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A comment from the redaction of Armat Platform: the cruel custom of collecting tax from the conquered Christians in the form of a human resource was called “Devshirme”. In other words, the Ottomans took by force infant boys from Christian families to serve in the different spheres of the Empire. Many of these boys were assimilated; they forgot their roots, belief and became Janissaries: the elite warriors, guards, policemen of the Ottoman Empire. We can read here the history of one of this warriors: ”From the Great Ottoman Commander to the Defender of Christians: the Story of Skanderbeg.”

This article below presents an alternative view of the Devshirme system, as well as shows the consequences of this practice on the oppressed peoples. This will help to understand the mechanism of the governing a large empire and one of the keys to its success better.

Article's source: Yandex Dzen

Devshirme: oppression or salvation in the Ottoman Empire?

Devshirme is a system of forced service of children from Christian families in the interests of the Ottoman Empire. It is a tax imposed on the conquered lands of the Porte. The objects for the taxation were the children from Christian families. Each fifth boy from the selected area was to serve in various positions of the Empire. The most gifted, strong and capable boys were selected for Devshirme. The boys who were strong, brave and were capable to fight were sent to the Janisarries. Boys who were inclined to scientific and administrative affairs served in the Sarai (Sultan’s Palace).

Units of Janissaries guarded the Sultans and other government officials, serving the Empire with devotion for hundreds of years.

Forced Slavery or Salvation?

The Devshirme system was considered as slavery in Greece and Russia, in the Balkan coutries and the Western world, because only children from non-Muslim families fell under it and later were Osmanized and Islamized. Indeed, if you look at Devshirme from the sight of the 21th century, then from the point of view of human rights and freedoms it can be considered as slavery. But the Devshirme system was actual in ХIV–XIX centuries when slavery was normal all over the world. Devshirme was the only chance for representatives of a non-titular nations to free themselves from slavery, own lands and make a successful career.

The Origins and Development of Devshirme

The Ottoman Empire used a non-regular army for its military purposes in the first few decades of its existence. The first Sultans (Khan) of the Empire hired mercenary soldiers from neighboring provinces for major battles, consisting mainly of Muslim detachments. Becoming a powerful empire, it needed a disciplinary and regular army. As a state based on Islamic values, the Ottoman Empire could not enslave (use as servants) Muslims of other countries, even if these Muslims were in enemy relations with the Porte. In this regard, the Ottoman leaders had to solve the issue of the shortage of military personnel in the army. By introducing the Devshirme system, the Ottoman Empire solved several problems at once:

- the army was regularly replenished with trained military personnel,

- the counteraction of the conquered peoples from among Christians was neutralized (decreased),

- national minorities were employed,

- the leading military and state personnel was replenished.

The level of training in the Janissary detachments was so high that children from noble Muslim families were secretly enrolled in the Devshirme system so that they could successfully advance in their careers.

The Rules of Entrance to Devshirme system 

- 1/5 of the boys from the conquered Christian lands were forced to serve in various areas of the Porte;

- boys from 8 to 18 years old who had dark appearance were only accepted( the blondes were not accepted in the system),

- the only sons of the family were not accepted  in the system, also the boys with a sparse beard, cropped, too tall and short, bald, orphans were not accepted.

In the XIV century the Janissaries, who graduated from various military and state institutions, converted to Islam and served mainly in their historical lands of the Balkans, Macedonia, and Bulgaria. But since the XV century, they were allowed to serve in Erzurum, Diyarbakir, Bursa, Istanbul.

People from which Nations were Accepted in Devshirme system? 

Preference was given to the Albanian, Bosnian, Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian and Croatian nations. Turks, Kurds, Russians, Jews, Georgians, Gypsies, Persians were not accepted into the system. By adopting Islam Janissaries and other minority servants were not considered as slaves. Therefore, thanks to their hard work and talent, they could rise to high positions up to the Great Vizier (the second position in the Empire after the Sultan). The overwhelming majority of the Great Viziers, the commanders of the naval fleet, the leaders of the various armies were from the Devshirme system. Thus, the Devshirme system was a salvation for gifted, strong, capable children from Christian families.

The most famous architect of the Ottoman Empire, Mimar Sinan [ethnic Armenian - e.n.], thanks to the Devshirme system, served in the courtyard of Sultan Suleiman. The building and structure of Mimar Sinan later became symbols of the Ottoman Empire, which are protected not only by the Turkish Republic, but also by UNESCO.

Sokollu Mehmet Pasha, one of the most famous Viziers of the Ottoman Empire, who served under those Sultans. Sokollu Mehmet Pasha comes from a Serbian (Bosnian) family, and also began his military service with the Janissaries.


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