Byzantium: its internal history and relations with the Muslim World

Speros Vryonis Jr.


Byzantium and the Muslim World



(In: Speculum, XXXI n. 3 (1956). The Mediaeval Academy of America) 



1. The sermon of Isidore Glabas

2. Some fifteenth-century Greek sources and the devshirme





One of the most important and interesting problems which the historian faces when dealing with the rise of the Ottoman Empire is the origin of the twin institutions of the Janissaries and of the tribute children or devshirme. Though the use of slaves as a military and ruling caste was certainly not without precedent, the mode of their recruitment, through the devshirme, seems to have been unique. [2] The dates given by historians for the founding of the Janissaries and of the institution of the devshirme have varied widely: in the case of the Janissaries from the reign of Orkhan (1326-59) to that of Murad II (1421-51), and in the case of the devshirme from the reign of Orkhan to that of Mohammed II (1451-81). These wide chronological limits cover that period during which the Ottomans made the transition from a “Ghazi” state to an empire. Thus, a more exact establishment of the chronology of the institutional development during this period would be significant for the history of the “rise of the Ottoman Empire,” as well as for the actual institutional development.


Historians who have worked on this particular problem, from the time of von Hammer to the present, have largely drawn their conclusions from four groups of sources: (1) the early Turkish chroniclers Uruj (1460-70), Asiqpasazade (fl. 1490), and the so-called Anonymous Giese (fl. 1490); [3] (2) the Turkish



1. I should like to express here my appreciation to Professor Robert L. Wolff, my teacher, and also to my friend, George Soulis of Dumbarton Oaks, who first called my attention to the publication of the text of Isidore Glabas’ sermon. I should also like to thank Professor Marius Canard of the University of Algiers, who was visiting Dumbarton Oaks in the fall of 1954, for his expert advice on Byzantino-Islamic matters.


2. Turkish slaves were used as soldiers in Abassid Baghdad and also in Ayyubid Cairo. The Tourkopouloi of the Byzantine army were Turkish children who were raised in the tenets of Christianity, and trained to fight in a special corps under their own officers. For a comparison of the Tourkopouloi and the Janissaries see C. Paparrigopoulos, Ἱστορία τοῦ Ἑλληρι,κοῦ Ἔθνους, V (Athens, 1925), 179-185.


3. For a discussion of these sources see J. Palmer, “The Origin of the Janissaries,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, hereafter B.J.R.L., xxxv, 2 (1935), 448-449 and passim; also F. Babinger, Die Geschichtsschreiber der Osmanen und ihre Werke (Leipzig, 1927), relevant sections. English translations of the relevant sections of Uruj and Asikpasazade are to be found in Palmer, loc. citpp. 400-461.







historians of the golden age (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), such as Sa’d ad-Din and ’Ali, who relied very much on the work of Idris al-Bitlisi (fl. 1500-10); [4] (3) the Byzantine historians Ducas (fl. 1462), Chalcocondyles (fl. 1480), and Sphrantzes (fl. 1478); [5] (4) contemporary Western sources, particularly Bartholomaeus de Jano (fl. 1438) and Georgius de Hungaria (fl. 1475-80). [6]


Von Hammer, relying on the Turkish historians of the golden age, passed on their view that the devshirme and the Janissaries were instituted under Orkhan by Kara Halil Chandarly. [7] He implied that this new corps, the Janissaries, was at first composed of prisoners of war, and that when there were not enough of them, Christian children were taken. He did not, however, clarify the relationship between the Janissaries and the devshirme. On the question of the institution of the Janissaries Hammer seems to have been generally negligent. He failed to notice the discrepancy between the later historians of the golden age, who placed the formation of the Janissaries in the reign of Orkhan, and the earlier Turkish chroniclers such as Asiqpasazade, who placed the event in the reign of Murad I. [8]


In 1912 Mordtmann made the first serious revision of this traditional opinion. He shifted the institution of the devshirme from the reign of Orkhan to that of Murad II (1431-51), basing his observations on the evidence of the contemporary Western observer, Bartholomaeus de Jano. [9]


The first really significant and successful refutation of the traditionally accepted account of the Janissaries was that of Giese in 1922. Giese was apparently the first to notice the discrepancies between the account given by the Turkish historians of the golden age and that given by the earlier Asiqpasazade. On the basis of Asiqpasazade and Nešri he ascribed the institution of the Janissaries to the reign of Murad I. He accepted the evidence of Bartholomaeus de Jano in fixing the date of the devshirme at 1438. [10]


Thus the established chronology of the institutions was the following: the Janissaries were established in the reign of Murad I (1359-89), and the devsliirme was instituted in 1438 in the reign of Murad II.



