Military of the Ottoman Empire: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The military of the Ottoman Empire was divided in three organizational structures: the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The history of the Ottoman Army can be divided in two main periods. The Classical Period covers the years between the establishment of the Ottoman Army in 1299 and the military reforms of the early 19th century; while the Modern Period starts with the establishment of the modern Ottoman Army, known as the Nizam-ı Cedid, in 1829.




Classical Period (1237-1829)

The first military of the Ottoman Empire was an army that was organized by Osman I from Turkish tribesmen inhabiting western Anatolia in the late 13th century.

These horsemen became an irregular force of raiders used as storm troops, armed with simple weapons like bows and spears. They were given fiefs called timars in the conquered lands, and were later called timariots. In addition they acquired booty during campaigns.

For more information on the weapons used, see Ottoman weapons

Orhan I organized a standing army paid by salary rather than booty or fiefs. The infantry were called yayas and the cavalry was known as müsellems. The force was made up by foreign mercenaries for the most part, and only a few Turks were content to accept salaries in place of booty. Foreign mercenaries were not required to convert to Islam as long as they obeyed their Ottoman commanders.

Introduction of firearms

Ottoman Empire volley gun with 9 barrels, early 16th century.

The Ottomans began using guns sometime between 1444 and 1448. Following that, other troop types began to appear, such as the regular rifle infantry (Piyade Topçu, literally "foot artillery"), regular cavalry armed with rifles (Süvari Topçu Neferi, literally "mounted artillery soldier") and bombardiers (Humbaracı), consisting of grenadiers that threw explosives called khımbara and the soldiers that served the artillery with maintenance and powder supplies.


This regular army was commanded and paid by some important fief-holders who gained power and became a sort of noble class. The mercenaries became a tool for their rise to predominance over the sultan, who simply could not afford to hire so many mercenaries that they would outnumber his nobles'. Therefore, in the middle of the 14th century, Murad I built his own personal slave army called the Kapıkulu. The new force was based on the sultan's right to a fifth of the war booty, which he interpreted to include captives taken in battle. The captive slaves were converted to Islam and trained in the sultan's personal service.

The most famous branch of the Kapıkulu was the Janissary corps who were recruited among young Christian boys by the devshirmeh tax, but there were also several other troops types such as the Halberdier corps (Baltacı). Their numbers increased rapidly and this force became the most important element of the Ottoman army. In order to man the force, Murad II developed the devşirme system of recruiting youths in form of taxes from Christians in the empire. Murad used the strength of the Janissaries and played them off against the nobility, forcing them to pay taxes or land so that the treasury could obtain the money it needed to maintain the Kapıkulu army.


Artillery troop image on the Ottoman coat of arms
A Janissary sketched by the renowned Venetian artist Gentile Bellini (1429-1507) who also painted the famous portrait of Sultan Mehmed II

The Janissaries comprised infantry units that formed the Ottoman sultan's household troops and bodyguard. The force originated in the 14th century; it was abolished by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826.

The first Janissary units comprised war captives and slaves. After the 1380s Sultan Mehmet I filled their ranks with the results of taxation in human form called devshirmeh: the Sultan’s men conscripted a number of non-Muslim, usually Christian, boys – at first at random, later, by strict selection – to be trained.

Initially they favoured Greeks, Albanians (who also supplied many gendarmes), usually selecting about one in five boys of ages seven to fourteen but the numbers could be changed to correspond with the need for soldiers. Next the devshirmeh was extended to also include Serbs, Bosnians and other Balkan countries, later especially Ukraine and southern Russia. The Janissaries started accepting enrollment from outside the devshirmeh system first during the reign of Sultan Murad III (1546-1595) and completely stopped enrolling devshirmeh in 17th century. After this period, volunteers were enrolled.[1]

For all practical purposes, Janissaries belonged to the Sultan, carrying the title "kapıkulu"(Gate Keeper) indicating their collective bond with the Sultan. Janissaries were taught to consider the corps as their home and family, and the Sultan as their de facto father. Only those who proved strong enough earned the rank of true Janissary at the age of twenty four or twenty five. The regiment inherited the property of dead Janissaries, thus amassing wealth (like religious orders and foundations enjoying the 'dead hand').

