The Janissaries and the Ottoman Armed forces





A Janissarie, the large flap of the headdress was in imitation of the sleeve of Hajji Bektash, founder of the Bektashi dervishes, who laid his hand on early Janissaries to give his blessing. Those who won distinction in battle were permitted to wear distinctive headdresses.


Murad continued the Janissary system . Janissarie,   from Ottoman Turkish: ( ڭيچرى   yeniçeri) meaning "new soldier" with the Devshirme  ( the Collecting ) recruitment system, where a certain number of Christian boys in their early teens were delivered to Ottoman authorities and converted to Islam . The Devshirme was ended by Sultan Murat IV in the mid 17th century .Those with the right physique and aptitude would be placed in the Janissaries. Others would be drafted into imperial service to be officials, gardeners,armorers and other positions.

The Janissaries by Godfrey Goodwin

From the fifteenth to the sixteenth century, the janissaries were the scourge of Europe. Their ferocious spirit allowed their masters to extend their conquests from the Danube to the Euphrates. Their power was such that even sultans trembled. But by the end of the eighteenth century, they were more interested in trade than war. Ill-disciplined and arrogant, both rulers and ruled turned against them. Yet their political power was so extensive it took years before they could be suppressed.


The Janissaries grew in size to only a quarter of the regular army's size. Only sons and gypsies (deamed unrealible) were exempt. The Janissaries were introduced by Orhan as a bodyguard and were developed into a military unit by Murad to offset the power of the army. It was against Moslem law to enslave Moslems .They were admitted to the more eclectic Bektasi branch of Islam.


The Janissaries were lead by the Agha of Janissaries who sat with other ministers at the Divan. The Janissaries were made up of a number of divisions and each had its own barracks and had their own symbol, a key, fish, etc. Upon arriving, the new boys were lined up and at a signal ran to the company headquarters. The one who arrived first was made the leader of the class.  They raised their right hand and swore allegiance to Allah and were circumcised. They remained slaves of the sultan all their lives .The men of their barracks became their family and swore an oath to them over a tray holding a copy of the Koran, salt and a sword. Each barrack room had a few large copper cauldrons called kazan, around which they gathered for their meals in the evening. If they were lost in battle the officer of the barrack was dismissed. The Janissaries symbolically kicked over their kazans when in revolt. Titles were drawn from the kitchen, the senior commanders were soup men, below them were the cooks, water carriers and so on.


Ottoman Janissary Song: Küffar  with English Lyrics . After the victory of Ottomans at 1596 Siege of Eger, Austrian and Ottoman armies clashed in Battle of Keresztes. Which resulted with Austrian Defeat. The song is satirizing Austrians about these events.

The Ottoman army was the first regular army to emerge since the collapse of the Roman Empire. Its army on campaign were highly organized, with tents laid out in neat rows, cooks and kept clean to prevent disease. The army went out on campaign almost every year, the direction of the campaign signaled by horsetail standard being planted on the Scutari hill (Asia) or the Belgrade Gate ( Europe).


16th century Venetian print of a Janissarie commander


They were given the best training available to turn them into warriors and administrators .Promotion was only through merit. The Janissaries went through rigors training and were no permitted to marry or own property at first.   By the mid-18th century they had taken up many trades and gained the right to marry and enroll their children in the corps and very few continued to live in the barracks. Many of them became administrators and scholars. Retired or discharged Janissaries received pensions and their children were also looked after. This evolution away from their original military vocation led to corruption and dilution of military valor and was the essence of the system's demise . The Janissaries have been likened to the Roman Praetorian Guard and they had no equivalent in the Christian armies of the time, where the feudal lords raised troops during times of war.


 Janissaries Documentary


Most Janissaries went into battle with the two and a half foot long yataghan.

 The Ottoman and Balkan yataghan sword

Free born Moslem were not allowed to enter the Janissaire. They could , however enter the huge defterdar , or accounting class, which managed the bureaucracy managing the empires finances .Janissaries became the first Ottoman standing army, replacing forces that mostly comprised tribal ghazis, whose loyalty and morale could not always be trusted. Janissaries trained under strict discipline with hard labour and in practically monastic conditions in acemi oglan ("rookie" or "cadet") schools, where they were expected to remain celibate. They were also expected to convert to Islam. All did, as Christians were not allowed to bear arms in the Ottoman Empire until the 19th century. Unlike other Muslims, they were expressly forbidden to wear beards (a Muslim custom), only a mustache. Many Janissaries were converts to the zealous Bektas dervish sufi order.


