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The Janissaries from the Ottoman Empire - Essay Example

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The Janissaries from the Ottoman Empire

The head of the Ottoman Empire was the Sultan and he was vested with powers that were absolute, though with the understanding that he ruled with the expectation of being just. This concept is the foundation of much Middle Eastern thought, reinforced by Islamic tenets of fairness. Both Turkish and Persian traditions bequeathed the Sultan with the role of the protectorate of the rights enjoyed by all citizens, with a special focus on those at the bottom of the class system. Because of this, the Sultan received his authority in the belief that it was the only way to ensure that corruption could be avoided (Hooker 1996). This fidelity to both the authority and fairness to the Sultan was a key element in the evolution of the Janissaries. A significant portion of the training of Janissaries involved indoctrinating them to believe they were a family and the Sultan was their father.
Until the late 1380s, Janissaries consisted prisoners and slaves. Sultan Selim I transformed the conscription by filling their ranks with non-Muslim youths. The training was highly disciplined that obeyed Islamic laws such as celibacy and not being allowed to wear beards (Greene). The Janissaries were an essential element of the Ottoman Empire throughout its major wars and battles from the 1453 capture of Constantinople to the wars against the Austrian-Hungarian Empire several centuries later. In the beginning it was the Sultan himself who very often led his Janissary troops into battle. As they began to assert their dominance in battle, their reputation and favor increased, along with the desire of many to join them. While this was an advantage in the arena of recruitment, it also quickly proved to be something less then desirable to the Sultan and his political advisors. The Janissaries slowly began to realize that their reputation could bring them an even better life, as well as more power. Over the course of the next few centuries there the evolution of the Ottoman Empire was marked by a series of uprisings and revolts that all served to increase the power of the Janissaries.
The first revolt by the Janissaries did not take place until 1449 when they demanded better pay. The success of this revolt doubtlessly set the stage for future revolutions. In fact, this rebellion created the precedent whereby each new Sultan was expected not only to extend a reward to each Janissary, but also to raise pay. A later insurrection in the 16th century resulted in Sultan Selim II bestowing permission for Janissaries to marry.
The Janissaries had achieved such a position of power by the 1700s that entire Ottoman bureaucracy was dictated by their desires. Any mutiny by the corps could result in a change of political policy. Coups directed by Janissaries had the effect of replacing Sultans who were not specifically sensitive to their demands. A key, and ultimately fatal, mistake by the Janissaries was moving to block modernization of the military in an effort to hold onto their own power (Gerolymatos 152).
In 1807 a Janissary revolt deposed Sultan Selim III, who had tried to modernize the army along Western European lines. His supporters failed to recapture power before Mustafa IV had him killed, but elevated Mahmud II to the throne in 1808. When the Janissaries threatened to oust Mahmud, he followed suit and had the captured Mustafa executed and ...Show more

Summary

The Janissaries were a vital component in the expansion of power of the Ottoman Empire. What began as a loosely organized crew of soldiers compiled through conscription from the ranks of prisoners captured in battle gradually evolved into an elite fighting force that also served as a means to convert young Christian men to Islam and train them in the arts of the Turkish military…
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