The Janissary corps was significant in a number of ways. The Janissaries wore uniforms, were paid in cash as regular soldiers, and marched to distinctive music, the mehter, similar to a modern marching band. All of these features set the Janissaries apart from most soldiers of the time.

The Ottomans were the first state to maintain a standing army in Europe since the Roman Empire. The Janissaries have been likened to the Roman Praetorian Guard and they had no equivalent in the Christian armies of the time, where the feudal lords raised troops during wartime.[2] A janissary regiment was effectively the soldier's family. They lived in their barracks and served as policemen and firefighters during peacetime.[3]

The Janissary corps was also distinctive in the regular payment of a cash salary to the troops, and differed from the contemporary practice of paying troops only during wartime. The Janissaries were paid quarterly and the Sultan himself, after authorizing the payment of the salaries, dressed as a Janissary, visited the barracks and received his salary as a regular trooper of the First Division.[4]

The Janissary force became particularly significant when the foot soldier carrying firearms proved more effective than the cavalry equipped with sword and spear.[5] Janissaries adopted firearms very early, starting in 15th century. By the 16th century, the main weapon of the Janissary was the musket. Janissaries also made extensive use of early grenades and hand cannon.[4]

The auxiliary support system of the Janissaries also set them apart from their contemporaries. The Janissaries waged war as one part of a well organized military machine. The Ottoman army had a corps to prepare the road, a corps to pitch the tents ahead, a corps to bake the bread. The cebeci corps carried and distributed weapons and ammunition. The Janissary corps had its own internal medical auxiliaries: Muslim and Jewish surgeons who would travel with the corps during campaigns and had organized methods of moving the wounded and the sick to traveling hospitals behind the lines.[4]

These differences, along with a war-record that was impressive, made the Janissaries into a subject of interest and study by foreigners in their own time. Although eventually the concept of the modern army incorporated and surpassed most of the distinctions of the Janissary, and the Ottoman Empire dissolved the Janissary corps, the image of the Janissary has remained as one of the symbols of the Ottomans in the western psyche.

Elite Cavalry

Sipahis were the elite knights of the Ottoman Empire

An important part of the Ottoman warfare was also the Six Divisions of Cavalry (Altı Bölük), a mounted élite force. The most important of these divisions was the Sipahis. A force of professional raiders called the Akıncıs pillaged enemy territory ahead of the regular army. They also served as scouts.

The Sipahis' status resembled that of the knights of medieval Europe. The Sipahi was the holder of a fief of land (tîmâr; hence the alternative name Tîmârlı Sipahi) granted directly by the Ottoman sultan, and was entitled to all of the income from that land, in return for military service. The peasants on the land were subsequently attached thereto.

Ottoman Mamluk heavy cavalry circa 1550.

The Sipahis were originally founded during the reign of Murad I. Although the Sipahis were originally recruited, like the Janissaries, using the devshirmeh system[6], by the time of Sultan Mehmed II, their ranks were only chosen from among the ethnic Turks who owned land within imperial borders. The Sipahi eventually became the largest of the six divisions of the Ottoman cavalry, and were the mounted counterpart to the Janissaries, who fought on foot. The duties of the Sipahis included riding with the sultan on parades and as a mounted bodyguard. In times of peace, they were also responsible for the collection of taxes. The Sipahis, however, should not be confused with the Timariots, who were irregular cavalry organised along feudal lines and known as "sipahi"s colloquially. In fact, the two formations had very little in common.

A tîmâr was the smallest unit of land owned by a Sipahi, providing a yearly revenue of no more than 10,000 akçe, which was between two and four times what a teacher earned. A ziamet was a larger unit of land, yielding up to 100,000 akçe, and was owned by Sipahis of officer rank. A has was the largest unit of land, giving revenues of more than 100,000 akçe, and was only held by the highest-ranking members of the military. A tîmâr Sipahi was obliged to provide the army with up to five soldiers, a ziamet Sipahi with up to twenty, and a has Sipahi with far more than twenty.


Apart from the Janissaries, in 1389 the Ottoman Army introduced a system of conscription: when needed, every town and village were obliged to provide a fully equipped conscript at the recruiting office created by the order of the Sultan.

