Eng 12 – 1862
May 13, 2009
Rules to Enslave
The Ottoman Empire, 1300 – 1650: the Structure of Power by Colin Imber is a work that recalls the impact and the fundamental role of slavery within the Ottoman Empire between the years of 1300 and 1650. Imber reveals the methods taken to enslave and recruit any non-Muslims into the Empire as slaves, which came to an end during the seventeenth- century when the Ottoman army grew past corps of elite household troops, and became the largest contingents in the ottoman army (Imber 142). Imber implies that slaves were so important within the Ottoman Empire that certain laws and standards had to be set. Slavery was an institutional feature of the Ottoman Empire and because of this slavery was regulated and controlled.
Imber discusses the status of slaves within the Ottoman Empire. He demonstrates the acceptance and normalcy of slavery. “Islamic laws permits slavery and, by creating a category of licensed slaves, makes it possible for them to carry out transactions on their owner’s behalf” (Imber 130). The words “‘Licensed slaves’” has truly made an impression on me. It is actually quite interesting to imagine how things function when it is legal. Something as barbaric as slavery can have order and control. I do not want to confuse you into thinking that I approve of slavery, because I do not. I simply find it fascinating how society behaves itself when it is out in the open, compared to when it is hidden. Perhaps if slavery were to be legalized and regulated there wouldn’t be as many girls going missing and dying. Perhaps illegal immigrants wouldn’t be seduced into factories with the idea that they will be free. And perhaps children wouldn’t be taken advantage of and forced to beg. Then again, if slavery were to be legal, this would all be an entirely different society. The entire working class would be considered slaves and everything we’ve gained as a society would be for nothing.
Imber writes of a slave deficiency that leads to recruitment within the Ottoman Empire for the Sultan’s private infantry called the Janissary. As the shortage of slave continued, the Sultan’s dependency on them never wavered. Therefore, a new system was created; it was called the “collection.” During the collection, one young boy from each non-Muslim family was taken for the Empire and became property of the Sultan. The collection itself was extremely controlled and regulated. “The officers in charge should not take the sons of important men… They should not take only sons… They should not take orphans… tall lads… short lads.... Nor should they take lads who are ‘fresh faced and beardless’…” (Imber 135-136). Even with such an immense need of slaves, there was still order, and rules to be followed in the collection of them. I’m a bit surprised by this revelation. I always thought of slavery as being blood, rape, chains, and death. Yet, within this selection it appears that the Ottoman Empire thrived on everything involving slavery. The call for slaves appears to have gone from door to door, compromising when necessary. That image of slavery does not seem to fit well within my mental profile of slavery. One thing that is clear is that the poor is targeted. Economic struggle seems to be a consistently reappearing factor in slavery. Imber makes it a point to mention that the sons of important men should not be taken.
Imber’s The Ottoman Empire, 1300 - 1650: the Structure of Power is a recount on the history of slavery within the Ottoman Empire. Through the description of laws within the Empire, Imber demonstrates the acceptance that slavery had, which lead to the regulation of it within the Ottoman society. He also goes on to explain the measures taken to posses slaves when there was a shortage, but the recruitment was controlled and regulated. Such a concept is neither good nor bad. At the time of this thriving society, it was the only thing they knew. Imber’s
The Ottoman Empire, open’s ones eyes to the very colorful truth of slavery. Something that was once thought of in black and white with very little shades of grey has illuminated the imagination into seeing everything in an entirely different perspective. It brings an understanding of the importance of regulations and control.
Imber, Colin. The Ottoman Empire, 1300 – 1650: The Structure of Power. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.