Continuous power struggles and political crises until 1826, as well as tensions and uprisings, constitute the primary factors that influenced daily life in Istanbul following the 1453 conquest. Fratricides, power struggles between the Ottoman princes, janissary and other Kapıkulu classes (sipahis, armorers and four other divisions of cavalry), uprisings and other conflicts were some of the negative effects of meeting the commercial and daily needs of the lives of ordinary residents of the city. While different successors took power as a result of the events, there were also incidences that resulted in the death of sultans, grand viziers, sheikh al-islams and other members of the high bureaucracy. Ordinary citizens, tradesmen whose residences were burnt or plundered, or who lost all assets, were among those affected by these events as well. The dynamics of daily city life and residents were inevitably affected by these conflicts. It should be pointed out that occasional alliances or struggles, which turned into small-scale wars, could be classified as possible reasons alongside factional conflicts.
It is clearly observed that a power struggle among holders of power sprouted not long after the conquest of Istanbul. One of the precautions taken following the conquest was bringing combatant classes under control. From this perspective, it is worth mentioning that the army was ordered to leave the city following the festivals and banquet prepared for the combatants. It was ensured that there were no other combatant groups except for 1,500 janissaries who were there to protect the city, although they were forbidden to walk around while being armed with weapons. This measure can be evaluated as a step towards eliminating hesitations of Muslim and non-Muslim populations who were encouraged to migrate to the city, and control the Kapıkulu soldiers (mercenaries of the sultan) known for their political reflexes. However, similar measures would soon prove insufficient to control the political influences of the Kapıkulus and keep their critical role on the life of Istanbul at a managable level. The first serious post-conquest crisis in Istanbul occurred in 1481 following the death of Sultan Mehmed II. As a result of efforts to gradually transform the city into a thriving capital, Istanbul was brought into chaos, which continued for approximately a month in May 1481. In fact, these problems constituted a two-dimensional crisis. Since the sultan and conqueror of Istanbul had passed away, surprise and grief prevailed in the city. On the other hand, the ensuing power struggle interrupted the state, city and the daily life of citizens. Mehmed II’s burial was delayed as a result of this turmoil and he could only be buried on May 22nd, days after his death on May 3rd.
When the sultan passed away during a military campaign in Hünkar Meadows near Gebze on May 3, Vizier Karamanlı Mehmed Pasha hid the news of the sultan’s death from the army and announced a return to the capital with the excuse to treat the sultan. At the same time, the vizier sent messengers for Prince (shahzada) Bayezid in Amasya and Prince (shahzada) Cem in Konya and invited them to their father’s funeral at the capital. As it was not long after the codification of the dynastic law ordered by Mehmed II, a new sultan would succeed to the throne for the first time following the codification of succession principle. According to this principle, assigning an heir to the throne was not established, and therefore all princes were automatically entitled to ascend the throne. For this reason, the heir was not determined, although it was clearly stated that the prince could execute his brothers in the event that he ascend the throne. The struggle for the throne was expected to be rather bitter, since the losing prince would know that he would be killed.
Moreover, each prince had his supporters, and they would also pursue a vehement struggle for their candidate to succeed to the throne. As the vizier and other high state officials left for the capital accompanying the funeral, the vizier foresaw the peril that the Kapıkulus and janissaries in particular would pose during this process, and took appropriate measures in order to prevent the soldiers from reaching Istanbul throughout the journey. It is also known that Vizier Karamanlı Mehmed Pasha was successful in taking the deceased sultan’s body into the city following his announcement that the Sultan was sick and needed to be treated, and took measures to prevent the soldiers reaching Istanbul from Üsküdar. In addition, he did not neglect the protection and safety of the Gates of Istanbul, and assigned all conscript soldiers outside the city. Vizier Karamanlı Mehmed Pasha and his supporters wanted Prince Cem as the heir to the throne. However, the janissaries, dignitaries such as İshak Pasha, former vizier assigned as the protector of Istanbul, his son-in-law Hersekzade Ahmed Pasha, and Sinan Pasha supported Prince Bayezid as the heir. This group caught the messenger sent for Prince Cem and announced the sultan’s death to the janissaries in order to send them back to the capital. The janissaries passed from the docks in Maltepe and Üsküdar and other docks to Istanbul by sea. A witness of those days, Neşri states, “They moved to Istanbul and beheaded Nişancı Pasha…They set about Istanbul in the way a starving wolf goes for sheep.” The physician of Mehmed II, Yakub Pasha, was among those murdered. Numerous residences and stores, including the mansion of the murdered vizier, Jewish neighborhoods, Venetian, Geneoese and Florentine stores, were plundered. Bestowing gratuities on the soldiers to prevent events, the vicarious and temporary enthronement of Bayezid’s 11-year-old son, Korkud, calmed down Prince Bayezid’s supporters, particularly the janissaries. It became evident that the younger Prince Cem had lost the sultanate. It was clearly understood that the main reason behind the events and the crisis was to pave the way for Bayezid’s enthronement by eliminating supporters of Cem. Prince Bayezid arrived in the city with his subordinates upon the materialization of favourable conditions. He took over the throne from his son, Korkud, and succeeded to the throne and buried his father.
