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Yaya means "pedestrian" in Turkish. An alternative name, piyade, is derived from a Persian word with the same meaning. This latter name was also used in the series of dynasties that ruled the neighboring Persian state.
The early Ottoman military forces consisted of irregular nomadic cavalry and volunteer light infantry. These units were efficient against local Byzantine feudal lords but were unable to capture fortified castles by direct assault. This was the reason for Alaeddin Pasha including the establishment of this unit in his proposal for reorganization the military of the Ottoman Empire made in the mid 1320s. His brother, sultan Orhan, accepted his proposal and established yaya.
The commander of the Yaya unit was referred to as Yayabashi. Members of this units were both Christian and Muslim citizens of the Ottoman Empire who were sometimes granted land estates in the Balkans in exchange for military service. They were most irregular infantry Ottoman units because they usually served as armed laborers whose military skills were limited. Still, before Janissary units were established and expanded in 1363 and afterwards, yaya peasant infantry had important military function. By giving regular salary to yaya Ottomans acquired a standing army.
Among notable engagements of yaya miliary units are battles of Marica (1371) and Nicopolis (1396) where Ottoman infantry units, including yaya, were used to bait enemy heavy cavalry into an ambush between two flanks of more maneuverable light Ottoman cavalry.
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The Yaya corps with light armor and problematic combat value was no match against heavily armored Balkan infantry in
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Ottoman-Balkan Yaya, early 15th century: Many Ottoman infantrymen were of Christian origin and this seems to have been reflected in their equipment.
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Ala-ed-deen first embodied a corps called Yaya, or Piade. They were all infantry, and were raised and recruited from the body of the Ottoman population.
- Aziz Suryal Atiya; Eustache Deschamps; Philippe de Mézières (1934). The crusade of Nicopolis. Methuen & co., ltd. p. 73.
- David Nicolle (1995). The Janissaries. Osprey Publishing. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-85532-413-8.
- Konstantin Mihailović (1975). Memoirs of a Janissary. Published under the auspices of the Joint Committee on Eastern Europe, American Council of Learned Societies, by the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Michigan. p. 204.
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yayabashi (T. yayaba§i): commanders of foot soldiers.
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- H. J. Kissling; Bertold Spuler; N. Barbour; J. S. Trimingham, H. Braun, H. Hartel (1 August 1997). The Last Great Muslim Empires. BRILL. p. 6. ISBN 978-90-04-02104-4.
Since the infantrymen (yaya or piyade) received regular pay, the Ottoman state may be said to have acquired a standing army at this early date.