Sultan Mehmed II going to Friday prayers, surrounded by Janissarie guards


The Janissaries were paid quarterly and the Sultan himself, after authorizing the payment of the salaries, dressed as a Janissary, visited the barracks and received his salary as a regular trooper of the First Division. Logistical support also set the Janissaries apart from their contemporaries. The Janissaries waged war as one part of a well organized military machine. The Ottoman army had a corps to prepare the road, a corps to pitch the tents ahead, a corps to bake the bread. The cebeci corps carried and distributed weapons and ammunition. The Janissary corps had its own internal medical auxiliaries, Muslim and Jewish surgeons who would travel with the corps during campaigns and had organized methods of moving the wounded and the sick to traveling hospitals behind the lines.

Janissaries carrying cooking pots . When janissaries ceremoniously overturned their large cooking pot, it meant they would no longer eat the sultan's rations and were in revolt. The large copper cooking pot was the meeting place of the  janissaries

. The symbol of the force were the pot and the spoon. The large communal spoon became a standard. The titles of the officers were also influenced by the kitchen, such as first cook.


The janissaries were the personal slaves of the sultan, his bodyguard, and in the beginning they were not permitted to marry. Originally, their number was limited to 20,000, but this increased rapidly and during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent they were permitted to marry .Their power was to become so great that they would enthrone and dethrone sultans. Each large city had its contingent of janissaries, who lived with their families in large janissary districts. Owing to the irregularity of pay from the captial, many of the took up trades. Heroism was bounded up in individual combat with swords, spears and maces and the janissaries were slow to take up the use of European weapons . For courage indiviual combat, the janissaries were allowed to wear celenk, or feathers in their turbans .The janissaries marched to distinctive music, the mehter, similar to a modern marching band. The music was also used to strike fear into enemies.


 A serasker or Commander-in-Chief early 19th century


As Janissaries became aware of their own importance they began to desire a better life. In 1449 they revolted for the first time, demanding higher wages, which they obtained. By the early 17th century the early iron discipline had been lost and began to gain a reputation for ineptitude and corruption. The Ottomans maintained their traditional approach to warefare while the Europeans modernized. Finally, Mahmud II succeeded in forcibly disbanding them after the Auspicious Incident in 1826 after the janissaries revolted after discovering the sultan was training a new army along European lines . The main Janissaries were cut down by artillery and guns of soldiers of the new army in Istanbul and throughout the empire and brought to an end a system that lasted for five hundred years. The corps was proscribed and the Bektashi dervishes who supported them were outlawed.



music of the Janissaries Funeral March



The sipahis or cavalry


There were six divisions (Alti Bölük) of cavalry in the Ottoman Empire made up of the Sipahis, Silahdars, Ulufejis and Gurebas . The Sipahis came to formed the largest part of the cavalry.


In contrast, the sipahis or cavalry, was made up of Turks and formed a large part of the Turish army. The sipahis were granted fiefs of land called timar  and  ziamet from which they collected revenue.  Regular sipahis held the smaller timar and officers the larger ziamet. In return they had to serve in the army and collect revenue from their timar. A timar holder also had to provide five soldiers and a  ziamet holder twenty.  the timar were not passed down to a sipahis' son, one a small portion would. Timar had to be earned through merit in battle.The Sipahis were originally founded during the reign of Murad I. The siphas were important is disbanding the Janissaries in 1826 and were themselves disbanded a few years later as sultan Mahmud II modernized Ottoman forces.


Akinci  - Irregular light cavalry



The Akinci  (Turkish for raider ) Irregular light cavalry provided their service for free, hoping to gather loot and pillage in the Ghazi tradition and were deadly with their bows and delivering Parthian shots . Some hoped to be  be promoted to the sipahis. The Akinci were important for actions behind enemy lines,torching crops,looting and harassing supply lines and reconnaissance. Unlike the heavy cavalry, they were designed for speed. They were also important for wearing down an enemy in battle before the professionals, the sipahis and Janissaries would attack.