4. For the Turkish historians of the golden age see the relevant sections in Babinger, op. cit. For their relationship to Idris al-Bitlisi and for the latter’s importance in the whole problem of the institution of the Janissaries see Palmer, loc. cit.


5. For the importance of these three Byzantine historians on early Ottoman history see the relevant sections in G. Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica, i (Budapest, 1942).


6. Consult Palmer, loc. cit.. passim, on Bartholomaeus de Jano and Georgius de Hungaria. See also Palmer, “Fr. Georgius de Hungaria, O.P., and the ‘Tractatus de Moribus Condicionibus et Nequicia Turcorum’,” J.R.L.B., xxxiv (1951), 44-68.


7. Kara Halil Chandarly was Kadiasker of the Ottoman armies in the reign of Murad I. For the history of the Chandarly family see F. Taescliner and P. Wittek, “Die Vezirfamilie der Ğandarlyzade (14/15 Jhdt.) und ihre Denkmäler,” Der Islam, xviii (1929), 60-115. Also, “Cendereli,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, hereafter E.I., i, 833.


8. Von Hammer, Geschichte des osmanischen Reiches, i (Pesth, 1827), 90, 176, 581, 592.


9. J. Mordtmann, “Dewshirme,” E.I., I, 952-953.


10. F. Giese, “Das Problem der Entstehung des osmanischen Reiches,” Zeitschrift für Semitistik, II (1924), 246-247.








In 1954 there appeared a hitherto unpublished document which threw new light on the problem. This document is a sermon of Isidore Glabas, metropolitan of Thessaloniki from 1380 to 1396. [11] The sermon is dated 1395, preserved in a manuscript of the early fifteenth century, and is entitled “His sermon concerning the carrying off of the children, by the decree of the emir, and concerning the Coming Judgment, delivered on the first Sunday of the Fasts.” [12] This document, Ms. gr. Paris. 1192, f. 320v., had been noted by others in the past. [13] But inasmuch as this sermon of Isidore remained unpublished, until its edition by Laourdas in 1954, none of the scholars working on the early Turkish institutions made use of it.


There seems to be no reason to doubt the authenticity of the date, 28 February 1395, ascribed to the sermon in the codex. This particular sermon is preceded by two others dated October 1393 and is the last of Isidore’s sermons to appear in this codex. All who have dealt with the sermon have accepted this dating as authentic. But the problem of authorship has raised some difficulty.


The codex attributes it to Isidore Glabas. But Ehrhard attributed it, with the two sermons which precede it, to Isidore’s successor as archbishop, Gabriel. Ehrhard argued that Gabriel first occupied the metropolitan throne of Thessaloniki in 1393; therefore our sermon, dated 28 February, 1395, should be attributed to Gabriel rather than to Isidore. [14]


In thus dating Gabriel’s accession as archbishop of Thessaloniki in 1393, Ehrhard was following L. Petit and Document #XI in Meyer’s Haupturkunden für die Geschichte der Athosklöster. [15] But Petit and Ehrhard failed to notice that Document #XI actually consisted of two distinct and separate documents of two different dates. The first document is entitled “Letter of his Holiness the Oecumenical Patriarch and of the Holy Synod to the monks of Mount Athos.” It is a patriarchal letter addressed to the monks of Athos, which introduces two imperial and patriarchal envoys, Gabriel, the metropolitan of Thessaloniki, and Daniel, the metropolitan of Berrhoia. However, the document gives neither the name of the patriarch nor the date. The second letter in Document #XI is entitled “Tomos and typos of the Holy Mountain and of the Protatos.”



11. On Isidore Glabas and his sermons see:

·       B. Laourdas, Ἰσιδώρου ἀρχιεπισκόπου Θεσσαλονίκης ὁμιλίαι εἰς τὰς ἑορτὰς τοῦ Ἀγίου Δημητρίου, Thessaloniki, 1954, pp. 7-83.

