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The Chamberlain, Sultan Murad IV, among the Janissaries

The Janissaries ( Ottoman یكیچری اوجاغی İA Yeñiçeri Ocaġı , German 'Janissary Corps ' , literally “fireplace of the new troops”) were the elite troops of the army in the Ottoman Empire . They placed the body guard of the Sultan and reached the highest positions in the Ottoman polity. The troops originated in the 14th century and were disbanded in 1826.


Ottoman myths like to refer to Orhan I as the founder of the Janissaries and 1330 as the founding year, but modern historians like Patrick Kinross believe that his successor, Sultan Murad I, was responsible for this. The Alevi tradition, on the other hand, points to two founders: Abdal Musa and Balim Sultan , completely in the tradition of the Bektashi order , with Abdal Musa identified as the main founder, but Balim Sultan is regarded as the follower. The years between 1365 and the end of the 14th century are named as the period of foundation.

The idea behind it was to find enough soldiers for the new war expeditions of the Ottomans, as their own people would not always have been enough to provide an army that could have subjugated larger parts of the world. However, each new campaign brought in new prisoners of war, among whom were strong, young men who would have been suitable for armed service. Orhan removed the stigma that these men adhered to the “wrong” religion by taking away their children from the Christians , raising them to become fanatical Muslims by members of a dervish order named after the holy Hajji Bektash , and then having them raised by members of a dervish order named after the holy Hajji Bektash , and then they were his new, likewise one Order-like unit incorporated.

The Janissaries were initially formed along the lines of the Mamluks , mostly from Christians, who mostly did not join the corps voluntarily, but were abducted from the Caucasus and the Balkans by the boy harvest in childhood and were forcibly converted to Islam. Often times, Islamic parents from the lower classes tried to smuggle in their children in order to give them a better future in the service of the Sultan. The Janissaries became the first standing army of the Ottoman Empire, replacing the troops made up of tribal warriors whose loyalty and morality were not trusted.

Education and way of life

Seated Janissary, drawing by Gentile Bellini around 1480
Janissary Agha
Janissary Agha with companions

The first Janissary units still included prisoners of war and slaves. From 1438 onwards, boys from subjugated Christian peoples were systematically forcibly recruited (so-called boy picking ), with boys mainly from the Balkans - especially from Serbia and Bosnia  - being selected and brought to the Ottoman Empire for education, training and forced Islamization. Usually every 40th boy between the ages of 7 and 14 was selected, but the number was changed as required. In addition to Christian boys from Serbia and Bosnia , Albanians , Armenians , Bulgarians , Georgians , Greeks , Croats , Poles , Romanians , Southern Russians , Ukrainians and Hungarians were also recruited.

Janissaries were trained under strict discipline and hard work in acemi-oğlan schools, where they were subjected to celibacy and Islamized. In contrast to free Muslims, they were only allowed to wear a mustache and not a full beard. The Janissaries belonged to the Sultan as an army and were raised to recognize the Corps as their home and family and the Sultan as their father. Only those who turned out to be strong enough earned the rank of true Janissaries between the ages of 24 and 25. The property of deceased members passed to the regiment.

Religiously, the Janissaries took their bearings from the teachings of the mystic Hajji Bektash , who blessed the first troops in the 14th century, and the order of the Bektashi dervishes named after him . The special white headgear of the Janissaries (بورك / börk or keçe ) symbolizes the sleeve of Hajji Bektash and shows the connection to his teachings. In this and in their secluded life in barracks, they resembled the Christian orders of knights such as the Order of Malta .

There were two Janissary barracks in Istanbul, the Eski Odalar (اسكی اوطه لر / 'Old barracks') and the opposite Yeni Odalar (یكی اوطه لر / 'New barracks') in the Aksaray district . The Şehzâde Camii ("Prince's Mosque ") was later built in place of the old rooms .

