A more nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of when and why peo­ple trav­eled


For his­to­ri­ans, there are many chal­lenges to study­ing peo­ple on the move. The prob­lem of “keep­ing track” of sub­jects within gov­erned ter­ri­tory has been the main rea­son that, through­out his­tory, rul­ing pow­ers have gone to great lengths to com­pel no­mads and other itin­er­ant peo­ples to be­come seden­tary and thus more eas­ily gov­ern­able through record-keep­ing. Con­se­quently, those who were mo­bile -- par­tic­u­larly non-elites trav­el­ing for trade, pil­grim­age and other myr­iad rea­sons -- leave scarce doc­u­men­ta­tion be­hind for un­der­stand­ing the spa­tial, eco­nomic and so­cial bound­aries of the worlds they in­hab­ited. In “Travel and Ar­ti­sans in the Ot­toman Em­pire: Em­ploy­ment and Mo­bil­ity in the Early Mod­ern Era,” Su­raiya Faro­qhi has en­deav­ored to flesh out the lives and move­ments of such peo­ple within both a his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal con­text. Her book aims to chal­lenge the pre­dom­i­nant un­der­stand­ing that in the early mod­ern era of the Ot­toman Em­pire, “or­di­nary” peo­ple played a role in his­tory merely as pas­sive, seden­tary sub­jects bound within their small worlds. It is true, she ac­knowl­edges, that im­mo­bil­ity was the norm. How­ever, even in a world where peas­ants were re­quired to ob­tain of­fi­cial per­mis­sion from tax ad­min­is­tra­tors in or­der to leave their homes and migration in and out of İstanbul was metic­u­lously reg­u­lated, there is still great value in de­vel­op­ing a more nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of when and why peo­ple trav­eled and the pol­i­tics of con­trol that sought to reg­u­late the move­ment of peo­ple and goods.

Faro­qhi has had an in­flu­en­tial ca­reer work­ing to doc­u­ment the lives of the Ot­toman non-elite, as in her pre­vi­ous books, “Sub­jects of the Sul­tan: Cul­ture and Daily Life in the Ot­toman Em­pire” (2005) and “Ar­ti­sans of Em­pire: Crafts and Crafts­peo­ple Un­der the Ot­tomans” (2009), among a wide ar­ray of lit­er­a­ture ad­dress­ing the eco­nomic and so­cial his­tory of ar­ti­sans, mer­chants and other Ot­toman sub­jects. Her lat­est book presents an ar­ray of small-scale stud­ies or­ga­nized by chap­ter. They present mo­bil­ity among three broad groups: Ot­toman elites, or­di­nary peo­ple trav­el­ing (both as free agents and in­vol­un­tar­ily as slaves) and those who re­mained seden­tary but were nev­er­the­less mo­bile within the con­fines of İstanbul. The au­thor cov­ers a vast range of peo­ple on the move, in­clud­ing a look at pil­grims to Mecca through the lens of the non­com­mer­cial goods they brought back as well as trac­ing the trade and dis­tri­bu­tion net­works of 18th-cen­tury halva man­u­fac­tur­ers and Tu­nisian fez-sell­ers in the con­text of ad­min­is­tra­tive poli­cies reg­u­lat­ing their trade and move­ments. She also ad­dresses spe­cific spa­ces of height­ened com­merce and travel, as in the tex­tile in­dus­try of Bursa and Üskü­dar as a place where fugi­tive slaves and oth­ers were con­tin­u­ously “just pass­ing through” for both licit and il­licit rea­sons (117).

One of the driv­ing forces of Faro­qhi’s book is to serve as mo­ti­va­tion and ex­em­plar for other schol­ars to begin ap­proach­ing the topic of mo­bil­ity from new an­gles.