 The Ottoman Navy


Ottomam Admiral's galley


Unlike earlier nomadic empires, the Ottomans developed a powerful navy. The early ships of the Ottomans were used against pirates and for piracy themselves against infidel ships, the Ghazis of the land became Ghazls of the sea. Bajazet I  laid the foundation of Ottoman sea power by establishing shipyard, Mehmed II put these ships to good use to conquer Constantinople in 1453.  The title of the Ottoman admiral was the Kaptan PashaThe growth of Ottoman sea power cost the Genoese and Venitians dearly.  Genoa lost its access to the Black Sea and colonies in Crimea and Tribizond after the fall of Constantinople and islands in the Aegean such as Lesbos in 1462. Venice lost Lepanto in 1499 and Cyprus in 1570.The navy increased in skill and by 1522 were able to drive the Knights of St.John from Rhodes, which had been raiding Ottoman ships and coastal towns . The Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem, driven from Smyrna (in 1403) by Timur, had settled at Rhodes, which they hastened to render impregnable. Apparently they succeeded, for attack after attack from the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt failed to shake them from their stronghold, whence they commanded the line of commerce between Alexandria and Constantinople, and did a brisk trade in piracy upon passing vessels. The Knights of Rhodes were the Christian Corsairs of the Levant; the forests of Caramania furnished them with ships, and the populations of Asia Minor supplied them with slaves. So long as they roved the seas the Sultan’s galleys were ill at ease. Even Christian ships suffered from their high-handed proceedings, and Venice looked on with open satisfaction when, in 1480, Mohammed II. dispatched one hundred and sixty ships and a large army to humble the pride of the Knights. The siege failed, however; D’Aubusson, the Grand Master, repulsed the general assault with furious heroism, and the Turks retired with heavy loss.


Ottoman sailor with astrolab


The Battle of Djerba (Turkish: Cerbe) took place in May 1560 near the island of Djerba, Tunisia in which the Ottomans under Piyale Pasha's command with 86 ships overwhelmed by a large joint Christian Alliance fleet, chiefly Spanish (under Juan de la Cerda), Papal, Maltese and Neapolitan forces with more than 120 ships. In the Battle, The Papal alliiance lost 27 galleys and some smaller vessels as well as the fortified island of Jerba which is garrisoned by Knights of St. John. This victory marked the high point of Ottoman power in the Mediterranean Sea.

Battle of the Oinousses Islands - The battle took place near Oinousses Islands in 9 February 1695. It is part of Sixth Ottoman-Venetian war. In the long struggle to incorporate Greek mainland and archipelago into these two nations. The Republic of Venice sent a fleet consisting of 21 Sailing Ship, 21 Galleys and 5 Galeasses, totaling 47 Ship led by Admiral Giovanni Antonio Zeno. While Ottoman fleet consist of 20 Sailing Ship and 24 Galleys, totaling 44 Ship under Mezzomorto Hüseyin Pasha. In the previous month, the Venetians had successfully taken & occupy the island of Chios. During the battle the Venetians lost 3 Ship (blown up) and 1 ship badly damaged. While the Ottomans suffer 2 Ship badly damaged. This Ottoman victory forced the Venetians to abandon Island of Chios. The northern land battle with Hapsburg and Poland were disastrous for the Ottomans. In 1699, Treaty of Karlowitz was signed, mediated by Dutch and England. As a result Ottoman lost Peloponnese and gained Cyprus from Venetian.

BBC Timewatch - Gallipoli: The First D-Day

Gallipoli 1915 | War Full Movie - Ottoman Empire vs British Empire World War I

Ottoman Uniforms of World War 1 - The Ottoman Army underwent considerable reforms after the losses on the Balkans. And under German influence, the military tried to bring the whole army up to the standards of modern war. In a lot of way, the results were decent or even good but supply problems led to a great variety in uniform quality across the 400 year old Empire.



After the fall of the Fatimd Caliphate, North Africa had broken up into small chieftans and become bases for piracy. Moors who had fled Spain after 1492, encouraged piracy against Christians and the Spanish in particular, even raiding the coasts of Spain. Spain, under Queen Isabella retaliated and siezed control of a number of North African ports. It was around this time that saw the rise of the great corsair brothers, Aruj (c.1474-1518) and Khairedden Barbarossa (c.1487-1546), Turkish subjects from the island of Lesbos.. The brothers liberated Algiers from the Spanish and offered it to the Ottoman sultan and was made a province (sanjak) in 1517with Aruj being appointed bey.Khairedden Barbarossa efforts to help the Muslims of Spain in need and transporting them to safer lands earned him the honorific name Baba Oruç (Father Aruj) which evolved into Barbarossa (meaning Redbeard in Italian). He was made beylerbey of of Africa by Selim I, who was happy to add the North african territory to the empire after securing Egypt. Suleiman appointed him Kapadan Pasha to fight the growing power of the Christian naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean, commanded by Genoese Andrea Doria who fought for the Habsburgs.Aruj died in 1518 fighting the Spanish.Barbarossa sought an alliance with Spain as an ally against Spain,leading to the Turco-French Treaty of 1536.