·       N. Bees, “Αἱ πασχάλιαι ἐπιγραφαὶ τοῦ Ἁγίου Δημητρίου Θεσσαλονίκης καὶ ὁ μητροπολίτης αὐτῆς Ἰσίδωρος Γλαβᾶς,” Byzantinisch-neugriechische Jahrbücher, VII (1930), 140-160.

·       R. Loenertz, “Isidore Glabas, Métropolite de Thessalonique,” Revue des Études Byzantines, iv (1948), 181-187;

·       S. Lampros, “Ἰσιδώρου μητροπολίτου Θεσσαλονίκης ὁκτὼ ἐπιστολαὶ ἀνέκδοται," Νέος Ἑλληνομνήμων, XI (1912), 343-414.


12. B. Laourdas, “Ἰσιδώρου ἀρχιεπισκόπου Θεσσαλονίκης ὁμιλία,” Προσφορὰ εἰς Στίλπωνα Π. Κυριακίδην, Thessaloniki, (1954), pp. 389-398.


13. Η. Omont, Inventaire sommaire des manuscrits grecs, i (Paris, 1886), 259-260. S. Lampros, loc. cit., p. 351.


14. A. Ehrhard, Überlieferung und Bestand der hagiographischen und homiletischen Literatur der griechische Kirche : in Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, LII (1943), 711.


15. Ph. Meyer. Die Haupturkunden für die Geschichte der Athosklöster (Leipzig, 1894), pp. 195-203





It is an act emanating from one or more imperial envoys acting in conjunction with the notables of the Holy Mountain. This letter, in contrast to the first, is addressed from Mount Athos rather than from Constantinople. It is dated May 1394. [16]


Thus we have two distinct letters: the first, an undated patriarchal letter addressed to the monks of Athos, and mentioning Gabriel, the metropolitan of Thessaloniki ; the second, a latter dated 1394 from Athos, which makes no mention of Gabriel. Not realizing that Document #XI actually consisted of two separate letters, Petit erroneously attributed the date of the second letter to the first letter, which mentions Gabriel. Hence, he concluded that by 1394 Gabriel was already metropolitan. He than selected 1393 as the date of Gabriel’s accession as archbishop of Thessaloniki, without giving any reason for so doing. Following Petit, Ehrhard accepted the year 1393 as the beginning of Gabriel’s metropolitan jurisdiction over Thessaloniki.


But a letter of the Patriarch Anthony IV (1389-97) proves that the metropolitan throne of Thessaloniki was vacant as of 20 March 1397. In this latter Anthony rebuked the Exarch Nathaniel for attempting to usurp the vacant throne of Thessaloniki. Thus Gabriel, as late as the year 1397, had not yet succeeded Glabas. Since the first letter of Document #XI names Gabriel metropolitan of Thessaloniki, it follows that this document is also posterior to March 1397.


Finally, Cod. Sinaiticus 141 (alias 869) furnishes specific dates for Isidore’s life and death. [17] According to this source, Isidore was born in 1342, became archbishop of Thessaloniki in 1380, and died on 11 January 1396. [18] There is no reason for us to suppose that Isidore was removed from his metropolitan seat before his death in 1396. After his death in 1396, the throne of Thessaloniki remained vacant at least until after 20 March 1397. During this interregnum the Exarch Nathaniel directed the ecclesiastical affairs of Thessaloniki.


It follows that our document, concerning the devshirme and dated 1395, is to be attributed to Isidore.


The sermon is divided into three sections, of which the first is the most relevant to our problem. A translation of this section follows.



What am I to say, and how am I to consider the magnitude of the present misfortune? Helplessness has afflicted me from all sides, as if I found myself blocked at a crossroad. I have heard the harsh decree concerning our dearest ones, and I shudder as one before a fire too hot to approach, or as one facing an invincible swordsman. My voice is cut off because the “folding up and lying down of the mouth,” as Saint Basil says, occurs instantly. My lips turn to lamentation, my mind is veiled in a cloud of despondency, and I am almost mad. My eyes are filled with tears and can no longer bear to see my beloved ones.


What would a man not suffer were he to see a child, whom he had begotten and raised . . . carried off by the hands of foreigners, suddenly and by force, and forced to change over to alien customs and to become a vessel of barbaric garb, speech, impiety, and other contaminations, all in a moment?



