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The Janissaries were chosen before they reached adulthood from among the Christian population living in Anatolia and the Balkan peninsula to become the elite fighting force of the Ottoman Empire. A portion of these selected children, as they were considered to be more talented, received a higher standard of education to become the ruling class of viziers as well as engineers, architects, physicians and scientists.
|Headquarterscitation needed||Adrianople, Constantinople|
|Colors||Red and Green|
|Engagements||Battle of Kosovo
Battle of Nicopolis
Battle of Ankara
Battle of Varna
Battle of Chaldiran
Battle of Mohács
Siege of Vienna
|Military of the
The Janissaries (from Ottoman Turkish يڭيچرى yeniçeri meaning "new soldier", Greek: Γενίτσαροι, Albanian: Jeniçer, Hungarian: Janicsár, Croatian: Janjičari, Slovene: Janičarji, Romanian: Ieniceri, Serbian: Јањичари, Janjičari, Ukrainian: Яничари, Bulgarian: Еничари, Polish: Janczarzy) were infantry units that formed the Ottoman Sultan's household troops and bodyguards. The force was created by the Sultan Murad I in 1383 and was abolished by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826 in the Auspicious Incident.3
The origins of the Janissaries are shrouded in myth though traditional accounts credit Orhan I – an early Osman bey, who reigned from 1326 to 1359 – as the founder.4 Modern historians, such as Patrick Kinross, put the date slightly later, around 1365, under Orhan's son, Murad I, the first sultan of the Ottoman Empire.5 The Janissaries order was largely influenced by the Bektashi belief. At that time, the Bektashi brotherhood had a significant influence on the spiritual life of Ottomans and their elite. The Janissaries became the first Ottoman standing army, replacing forces that mostly contained tribal warriors (ghazis) whose loyalty and morale were not always guaranteed.5 From 1380s to 1648, the Janissaries were gathered through the devşirme system. This was the recruiting of non-Turkish children, notably Balkan Christians; Jews were never subject to devşirme, nor were children from Turkic families. In early days, all Christians were enrolled indiscriminately; later, those from Albania, Greece, Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria were preferred.67
The Janissaries were kapıkulları (sing. kapıkulu), "door servants" or "slaves of the Porte", neither free men nor ordinary slaves (Turkish: köle).8 They were subject to strict discipline, but they were paid salaries and pensions on retirement, and were free to marry; those conscripted through devşirme formed a distinctive social class9 which quickly became the ruling class of the Ottoman Empire, rivaling the Turkish aristocracy in one of the four royal institutions: the Palace, the Scribes, the Religious and the Military. The brightest of the Janissaries were sent to the Palace institution Enderun, where the possibility of a glittering career beckoned.
According to military historian Michael Antonucci, every five years the Turkish administrators would scour their regions for the strongest sons of the sultan's Christian subjects. These boys, usually between the ages of 10 and 12, were then taken from their parents and given to the Turkish families in the provinces to learn Turkish language and customs, and the rules of Islam; these boys were then enrolled in Janissary training. The recruit was immediately indoctrinated into the religion of Islam. He was supervised 24 hours a day and subjected to severe discipline: he was prohibited from growing a beard, taking up a skill other than war, or marrying. The Janissaries were extremely well disciplined (a rarity in the Middle Ages).
Greek Historian Dimitri Kitsikis in his book, Türk Yunan İmparatorluğu ("Turco-Greek Empire")6 states that many Christian families were willing to comply with devşirme because it offered the possibility of great social advancement. Conscripts could one day become Janissary colonels; statesmen who might one day return to their motherland as governor; or even Grand Vizier or Beylerbey (governor general), with a seat in the divan, an imperial council common in a number of Islamic states.
Perhaps the most famous Janissaries were George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, son of a despot in northern Albania who later defected and led a 20‑year Albanian revolt against the Ottomans, and Sokollu Mehmed Paşa, a Bosnian Serb who later became a grand vizier, served three sultans, and was de facto ruler of the Ottoman Empire10 for more than 14 years. Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Serbian use the term Janissary to refer to any warrior who converted from Christianity to Islam.
