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The Ottoman World
Christine Woodhead
The ottoman economy in the early imperial age
Publication details
Rhoads Murphey
Published online on: 14 Dec 2011
How to cite :- Rhoads Murphey. 14 Dec 2011 ,The ottoman economy in the early imperial age
from: The Ottoman World Routledge.
Accessed on: 25 Oct 2017
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Rhoads Murphey
n order to gain a sense of the base economic conditions prevailing in the western
Anatolian hinterlands of cities such as Bursa, which after  became the nucleus
of the fledgling Ottoman state, it is instructive to start with the vivid and evocative
details provided in the narrative of Ramon (or Raymond) Muntaner detailing the
marauding activities of the Catalan companies in the Marmara region between 
and . The overriding concern of the bands of military enterprisers who came to
dominate frontier society in the late thirteenth century was to maximize opportunities
for short-term profits within a given locality, and then to move on to new sites for
exploitation when local resources gave out. This point is made explicit on a number of
occasions in Muntaner’s account. In chapter , relating the aftermath of Frey Roger’s first series of campaigns in Anatolia, Muntaner makes the following observation:
The Boca Daner [i.e., the Çanakkale Boğazı/Dardanelles] is surrounded by good
and fertile places in all parts [i.e., the Biga Yarımadası/peninsula stretching eastward towards Bursa]. You will find that, on each side, there was a very fine town
and a very fine castle at the time we went there. All has been destroyed and ruined
by us.1
Following Frey Roger’s assassination in , separate commanderies and captaincies
were established in Thrace. Each drew its livelihood from small-scale, largely uncoordinated raids aimed mostly against Byzantine towns and settlements along the north
shore of the Marmara. Muntaner’s boastful acknowledgement of the anarchic conditions that prevailed in the Byzantine borderlands in these years provides sometimes
startling reading. In chapter  he notes: ‘We sowed nothing nor ploughed . . . but
took each year as much . . . as we wanted . . . So we lived for five years on aftercrops
and the most wonderful raids were made man could ever imagine’.2
He then relates the division of the spoils at the conclusion of a minor skirmish with
Byzantine forces in the vicinity of Gallipoli.
We took thirty-seven horsemen and . . . [a number of] foot. The next day in
Gallipoli we had an auction of the horses and prisoners . . . and of the booty
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— Rhoads Murphey —
twenty-eight gold hyperpers for each armed horse and fourteen for each light
horse and seven for each foot soldier, so that every one had his share . . . This was
done not through our worth, but by the virtue and grace of God.3
In chapter  Muntaner returns to the theme developed in chapter  and once
again reassures his audience that, as a point of honour and regimental pride, ‘for five
years we never sowed or planted or dug over the land.’4 In chapter , he explains
why he was compelled to abandon his base at Gallipoli in favour of a new location
south of Salonica.
It is the truth that we had been in the peninsula of Gallipoli and in that district for
seven years since the death of the caesar [i.e., Frey Roger] and we had lived there
five years on the land and there was nothing left. And so, likewise, we had depopulated all that district for ten days journey in every direction; we had destroyed all
the people, so that nothing could be gathered there. Therefore we were obliged to
abandon that country.5
Muntaner’s final summing up of the activities of the company in the Aegean and Marmara basin is offered in chapter .
When I parted from the company . . . they went to a peninsula called Cassandra.
. . . At the entrance to the peninsula they pitched their tents and from there they
raided as far as the city of Salonica . . . And they consumed that district as they had
done those of Gallipoli, Constantinople and Adrianople.6
The general ethos described in Muntaner’s account of the Catalan company – a
body run on roughly similar lines to modern business enterprises based on profitsharing principles – was not of course confined to the particularities of one tradition, whether Muslim or Christian. Nor does it typify conditions prevailing in just
one geographical sector. What Muntaner describes applied broadly, perhaps even
universally, to the general lawlessness of frontier society in the interstices between
the late Mongol and Byzantine Ouikomene or, in Hodgson’s terms, the ‘Inhabited
Quarter’.7 In earlier centuries the region had developed ‘citied’ environments possessing well-established urban institutions and regulatory mechanisms sufficient to meet
Hodgson’s definitional criteria. However, throughout the era of declining imperial
control between the mid-thirteenth and mid-fourteenth centuries, substantial parts
of Western Asia had lapsed into the conditions of near anarchy evoked in Muntaner’s
In their endeavours to build a flourishing economy from such a low base, the early
Ottoman sultans actively pursued a number of policies to encourage and protect
agricultural and commercial development and to foster the growth of urban economies. The following discussion takes for granted such well-known features of Ottoman revenue collection and distribution practices as the timar system, poll tax and
customs levies.8 Instead, it assesses the degree to which early Ottoman sultans were
able successfully to pursue certain economic policies and the considerations behind
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— The Ottoman economy in the early imperial age —
Figure . Historical photograph showing the covered market (old bedestan) of Istanbul in the
foreground. The core of these buildings was completed during the reign of Mehmed II
between  and . Photograph by Ali Rıza Paşa (d. ). In the collection of the
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (neg. LC-USZ-).