Bayezid II’s reign (1481-1512) can be described as both tranquil and quite an unrestful period for Istanbul. Outbreaks of events connected to Prince Cem between 1481-1495, following the loot of the city right after his father’s death and an almost month-long period of violence and destruction caused by great earthquakes following Bayezid’s enthronement, can be categorized as the primary political reasons for the unrest in Istanbul. In addition to the large-scale reconstruction process initiated to aleviate the effects of the earthquake, another crisis emerged out of the struggle raging among Bayezid’s sons for claiming the throne. It is important to point out that all disasters except earthquakes, called “the Little Apocalypse,” and fires bear a political character.
Selim became victorious at the end of the struggle against his father and brothers Korkud and Ahmed. Seeking shelter in the janissary guild was not enough for Korkud to gain the support of the janissaries. He was revered but not supported in the guild. Supported by his father, Prince Ahmed moved to Üsküdar with his armed subordinates. However, objections by high-state officials and the janissaries supporting Selim prevented him from reaching Istanbul. Those who disapproved brought forward his failure to win the struggle against the Turkoman groups during the Şahkulu uprising. The uprising of the janissaries objecting to the sultanate of Prince Ahmed brought life in Istanbul to a halt. The janissaries raided residences of dignitaries in ramifications on September 22. The residences of Mustafa Pasha, Müeyyedzade Abdürrahim, Rumeli governor Hasan Pasha, and Nişancı Tacizade Cafer Çelebi were raided and looted as well as the neighborhoods. Consequently, Prince Selim was victorious over the struggle for the throne and remained in power between 1512-1520.
Selim’s short reign (1512-1520) not only created radical changes in the Middle East, but the Ottoman Empire was also deeply influenced by these changes. It is known that Caliph Mutawakkil, his family, relatives and son of the last Egyptian sultan, some of the senior Mamluk officers, Shafi’i qadi of Cairo, as well as prominent scholars, came to Istanbul, although Selim was far from his early power and prestige following the Egyptian campaign. Furthermore, nearly 1000 gentry including Christians and Jews were transferred from Cairo to Istanbul. TheseThese gentries included a qualified human workforce such as architects and artisans. Books on the history and organization of the Mamluk State were also brought to Istanbul.
At this point, it should be pointed out that Caliph Mutawakkil was imprisoned in Yedikule because he was reported by his relatives for confiscating entrusted assets. There is no evidence of a reaction to this issue by the inhabitants of Istanbul, Kapıkulu soldiers or dignitaries. The most important indicator for the caliphate losing its significance and influence in those years can be sought within this framework. The non-reaction of the Muslim population and ulema can be regarded as a sign for explaining the relationship between the institution of the Caliphate and the Ottoman political structure. This is within the framework of the legitimacy of domestic and foreign relations rather than being an issue of creed. Bringing the Caliph to Istanbul can be construed as a political act for preventing the Caliph from being used as a weapon against the Ottoman State by another Muslim sultan. Upon the provision of favourable conditions, the last caliph was allowed by Süleyman I, the Magnificent to return to Egypt. Henceforth, it was not possible for the descendants of the Abbasid Caliphs to impact relations between Muslim states and among the citizens.
Istanbul experienced a comparatively calmer period during the reign of Süleyman I, the Magnificent (1520-1566), although events occurred that affected the life in Istanbul during this period as well. On 25 March 1525, the janissaries revolted on the grounds that they did not set off on campaign and therefore could not dispose of the pillage. As a result, residences of Vizier Ayas Pasha and other dignitaries, Jewish neighborhoods and the customs bureau were plundered instead. Although the instigators of the uprising were sentenced to capital punishment, money was paid to make the soldiers return back to their barracks.