The Janissary corps was distinctive in a number of ways: they were the first regular army to wear unique uniforms; paid regular salaries for their service; marched to music, the mehter; lived in barracks; and used mainly firearms. In those aspects janissaries can be seen as a precursor of the modern military system. A Janissary battalion was a close-knit community, effectively the soldier's family. They lived in barracks, serving as policemen, palace guards and firefighters during peacetime.11 In a sharp departure from the contemporary practice of paying armies only during wartime, the Janissaries received regular salaries, paid quarterly. (By tradition, the Sultan himself, after authorizing the payments, visited the barracks dressed as a Janissary trooper, and received his pay alongside the other men of the First Division.)12 The Janissaries also enjoyed far better support on campaign than their contemporaries. They were part of a well-organized military machine, with one support corps preparing the road and others pitching tents at night and baking the bread. Their weapons and ammunition were transported and re-supplied by the cebeci corps. They campaigned with their own medical teams of Muslim and Jewish surgeons; their sick and wounded were evacuated to dedicated mobile hospitals set up behind the lines.12
These differences, along with a war-record that was impressive, made the Janissaries into a subject of interest and study by foreigners in their own time. Although eventually the concept of the modern army incorporated and surpassed most of the distinctions of the Janissary, and the Ottoman Empire dissolved the Janissary corps, the image of the Janissary has remained as one of the symbols of the Ottomans in the western psyche. In return for their loyalty and their fervour in war, Janissaries gained privileges and benefits. They received a cash salary, received booty during wartime and enjoyed a high living standard and respected social status. At first they had to live in barracks and could not marry until retirement, or engage in any other trade, but by the mid-18th century they had taken up many trades and gained the right to marry and enroll their children in the corps and very few continued to live in the barracks.11 Many of them became administrators and scholars. Retired or discharged Janissaries received pensions and their children were also looked after. This evolution away from their original military vocation was the major cause of the system's demise.
The first Janissary units were formed from prisoners of war and slaves, probably as a result of the sultan taking his traditional one-fifth share of his army's plunder in kind rather than cash.4 From the 1380s onwards, their ranks were filled under the devşirme system, where feudal dues were paid by service to the sultan.4 The "recruits" were mostly Christian youths, reminiscent of Mamelukes.5 Sultan Murad may have used futuwa groups as a model.
Initially the recruiters favoured Greeks (who formed the largest part of the first units)citation needed and Albanians (who also served as gendarmes), usually selecting about one boy from 40 houses, but the numbers could be changed to correspond with the need for soldierscitation needed. Boys aged 14–18 were preferred, though ages 8–20 could be taken.6 Recruits were sometimes gained through voluntarily accessions, as some parents were often eager to have their children enroll in the Janissary service that ensured them a successful career and comfort.14 As borders of the Ottoman Empire expanded, the devşirme was extended to include Bulgarians, Croats, Serbs, Armenians and later, in rare instances, Romanians, Georgians, Poles, Ukrainians and southern Russians. The Janissaries first began enrolling outside the devşirme system during the reign of Sultan Murad III (1574–1595) and abandoned devşirme recruitment completely during the 17th centurycitation needed. After this period, volunteers were enrolled, mostly of Muslim origin.12 By 1683, Sultan Mehmet IV abolished the devşirme, as increasing numbers of originally Muslim Turkish families had already enrolled their own sons into the force hoping for a lucrative career.12
The prescribed daily rate of pay for entry level Janissaries in the time of Ahmet I was three Akches. Promotion to a cavalry regiment implied a minimum salary of 10 Akches.15 Janissaries received a sum of 12 Akches every three months for clothing incidentals and 30 Akches for weaponry with an additional allowance for ammunition as well.16
When a Christian boy was recruited under devşirme system, first he would be sent to selected Turkish families in the provinces to learn to speak Turkish, rules of Islam and customs and culture of Ottoman society. After completion of this period, acemi (rookie) boys would be gathered to be trained in Enderun "acemi oğlan" school at the capital city. At the school, young cadets would be selected for their talents in different areas to train as engineers, artisans, riflemen, clerics, archers, artillery, etc. Janissaries trained under strict discipline with hard labour and in practically monastic conditions in acemi oğlan ("rookie" or "cadet") schools, where they were expected to remain celibate. They converted to Islam. All did, as Christians were not allowed to bear arms in the Ottoman Empire until the 19th century. Unlike other Muslims, they were expressly forbidden to wear beards, only a moustache. These rules were obeyed by Janissaries, at least until the 18th century when they also began to engage in other crafts and trades, breaking another of the original rules.
For all practical purposes, Janissaries belonged to the Sultan, carrying the title kapıkulu ("door subjects" or "slaves of the Porte") they were regarded as the protectors of the throne and the Sultan. Janissaries were taught to consider the corps as their home and family, and the Sultan as their father. Only those who proved strong enough earned the rank of true Janissary at the age of 24 or 25. The Ocak inherited the property of dead Janissaries, thus amassing wealth (like foundations enjoying the "dead hand"). Janissaries also learned to follow the dictates of the dervish saint Haji Bektash Veli, disciples of whom had blessed the first troops. Bektashi served as a kind of chaplain for Janissaries. In this and in their secluded life, Janissaries resembled Christian military orders like the Knights Hospitaller Johannites of Rhodes. As a symbol of their devotion to the order, janissaries wore special hats called "börk". These hats also had a place in front called "kaşıklık", to put a spoon which symbolizes the "kaşık kardeşliği" (brotherhood of the spoon); a sense of comradeship between janissaries who eat and sleep, fight and die together.
