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By Arthur Leon Horniker

Published in Gorget & Sash

Military annals reveal few organizations whose history is more extraordinary than that of the corps of the Janizaries, which for nearly five hundred years constituted the backbone of the armed forces of the Ottoman Empire. Not only was it the first true infantry of modern times, but the method by which its ranks were filled was unique. Only in our own day is it possible to observe the creation of a troop the underlying principles of which resemble even partly those of the corps of the Janizaries; this troop is the elite guard of Nazi Germany. But still more interesting than the military organization of the Janizaries were the social and economic aspects of the corps.
Above all, the history of the Janizaries faithfully reflects the whole history of the Ottoman Empire. From the founding of the corps in 1330 to the time of Sulaiman the Great, the Janizaries, unopposed by armed forces equally well organized, disciplined and valorous, were able to carry the Turkish standards into the heart of Europe. When, however, after Sulaiman's reign, the discipline and efficiency of the corps began to decay, the Empire entered upon the path to its downfall.
Yet, while the very name of the organization has become a figure of speech, but little of its history has been known to the English speaking world.


What was the origin of the corps of the Janizaries? Two factors led to its creation. On the one hand, there was the political factor, the character of the Ottoman Empire with its expansionist policy, and on the other, the military factor, the urgent need of an organized and well disciplined infantry which alone could have effectuated this policy of expansion.
The Empire which the nomadic tribe of Osmanli-Turks established in the early part of the 14th century was a military state whose life and business was war and conquest. This inherent belligerency of the Turkish state which originated in the nomadic past of the Osmanli-Turks was powerfully aided moreover by another factor likewise of nomadic origin--Islam. Islam called for a continuous war against the infidels and this was linked up closely through the Koran with the whole cultural and religious life of its followers. The Osmanli-Turks who were won for Islam took over this ideal because it conformed completely with their own nature. Thus the teaching of the Koran became the basis and support of the Ottoman State.
The conquerors who held these ideas and who laid the foundation of the Ottoman Empire were the army of horsemen, akinci (light cavalry), who were assisted, from the earliest period, by a small group of irregular foot troops, azab (unmarried). The army of horsemen long constituted the elite of the Ottoman military power. However, quiet early it became evident that a complete reorganization of the army and creation of a well-drilled infantry was indispensable for the successful conduct of war and conquest. Although this cavalry was unmatched in open warfare, it was not well suited for siege operations against fortified towns of the Byzantine Empire. Moreover, very rapidly the Turks realized the advantages of establishing themselves in Europe and the expansionist tendency toward the Christian West was their leading idea. While in Asia Minor the Turks had been able to capture fortified places through trickery and long sieges, the final destruction of Byzantium and a conquest of Europe could not be achieved through such means. For this a well organized and trained infantry was necessary.
To meet the exigency, an attempt apparently was made to establish a military of foot soldiers comprising the younger sons of the Osmanli horseman. This uniformly armed and well paid troop was called pyade or yayan (foot people). But it proved ineffective in war, while in peace time, its licentiousness and constant clamor for increased pay constituted a danger to the stability of the State. As a result, the pyade was replaced by a regiment of mercenaries. There were the azab, and into their ranks entered principally the Islamic town dwellers. The troop was, however, not well trained and undisciplined and played only a minor role in the military structure of the Turkish State.
The difficulty of creating an efficient and well drilled infantry from Turkish elements was due to the fact that every Turk of any importance served as a feudal horseman, or as a follower of one, while only the lower classes would enlist in the infantry. But owing to their still recent nomadic life, these Osmanli elements proved completely worthless for war purposes in a regular infantry and required a prolonged schooling in order to bring some discipline and order into their wild hordes.


The failure of the attempts to form an infantry from the Turks convinced the Ottoman rulers of the necessity of drawing upon other people. However, since Asiatics stood low in their reputation as warriors, Armenians, Jews and the inhabitants of Asia Minor were immediately excluded from all consideration. It was decided to recruit the troops from European Christians only. But to recruit an army from strangers and unbelievers was as much contrary to the basic principles of Islam as it was impolitic to have an armed militia composed of Christian subjects. And yet, the creation of the indispensable and efficient foot troop, upon which the perpetuation of the military State itself depended could only materialize by utilizing, in accordance with nomadic custom, the service of foreign, indeed, even hostile, peoples. Advised by the renowned and shrewd military judge Kara Halil Cendereli to recruit the infantry from European Christians exclusively, Sultan Orkan decided to organize the corps of the Janizaries in 1330 by resorting to Christian prisoners of war. Since as a result of the numerous wars there was an abundance of these prisoners, the plan was executed rapidly.
As organized by Orkan, the corps consisted of 1,000 men who were drawn from the fifth part (besinci) of the human booty which, according to the Koran, belonged to the Sultan. Replacements were drawn from Christian prisoners of war who were forced to accept Islam and Christian volunteers who became converts to Islam. But the number of mature prisoners did not suffice to meet an increasing demand for replacements, nor did it permit the expansion of the corps. Furthermore, despite the severe discipline, it was not possible to trust such recruits. Children, however, could be properly molded. Hence, in 1362, under Murad I, the recruiting was extended to the fifth part of Christian children who became prisoners of war, and it was decided to subject them to a thorough schooling for their future military activity. By the time of Selim I, even this source was no longer adequate to meet the growing demand for men and it was decided to impose a forced levy (devsirme) upon children of the subject Christian peoples who up to that time had been free from military service. It is interesting to observe that the method of recruiting the Janizaries developed gradually from experience and improved step by step until it culminated in the institution unique in history.
Throughout the earlier period of their existence, the number of Janizaries was always small. The first Sultans followed the rule of not augmenting the troop in the interest of their own security. However, in the later period their number increased. With the shrinkage in the prestige and the authority of the Sultans, this deviation from the earlier rule had serious consequences.