Struggles for the throne, which resulted in the murder of princes, were among the events that deeply affected nearly the whole empire and Istanbul during the reign of Süleyman I. As a result of competing with both their father and with one another, the princes Mustafa and Bayezid and their offspring lost their lives. Available sources agree that the inhabitants of Istanbul grieved deeply following the intriguing and conspirative murder of Prince Mustafa. It is known that Grand vizier Rüstem Pasha was removed from his office due to the ensuing public outcry, but was reappointed to the same position within a short period of time. On the other hand, Prince Bayezid lost the struggle with his brother Selim and fled to Iran with his family. This development had wide repercussions in the Ottoman capital and other non-sovereign states of the Empire. Although Prince Bayezid appealed for his father’s mercy, he and his children were strangled to death in Iran. Both this event and the strangulation of Prince Mustafa on suspicion of an attempted revolt created widespread reactions to the murder of the princes.
Upon his enthronement following his father’s death, Selim II (1566-1574) encountered Kapıkulu opposition on the occasion of cülus bahşişi (accession bonus). Receiving the body of his father outside Istanbul as sultan died during a military campaign, Selim was intercepted upon his entry into the city from Edirnekapı and prevented from reaching the palace. The janissaries and other Kapıkulu members did not listen to state dignitaries who asked for their retreival by advice; they even assaulted the dignitaries. Their goal was the guaranteeing of payment of cülus and at securing promotions. Upon an official announcement regarding the payment of gratuities and promotions, they abandoned their protest.
Murad III (1574-1595) experienced uprisings during his first year of reign. Artisans and the public masses supported the Kapıkulu sipahis who revolted as a means of calling the sultan into account for a certain financial practice during his father’s reign. They claimed that Jewish sarrafs (bankers or goldsmith) sold Ottoman gold to foreign nations and complained about the soaring prices thereof. The increase in prices caused the artisans to lose income, and the sipahis (cavalrymen) believed that their salary decreased as a result of their low purchasing power.
Suffering from the same problem, this mass materialized into an unprecedented protest, marched to the palace and raided Divan-ı Hümayun (the Imperial Council). Grand Vizier Sokullu Mehmed Pasha could only stop the Kapıkulu sipahis by stating that their demands would be met. Nevertheless, this measure would not bring any permanent solution. Conflicting prices and price rises as well as inflation in the Mediterranean basin and surrounding countries would take hold of the Ottoman state and society for a long period. The transfer of gold and silver from the newly discovered Americas by the Spanish increased the amount of precious metals circulating, and caused a surge in demand in the market. On the other hand, there was no swift transformation in the production of technology in order to meet the increasing demand. Therefore, there was more money in circulation than equaled the goods of the same amount of value. The balance between the amount of goods and production of coinage turned against demand, which inevitably caused an increase in the price of goods. Serious disparities began emerging between the officially fixed prices and market prices, and official prices became meaningless due to an increase in actual market prices.
As the market balance was structured according to the demands of the real economy in the Ottoman financial system, the balance was disrupted by the swift monetization of the economy. In order to prevent this problem, a practice lowering the amount of precious metals in the Ottoman akçe (coin) was resorted to. Following the organization of the devaluation at a high level between 1585-1586, the option of recalling the existing precious metals from the market emerged. Since debased coins released in the market following this process were used for ulufe payments, a large uprising broke out. Revolting against the payment of ulufe in coins with a lower carat (züyuf akçe) in 1589, the Janissaries and sipahis announced that they would not even accept coins rejected by the artisans. It is also worth mentioning that they demanded to kill the officials thought in their view to be responsible for this issue. The Governor of Rumeli Doğancı Mehmed Pasha as well as a friend of the sultan and the head of provincial treasury (defterdar) were all executed, although the sultan wanted to resist their demands. Threatened with losing the throne, he reluctantly acquiesced to the requests of the rebels on the advice of high state officials. A fire that had started during the days when the uprising was repressed, continued for a night, and burned down a large area. Surprisingly, the janissaries attempted to take advantage of the fire contrary to their fire-extinguishing duties. The plague outbreak following all these disasters caused the death of many citizens of Istanbul. Desperate due to the plague, the inhabitants of Istanbul went onto Alemdağ for collective prayers.
