The Ottoman Army (1550s-1650s)
Being an expansionist empire, the Ottomans heavily relied on their military. In the 1550 s, they began shifting from this conquest oriented empire to a more bureaucratic one. And with the change of the empire came changes within the army. Hi everyone, welcome to Dirilispk! In order to know why the Ottoman army changed pretty drastically and fell off the forefront of military technology as I mentioned in my previous Article, we have to look into the economy and government.
The happenings of the empire as a whole affected the army and its functionality. By the mid 16th century, men recruited by the devshirme not only served the military, but were also government officials, taking the positions that were previously held by Turkish nobles. These nobles, just like many Ottoman soldiers,held timars. At the same time the role that cannons and lighter-weight firearms had within the battlefield steadily grew.
With that, came an increase in the size of the Janissary corps- along with its cost to the government- and a decrease in the importance of the Turkish cavalry. To pay the Janissaries, the sultan reduced the number of timar holders. This included soldiers and Turkish nobles. And they weren’t happy. Their main source of income got taken away for the sake of someone else, namely the Janissaries.
As a musket-bearing light infantry with a structure that was seeped in tradition–the Janissaries were extremely fitting for the new and ever evolving battle environment that the Ottomans saw before them. It was clear that the government needed to put as much money as they could into the Janissaries. And they didn’t have that money to be given in such a short amount of time to that many people in the corps.
History Of Ottoman Empire In English
The Ottoman economy was in disarray due to inflation after an influx of silver from the Americas. Many found themselves being underpaid, resulting in theft, over taxation, and corruption, further worsening the economic situation. So in order to offset this, along with confiscating timars, the government debased its currency and increased taxes.
And to collect those taxes, the iltizam system was put into practice, ultimately replacing the timar system. In this system of tax farming, instead of giving away land as compensation for military, taxation rights for territory were auctioned off by the Ottoman treasury. They were sold to highest bidders who,more often than not, part of the aristocracy.
The holder of one of these tax farms was called a mültazim. The multazim collected the taxes of their land and made payments to the government, keeping a part of the tax revenue for themselves. It was great for the aristocracy, but for the central government, They faced greater administrative burdens Depending on on provincial governors, permitting the rise of local powers and decentralization. Along with that, multazims started using their tax farms as sources of income that were gone as quickly as they came.
The Ottoman History
The political influence that these multazims had and the corruption throughout the entire system and economy allowed them to transform the iltizam to private property, no longer having any obligation to the Ottoman central government. It didn’t help that the population was steadily rising and so was demand for everyday commodities.
With these economic conditions came social unrest. Rebel bands made up of jobless peasants and soldiers who lost their land were common. This started out in the 1590 s with the bandits,known as Celâli, carrying out revolts in Anatolia, which continued until 1650 and further undermined Ottoman authority.
These Celâli revolts ended up with Ottoman territorial losses, though the point of these rebellions were not to overthrow the sultan,but were just responses to the social and economic crisis around them. With these cracks in the foundation, the Ottomans were no longer militarily oriented as they once were. The authority of the sultan was dwindling down with every new reign. Responsibilities were given to the Janissaries to make up for the lack of responsibility taken on by the sultan.
The Early Ottoman Army History In English
The Janissaries took advantage of this growing influence. Originally prohibited from marrying and engaging in business, the Janissaries gained relief from these restrictions. When this first happened, it almost seemed like a good thing:
The Janissaries that engaged in commerce lessened the burden on the Ottoman budget and married Janissaries would just enroll their sons or relatives into the army,making it possible for the government to save funds by eventually abolishing the devshirme system. However, as time went on, the consequences became obvious: the quality of the Janissaries as a fighting force fell off. They were no longer as militarily disciplined as they used to be. And to compensate for that weakness, the empire ramped up the hiring of mercenaries and other supplemental troops.
Not to be redundant, but- yeah- this made the situation for the Ottomans even worse. The Janissaries, though, in return for their loss of power militarily, they gained power politically and economically. In 1621 when Sultan Osman II undertook an unsuccessful military campaign against Poland, He realized that his defeat at the Battle of Chocim was largely due to the increasingly degenerate Janissaries, and to prevent this from happening again, he decided to lower their salaries and closed off places where the Janissaries gathered to conspire against the throne.
He then declared to go on a planned pilgrimage to Mecca, but his true intentions were to recruit a new army in Egypt and Syria to curb the Janissaries of their power. Catching wind of this secret plan,the Janissaries, carried out an assassination on the sultan. The regicide of Osman II was the first in Ottoman history. At this point, it was clear that the Ottomans couldn’t go back to their glorious days of conquest.
The imperial government was just too busy worrying about the economy and corruption that they didn’t have the chance to develop the army anymore than they had. Yet as the threat of outside invaders emerged,such as Austria and Russia, they had to turn to military innovation, but by this point they had already fallen behind. Ultimately, it was the shortcomings of the empire as a whole that hurt the Ottoman army, which in turn hurt the empire all over again.
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