Government by faction

POLITICAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE practices which had evolved to support the ideology of an ever-expanding Ottoman Empire could not accommodate the troubles which beset it at the end of the sixteenth century as expansion slowed. Once sultans no longer routinely rode to war at the head of their armies, apprenticeship in this activity became obsolete. It is difficult to say whether the custom of educating the sultan’s sons in statecraft by sending them to govern provinces in his name lapsed as a matter of policy, or simply because Mehmed III’s father Murad III happened to die when none of Mehmed’s nineteen younger brothers was of an age to act as a governor, and Mehmed himself then died before any of his own sons reached maturity. Mass fratricide as a tool to pre-empt rival claims to the throne – as practised by Murad III and Mehmed III – was unpopular and an alternative was sought: from the time of Mehmed III’s reign, young princes were no longer accorded any public role, but confined instead to quarters within the harem of Topkapı Palace.* The diminished status of the princes was reflected in the small stipend they received, no more than that enjoyed by their maiden aunts, the sultan’s unmarried sisters.1

The seclusion of the princes did not however serve to prevent the disruption which historically accompanied the transfer of power on the demise of a sultan. Previously princely contenders had themselves bid for the throne; now they became little more than pawns in the hands of rival cliques within the ruling establishment. In the absence of cadet members of the dynasty with experience of the political and military life of the empire, unrestrained factional quarrelling centred on these cliques. The tender years of many sultans at their accession also gave their contentious advisers a free hand.

Sultan Ahmed I died in 1617 at the age of 27. According to the contemporary scholar Katib Çelebi, leading statesmen agreed that the extreme youth of Ahmed’s many sons disqualified them from the succession, and the throne passed instead to his 26-year-old brother Mustafa;2 in fact, Ahmed’s eldest son Osman was 14, and Ahmed had been younger than that at his succession. The mass fratricides of Osman’s grandfather and great-grandfather remained a vivid memory, however, and Osman was left alive. The power of Ahmed’s favourite concubine, Mahpeyker, a Greek woman known as Kösem Sultan, may have been a decisive factor in keeping him from the throne: although Osman’s relationship with her was warm, he was born of another mother, Mahf iruz, and Kösem, like Sultan Süleyman’s wife Hürrem, had young sons of her own for whom she had ambitions.3Mustafa’s enthronement was a break with the practice of father-to-son succession which had prevailed since the Ottoman dynasty came to prominence some three centuries earlier.

The architect of Mustafa’s succession seems to have been the sheikhulislam Esad Efendi, who was the senior statesman in the capital at the time of Sultan Ahmed’s death.4 He proved to have made an unfortunate choice, since Mustafa was disliked by the people and considered soft in the head from the beginning of his short reign – as reported by the contemporary historian İbrahim of Peç, Sultan Mustafa would fill his pockets with gold and silver coins, tossing them out of boats and otherwise distributing them to any indigent he happened upon, which was considered most unfitting behaviour.5 He was sultan for only three months before being deposed in a coup d’état engineered by the chief black eunuch Mustafa Agha who, on a day when the imperial council was convened for the purpose of distributing salaries, locked Sultan Mustafa in his room and brought about the enthronement of his nephew Osman in his place.6 Mustafa I, the first sultan to be deposed by means of a palace coup rather than one headed by a member of the dynasty, spent Osman’s reign confined to the harem as he had been before his accession.

Having been passed over so ignominiously, Sultan Osman II seemed doubly bent on regaining the initiative and re-establishing the prestige of the sultanate. He dismissed Grand Vezir Kayseriyeli Halil Pasha, who had been on campaign on the eastern front during the months of Mustafa’s reign, for leading his army to defeat at the hands of the Safavids. For their part in putting Mustafa on the throne Osman also dismissed the second vezir Sofu (‘Devout’) Mehmed Pasha and restricted the authority of Sheikhulislam Esad Efendi. The power of appointment within the religious hierarchy, previously a perquisite of the sheikhulislam, was awarded to Osman’s tutor, Ömer Efendi, to whom the young sultan remained close. Chief Black Eunuch Mustafa Agha survived the coup; he was, however, soon exiled to Egypt – the customary fate for dismissed chief black eunuchs from this time – by Osman’s new appointee as grand vezir in late 1619, the former grand admiral Güzelce (‘Beauteous’) Ali Pasha, whose influence over the Sultan was greater than his own. Ömer Efendi was also distanced from court at this time and sent to Mecca – he returned on Güzelce Ali Pasha’s death in March 1621.7

In 1618 had begun the Europe-wide conflict later known as the Thirty Years’ War. The Ottomans initially had a stake in the struggle, persuaded by the Protestant voyvode of Transylvania, Gabriel Bethlen, to assume the role of protector of the Hungarians against the Catholic Habsburgs, but the army of the Protestant King Frederick V of Bohemia was defeated at the Battle of the White Mountain outside Prague on 8 November 1620. Earlier that year an army had marched from Polish Ukraine into Moldavia – an incursion into the territory of an Ottoman vassal – in support of a candidate for voyvode who had been deposed by the Ottomans. Although this confrontation ended in defeat for the aggressor, the next spring Sultan Osman ordered full mobilization of the imperial army8 – an attack on the Commonwealth offered an opportunity to strike at the Catholic cause from another direction. Some contemporary commentators blamed the outbreak of war in 1621 rather on ongoing Cossack raids across the Black Sea.9 The guiding principle of the relations between the Ottomans and the Commonwealth was that each undertook to control their unruly steppe vassals. The Crimean Tatars and the Cossacks of Ukraine,* respectively, were essential to their suzerains as auxiliary military forces, but it was barely possible to restrain them from raiding indiscriminately in search of booty.

No sultan had led his troops in person since Mehmed III’s reluctant appearance at Mezőkeresztes in 1596; Osman seized the opportunity to demonstrate that the sultan was still a warrior-king. Wary of the vacuum this would leave in Istanbul, he took the precaution of having his brother Mehmed, next to him in age, murdered before he set out. In revenge for the slights he had received at Osman’s hands, Sheikhulislam Esad Efendi refused to legitimize this murder with a favourable juridical opinion; having failed to bow the highest legal authority in the land to his will, Osman sought support from the next in rank in the religious hierarchy.10 His uncle Mustafa I remained alive, as did his younger brothers, protected by their mother, Kösem Sultan.

Osman set out on his 1621 campaign in May, the customary time of year, but was plagued by his army’s lack of enthusiasm and continuing inclement weather – even the Bosporus had frozen the previous winter, and the people of Istanbul had been able to cross the Golden Horn on the ice.11 The Ottomans lost many pack animals and much equipment as they marched north along the military road to cross the Danube by a bridge of boats at Isaccea. The Cossacks were known to have joined the Commonwealth army – in fact, they provided at least half of its manpower12 – and Kayseriyeli Halil Pasha, who now held the post of grand admiral, remained to guard the bridge against a possible Cossack attack.13 With Osman at their head the main body of the army arrived on the upper Dniester before the fortress of Khotin which had belonged to Moldavia until ceded to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth a few years earlier. A month was spent before the castle, and it resisted six assaults. At first Osman refused to concede defeat, but it was clear that he would not be able to hold out for the winter with his restive forces, and he was eventually persuaded to abandon the siege and march for home. Under the terms of the ensuing peace, Cossack raids on the Ottomans were to stop as were Tatar and Moldavian incursions against the Commonwealth, while the Commonwealth agreed not to interfere in Ottoman Hungary or the Ottoman vassal states of Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia. If the Ottomans were on the defensive, the Commonwealth was equally unwilling to provoke them further.14

The army was back in Istanbul in January 1622, the ignominious withdrawal from Khotin celebrated as though it had been a great conquest. Sultan Osman’s scribes composed ‘letters of victory’ of the kind customarily issued to proclaim Ottoman success in war, and literary works extolled the campaign as such.15 But Khotin had strained the Sultan’s relations with his elite regiments to the limit, and there was growing insubordination among the janissaries and the cavalry. Soon after his return from the front, Sultan Osman announced that he intended to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca and prepared to cross the Bosporus to Üsküdar with only a few of his troops. The facts remain obscure: sultans had rarely travelled far from Istanbul without the army, hunting trips being the most usual cause, and none had ever been on the pilgrimage; Osman’s declaration was thought by those around him to have masked a plan to replace his fractious personal regiments with men recruited from the peasants and tribesmen of Anatolia and beyond – in addition to the militias already raised as musketmen since the late sixteenth century. Doubtless aware that a disaster was unfolding, Sheikhulislam Esad Efendi tried to dissuade him from leaving Istanbul, offering the opinion that the sultan was not required to perform the pilgrimage, indeed that he should remain where he was.16 Neither his counsels nor those of the Grand Vezir or Ömer Efendi prevailed, and rumours spread that Osman intended to make Cairo the new capital of his empire.17