The Janissary Corps

The Janissaries lived exclusively for war. They did not get married, they had no property, and apart from regular meals they received next to no pay . Since the janissaries are legally considered military slaves (قول / ḳul ) were valid, the pay was primarily of symbolic value and came directly from the ruler's coffers . The battalion commanders of the troops carried the telling title "Chorbadschi-Baschi" (چورباجی باشی / çorbacı-başı  / 'Soup Master'). The badges of rank of all officers were made up of crossed spoons; four of them marked the "Ashji-Bashi" (آشجی باشی / aşcı-başı  / ' head chef '). Instead of standards , the janissaries were given powerful soup kettles ( kazan  /قزغان / ḳazġan ), on their heads they wore a conical felt cap of the Bektashi monks, wrapped in a turban , their legs were in high boots , their most important weapon was the composite bow . The janissaries made up the infantry, while the sipahi made up the cavalry. Like the Frankish horsemen of Charlemagne, the sultan's entire armed force gathered year after year on the March field to find out where the next campaign would lead.

The full strength of the Janissary troop increased from about 100 to more than 200,000. The corps was divided into companies (اورتا / orta , literally “middle”) with 200–400 men. Suleyman the Magnificent had 165 Orta, later the number rose to 196. The Sultan had the high command, but - after the establishment of the office by Selim I in 1515 - the corps was led and organized by the Ağa . The corps was divided into three divisions , the Cemaat (جماعت / 'Community') with 101 Orta, the Bölük (بلوك / Company ) with 61 Orta and the Segban (سگبان/ 'Hundewärter', also sekbān , seğmen or seyman ) with 34 orta . In addition, there were 34 Orta with recruits (عجمى / ʿAcemī ). Originally, the Janissaries could only ascend within their Orta and could only leave their unit by taking command from another. They could only be punished by their own superiors. The names of their ranks corresponded to those of the kitchen staff and the sultan's companions on the hunt. During the Second Turkish Siege of Vienna, the traditional Janissary companies No. 64 and No. 71 bore the significant names Zağarcı (زغارجی / ' Spürhundwärter ') and Samsuncu (صامسونجی / 'Great Danes').

The Janissaries were archers in the early centuries , but used firearms as soon as they were available. In close combat they used axes , swords and jatagani .

The Ottoman Empire used the Janissaries in all major campaigns, such as in 1453 with the conquest of Constantinople , the victory over the Egyptian Mamluks and the wars against Austria . In doing so, they soon acquired a reputation for being extremely cruel to their enemies. In earlier campaigns, the Janissary troops were always led into battle by the sultan himself and received a share of the booty.

Decline and revolts

Mustafa Kemal , later Ataturk, in the parade uniform of the Janissaries in Sofia

The Janissaries began to realize their importance. In 1446 they revolted in Edirne (Adrianople) and demanded the return of Sultan Murad . There are two versions, depending on the source: Either Sultan Murad had to abdicate after a lost battle, his son Mehmed was the new sultan at the time of the revolt, or Mehmed only acted as governor of Sultan Murad, who commanded a campaign in Anatolia. In any case, the Janissaries prevailed, Murad returned and his son did not ascend the throne as Mehmed II until 1451. In 1449, they rebelled again and asked for better pay, which they got. After 1451 every new sultan had to give all janissaries a reward and improve their wages. Sultan Selim II gave them permission to marry in 1566. More and more Muslim Turkish families brought their own sons into the troops, as they enjoyed a high reputation. In 1683 the boy harvest was abolished.

But this also went hand in hand with a change in the self-confidence of the Janissaries. If they were initially obedient and loyal to the Sultan, they could now exercise significant influence over the government themselves. They mutinied , dictated politics and prevented efforts to modernize the structure of the army . Through coups they replaced unpleasant sultans with others. They made themselves landowners and business people. The sons of soldiers no longer had to undergo the hard training in the acemi oğlan .

When the Janissaries were practically able to extort money from the Sultan and business and family life replaced devotion to military service, their effectiveness as a combat force also declined. After the battle of the Kahlenberg in 1683, the northern border of the empire shifted more and more to the south. The Janissaries opposed all attempts to reform the army and murdered Sultan Osman II in 1622 when he was planning to replace them. In 1807 they revolted and set Selim III. who tried to modernize the army with the help of European instructors. Before his followers could regain power, Mustafa IV had him killed and in 1808 set Mahmud II on the throne. Again the Janissaries threatened to oust Mahmud, who obeyed and had Mustafa executed . It took him a decade to consolidate his position.

