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


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


Mar­ios Had­jianas­ta­sis, ed. “Fron­tiers of the Ot­toman Imag­i­na­tion: Stud­ies in Hon­our of Rhoads Mur­phey,” (Lei­den: Brill, 2015), 323 pp. ISBN: 9789004280915

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