In 1534 Tunis was seized by Barbarossa and annexed by the empire.Ottoman fleet under Turgut Reis which had earlier conquered Libya (1551) and of Salih Reis, who had conquered the coasts of Morocco beyond the Strait of Gibraltar in 1553.In 1535, the Habsburg emperor assembled a fleet of four hundred and and army and took Tunis. Barbarossa attacked the Balearic Island port of Mago, seizing ships and thousands of Christians .After an attack on Venitian islands , The Pope, Venice ,Spain and the Maltese Knights formed a Holy League to combat the Ottomans and assembled a fleet of some 200 vessels.Barbarossa defeated Andrea Doria at the Battle of Preveza in 1538. This victory secured Turkish dominance over the Mediterranean for the next 33 years, until the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The Christians were disunited and unable to exploit this victory and the sultan rebuilt his fleet stronger than before.Barbarossa retired in Istanbul in 1545 and died in 1546.


Starting from the early 17th century, the Ottoman fleet began to advance into the Atlantic Ocean . In 1617 the Ottoman fleet captured Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean and raided England.Ottoman ships were sighted off the coast of North America.In the rest of the 17th and 18th centuries, however, the operations of the Ottoman fleet were largely limited to the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Red Sea, Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. The 18th century was a period of stalemate for the Ottoman fleet. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–1774 however, the Ottoman fleet was destroyed in the Battle of Chesme (1770). The next Russo-Turkish War again saw numerous naval defeats at the hands of the Russian Black Sea Fleet under Admiral Fyodor Ushakov

The 19th century saw further decline in Ottoman naval power, despite occasional recovery. Following the defeat against the combined British-French-Russian fleet at the Battle of Navarino in 1827, Sultan Mahmud II gave priority to develop a strong and modern Ottoman naval force. The first steam ships of the Ottoman Navy were acquired in 1828. In 1829 the world's largest warship for many years, the 62x17x7m ship-of-the-line Mahmudiye, which had 128 cannons on 3 decks, was built for the Ottoman Navy at the Imperial Naval Arsenal on the Golden Horn in Istanbul.

In 1875, during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz, the Ottoman Navy had 21 battleships and 173 other types of warships, ranking as the third largest navy in the world after the British and French navies.


The poor condition of the fleet was evident during the Ottoman Naval Parade of 1910, and the Ottoman Navy Foundation was established in order to purchase new ships through public donations. Those who made donations received different types of medals according to the size of their contributions. The bad state of the Ottoman fleet became even more evident with the outbreak of the First Balkan War, when it was twice defeated by the Greek Navy at the battles of Elli and Lemnos, while several smaller vessels were captured or sunk by Greek torpedo boats. The only Ottoman naval successes were the raiding actions of the light cruiser Hamidye under Rauf Orbay.

Ottoman government ordering large dreadnought battleships like Sultan Osman I and Resadiye. Despite the payment for both ships, the United Kingdom confiscated them at the outbreak of World War I and renamed them as HMS Agincourt and HMS Erin. This caused some ill-feeling towards Britain among the Ottoman public, and the German Empire took advantage of the situation by sending the battle cruiser SMS Goeben and light cruiser SMS Breslau which entered service in the Ottoman fleet as Yavuz Sultan Selim and Midilli respectively. This event significantly contributed to the decision of entry into World War I on the side of Germany and the Central Powers.Following the end of World War I, the Ottoman Navy was dissolved by the Allies


The ships of the early Ottoman navy were based on the Genoese and Venitian galleys and galleass.There were of about 1,500 to 2,000 tons with heavy cannons portholes on the upper and lower decks.  The galleys were the battleships of the age. Sleeker galleons were the destroyers of the age, rowed by freemen. Galleasses were powered by sail and oars.In addition to sails. Galleons, common in the New World but rare in the Meriterrainian, were powered by sail. A typical galley had tiers of oars, requiring galley slaves who were chained by one leg. Usually there were three men to a large oar and 26 oars on each side.In battle they could be maneuvered to ram or so the enemy craft could be boarded.There was usually one large gun on the prow and four or five amidships. wikipedia






 World War I and

the end of the empire