In April 1810 the janissaries set fire to 2,000 houses in Galata , and in the spring of 1811 two regiments were engaged in a skirmish in Istanbul . In 1826 they were involved in the suppression of revolts in Greece .

The so-called "Charitable Event"

Eventually Mahmud II decided to disband the Janissaries. When it became known that the Sultan was creating a new army called Asâkir-i Mansure-i Muhammediye  /عساكر منصوره‌ محمديه / 'Victorious Army of Muhammad ', they rebelled on 14th / 15th centuries. June 1826. This time, however, the population and large parts of the army opposed them. Troops loyal to the Sultan pushed them back into their quarters. The artillery ( Topçu ) fired fifteen volleys into the barracks, causing many Janissaries to burn. Survivors were executed or exiled. Two years later Mahmud II had the last remaining property of the Janissaries confiscated. The Sultan referred to these events asواقعهٔ خيريه / Vaḳʿa-ʾi Ḫayrīye  / 'Beneficial Event'.

Well-known janissaries

See also


  • Annemarie Schimmel : The Religion of Islam: An Introduction . 11th edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2010 (first edition as: Der Islam , 1990), ISBN 978-3-15-018659-6 (= Reclam's Universal Library , No. 18659 Reclam non-fiction book ).
  • Godfrey Goodwin: The Janissaries . Saqi Books, London 1997, ISBN 0-86356-055-5 .
  • Nahoum Weissmann: Les Janissaires - Etude de l'organization militaire des Ottomans , Libr. Orient, Paris 1964.
  • David Nicolle : The Janissaries . Osprey, Oxford 1995. ISBN 1-85532-413-X .
  • Gerhard Schweizer: The Janissaries: the secret power of the Turkish Empire . Bergland-Buch, Salzburg 1984, ISBN 3-7023-0098-8 .
  • Richard Franz Kreutel (translator): The pious Sultan Bayezid. The history of his reign [1481–1512] according to the old Ottoman chronicles of Oruç and Anonymus Hanivaldanus . In the series: Ottoman historians. Volume 9. Styria, Graz / Vienna / Cologne 1978, ISBN 3-222-10469-7 .
  • Stephan Vajda: The siege. Report on the Turkish year 1683. Orac-Pietsch, Vienna 1983, ISBN 3-85368-921-3 .
  • Renate Lachmann (Ed.): Memoirs of a Janissary or Turkish Chronicle (= Slavic Historians, Volume VIII. ). Styria Verlag, Graz / Vienna / Cologne 1975, ISBN 3-222-10552-9 (reprint 2010, Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, ISBN 978-3-506-76842-1 ).
  • Bodo Hechelhammer : The Corps of Janissaries. A military elite in the field of tension between society, the military and the authorities in the Ottoman Empire. In: Gundula Gahlen, Carmen Winkel (ed.): Military elites in the early modern times . Universitätsverlag Potsdam, Potsdam 2010, pp. 33-58, ISBN 3-86956-070-3 .

Web links

Commons : Janissaries  - Collection of images, videos, and audio files
Wiktionary: Janissary  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Gerhard Herm : The Balkans. The powder keg of Europe . Econ Verlag, Düsseldorf / Vienna / New York / Moscow, 1993, ISBN 978-3-430-14445-2 , p. 159.
  2. ^ Richard Franz Kreutel (translator): The pious Sultan Bayezid. The history of his reign [1481–1512] according to the old Ottoman chronicles of Oruç and Anonymus Hanivaldanus . In the series: Ottoman historians. Volume 9. Verlag Styria, Graz / Vienna / Cologne 1978, ISBN 3-222-10469-7 , p. 285.
  3. ^ Stephan Vajda: The siege. Report on the year of the Turks 1683. Orac-Pietsch Verlag, Vienna 1983, ISBN 3-85368-921-3 , p. 121.