Men and Places in the Ottoman Military of the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries

Friday, January 4, 2013: 8:50 AM
Chamber Ballroom III (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Linda T. Darling, University of Arizona
What happened to the Ottoman Empire when a capital-based, palace-educated political elite was replaced by a peripheral, provincial elite?  The sky fell and the empire declined, according to writers from the central elite.  My paper challenges this construction of the century after 1550 by reinterpreting its major literary support, the literature of advice, and the role of place in preparing men for power.  The palace was the location of training, where subjects became members of the Ottoman ruling class.  Young men from the provincial population were educated in military and administrative skills, religion and language, poetry and proper behavior, then sent back into the provinces as soldiers and administrators.  The best and most favored returned to the palace full-time as viziers and high officials.  This rhythmic movement into and out from the center was a prominent aspect of the elite career. 

The new elites of the late sixteenth century were recruited from the provincial governing cadres.  Although they had military and governmental experience, they had never undergone the palace training that gave the old elites a common language and culture (shared with the sultans).  They were “ignorant, uncultured,” as the old elites wrote in advice works, no matter what skills they acquired in the households of provincial governors or the military ranks.  Place marked them as it did the old elites, branding them unfit for high office at the center.  When the old elites complained about the empire’s decline, they meant that the role of place in developing people for state service was disrupted.  The Ottomans recovered from these conditions starting in 1632, when Sultan Murad IV restored the landholding military grants.  Confirming the status of the new elite, he co-opted them into state service, altering the empire from a conquest state to a more unified polity.