp. 247-256.
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- Kinross, pp. 456–457.
- Hubbard, Glenn and Tim Kane. (2013). Balance: The Economics of Great Powers From Ancient Rome to Modern America . Simon & Schuster. P. 153. ISBN 978-1-4767-0025-0
- Cragg, Kenneth, The Arab Christian, (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 120.
- Sedlar, Jean W., East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000-1500, (University of Washington Press, 1994), 242.
|Look up devshirme in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- "Devsirme" in "Encyclopaedia of the Orient"
- Website on the Ottoman empire - original German version; here its Janissary page (to be further exploited)
- Papoulia, B.D., Ursprung und Wesen der “knabenlese” im Osmanischen Reich. München, 1963 (in German, title means 'origin and nature of the 'boy harvest' in the Ottoman Empire)