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Military


Janissaries - 1582-1805 Development

In 1582 irregularities in the mode of admission to the ranks began. Soon parents themselves begged to have their children enrolled, so great were the privileges attaching to the corps; later the privilege of enlistment was restricted to the children or relatives of former janissaries; eventually the regulations were much relaxed, and any person was admitted, only negroes being excluded. In 1591 the ojak numbered 48,688 men. Under Ibrahim (1640-1648) it was reduced by Kara Mustafa to 17,000; but it soon rose again, and at the accession of Mahommed IV. (1648), the accession-bakshish was distributed to 50,000 janissaries.

Orhan had selected out of the Christians whom he had conquered a thousand of the finest boys. In the next year a thousand more were taken ; and this annual enrolment of a thousand Christian children was continued for three centuries, until the reign of Sultan Mahomet IV., in 1648. When the prisoners made in the campaign of the year did not supply a thousand serviceable boys, the number was completed by a levy on the families of the Christian subjects of the Sultan.

During the war of 1683-1698 the rules for admission were suspended, 30,000 recruits being received at one time, and the effective of the corps rising to 70,000; about 1805 it numbered more than 112,000; it went on increasing until the destruction of the janissaries, when it reached 135,000. It would perhaps be more correct to say that these are the numbers figuring on the pay-sheets, and that they doubtless largely exceed the total of the men actually serving in the ranks.

Promotion to the rank of warrant officer was obtained by long or distinguished service; it was by seniority up to the rank of odabathi, but odabashis were promoted to the rank of ckorbaji (commander of an orta) solely by selection. Janissaries advanced in their own orta, which they left only to assume the command of another. Ortas remained permanently stationed in the fortress towns in which they were in garrison, being displaced in time of peace only when some violent animosity broke out between two companies. There were usually 12 in garrison at Belgrade, 14 at Khotin, 16 at Widdin, 20 at Bagdad, &c. The commander was frequently changed. A new chorbaji was usually appointed to the command of an orta stationed at a frontier post; he was then transferred elsewhere, so that in course of time he passed through different provinces.

In time of peace the janissary received no pay. At first his war pay was limited to one aspre per diem, but it was eventually raised to a minimum of three aspres, while veterans received as much as 29 aspres, and retired officers from 30 to 120. The aga received 24,000 piastres per annum; the ordinary pay of a commander was 120 aspres per diem. The aga and several of his subordinates received a percentage of the pay and allowance of the troops; they also inherited the property of deceased janissaries. Moreover, the officers profited largely by retaining the names of dead or fictitious janissaries on the pay-rolls. Rations of mutton, bread and candles were furnished by the government, the supply'of rice, butter and vegetables being at the charge of the commandant. The rations would have been entirely inadequate if the janissaries had not been allowed, contrary to the regulations, to pursue different callings, such as those of baker, butcher, glazier, boatman, &c. At first the janissaries bore no other distinctive mark save the white felt cap. Soon the red cap with gold embroidery was substituted. Later a uniform was introduced, of which the distinctive mark was less the colour than the cut of the coat and the shape of the head-dress and turban. The only distinction in the costume of commanding officers was in the color of their boots, those of the bculuks being red while the others were yellow; subordinate officers wore black boots.

The fundamental laws of the janissaries, which were very early infringed, were as follows: implicit obedience to their officers; perfect accord and union among themselves; abstinence from luxury, extravagance and practices unseemly for a soldier and a brave man; observance of the rules of Haji Bektash and of the religious law; exclusion from the ranks of all save those properly levied; special rules for the infliction of the deathpenalty; promotion to be by seniority; janissaries to be admonished or punished by their own officers only; the infirm and unfit to be pensioned; janissaries were not to let their beards grow, not to marry, nor to leave their barracks, nor to engage in trade; but were to spend their time in drill and in practising the arts of war.

In time of peace the state supplied no arms, and the janissaries on service in the capital were armed only with clubs; they were forbidden to carry any arm save a cutlass, the only exception being at the frontier-posts. In time of war the janissaries provided their own arms, and these might be any which took their fancy. However, they were induced by rivalry to procure the best obtainable and to keep them in perfect order. The banner of the janissaries was of white silk on which verses from the Koran were embroidered in gold. This banner was planted beside the aga's tent in camp, with four other flags in red cases, and his three horse-tails. Each orta hud its flag, half-red and half-yellow, placed before the tent of its commander. Each orta had two or three great caldrons used for boiling the soup and pilaw; these were under the guard of subordinate officers. A particular superstition attached to them: if they were lost in battle all the officers were disgraced, and the orta was no longer allowed to parade with its caldrons in public ceremonies. The janissaries were stationed in most of the guard-houses of Constantinople and other large towns. No sentries were on duty, but rounds were sent out two or three times a day. It was customary for the sultan or the grand vizier to bestow largess on an orta which they might visit.

The janissaries conducted themselves with extreme violence and brutality towards civilians. They extorted money from them on every possible pretext: thus, it was their duty to sweep the streets in the immediate vicinity of their barracks, but they forced the civilians, especially if rayas, to perform this task or to pay a bribe. They were themselves subject to severe corporal punishments; if these were to take place publicly the ojak was first asked for its consent.




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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:03:53 ZULU