The Ottomans and Byzantines endured a century of uneasy co-existence between the
Ottoman landing at Gallipoli in  and the eventual fall of Constantinople in .
The generalized breakdown of law and order in provincial society at the margins was
a matter of concern for both regimes, but it was arguably the Ottomans who achieved
greater success in imposing the rule of law and establishing the order and predictability
necessary for economic stability and growth. Ottoman attempts at regulation in the
early imperial era covered both the rural and the urban spheres. Attention was paid
to the monitoring and control of population movement through the land registration
regime, organized by means of the tahrir system, the periodic imposition of forced
transfers of tribal and other groups to support settlement and development objectives
in newly subdued territories, and the organized transfer of skilled workers to urban
centres (the sürgün mechanism). Above all, it was success in governing urban markets
through the strict application of the ihtisab regulatory regime that became a distinguishing feature of the Ottoman regime in the early imperial era.
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Current scholarship tends to reject the consensus view previously held among historians that exaggerated not just the extent of the early modern state’s dominance in
political matters but also its efficiency and reach in economic regulation.9 The limits
of state power applied most markedly in attempts to regulate economic activity in the
rural agrarian sphere, which accounted for between  and  per cent of economic
output in most parts of the medieval and early modern Balkans and Middle East.
Testing the limits of state power is problematic and quantifying its actual extent in
economic terms remains elusive. In his study on the statistical reliability of the Ottoman land and population surveys based on a limited sample from western Anatolia,
Michael Cook speculated that, despite its reputation for clarity and comprehensiveness, the Ottoman tahrir system, even in its developed state of the sixteenth century,
seemingly missed (i.e., failed to record) around a quarter of the population.10 As an
instrument even of state fiscal control, let alone regulation of economic practice and
the peasant producers’ behaviour, the tahrir system was thus far from perfect. Particularly in this latter sphere, of regulating the behaviour of the main agents (peasants,
pastoralists and others) who operated in the rural context, the depth of penetration of
the state’s legislative and regulatory impact has been convincingly questioned.11 The
weight of custom, tradition and time-honoured practice proved difficult for the state
even to modify, let alone discourage or dislodge, despite the best efforts of the land
surveyors, tax assessors, agronomic advisers and other would-be regulators it deployed
in seeking to alter peasant behaviour to conform with state expectations and administrative orders.
It would be indefensible to ignore or minimize the scale and importance of the
Ottoman state’s efforts to sedentarize nomads, regulate and tax peasants, and generally
transform the rural landscape by extending its sphere of influence over the pastoralists and cultivators of the soil who made up the bulk of the Ottoman population.
However, in realistic terms, and recognizing the real limits of Ottoman state power in
the fifteenth century, it was from the narrow base of the more closely regulated urban
space and urban markets that the Ottomans launched their first and most effective
efforts aimed at modifying undesired market tendencies such as hoarding and price
speculation, and at creating the basis of a fair balance between mercantile profit and
affordability for average urban consumers. Indeed, they staked the reputation and
legitimacy of the new dynastic regime on the success of their regulatory influence in
urban settings. The primacy and seriousness of the Ottoman commitment to enforcement of fair trading practices in urban markets comes out with striking clarity in
surviving early documents.
By the sixteenth-century high imperial era, order, security, discipline and regulatory
consistency had become the general hallmarks of Ottoman administration, through
the predominance of kanun (sultanic administrative law). As part of this, from the very
outset of the imperial venture the Ottomans had taken special care to lead by example
and to protect their record for good government in cases where the sultans’ own personal or palace household interests were involved. A sultanic order of , addressed
by Mehmed II to his commissioner in Bursa in charge of special procurements, makes
clear this inward-directed orientation of Ottoman regulatory effort.12 The terms of
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— The Ottoman economy in the early imperial age —
appointment specified for the sultan’s agent define explicitly the limits of his proxy’s
jurisdiction and powers, emphasizing that it was both necessary and appropriate that
the appointee be issued strongly worded warnings to observe open market access rules
and other regulatory restraints. Despite the lofty status of his principal and the highpriority nature of his business, the agent is neither to demand nor to expect treatment
on terms other than those offered to any prospective customer in the marketplace.
Particular care was taken to avoid creating the impression that either the sultan or the
agent acting on his behalf operated above the law or laid claim to special privilege or
economic advantage from which the general public was excluded. This self-denying
ordinance applied with particular force with regard to access to basic goods, especially
You are to refrain from seeking preferential terms, favourable treatment or imposing forced sales on those who bring grain for sale at the grain market by invoking
the phrase ‘we are buyers for the state and imperial household’. You are to purchase goods on the market on the terms offered to all other prospective buyers and
you should realise your purchases using reliable intermediaries, avoiding any acts
that may cause injury to the general public. In short . . . whether with respect to
cloth purchases, grain purchases or the purchase of any other goods [for the imperial household] you are to execute your purchases and requisitions with absolute
integrity . . . striving to avert either the waste of imperial resources on the one
hand or harm being visited on the public on the other. All purchases and transactions should always be carried out under regular auspices and scrutiny, using the
good offices of the local justices (kadis) and police magistrates (subaşıs).13
The operative word in the Turkish text is dükeli, meaning ‘always’ or ‘as is the usual
norm’,14 and implying that the insistence on procedure and strict adherence to marketplace regulations is either of long-standing application or at least an ideal on whose
reintroduction the Ottoman regime places particular priority. It is worth noting that
the principle of the sultan’s accountability to the same standards and norms of marketplace behaviour as both his kuls and his other tax-paying subjects is given forceful
expression in a document reliably attributed to perhaps the most temperamentally
autocratic Ottoman sultan of any era.