On 18 May 1622, the day that Sultan Osman was to set out on on his journey across Anatolia, a military insurrection erupted in the capital. İbrahim of Peç witnessed the ensuing events, and recorded them in chilling detail. As the people of the city gathered, he reports, the janissaries and the sultan’s cavalry marched to the Hippodrome and issued a demand for the heads of the Grand Vezir, Chief Black Eunuch Süleyman Agha (successor to Mustafa Agha), and Ömer Efendi. The Sultan, still inside the palace, was warned of the seriousness of the situation, but refused to sacrifice his advisers. Meanwhile palace staff sympathetic to the the uprising opened the gates to the troops who poured into the palace in search of the former sultan, Mustafa.18

A former janissary left a colourful account of the exploits of six of the soldiers:

. . . while the crowd was boring through the dome [of the harem apartment where Mustafa was hiding] some servants fired arrows which went right among the people and cut them to pieces; those on the dome broke through it but it was impossible to descend [into the room below]; when no rope could be found, they cut the cords of the curtains of the vezirs’ council chamber and three janissaries and three cavalrymen tied the cords to themselves and descended; they prostrated themselves at Sultan Mustafa’s feet.

The soldiers escaped with Mustafa by the same route; the Grand Vezir and the Chief Black Eunuch were hacked to pieces.19

From his vantage point near the Şehzade mosque, İbrahim of Peç soon saw a huge crowd pressing around the carriage carrying Mustafa and his mother to the janissary barracks and thence to their mosque, where the janissaries acknowledged him as sultan. A kilometre away, unaware of what was going on, Osman was in the palace making new appointments and hoping that the janissaries could be won round by the distribution of gold. Sent next day to quell the disorder, the new janissary commander-in-chief was killed, as was Osman’s new grand vezir. Osman himself then went secretly to the official residence of the janissary commander-in-chief, hoping to find there officers who could be bribed to support him, but he was discovered by the rebels. İbrahim watched from the window as they dressed him in rags, set him on a horse, and took him to the janissaries’ mosque.20

An acquaintance who was present in the mosque reported to İbrahim of Peç how Osman pleaded with his captors to realize their error in restoring Mustafa, who kept rising from his place in front of the prayer-niche to see what was causing the noise outside in the street – but to no avail. Mustafa’s brother-in-law, Daud Pasha, appeared with a noose in his hand; Osman grasped this as he reminded the assembly that Daud Pasha had several times committed crimes which warranted the death penalty, and that he had been lenient towards him. Mustafa’s mother took Daud Pasha’s part, and only the intervention of İbrahim’s informant kept the noose from reaching its mark. That afternoon Mustafa went as sultan to the palace while Osman was taken on a market barrow to the fortress of Yedikule and there strangled; one ear and his nose were sent to Mustafa’s mother. Sultan Osman was buried at the foot of the grave of his father Sultan Ahmed in the crowded dynastic tomb beside Ahmed’s ‘Blue’ mosque.21

The janissary who left the stirring account of Mustafa’s liberation from the harem was at pains to demonstrate the justice of his comrades’ case, and set down their several grievances. First, they strongly resented the prominence of Sultan Osman’s tutor Ömer Efendi, a man of humble provincial origins and therefore alien to the janissary ethos. The immediate cause of their uprising, however, was Osman’s apparent intention to replace them with musketmen recruited in Anatolia and the sultan’s cavalry with cavalrymen from Syria and Egypt; they blamed Süleyman Agha, the Chief Black Eunuch, for insisting to Osman that this was a feasible notion. The proposed employment of such provincial, Muslim-born troops as the backbone of a new army severely threatened their position, and the affront was the greater, they pointed out, because these were the very men who had risen against the established order in the rebellions which had shaken the reign of Sultan Ahmed. The elite regiments also felt they had been inadequately rewarded for their efforts on the Khotin campaign; and on their return they had been humiliatingly disciplined by their officers, who patrolled the streets in disguise and sent those found to be drunk and disorderly to serve in the boats which transported building stone.22

Thus did an eloquent janissary explain the profound unease felt by the sultan’s regiments. As they saw it, their jealously-guarded privileges, indeed their very existence, were threatened by Osman’s radical plan to recruit military manpower from new sources – if that was in fact what he intended. Contemporary accounts of Osman’s bloody end reflect the partisanship of their authors: most owed their positions to their links with statesmen and high-ranking bureaucrats, and they argued that Osman had brought his fate upon himself by taking the advice of unscrupulous advisers. Like their patrons, they could only disapprove of the increasing influence that functionaries in the private household of the Sultan, such as his tutor and the Chief Black Eunuch, had come to exert on the decision-making process.

Sultan Osman II was the first victim of regicide in the history of the empire; his execution left his uncle Mustafa and his own younger brothers as the only surviving males of the dynasty. Mustafa ruled for another sixteen months before being deposed yet again, this time by the very elite regiments responsible for his restoration. The pattern was thus set for the rest of the century. Mustafa was replaced by Kösem’s eldest son Murad [IV], who died in his late twenties in 1640, leaving no male heir. Murad was succeeded by his brother İbrahim, another of Kösem Sultan’s sons; known as ‘Crazy’, İbrahim was dethroned eight years later, leaving his eldest son Mehmed [IV], aged only seven, to succeed him. On this occasion there was no question of minority being considered grounds for disqualifying a prince from succession to the throne, as at that point Mehmed was the sole other survivor of the bloodline of the Ottoman dynasty. In this period of abruptly truncated reigns and early deaths without mature heirs, it appeared doubtful whether the dynasty would survive. Mehmed IV was deposed in 1687 – like Osman, Mustafa and İbrahim, by rebellious troops. There was now a choice of possible successors: not only Mehmed’s sons, but also his brothers. In the event it was Mehmed’s brother, İbrahim’s second son, who came to the throne as Süleyman II, followed in turn by his younger brother who ruled as Ahmed II. The principle of seniority as the criterion for eligibility to rule was emphatically established with Mehmed IV’s own sons, Mustafa II and Ahmed III, who succeeded Ahmed II;23 both were forced from the throne by janissary revolts.

One of the key political struggles in the early years of the Ottoman Empire was the resistance of much of Anatolia to the uniformity imposed by the state as its administration became more bureaucratic and centralized and its religion more orthodox. At first glance it seems surprising that the ferment against Ottoman central government should have been so much stronger in largely Muslim Anatolia than in the predominantly Christian Balkans. A partial explanation for the incongruity doubtless lay in the fact that Muslim expectations of an Islamic state were higher than those of Christians, but few received what they considered their due. The Celali revolts were only the most recent phase of the ongoing struggle between the Anatolian provinces and Istanbul. To this long-standing opposition of the military forces of Anatolia to the privileges enjoyed by those with direct access to power in Istanbul was now added a new ingredient – the tension in Istanbul itself between rival competitors for power, among whom the sultan’s regiments were prominent. The murder of Osman was symptomatic of this particular struggle, which coloured domestic politics for years to come, providing a perfect pretext for the expression of provincial frustration.