That Orkan, in establishing the corps of the Janizaries, wished to make it the spearhead of that perpetual war against the unbelievers which was preached by Islam and which, favored by the nomadic origin of the Osmanli, had become the driving principle of the Turkish State, can be inferred from the religious ceremony in connection with the establishment of the corps and from its intimate association with a religious order.
According to legend, upon founding the corps, in order to appease the religious sentiment of the Turks and endow the organization, in view of its anticipated function, with permanency, Orkan asked Haci Bektas, a renowned Islamic religious leader who has given his name to the Bektasie, an order of Dervishes, to name the troop and impart his blessing to it. According to the traditional story, the holy man, ceremonially placing a felt sleeve ripped from his white coat upon the head of one of the new soldiers in such a manner that the sleeve hung down in the back, called him yenicere, or new trooper, and imparting his benediction, wished them victory, glory and well being for all time. In memory of this occasion, the Janizaries always wore a white felt cap to the rear of which was attached a piece of cloth. The corps was formally affiliated with the Bektasie. The members of the order served as godfathers and chaplains for the Janizaries. Haci Bektas became the patron saint of the latter and was always remembered by them in their evening prayers.
Very often we find in history military organizations linked to religious associations. Among the Christian nations, the ecclesia militans, the celibate monastic orders, were the prototype of the militant religious associations of knights, with their highly developed esprit de corps and their readiness to sacrifice themselves for the Church. It is quite likely that the Christian Knightly Orders of the Johannites of Rhodes and Malta exerted some influence on the character of the corps. These knights were the most formidable foes whom the Turks had encountered and whom they could not completely destroy. It may be assumed therefore that the knightly orders served as a model when the organization of the Janizaries was undertaken. The latter, too, were dissociated from all family ties and other worldly contacts and closely bound in a religious tie which made them an unbreakable power in the hands of the Sultans.
The plan to recruit a part of an Islamic army from Christian prisoners of war and later, systematically, from Christian children was a crafty thought which showed an understanding of human nature, although it was inhumanly hard and cruel. While religious fanaticism probably played a certain part in originating the plan to use the Christian population for purposes of war -- thousands of souls were gained for Islam -- yet, it was mainly a clever calculation designed to serve the Turkish State. In the first place, by limiting the troops to European Christians, a population largely agricultural in character, they were getting a group of people accustomed to a regular and routine way of life, hence easily organized in a military and disciplined. Secondly, the non-Turkish origin of the members of the troop made it difficult for them to unite in conspiracy, as had the pyade, with the Turks. Finally, the exploitation of the Christian subjects through the levy upon their children weakened Christians by robbing them of their strongest and most gifted young men, and strengthened simultaneously the Turks.


But this attempt to create a military organization, which for centuries maintained a superiority over that of the Christian armies, would never have succeeded to the extent that it actually did, had not, in addition to the intimate affiliation with a religious association, their recruiting and training hammered the Janizaries into an extraordinarily efficient warrior society. The recruiting (devsirme), as was pointed out, evolved from the impressing of adult Christian war prisoners to a levy on children of the subject Christian peoples within the Ottoman Empire. These children became the slaves of the Sultan. Now, while Muslim law permitted the conscription of prisoners of war and their enslavement, the impressing of Christian children to recruit the corps of the Janizaries was contrary to the common law which forbade a sovereign to force the dimmi to give their children into slavery. The disregard of the common law was justified, however, by appealing to a remark of the Prophet that every human being carries from his birth a desire to embrace Islam.
Conscription was practiced in the European provinces of the Empire only, namely, in Albania, Greece, and later in Hungary. Some privileged places, as Constantinople and Galata, which protected themselves against it in their original treaties with the Osmanli conquerors, as well as the Islands of Chios and Rhodes, were exempted from the levy. At first the levy took place every seventh or fifth year; then it varied in accordance with the needs and took place at shorter intervals.
Whenever conscription was ordered, small groups of soldiers, each under a Janizary captain and armed with a special firman, made their rounds in the assigned Christian localities. Upon their order, the head of each community, the protegeros, submitted the official register of the Christian families and assembled the fathers with all their sons. From these the captain selected one-fifth of their number and between the ages of 7 and 14. Later, however, as many were taken as were needed, the exceptions as to only sons from one family were done away with, and many of a higher age were conscripted. All those who were of good appearance and strong, or who displayed certain skill or had some talent were taken away and sent to Constantinople as the rightful part (besinci) of the Sultan.
This levy, which in reality was a blood tax to be remitted in the persons of Christian boys and for the evasion of which heavy penalties were imposed on the Christians, produced sad consequences for the oppressed peoples. From time immemorial there has been a tendency towards tax evasion. But in this case it was only natural that every and all stratagems would be employed to evade so inhuman a tax. As the law provided that only unmarried boys should be recruited, children were married off when they were still in their cradles. When this could not be continued, because young married men were conscripted, the children were made to accept Islam, for only Christian children were subject to this levy. But soon the Turks, fearing a shortage of boys, refused, contrary to their religious precepts, permission for conversion. The result was that many Christians, particularly in the border provinces, fled with their children, leaving their homes and goods behind. Often Christian families would betray each other in order to save their own children. And very often there were uprisings against this method of recruiting, which were usually suppressed with much bloodshed.
Moreover, grave abuses grew up with this recruiting. The recruiting officers would often disregard the Sultan's firman and would take away a greater number of boys than required by law. But the excess number of boys would be delivered at Constantinople. The officers usually offered to sell back to the parents their children at high prices; otherwise, they threatened, they would be sold into slavery. The wealthy Christians, of course, would ransom their children, many of them sacrificing everything to save their sons from this fate. But the poor were the chief victims of this rapacious system. The position of recruiting officers thus became a source of considerable income. Such positions were monopolized by the Grand Viziers, who auctioned them off to the highest bidder. By the 17th century, the system, which had come to resemble the African slave trade, fell into disrepute with both rulers and subjects; the executors of the levy frequently atoned for their extortions with the loss of their rank and sometimes even with death.
But there was also another side to the system of recruiting. Owing to the severe oppression and the great poverty which prevailed in the Christian communities, many a boy, in order to escape this misery, was only too glad to volunteer for the corps, and many parents, to secure a better future for their children, encouraged their sons to enlist. Even from countries outside the Ottoman Empire hordes of youngsters sought admission into the ranks of the Janizaries. The escape from poverty and the riches and great honors which this service offered were great attractions. Turkish officials never failed to hold out these advantages before the starved Christian boys. Indeed, these benefits led the Turkish people to complain against the monopolization of the highest positions in the State by men of Christian birth. Gradually, Turkish boys began to be smuggled into the corps, their parents turning them over to Christians to be delivered to recruiting officers in place of their own children. With this, as will be seen later, the cancerous germ was planted which gnawed away the body of the corps and finally destroyed it.