As the au­thor notes in her dis­cus­sion on “Ot­toman do­mes­tic pol­i­tics,” migration can look vastly dif­fer­ent depend­ing on the per­spec­tive taken. She notes that, “of­ten we know more about the gov­ern­ment’s at­tempt to foil migration than about the moves and mo­ti­va­tions of the mi­grants” (156). Con­se­quently, the most ob­vi­ous records of the move­ment of non-elites are gen­er­ally from the per­spec­tive of the Ot­toman ad­min­is­tra­tion, which show “Ot­toman sul­tans mov­ing their sub­jects around like pieces on a chess­board” and striv­ing, as in the case of İstanbul, to en­force mech­a­nisms for man­ag­ing what was per­ceived to be the city’s “sur­plus” pop­u­la­tion of un­de­sir­ables (xiii). While much of the ex­ist­ing lit­er­a­ture on mo­bil­ity tends to rely on such records, Faro­qhi’s over­ar­ch­ing aim is to “show the agency of the sul­tan’s sub­jects both elite and non-elite” (xii) by mak­ing use of of­ten in­di­rect and un­der-ex­plored sources to paint a broader pic­ture of mo­bil­ity in the early mod­ern era. In one chap­ter, for ex­am­ple, she ex­plores nar­ra­tive com­plaints pre­sented in pe­ti­tions that were filed by 16th-cen­tury Ot­toman mer­chants in the Adri­atic who ap­pealed to Vene­tian au­thor­i­ties for jus­tice against rob­bers at sea, of­ten by re­quest­ing let­ters from of­fi­cials in İstanbul to vouch for their cause. She makes the case that while the pe­ti­tions them­selves are gen­er­ally la­conic and writ­ten in very sim­ple Turk­ish, they, in ad­di­tion to the sup­port­ing doc­u­ments from Ot­toman bu­reau­crats, pro­vide a win­dow into the ways in which Ot­toman mer­chants in the 18th cen­tury chose to present them­selves to Vene­tian of­fi­cials. Faro­qhi presents two case stud­ies -- us­ing th­ese sources as a guide on how to uti­lize “un­promis­ing doc­u­ments” (77) -- in which she shows how such Ot­toman-Vene­tian in­ter­ac­tions can re­veal the “po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tives in which an Ot­toman sub­ject with some knowl­edge of the world re­garded the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Venice and the Sul­tan” (80). In this way, Faro­qhi gives a sense of how his­to­ri­ans can pro­vide some in­sight into the out­looks of peo­ple who oth­er­wise would not have left a record of their trav­els.

While the book’s ti­tle sug­gests a cen­tral fo­cus on ar­ti­sans, a full third of the text is ded­i­cated to the ob­ser­va­tions and in­ter­ac­tions of elite trav­el­ers, in­clud­ing an ex­plo­ration of Ot­toman en­voys to Euro­pean courts, asy­lum-seek­ers into Ot­toman ter­ri­to­ries (such as Jews, fugi­tive roy­als from for­eign courts, Spa­niards, Ital­ians and other out­siders) as well as a chap­ter re­vis­it­ing the fas­ci­nat­ing but not-al­ways-re­li­able nar­ra­tives of fa­mous trav­eler Evliya Çelebi re­count­ing his stay in Cairo. Her dis­cus­sion on the evo­lu­tion of am­bas­sador pro­to­cols for re­port­ing back to İstanbul re­veals the ways in which travel served as a source of po­lit­i­cal knowl­edge and can pro­vide in­trigu­ing in­sight into the as­pects of ma­te­rial cul­ture and in­sti­tu­tions that caught the at­ten­tion of vis­it­ing diplo­mats. She does so by ex­plor­ing the ac­counts of sev­eral dig­ni­taries, in­clud­ing fig­ures such as Zül­fikâr Pasha, a 17th-cen­tury am­bas­sador who spent much of his time re­port­ing the in­dig­ni­ties and poor treat­ment he suf­fered at the Hab­s­burg court but who also


re­layed what in­sight he could gather on Euro­pean mil­i­tary af­fairs.

Th­ese diplo­matic ac­counts serve to urge the ne­ces­sity of mov­ing be­yond what Faro­qhi takes to be a sim­plis­tic ar­gu­ment put for­ward by fig­ures such as Bernard Lewis that prior to the oc­cu­pa­tion of Egypt by Napoleon, there was very lit­tle in­ter­est on the part of Ot­toman dig­ni­taries in Euro­pean pol­i­tics un­less di­rectly per­tain­ing to Ot­toman in­ter­ests. While it is true that em­bassy ac­counts in the 1700s gen­er­ally fo­cused on diplo­matic pro­to­col and func­tional de­scrip­tion rather than deeper ob­ser­va­tion -which, as Faro­qhi her­self ad­mits, can be a source of frus­tra­tion for his­to­ri­ans -- they nev­er­the­less doc­u­ment shift­ing Ot­toman in­ter­est in closing a per­ceived gap in the knowl­edge of the af­fairs of Lati­nate Europe. In ad­di­tion to high­light­ing pri­mary sources that de­mand closer ex­am­i­na­tion, she em­pha­sizes the im­por­tance of such sources in reeval­u­at­ing pe­ri­odiza­tion schemes of dif­fer­ent stages of Ot­toman per­spec­tives on Europe through dis­tinc­tive world­views.