16. R. Loenertz, loc. cit., 183-185.


17. Idem., on the authenticity of this document.


18. N. Bees, loc. cit., p. 143.





Or what would happen, if this would suffice to make it clear if a man were to find himself as if cut into two parts; and if he were to see the one dismembered section of his body, his son, become a substance of baseness and not used for any good purpose; and to see the remaining section, himself that is, not only useless but dead and full of lamentation and agony?


Which one shall the father lament, himself or his son? Shall he lament himself because he has been deprived of the staff of his old age? Because the light of his eyes has perished?


Because he will not have his son to send him to his grave in fitting manner, and to perform the other rites and honors? Because he sees that seed which he hoped to offer to God changed into an offering to the devil ... ?


Or shall he lament his son because a free child becomes a slave? Because being nobly born he is forced to adopt barbaric customs? Because he who was rendered so mild by motherly and fatherly hands is about to be filled with barbaric cruelty? Because he who attended matins in the churches and frequented the sacred teachers is now, alas! taught to pass the night in murdering his own people and in other such things? Because he who was appointed to serve the holy houses is now entrusted with the care of dogs and fowl? Because he who was raised in many and pleasing occupations and services is now forced to endure the freezing and scorching winds, and to cross rivers, mountains, precipices, and places difficult of access? But the worst of all the evils is that, alas! he is shamefully separated from God and has become miserably entangled with the devil, and in the end will be sent to darkness and hell with the demons. Whose heart would these things not crush, who would not be bent and broken in the face of such a misfortune? If he w^ere a wild beast, or a stone, or iron, or steel itself, he would have suffered the pains .common to mankind. [19]



In the sermon of Isidore Glabas we have a document dated 1395 in which there is a clear reference to the collection of the child tribute. A close examination of the text reveals many of the salient features of the devshirme as described by later authors. First, there is reference to the collection of children by decree of the emir. Both the title of the sermon and the opening lines of the Greek text contain references to the ἐπίταγμα, the decree. [20] Then Isidore goes on to describe the fate of the tribute children. [21] These free-born youths, as child-tribute and future Janissaries, become slaves of the sultan. They are taken away by the Turks and forced to adopt different ἒθη, barbaric clothes, barbaric speech, barbaric impiety. This refers, no doubt, to their period of training in Anatolia on the estates of the Turkish spahis and other large land-owners, where they acquired the rudiments of the Turkish language and were instructed in Islam.


As a fervent Orthodox cleric and Rhomaios, Isidore feels that this conversion to Islam is the worst of all the evils involved, and he so comments upon it. Finally, he depicts the diabolical results of this institution. These youths, whose parents had raised them as faithful Orthodox, and who would have studied with the holy teachers of the Church and would have served the holy houses, are now trained by the Turks to kill their own people. [22]


In the funeral monody of Ibangos (a person otherwise unknown) on Isidore Glabas, we are informed that the Metropolitan had on one occasion gone to



19. B. Laourdas, loc. cit., pp. 390-392.


20. Ibid., p. 890, lines 1-4.


21. Ibid., p. 890, lines 15-18, 31-32; p. 392, lines 8-11.


22. Ibid., p. 392, lines 1-8.





Asia Minor, “ὦ τῶν κινδύνων οὔς ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς ἐν Ασία κεκινδυνεύκεις” (“You who have risked dangers on behalf of your flock in Asia.”) Ibangos speaks of the dangers which Isidore had risked on behalf of Thessaloniki. [23] The encomium written by the Nomophylax John Eugenikos also refers to this aspect of Isidore’s life. “κατὰ τὸν καλὸν καὶ πρῶτον ποιμένα Χριστὸν τοῦ ποιμνίου πάντα τρόπον πεφροντικότος καὶ μακρὰς ὁδοιπορίας ὑπενεγκόντος . . . (“In following the good example of Christ, the first Shepherd, you have shown great care for your flock and undertaken long journeys on behalf of it.”) [24] This journey of Isidore to Asia Minor, made on behalf of the citizens of Thessaloniki, perhaps had as an aim the redemption of captives taken by the Turks. This journey to Asia Minor probably enabled Isidore to get firsthand information on the fate of the tribute children. This would account for the detail and accuracy of his description of the “education” of these children in Asia Minor. [25]


Glabas’ sermon thus pushes back the date of the institution of the devshirme from 1438 at least to the year 1395. We cannot tell, however, whether Glabas was lamenting a new practice or an old one.


