Ottoman Slavery: The Janissary Corps

Author- Maria Santana

Slavery comes from the word slav, a term used to describe one of the nomadic tribes that settled into Eastern Europe. This migration if slavs and other groups occurs during the late Roman period and were enslaved  by the state. You see blacks are not the only group of people who have been enslaved in history.

Many empires have enslaved slavs and other whites after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Ottoman Empire, too, enslaved slavs and other Europeans for many purposes. White slave women would be kidnapped by Tatar and Arab slave traders and sold to Islamic empires. They would be sold to harems where if chosen as a haseki, or Sultan’s favorite concubine she will ensure the lineage of the Ottoman dynasty. The women would have to be converted to Islam, have their names changed and be trained in entertainment all for the purpose of pleasing the sultan. The Valide Sultana, the mother of the Sultan, determines what concubine would be fit for her son and controls his sex life. If the concubine succeeds in providing the sultan a son, she will be considered a sultana.

The male slaves had a different experience. Devşhirme was the process where young Christian males in the Balkans were taken from families. As a blood tax, the devşhirme was devastating for families but others accepted it since it may provide their sons with a ‘better life’.

These young males would be taken to the Ottoman capital, converted to Islam and renamed. The young boys, that would often be taken between the ages of 6 and 20, would receive the vest education and training in fighting. Some can reach the level of Grand Vizier, the prime minister of the Ottoman empire and rules second to the sultan. Others with great fighting abilities can become members of the Janissary Corps.

The Janissary Corps was established in the 14th century under Sultan Murad I. The Ottomans at that time had slowly began conquering the Balkans before Battle of Kosova 1389. Their role was to be loyal to the sultan and to fight for the empire. The janissaries have played a very important role in protecting the Sultan. These slaves were forbidden to get married and earned a salary.

Things were never smooth when it came to relations between the Sultan and the Janissaries. Some of these disagreements have had catastrophic consequences in the past. One of the most well known incidents was the Auspicious Incident where Sultan Mahmud II in the 18th century had 6,000 janissaries executed.

The Janissary Corp matters for many reasons and this demonstrates that whites had been enslaved in history.

Although not commonly known, the Trans-Saharan slave trade enslaved blacks. Now the Ottomans had purchased black slaves too. There is such a thing as the Afro-Turk and that will be written about soon.

Books I recommend to learn more about the topics discussed in this article are:

The Imperial Harem by Leslie Peirce

Bridge over the Drina – Ivo Andric


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Christian, American Patriot, Right Winger, Latina, Native New Yorker, #MAGA, Aspiring Lawyer and Historian

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