Beneficiaries of Patronage? Retinues and Followers in the Ottoman Army

By Linda T. Darling
Submitted to Session P3813 (Personnel and Patronage: Getting Ahead in the Ottoman System, 2014 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
13th-18th Centuries; Ottoman Studies;
Authors of advice works in the period between 1580 and 1653, such as Mustafa ‘Ali, Kochi Bey, and several others, complained that in that period Ottoman military recruitment systems were being “corrupted.” Unauthorized people were entering the cadres, in particular the retinues and followers of governors and men of state. Political pressure, bribery, and forged documents were also being used to slip “outsiders,” “riffraff,” and even nonexistent people into the ranks of the timar-holding cavalry and the Janissary corps. This alleged misuse of the patronage system was often considered to be one aspect of the notorious “decline of the Ottoman Empire.”

This paper investigates those claims through a study of military compensation registers, the timar system’s summary registers (icmal defterleri) and the Janissary salary registers for the same period. Even though timar surveys were no longer being made on a regular basis in the seventeenth century, timar-holders still existed and lists of their timars were still compiled. Janissary salary registers, though not complete for the entire empire, provide a sample of Janissaries in a particular year and province. From the information in these registers it is possible to determine the origins and previous positions of many of the people listed. The “men” or followers of a particular official are designated as such. The paper will track changes over time in the proportion of military men belonging to the retinues of viziers, governors, and other high officials to see changes in recruitment and who was benefiting from them.

Research in these registers shows that a relatively small portion of the military corps were listed as the men of prominent individuals. Unless a massive forgery operation was taking place and completely deceiving the empire’s administrators (but not the writers of advice literature), this suggests that the advice writers’ claims were vastly over-exaggerated. The paper will conclude with an attempt to explain the relationships that may have lain behind such an exaggeration.