The Ottoman historian Idris al-Bitlis (fl. 1500-10), in discussing the Janissaries, indicated that the devshirme and the Janissaries were instituted simultaneously in the last half of the fourteenth century under Murad I. [26] Palmer maintained that this was simply an anachronism. Idris was attributing to the fourteenth century a stituation which prevailed in the beginning of the sixteenth century, when Idris was composing his work. [27] By the sixteenth century, of course, the Janissary corps and the devshirme were complementary. But the evidence from Glabas’ sermon, which shows that the devshirme existed at least as early as 1395, tends to corroborate Idris and to refute Palmer.


Furthermore, the institution of the Janissaries has been fairly well linked with Kara Halil Chandarly, who was Kadiasker in the reign of Murad I. Thus, if we accept Idris’ testimony as to the simultaneous institution of both devshirme and the Janissaries, it would seem highly probable that Chandarly also instituted the devshirme. We know that his reforms generally were unpopular with the Ulema, inasmuch as they transgressed the Sheria. [28] Now the raising of the child tribute from the Christian subjects, with the forced conversion to Islam, might well have been one of those reforms which were contrary to the Sheria and therefore



23. “Τοῦ σοφωτάτου καὶ λογιωτάτου κυροῦ Ιβάγκου μονωδία ἐπὶ τῶ ἀοδίμῳ μητοπολιτῃ κυρῷ Ἰσιδώεῳ τῷ Γλαβᾷ, in Ε. Legrand, Lettres de l'empereur Manuel Paléologue (Paris, 1893), p. 107.


24. Leo Allatius, De Symeonum Scnptis (Paris, 1664), p. 187.


25. N. Bees, loc. cit., p. 154. For an example of the ransoming of prisoners from the Turks in Thessaloniki by the clergy see S. Kougeas, “Notizbuch eines Beamten der Metropolis in Thessalonike aus dem Anfang des XV. Jahrhunderts,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift, xxiii (1914-19), 144.


26. This particular passage in Idris was inserted in his narrative of the reign of Orkhan. Palmer demonstrated that, though this passage was inserted in the narrative of the reign of Orkhan, Idris did not specifically date the event as occurring in that reign. The insertion here rather than in the reign of Murad I was due to Idris’ method of literary composition.


27. The relevant sections are to be found in Palmer, loc. cit., 471-473.


28. “Cendereli,” E.I., I, 833.





not favored by the Ulema. Finally, there is no other Ottoman reformer or statesman of the last half of the fourteenth century, of the status of Chandarly, to whom one might attribute such an important innovation, and who would have had prestige enough to put it into effect. [29]


That the devshirme was the really novel aspect which differentiated this body of slave-soldiers from other suc}i bodies is asserted by a number of historians. The reasons for the creation of the child tribute are not at all certain. Scholars have offered a variety of explanations for the appearance of the institution, all of which seem to hold some grain of truth. Some assert that this was the system adopted to fill the ranks of the Janissaries at the time when the advance of Empire had come to a halt, and when the supply of prisoners had dwindled. [30] Others maintain that it was a means of converting the Balkans, for in order to avoid the devshirme the inhabitants of the Balkan peninsula, especially Thrace and Macedonia, often adopted Islam. [31] Finally, there are those who state that it was the need for a disciplined arid reliable body of infantry that caused the Ottomans to resort to the devshirme. [32] The yaya, Turkomen infantry instituted under Or khan, proved to be unmanageable, and the system was open to corruption. Therefore the Ottomans hit upon a scheme which would insure them a welldisciplined infantry. That this last reason was a major factor is brought out by the testimony of the Turkish sources. [33]





Four Greek documents of the fifteenth century which are of particular interest in the question of the devshirme have long gone unmentioned by the scholars who have treated this problem. These fifteenth-century texts demonstrate the degree to which the institution had spread by the mid-fifteenth century, and vividly reveal the Christian hatred of it. This evidence challenges those scholars who have maintained that the institution became a common practice only in the late fifteenth century, and that the Christians were indifferent to it and sometimes even welcomed it as a means of advancement in the Ottoman army and



29. This would establish the extreme dates for the institution of the devshirme as beginning with Chandarly’s accession to the office of Kadiasker in the reign of Murad I, and 1395, date of Isidore’s sermon. For Thessaloniki the dates would be 1387, date of its first capture by the Turks, and 1395.