The details of Bayezid II’s ihtisab kanunnamesi (marketplace regulations) for Bursa,
dated , provide another revealing example of the motivating spirit behind Ottoman attempts to assert rights in the regulation of social relations at the local and
municipal level. Both in the preamble to the ordinance and in subsequent chapter
summations, it is made abundantly clear that what prompted the document was the
sultan’s awareness of recent departures from previous high standards of marketplace
behaviour and socially responsible trading practice. He was compelled to make a thorough review of the current situation and to lend the weight of his authority to the
prompt restoration of previous good practice, whose exact requirements are revealed
in minute detail in the body of the text. In the preface he says:
It was previously ordered that a careful record be kept of all changes introduced
to the price control regime of Bursa from the time of my accession [] to
the present [] with a view to establishing the specific circumstances of the
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application of the price control regime for each type of good and commodity.
Have the price assessment criteria been applied consistently over that time and,
if not, when and under what circumstances were changes to assessment protocols introduced? In the case of variation, what is the basis of the new system
of assessment? On all of these matters you [i.e., the kadi (judge) and the muhtesib (marketplace inspector)] were previously instructed to keep yourselves fully
informed, omitting no relevant evidence whether large or small and to report
to me as necessary in full detail so that your assessments and evaluations might
serve as the firm basis for establishing the authorized regulations (kanunname)
and be used as a reference and guidance when required. In accordance with the
exulted and most noble order (may [its efficacy] never cease), the senior officials of
each craft and trade were summoned one by one and each questioned concerning
the character of customary assessment conventions for each product and asked
whether these traditional protocols and controls were currently being observed or
had been subjected to change over time. They were further prompted to explain
the reasons behind any changes introduced and the exact dates and circumstances
when these changes were adopted. In response to this summons, the guild officers
responded and replied unanimously saying that for the past five or six years [i.e.,
since approximately ] no trace has remained of the customary pricing regime
previously applied to the regulated crafts and trades. The whole price regime to
its very foundation has been fundamentally altered, changed and corrupted such
that at present virtually no one applies the customary standards observed of old
for determining prices. In view of the current unsatisfactory and confused state of
market regulation in Bursa [around the year ] I hereby order a new inspection of crafts and trades to be carried out starting with the bakers [and continuing
through the ranks of all the other craftsmen and traders present in the city].15
Strongly worded statements of regulatory intent such as those preserved in the documents of  and  demonstrate Ottoman resolve to achieve consistency in the
enforcement of codes and regulations promulgated by the imperial authority. While
such proclamations cannot serve as proof of Ottoman success in their stated objective
of full regulatory control over urban markets, they provide at least strong evidence
of the firmness of their legislative intent. Apart from such pronouncements of lofty
principle, there is also plenty of corroborative evidence to suggest the government’s
close engagement with local economic agents and actors at the municipal level and its
effective intervention to broker compromises between the potentially diametrically
opposed interests of producers and retailers on the one hand and common consumers
on the other.
Just as in the political and administrative spheres it is premature to attribute absolute authority to Ottoman rulers before the capture of Constantinople, it is equally
clear that mechanisms of control affecting various spheres of the economy – monetary
policy, control of trade routes, centrally monitored investment strategies – had evolved
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— The Ottoman economy in the early imperial age —
only partially by . On the most basic level, connection between the two halves of
the empire in Anatolia and Rumeli was, until the restoration of Ottoman control over
Salonica in , maintained only tenuously throughout much of the period. As late
as , while en route from Anatolia to assume command at Varna on the Danube,
Murad II still relied on help provided by naval allies situated along the shores of the
Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus in order to avoid the Venetian blockade that had
effectively closed the Dardanelles. The Chronicle of Kemalpaşazade (d. ) comments several times on the landlocked position of the Ottoman polity during Murad
II’s reign: ‘Sultan Murad came to Gallipoli where he realised that the presence of the
Venetian fleet barred any possibility of crossing there’.16 The Anonymous Chronicle
provides a similar assessment of the sultan’s position:
Murad arrived at Gallipoli where the fleet of the Frankish infidels had dispatched
a large number of ships to close off the sea passage. In the end Sultan Murad
managed to cross to Rumelia [i.e. Europe] on board a Genoese vessel from
The subsequent unification of Ottoman territories in Europe and Asia by Mehmed II
was of considerable economic as well as political significance. It was achieved through
a series of campaigns, beginning with the conquest of Constantinople in  and
finishing with the defeat of Uzun Hasan, ruler of a territorially extensive, rival Anatolian Turkmen state, the Ak-Koyunlu, in August  at a major battle at Başkent
on the plain of Tercan near the banks of the Upper Euphrates. This was followed in
 by subordination of the Genoese community in Caffa in the Crimea, which
secured Ottoman organizational (if not yet navigational or commercial) control over
the Black Sea maritime zone. Thereafter, the Ottomans occupied a commanding position over an extensive trade network linking the coasts of the Aegean, the Marmara,
and the Black Sea. The strength of the Ottoman economy in this period is reflected
in Jacopo da Promontorio’s impressive list of Ottoman assets and revenue sources
dating from .18 But in , a mere twenty-five years earlier, this was a world
still undreamed of. In the early fifteenth century, the significantly fragmented Ottoman state was composed of semi-independent or only partially linked regions. One
of the inescapable results of this political framework was an economy characterized
by autarchic norms and practices, against which the centralizing influence of the state
authority and state regulatory mechanisms was only beginning – in partial form and
at a gradual pace – to make inroads. The chronicler Aşıkpaşazade (d. after ) provides the example of the centrally located province of Saruhan in western Anatolia,
where Bayezid II’s attempts to impose export restrictions on salt were met with stiff
resistance and, in effect, ignored: ‘in that district [i.e. Saruhan] there were trading and
transport restrictions imposed on salt but the [indigenous tribes] paid no attention to
these restrictions’.19
Governed by this sense of the pervasive parochialism of the eastern Mediterranean
in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, our account of Ottoman economic
life in the pre-conquest era (i.e., pre-) will place particular emphasis on continuity of practice between the early Ottomans and their Anatolian predecessors, the
Seljukids and the Turkish beylicates.