The corps was organized in ortas (equivalent to battalion). An orta was headed by a çorbaci. All ortas together would comprise the proper Janissary corps and its organization named ocak (literally "hearth"). Suleiman I had 165 ortas but the number over time increased to 196. The Sultan was the supreme commander of the Army and the Janissaries in particular, but the corps was organized and led by their supreme ağa (commander). The corps was divided into three sub-corps:
- the cemaat (frontier troops; also spelled jemaat), with 101 ortas
- the beyliks or beuluks (the Sultan's own bodyguard), with 61 ortas
- the sekban or seirnen, with 34 ortas
In addition there were also 34 ortas of the ajemi (cadets). A semi-autonomous Janissary corps was permanently based in Algiers.
Originally Janissaries could be promoted only through seniority and within their own orta. They would leave the unit only to assume command of another. Only Janissaries' own commanding officers could punish them. The rank names were based on positions in a kitchen staff or troop of hunters, perhaps to emphasise that Janissaries were servants of the Sultan. Local Janissaries, stationed in a town or city for a long time, were known as yerliyyas.
Even though the Janissary corps were the "hassa" (royal) army, personal royal guards of the sultan, the corps was not the main force of the Ottoman military. In the classical period, janissaries comprised only one tenth of the overall Ottoman army, while the traditional Turkish cavalry forces were the main battle force. According to David Nicolle, the number of Janissaries in the 14th century was 1,000, and estimated to be 6,000 in 1475, whereas the same source estimates 40,000 as the number of Timarli Sipahi, the provincial cavalry which constituted the main force of the army.1 After the defeat in 1699, the number was reduced, but it was increased in the 18th century to 113,400 soldiers, although most were not actual soldiers and were accepted into the army through corrupt meansclarification needed and were only taking salary.1
Documentation from the 1620s and 1630s recording troop mobilization levels for two middle sized campaigns suggest that at a time when full Janissary membership in the Istanbul barracks amounted to some 30,000 men those actually deployed at the front ranged between 20,000 and 25,000.17
A roll call held in Hungary in 1541, reflecting the actual deployed strength of the Ottoman regular army forces participating in campaign, registered 15,612 men as present. Of these approximatally 6,350 were Janissaries, 3,700 were Sipahis and another 1,650 were members of the Artillery corps. The remaining one quarter (roughly 4,100 men) were mostly non-combatatants. Information for the year 1660 when the only active front was in Moldavia (siege of Varat/Oradea in July/August) indicates 18,013 actives out of a total Janissary enrollment of 32,794. It does not follow from the fact that 18,000 Janissaries were present for salary distributions in the field that even they took a very active role in the fighting.18
In the first centuries, Janissaries were expert archers, but they began adopting firearms as soon as such became available during the 1440s. The siege of Vienna in 1529 confirmed the reputation of their engineers, e.g. sapping and mining. In melee combat they used axes and kilijs. Originally in peacetime they could carry only clubs or daggers, unless they served as border troops. Turkish yatagan swords were the signature weapon of the Janissaries, almost a symbol of the corps. Janissaries who guarded the palace (Zülüflü Baltacılar) carried long-shafted axes and halberds.
By the early 16th century, the Janissaries were equipped with and were skilled with muskets.19 In particular, they used a massive "trench gun", firing an 80-millimetre (3.1 in) ball,citation needed which was "feared by their enemies".19 Janissaries also made extensive use of early grenades and hand cannon, such as the abus gun.12 Pistols were not initially popular but they became so after the Cretan War (1645–1669).20
The Ottoman empire used Janissaries in all its major campaigns, including the 1453 capture of Constantinople, the defeat of the Egyptian Mamluks and wars against Hungary and Austria. Janissary troops were always led to the battle by the Sultan himself, and always had a share of the booty. The Janissary corps was the only infantry division of the Ottoman army which was otherwise mainly composed of cavalry forces. In battle the Janissaries' main mission was to protect the Sultan, using cannon and smaller firearms, and holding the center of the army against enemy attack during the strategic false retreat of Turkish cavalry. The Janissary corps also included smaller expert teams: explosive experts, engineers and technicians, sharpshooters (with arrow and rifle) and sappers who dug tunnels under fortresses, etc.