This new force of irregular infantrymen was called the Azabs and they were used in many ways: to build roads and bridges for the army, to support the supplies for the front-line, and sometimes they were even used as cannon fodder to slow down enemy advance.

The Başıbozuk (Renegade) were a branch of the Azabs and were especially recruited among the homeless and criminals. They were fierce, undisciplined, and specialized in close combat.

Other divisions of the Ottoman Army were:

Sipahi: Elite cavalry knights who were granted tımars (fiefs) throughout the empire's lands. Their alternative name was Tîmârlı Sipahi (Fiefed Knight).

Akıncı: Frontline cavalry units of the Ottoman Army which raided and scouted the border areas and outposts.

Akağa: European eunuchs who guarded the core area of the Sultan's palace and court.

Mehterân: Ottoman Army Band which played martial tunes during military campaigns. The mehterân was usually associated with the Janissary corps.

Military Band

An Ottoman mehterân

Ottoman military bands are thought to be the oldest variety of military marching band in the world. Though they are often known by the Persian-derived word mehter (مهتر) in the West, that word, properly speaking, refers only to a single musician in the band.

Modern Period (1826-1922)

Ottoman forces massed near Jerusalem during World War I

Sultan Selim III formed the Nizam-ı Cedid army (Nizam-ı Cedid meaning New Order)at the late 18th century and beginning of the 19the century. This was the first serious attempt to transpose the Ottoman military forces to a modern army. However, the Nizam-ı Cedid has been short lived, dissolving after the abdication of Selim III in 1807.

His successor and nephew, Sultan Mahmut II, who was a great reformer, has disbanded the Janissaries in 1826, and formed the "Asakir-i Mansure-i Muhammediye" as a contemporary modern army, and the core of the modern Ottoman Army and Turkish Army then on.

The disbanding of the Janissaries in 1826 is known as "Vaka-ı Hayriye" (the good incident).

Ottoman Navy

Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, admiral of the Ottoman navy
Mahmudiye (1829), ordered by Sultan Mahmud II and built by the Imperial Naval Arsenal on the Golden Horn in Istanbul, was for many years the largest warship in the world. The 62x17x7 m ship-of-the-line was armed with 128 cannons on 3 decks. She participated in many important naval battles, including the Siege of Sevastopol (1854-1855) during the Crimean War (1854-1856). She was decommissioned in 1875

in 1499, the first naval battle where cannons were used on ships, signaled the rise of Ottoman naval power

The conquest of İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara in 1308 marked the first Ottoman naval victory (for a timeline of the naval actions of the Ottoman fleet, see the History of the Turkish Navy). In 1321 the Ottoman fleet made its first landings on Thrace in southeastern Europe, and vastly contributed to the expansion of the Empire's territories on the European continent. The Ottoman navy was one of the first to use cannons, and the Battle of Zonchio in 1499 went down in history as the first naval battle where cannons were used on ships. It was also the Ottoman navy which initiated the conquest of North Africa, with the addition of Algeria and Egypt to the Ottoman Empire in 1517. The Battle of Preveza in 1538 and the Battle of Djerba in 1560 marked the apex of Ottoman naval domination in the Mediterranean Sea. The Ottomans also confronted the Portuguese forces based in Goa at the Indian Ocean in numerous battles between 1538 and 1566. In 1553, the Ottoman admiral Salih Reis conquered Morocco and the lands of North Africa beyond the Strait of Gibraltar, extending Ottoman territory into the Atlantic Ocean. In 1566 the Sultan of Aceh asked for support against the Portuguese and declared allegiance to the Ottoman Empire, which sent its Indian Ocean fleet under Kurtoğlu Hızır Reis to Sumatra. The fleet landed at Aceh in 1569, and the event marked the easternmost Ottoman territorial expansion. In 1585 the Ottoman admiral Murat Reis captured Lanzarote[7] of the Canary Islands. In 1617 the Ottoman fleet captured Madeira[7] in the Atlantic Ocean, before raiding Sussex, Plymouth, Devon, Hartland Point, Cornwall and the other counties of western England in August 1625.[7] In 1627 Ottoman naval ships, accompanied by corsairs from the Barbary Coast, raided the Shetland Islands, Faroe Islands, Denmark, Norway and Iceland.[7] Between 1627 and 1631 the same Ottoman force also raided the coasts of Ireland and Sweden.[7] In 1655 a force of 40 Ottoman ships captured the Isle of Lundy in the Bristol Channel, which served as the main base for Ottoman naval and privateering operations in the North Atlantic until 1660, when Ottoman ships appeared off the eastern coasts of North America, particularly being sighted at the British colonies like Newfoundland and Virginia.[7] The overseas territorial acquisitions of the Ottoman Navy further expanded the extent of the Ottoman sphere of influence on distant lands in both the Indian and Atlantic oceans, such as the addition of Aceh (1569) as a vassal state to the Ottoman Empire, and temporary occupations like those of Lanzarote (1585), Madeira (1617), Vestmannaeyjar (1627) and Lundy (1655–1660).[7]