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The products of the pastoral economy formed a very significant element of the western
Anatolian export profile in the fourteenth century. The trade in horses between the
south-western Anatolian principality of Menteşe and the Venetian island of Crete provides clear evidence of the magnitude of this activity contemporary with the early years
of the Ottoman emirate.20 While it is difficult to judge the importance of particular
trading commodities from the limited sources available for the period before , the
few surviving documents provide strong indications that wealth and prosperity in the
early Ottoman state tended to be measured in terms of herd size. Orhan Gazi indicated
his preference for his son Murad’s succession in a pre-decease disposition of his property drawn up in July  by assigning eighteen mares (yund) as his share.21 Even after
the siege of Constantinople and the conclusion of the Veneto-Ottoman war of –
, a contract for customs of the market zones of the capital (i.e., Gelibolu [Gallipoli]
and Üsküdar) from  reveals that livestock in transit (horses, camels and sheep) still
accounted for a significant part of the nearly , ducat annual revenues included
in the contract. The actual value of the contract was . million akçes, equivalent to
, ducats at the rate of  akçes to the ducat.22 Empire-wide (even accounting for
a certain degree of exaggeration in Jacopo da Promontorio’s survey report of Ottoman
revenues), the tithe on just three categories of animals – horses, oxen and mules – and
excluding sheep, by far the most significant revenue-producing category of animal,
yielded five times this amount, or roughly , ducats.23 Ottoman commercial
activity was not limited to animals and animal products, but overlooking these, alongside other sources such as salt and mining works, as important elements in the state’s
revenue make-up results in a serious distortion of economic realities.
A developed transit trade in luxury goods, from both Egypt and Iran, was a legacy
inherited by the Ottomans from their Muslim predecessors in Anatolia. Bursa, in Ottoman hands for less than a decade when visited by Ibn Battuta in , is described by
that traveller as ‘a great and important city with fine bazaars and wide streets’.24 Bursa
remained the economic and political capital of the Ottoman state well beyond the
end of the interregnum in . Court life shifted definitively to Edirne only with the
reinstatement of Murad II on the throne in  and the celebration there in  of
his son Mehmed’s royal wedding. Until then, the preference for Bursa as the place of
residence for the principal governors of the realm, and of the sultan himself, is clear
in near-contemporary historical records.25 Bursa was also favoured by its geographical position close to the most important eastern Mediterranean trading centres of the
Genoese, at Pera, Phocaea (Foça) and Chios in the Aegean. Throughout the period,
from the first Genoese–Ottoman commercial treaty in  (confirmed and expanded
in ), and despite Mehmed II’s offensives from the mid-s against the Gattalusi
family in the Aegean, the Ottomans worked in close commercial co-operation with the
Genoese. Recent research suggests that, while Mehmed’s establishment of control over
the Dardanelles after  compromised the integrity of the Genoese trading ‘empire’
in the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea regions, Italian mercantile interests nevertheless maintained – and even expanded – their pre-eminent position in Ottoman
markets until at least the s.26
The transformation of the economy according to Ottoman precepts and priorities
begun under Mehmed II was demonstrably less comprehensive in some regions of the
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empire than in others. The active participation of Muslim merchants from Anatolia
in the Black Sea trade following the establishment of Ottoman control over Amastris/
Amasra in , Sinope and Trabzon in , and the Crimean port of Caffa in 
is well documented in the customs register of Caffa from c..27 It appears, however,
that in the early fifteenth century there was little outlet for such activity. Subject to the
restrictions imposed by their state’s territorial confinement for much of the period to
Anatolia west of the Sakarya and ‘Bulgaria’ south of the Balkan range (with only the
most tenuous connection between the two regions), the Ottomans sought before 
to develop the economic potential of their patrimonial lands, in which Bursa continued to play a leading role.28 The integration of the empire’s dispersed economic zones
in Anatolia and Europe was realized in full only during the s.