As Janissaries became aware of their own importance they began to desire a better life. By the early 17th century Janissaries had such prestige and influence that they dominated the government. They could mutiny and dictate policy and hinder efforts to modernize the army structure. They could change Sultans as they wished through palace coups. They made themselves landholders and tradesmen. They would also limit the enlistment to the sons of former Janissaries who did not have to go through the original training period in the acemi oğlan, as well as avoiding the physical selection, thereby reducing their military value. When Janissaries could practically extort money from the Sultan and business and family life replaced martial fervour, their effectiveness as combat troops decreased. The northern borders of the Ottoman Empire slowly began to shrink southwards after the second Battle of Vienna in 1683.
In 1449 they revolted for the first time, demanding higher wages, which they obtained. The stage was set for a decadent evolution, like the Streltsy of Tsar Peter's Russia or Praetorian Guard which had proved the greatest threat to Roman emperors, rather than an effective protection. After 1451, every new Sultan felt obligated to pay each Janissary a reward and raise his pay rank (although since early Ottoman times, every other member of the Topkapi court received a payraise as well). Sultan Selim II gave janissaries permission to marry in 1566, undermining the exclusivity of loyalty to the dynasty. By 1622, the Janissaries were a "serious threat" to the stability of the Empire.21 Through their "greed and indiscipline", they were now a law unto themselves and, against modern European armies, ineffective on the battlefield as a fighting force.21 In 1622, the teenage Sultan Osman II, after a defeat during war against Poland, determined to curb Janissary excesses and outraged at becoming "subject to his own slaves" tried to disband the Janissary corps blaming it for the disaster during the Polish war.21 In the spring, hearing rumours that the Sultan was preparing to move against them, the Janissaries revolted and took the Sultan captive, imprisoning him in the notorious Seven Towers: he was murdered shortly afterwards.21
In 1804, the Dahias, the Jannisary junta that ruled Serbia at the time, had taken power in the Sanjak of Smederevo in defiance of the Sultan and they feared that the Sultan would make use of the Serbs to oust them. To forestall this they decided to execute all prominent nobles throughout Central Serbia, a move known as Slaughter of the knezes. According to historical sources of the city of Valjevo, heads of the murdered men were put on public display in the central square to serve as an example to those who might plot against the rule of the Janissaries. The event triggered the start of the Serbian revolution with the First Serbian uprising aimed at putting an end to the 300 years of Ottoman occupation of modern Serbia.22
In 1807 a Janissary revolt deposed Sultan Selim III, who had tried to modernize the army along Western European lines.23 His supporters failed to recapture power before Mustafa IV had him killed, but elevated Mahmud II to the throne in 1808.23 When the Janissaries threatened to oust Mahmud II, he had the captured Mustafa executed and eventually came to a compromise with the Janissaries.23 Ever mindful of the Janissary threat, the sultan spent the next years discreetly securing his position. The Janissaries' abuse of power, military ineffectiveness, resistance to reform and the cost of salaries to 135,000 men, many of whom were not actually serving soldiers, had all become intolerable.24
By 1826, the sultan was ready to move. Historian Patrick Kinross suggests that Mahmud II incited them to revolt on purpose, describing it as the sultan's "coup against the Janissaries".3 The sultan informed them, through a fatwa, that he was forming a new army, organised and trained along modern European lines.3 As predicted, they mutinied, advancing on the sultan's palace.3 In the ensuing fight, the Janissary barracks were set in flames by artillery fire resulting in 4,000 Janissary fatalities.3 The survivors were either exiled or executed, and their possessions were confiscated by the Sultan.3 This event is now called the Auspicious Incident. The last of the Janissaries were then put to death by decapitation in what was later called the blood tower, in Thessaloniki.
Sultan Mahmud II abolished the mehter band in 1826 along with the Janissary corps. Mahmud replaced the mehter band in 1828 with a European style military band trained by Giuseppe Donizetti. In modern times, although the Janissary corps no longer exists as a professional fighting force, the tradition of Mehter music is carried on as a cultural and tourist attraction. The military music of the Janissaries is noted for its powerful percussion and shrill winds combining kös (giant timpani), davul (bass drum), zurna (a loud shawm), naffir, or boru (natural trumpet), çevgan bells, triangle, (a borrowing from Europe), and cymbals (zil), among others. Janissary music influenced European classical musicians such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, both of whom composed marches in the "Alla turca" style (Mozart's Piano Sonata in A major, K. 331 (c. 1783), Beethoven's incidental music for The Ruins of Athens, Op. 113 (1811), and the final movement of Symphony no. 9), although the Beethoven example is now considered a march rather than Alla turca.25 In 1952, the Janissary military band, Mehterân, was organized again under the auspices of the Istanbul Military Museum. They have performances during some national holidays as well as in some parades during days of historical importance. For more details, see Turkish music (style) and Mehter.