From the beginning the boys impressed into the service were subjected to a well planned system of education through which they were fashioned into the most ardent defenders of Islam and of the Sultans. The system was distinguished by the strict and careful examination of the physical and mental qualities of boys for the purpose of choosing an occupation for them, an occupation serving the interest of the totality, and diligence in the development of the boys for the duties of this position. In Constantinople, the boys, who through circumcision were immediately accepted into the Islamic faith, were again examined by the public authorities, in the presence of the Sultan. The best fit physically and the most talented among them were assigned to the Sultan's school for pages. Here they were educated by young jurists and trained, under the supervision of white eunuchs and military experts, for services at the palace, state administration and army, chiefly the Sipahi (paid cavalry).
The others, usually the greater number, were assigned to serve in the corps of the Janizaries. However, they had to go through a hard "preparatory" schooling. The preparatory period comprised two stages: (1) the apprenticing of the boys throughout the country, and (2) their training at the institute of the acemi oglan. The boys were turned over to the special agas of the institute. The agas apprenticed them for a number of years to Turkish peasants and artisans, chiefly in Anatolia, where they learned the Turkish language and were indured to all kinds of hard labor, physical exertion and privations. Their new masters had to pay a small sum, and willingly did so, into the treasury of the corps. For this long apprenticeship was of great benefit to the peasants and the mechanics, particularly the former, in that they were subsidized with labor, so to speak, by the State. And the agas soon turned the system into a profitable business for themselves, for the artisans and peasants would gladly pay something additional to obtain more apprentices or to retain them for a longer period.
At the end of their first preparatory period, when they had become hardened physically and proficient in Islamic practices and the Turkish tongue, the agas returned as many of the boys as were needed to Constantinople. There they entered the institute of the acemi oglan (inexperienced boys), the nursery of the Janizaries, and began the second phase of their education under the supervision of officers.
The acemi oglan was a division of the Janizaries corps, and the number of recruits increased and decreased with the needs of the service for which they were designated. In the early period their number was always small; in the period of decay, however, the situation changed completely.
According to the law established by Sultan Murad I, the acemi oglan were obliged to spend seven years at the institute before they might by promoted to the corps of the Janizaries. At the institute the recruits were subjected to severe discipline, received their training in arms and, in addition, performed all kinds of hard labor on State works. Thus, the State derived considerable direct and indirect economic advantages from the exploitation of this supply of cheap labor.
During this period the recruits lived and slept in special barracks, where under the command of their own aga (Istanbul agasi), they were divided up into sections of 20-30 boys, each with its own section leader (boluk-basi). They received a small payment from which they maintained themselves by contributing every month a specified amount to the common household. They also had to provide themselves with their own footwear, although outer clothing was distributed annually by the State. But life in the barracks was hard and the discipline compared in severity with that of a cloister. Blind obedience to their superiors was inculcated in them, as well as a fanatical subservience to the Sultan, to whom they belonged in body and soul. They slept in lighted rooms under the watchful eyes of eunuchs who punished severely every noise or other impropriety on their part. All individuality and freedom was suppressed in the acemi oglan, and as a reaction to this, they sought relaxation in excesses against Christian and Jews. Particularly did they display a fanatical hatred of Christians, proof that Islamization had been thorough. These excesses, surprisingly enough, were tolerated and even encouraged, especially, during the two Bayram festivities. Perhaps it was desired through this official tolerance to tie the acemi oglan closer to their new law and to the person of the Sultan. In the beginning, owing to their cruelties these young recruits were more feared by the oppressed population than were the Janizaries.
The acemi oglan never left Constantinople and were not employed in service. They were, however, as pointed out, utilized on all kinds of public works, as well as in the police force at Constantinople.
At the age of 24 or 25 those of the acemi oglan who were in perfect physical condition and thoroughly skilled in the use of arms were advanced from the institute to the corps of the Janizaries. Those of weak constitution, on the other hand, were assigned to various occupations, receiving the title cikme (rejected one).
The system of training of the acemi oglan shows the Osmanli Turks' understanding of how best to exploit foreign strength in the Empire's interest. Essentially Spartan in character, it was a perfect creation of the military spirit: a common esprit de corps was developed, a perfect discipline, and absolute subservience to superiors.
This same spirit also animated the Janizaries, and made them, as long as it remained alive within them, the backbone of the Turkish forces, the support of the Sultans and the guardians of the Ottoman Empire.


During the early period, the corps of the Janizaries replenished its ranks only from the acemi oglan. As long as this continued, the Janizaries remained an elite troop, and commanded respect not so much through their strength as through the character of their organization and their behavior. For a period of about two hundred years, that is up to the time of Sulaiman I, the lives of the Janizaries were regulated minutely by the fundamental law of the corps (Kanun), promulgated by Sultan Murad I, and embodied in fourteen articles, which included the following provisions: (1) Janizaries owe absolute submission and obedience to their superior chiefs and to commanding officers; (2) there must prevail among the Janizaries perfect unity and accord; their barracks and the living conditions of all of them shall be the same; (3) Janzaries shall abstain from everything which is not becoming to a warrior, such as luxuries in dress, as well in arms, etc.; (4) with regard to the duties which religion imposes, they shall never deviate from the sacred teachings of the venerable Haci Bektas; (5) only men raised by virtue of the law of devsirme, i.e., those who have completed their classes at the institute of acemi oglan shall be admitted into the oda; (6) the punishments which carry with them the death penalty shall, by privilege, be carried out in a special manner; (7) Janizaries can only be admonished and punished by their own officers; (8) promotion shall be rigorously observed by order of seniority; (9) invalided Janizaries shall be retired and shall receive a pension; (10) Janizaries shall not let their beards grow; (11) they cannot get married before they have quit the active service; (12) Janizaries shall sleep in the barracks and shall not leave without authorization; (13) they shall perform the necessary exercises and maneuvers for their military instruction.
Murad's successors augmented the law by a great number of additional articles. After two centuries, however, the law became almost a dead letter owing to the affection which the Sultans lavished on the Janizaries, the privileges which the latter claimed and obtained for themselves, and their unruliness.
The ocak (hearth) or corps of the Janizaries was divided into tactical units called orta (also hearth -- regiment). These ortas were lodged in barracks called oda (chamber). According to their names, both the ocak and the orta would signify a feeding community, while the oda designates a group of men living and sleeping in common.
Since every Janizary belonged to one orta during his entire period of service, the orta, consequently, represented a sort of great family, whose members stood in closest connection with one another.
Under Sulaiman the Great, the corps consisted of 165 ortas; these soon increased to 196, the number which existed in the last days of the Janizaries. Since the records give different numbers at different times, it may be assumed that in the continuous wars some of the ortas were completely destroyed but later reconstituted. Only one orta, destroyed as a result of its rebellion, was never reestablished.
The ortas were grouped in three divisions. Sixty-two were in the boluk (companies) comprising the Janizaries--ortas proper; thirty-three were in the segban ortas (hound keepers, hunters, popularly called seymen); and 100 were in the yaya (or cemaat) ortas (assemblies). Besides these ortas there were the 34 ortas of acemi oglan. The effective strength of the individual orta varied according to the period and the place. In Constantinople the number of effectives in an orta was usually 100, while in the provinces it ranged from 200 to 300 men. In war time the effectives in each orta totaled 500 men. The orta was subdivided into smaller groups composed of 10 to 25 men. In the field, these groups formed, so-called tent associations. Each group had its own small caldron, and was consequently also a feeding association. In war each group had its own pack horse for the transport of impedimenta, tents and weapons.
Thus the corps was a community of men, embodying within themselves the advantages of a closely-knit and disciplined military body and the economic benefits of the household, but in which the family instinct was artificially suppressed in favor of the communal instinct.
It is evident from the foregoing that the Janizaries placed great value on the system of food supply, a recognition that it was at least as important to feed troops properly as keeping them ready for war and in good physical condition. Nevertheless always the greatest moderation was practiced in food and drink in order to keep the men healthy and in good temper. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that even in the field the prescribed fasts were observed strictly. In all cases the most scrupulous equality was observed in the distribution of rations, which were consumed by the men at definite periods "in their respective refectories like monks in convents, or scholars in their colleges." In respect to the food supply system the Janizaries were far in advance as compared with the armies of other nations. Herein also lies a cause of the military superiority of the corps.


