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Mustafa Kemal Atatürk wearing the traditional Janissary uniform (Public Domain), and ornament from a Janissary's Cap, 17th century Turkey

The Powerful & Dangerous Janissaries and the Secret Plan to Destroy Them: The Auspicious Event—Part I

The Janissaries ( yeni-cheri, or “new troops”) were a small elite branch established by the Ottoman military sometime around the 14th century by Orhan Ghazi, second bey (chieftain), of the Ottoman Beylik or Emirate. The Janissaries corps was made up of Christian children who were either bought or captured and forced to convert to Islam.

A 15th-century Janissary drawing by Gentile Bellini.

A 15th-century Janissary drawing by Gentile Bellini. ( Public Domain )

Devshirme ( devşirme) was the forcible recruitment of young boys, begun in the mid-1300s by Sultan Murad I as a way to countercheck the growing power of the Turkish nobility. This “blood tax” came in the form of military officers of the Ottoman Empire ranging afield to take boys, ages eight to 18, from their families to be raised as soldiers. They were taught Turkish language and customs, and were trained under strict, near-monastic conditions. They served as an elite bodyguard to the sultan but also fought in battle if necessary. (This practice of devshirme was abolished in the early 1700s).

Painting portrays Greek Muslims at prayer in a mosque. Jean Léon Gérôme - 1865

Painting portrays Greek Muslims at prayer in a mosque . Jean Léon Gérôme - 1865 ( Public Domain )

The Janissary force was initially small, roughly consisting of one thousand troops during the early part of the 14th century, and as time went on they gradually began to swell in size and scope, becoming the first Ottoman standing army.

In 1514, their numbers were at 10,156; and by the time of the 1807 revolt their numbers were around 135,000 men.

Recruitment and registration of boys for the devşirme (a tax of sons imposed on Christian subjects of the Ottoman empire. If good enough, the boys would become Janissaries).

Recruitment and registration of boys for the devşirme (a tax of sons imposed on Christian subjects of the Ottoman empire. If good enough, the boys would become Janissaries).  ( Public Domain )

The Janissaries: Elite Guard to Dangerous Masters

After the death of Sultan Murad III in 1595, they ceased to be an elite group. Murad and those who ruled after were more interested in preserving the Ottoman state rather than expanding it, as so many had done in the past.

From a Janissary point of view, they may have felt obsolete, since their primary duty was to go on campaigns with the sultan leading the army. With that being said, the Ottoman Empire’s new policy of conservatism or “self-preservation” of the state helped create long intervals of peace.

The Janissaries were built and renowned for war, remaining celibate, and listening to every order the sultan commanded them. Due to the Sultan’s attention now focusing on peacetime issues, discipline broke down, the Janissaries began to break every rule that had originally been assigned to them way back when the sultans went on campaign; they began to marry, have children, move out of the barracks, wear forbidden styles of facial hair, take up other trades, and so forth. These very acts were deemed evil practices by the Ottoman court. Nevertheless, the Sultans, for the most part, turned one eye blind while keeping watch with the other.

A pair of Solaks, the Janissary archer bodyguard of the Sultan.

A pair of Solaks, the Janissary archer bodyguard of the Sultan. ( Public Domain )

Due to the Janissaries’ break with their cultural and military protocol, they are said to have descended into corruption and greed. They became, in effect, a privileged, political class, described as ‘civilianized’. With this corrupt atmosphere now spreading among the Janissary elite, things were about to change. Not only did their attitude change to their beloved sultan, but so also did their behavior. The Janissaries became the new masters of the house, making demands that had to be met or rebellion would soon take place—and if these demands were not met, the call for the sultan’s death would be carried out!

“Banquet (Safranpilav) for the Janissaries, given by the Sultan. If they refused the meal, they signaled their disapproval of the Sultan. In this case they accept the meal.”

“Banquet (Safranpilav) for the Janissaries, given by the Sultan. If they refused the meal, they signaled their disapproval of the Sultan. In this case they accept the meal.” ( Public Domain )

Six sultans in total were violently removed from the Ottoman throne due to the Janissaries’ needs not being met, or because the sultans dared to modernize the army. These changes would lead to a bloody fate, in what became known as “The Auspicious Event”.

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Cam Rea  is an author and military historian. He has written numerous articles for Ancient Origins, Classical Wisdom Weekly, and has authored several books, including:  Isaac's Empire: Ancient Persia's Forgotten Identity

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Top Image: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk wearing the traditional Janissary uniform ( Public Domain ), and ornament from a Janissary's Cap, 17th century Turkey (LACMA/ Public Domain ); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

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