30. H. A. R. Gibb and II. Bowen, Islamic Society and the West, i (Oxford, 1950), p. 44. W. Langer and R. Blake, “The Rise of the Ottoman Empire and its Historical Background,” The American Historical Review, xxxvii (1932), 504. But the new date of the child tribute sets it in a period of expansion, when prisoners were abundant.


31. H. Gibbons, The Rise of the Ottoman Empire (New York, 1916), pp. 117-118, was the main exponent of this theory. It is difficult to say whether its intent was largely to convert. However, the early success of Turkish Islam in Asia Minor must have given some impetus to this “missionary” aspect. On this subject see the letters of the Patriarch John XIV, Acta et Diplomata Graeca Medii Aevi, hereafter Miklosich and Müller, I, 183, 197. For a case of apostasy to Islam, and then repentance and return to Christianity, see Miklosich and Müller, ii, 155.


32. J. Zinkeisen, Geschichte des osmanischen Reiches in Europa (Hamburg, 1840-63), i, 117-118.


33. Gibb and Bowen, op. cit., p. 470.





bureaucracy. [34] That three of these texts should have remained generally neglected in connection with our problem for such a long period of time is strange indeed, and shows how much can still be gleaned from a careful perusal of the sources at hand, even though they may have long been published. [35]


The first of these documents is the “Capitulations of Jannina.„ These were the terms of conditional surrender which Sinan Pasha offered the city of Jannina in 1430 after his triumphant capture and sack of Thessaloniki. The citizens of Jannina found these terms satisfactory and accepted them. The text is of interest not only from the point of view of the devshirme, but also as the earliest recorded example of the terms granted by the Turkish conquerors to their subjects in the Balkans. A translation of the relevant section follows.


This is the decree and greeting of Sinan Pasha . . . May you know that the great lord (the sultan) has sent us to take over the territory and castles of Ducas . . . And it is because of this that I write and tell you to submit willingly and not be deceived in any way and heed the words of the Franks, because they do not in any way wish to help you, except that they would destroy you as they destroyed the inhabitants of Thessaloniki. And because of these things I swear to you . . . that you shall have no fear, either from enslavement, or from the taking of your children, or from the destruction of the churches, nor shall we build any mosques, but the bells of your churches shall ring as has been the custom. [36]


Here we can note only the clear reference to the devshirme. The document carefully distinguishes the tribute of children (πιασμὸν παιδίων) from general enslavement and the taking of prisoners (αἰχμαλωτισμόν). Further, it refers to freedom from this tribute along with immunity of the population from general enslavement and assurance of the safety of the churches, as one of the major concessions to the conquered. The child tribute was apparently so unpopular at this time that the Turks could use it as a strong bargaining factor in the terms of conditional surrender which they offered to the citizens of Jannina.


The second document is generally referred to as the “Capitulations of Galata.“ Mohammed II granted certain concessions to the Genoese colony at Galata, much as Sinan Pasha did to Jannina, when the Genoese offered him the keys to the town during the victorious siege of Contantinople in 1453. A translation of the relevant sections follows. [37]



34. Langer and Blake, loc. cit., 504. Gibb and Bowen, op. cit., pp. 58-59.


35. K. Amantos, “Ἠ ἀναγνώρισις ὑπὸ τῶν μωαμεθανῶν θρησκευτικῶν καὶ πολιτικῶν δικαιωμάτων τῶν χριστιανῶν καὶ ὁ ὁρισμὸς τοῦ Σινὰν Πασᾶ,” Ἠπειρωτικὰ Χρονικά, v (1980), 197-210. Miklosich and Müller, III, 287-291.



·       K. Amantos, “Οἱ προνομιακοὶ ὁρισμοὶ τοῦ Μουσουλμανισμοῦ ὑπὲρ τῶν Χριστιανῶν,” Ἑλληνικά, IX (1936), 119-120; and

·       “Ἡ ἀναγνώρισις ὑπὸ τῶν μωαμεθανῶν θρησκευτικῶν καὶ πολιτικῶν δικαιωμάτων καὶ ὁ ὁρισμὸς τοῦ Σινὰν Πασᾶ,” Ἠπειροπικὰ Χρονικά, V (1930), 197-210.

·       Lampros, “Ἠ ἑλληνικὴ ὡς ἐπίσημος γλῶσσα τῶν σουλτάνων,” Νέος Ἑλληνομνήμων, (1908), 63-64.