An­other in­stance of Faro­qhi’s cre­ative ap­proach to ex­plor­ing move­ment em­ploys doc­u­ments per­tain­ing to a build­ing project at Hotin, a north­ern for­ti­fi­ca­tion where nearly 2,000 un­skilled con­struc­tion la­bor­ers were drafted and re­lo­cated from İstanbul in 1716. This case study is in­ter­est­ing in that it ex­em­pli­fies an on­go­ing theme through­out the book: The pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of the Ot­toman ad­min­is­tra­tion with reg­u­lat­ing bor­ders and ad­just­ing the pop­u­la­tion of İstanbul by rid­ding it of peo­ple per­ceived as sur­plus or pos­si­bly even un­de­sir­able. Many of the work­men drafted were young, sin­gle and un­skilled male mi­grants into İstanbul, in­clud­ing Al­ba­ni­ans, Ar­me­ni­ans and var­i­ous Chris­tians of uniden­ti­fied eth­nic­ity. Con­se­quently, Faro­qhi spec­u­lates that la­bor con­scrip­tion to re­mote re­gions may have been one mech­a­nism for rid­ding the cap­i­tal of “ex­cess” peo­ple. Sim­i­larly, her chap­ter on 16th-cen­tury Üskü­dar as a hub of move­ment into and out of İstanbul and her dis­cus­sion on the trade net­works of Tu­nisian fezsellers through the guild sys­tem present a fas­ci­nat­ing pic­ture of con­flict­ing forces at work. The emerg­ing para­dox through­out the book shows how on the one hand İstanbul was a city that, prior to the 19th cen­tury, could not re­pro­duce its pop­u­la­tion with­out in­flux of mi­grants. On the other, how­ever, Ot­toman ad­min­is­tra­tors were heav­ily in­vested in pre­vent­ing un­wanted move­ment and oc­ca­sion­ally prun­ing the pop­u­la­tion.

Faro­qhi var­i­ously de­scribes her chap­ters as “vignettes” or “sketches,” and they should be taken as such. While the book’s breadth ul­ti­mately leaves many ques­tions unan­swered and should pique the cu­rios­ity of both his­to­ri­ans and non-his­to­ri­ans alike, Faro­qhi’s con­tri­bu­tion lies in the win­dows she opens for fu­ture schol­ar­ship on mo­bil­ity. What emerges from her dis­parate ac­counts is a pic­ture of move­ment as an in­te­gral part of the “busi­ness of living -- and of mak­ing a living” (xii) for many Ot­toman sub­jects, whether through the com­plex cir­cu­la­tion of peo­ple and goods re­quired to sus­tain Bursa’s tex­tile in­dus­try or sim­ply the ex­cur­sions of sweet­meat sell­ers scout­ing po­ten­tially prime “slots” (gedik) to es­tab­lish new shops in İstanbul. Through this lens, we can view a wide range of ob­sta­cles and reg­u­la­tions to move­ment, such as guild membership as a pre­con­di­tion for North Africans’ legal res­i­dence in 18th-cen­tury İstanbul. Con­versely, the act of travel gen­er­ated anx­i­eties, as with the links to crim­i­nal­ity as­so­ci­ated with boat travel into and out of İstanbul, where an un­der­ground of fugi­tive slaves, slave hun­ters, and var­i­ous il­licit ac­tiv­i­ties took place. In this way, the many case stud­ies in the book serve not only to show how con­trol of move­ment be­came “a pre­con­di­tion for po­lit­i­cal sur­vival” (216) for the Ot­toman ad­min­is­tra­tion but also man­age to cap­ture both the au­ton­omy of in­di­vid­u­als and the com­plex webs of con­trol they needed to nav­i­gate.


Su­raiya Faro­qhi, “Travel and Ar­ti­sans

in the Ot­toman Em­pire: Em­ploy­ment and Mo­bil­ity in the Early Mod­ern Era,” (Lon­don: I.B. Tau­ris & Co. Ltd., 2014),

320 pp. ISBN: 9781780764818


Faro­qhi has en­deav­ored to flesh out the lives and move­ments of trades­men within both a his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal con­text.

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