Frontiers of the Ottoman imagination
“Frontiers of the Ottoman Imagination” is a volume of articles written and compiled in honor of historian Rhoads Murphey by his students and colleagues. The volume offers a noteworthy contribution to Ottoman studies in that it brings together articles by emerging as well as renowned scholars that cover several political, social and cultural aspects of Ottoman history and span the imperial period and space, from the Balkans to the Mediterranean and from beginning to end. In this respect, the fact that the articles are on diverse subjects yet in harmony with one another and organized in chronological order ensures a lucid and enjoyable read for those who would like to read the book in one sitting.
In the opening article, Hasan Çolak discusses the ways in which Byzantine imperial titles were used in early Ottoman intellectuals’ works and points out that there were mainly three of them -namely tekfur, fasiliyus and kayser -- and each referred to a different sub-period in this early period of the empire (i.e., early Ottoman and pre-Ottoman periods or in comparison to the Anatolian Selçuks) vis-à-vis the Byzantine Empire and stood for a different context or approach within the Ottoman imperial ideology. Tekfur, when attributed to a Byzantine emperor (to Frankish governors as well), implied a certain “disdain”;
fasiliyus suggested the “negligence” of the Byzantine imperial authority on the grounds that the empire no longer existed and the term was associated rather with the Selçuk legacy; and finally kayser -- which had the least-negative connotation -- hinted at “appropriation,” for it seems that the early Ottoman historians generally enjoyed using the term for the Ottoman sultan.
In terms of questioning the historian’s “manipulative role” in the writing of history, Marios Hadjianastasis’s article proves, for instance, how complex, flexible and fluid identities were in 16th-century Cyprus, despite common beliefs. Such fluidity incorporated elements of rigidness at times but first and foremost openness to negotiation depending on the positions local actors were in. Identities in premodern Cyprus were determined and driven predominantly by everchanging social, economic and political conditions (rather than ethnicity and religion) and seem to have been shifting and blurry. No matter who the other party -Catholic merchants, missionaries or Ottoman authorities -- was, the Greek Orthodox inhabitants of the island would not hold a monolithic attitude towards any of them.
In her article about the legacy of the Ottoman commander Tiryaki Hasan Pasha -- according to various Ottoman and Turkish sources, most notably the gazavatname manuscripts -- Claire Norton challenges a similar bias on the part of the historian. The overall depiction of Hasan Pasha in these sources tends to be twofold: Pasha is either an unorthodox, dervish-like mystical warrior figure beloved by people for such qualities and for distancing himself from the imperial center by staying on the periphery, or an orthodox Muslim statesman who operated within the Ottoman political system. It finally turns out, however, that in the late Ottoman
THE VOLUME BRINGS TOGETHER ARTICLES THAT SPAN THE IMPERIAL PERIOD AND SPACE, FROM THE BALKANS TO THE MEDITERRANEAN
and following republican historiographies, Hasan Pasha was given a new identity, that of a Turkish hero and defender of national territory (Nagykanizsa). It is indeed telling that in classical Ottoman sources, the heroic representation of Hasan Pasha is adorned with religious motifs such as gaza, jihad and martyrdom for God, whereas in the process of Turkish modernization he was turned into a national hero who became a martyr defending his nation and fatherland. Therefore, the author argues, historians have historically had the means and authority to recreate or reconstruct historical characters like Hasan Pasha for their own interests, as if those characters were fictional. In a similar vein, as regards the historian’s struggle with historical characters, Heath W. Lowry’s meticulous article on the myths and truths surrounding Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha is a lesson in itself.
Moving to another topic, the article by Konstantinos Moustakas presents a detailed account of agricultural slavery as a form of colonization in Thessaly, Avret Hisar, Drama and Serres during the 15th century. While the practice of enslavement was not the same in all four settlements, a pattern including the processes of mass conversion (to Islam), import of Anatolian Muslims (both settlers and nomads) and individual enslavement seems to have been in force to a certain degree in each of these places. The presence of extraordinary circumstances during the conquest of the region, such as slave markets, a decrease in slave prices, plunder and the newcomers’ interest in farming can be named among the factors that contributed to the growth of slavery in this part of the world. Once the slaves were freed, they -- now Muslims -- were less pressured by taxation compared to Christian peasants. While this form of forced production precedes the forthcoming centuries’ excessive laboring force in private farming ( çiftliks), slave labor is by no means uncommon in early Ottoman agriculture. Ourania Bessi, on the other hand, portrays the development of urbanism in another Balkan town -- Dimetoka -- under Ottoman rule from the 15th century onwards, arguing that while the agricultural lands in the Balkans saw a drastic change of capital formation under the timar system, a new type of Ottoman centrum also emerged, outside the Byzantine citadel as in Dimetoka, with its mosques, çarşiya and quarters of commerce. So much so that such an unprecedented configuration of landscape in more than one Ottoman town produced a certain pattern. Similarly in Dimetoka, the newcomer administrative and religious classes as well as the bourgeoisie gradually reshaped the medieval town into the early modern Ottoman town it was.
Jumping forward a couple of centuries, Katerina Stathi discusses in her article a rare Ottoman map of Athens that is reported to have survived the Greek War of Independence. Drawing comparisons between a few other French-made maps and the map ordered by the Ottomans, the author contends that the latter contained, unlike the others, certain cartographic elements to facilitate victory in the Siege of the Acropolis. The single article in the volume penned in French also focuses on the Greek War of Independence. Sophia Laiou looks into the Greek revolts on the shores of Minor Asia in this period and claims that the war, alongside the Muhammad Ali dynasty of Egypt, was one of the biggest incidents demonstrating to the Sublime Porte how weak and ineffective the Ottoman central administration was. Slightly before the move towards imperial centralization with the Tanzimat reforms, provincial administrations (that of Aydın, in this case) and local governors were incapable of defeating revolts and attacks, soldiers and janissaries were disobedient and land-owning elites ( ayans) proved to be undisciplined and occupied more with economic issues. One exception is the case of Ilyaszade, who defended Kuşadası simply because he possessed large
THE READER IS REMINDED MANY TIMES THROUGHOUT THE BOOK THAT TO GRASP THE ACTUAL FRONTIERS OF THE OTTOMAN IMAGINATION CAN BE HARDER THAN IMAGINED
Marios Hadjianastasis, ed. “Frontiers of the Ottoman Imagination: Studies in Honour of Rhoads Murphey,” (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 323 pp. ISBN: 9789004280915