- Janissaries appear in many video games such as: Atlantica Online, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Rise of Nations, Empire Earth 2, Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword, Civilization V, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, Age of Empires 3, and Empire: Total War.
- The Janissary Tree, a novel by Jason Goodwin set in 19th century Istanbul
- The Sultan's Helmsman, a historical novel of the Ottoman Navy and Renaissance Italy
- The Historian, a novel by Elizabeth Kostova
- "The Janissaries of Emilion", a short story by Basil Copper
In the video game Assassin's Creed: Revelations, the Janissaries are depicted wearing a gold face mask and dressed in ornate green robes. In reality, however, they dressed in white, and were forced to grow mustaches, but forbidden to grow beards. Officers could grow beards, it showed their rank. This contradicts the Muslim tradition of shaving mustaches and growing beards and was done in order to make the Janissaries feel like outsiders.citation needed
- Culture of the Ottoman Empire
- Devşirme system
- Millet system
- Military of the Ottoman Empire
- Nicolle, pp 9–10.
- Agoston, p. 50
- Kinross, pp. 456–457.
- Nicolle, p. 7.
- Kinross, pp 48–52.
- Kitsikis, Dimitri (1996). Türk Yunan İmparatorluğu. Istanbul,Simurg Kitabevi
- Encyclopædia Britannica. Eleventh Edition
- Shaw, Stanford; Ezel Kural Shaw (1976). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Volume I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 0-521-21280-4.
- Zürcher, Erik (1999). Arming the State. United States of America: LB Tauris and Co Ltd. pp. 5. ISBN 1-86064-404-X.
- Imamović, Mustafa (1996). Historija Bošnjaka. Sarajevo: BZK Preporod. ISBN 9958-815-00-1
- Goodwin. J, pp. 59, 179-181
- Uzunçarşılı, pp 66-67, 376-377, 405-406, 411-463, 482-483
- The Janissaries and the Ottoman Armed forces
- The Preaching of Islam: a History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith By Sir Thomas Walker Arnold, pg. 130
- Ottoman Warfare 1500-1700, Rhoads Murphey, 1999, p.225
- Ottoman Warfare 1500-1700, Rhoads Murphey, 1999, p.234
- Ottoman Warfare 1500-1700, Rhoads Murphey, 1999, p.46
- Ottoman Warfare 1500-1700, Rhoads Murphey, 1999, p.46-47
- Nicolle, p.36.
- Nicolle, pp 21–22.
- Kinross, pp 292–295
- History of Servia and the Servian Revolution-Leopold von Ranke,tran:Louisa Hay Ker p 119–20
- Kinross, pp 431–434.
- Levy, Avigdor. The Ottoman Ulama and the Military Reforms of Sultan Mahmud II. Asian and African Studies 7 (1971): 13–39.
- See "Janissary music," New Grove Online
- Agoston, Gabor. Barut, Top ve Tüfek Osmanlı İmparatorluğu'nun Asker Gücü ve Silah Sanayisi, ISBN 975-6051-41-8.
- Goodwin, Godfrey (2001). The Janissaries. UK: Saqi Books. ISBN 978-0-86356-055-2
- Goodwin, Jason (1998). Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. New York: H. Holt ISBN 0-8050-4081-1
- Jelavich, Barbara (1983). History of the Balkans, 18th and 19th Centuries. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-27458-3
- Kinross, Patrick (1977). The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire London: Perennial. ISBN 978-0-688-08093-8
- Kitsikis,Dimitri, (1985, 1991, 1994). L'Empire ottoman. Paris,: Presses Universitaires de France. ISBN 2-13-043459-2
- Nicolle, David (1995). The Janissaries. London: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-85532-413-8
- Shaw, Stanford J. (1976). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Vol. I). New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-29163-7
- Shaw, Stanford J. & Shaw, Ezel Kural (1977). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Vol. II). New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-29166-8
- Uzunçarşılı, İsmail (1988). Osmanlı Devleti Teşkilatından Kapıkulu Ocakları: Acemi Ocağı ve Yeniçeri Ocağı. Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu. ISBN 975-16-0056-1
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Janissaries|
- History of the Janissary Music
- Janissary section on German-language website about Ottomman empire (not yet exploited) (German)
- "Janizaries". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.