Revenge for Sultan Osman’s murder came from a quite unanticipated quarter, in the shape of a rebellion led by the governor of the eastern Anatolian province of Erzurum, Abaza (‘Abkhazian’) Mehmed Pasha. Related by marriage to the then grand vezir, Hadım (‘Eunuch’, also known as Gürcü, ‘Georgian’) Mehmed Pasha, Abaza Mehmed had hitherto been a model servant of the Ottoman state in the execution of his various duties. İbrahim of Peç was aware that something was afoot: in 1622, as treasurer of the province of Diyarbakır, he observed messengers passing between Abaza Mehmed and his own superior, Hafız (‘One who knows the Koran by heart’) Ahmed Pasha, the governor of Diyarbakır, and learned that Hafız Ahmed planned to march to Üsküdar at the head of an army of provincial military commanders to settle scores with the murderers of Sultan Osman.24 When news reached Istanbul that Abaza Mehmed had expelled the janissary garrison from Erzurum and other fortresses within his jurisdiction, he was dismissed from office. Held by Abaza Mehmed and his followers to be complicit in Osman’s murder, members of the sultan’s cavalry and infantry who were in Anatolia on government business found it impossible to carry out their tasks.25 The Armenian priest Grigor of Kemah hid in the Topkapı district of Istanbul (on the land walls) from the turmoil following Osman’s regicide, and received news of events in Erzurum: any janissaries who were lucky enough to be able to escape Abaza Mehmed’s wrath, he was told, changed their clothes and took Armenian names so that they would not be discovered as they tried to reach Istanbul.26

Sultan Mustafa and the janissaries alike denied responsibility for Osman’s murder. Mustafa’s brother-in-law Daud Pasha had briefly been Mustafa’s grand vezir after Osman’s death, but this time neither his connections nor his position could save him: he was chosen as the scapegoat, and executed in an attempt to assuage the wave of discontent that was building up in Anatolia. Other officers of state who had taken an active role in Osman’s deposition met the same fate. The janissaries were in control of Istanbul: in February 1623 they forced the dismissal of Grand Vezir Hadım Mehmed Pasha and the reappointment of one of his predecessors, who emptied the treasury to retain their support. Members of the religious hierarchy gathered in the mosque of Sultan Mehmed II and called for the new grand vezir’s dismissal after he assaulted one of their number. Threats by the Grand Vezir and his janissary supporters failed to shake their resolve. They were attacked by thugs sent by the Grand Vezir; many were murdered and their bodies thrown into the sea.27

Meanwhile Abaza Mehmed Pasha, angered by his dismissal from the governorship of Erzurum and fully aware of the tense situation in Istanbul and the vacuum at the heart of government, was raising an army. Abaza Mehmed provided a focus for those in whose minds the memory of the harshness exercised by forces loyal to the sultan in repressing the provincial rebels of Anatolia and Syria in the Celali revolts was still fresh, and for those who felt cheated of the chance of being part of Osman’s proposed Anatolian–Arab army. Recruits eager to act against their rivals in the sultan’s regiments were not hard to find.

Reports reached Istanbul that Abaza Mehmed Pasha was marching on Ankara with an army of 40,000 men. Emissaries from the capital failed to divert him from his course, and in May 1623 the government sent men of the sultan’s regiments against him. Their commander soon realized, however, that his force was inadequate, and withdrew to Bursa rather than face certain defeat.28 For seven months Abaza Mehmed besieged Ankara.29 There was little money available in the imperial treasury to fund an adequate campaign against him and tax collection was impossible across the large areas he and his cohorts controlled. Solakzade Mehmed Hemdemi Çelebi was employed in the palace and witness to events in the capital at this time: he reports that the commander-in-chief of the janissaries, Bayram Agha, conspired to remove the Grand Vezir who had emptied the treasury in order to pacify his janissary supporters.30

Emboldened by this, the clerics whom the deposed Grand Vezir had tormented petitioned Sultan Mustafa’s mother that her son was quite unequal to the demands of ruling the empire, forcefully asserting that the instability and manifold troubles now being experienced would only get worse if he remained on the throne. There were few who demurred when it was suggested that in the best interests of the state, and of themselves as servants of that state, Mustafa should be deposed and replaced by Prince Murad – at eleven, the eldest surviving son of Sultan Ahmed I. The plea of Mustafa’s mother that he be spared was respected – lacking any partisans, he seemed to pose no threat – and he disappeared back inside the harem. When he eventually died, in 1639, no one could decide where to bury him; his body lay for seventeen hours before being ignominiously interred in a disused olive oil store in the courtyard of Ayasofya.31

In the five turbulent years following the death of Ahmed I, a shift had taken place in the balance of power around the sultanate. The sultan was still considered the ultimate and legitimate locus of power, but his servants and others within his orbit had thrown off the deference which had formerly characterized their relations with their sovereign and vied for advantage without restraint, a tendency encouraged by the sultan’s increasing reclusiveness. This in its turn encouraged a growing vociferousness by those who sought to exercise power in his name, who might include his mother, the grand vezir, the chief black eunuch, functionaries of the palace, janissary officers, and others. Throughout these vicissitudes the Ottoman dynasty somehow retained its power to inspire devotion and enthusiasm, and was not seriously challenged; although the early eighteenth-century bureaucrat Mustafa Naima, author of one of the major Ottoman chronicles, records that there were rumours that members of the Tatar Giray dynasty of the Crimea, who were clients of the Ottomans, planned to overthrow and replace them during the chaos of 1624.32 Provincial protests such as that led by Abaza Mehmed Pasha, although replicated many times during the century, were not revolutionary in intent: they did not aim at the overthrow of the sultanic order, but rather at an improvement within it of the situation of the individual rebel leader and his group. Thus continued the painful transition from an empire whose sultan was first and foremost a warrior-king to one in which he was called upon – but often failed – to exercise his authority over an empire whose frontiers were becoming ever more immutable.

The relative calm which prevailed in Istanbul following the accession of the young Sultan Murad IV in September 1623 contrasted with troubles elsewhere. In Anatolia Abaza Mehmed Pasha and his army were still at large, while in Baghdad the governor had recently been killed by the locally-employed garrison troops: although nominally in the service of the Ottoman sultan, they felt little allegiance to him.33 The governor of Diyarbakır, Hafız Ahmed Pasha, was ordered to deal with the mutineers. İbrahim of Peç, who had previously attributed to Hafız Ahmed plans to march on Istanbul to avenge Sultan Osman’s death, was still in his service, and recorded how he cautioned him that the sympathies of the mutineers lay with the Safavids, to whom they might be ready to offer Baghdad.34 Events only served to demonstrate İbrahim’s acuity: on 14 January 1624 the fortress was handed to the Safavids by an Ottoman officer who had usurped the power of the governor. It had been in Ottoman hands for some ninety years, and its loss presaged a period of warfare with Iran which lasted until 1639.

Abaza Mehmed Pasha remained at odds with the ruling establishment in Istanbul despite the removal of Sultan Mustafa and those he held responsible for Sultan Osman’s murder, but after his forces were beaten near Kayseri by another expedition sent out from Istanbul he withdrew eastwards to Erzurum, and sought the Sultan’s pardon.35 Hafız Ahmed Pasha was also pardoned for the loss of Baghdad and became grand vezir early in 1626, as well as commander-in-chief on the same front, but was subsequently dismissed for failing to retake Baghdad after a nine-month siege.36 The Ottoman forces fought hard but were attacked from behind by tribal troops in the Shah’s employ. With no hope of relief, they were overwhelmed.37 Further north, the Safavids displayed renewed energy by winning other Ottoman strongholds and putting down rebellions of their vassals in Georgia.38

Responsibility for bringing this episode in the war with Iran to an end fell to Kayseriyeli Halil Pasha, Sultan Ahmed’s last grand vezir, now reappointed. He was further charged with subduing Abaza Mehmed Pasha, who despite his royal pardon continued to cause disturbances in Anatolia.39Abaza Mehmed was like a son to the new grand vezir, but despite their lifelong association had refused Kayseriyeli Halil’s request to go to the relief of a border fortress under Safavid siege; indeed, when the army sent by Kayseriyeli Halil to raise the siege had reached Abaza Mehmed’s base at Erzurum, he had had its commander murdered and had plundered its supplies and equipment.40 In April 1628 Kayseriyeli Halil was dismissed for his failure to subdue Abaza Mehmed:41 the governorship of Erzurum was a highly sensitive post, for the province bordered the Safavid lands, and full confidence in the governor’s loyalty to the sultan was essential. Eskandar Monshi, chief court secretary and biographer to Shah ‘Abbas, reported that Abaza Mehmed had made overtures to the Safavids on two occasions: the Shah, however, regarded him as an opportunist.42