One of the key variables affecting the growth potential of newly conquered areas, both
rural districts and cities, was the availability of sufficient workers in key industries.
Ottoman expansion into the Balkans after their victory at the first battle of Kosovo
in  was assisted by the ready availability of a large cohort of Türkmen and other
Muslim settlers from Anatolia who performed basic tasks in agriculture and animal
husbandry. They contributed significantly to the enhanced productivity of the land
and the sustainability of Ottoman rule.29 Collectively, population movements – organized in a planned and carefully calculated manner by the state authority – formed one
of the key elements in both rural prosperity and urban growth in Ottoman Balkan
territories.30 Relocation of key workers – craftsmen, administrators, municipal officials
and other civilian groups – from towns and cities of the Anatolian hinterland secured a
further benefit in contributing to the process of reconciliation, normalization and the
general stabilization of Ottoman rule in the aftermath of military subjugation.
The post- development of Istanbul itself illustrates how sürgün policies were
carefully planned to secure the transfer of individuals (whether urban or rural based)
who could offer the particular experience, skills and professional expertise needed to
promote reurbanization and growth after a period of demographic and economic
contraction. Mehmed II was forcefully criticized by contemporary commentators for
the unprecedented scale and vengefulness of deportations from Karaman province
to Istanbul between  and .31 Yet, from the perspective of the city dwellers
of Istanbul, who gained immeasurably from the labour and skills transfer and the
creation of whole new neighbourhoods, the process resulted in durable, long-term
enhancement of the new capital’s commercial potential.32 There is clear evidence that
similar policies had been introduced following the conquests of Edirne () and
other Balkan cities such as Üsküb (Skopje, in ) on a consistent basis throughout
the century preceding the fall of Constantinople.33
Statistics for Üsküb indicate that the city population in this remote sector of the
imperial borderlands grew very rapidly between the mid-s and the mid-s.34
This occurred despite the fact that, for a prolonged period after  until around
, when Thessalonica was restored to Ottoman control, the region experienced
continuous administrative disruption, periods of disconnection with the imperial
heartlands, and the depressing effects of general economic uncertainty arising from
the disturbed political conditions. Following the stabilization of the Balkans during
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the reign of Mehmed II, Üsküb’s urban population grew even more dramatically, due
in significant measure to population transfers achieved through the sürgün mechanism
in addition to natural migration and settlement. In  Üsküb comprised  households ( Muslim and  non-Muslim) accommodating a population of ,
souls. In addition to its military and administrative staff, a community of this size
required a diverse and specialized civilian and artisanal workforce of sizeable proportions to provide basic market and other services.35 Barkan’s data extracted from the
third survey of  provides important clues about the socio-economic organization
of Ottoman cities in the earlier period.36 While a noteworthy addition in  is an
expanded staff overseeing the mint operation (darbhane) based in the city, balancing
that is a numerically still quite significant (perhaps even dominant) older group whose
‘profession’ is listed as akıncı or cross-border raider. To the  ‘urban’ akıncı listed
within the city confines in the mid-sixteenth century must also be added considerably
larger concentrations in the outskirts and rural hinterlands. Their continuing presence
reflects a general pattern in which Ottoman conquest was followed immediately by
large-scale settlement accomplished through strategic (re)settlement of populations.
One explicit purpose of sürgün was the removal of specific groups to a distant European frontier as a means of clearing the interior regions of Anatolia of contentious,
previously disloyal and potentially anti-Ottoman tribal configurations who had strong
ties and a long-established political base in inner Anatolia. In the areas where they were
resettled (such as the regions along the Vardar valley, particularly its upper reaches
around Üsküb), such groups then served a dual purpose, both as military specialists to
defend and expand the frontier and as herders of animals, as pastoralists and as a supplementary labour force with the potential to settle, cultivate and stabilize the regions
behind the military frontier. Ottoman chroniclers make consistent reference to the
dual purpose served by these early Anatolian immigrants, as cultivators and producers
and not just conquering heroes or gazis.37 Commenting on the resettlement in  of
Saruhan-Beglu Türkmen nomads from the area around Menemen near the west coast
of Anatolia, who were first sent to the Filibe area and later accompanied their leader
Pasha Yighit, the first Ottoman governor of Üsküb, Aşıkpaşazade states: ‘it is the law
of sultans that they should order sürgün that it might cause the region (il) to prosper
once again’.38
Overwhelmingly, it was nomadic and pastoral groups who took part in sürgün.
