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 The Sublime Porte and Ottoman Government

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike previous empires formed by nomadic peoples, the Ottomans were able to administer and govern a widespread empire of diverse populations for hundreds of years thanks to a combination of a well trained civil service and a disciplined army, where soldiers served as policemen in times of peace and laws based on the sacred laws of Islam. There was surprisingly  little civil disobedience, even in many parts of the empire they administered were of a different race and religion, with exception of the Shias.

 

Until the Kafes or Cage was started by Ahmed I, Ottoman princes would go to a distant province (not to close to Instanbul, least they try to raise an army and take it for themselves) to govern and learn statecraft after the ceremony of circumcision around age 14. Upon the death of the old sultan, the new sultan would sit on the throne and the title for the reign would be given and a distinctive tughra (monogram) designed. These were used on coins and royal documents. The new sultan would journey to the tomb of Eyyub, a companion of the Prophet and symbolically gird the sword of Osman ( Taklide-Seif). After Semim I, the sultan was the Caliphate-the supreme Islamic religious leader and the political and military chief.

 

 

 

coat of arms of the Ottoman Empire

 

After the Devshimirme (levy of Christian boys) those selected for civil service went through a rigorous training, learning Turkish,reading Arabic,literature,poetry,law,history and religion. As the Devshimirme system gradually came to an end in the mid 17th century, a system of patronage replaced it and the positons were usually filled by the sons of administrators.Each boy was also taught a craft or trade, even the sultans themselves did this. Mehmed II was a master gardener, Selim I was a goldsmith.They were also were trained in the military arts, the use of weapons, strategy and horsemanship. They were promoted according to merit. Mehmed II, after his conquest of the Byzantines in 1453, wanted a non-hereditary ruling class. At 25 they graduated and went out to be provincial administrators - sanjakbeyi or beylerbeyi.Those that proved their capacity would return to the palace to higher positions. The head of the civil service was the Grand Vizer.  The governor of a province held great military and political power, troops rallied to his standard in time of war and could decide the outcome of a civil war with their armies .

 

The administration of the empire was closely linked to the military. It was divided up into two halves, Anatolia and Rumeli and controlled by a governor-general, a beylerbey. These were subdivided into sanjaks (districts) controlled by military governors (sanjak beys). the provinces were also divided into military fiefs timar and zeamet.These were for the use of the cavalry (sipahis).These fiefs were not hereditary, only a small part would go to the holders son. They had to be earned on military merit. the sipahi were responsible to collect revenues from the raya (peasants) on their fief. Most of the agricultural land belonged to the state. The Ottomans tried to keep local forms of sef government intact, like the ancient Persians. The did not try to forcibly convert others to Islam and collected a tax for allowing non-belivers of Islam to practice their faith, which became an importance source of revenue. Christian and Jews were organized into millets based on their faith .The millets were self governing communities with their own laws, since Sharia law could not be expected to apply . Sumptuary laws were enforced in the empire and each group had distintive clothing. Greeks wore black trousers, Jews blue trousers, Armenians violet trousers and Turks red trousers. Most trades had a guild with a specific dress as well. The leaders of the millets were reponsible for their behavior and collecting taxes.

 

The four 'pillars of empire' of the civil service was the Grand Vizer,the kadi-askers, judges of the army,defterdars, who were the four treasurers of the empire and the nishanjis, the secretaries of state. Officals often carried the title of Pasha, meaning 'the Sultan's foot.' Reflecting their nomadic past, the Grand Vizer displayed five horse tail standard.

 

The legal system and religious posts were held by Turks.  The legal system derived from four sources;the Sharis, sacred Islamic Law; the Kanuns,written decrees of the sultan, the Adet, established custom and the Urf - the will of the reigning sovereign.

 

Religious leaders began their education in the medrese,colleges and schools attached to larger mosques. When students finished their training they were eligible to become judges (cadi) the highest position was the Mufti of Istanbul. Each region had a cadi to enforce Muslim law. He was responsible for deciding if a proposed war was holy, that the sultan's Kanun were in line with Muslim law. The swift and sometimes sever punishments of the law lead to a low crime rate in the empire.As the empire declined, judges became more avaristic, imposing fines and taking bribes. More rowers were needed for the galleys, and many criminals were sent to serve there even for petty crimes. It was possible to submit a petition to the sultan, like the emperors of the Roman Empire .

 

The Sublime Porte, where the government of the sultan, the divan, met. It got its name from the gate to the headquarters of the Grand Vizier in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Though the sultan was the supreme ruler, he had a number of advisors and ministers. The most powerful of these were the viziers of the Divan, led by the Grand Vizier. The Divan was a council where the viziers met and debated the politics of the empire. It was the Grand Vizier's duty to inform the sultan of the opinion of the divan.Despite important decisions usually being made by the Divan, ultimate authority always rested with the sultan.The Divan, in the early years of the Ottomans, was composed of the elders of the tribe. Its composition was later modified to include military officers and local elites . These individuals became known as viziers. Later still, beginning in the year 1320, a Grand Vizier (Sadrazam) was appointed in order to assume certain of the sultan's responsibilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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