Political Connections at the Center Trump Expertise on the Periphery: Leadership of the Ottoman Fleet in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Friday, January 4, 2013: 8:30 AM
Chamber Ballroom III (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Christine Isom-Verhaaren, Benedictine University
The Ottoman Empire’s elite displayed rivalry between individuals who formed connections through enculturation at the center and those who developed expertise on the provincial periphery. To be considered fully Ottoman, an individual needed to spend his youth in the palace being educated in the learning and culture of Ottoman administration. Men from the provinces or European captives who had not participated in this loyalty creating enculturation were considered “outsiders” even if their origins were from the subjects of the empire. Ottoman naval forces became crucial to the success of the empire, due to its extensive coastlines and dependence on maritime communications between provinces. However, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the admiral often had no naval expertise but owed his appointment to connections gained in the palace. During times of naval crisis, when an admiral with great seafaring capabilities was essential, the sultan would appoint an individual who had proved his worth on the seafaring frontier as a corsair. The sultan’s administrators who were totally dependent on him for wealth and power resented these corsair admirals who often had created their own power bases in North Africa. Thus at the highest levels there was a debate about who was most fit to lead the fleet.

These issues also impacted recruitment of the military more generally. Aside from a limited number of sailors, most of the men who served in the Ottoman navy were not naval specialists. The land based cavalrymen or infantry were sometimes assigned to serve with the fleet. When naval conflicts demanded more men, recruitment widened to include men from new sources. This trend increased after the naval defeat at Lepanto, where the Ottomans lost 30,000 men. On all levels, concerns with how an admiral or an infantryman claimed connection with the center continued to be debated.

Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>