Evidence suggests that it was through a mixture of compulsion, the offer of favourable
terms for taxation and the attraction of other economic incentives such as the easy
availability of under-populated and under-cultivated land that settlers were attracted
to the frontier regions. Once arrived in the newly acquired forward zones of the former
military marches, sürgün groups underwent a rapid process of diversification and transition, from an economy based primarily on animal husbandry and raiding to a mixed
sedentary-pastoral economy which eventually led to permanent village settlement and
growth of urban centres. How this process worked in detail in the earliest period
of Ottoman expansion between  and  cannot be understood from strictly
contemporary sources. However, some sense of the governing principles and incentive mechanisms driving early settlement can be extrapolated from sixteenth-century
provincial regulations (sancak kanunnameleri) surviving from frontier regions such
as Silistre (Silistria). Situated on the lower Danube and home to a mixed society of
pastoralists, raiders, semi-sedentarized former nomads and fully sedentary cultivators,
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Silistre preserved its frontier character well into the later imperial era. The Silistre
sancağı kanunnamesi, dating from the reign of Selim I (–), indicates that during
the process of settlement, and for groups who still practised seasonal transhumance, a
grace period of tax exemption or leniency was recognized for tribesmen and settlers of
sürgün origin. Until these populations had taken up residence (mütemekkin) for three
consecutive years in a fixed place, they were exempted from the usual obligation of
settled Muslim peasants to pay the tithe (öşr) of  per cent and captaincy assessment
(salariye) of . per cent, which constituted the normal tax of one-eighth on grain
Another useful indicator of the level and intensity of Ottoman economic activity in
the pre-conquest era is mining and the related spheres of coin minting and general
monetary policy. By comparison with the post- empire, which needed far greater
quantities of specie to meet the salary payments of an expanding bureaucracy and permanent army corps (the kapu kulları) paid in coin, the cash needs of the fourteenthand early fifteenth-century state were modest. In this early period the state’s ability,
for the most part, to meet its regular obligations from existing treasury resources is
indicated by the fact that the first major devaluation of the Ottoman silver coinage
based on the akçe occurred only in , at the beginning of Mehmed II’s first sultanate. So stable had the Ottoman coinage been in the first century and a half of the
state’s existence that even this relatively ‘minor’ adjustment of  per cent, reducing
the akçe’s silver content from . to . carats or . to . grams, proved politically
explosive and contributed to the forced abdication of the young sultan in September
, a mere two years after his accession to the throne at his father’s insistence in
August . Mehmed’s monetary adjustments can be considered minor given that
the scale on which they were effected remains unclear. It is uncertain whether all of
his accession year coins of  AH () were low weight, or only those produced
at selected mints.40 Evidence suggests that he later achieved considerable success in
enforcing monetary controls: a document from  addressed to the silver assayers of
Bursa refers to the confiscation of a horde of ‘old’ (i.e., recalled) akçes.41 It nonetheless
remains doubtful that any of his predecessors had enjoyed similar powers or efficacy in
the realm of monetary control.42
Perhaps the best way of judging how far early fifteenth-century sultans were able to
direct monetary policy by manipulation of the coinage is to examine the actual extent
of Ottoman control over mineral resources in the two halves of the empire. There is a
natural temptation to over-interpret scattered references in the chronicle record to the
Ottomans’ acquiring mines and mineral resources with their conquests in the central
Anatolian province of Rum (the Amasya-Tokat region) and in Rumeli (the Balkans)
to mean that they thereby immediately assumed direct control over the exploitation
of these mines. What seems more likely is that, initially, they either received proceeds
from these mines in the form of ‘tribute’ or shared the resource with their local allies,
vassals or prospective subjects. This pattern of joint exploitation seems clearest with
respect to the copper mines at Küre, north of Kastamonu.
Retrospective accounts written by Ottoman historians long after the definitive
incorporation of the Candarid principality into the Ottoman realm in  portray
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the result of Beyazid I’s preliminary incursion into the Küre region in  as a ‘conquest’.43 However, it seems clear that the coastal zone remained outside the boundaries
of direct Ottoman rule throughout the first half of the fifteenth century, effectively
precluding direct Ottoman influence in these mineral-producing regions. There is no
firm evidence to suggest that the Ottomans were able to control production or distribution at the Küre mine during the lifetime of Isfendiyar Beg (d. ) or indeed at
any time before Mehmed II’s conquest of .