This text alone would have invalidated 1438, the date furnished by Bartholomaeus de Jano, as the earliest recorded instance of the devshirme. The reference in this document implies that the devshirme was something with which both Turks and Greeks were quite familiar; hence it was used as a bargaining point.



·       E. Dailegio d’Alessio, “Le texte grec du traité conclu par les Génois de Galata avec Mehmet II le Ier Juin 1453,” Ἑλληνικά xi (1939), 115-124.

·       K. Amantos, “Οἱ προνομιακοὶ ὁρισμοὶ τοῦ Μουσουλμανισμοῦ ὑπὲρ τῶν Χριστιανῶν,” Ἑλληνικά, ix (1936), 120-122.

·       N. Iorga, “Le privilège de Mohammed II pour la ville de Pera (1-er Juin 1453),” Académie Roumaine, Bulletin de la section historique, i (1914), 11-32.

·       Lampros, loc. cit., 65-68.

·       Miklosich and Müller, iii, 287-288.





. . . Since the archontes of Galata have sent to the Porte of my domains their honored archontes . . . who did obeisance to my imperial power and became my slaves, let them (the Genoese) retain their possessions . . . their wives, children, and prisoners at their own disposal .... They shall pay neither commercium nor kharadj .... They shall be permitted to retain their churches . . . and never will I on any account carry off their children or any young man for the Janissary corps.


The “Capitulations of Galata“ make one specific allusion to the devshirme and one which is more general. Again, the immunity from the tribute of children is reckoned as an important concession, one which is placed in the same category as commercial and juridical privileges.


The third document, dated 1456, contains the privileges which Mohammed II granted certain Greek archontes of the Morea in response to their petition. While the despots, Thomas and Demetrius Palaeologus, were struggling for power in the Peloponnesus, and while the Albanians were staging a serious revolt there, these nobles decided to throw their lot in with the Turkish sultan. The action of these archontes is reminiscent of the behavior of the Greek magnates of the Peloponnesus after the Fourth Crusade. A translation of the relevant sections follows.


The great lord and great emir Sultan Mohammed to all our archontes within our domains . . . who desire to come over to me. Know that my honored Aga, Hasambey, came to me and announced that you desired to become mine (my people). And you desire my terms in this matter, which I do now convey unto you; I swear to you . . that I shall lay hands upon . . . neither your things, nor your children, nor your heads, but rather I shall give you peace, and you shall be better off than before. [38]


In this document the reference to the tribute of children is not quite so specific as in the other documents, but inasmuch as the devshirme had, by this time, been long practiced, there can be little doubt that it is this to which the document refers. Again, this immunity from paying the tribute of children is considered as an important concession by both Turk and Greek.


The fourth document depicts much more graphically the abhorrence which the Greeks felt for the devshirme. It also shows how thorough the system had become by the mid-fifteenth century. Some historians maintain that the devshirme was levied only in the European provinces of the Empire, but this text affords evidence that it was levied in Asia Minor in the fifteenth century. The petition is addressed to the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitalers of Rhodes, Jacques de Milly (1451-61), and was sent by Greeks living in Asia Minor ( . . . ὅπου ἢκεβαν εἰς τὴν Τουρκίαν . . . ). [39] Since their petition was directed to the Hospitalers, it would seem that they lived on the western coast of Asia Minor, not far from Rhodes. A further reason for addressing their petition to the Knights



38. Miklosich and Müller, III, 290. Iorga, loc. cit., 21-22.


39. Miklosich and Müller, III, 291.





at Rhodes is that the latter had been very successful in establishing good rapport with their Greek subjects. Hence the addressors of the petition could hope to acquire masters more tolerant than either the Turks or than most other Latins. [40] A translation of the document follows.