In the summer of 1628 Abaza Mehmed Pasha’s rebellion was brought to an end – at least for a while – by Kayseriyeli Halil Pasha’s successor as grand vezir, Boşnak (‘Bosnian’) Husrev Pasha, the first commander-in-chief of the janissaries to hold the post. Boşnak Husrev was ordered to complete Kayseriyeli Halil’s task by mounting a campaign to retake Baghdad, and as he journeyed towards his target he encountered various Safavid forces in their common borderlands. The army arrived outside Baghdad in September 1630, but the siege to retake the city failed again and after a disastrous and costly campaign, the Ottoman army was harassed energetically by the Safavids as it retreated to winter quarters in Mardin. A campaign planned for the following season had to be abandoned; Boşnak Husrev was dismissed, and Hafız Ahmed Pasha was rehabilitated and reappointed in his place.43

The scholar Katib Çelebi, who held a post in the military bureaucracy on Boşnak Husrev Pasha’s Baghdad campaign, recorded how, despite its failure, and despite the hardships the troops recalled from the frontier had to endure, they wanted none other than Boşnak Husrev as their commander-in-chief, and were enraged at his dismissal.44 Hafız Ahmed Pasha, by contrast, was favoured by a clique around Murad IV’s mother Kösem Sultan and her ally, the Chief Black Eunuch. Having held a number of high offices under Sultan Ahmed, Hafız Ahmed was a link with Kösem’s past, and he was also married to Sultan Murad’s sister Ayşe. Because of Murad’s youth at his accession, Kösem had an unprecedented share in the direction of the state as her son’s regent, and enjoyed this power until well into Murad’s reign.45

The dismissal of Boşnak Husrev Pasha in the first weeks of 1632 plunged the capital into such scenes of disorder as had attended the deposition of Sultan Mustafa; the chronicler İbrahim of Peç likened the tumult to a beehive.46 Katib Çelebi ascribed culpability for inflaming passions to Receb Pasha, Boşnak Husrev Pasha’s proxy in Istanbul, who had ambitions to be grand vezir himself. Sultan Murad yielded to an ultimatum from the mutinous troops and appeared before them; they demanded Hafız Ahmed Pasha, and he was knifed in the Sultan’s presence. Receb Pasha succeeded him.47

The reappointment of Hafız Ahmed Pasha as grand vezir had seen the posts of chief treasurer and janissary commander-in-chief also change hands, and the new incumbents were considered guilty in the matter of Boşnak Husrev Pasha’s dismissal by their association with the palace clique, as was Sultan Murad’s favourite, Musa Çelebi. Converging on the Grand Vezir’s palace in the Hippodrome, the mob demanded that these three men be delivered up to them. Receb Pasha insisted that the Sultan was not concealing them, but İbrahim of Peç recorded that he soon saw the corpse of Musa Çelebi lying in the Hippodrome. The following day the janissary commander-in-chief and the chief treasurer were executed, with the Sultan’s complicity. However horrific these events might sound, wrote İbrahim of Peç, the reality was even bloodier.48 Murad’s distrust of Receb Pasha was soon translated into his execution. As for Boşnak Husrev, however popular he might be with the army, Murad held him responsible for contributing to the disorder, and government agents were sent to find him in the north-central Anatolian town of Tokat, where he had been delayed on his return to Istanbul from the front. The people of Tokat resisted the agents’ entry into the town but were overcome, and Boşnak Husrev was put to death.49

The story of Abaza Mehmed Pasha was not yet over. He had already been given a second chance, and he had again failed to fulfil his responsibilities, but in 1628 he was nevertheless appointed governor of Bosnia – far from his seat of power and his constituency. Abaza Mehmed fought campaigns in the Balkans, and in 1632 became governor of Özi, the Danubian and northern Black Sea province whence Ottoman oversight of this strategic region was exercised. He was at Sultan Murad’s side in 1633 when a new campaign was being planned, but his progress from rebellious governor to royal intimate ended in 1634, when Sultan Murad could no longer resist his enemies’ clamour for his execution. By Murad’s order Abaza Mehmed was accorded a ceremonial funeral, and the Sultan rode in the procession; his burial in the tomb of Kuyucu Murad Pasha, who had brought the first wave of Celali rebellions to an end in 1608, was an honour signifying that in the final analysis he was not considered a rebel but remained, in the Sultan’s eyes, a loyal member of the ruling establishment.50

The Ottoman traveller and writer Evliya Çelebi was, like Abaza Mehmed Pasha, of Caucasian origin. In 1646 he was serving in Erzurum, and in his celebrated ‘Book of Travels’ he recorded the appearance there of a man claiming to be Abaza Mehmed. This man said that with the connivance of the Sultan he had escaped execution in 1634 by fleeing to Gelibolu on the Dardanelles; thereafter he had spent seven years as a corsair in Algiers, seven more years in Denmark after his capture in a battle, and three years with the Portuguese navy in the Indian Ocean, and then travelled to India and China and finally arrived back in Erzurum by way of Central Asia and Iran. Reported to Istanbul by Evliya’s superior, the governor of Erzurum, the tale prompted an investigation to discover the truth of the matter (to begin with, the years did not add up!). An official was soon on his way to Erzurum with orders for the execution of the man and the governor, who had extended his hospitality to him, was dismissed.51 The part taken by the Sultan in Abaza Mehmed’s funeral had raised doubts at the time as to whether it was really his corpse in the coffin – it seemed inconceivable that Murad would so publicly display his affection for a one-time rebel. Rumour had it that the coffin must contain one of Murad’s brothers, whom he had put to death, or perhaps the body of his uncle Mustafa, released in this way from his incarceration in the palace, but the Armenian priest Grigor of Kemah knew some tailors who in the course of their business would exchange gossip with the palace staff: one of the tailors claimed to have spoken with the man who had strangled Abaza Mehmed, and for Grigor that settled the issue. The death of Abaza Mehmed touched Armenians especially, according to Grigor, for he lived among them in Erzurum for a long time and showed concern for their troubles. The priest described Abaza Mehmed as ‘a man who loved Christians and particularly the oppressed Armenian community; a man who served his country well and was solicitous of the weak of all [religions] without discrimination’.52

Sultan Murad emerged chastened and wiser from the events which shook Istanbul in the first months of 1632. He was twenty years old, and he had handled the crisis with maturity. Letters written by his mother Kösem Sultan to the grand vezir, probably in 1628, show that even then, when her son was still in his teens, she was becoming resigned to his independence of decision.53 The demise of her son-in-law Hafız Ahmed Pasha and of the faction sacrificed to defuse the janissary uprising left Kösem somewhat discredited, and more circumspect in exercising her power as mother of the Sultan. Until her simple-minded second son İbrahim succeeded to the throne following Murad’s premature death in 1640, she withdrew from the stage of Istanbul politics.

Murad now began to play a more active role. Having displayed his personal authority, he attempted to re-establish that of the sultanate in both government and military affairs. In the latter context, he decided to emulate his illustrious forebears by leading his army on campaign against the Safavids. Seeing the disastrous consequences of the endemic unrest in Anatolia, he determined to deal with it using both stick and carrot, countering rebellious uprisings with military might but also enacting administrative measures designed to calm the disaffection which led servants of the state and local strongmen alike to take up arms against the government. He also addressed the problem of brigandage. The stability of the four-and-a-half-year incumbency of his new grand vezir, former governor of Egypt Tabanıyassı (‘Flatfooted’) Mehmed Pasha, brought the factional infighting in Istanbul under control.