Following defeat against the combined British-French-Russian navies at the Battle of Navarino in 1827, and the subsequent loss of Algeria (1830) and Greece (1832), Ottoman naval power, and control over the Empire's distant overseas territories declined. Sultan Abdülaziz (reigned 1861–1876) attempted to reestablish a strong Ottoman navy, building the world's third largest fleet in that period after those of Britain and France, with 21 battleships and 173 other types of warships. The shipyard at Barrow, United Kingdom built its first submarine in 1886 for the Ottoman Empire.[8] The submarine Abdul Hamid achieved fame as the world’s first to fire a torpedo underwater.[9] But the collapsing Ottoman economy could not sustain the fleet strength. Sultan Abdülhamid II (reigned 1876–1908) distrusted the navy, when the admirals supported the reformist Midhat Pasha and the First Ottoman Parliament of 1876. Claiming that the large and expensive navy was of no use against the Russians during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), he locked most of the fleet inside the Golden Horn, where the ships decayed for the next 30 years.

The Ottoman Navy at the Golden Horn in Constantinople, in the early days of the First World War

Following the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, the Committee of Union and Progress which effectively took control of the country sought to develop a strong Ottoman naval force. The poor condition of the fleet was highlighted during the Ottoman Naval Parade of 1910, and as a consequence the Ottoman Navy Foundation was established in order to purchase new ships through public donations. Those who made donations received different types of medals according to the size of their contributions. With this public money, the Ottoman government ordered large battleships like Sultan Osman I and Reşadiye, but despite the payment for both ships, the United Kingdom confiscated them at the outbreak of World War I and renamed them as HMS Agincourt and HMS Erin. The battleships had cost £4 million pounds but the British government refused to refund the payments. This caused some ill-feeling towards Britain among the Ottoman public, and the German Empire took advantage of the situation by sending the battlecruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim and light cruiser Midilli which entered service in the Ottoman fleet. Prior to the confiscation of the battleships, the Ottoman public opinion was largely divided between the pro-Britain stance of the Ottoman Navy and the pro-Germany stance of the Ottoman Army. This event significantly contributed to the decision of supporting Germany in the First World War, with whom the Ottomans sided.

Nusret (Nusrat) -mine layer- and Hamidiye frigate -Commanding Officer: Rauf Orbay- are most famous ships of Ottoman Navy in the period of Balkan Wars and the 1st World War. In the 1st World War in Gallipoli Campaign, the British pre-dreadnought battleships HMS Irresistible and HMS Ocean and the French battleship Bouvet were sunk, and the British battle cruiser HMS Inflexible was also badly damaged, by some of the 26 mines laid by Nusret which was commanded by Lieutenant Tophaneli Hakki (Guverte Kidemli Yuzbasi Tophaneli Ibrahim oglu Hakki).

The first aircraft carrier sunk in the world was the HMS Ben-my-Chree. She was sunk on 11 January 1917 by shore-based Turkish artillery fire commanded by Mustafa Ertuğrul.

