10 May 2023

What are the Janissaries? – Development, function and culture Jenizara

By Donald

They are one of the military most fascinating and with many mysteries that they existed Its origin, during the Ottoman Empire, has been the subject of study and debate over the centuries, given its impact on politics and society. In this article you will learn from its origin, to how it ended.

What were the Janissaries?

They were an elite military force that played a fundamental role in the history of the Ottoman Empire, during the Modern Age. Its name comes from the Italian term ‘giannizzero’, since it was the inhabitants of Venice who clashed with these troops. Other sources say that comes from the Turkish word ‘yeni çeri’ which means ‘new troop’.

The term ‘new troop’ was coined to differentiate them from veteran troops of the Ottoman Empire. These were made up of slaves who were generally people who practiced Christianity, who became Islamized.

Later, the recruitment process began with the capture of Christian childrenwhich they transferred to Istanbul, where they were put under the command of a system of military training and Islamic education.

Upon passing this instruction and after his conversion to Islam, they were assigned to a company of janissaries. These were noted for blind loyalty to the sultan, with unwavering discipline.

In their training they were taught highly advanced infantry techniques, firearms and artillery handling. For this reason they were located in the center of the battlefield, in which they used a closed and rigid formation, shooting with firearms while protecting themselves with shields.

Among the missions entrusted to this elite was protecting the Sultan at all costs, and guarding the Edirne Imperial Palace, which would later become the Topkapi Imperial Palace in Istanbul.

When did the Janissary culture develop?

Its origin dates back to Bey Orhan I, who was a ruler of the Ottoman Empire, and founder of this military elite in the year 1330. These so-called ‘new troops’ were created as a result of the previous failure, because the soldiers had no discipline, and were poorly trained.

Islam did not allow slavery, so troops were called to those who have converted voluntarily, which was not enough, since the government aspired to recruit at least 1000 men. So, they interpreted in their favor those rules of religion, where it is established that all people, from birth, have the desire to embrace Islam.

Sultan Murad I. during his government, from 1359 to 1389, would complete the task of forming this army. He started a blood tax collection process which they named ‘devşirme’, which applied to Christian territories which the Ottomans conquered. This practice evolved into non-Muslim children between the ages of 7 and 14 being recruited to be trained in military skills.

This training lasted approximately 6 years, in which They were taught to use various types of weapons.such as bows, muskets, swords and javelins. After this they would become ‘Yeniçeri’ or ‘new soldiers’, and finally a trained janissary is considered at 25 years of age.

there is a turkish legend which tells the story of a janissary, who after retiring from the service becomes a spider hunter. He was so adept at this, that he was able to catch them without even touching them, using a special technique to capture the animal.

It is said that once, an Ottoman governor heard about the skill of a man who caught spidersAlso, they don’t sting. That is why they decide to put him to the test and invite him to catch a large spider that was in his room, in exchange for a great reward.

Instead of trying to catch the spider, the janissary sat down with a musical instrumentthrough his music, he attracted her to him, and he captured her with his hand to deliver her to the governor.

He asks where he learned his technique, and the hunter answers that he saw some people in the army who did it and over the years he perfected his technique. That is why this legend highlights the skill and intelligence acquired in the military, which helped him become an expert, albeit in a very different field.

What was the function of the Janissaries?

His role was not only limited to warfare, but also played a role in society and politics. In the first place, they performed the function as an elite military force. Since being selected as children, they passed rigorous training, thus, they became one of the most impressive and skilled troops in the world.

Also, being so close to the sultan, they played an important role in the politics and administration of the Ottoman Empire. Were loyal to their ruler and they protected him as personal guards of this figure and of other high officials of his government, in this way, they were allowed to participate in the war councils and in the decision-making of other government bodies.

In 1486 they faced the Egyptian Mamluks and in 1516 the Iranian Safavids, emerging victorious from these battles. In addition, one of his most significant victories It was in the year 1526, in which they defeated the Hungarian cavalry in the battle of Mohacs.

In Ottoman society, they became defenders of the Islamic religion and contributed to the spread of this faith, through military campaigns in Europe and Asia.

When did the Janissaries disappear?

The fall of this prestigious military force began in the 18th century, despite having won numerous victories during the 17th century, such as the conquest of Byzantium.

That is why the Janissaries they accumulated great wealth from the spoils of war, thus causing his military discipline to gradually relax.

In addition to this, they were given a lot of military importance, and they presented a growth in their political influence, which caused that at the end of the 16th century they demanded privileges and concessions the sultan, threatening to overthrow him.

Regarding the economy, the janissaries allowed themselves to be bribed by the upper class, who tried to get favors from these troops, thus affecting the rigid discipline that characterized them. Likewise, they managed to abolish the ‘devşirme’ system in 1648, and only the sons of the janissaries inherited the jobs and lands of their parents.

In the year 1789, Sultan Selim III decided to create an army apart from these, but the Janissaries found out and murdered 17 of them, not satisfied with this, they also caused the death of said sultan.

This is replaced by Sultan Mustafa IV, who was his cousin, who made the decision to abolish the reforms that had been planned, and granting the janissaries their requests. Later on, Mahmud II, successor to the previous man, managed to make agreements with the Janissaries to continue in power.

That is why the sum of so many excesses of power and wealth, caused their characteristic discipline to diminish, to the point where they disappeared from history.

How was the end of the Janissaries?

The end of these troops came in 1826, when Sultan Mahmud II I order its dissolutionand having prevented that they would rebel against this decision, he had to use force.

The sultan armed civilians, religious leaders, students, and some members of the army to oppose the Janissaries and support the decision to wipe them out. Thanks to this measure, in 2 days it was possible to surround these and murder more than 10,000 of them, without allowing them to escape.

Multiple executions were carried out, and the piled up bodies of these were called ‘the bloody tree’, today, in that place there is a fountain in honor of Kaiser Wilhelm.

The end of the Janissaries it was a tragic moment for the history of the Ottoman Empire, since they had been an integral part of society for several centuries, having a profound influence on political and cultural issues. Despite this, by managing to eliminate them, they positioned themselves in the modernization of the empire.