Keystones of the Ottoman Empire
The Janissaries strengthened the military and the Millet System helped to organize Ottoman society and both were vital to the rise and support of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Janissaries were a new form of military order organized under the Ottoman Sultan Murat I (1360-1389), and forming the first standing (professional) army. At first, the Janissaries were young Christians captured during wars with the Byzantine Empire and trained to fight (there was not anything new about this practice). It is probable that the Christian captives formed the nucleus of a standing army; they may also have been the original company that was to grow into a new army; the yenceri or janissary corps. Their commanders were chosen from the Ottoman bey, thus giving him the benefit of his prestige, so that by the reign of Murat I in the mid- to late-fourteenth century the detachment had its own identity.
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” The Janissaries were converted to Islam and given special training. Later, the Janissaries were collected through the devsirme system, a kind of tax.
Janissaries became a very powerful force within the Othman Empire; they sometimes deposed Sultans and installed others. In April, 1512, with the help of the Janissaries, Selim I forced his father Byezid II to abdicate the throne and became Sultan. The Janissaries played a role in the upper and ruling classes of the government. They were appointed to protect on of the upper class people. They helped them by guarding them as personal body guards, and on multiple occasions, saved their principles lives. The Janissaries could also get into positions of jobs in palaces. They were the runners for the rich.
The Janissaries could become guards and groundskeepers. In the capitals of the towns and cities they took over, the Janissaries would keep order in the castles, and guard the chambers at night. On a few occasions, they stopped a murder while on their rounds. The intensive military training made the Janissaries one of the strongest corps of their time. Under Murad II they began to use guns, instead of Bows and Crossbows. They were the third to do that in Europe. “These elite troops could fire their weapons in a kneeling or standing position without the need for any additional support or rest. They would use a structured formation to assault: two rows of nine gunmen. This ended up being a very successful method of fighting, and is one of the reasons that they were such good shots. “The Janissaries were accurate to the inch [when shooting], and were very lethal, each shot finding its mark” “The Janissaries would be aggressive and efficient fighters, on the ground, and horseback” The Battle of Varna, fought among the Ottomon Empire, Hungary, and Poland, took place on November 10, 1444. The king of Poland tried to rush the Ottomans, and overrun the Janissaries and take the Sultan prisoner.
The Janissary body guards killed the king, and the Ottomans won the battle. The left flank, a total of 5,000 men in five banners (or battalions), was led by Michael Szilagyi, and was made up of Hunyadi’s Transylvanians, Bulgarians, German mercenaries and banners of Hungarian magnates. Behind the Hungarians, closer to the Black Sea and the lake, was the Wagenburg, defended by 300 to 600 Czech and Ruthenian mercenaries under hetman Ceyka, along with Poles, Lithuanians and Wallachians. Every wagon was manned by 7 to 10 soldiers and the Wagenburg was equipped with bombards.
The Ottoman center included the Janissaries and levies from Rumelia deployed around two Thracian burial mounds. Murad observed and directed the battle from one of them. The Janissaries dug in behind ditches and two palisades. The right wing consisted of Kapikulus and Sipahis from Rumelia, and the left wing was made up by Ak? nc? s, Sipahis from Anatolia, and other forces. Janissary archers and Ak? nc? light cavalry were deployed on the Franga plateau. The other Ottoman flank assaulted the Hungarians and Bulgarians of Michael Szilagyi.
Their push was stopped and turned back; then Sipahis attacked again. Hunyadi decided to help and advised Wladyslaw to wait until he returned; then advanced with two cavalry companies. The young king, ignoring Hunyadi’s advice, rushed 500 of his Polish knights against the Ottoman center. They attempted to overrun the Janissary infantry and take Murad prisoner, and almost succeeded. But Wladyslaw had fallen in a pitfall in front of Murad’s tent and was slain by the Janissary bodyguards, his head was cut off and later taken to the Ottoman court.
The remaining Polish cavalry was destroyed by the Ottomans. One of their most important battles was the conquest of Constantinople, which took place on the Bosphorus, in 1453. Constantinople was the last Christian city within the Ottoman Empire. It was receiving supplies from Russia. The Ottoman army was led by the current Sultan, Mehmet II against the Christians, led by Constantine XI. This city was very important, because it was on a triangular peninsula on the Bosphorus separating Asia and Europe, and was in the center of the Byzantine Empire.
