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The most famous Guard of any Turkish, Moorish or Arabian potentate, however, were the Janissaries, (corrupted from Turkish yeni chéri, new troops), of the Sultans of the Othman dynasty. Sultan Orchan is said to have founded this Guard in 1329; but we know for certain that Amurath I. (1389) formed a body guard of Slavonian slaves, mostly Christians, a thousand in number. Each recruit was presented with a wooden spoon for messing purposes, just as an English recruit had the Queen's shilling, and in those days the Sultan himself headed the roll of the Janissaries. They were as much a militia for the defence of the Empire as a guard, and formed the nucleus of, as they really afterwards became, the regular army of the Sultans.

At first part of the household, their military duties were such as appertained to the Sultan's Body Guard, furnishing guards of honor to Christian ambassadors, and acting as the police of Constantinople in times of peace. Thence they proceeded to garrison fortified places. Their number and turbulence increasing with the rewards given them, the assumption of arbitrary power and separation from the household was only a question of time. They left the Seraglio, thus withdrawing from personal service to the Sultan, and thenceforth became a menace to the dynasty. Their numbers in the fourteenth century were 10,000.

At the outset of her history Turkey possessed no standing army. All Moslems capable of bearing arms served as a kind of volunteer yeomanry known as aktnjis; they were summoned by public criers, or, if the occasion required it, by secret messengers. It Was under Orkhan that a regular paid army was first organized: the soldiers were known as yaya or piyadi. The result was unsatisfactory, as the Turcomans, from whom these troops were recruited, were unaccustomed to fight on foot or to submit to military discipline. Accordingly in 1330, on the advice of Chendereli Kara Khalil, the system known as devshurmi or forced levy, was adopted, whereby a certain number of Christian youths (at first 1000) were every year taken from their parents and, after undergoing a period of apprenticeship, were enrolled as yeni cttcri or new troops. The venerable saint Haji Bektash, founder of the Bektashi dervishes, blessed the corps and promised them victory; he remained ever after the patron saint of the janissaries.

At first the corps was exclusively recruited by the forced levy of Christian children, for which purpose the officer known as tottmaji-bashi, or head-keeper of the cranes, made periodical tours in the provinces. The fixed organization of the corps dates only from Mahommed II., and its regulations were subsequently modified by Suleiman I. In early days all Christians were enrolled indiscriminately; later those from Albania, Bosnia and Bulgaria were preferred. The recruits while serving their apprenticeship were instructed in the principles of the faith by kk&jas, but according to D'Ohsson (vii. 327) they were not obliged to become Moslems.

The entire corps, commanded by the aga of the janissaries, was known as the ojak (hearth); it was divided into ortas or units of varying numbers; the oda (room) was the name given to the barracks in which the janissaries were lodged. There were, after the reorganization of Suleiman I., 196 ortas of three classes, viz. the jemaat, comprising 101 ortas, the beuluk, 61 ortas, and the ukban, or scitnen, 34 ortas; to these must be added 34 ortas of ajami or apprentices. The strength of the orta varied greatly, sometimes being as low as 100, sometimes rising considerably beyond its nominal war strength of 500. The distinction between the different classes seems to have been principally in name; in theory the jemaat, or yaya boiler, were specially charged with the duty of frontier-guards; the bcttluks had the privilege of serving as the sultan's guards and of keeping the sacred banner in their custody.

Until the accession of Murad III (1574) the total effective of the janissaries, including the ajami or apprentices, did not exceed 20,000.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:03:54 ZULU