The importance of the supply and feeding system in the minds of the Turks is indicated not only by the organization of the orta but also by the titles of the officers. Almost all designations of officers were taken from the kitchen and the menial activities connected with it. Particularly was this true in the early days of the corps. The very name of the corps, ocak, signifying "hearth," indicates the importance which was attached to the communal economy and division of labor pertaining to it. At the head of each orta stood a colonel, called corbaci basi, "the distributor of soup," or "chief soup maker"; in addition each orta had a number of other officers, the most important of whom was the oda-basi who kept order on parade and saw that the rules were obeyed; the asci basi, or chief cook, who was the quartermaster of the orta, and also occasionally acted as goaler and executioner; and the vekilharc, or controller of expenditure, who obtained food. The noncommissioned officers bore similar unmilitary designations, such as the sakka basi, or chief water-carrier, and the leader of camels. The officers were thus more supervisors of the food supply than leaders in war.
But, above the officers of the orta there was a staff of higher officers, which included the seymen basi ("chief of the hunters"), who was the aga, or head of the corps, and the zagarci basi ("chief of the bloodhound keepers").
The aga alone had the power of life and death over the Janizaries. He ranked before all other military chiefs and ministers and had a seat and vote in the war council. But while his position was vested with such great authority, it was also a very dangerous one. The aga stood as an intermediary between the Sultan and the Janizaries and answered with his head for the crimes of his soldiers. Moreover, he had to be very careful not to show the slightest disposition of favoring the interests of one side or the other. Either party was ready to mete out its vengeance. Originally, like all other officers the aga came from the ranks of the Janizaries and was advanced according to the principle of seniority. Since his path to leadership was free of the Sultan it was always dangerous to the throne.
However, in 1515, to curb the unruly spirit of the Janizaries, Sultan Selim I reorganized the staff of officers and placed at the head of the whole corps an aga of his own choice. This met with great opposition from the Janizaries. The position of the aga became more dangerous than before, since to the members of the corps the aga was no longer "their man" but an outsider, and even an enemy. It could hardly be expected that a closely-knit and self-conscious mass of warriors would tolerate one imposed from above and who represented the Sultan's rather than their own interest. The lot of many agas bears ample testimony to this; there were only a few agas who died peacefully in possession of their office. In times of disturbance he was the first victim, and strung up on a particular tree on the et meydani (the meat square, meat market) near the main barracks, which was reserved to the Janizaries for this purpose. As a result of these conditions, Muhammad II was forced in 1582 to restore to the Janizaries the right to elect their aga. Sultan Selim's efforts to safeguard the throne and to preserve the proper behavior of the Janizaries, which alone could have prevented their decay, failed completely because concurrently other conditions developed which contributed to the material and moral degeneration of the corps.


The military insignia of the Janizaries likewise indicated the importance of the kitchen economy. The most sacred object in the orta was the great meat caldron (kazan), the ancient object of veneration of the nomads of Central Asia. Each group, as was pointed out, had its own small kettle, but each orta had a large caldron made of bronze. To the Janizaries the caldrons were more important than the flags and standards to other armies. Around these caldrons the Janizaries assembled not only for their meals but also for important deliberations. A superstitious veneration surrounded these utensils. Daily, in solemn procession two Janizaries carried the caldron from their barracks to the men on duty in the city, while a third one followed them with a huge scoop. Every Friday, however, the ortas stationed at Constantinople marched with their caldrons to the serai of the Sultan and there received the food pilaf (rice and mutton) from the kitchen of the Grand Signor. This was always a tense occasion. If the Janizaries hesitated to accept the food, if they upset the caldrons, or if they refused to come altogether and assembled instead around their upset caldrons on the at meydani (Hippodrome) this was a sign that trouble was brewing. The upset caldron brought into the open by the ortas was a sign of revolt. Indeed, a mutinous orta had only through trickery to possess itself of the caldrons of the other ortas in order to draw them into rebellion. But the caldron also served as a refuge -- a sanctuary -- and one could save his life by hiding under it. The upsetting of the caldron as a sign of revolt became frequent when the Turkish element became dominant in the corps.
On marches the caldrons were carried in front of each regiment, while in camp they were constantly placed in front of the tents of each orta. The greatest disgrace to the Janizaries was to abandon the caldron and, particularly, to lose it on the battlefield. In such cases all officers were expelled from the orta, and the unit was not allowed to carry its caldron on public occasions.