Ottoman intellectuals continued to put forward their views on statecraft. Surviving texts share a concern that the chaotic present in which their authors lived was a result of a breakdown in state and society. As with the advice manuals written around the turn of the century, their purpose was to guide the sultan towards restoration of what were perceived as the glories of bygone times. Their prescriptions were therefore conservative rather than innovative, recommending measures they hoped would restore the form of centralized government which they believed to have existed in the past, one in which vezirs acted in harmony as faithful servants of the charismatic sultan at their head. Caught up as they were on a wave of rapid change, it was perhaps understandable that these writers should recommend that the clock be turned back to a time when their own place in society was more secure. Just as the sultan’s regiments had felt threatened by Sultan Osman’s supposed intention to recruit troops from Anatolia and the east, so the intellectuals’ position was eroded as new factions rose to prominence who exercised patronage among previously insignificant groups. These competing factions who sought to exercise power so abruptly in the early seventeenth century were in a position to do so because of the failure of existing arrangements for government and for preventing the growth of centres of power to rival the sultanate. Factions whose ambitions had hitherto been kept in check were now strong enough to make and unmake rulers in their fight for inclusion among the privileged military and bureaucratic office-holders whose positions brought them the financial and other rewards which were the prerogative of members of the establishment.54

Among the most celebrated of the advice treatises written during these years is that of a functionary in the Sultan’s household known as Koçu Bey who presented his work to Murad IV in 1631. (When İbrahim succeeded his brother, Koçu Bey reworked his text and presented a revised version to the new sultan.) Among the many other aspects of state organization upon which he touched, Koçu Bey’s diagnosis of the ills at the heart of the state echoed that of earlier writers: as he saw it, the withdrawal of the sultan from visible involvement in state affairs allowed harem members to exert their influence; the provincial cavalry was in disarray, and most of the livings formerly assigned them to enable them to participate with their retainers in military campaigns were now in the hands of palace functionaries, harem women and the subject class; the consequent lack of military manpower meant that the sultan’s elite regiments had to be opened up to ‘outsiders’ rather than remaining the preserve of those raised through the youth-levy and trained in the values of the Ottoman establishment, a change which sapped their corporate ethos and brought about, argued Koçu Bey, the disorder apparent to all.55

Sultan Murad shared many of the opinions expressed by the treatise writers, and was ready to act upon their strictures in the interests of stability in the internal workings of the state. However, both he and those he brought to power after the crisis which followed the dismissal of Boşnak Husrev Pasha were also aware that pragmatic rather than ideal solutions would better answer the exigencies of the turbulent times through which they were living. Murad’s overriding aims were to end the provincial unrest, and to strengthen the army with a view to recapturing Baghdad, which he judged would provide an outlet for the frustrations of his elite troops.

The chroniclers İbrahim of Peç and Katib Çelebi, employed as bureaucrats in Istanbul at the time, were witnesses of Murad’s reform programme. Curbs on the numbers and tax collection activities of the sultan’s cavalry regiments resulted in a violent demonstration in the Hippodrome on 8 June 1632.56 Reform of the provincial cavalry of Rumeli and Anatolia was also addressed in 1632. Inspections were ordered to ensure that state lands granted in return for military obligations were in the right hands.57 The practice of father-to-son inheritance of military land-grants was to be abandoned, and those eligible to hold vacant land-grants were now to include members of the salaried regiments who wished to do so – according to Katib Çelebi, janissaries left their regiments in order to qualify for land-grants – men from the sultan’s cavalry regiments who were based in the provinces, and also peasants, ‘local youths who had demonstrated ability in warfare and combat’. Small units of land inadequate to support a soldier and his retainers were combined into larger holdings.58 The Sultan was adamant that no land-holder should be exempt from the obligation to campaign. In his communications with his officials, he frequently expressed his fears that they were being less than honest in the execution of their duties – to the detriment of the treasury.59

Despite these reforms, disturbances continued in Anatolia. The activities of those execrated by the government as rebels and brigands emptied great swathes of the countryside, and in so doing destroyed the tax base of this predominantly agricultural empire. Government programmes designed to fill the treasury and furnish soldiers for the army brought further anguish to peasants who had already suffered from having to flee their villages before the unruly hordes with whom the government was in contention. If they were to have a chance of success, it was essential that the measures introduced in 1632 to reassign land-grants be accompanied by the resettlement of the peasants whose labours provided the taxes on which the cavalryman and his household survived, and which allowed him to go on campaign. Replenishment of the treasury was the greatest test facing Murad – without money, the state could not function. Grigor of Kemah suggests it was the experience of crossing Anatolia on the way to campaign in the Caucasus in 1635 that brought home to Murad the reality of the crisis in the countryside. The people of Sivas related to him how most of their number had fled to Istanbul, and they themselves were unable to meet their tax obligations. Murad immediately ordered that all who had left their homes be sent back; in Istanbul, criers went through the city telling those who had sought refuge there to leave within twenty days, on pain of death:

The wives and children of Turks and Armenians married to local [i.e. Istanbul] women realized what a wretched situation they would face in an unfamiliar place and did not want to go with their husbands . . . The Muslims divorced their wives with a single word, as their laws allow, but now the cries of children who did not want to be separated from their mothers and fathers rose up. The city was filled with the plaints of people being separated from their loved ones and of the old, sick and infirm.

The queen-mother Kösem Sultan objected that it was not appropriate in a time of war to cause still more anguish; sparing a thought for those who were to be forced to leave behind them the new lives they had created for themselves in the capital after being driven from their lands, to face an uncertain future in a distant and devastated countryside, Murad relented. He granted exemption to the old and infirm, orphans and widows, those born in Istanbul and any who could prove they had been in the city for over forty years.60Sultan Murad’s initial reaction to the flight from the countryside may have been grounded in emotion, but a well-considered policy was needed if the problem was to be resolved. In 1636 he ordered the preparation of a detailed report on the financial resources of Anatolia, the purpose being to identify who – in the conditions of endemic unrest which had caused the displacement of thousands of potential taxpayers – was available to be taxed.61

Beyond Anatolia, on the fringes of the empire, when central authority seemed weak, local dynasts flexed their muscles. In the area of modern Lebanon, the Druze clan leader Fakhr al-Din Ma‘n had long held the office of military governor under the Ottomans. The Anatolian rebellions isolated him from the centre of the empire and enabled him to strengthen his hold on this region and its revenues – he was very active commercially, entering into agreements on his own behalf with European merchants. His quasi-independent status was respected by the central government as long as he remained loyal and dutifully remitted the tax-revenues from the silk and cotton grown in the region, but in 1633, considering that Fakhr al-Din had become too powerful, the Grand Vezir ordered the Ottoman governor of Damascus to arrest him and send him with his sons to Istanbul where he was subsequently executed.62 None of the lesser families who sought to fill the vacuum left by his removal had the power to challenge the Ottomans. Fakhr al-Din’s son Hüseyin was educated as an Ottoman, and after employment in the palace was sent to India in 1656 as an envoy of Sultan Mehmed IV. His name is preserved in history as the main verbal informant of the chronicler Mustafa Naima.63

After almost a century of struggling to impose their authority on the rich province of Yemen, and singularly failing to subdue it, the Ottomans relinquished their tenuous hold, which by the time of their departure was restricted to a narrow coastal strip. The call of the local Zaydi clan for ‘holy war’ inspired successive actions against the Ottomans early in the century, followed by a brief respite before further local resistance culminated in 1635 in an ignominous retreat. The Ottoman struggle to hold this distant and inhospitable land had been costly to both sides.64 The religious orthodoxy of their imperial masters held no attractions for the native dynasties of Yemen, and the Ottoman state was no longer either willing or able to divert resources to maintain a presence in a place whose strategic value had diminished since the days of their rivalry with the Portuguese in the seas of the Indian Ocean.

In his efforts to quell the disturbances in the provinces, military offensive and administrative reform were two of Murad IV’s weapons. He was also party to a campaign of moral regeneration aimed at remoulding the character of his subjects that came to influence social and political life throughout the century. Sultan Ahmed had in 1609 forbidden the growing and consumption of tobacco which English traders had recently brought into his domains, citing as his reason that people were not going about their business but spending night and day smoking in the coffee-houses. Tobacco was so popular that the ban was ineffective and had to be repeated in 1614, by which time it was so profitable a crop that it competed for land with the traditional occupation of apiculture, and the price of honey rose accordingly. Sultan Osman had repeated the ban – reinforced with a juridical opinion – and Sultan Murad followed suit late in 1630.65

In March 1631 the Sultan ordered that the sumptuary laws regarding non-Muslims be enforced with renewed vigour. This was in fact a political matter, if legal in inspiration – non-Muslims were second-class subjects, to be ‘treated with contempt, made submissive and humbled in their clothes and style of dress’ – and it was Ahmed I who, wishing to be seen as the exemplar of right religion, had laid down which items of clothing could be worn only by Muslims. Murad restated the ban in no uncertain terms:

Insult and humiliate infidels in garment, clothing and manner of dress according to Muslim law and imperial statute. Henceforth, do not allow them to mount a horse, wear sable fur, sable fur caps, satin and silk velvet. Do not allow their women to wear mohair caps wrapped in cloth and ‘Paris’ cloth. Do not allow infidels and Jews to go about in Muslim manner and garment. Hinder and remove these kinds. Do not lose a minute in executing the order that I have proclaimed in this manner.66

Murad’s social programme found a champion in the charismatic preacher Kadızade Mehmed, a native of the north-west Anatolian town of Balıkesir, who in 1631 was appointed preacher at the Ayasofya mosque – the most prestigious appointment of its kind in the empire. On the occasion of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday which fell that year on 16 September 1633, two sermons were delivered at the Sultan Ahmed mosque in the presence of Murad IV. The first was by the regular preacher of the Friday sermon at that mosque, the respected Halveti sheikh Ebülhayr Mecdeddin Abdülmecid, known as Sivasi Efendi; the second was by Kadızade Mehmed. According to Katib Çelebi, Sivasi Efendi attempted to anticipate his rival’s remarks by ridiculing his ideas, but Kadızade Mehmed’s dramatic denunciation of all innovation in religious practice and belief and in social behaviour struck a chord with a congregation worn down by the disturbances of recent years.67

Following the prayers for the Prophet, the dispersing crowds raided the taverns of the city, and the Sultan made no move to stop them. It was around the time of this critical confrontation, too, that he ordered the closing-down and razing of coffee-houses across the empire, with the exception of those in Egypt and in Mecca and Medina. A more than usually disastrous conflagration in Istanbul had left the people of the city uneasy, and prone to gather in coffee-houses to express their anxiety, leading those in government circles to fear that another bout of sedition might be in the offing; Murad also ordered taverns to close. Tobacco, taverns and coffee-houses were inextricably linked and, economic considerations aside, Murad’s ban on tobacco of a few months earlier can be seen as an attack on the unregulated life of the coffee-houses and taverns as much as on the noxious weed itself – now he took more direct action. Sultan Mehmed III had promoted the opening of coffee-houses in cities other than Istanbul, to give people somewhere to relax; Ahmed I, on the other hand, had ordered them to be closed, but the ban could not be enforced.68

Debates between innovators and fundamentalists had long been a lively part of Islamic intellectual life, and the climate of austere morality which continued throughout the seventeenth century – named the Kadızadeli movement after Kadızade Mehmed – had its roots in the conservative tendency represented by Mehmed Birgevi, a scholar of Sultan Süleyman’s time who in a number of treatises addressing public and private morality had promoted a puritanical strain in religious thinking. In their quest for an uncorrupted Islam shorn of the innovations which had accrued since the time of the Prophet, the Kadızadeli movement adopted Birgevi’s writings as their touchstone.69

The Kadızadelis were particularly critical of the dervishes, but Sultan Murad seems not to have been entirely won over and to have aimed to steer a middle course; he was even-handed in the favour he showed Kadızade Mehmed and Sivasi Efendi.70 The more ‘other-worldly’ dervish brotherhoods, once an arm of the conquering state in the Balkans, had long since found their role in the public sphere reduced, but the Ottoman sultans and the ruling establishment had continued in their relaxed attitude towards mainstream mystical orders; the Halveti, for instance, who had established their headquarters in Istanbul on the accession of Bayezid II, had maintained their pre-eminence under Selim I and Süleyman I.71 Murad IV was open in his patronage of Sheikh Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi of the Celveti order (a branch of the Halveti): the Sheikh had been his father’s spiritual master, and on the young sultan’s succession had girded him with the sword in the ceremony at Eyüp.72 Murad was also known to appreciate the ritual whirling of the Mevlevi dervishes, who performed for him at the palace,73 and for thirteen of the seventeen years of his reign he employed as sheikhulislam the eminent jurist and mystical poet Zekeriyazade Yahya Efendi, a man well-known for his dervish sympathies.74

The Kadızadelis were as much opposed to high Islam – considering its clerics to be tainted by their association with the political life of the state – as to the mysticism and ritual practices of the dervishes. Kadızade Mehmed represented another type of cleric – neither mystic, nor member of the state religious hierarchy trained in Islamic thought, law and religion, but one who considered his proper milieu to be the day-to-day religious life of the mosque. It was doubtless Kadızadeli rhetoric that made possible the execution of the then sheikhulislam Ahizade (‘Son of the Religious Brother’) Hüseyin Efendi in 1634. Ahizade Hüseyin protested when Sultan Murad ordered the execution of the kadı of İznik solely on the basis of complaints from the local people. In the Sultan’s absence in Bursa he wrote to Kösem Sultan of his discomfort at Murad’s action, drawing her attention to the traditional privileges and respect accorded the religious hierarchy and asking that she remind her son of this. Rumours spread that Ahizade Hüseyin was planning the removal of Murad, and when the Sultan returned to Istanbul on receipt of his mother’s letter he first ordered Ahizade Hüseyin and his son, the kadı of Istanbul, into exile in Cyprus, then changed his mind and sent an executioner after them.75 This was a shocking and unprecedented event: such punishments as execution and confiscation of goods or estates were an occupational hazard for those in the military-administrative branches of state service, but clerics of the religious hierarchy had traditionally been exempt from them – a corollary of the fiction that they remained aloof from factional intrigue. Ahizade’s execution reflected the real role played by the religious hierarchy in contemporary politics and spelled out to them the price to be paid for access to the material rewards of state service. It also demonstrated that the principle of clerical inviolability was merely a principle, and that political expedience tended to override apparently immutable custom. Yet if Ahizade Hüseyin was the first holder of the office of sheikhulislam to be executed, he was one of only three such out of some 130 during the life of the empire.76

The later years of Murad IV’s reign were dominated by campaigns against Iran, harking back to the first centuries of the empire, when the most serious challenge to its integrity had come from the east – from the Karamanids, the Akkoyunlu and the Safavids – rather than from the west. Yet although Selim I’s war of annihilation against Shah Isma‘il in the early sixteenth century had been briefly revived during the first part of Süleyman’s reign, the Treaty of Amasya of 1555 had established respective Ottoman and Safavid spheres of influence which served to guide mutual relations thereafter. No longer did either seek universal domination but each accepted the existence of the other. Subsequent Ottoman–Safavid wars were localized border affairs resulting in little change beyond the loss or gain of individual fortresses.

However the nature of war between the Ottomans and Safavids might have changed, Sultan Murad’s attempt to recapture the greatness of former times demanded revival of the tradition of sultan as warrior, and he was determined to lead his army in war against the Safavids just as Sultan Süleyman had a century earlier. Sultan Osman II’s efforts in this respect had been short-lived and far from convincing; Murad’s control over the apparatus of state was more certain than Osman’s, and he judged that the political gains promised by a victory on the eastern front outweighed the threat of a coup during his absence.

Shah ‘Abbas had died in 1629 and his grandson and successor Shah Safi, taking advantage of the turmoil caused by the revolts in Istanbul and Anatolia, had stirred up the princes of Georgia and also sent a force to besiege the Ottoman fortress of Van.77 Sultan Murad was not able to set out against Shah Safi until the spring of 1635, the delay in part the result of his apparent intention of leading the Ottoman army against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in a campaign on that front in summer 1634 – for which purpose he marched as far as Edirne78 – and in part a consequence of his troops’ reluctance to go to war, which forced him to concede a period of rest before setting off eastwards.79 Peace with the Commonwealth freed Murad for a decisive response to events on his border with Iran, and a large army was eventually despatched to support the Anatolian troops resisting the Safavids, commanded by Grand Vezir Tabanıyassı Mehmed Pasha until the Sultan was able to join it. Thus it was that the first time he ventured far from Istanbul the Sultan led his army across Anatolia by way of Erzurum and Kars to the Safavid-held fortress of Yerevan. As he went he took the opportunity to wreak summary justice for the rebellions and brigandage which had blighted his early years as sultan, executing those against whom there were complaints, who included a number of provincial governors deemed to have misused their powers.80 Such stern disciplinary tactics also served him well in the harsh conditions of warfare on the eastern frontier, discouraging the mutinies which had so often blighted the campaigns of earlier sultans.

