The Ottoman Empire apwh steiker Questions to Consider


Venetian Observations on the Ottoman Empire



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Venetian Observations on the Ottoman Empire

Source: Gianfrancensco Morosini, "Turkey Is a Republic of Slaves," in Pursuit of Power: Venetian Ambassadors' Reports on Spain, Turkey, and France in the Age of Phillip II, 1560-1600 (New York: Torchbook/Harper and Row, 1970), pp. 127-9, 131-4.


They succeed to the throne without any kind of ceremony of election or coronation. According to Turkish law of succession, which resembles most countries' laws in this respect, the oldest son should succeed to the throne as soon as the father dies. But in fact, whichever of the sons can first enter the royal compound in Constantinople is called the sultan and is obeyed by the people and by the army. Since he has control of his father's treasure he can easily gain the favor of the janissaries and with their help control the rest of the army and the civilians.

Because this government is based on force, the brother who overcomes the others is considered the lord of all. The same obedience goes to a son who can succeed in overthrowing his father, a thing, which bothers the Turks not at all. As a result, when his sons are old enough to bear arms, the sultan generally does not allow them near him, but sends them off to some administrative district where they must live under continual suspicion until their father's death. And just as the fathers do not trust their own sons, the sons do not trust their fathers and are always afraid of being put to death. This is the sad consequence of unbridled ambition and hunger for power -- a miserable state of affairs where there is no love between father and sons, and much less between sons and father.

This lord has thirty-seven kingdoms covering enormous territory. His dominion extends to the three principal parts of the world, Africa, Asia, and Europe; and since these lands are joined and contiguous with each other, he can travel for a distance of eight thousand miles on a circuit through his empire and hardly need to set foot in another prince's territories.

The principal cities of the Turks are Constantinople, Adrianople, and Bursa, the three royal residence places of the sultans. Buda is also impressive, as are the Asian cities -- Cairo, Damascus, Aleppo, Bagdad and others -- but none of these have the things, which usually lend beauty to cities. Even Constantinople, the most important of them all, which is posted in the most beautiful and enchanting situation that can be imagined, still lacks those amenities that a great city should have, such as beautiful streets, great squares, and handsome palaces. Although Constantinople has many mosques, royal palaces, inns, and public baths, the rest of the city is mazy and filthy; even these [public buildings], with their leaded domes studded with gilded bronze ornaments, only beautify the long-distance panorama of the city.

The security of the empire depends more than anything else on the large numbers of land and sea forces which the Turks keep continually under arms. These are what make them feared throughout the world.

The sultan always has about 280,000 well-paid men in his service. Of them about 80,000 are paid every three months out of his personal treasury. These include roughly 16,000 janissaries, who form the Grand Signor's advance guard; six legions, or about 12,000 cavalry called "spahi," who serve as his rear guard; and about 1,500 other defenders. . . . The other 200,000 cavalry . . . are not paid with money like the others, but are assigned landholdings [called timars].

The timariots are in no way inferior as fighting men to the soldiers paid every three months with cash, because the timars are inherited like the fiefs distributed by Christian rulers.

What about the fighting qualities of these widely feared Turkish soldiers? I can tell you the opinion I formed at Scutari, where I observed the armies of Ferrad Pasha and Osman Pasha (Ferrad's army was there for more than a month, and Osman's for a matter of weeks). I went over to Scutari several times to confer with the two pashas and also, unofficially, to look at the encampment, and I walked through the whole army and carefully observed every detail about the caliber of their men, their weapons, and the way they organize a bivouac site and fortify it. I think I can confidently offer this conclusion: they rely more on large numbers and obedience than they do on organization and courage.

Although witnesses who saw them in earlier times claim they are not as good as they used to be, it appears that the janissaries are still the best of the Turkish soldiers. They are well-made men, and they can handle their weapons -- the arquebus, club, and scimitar -- quite well. These men are accustomed to hardships, but they are only used in battle in times of dire necessity.

As for the cavalry, some are lightly armed with fairly weak lances, huge shields, and scimitars.



If I compare these men with Christian soldiers, such as those I saw in the wars in France or in the Christian King's conquest of Portugal, I would say they are much better than Christian soldiers in respect to obedience and discipline. However, in courage and enthusiasm, and in physical appearance and weapons, they are distinctly inferior.

The naval forces which the Great Turk uses to defend his empire are vast and second to none in the world. . . . True, at present they do not have at hand all the armaments they would need to outfit the as yet uncompleted galleys, . . . But his resources are so great that if he wanted to he could quickly assemble what he needs; he has already begun to attend to this.


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