As a professional standing army the Janizaries were naturally entitled to food, pay, and uniforms from the State. However, the Government provided, except for the Friday meal of the pilaf which came from the kitchen of the serai, bread and mutton only. All other provisions had to be supplied by the chief cook of each orta. In time of war great care was taken to keep the soldiers well fed.
In peacetime, three years of service was required of the Janizary before he received pay, but henceforth he was entitled to it during the remainder of his life. In the later period tardiness in pay engendered revolts. The pay rose with the years of service and varied according to the rank of the individual. Special service or distinction in war was rewarded by an increase in pay.
The pay of the Janizaries varied with different periods. Originally, the pay of the Janizary was 1/2 asper per day, but increased until under Selim I, it was 5 aspers. Further increases followed, usually due to revolts, but the pay largely became stationary under Sulaiman the Great, who introduced a definite system of payment.
From the time of Sulaiman there were a number of pay classes. The most important classes were: the eskinci, or men in actual service, who received from 3 to 7 aspers daily; the amelmande, or veterans who lived in the barracks and the koruncu, or sentries were entitled to receive 8 to 29 aspers daily; and oturak, or invalids were paid 30 to 40, and later up to 120 aspers daily, which was also the highest pay that an ordinary Janizary ever could earn. Into the last group Janizaries occasionally were admitted as a reward for distinguished service, or through high favor.
The pay of the acemi oglan varied between 2 and 39 1/2 aspers for recruits and officers. The highest pay and the highest pension of an officer up to the grade of corbaci basi was 120 aspers, the pension of the higher officers 150 aspers and that of the aga 300 aspers daily.
Payments were made every quarter and a deduction of 12 percent was retained in the general treasury of the corps. The treasury also received payments from peasants and artisans for the services of the boys who were apprenticed to them, as well as the entire property of the deceased members of the corps. Into the treasury was transfered not only the property of the deceased Janizaries but also the return on the capital at the rate of 10 to 12 percent. All those receipts served as reserve funds for ordinary meliorations, for the decoration of the barracks, for the purchase of parade uniforms, for the relief of sick and needy comrades, and for ransoming prisoners of war.
The policy of depreciating the currency, which was frequently resorted to because of financial difficulties, was energetically opposed by the Janizaries, who, when such changes were made, often rebelled, demanding an increase in pay in order to compensate for the loss occasioned by the depreciation. In the early period, at least, the money was not counted, but was weighed, so no one would complain of being defrauded.
From their pay the Janizaries generally had to clothe and arm themselves. In general, greater care was given to the clothing of the Janizaries than to their weapons. Their uniforms, simple and purposeful, consisted of a long coat (dolarma) which was of the same cut for all, and may be considered as the first infantry uniform of modern times. It was designed to protect the body against all changes in weather during all seasons of the year. On the march and in attack, in order not to hamper movement, the tails of the coat were turned up on both sides and fastened to the belt. The cloth for the coats was supplied annually by the government, but only 12,000 men received it. The others had to provide themselves with coats, and in this case the choice of color was left to the individual. The same principles of equality and justice, which was revealed in the matter of rations and pay, prevailed in the distribution of the cloth, which was wrapped in equal-sized packages, the total number of which was the same as that of the members of the orta. At the time of distribution, every member of the orta rushed into the hall at the same moment and seized whatever package came into his hands in the darkness. Though they had to be purchased by the individual Janizary, the cap, with the wooden rice spoon attached to its front--a further indication of the importance of the food economy--the trousers, the knees of which were cut out, and the boots were standardized. The arms, too, had to be purchased by the men themselves, but for want of regulations to the contrary, there existed a great diversity in the kind and quality of weapons. In war time, those who had no arms received them from the State arsenal.


The discipline was severe and the drill was hard in the corps of the Janizaries during this period. Military drill had to be performed daily. It was limited, however, to the development of the individual's skill in the use of arms; there were never any common exercises in military tactics. On marches full individual freedom was allowed and no particular order had to be maintained. Notwithstanding these seeming disciplinary deficiencies, the men gathered very quickly before the approaching enemy, each one of them in his designated place, and stood ready as a massive wall for attack and defense.
In the barracks, where the Janizaries were obliged to live, there was perfect cleanliness and complete order. No woman was ever allowed to enter these quarters. There, as well as in the camp, all Muslim rites and rules were strictly observed. The excesses which were tolerated in the acemi oglan were forbidden.
Obedience and discipline, the two supporting pillars of every efficient military organization, have their roots in religion. The Janizaries, members of an organization with religious characteristics, and living a monastic life, were completely animated and thoroughly imbued by this religious spirit. Strict obedience and subjection to superiors and older soldiers was the first duty of the acemi oglan when he entered the corps and was assigned to an orta. Each one of them was a serving brother who was obligated to render the older Janizaries all the small services occasioned by the communal life in the field or at the table. Each one of them had to secure his position and advancements through his own ability and efforts. In the early days of the corps, all of its members willingly submitted to this discipline.
The discipline in the corps resembled that of a cloister. It was maintained by various penalties which had to be borne without murmur. Penalties varied with the seriousness of the breach of discipline. Disobedience, neglect of duty, and infraction of rules, such as unauthorized absence from barracks at night, were punished with the whip. Punishment was inflicted after the evening prayer, under the supervision of the quartermaster. According to custom, the offender was required not only to kiss the hand of his beater but also to pay him for his efforts. The least severe penalty was imprisonment in a cell which was located in the kitchen. Some crimes were punished by imprisonment for life, dismissal or removal to a border fortress; the latter was considered by the Janizaries more severe than the death penalty. In peacetime the penalty for desertion was both imprisonment and whipping. In time of war this offense was punishable by mutilation as well as by strangulation. Strangulation, the most honorable form of execution according to Turkish custom, was carried out by the chief cook in the execution tent which stood in the center of the camp. In peacetime, the penalty was inflicted in the cell in the kitchen. Cowardice was not tolerated and "any man convicted of cowardice was dismissed and never permitted thenceforth to lay claim to the title of Janizary."
Since the idea prevailed that no Janizary could under any circumstances be executed, it was customary to expel the intended victim from his orta. Only after he was thus degraded to the position of an ordinary subject could justice take its course. But even then he might be executed only in secret. This practice originated in the fear that a public execution, in view of the close comradeship which existed among the men, might occasion an uprising of the entire corps. Eventually it became a right of the Janizaries inscribed in the Kanun. This right was respected carefully. After sunset, the offender was strangled, and the body, weighted with stones in a sack, was thrown into the sea. One shot from a cannon at the Serai announced that the execution was carried out. The death penalty was imposed very rarely.
In the case of higher officers, the most frequent penalty was degradation and banishment, combined with confiscation of property.


In peacetime, the great mass of the Janizaries was stationed at Constantinople, where their main barracks were located on the at meydani. Here they had their own mosque, which in the later period often formed the center of disturbances and conspiracies. Many of the ortas were garrisoned in the more important cities and border fortresses. The key to a border fortress might be held only by an officer of the Janizaries. Usually, these ortas would return after some years to Constantinople and other ortas would be sent to occupy their places.
As the number of Janizaries increased they were given, in addition to their purely military functions, various other duties, a practice by which the State, as in the case of the acemi oglan, gained considerable benefit without further expense. It was their duty to protect the subject population as well as foreign traders throughout the Empire. This duty they performed admirably. In Constantinople, they and the adcemi oglan served as street cleaners, firemen, and as police under the command of the yeniceri agasi who was responsible for the maintenance of order in the capital.
The inactive Janizaries were employed at manual labor around the gardens of the Sultans and at the Serai. Many were employed on construction and maintenance of public roads, while others served as boatmen, as collectors of wood, and artisans. Some inactive men served as scribes of the corps; others as the guards and mail carriers of foreign embassies. The latter were highly profitable honorary positions, and were given to veterans as rewards for distinguished service, or were secured by them through special favor. Many of the distinguished veterans were assigned to positions with the Turkish fleet for the rest of their lives. Most of the older Janizaries were not pensioned or rewarded and were forced to engage in trade in order to subsist.