Yerevan had been held by the Ottomans between 1583 and 1604; it now withstood an eight-day siege before the garrison surrendered on 8 August 1635. From Yerevan Murad’s army continued south to Tabriz, but the experience of previous occasions when the Ottoman army had been able to reach this city was repeated: they could not hold it, and at the approach of winter retreated to Van. A great friendship blossomed between the Sultan and the defeated governor of Yerevan, Mirgune Tahmasp Quli Khan, who became known to the Ottomans as Emirgün. Emirgün was subsequently summoned to Istanbul, where he was given a regular income, and a garden in the Bosporus village today known as Emirgan in which he built a palace ‘in the Persian style’.81 Murad spent much time in Emirgün’s company and, according to Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a seventeenth-century French visitor to Istanbul, they indulged in drinking bouts together.82

In December 1635 Sultan Murad made a splendid ceremonial entry into Istanbul, as the warrior who had re-established the tradition of his forefathers. His victory was commemorated with the building of the Revan pavilion in the gardens of Topkapı Palace on a terrace overlooking the Golden Horn; the fact that Yerevan was retaken by the Safavids within eight months of Emirgün’s surrender – and three months after Murad’s entry into Istanbul – was not allowed to tarnish the success of the campaign. Possibly the loss of Yerevan was seen as no more than a temporary setback: news of the Safavid counter-attack prompted the sending of an army to help the Ottoman garrison retain the city, but it was too small and the weather was freezing cold. The grand vezir Tabanıyassı Mehmed Pasha, who had remained in winter quarters in Diyarbakır, was dismissed on account of the loss of Yerevan and replaced by the Sultan’s brother-in-law Bayram Pasha, a former janissary commander-in-chief and governor of Egypt.83

Although they had retaken Yerevan and defeated an Ottoman army in battle, the Safavids sent an envoy to sue for peace when they heard that Sultan Murad was preparing for another campaign in the east,84 but Murad was not to be dissuaded. Before he left Istanbul this time, he ordered that all the guilds of the city should pass before him in procession. Evliya Çelebi’s lively report of this colourful ceremony suggests that he may have been present himself, but he notes that the lengthy description of it found in his ‘Book of Travels’ was copied from a manuscript known as the ‘Description of Constantinople’ in the possession of his patron and kinsman, the statesman Melek (‘Angel’) Ahmed Pasha (the manuscript’s whereabouts is today unknown). From the Pavilion of Processions in the south-west corner of the outer wall of the palace enclosure the Sultan viewed the march-past of the guilds, representing 735 trades and professions. The descriptions of them copied by Evliya Çelebi include notes about their history and practices, and according to him the procession, like much that Murad ordered, was for the purposes of enumeration; the ‘Description of Constantinople’ also contained an inventory of all the buildings of the imperial city, from mosques to prisons, and the intention was that this inventory should supersede the one ordered by Sultan Selim II some half-century earlier.85

The imperial Ottoman army with the Sultan at its head left Üsküdar on 8 May 1638 and travelled by way of Konya, Aleppo, Diyarbakır and Mosul to reach Baghdad in November. The fortress surrendered after a siege lasting 39 days. On taking this predominantly Shia city Murad ordered the repair of the mausoleum of the theologian and mystic ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani which Süleyman I had built after he took Baghdad in 1534, when he also reconstructed the shrine of the eminent jurist Abu Hanifa; Murad’s attention to al-Gilani’s mausoleum was similarly intended to reassert the pre- eminence of the Ottoman practice of Islam over that of the defeated Safavids. Zekeriyazade Yahya Efendi travelled to Baghdad with Murad, the first time that a sheikhulislam had accompanied a campaigning army.86 On his return to Istanbul the Sultan celebrated his victory with construction in the palace grounds, overlooking the Golden Horn, of the Baghdad pavilion – a companion to that he had built after the Yerevan campaign.

Sultan Murad IV was also involved in another significant building project elsewhere in his empire: his name appears in an inscription as the last in a line of rulers to rebuild the holiest shrine of Islam, the Ka‘ba in Mecca. Attempts had been made to strengthen its walls during the reign of Murad’s father Sultan Ahmed, but a devastating flood in 1630 had brought the structure close to collapse. Rebuilding it was no straightforward task, either practically – it must be reverently taken apart stone by stone because it was considered to have been made by God – or philosophically – some religious authorities held any modern reconstruction to be unacceptable, while others held such work to be the traditional responsibility of the Sharif of Mecca rather than of the distant Ottoman sultan. Legal opinion was sought and a compromise was reached: the state provided the necessary materials and expertise (probably not locally available) and the Meccan notables received robes of honour to mark various phases of the rebuilding programme and said prayers for the Sultan and the continuation of Ottoman rule in recognition of this gesture. The prominent reference to Murad’s part in the project in the inscription was a reminder to the Islamic community of the beneficent acts of the Ottoman sultans as protectors of the Holy Places.87

Although the Thirty Years’ War in which Europe had been embroiled since shortly after the death of Sultan Ahmed freed the Ottomans to pursue their strategic interests in the east, lesser issues in the west which had remained unresolved at the beginning of the century re-emerged to demand attention during these years. One was the question of sovereignty over Transylvania, where succession to the princedom of this vassal state was contested following the death of Gabriel Bethlen in 1629 and the Ottoman force sent in 1636 to curb the over-independent stance of his successor George Rákóczi was defeated.88 Nevertheless, in 1642 the Treaty of Zsitvatorok which had concluded the Habsburg–Ottoman war of 1593–1606 was renewed at the wish of both parties: the Thirty Years’ War ended in 1648 and the Habsburgs, who were the main protagonists, were more than willing to renew the treaty again the following year.89 The agreement between the Ottoman Empire and Venice to act against a common enemy did bring the Ottomans a small part in the Thirty Years’ War. At issue was control of the Valtellina pass through the Alps northwards from Italy, essential to the Habsburgs for communication with their north Italian and Dutch possessions. In 1624–5 Venice requested and received permission from Sultan Murad to recruit mercenaries from certain areas of Ottoman-held Bosnia, Albania and the Peloponnese to assist in the defence of its interests against the Habsburgs.90

The peace treaty agreed in 1623 between the Ottomans and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth after Osman II’s defeat at Khotin had failed to resolve the problems associated with their respective vassals, the Crimean Tatars and the Ukrainian Cossacks, but at no time did the two states engage in all-out war in these years: the peace of 1623 was uneasily maintained, even following the phoney war of 1634, and the Ottoman army, navy and local troops were kept busy on the Black Sea frontier patrolling the shores and sea-lanes and garrisoning the strongholds on the entire seaboard as Cossack raids into Anatolian and Rumelian coastlands continued unabated. Unlike the Tatars, the Cossacks were as at home on sea as on land, and the Ottoman Black Sea galleys were no match for their small, manoeuvrable craft. A special flotilla of smaller vessels was built to combat them in the shallow waters where the great steppe rivers debouch into the Black Sea, but the Cossacks were also masters of concealment and easily able to avoid battle with Ottoman vessels.91 For three-quarters of a century, from the time it first had a presence on the northern Black Sea coast in 1475, the imperial power had ‘managed’ this frontier without undue concern, free to direct its resources to more troubled areas of the Ottoman domains; the subsequent turmoil in the steppe of the years when Dmytro Vyshnevetsky had led the Cossacks was merely a foretaste of the early seventeenth-century Cossack irruption into the ‘Ottoman lake’, when even large towns such as Feodosiya, Bilhorod, Constanţa, Varna, Samsun and Trabzon were repeatedly attacked and even sacked. Nor were settlements on the lower Danube – such as Kiliya, Izmail, Brăila and Isaccea – spared. This was of immense significance: it disrupted the supply of raw materials and foodstuffs on which the city of Istanbul and the economy of the empire depended.92 The Cossacks also struck far inside the Bosporus on several occasions in these years: in 1624 they sacked and burned the coastal villages at least as far south as Yeniköy. The English ambassador Sir Thomas Roe witnessed the raid of 19 July 1624:

. . . between 70 and 80 boats of the Cossacks with 50 men apiece, rowers and soldiers, watching the opportunity of the captan bassa’s [i.e. the grand admiral] being engaged in Tartary, entered the Bosphorus about the break of day; where dividing themselves they sacked and burnt almost all the villages and houses of pleasure [i.e. waterside villas], on both sides of the river, as far as the castles [i.e. Rumeli Hisarı and Anadolu Hisarı] and within four miles of this city [i.e. Istanbul]. The principal places were Baiukdery [i.e. Büyükdere] and Jenichoie [i.e. Yeniköy], and Stenia on the Asia shore [i.e. İstinye, on the European shore?]; where having made great and rich booty, they stayed until nine of the clock in the forenoon; and then all this city and suburbs having taken the alarm, the grand seignior [i.e. the Sultan] came down to the water’s side . . . having not one galley ready for defence, they manned and armed all the ship-boats, barges and other small wherries to the number of 4 or 500, with such people as they could either get to row, or hope to fight; and despatched all the horse and foot in the city, to the number of 10,000 to defend the coast from further spoil; never was seen a greater fear and confusion.93

Roe reported that Cossack raids in the Bosporus so alarmed the government that if the imperial council was in session when news of another arrived, it ‘broke up in rage and haste[ned] to send out to prevent their further invasions’.94

Following the Khotin war, in 1623 Mehmed Giray [III] became khan of the Crimea and the next year his brother Şahin returned there from the court of Shah ‘Abbas where he had fled ten years earlier during a succession dispute. Şahin’s closeness to the Shah prompted the Ottoman government to restore the brothers’ rival for power, the former khan, Canbeg Giray. Canbeg travelled by sea from Istanbul but he needed Ottoman help to secure the throne, which the Ottomans, their military and naval forces already overstretched, could hardly provide. Mehmed and Şahin entered into the first-ever political alliance with the Cossacks of the Dnieper, the erstwhile mortal enemies of the Crimean Tatars, to confront Canbeg, and in July the Ottoman Grand Admiral sailed for the Crimea to assist him. Their combined forces could not resist the Tatar–Cossack attack – the Tatars surrounded them, Canbeg and his men fled, the Ottoman infantry was slaughtered, and the Tatars seized the campaign treasury.95 Mehmed Giray remained as khan with Şahin as his heir-apparent. In 1625 the Cossacks raided Trabzon to devastating effect,96 only one among a number of fearsome attacks in these years. A great sea battle between an Ottoman fleet and the Cossacks took place outside the Danube delta early in August: the Ottoman Admiral was saved only by a favourable wind.97

The Tatar–Cossack alliance alarmed the Polish government as much as it did the Ottoman, and it took steps to suppress the Cossacks lest they provoke war between the Commonwealth and their powerful neighbour. In a dispatch back to England commenting on the new regional situation that arose with this alliance Thomas Roe wrote, ‘any intelligence between these two roving nations . . . will prove very troublesome to this city and state’.98 European diplomats in Istanbul were keenly aware of the implications of developments in the Black Sea for Ottoman power in the Mediterranean and central Europe; they therefore followed them closely and attempted to influence events in ways that would favour their own states. Thus, for the Habsburgs, difficulties in the Black Sea served to divert the attention and energy of the Ottomans from central Europe, while for their rivals – France and England – peace in the Black Sea freed Ottoman forces to engage the Habsburgs and their allies.99

In order to meet the Cossack threat the Ottomans decided to improve their defences in the northern Black Sea region in the hope that they could more readily hinder, if not prevent, the Cossacks from sneaking down the Dnieper into the open sea. In the course of two expeditions, one in 1627 and another in 1628, they added some new forts to the fortress complex at Ochakiv at the mouth of the river. In addition, in 1628, they were able to unseat Mehmed and Şahin Giray, despite their Cossack support.100 The frequent succession struggles among the family of the Tatar khans of the Crimea – in which one member would seek allies among their neighbours against another – often provoked the Ottomans to intervene to ensure that their preferred candidate was on the throne.

Just as the Cossacks of the Dnieper had to negotiate their way past the fortress of Ochakiv at the river mouth in order to reach the Black Sea, the free passage of the Don Cossacks was hindered by the port city of Azov, which had been Ottoman since 1475. In 1636 the Don Cossacks laid siege to Azov with the support of their Ukrainian fellows, taking it in the next year, and leaving their champion, Muscovy, with the dilemma of whether to support them and risk inciting Ottoman anger. The Ottomans expended great efforts to recover Azov over the next few years, fearing attacks on their forts at the mouth of the Sea of Azov which if successful would allow the Cossacks another point of entry into the Black Sea.101 A major expedition to retake Azov was mounted in 1641 when the fleet sailed forth and, together with the Tatars, besieged the fortress for many weeks even as the defenders’ successful mining operations claimed many lives, until at the approach of winter they were forced to withdraw without being able to dislodge the Cossacks.102 But Muscovy refused the defenders of Azov any support and the next year they relinquished the fortress to the relief of the Ottomans.

Muscovy remained reluctant to antagonize the Ottomans for most of the seventeenth century – being more concerned with Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – a policy which only changed with the (failed) expeditions southwards across the steppe in the 1680s during the Ottoman–Holy League wars, and Peter the Great’s attack on Azov in 1696. The siege of Commonwealth-held Smolensk, south-west of Moscow, in 1632–3 had been a humiliating revelation of Muscovy’s military weakness; for an army which had failed to achieve this modest goal to take on the greatest military power in the region would have been suicidal.103 Muscovy continued to pay tribute to the Tatar khans of the Crimea – as it had in medieval times to their ancestors, the khans of the Golden Horde; this was a reminder of its status, but that it now dared refer to this tribute as a ‘gift’ indicated a perceptible shift in their relations.104 The power struggle in the steppe which had begun with the break-up of the Golden Horde in the fifteenth century was, in its broad outlines, not dissimilar from that which had taken place in south-eastern Anatolia between Mamluk Egypt, Safavid Iran and the Ottomans more than a century earlier. Both Muscovy and the Commonwealth were taking the first steps towards expansion into the steppelands which the Ottomans had for so long looked upon as a buffer zone policed on their behalf by the Crimean Tatars.

Much as the Black Sea shores of the Ottoman Empire were frequently the object of Cossack raids, so its Mediterranean and Adriatic frontiers and its shipping were harassed by corsairs from the North African littoral and the Adriatic itself – the latter known as Uskoks, and supported by the Habsburgs – who also attacked the trading vessels of Malta, Venice and other Italian republics, as well as those bearing Muslim pilgrims to Mecca or carrying slaves from Africa to Istanbul. On occasion, when the commercial loss was high and the affront too great, the Ottomans retaliated, but the generally cordial relations which existed between Ottomans and Habsburgs were maintained unless local authorities acted in the heat of the moment and took matters into their own hands.105 One punitive response by Venice to corsair activity in the Adriatic led to an explosive incident in 1638 (while the Baghdad campaign was under way), when a North African fleet numbering sixteen ships raided the coast of Calabria. This alarmed the Venetians who sent a fleet of their own in pursuit. When the North African corsairs took refuge in the Ottoman Adriatic port of Vlorë, the Venetians blockaded the port, fired their cannon at the fortress, and seized the ships of the corsairs, sinking fifteen and sending one to Venice as a trophy. Reprisals against Venetians within the Ottoman Empire were threatened as was the cutting of trade between the two states, but wiser counsels prevailed and the incident was finally brought to a conclusion through diplomatic channels; the Bailo was released after ten months’ imprisonment and, as in 1573, Venice paid an indemnity to the Ottomans.106

In the east, the peace agreed with the Safavids in 1639 by the treaty of Zuhab brought to an end the long Ottoman–Safavid struggle which had begun with the battle of Çaldıran in 1514. Henceforth the Ottomans were preoccupied with events elsewhere, and the peace held until the fall of the Safavid dynasty in the 1720s. By its terms the Safavids retained Yerevan and its neighbouring territories in the Caucasus while the Ottomans kept Iraq and Baghdad, and this re-establishment of the equilibrium lost since the Amasya treaty of 1555 was one of Murad IV’s greatest achievements.

* Western writers imagined them imprisoned, literally, in a ‘cage’ – but the Turkish-language equivalent of this term was not used until later.

* An important group were those known in Slavic sources as the Zaporozhian Cossacks or ‘Cossacks from beyond the rapids’, and in Ottoman sources as ‘Cossacks of the Dnieper.’

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