In the siege of Constantinople, the Janissaries were ruthless and brave in their attacks, and had wave after wave trying to breach the wall. Whenever a comrade fell, another would pick him up, bring him back to safety, and go right back to the wall. “The Venetians shot at them with guns and crossbows, aiming at the one who was carrying his comrade, and both would fall; but then the others came to take these victims away, none fearing death, but willing to let ten be killed than suffer the shame of leaving a single Ottoman corpse by the wall. On April 28, 1453, the Janissaries were issued 2,000 ladders. That night, they set up all around the city, and they attempted to enter the city. Two hours before dawn, heavy cannon fire made a giant hole in the wall, and the Janissaries streamed through the wall and breached the city. When the city fell, so did the Byzantine Empire, and all of its land was the Ottoman’s. These battles are examples that demonstrate the value of the Janissaries. * * *
The Millet System was put into place in 1454 by Sultan Mehmet II after he had conquered Constantinople and set himself to reorganize the Ottoman State as the heir of the Byzantine Empire. It was a system of confessional communities where each religion lived separately in its own town. Each religious group governed itself, and only had to answer to the Sultan. It was established to segregate the religions and to keep them from fighting among one another. When the Ottomans were taking over more and more Jewish and Christian land, Mehmet II realized that they needed a way to control the non-Muslim populations.
The Sultan believed that that best way to control the crowds was to keep them apart altogether. They were national corporations with written charters, often of an elaborate kind. Each of them was presided over by a Patriarch (an eastern orthodox religious leader), who held office at the discretion of the Government, but was elected by the community and was the recognized intermediary between the two, combining in his own person the headship of a voluntary “Rayah” association and the status of an Ottoman official.
The special function thus assigned to the Patriarchates gave the Millets the authority that the Patriarchates extended to the control of schools, and even to the administration of certain branches of civil law. The first groups to be under the Millet system were the Greeks and the Armenians. The Sultan relied on these officials to control these Christian populations, but the Patriarch answered to the Sultan. Later, the Sultans used this system for many other ethnic groups: “All the orthodox dyophysites, vis. Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbians, Albanians, Wallachians, Moldavians, Ruthenians, Croatians, Caramanians, Syrians, Melkites, and Arabs became associated under their represented chiefs, with the association of the Greek patriarch; while the orthodox monophysites, comprising the Armenians, Syrians, Chaldaeans, Copts, Georgians, and Abyssinians, became subject, under their respective chiefs, to the jurisdiction of the Arminian Patriarchy” Because the different groups were isolated, it was difficult for them to organize against the Empire. As a result, the cities of the Ottoman Empire were more peaceful. The general administrative systems of the state in the early centuries also prevented the fusion of different ethnic groups into larger political units…It was difficult in these circumstances for several related ethnic or linguistic groups to combine into one single social or political unit and establish numerical control over a specific region except for a few arias, such as Peloponnesus or the Aegean Islands where Greek settlements were compact. Thus, while the basic millet was universal and anational, the small community therefore produced, simultaneously, religious universality and local patriarchialism.
The balance between religious universalism and ethno-cultural localism could be maintained as long as the economic a social organization remain intact, social mobility remained low, and the central government remained strong enough to maintain the status quo. ” The taxes weren’t established by the Sultan, the local representative decided what the people would pay. They did, however, have to give a piece of it to the system. They were also easier to govern, because the Christian and Jewish leaders ran them on their own. The government made more tax money, and the Sultanate became more stable.
The non-Muslims in the Millet system were useful. Some Christians and Jews were accomplished at things that the Muslims couldn’t do, or didn’t want to do. Many of the non-Muslims were traders and bankers and were able to increase the trade and finance of the Ottomans. They also became diplomats. “Dealing with foreigners was seen by strict Muslims as tainted and dangerous to the souls of those engaged in them. ” The Janissaries were powerful and influential within the Ottoman army. They were pivotal in multiple battles, and were the first standing body of troops in the world.
The Millet system gave the Ottoman society a useful way to control the non-Muslim population, and helped keep the Empire stable for a long time. It enhanced Ottoman society, and made the empire an easier place to live in. Both were necessary for the Ottoman Empire to be as successful as it was in the 15th and 16th centuries. Bibliography Adang, Camilla and Schmidtke, Sabine, Ed. , Controversies between Muslims, Jews and Christians in the Ottoman Empire and Pre-Modern Iran, Ergon Verlag Wurtzburg, 2010. Agoston, Gabor, Guns for the Sultan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
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