With the passage of time, the corps of the Janizaries was transformed first into a mercenary army and later into a militia, membership in which was inherited. Side by side with this metamorphosis evil propensities developed within the corps which completely undermined it. Therewith the role and the significance of the Janizaries changed, and this in turn reflected itself in the growing weakness of the Turkish State, and the ultimate relegation of a world power to the position of a third-rate state.
The growth of political consciousness of the Janizaries was a major factor in their decline. Although this political consciousness manifested itself before the transformation in the composition of the corps, it became more intense as the process of change continued.
Quite early in their history the Janizaries began to enjoy certain rights and privileges: they were exempted from ecclesiastical and secular jurisdictions; in their barracks they had the right of asylum; they had the precedence before all other military groups in the Ottoman armed forces; according to the Kanun, they could be punished only by their own officers; they were exempt from taxation, and only rarely was their property confiscated. This growth of privileges was paralleled by an increasingly close relationship between the Janizaries and the Sultan, who from the time of Sulaiman I were registered in their lists and drew the pay of a veteran. Furthermore, there was the prerogative that the Janizaries marched to war only with the Sultan at their head. This was a highly beneficial arrangement both constantly fostered. But to safeguard this spirit, the Janizaries on one or two occasions forced a change in the throne in the interest of a more energetic man, and early in the reign of Sulaiman I, they forced that ruler to devote more attention to the affairs of state than to hunting.
It was not long, however, before the Janizaries became conscious of their role in the Ottoman State and utilized it for their own advantage. They exerted an ever-growing influence and eventually became the arbiters of the fate of Sultans and the Empire. Concurrently, traces of decay began to appear in the corps.
Unbridled greed was an evil force which pushed the Janizaries along the road to their downfall. In 1449, the Janizaries stationed at Adrianople revolted for the first time, demanding an increase in pay. Subsequently, there developed the practice according to which every Sultan, upon accession to the throne, advanced each Janizary to the next higher pay class. This custom had originated in the voluntary liberality of certain Sultans, but once something was granted to the Janizaries it never could be withheld from them again; they believed that they had legal and prescriptive claims to such favors.
Even more ominous was the monetary gift that was due to every man upon the coming of a new ruler to the throne. This custom, which attained legal sanction, originated in 1451, when Sultan Muhammad II, to allay the discontent of the Janizaries, saw himself compelled to distribute a gift. It was abolished in 1774, by Sultan Abdul Hamid I. The amount of this gift had increased continuously until it had emptied the public treasury.
But the practice had even more fatal consequences because it had stirred the lust for change in the throne; for then a higher gift had to be distributed. Thus the weak Bayazid II was forced to abdicate because his successor Selim I had promised to pay the Janizaries a gift of 3,000 aspers per man, as well as an increase in daily pay of 6 to 8 aspers. Faced by an every increasing number of Janizaries, the Sultans found it necessary to satisfy their greed and in order to do so, often had no other choice than to execute their richest subjects and confiscate their property, a practice which became increasingly more frequent as the decline of the Empire proceeded.
Upon the occasion of the Sultan's first departure for war, yet another gift ranging up to 2,000 aspers per man had to be paid to the Janizaries. In wars, the Sultans would often be forced to pay to each Janizary, in addition to a share in the booty, special attack money to rouse the valor of the troops in important battles. And so in this greed there manifested itself the amazing power of the Janizaries which, while indeed it was the main support of the Ottoman Empire, yet, with the weakening of the sovereign power, became an important cause of its decline.


The admission of men of Turkish nativity, the grant to members of permission to marry, and the replenishment of the force with sons of Janizaries brought about structural changes and, in conjunction with the preceding factors, led to the decay of the corps. It is not possible to specify when the changes actually began, nor to trace in detail how the changes came about. It is clear, however, that the observance of regulations on which the vigor and the very existence of the Janizaries had rested had begun to weaken before the time of Sulaiman I.
The first break in the system was the infiltration of Turks into the ranks of the Janizaries through the acemi oglan. Owing to the great privileges of the corps and the excellent opportunities which existed for gifted boys, many Osmanli turned over their sons to Christians in order that in the guise of Christians they might be accepted into the corps. However, by the middle of the 16th century Turks were no longer a rarity among the Janizaries. They were being admitted to the acemi oglan, or directly into the corps without resort to any subterfuge.
The development of this practice was occasioned by the great losses sustained by the corps in a series of disastrous wars, which could not be replaced by the existing supply of acemi oglan. Later it was stimulated by the abrogation of the child tribute on Christian subjects in 1638, in consequence of the realization that the recruiting long had constituted a mere pretext for extortions. Free enlistment now took the place of conscription, and the corps of the Janizaries became a mercenary troop.
With the appearance of Turkish elements among the acemi oglan the institution lost its ancient spirit and customs. In place of the iron characters formerly produced, an effeminate generation was brought up which could not withstand the rigors and exertions of war, many of the new recruits even succumbed during the training. Moreover, the healthier element, which was still secured through annual recruiting of Christian boys, became weaker in the same proportion in which the Turkish effeminacy grew. The acemi oglan sank rapidly to the status of a simple recruiting station for the Janizaries. In the end it became an educational institution for Turks who sought employment in the service of the Sultan outside of the corps. The more the Turks forced their sons into the acemi oglan the more their number grew, and by the middle of the 16th century the number of acemi oglan was estimated between 8-16,000, as compared with an average of about 3,000 in the beginning of Sulaiman's reign. How fatal this change was is demonstrated clearly by the rioting of acemi oglan in 1647 and 1649 in protest against the extension of the period of service at the institute--something unimaginable in the earlier days.
Those Janizaries who through the influence of friends or bribery had not gone through the school of the acemi oglan showed themselves to be a weak and cowardly group. While they had none of the stubbornness and wild defiance of the old acemi oglan, yet they did not possess either the bravery, its consciousness for military discipline, or its proud and absolute devotion to the Sultan. Those of the good old stock refused to associate or serve with the intruders whom they thoroughly despised. Very often bloody clashes occurred between the two groups. Dissension in the ranks broke the spirit of unity in the corps.