To the most honorable, most wise, most glorious, and worthy of all honors, Lord of Rhodes, Grand Master Tziana de Milly, and to your council, and (to the) most holy patriarch and overseer, the most holy Pope: We, your poor slaves, we proper Christian people, who do dwell in Turkey, both great and small, both men and women, inform your lordship that we are heavily vexed by the Turk, and that they take away our children and make Muslims of them. And because of this we beseech your lordship and the most holy Pope (patriarch in the text), each of you, to come with the ships of the Pope to help the Christians. For this reason we beseech your lordship to take council that the most holy Pope might send his ships to take us and our wives and children away from here, for we are suffering greatly from the Turk. (Do this) lest we lose our children, and let us come to your domains to live and die there as your subjects. But if you leave us here we shall lose our children and you shall answer to God for it and our sin will become your burden. For this reason we beg your lordship and the most holy Pope (patriarch) that he may send his vessels as quickly as possible to take us away from here. May Christ the God strengthen the years of your rule. [41]


On the eve of the fall of Constantinople the Megadux Lucas Notaras, in the heat of religious passion, made the well-known statement, “It is better to see in the midst of the city the turban of the ruling Turks than the Latin tiara.” [42] This has often been presented as the classic demonstration of the feeling of the Orthodox Christians who found themselves caught in the dilemma of choosing between the heretic Latins and the Moslem Turks. The petition addressed to the Knights Hospitalers, however, demonstrates that there were some occasions at least when Greeks preferred Latin domination to Turkish.





To recapitulate: The sermon of Isidore Glabas establishes 1395 as the earliest recorded date for the existence of the devshirme. The testimony of Isidore tends to corroborate the evidence presented by Idris (who seems to have had access to sources inaccessible to the three earlier Turkish chroniclers), which makes the Janissaries and the devshirme instituted contemporaneously in the reign of Murad I. We might go one step further and suggest that perhaps both the Janissaries and the devshirme were instituted by Chandarly.


This early development of such a key institution in the Ottoman government and army as the devshirme would seem to imply a much earlier institutional evolution for the Ottomans than was formerly thought. This must have been of great importance in the ability of the Ottomans to survive the crushing defeat of Angora in 1402 at the hands of Timur.



40. N. Iorga, Rhodes sous les Hospitaliers (Paris, 1931), pp. 289-290. Iorga stresses the good relations between Greeks and Latins in Rhodes as a major factor which enabled the Knights of Rhodes to hold out for two centuries against the Turkish emirs of Asia Minor, the Mamelukes in Egypt, and the Ottomans.


41. Miklosich and Müller, III, 291.


42. Ducas, ed. Bonn, p. 264.





To the weakness of the Balkan states and the indifference of the West, one must now add this third factor amongst those which helped the Ottomans survive Angora. The institutional foundations of the Ottoman Empire had been so securely laid that the Ottomans were able to march back on the road to empire after 1402.


The four Greek documents, ranging in dates from 1430 to 1456, show that the devshirme was comparatively widespread by the second quarter of the fifteenth century and that it was so feared and disliked by the Christians that the Turks could use it as a strong bargaining weapon. [43]


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43. Since this article was written two important articles on the devshirme have appeared;

·       Vakalopoulos, “Προβλήματα τῆς ἱστοίας τοῦ παιδομαζώματος” Ἑλληνικά, XIII (1954), 274-293, and

·       P. Wittek, “Devşirme and Sharī‘a,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, xvii (1955), 271-278.


Vakalopoulos treats a number of the problems connected with the devshirme and gives references to most of the important secondary literature. As he brings his treatment of the problem up to the eighteenth century, he has mentioned only one of the fifteenth-century documents treated above, i.e., the Capitulations of Jannina.


Wittek deals with the problem presented by the apparent incompatibility of the devshirme and the Sheria. The explanation which he presents rests on the proposition that not all the peoples of the Balkans received the status of dhimmi (people of the Book). Only those nations converted to Christianity before the time of the Prophet received the status of dhimmi. This meant in effect that only the Greeks were to be treated as dhimmi, while the Serbs, Bulgars, and Vlachs were denied this status. As a result, Wittek continues, the Turkish conquerors were able to levy the child tribute on these segments of the Balkan population without technically violating the Sheria. He adds that the Greeks further escaped the child tribute because they lived in the cities and the tribute was levied only in the rural areas.


However, the Greek documents of the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries would tend to show that the Greeks of the towns were subject to the devshirme. The sermon of Isidore Glabas speaks of the children taken from Thessaloniki, while the capitulations offered to the inhabitants of Jannina, Galata, and Morea imply that the devshirme was levied in the cities and on the Greek population. In fact the short notice entitled Χρονικὸν Ἀθηνῶν, ed. S. Lampros (London, 1902), p. 86, shows that by the beginning of the sixteenth century the devshirme was levied quite regularly in Athens.


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