Ottoman Air Force

Turkish pilots in early 1912

The Ottoman Air Force was founded in June 1909, making it one of the first combat aviation organizations in the world. Its formation came about after the Ottoman Empire sent two Turkish pilots to the International Aviation Conference in Paris. After witnessing the growing importance of an air combat support branch, the Ottoman government decided to organize its own military aviation program. For this purpose, officers were sent to Europe by the end of 1910 to participate in the study of combat flight. However, because of bad living conditions, the student program was aborted and the trainees returned to Turkey in early 1911. Although left without any governmental guidelines for establishing an air force, the Ottoman Minister of Defence of the time, Mahmut Şevket Pasha, continued to encourage the idea of a military aviation program and sent officers Fesa and Yusuf Kenan, who achieved the highest maneuvering points in a piloting test conducted in 1911, to France for receiving a more satisfactory flight education. In late 1911 Süreyya Ilmen was instructed with founding the Havacılık Komisyonu (Aviation Commission) bound to the Harbiye Bakanlığı Fen Kıtaları Müstahkem Genel Müfettişliği (War Ministry Science Detachment General Inspectorship). On February 21, 1912, Fesa and Yusuf Kenan completed their flight education and returned home with the 780th and 797th French aviation diplomas. In the same year, eight more Turkish officers were sent to France for flight education.

The Ottoman Empire started preparing its first pilots and planes, and with the founding of the Hava Okulu (Air Academy) in Constantinople on July 3, 1912, the Empire began to tutor its own flight officers. The founding of the Air Academy quickened advancement in the military aviation program, increased the number of enlisted persons within it, and gave the new pilots an active role in the Armed Forces. In May 1913 the world's first specialized Reconnaissance Training Program was activated by the Air Academy and the first separate Reconnaissance division was established by the Air Force.

Because of the lack of experience of the Turkish pilots, the first stage (1912) of the Balkan Wars (1912–1913) ended with the loss of several aircraft. However, the second stage (1913) was marked with great success since the pilots had become more battle-hardened. Many recruits joined the Air Academy following a surge of Turkish nationalism during the war.

With the end of the Balkan Wars a modernization process started and new planes were purchased. In June 1914 a new military academy, Deniz Hava Okulu (Naval Aviation Academy) was founded, also in Constantinople. With the outbreak of World War I, the modernization process stopped abruptly, but in 1915 some German officers came to the Ottoman Empire and some Turkish officers went to Germany for flight education.

The Ottoman Air Force fought on many fronts during World War I, from Galicia in the west to the Caucasus in the east and Yemen in the south. Efforts were made to reorganize the Ottoman Air Force, but this ended in 1918 with the end of World War I and the Occupation of Constantinople.


Bölükbaşı was a military rank in the Ottoman Army equivalent with the rank of captain. A bölükbaşı would be in command of a "Bölük" (or company)


In 1389 a system of conscription was introduced in the Ottoman military. In times of need every town, quarter, and village should present a fully equipped conscript at the recruiting office. The new force of irregular infantrymen was called Azabs and it was used in a number of different ways. They supported the supplies to the front-line, they dug roads and built bridges. On rare occasions they were used as cannon fodder to slow down enemy advance. A branch of the Azabs were the bashi-bazouk (başıbozuk). These were specialized in close combat and were sometimes mounted. They became notorious for being brutal and indisciplined and were recruited from homeless, vagrants and criminals.

See also


  1. ^ Uzuncarsili, Ismail Hakki, “Osmanlı Devleti Teşkilatından Kapıkulu Ocakları: Acemi Ocağı ve Yeniçeri Ocağı” (1988), p. 66-67, 482-483, ISBN 975-16-0056-1
  2. ^ Lord Kinross (1977). Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks. pp. 52. ISBN 0-688-08093-6. 
  3. ^ Goodwin, Jason (1998). Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. New York: H. Holt. pp. 59,179–181. ISBN 0-8050-4081-1. 
  4. ^ a b c Uzunçarşılı, İsmail Hakkı (1988). Osmanlı Devleti Teşkilatından Kapıkulu Ocakları: Acemi Ocağı ve Yeniçeri Ocağı. Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu. pp. 411–463,376–377,405–406,66–67,482–483. ISBN 975-16-0056-1. 
  5. ^ Jelavich, Barbara (1983). History of the Balkans, 18th and 19th Centuries. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521 27458-3. 
  6. ^ Shaw 26
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Turkish Navy Official Website: History of the Turkish Navy - Operations in the Atlantic Ocean
  8. ^ the standard - Petition created for submarine name
  9. ^ Submarine Heritage Centre - History: BARROW SHIPYARD AND SUBMARINES

External links


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