The financial value for the Ottomans of eventual control of the Küre copper mines
is variously reported. Data from  indicate that they yielded the treasury an annual
revenue of ,, akçes, equivalent (at the then current exchange rate of  akçes
per ducat) to , ducats.44 The figure of , ducats from the preceding decade,
c., is closely comparable.45 It therefore seems possible, if not probable, that the
Küre mines may have provided as much as , ducats annually in treasury revenues
as early as the reign of Mehmed II. The sum of , ducats indicated in Jacopo
da Promontorio’s account of  is for revenues from all sources (customs, salt dues,
etc.), not just copper mining.46 For copper production alone a maximum figure would
have been more like , ducats.47
Before the Ottoman occupation of Serbia – a long-term objective finalized by the
reconquest of Semendire in  – the Ottomans relied as their principal source of silver supply on the intensive exploitation of a relatively few mining sites in Thrace (Sidrekapsi and Serez) and Macedonia (Kratova and Üsküp). Of these regions, Thrace was
by far the more important. Although the chronicles contain enthusiastic reports of the
‘capture’ of the mines at Kratova as the immediate consequence of Murad I’s victory at
Kosova in ,48 their full exploitation seems to date from the period not of Bayezid
I (–) but of Bayezid II (–), a century later. Not only was Bayezid
II responsible for a full-scale reorganization of the legal basis of mining in general, he
also opened a mint at Kratova and ordered the striking of accession year coins there to
commemorate the event.49 Bayezid II’s use of revenues from Kratova for the building
and maintenance of the Üç Şerefeli mosque in Edirne is recorded in a document of
, where the figure of , akçes represents the remittances of one tax farmer
(amil).50 However, it is difficult to extrapolate from this limited data any reliable idea
of total production at the mine. Some Üsküp mintings are known from the time of
Murad II, but the active Ottoman mints before  were Bursa, Amasya and Ayaslug
in Anatolia, and Edirne and Serez in Rumeli. Of these, only Serez had significant silver
deposits in its vicinity. Belon’s observations of , noting the operation of between
 and  active forges at the mine, indicate sustained Ottoman investment in the
development of the Serez site from the late fourteenth century onwards.51 In contrast,
both Ottoman and non-Ottoman sources show that direct Ottoman exploitation of
the Serbian and Bosnian silver mines dates from no earlier than the s. At Srebrenica the Bosnian Kocačević (Kovaç-oğlu) family maintained their dominance over
local affairs, including mining, until the mid-s.52 Practically speaking, conditions
conducive to the full development of Ottoman mining in the central Balkan lands had
to await the pacification of the Bosnian frontier c..
In Serbia the Ottomans’ position before  was roughly similar to that of ambiguous control and shared exploitation witnessed in their relations with the Isfendiyarids, who controlled the copper deposits of north-central Anatolia. According to the
historian Kemalpaşazade, the tribute-paying potential of the Serbian kingdom just
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— The Ottoman economy in the early imperial age —
before the Ottoman conquest was ,, akçes, the equivalent (at the current rate
of  akçes per ducat) of , gold coins,53 based largely on the production of the
silver mines at Novobrdo, Trepça and Rudnik. In practice, however, the actual sum
remitted by the Serbian ruler George Branković (d. ) and his successors in the
years  to  fluctuated considerably between the base rate of , and a preconquest high of , ducats.54 In sum, Serbian compliance rates with Ottoman
requests varied dramatically from year to year. Only after – could the Ottoman
treasury direct and deploy this resource to match its own economic objectives.
The preceding discussion relating both to Anatolian copper and Rumelian silver
mining raises the implicit question of whether full Ottoman sovereignty was a necessary precondition to ensure the flow of precious metals into the Ottoman lands. On
the whole the answer is probably affirmative. Only after achieving a substantial jump
in their real assets through Mehmed II’s acquisition of the Serbian silver mines and
the Candarid copper mines c. were Ottoman rulers able to exercise meaningful
control over monetary policy. While Mehmed’s predecessors – particularly his father
Murad II – had sizeable royal treasuries, they generally placed greater reliance on external sources such as war booty (ganimet) than on fixed assets and internal sources such
as tithing and taxation. The land registration of Albania in  and its centralizing
implications provoked violent reactions, illustrating the difficulties encountered by
the Ottomans in their early attempts to introduce such registration and its corollary,
direct taxation.55 In assessing the potential of the early Ottoman economy it is also
important to recall not just the narrowness of Ottoman territory in the early fifteenth
century compared to the vastly expanded empire resulting from the two transformatory events of the capture of Istanbul in  and of Cairo in , but also the tenuousness of Ottoman rule at the margins, both in the northern and western Balkans
and in the central Anatolian heartlands. The drift away from the centre in the aftermath of Timur’s invasion of Anatolia in  and the re-establishment of a number
of the former Anatolian beyliks profoundly affected the ability of Ottoman rulers to
command and control both the manpower and the resources of Anatolia. Full Ottoman sovereignty over key Anatolian regions was reasserted only with the conquests of
Mehmed II in the s and s.
Certain broader parameters and characteristics of Ottoman attempts to establish
their hegemony over trade and trade routes require brief consideration. Ottoman
expansion westwards to the Marmara and Aegean littoral in the fourteenth century
was accomplished through co-operative arrangements. Wherever possible, the urban
infrastructure was left intact and largely undisturbed. Contemporary sources reveal the
gradualism of the Ottoman ‘advance’ against the economic predominance of established families in the Meander valley and their general preference for continuity of
control.56 Ottoman trading arrangements with the Italian maritime states were patterned closely on (if not inherited intact from) those established earlier, particularly
by the Menteşe and the Aydınoğulları beyliks. The transformation of the Ottoman
economy and the creation of a relationship of dependency vis-à-vis the Italian maritime states, whereby the tables were turned in the Ottomans’ favour, dates only from
the half century after . Only then could the Ottomans proceed, in step-wise
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— Rhoads Murphey —
fashion, to incorporate all outstanding Genoese colonial bases in the Aegean and
along the Black Sea coast. That this process of transformation was still only partial and gradual is indicated by numismatic evidence which suggests that Ottoman economic sovereignty was not very far advanced until well into Mehmed II’s
reign. Based on his evaluation of the gold issues of Genoese Pera, one scholar has
argued convincingly for the continuing dominance of the Genoese in Black Sea
trade throughout the s.57 Before  it was never consistently possible for the
Ottomans to break the semi-monopolistic control of either the Genoese in the Black
Sea or Venice in the trade with Egypt and Syria. It is perfectly correct to attribute a
commercial motive to Bayezid I in his southward expansion against the Karamanids
and to interpret his move, in , to incorporate the hinterlands of Antalya as
prompted by the Ottomans’ desire for control over inland routes linking that port
with their own commercial capital Bursa in the north.58 Had the plan succeeded, the
Ottomans would clearly have gained broader access to and the potential for control
over trans-Mediterranean trading networks. However, Bayezid’s plans fell far short
of full realization. The real battle for dominance over eastern Mediterranean trade
was fought not in the late fourteenth century, but in the early sixteenth, when the
Ottomans gained control of Egypt.