The admission of Turks into the corps of the Janizaries was only the first step to ruin. As alluded to above, according to the laws of the corps, no Janizary had the right to marry and raise a family; at least as long as he was in the active service.
The whole situation changed completely with the admission of Turks, for soon marriage had to be permitted. The Turks, in contrast to the early Janizaries, came from homes and had families. Many entered the corps at mature ages, and many were probably married. Their desire to return to their families and to maintain their other relations was therefore natural, a desire which had become foreign to the acemi oglan. The Janizaries now demanded permission to marry. At first, such permission was granted by the aga to old and deserving veterans and to others under special circumstances, subject to the condition that they would serve as garrison troops in the border fortresses. But in 1566, Selim II, upon his succession to the throne, was forced to grant to all Janizaries the unrestricted right to wed. With this development the close-knit organization began to break asunder. Not only did married Janizaries live in their own households, but eventually unmarried members of the corps refused to live in the barracks and submit to the discipline prescribed by the law of the corps.


Hence the Janizaries now demanded, what was only natural, that the State care for their children. Their demand was granted. It was provided that the children should receive a bread ration from the day of their birth, with the result that they came to be known as the "bread eaters." Then, to secure the future of their sons, the Janizaries demanded that their sons be made Janizaries. At the time of the disturbance which accompanied the accession of Selim II to the throne the Janizaries obtained the formal right to register their sons on the lists of the orta, thus avoiding the requirement that the latter serve in the acemi oglan. They also secured the support of the orphaned children of the Janizaries. The sons were entitled to rations and a small pay which increased with the years. The corps was now transformed into an inheritable institution.
Naturally, the acceptance of Janizary children was an abuse which debased and destroyed the original character of the corps. The old discipline broke down completely, as the fathers would hardly subject their own sons to the rigorous treatment of the acemi oglan. A new generation of Janizaries grew up which no longer compared in military efficiency, courage and valor with the once most-renowned infantry in the world. The consequence of the right to marry was the question of the support of the Janizaries' children. While the pay received by the individual Janizary was ample for himself, he could not support a family on it.


A further step on the road of transformation and decay of the corps was the spread of business occupations among the Janizaries. This was a consequence of the structural metamorphosis and stood in close connection with the new method of recruiting. The embarkation of the Janizaries upon peaceful business pursuits reacted unfavorably upon the military aspects of their lives. Their business and economic interests began more and more to shape their thoughts, their actions and their lives; they now received the call to arms with the most mixed feelings.
In earlier days, only superannuated Janizaries, neither in active service in the corps nor in the service of the fleet, nor invalided, were authorized to engage in trade. With the development of family life among them, however, many Janizaries began to devote themselves to business and handicrafts, for notwithstanding their pay, the special gifts and the support of their sons by the State, they otherwise could not make ends meet. The engagement in civil occupations was in disregard of the provision in the Kanun; but then the institution which this law regulated was no longer the same. Indeed, the government fostered peaceful occupations among the Janizaries in order to break their wanton spirit.
Various civil occupations began to spread in the corps. Usually, the same trade was practiced by the members of an orta, and ultimately some guilds such as the butchers in the year 1634, consisted in good part of Janizaries. In Constantinople, the Janizaries controlled completely the fruit and vegetable and coffee-roasting businesses, and other important articles of consumption, with accompanying evils of monopolistic practices. Since the Janizaries were granted the privilege of importing goods duty free into the country, a large part of foreign commerce, particularly the coastal trade to Syria and Egypt, was in their hands.
As long as the old system of recruiting prevailed, as long as the profession of the Janizary was hard and dangerous, no other elements of the population, on the whole, were attracted to the corps. As a result of the increase in their business activities and their gradual monopolization of many branches of industry, however, the Janizaries attained a very important economic position and became the envy of other classes in society. The economic security, the protection of a powerful corporate body, and the political and social influence of the Janizaries began to attract the Turkish element in ever larger numbers.
Hence, all classes and all kinds of people crowded into the corps. Many sought entrance not for the pay nor with intention of rendering military service, but in order to benefit from the many advantages and privileges which membership in the corps afforded. Corruption made such enlistment easy. Anyone who paid an annual fee to the Janizary officers had his name entered on the registers of the orta and thus enjoyed complete freedom from taxation. Any relative of the Janizaries would be accepted when a number of men of a given orta could verify such relationship. Classes formerly held in contempt, such as the water carriers and porters, were entered in the lists; so too, brigands and vagabonds, and Christian and Jewish renegades. Although many attempts were made to weed out the undesirable elements and to exclude the unfit for service, the corps increasingly became a conglomeration of riffraff.


With the influx of unfit men the military skill of the Janizaries declined. But since they were interested merely in maintaining their rights and influence, any attempt by the authorities to bring about reforms, particularly in the military sphere, was met by strenuous opposition, accompanied by charges that the proposed changes were anti-Turkish and in violation of the established rules of the Empire. They thus became the greatest internal obstacle to transformation of Turkey into a modern state.
Simultaneously, another factor manifested itself which had dangerous consequences for the Sultans and for the State: the revolts of the Janizaries. While revolts of Janizaries had taken place in the early period, these had been, perhaps, justifiable, since they had sought to prevent usurpation of the throne by treachery, or to replace a weak sultan by one more energetic. Now, however, the Janizaries considered it their right to choose the Sultans, to demand accounting from them, and when they fell into disfavor, to dethrone them and even to murder them. In revolts of Janizaries four Sultans lost their lives and four were dethroned. The highest dignitaries of the State as well as the favorites of the Sultan also paid with their lives. Indeed, to save himself, a Sultan would allow the victims demanded by the Janizaries to be murdered and throw their bodies to them. Rape, fire and destruction accompanied these revolts.
The effect of these developments on the military efficiency and valor of the Janizaries has been referred to already and need not be restated here. Suffice it to point out that with the social transformation the virtue which singled out the corps of the Janizaries among the armies of the world disappeared and the once powerful support of the Empire became its worst cancerous affliction. Usurpation of power increased with the decay of the corps.


