The Search for Effective Military Leadership in Late Seventeenth Century Damascus

Friday, January 4, 2013: 9:10 AM
Chamber Ballroom III (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Malissa Taylor, University of Louisville
From the mid-seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries, the duties of the Ottoman military personnel based in Damascus, and the composition of that personnel, changed dramatically.  This evolution was emblematic of a larger process of transformation that gripped the Ottoman Empire in this period, wherein relatively uniform institutions of provincial governance segued into formations that were more responsive to local political dynamics and military needs.  This process has been the subject of much of the recent historiography of the early modern Ottomans, and offered as an explanation for Ottoman longevity.

In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Damascus was organized along the so-called ‘classical’ lines of Ottoman administration: it had a governor and military units that campaigned yearly in Europe and Asia.  By the 18th century, there was a reorientation of the province’s military and economic resources towards the provisioning and protecting of the annual Muslim pilgrimage that commenced and terminated in Damascus. The previously separate posts of pilgrimage commander and provincial governor were combined, creating a governorship with greater powers.  The pattern of recruitment and tenure in office for this revamped position differed considerably from previous trends. 

While the differences between the earlier and the later Damascene military formations are well documented, we currently know very little about how this transition unfolded.  My paper examines the lives and careers of the Damascene governors and pilgrimage leaders in the second half of the seventeenth century.  How do their individual experiences illuminate the changes in administrative positions and recruiting?  What precipitated such changes?  What experiments or intermediate solutions were tried and discarded before enacting the ultimate resolution?  The answers to these questions are important for understanding the nature of the empire’s early modern transformation, and its ability to address the particular needs of one place in a great empire.

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