In the early fifteenth century the Ottoman state possessed only Gallipoli to protect its strategic and commercial interests throughout the eastern Mediterranean.
The sufficiency of its Gallipoli fleet to challenge Venetian naval dominance was
tested in  and found wanting.59 In the naval sphere too it was Mehmed II who
oversaw the development of an effective Ottoman naval force capable of defeating
the Venetians. Mehmed made it one of his chief priorities after  to reconfigure
and expand Ottoman naval and maritime capacity through an ambitious construction programme undertaken between the years  and  and the relocation
of the imperial naval arsenal to Kadırga Limanı in Istanbul.60 Control of Istanbul
and, ultimately, of foreign shipping and navigation into and out of the Black Sea
were necessary prerequisites for the Ottoman commercial revolution of the later
fifteenth century. It seems inescapable that the terms of Ottoman commerce before
 were essentially a continuation of the pattern of dependency on western naval
support and deference to western commercial interests witnessed during the final
century of Byzantine rule.
Muntaner , Chronicle: II, –.
Ibid.: .
Ibid.: .
Ibid.: .
Ibid.: .
Ibid.: 
Hodgson : I, , –.
For a survey of basic features of the Ottoman economy in existence before
, focusing on
the philosophical basis and practical operation of the land regime, see Inalcık : –.
 Ayubi ; Revel .
 Cook : , n. .
 Tsugitaka : –.
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Anhegger and Inalcık (eds) : –.
Ibid.: , lines –.
Tarama Sözlüğü (–): II, .
Beldiceanu (ed.) : document facsimile on p. , lines –.
Kemalpaşazade, Chronicle [Murad II fragment], MS, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MSTurcs,
Supp. : folio a, and a similar comment on folio b.
Anon. , Chronicle: , lines –.
Promontorio .
Aşıkpaşazade : –.
Zachariadou : –.
Öz (ed.) : .
Tekin (ed.) : text facsimile, folios a–b; transcription, pp. –.
Babinger : .
Ibn Battuta : II, .
Cf. Anon. , Chronicle: , lines –.
Pistarino : –.
in Inalcık : –; full transcript in Inalcık (ed.) .
Inalcık : ff.
On the strategic importance of sürgün as an engine of growth in the central Balkan lands
from the early fifteenth century onwards, see Barkan –: ff., esp. , citing a document specifying the selection criteria for Anatolian population groups considered suitable for
deployment as emigrants and settlers to under-populated districts of a newly conquered frontier province.
Barkan –: –; Murphey .
See in particular Kemalpaşazade –, Chronicle: , and, for a Karamanid perspective,
Şikari , Chronicle: .
On the deportations from Karaman and its results, see Inalcık : .
For an overview focusing on the southern Balkans, see Kaleshi – and Lowry , esp.
–, on the development of Serres, based on the Ottoman survey of .
Inbaşı : . See also Popovic : , and Tevfik : –.
Inbaşı : .
Barkan –: , table . See also Todorov : , table .
E.g., Lutfi Paşa ([] ): , re the deportation c. of Aktav Tatars from the Iskilip
region of central Anatolia to the Filibe (Plovdiv) area in southern Bulgaria.
Aşıkpaşazade :  (line ) and [] :  (line ).
See Barkan : , para. ;
. Akgündüz –: III, , para. .
nalcık (ed.) : , n. .
Inalcık (ed.) : , text of document no. .
On the wide circulation of foreign coins (especially gold), until the later fifteenth century, see
Pamuk : –. On the diverse (and heterogeneous). mix of coins in the Black Sea economic zone, until at least the mid-sixteenth century, see Inalcık (ed.), : –.
Cf. Hoca Sadeddin [–] , Chronicle: I, .
Barkan (ed.) –: .
Murphey : .
Promontorio : . .
Cf. Babinger : ; Inalcık : , table I: .
Cf. Neşri –, Cihannüma: I, , lines –.
An example is provided in Pere : .
Gökbilgin (ed.) : .
Belon : folio a.
Beldiceanu (ed.) : .
Kemalpaşazade –: .
Babinger : .
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Inalcık : xiii.
Zachariadou : –; Foss .
Sahillioğlu –: –.
The argument is cogently presented in Inalcık a: –, esp. .
. Setton : –.
Inalcık : .
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