Hand-in-hand with this degeneration went the political disorganization of the Ottoman Empire. Just as in the early period the Empire owed its greatness to the Janizaries, so now the Janizaries were largely responsible for the breaking up of the vast imperium of the Osmanli Sultans. Successive Sultans realized that if a complete disintegration was to be avoided a thorough reorganization of the army was necessary to bring it up to the level of European armies which by that time had made considerable advances in military technique, tactics and armaments. Some attempted to do it through reform of the corps, others could see no other way out but through the destruction of the Janizaries. As early as 1622 Sultan Othman II planned their destruction, but he was betrayed to the Janizaries and paid for his scheme with his head. His fate deterred his immediate successors from undertaking further reforms, with the result that the Ottoman Empire was no longer ruled by the Sultans and the viziers but by the hordes of Janizaries, and the condition of the army and State was at its lowest. More than 100 years elapsed before Mahmud I undertook without result to introduce certain reforms through peaceful means. Selim III, who actually organized a new troop on the model of European armies, was dethroned and murdered.
Throughout the entire period, the Janizaries were supported in their opposition to reorganization and reform by the clergy, especially the dervishes of the order of Bektasie, who derived great prestige and power from their ancient affiliation with the corps, and the powerful caste of the learned, the ulema, the staunchest defenders of old Turkish laws, customs and traditions, who openly expressed their sympathy for the corps and always supported the Janizaries in their demands on the Sultans. Among the lower classes, the Janizaries, who were spread throughout the whole Empire, were considered a sanctified institution, and with their name were connected the dearest recollections of Muslims of former glory and victories. On their part, the Janizaries throughout the whole of their existence sympathized with the masses and at all times constituted a counterbalance against the arbitrariness of the Sultan in favor of the people. They always knew well how to exploit their sympathy for their own ends.


Despite these conditions, Sultan Mahmud II from the very beginning of his reign in 1808 planned the destruction of the Turkish armed forces. After 18 years of persistent effort he succeeded in gaining his objective.
First, he had won the ulema over to his side and had undermined the confidence of the people in the Janizaries by accusing them of all kinds of superstitions and heresy. Next he had drawn to himself one of the chief leaders of the Janizaries and through him had appointed to the higher positions officers favorable to reform. New troops had been organized in the provinces upon whom the Sultan could depend in carrying out his plans. Care had been taken that at the decisive moment masses of these troops should be on hand.
On May 29, 1826, the Sultan determined that a new troop should be organized. He was supported in this by the Mufti, who ruled that the carrying out of the military reform was a religious duty. Therefore, the Sultan ordered that each of the 51 ortas stationed at Constantinople assign 150 men to the new troop. The decision came so suddenly that the Janizaries were taken by surprise, and the officers were actually able to draw upon the ortas for the required number of men. By the 4th of June the new troops already had been formed, and on the 10th a parade took place before the Sultan. But meanwhile dissatisfaction and the spirit of revolt arose among the Janizaries, although no leader appeared to solidify the mass and lead the hordes towards rebellion. They began to plan murder and destruction. Making preparations for the complete destruction of the Janizaries, Mahmud saw his time approaching and through agents provocateurs incited them to revolt.
On the night of June 14/15 the uprising occurred. Five ortas planted their upset caldrons on the at meydani, and in the early morning about 20,000 men were gathered there. The support, however, was not wholehearted, and a number of ortas hesitated to participate in the revolt. When an attempt by the Janizaries to storm the Serai failed, the Sultan had already given his command for the suppression of the revolt. Artillery was put up on the Hippodrome and the new troops were massed on all sides. The flag of the prophet was raised, and the population of Constantinople began to arm itself for war against the Janizaries. A real fury seized all, and a violent hatred moved all to the destruction of the corps, which but recently had been regarded with veneration.
With this the fate of the Janizaries was sealed. Their delegates, who demanded the dissolution of the troops and the execution of the reform leaders, were turned back, and when the Janizaries refused to disperse and surrender their arms the Sultan gave the order of attack. This was carried out with surprising rapidity and with thoroughness. The artillery played havoc with the Janizaries. Masses of them were slaughtered in the market square; others sought safety in the barracks. But the barracks were shelled and many Janizaries perished in the action. Those who tried to escape were shot down. A military tribunal was set up, and made short shrift with the rebels. A man hunt spread throughout the city, and Janizaries, easily recognized by the cut-out knees on their trousers, were caught and unceremoniously courtmartialed and executed. The caldrons, the sacred insignia of the Janizaries, the public exhibition of which so often brought about rebellion, overthrew ministers and murdered Sultans, were covered with dung by the furious populace and dragged through the streets; the flags and caps of the Janizaries were made objects of derision.
Furthermore, every opposition to reform was destroyed in the capital and in the provinces. The dervishes of Bektashiya atoned severely. Three of their chiefs were executed, many of them killed and the rest expelled from Constantinople and dispersed throughout the Empire. The barracks, mosques and other places of the Janizaries were levelled, and the cloisters of the dervishes demolished. And an eternal curse was pronounced on the name of the corps.
In this way, the one-time brilliant corps of the Janizaries, the model for the Christian armies and the terror of the Christian world through long centuries, met its end in the most bloody destruction on record.


The history of the corps of the Janizaries faithfully reflects within itself the whole history of the Ottoman Empire, the secret of its power and its subsequent irremediable weakness. The period from 1330 to the middle of the 16th century, the era of the highest glory of the Janizaries, saw the establishment and extension of the Ottoman Empire, reaching the pinnacle of its development as the leading world power under Sulaiman the Great. It was actually the corps of the Janizaries to which the empire of the Osmanli Turks owed its greatness. In all the great battles which were decisive for its position as a world power the arms of the Janizaries carried the day, and the reputation of invincibility which they had won for themselves was for hundreds of years the best bulwark of the Ottoman Empire.
When from the middle of the 16th century onward the Turkish element began to predominate in the corps, the Janizaries were transformed from an elite troop into a corrupt and reactionary praetorian guard, devoid of all honor and morality, and a menace to the Sultans as well as to the Turkish Empire. As a result, the decline of the corps and with it that of the Empire became inevitable.
Moreover, the Janizaries became the most dangerous enemy of the favorable development of the military and political life of Turkey. They stood in the way of the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into a modern state. All attempts to bring order out of the chaos failed. Hence the corps of the Janizaries had first to be destroyed before a reorganization of the Ottoman military forces successfully could be undertaken and the disruption of the Empire through wars and internal revolt of the oppressed Christian peoples as a result of rising nationalism could be halted. While the reorganization of the army was carried through by Mahmud II and his successors with the aid of European military experts, nevertheless the reform was not sufficient to arrest the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire which finally broke up following World War I.
But despite its ultimate disgrace, the corps of the Janizaries is unique in the history of military institutions. The singular position which the corps occupies in military annals is derived from the fact that it was the first regular infantry of modern times, that it had a continuous existence over a period close to five centuries, and that the method of recruiting for the troop, as well as its social organizations, were the most unusual which world history knows. Perhaps nowhere else were the fortunes and the existence of a state so closely bound up with those of an army as were those of the Ottoman Empire with the corps of the Janizaries, which made possible its rise to a world power and then brought about its disorganization and decay.

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