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Mukata’a, in the history of the Ottoman Empire, describes the parcels of hass-ı hümayun (land owned by the Ottoman crown) that were distributed not according to the timar system of in-kind distribution farming and tax collection, but rather via the iltizam auction system, where rights to collect revenue on the land were sold to the highest bidder, eventually for duration of the life of the buyer. As the Ottoman Empire became to move into the early modern period, “vacant timars, instead of being reassigned, were often added to the itltizam system”, paving the way for a fundamental change in the Ottoman fiscal system into a monetized system, and allowing various power-brokers to involve themselves in the Ottoman bureaucracy that had previously been limited to the kul. This served to both open up the echelons of power to those previously excluded, while also serving to move power away from the Sultan and into a larger group of nobles who now held more permanent grasps on power, and the ability to perpetuate their wealth.
In the Ottoman fiscal organization, mukata’a lands stand in opposition to the timar system, where plots of land were assigned to sipahis, who held the right to tax the peasants (reaya) on that land a portion of their crops every growing season, as compensation for the sipahis’ service in the Sultan’s army. Whereas timars could be reassigned at any time, with promotions to more lucrative positions often entailing transfer to another province, mukata’a were under the control of their lease-holder for the length of the contract, eventually extending to life-terms. The other important distinction between the two was unlike in timar, mukata’a revenues were collected in bullion, at least by the state, providing much-needed sources of currency to the Treasury.
Role in the Ottoman Transformation
The move away from timar farming, and to privatized revenue collection, took place against the backdrop of massive upheaval in the 17th and early 18th Century Ottoman Empire. Previously, the timar system had been supported by the unrelenting Ottoman advance into newly conquered territories, which served to open up new territories to be assigned, as well as provided spoils of war to pay troops, which encouraged continual campaigning. However, the slowing and eventual end of Ottoman territorial expansion put this era of easy land to an end. Around the same time, warfare and the Ottoman army faced drastic changes, with the sipahi cavalrymen, and their tax levies replaced with salaried infantry equipped with firearms. In 1695, malikane mukata’a, or life-term tax farms, were introduced, granting buyers the right to revenues on the parcel until the death of the holder, and freeing them from local oversight in exchange for incentivizing long-term growth. As the shift to mukata’a began to gain traction, a new class in Ottoman society began to emerge. With the privatization of annual revenue collection, wealthy officials, or those with the access to information that could make them wealthy in the new investing market for mukata’a, had the ability to turn corners of the Empire into their own private fiefdoms, exerting control through a network of agents. However, Ariel Salzmann identifies this phenomenon not as a loss of control for the center, but instead “rationalized state control in a politically effective form.” Malikane mukata’a contracts, thus, became a way to extend the definition of the center, allowing the wealthy across the empire to become part of the center, and “curb the power of local officials who often usurped the state’s prerogatives over taxation”. With the inclusion of elite from every corner of the empire, financed by Jewish, Greek and Armenian bankers, a new Ottoman ruling class emerged, with an openness to any with the wealth or savvy to buy into the system.
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- Salzmann, Ariel . "An Ancien Regime Revisited: "Privatization" and Political Economy in the Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Empire ." Politics and Society 21, no. 4 (December 1993): 393-423.
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