The janissary uprisings of January 1591, the fire in April 1592 near Hagia Sophia and the plague outbreak rising in July all serve as examples of the effects of consecutive disastrous events on the city. Uprisings caused by the payment of ulufe in debased coins continued in 1593. Whereas the ulufe was paid to the janissaries nominally in complete, the Kapıkulu Sipahis, aware of the decreasing income in real terms, and complaning about this issue, raided the palace. It is possible to state that they revolted out of not only economic but also political reasons due to their demands. This was because they wished to kill the grand vizier Siyavuş Pasha, the head of provincial treasury (başdefterdar) and the chamberlain lady of the harem. Some of the Kapıkulus were used against the others in order to repress the uprising, which spread into the palace and continued in the second courtyard, as well as to expel the rebellious group from the palace. Upon the order of Murad III, Enderunlular and Baltacılar Ocağı (Guild of Enderun School Members and Axmen) mobilized against the Kapıkulus and repressed the event. Three hundred people are reported to have lost their lives during the conflict. Animosity between the Kapıkulu guilds gradually transformed into a persistent conflict and influenced both life in Istanbul and the dynamics of power struggles. Events during the ulufe payments in 1595 nearly solidified the continuous struggle between the janissaries and Kapıkulu sipahis. Promised to work as Kapıkulu sipahis and taken to the Gence campaign, Kuloğulları objected their rejection to the guild despite promises. Sipahis and Kuloğulları united and started demonstrating in Istanbul, intercepting the viziers on their way from the palace. Since all these events affected life in Istanbul, a solution was needed, which later brought the conflict among kapıkulus to an irreversible point. Murad III sent the Janissary forces on the Kapıkulu sipahis and Kuloğulları. The addition of the issue of fratricide during the reign of Murad III and his command to strangle his five brothers were other events that had a deep impact on Istanbul. The assasination of Grand Vizier Sokullu Mehmed Pasha in 1579 is seen as one of the most significant events during Murad III’s reign.
While similar conflicts were continuing during the reign of Mehmed III (1595-1603), ongoing fratricides during the reign of this sultan following the payment of cülus became an issue discussed in the capital. Within this framework, alliances or struggles between the harem, the palace and other groups contributed largely to an expanding and worsening power struggle. Undoubtedly, this situation laid the ground for a process that would have a deep impact on the lives of those in Istanbul. Factions and political supporters began mobilizing in a way to directly verbalize demands suitable for their interests. All these developments were probably in line with the needs of the period, but no legal arrangements that would legalize the uncontrollable political praxis could be formed in place of traditional political understandings. Structures or delayed improvement attempts were not sufficient to solve the problems as new arrangements could only take place after patterns of political behavior gained legitimacy. The event of Kira Kadın in 1600 broke out as a result of the conflict between the harem, viziers and kapıkulus. Criticisms against the women of the sultan and his mother were directed toward Kira Kadın who served as an intermediary. Although there were those who knew that the incomes registered in the service account book, taken by Safiye Sultan from Mehmed III using her own position, were distributed and managed by the hands of Kira Kadın, the issue could only turn into an openly-discussed subject following the increasing protests by the Kapıkulu sipahis. The sipahis requested the death of Kira Kadın and warned that Safiye Sultan should not be involved in issues as such.
During the uprising supported by Şeyhülislam Sunullah Efendi, Kira Kadın was hacked to death and thrown into the At Meydanı (Sultanahmet Square) together with the bodies of both her sons. According to foreign observers, Istanbul Jews were surprisingly not saddened, but rejoiced at this event. The conflict between the janissaries and the Kapıkulu sipahis reached an irreversible point during the Kapıkulu Uprising, which occurred not long after the aforementioned event. The sipahis called the sultan for an urgent council (ayak divanı) for the first time during this event, which amounted to the fact that an administrative tradition was broken or rather changed by force. The sultan submitted to the demand of the kapıkulus by force and gathered an urgent council for the first time in history. This submission functioned as a political tool for the subjects in power relations because until this event occured, urgent councils were traditionally gathered only upon the request of the sultans. In the meantime, the aghas of Darüssaade and Bâbüssaâde were executed by the rebels and the factions behind them. The uprising expanded outside the palace and the inhabitants of Istanbul were scared of sipahis marching towards the residence of the grand vizier. Receiving the news in Belgrade, the grand vizier took shelter in the barracks of the Janissaries, thereby saved his life. However, the sultan noted negatively his behavior upon the reception of support from the Janissaries, and he had him executed on 16 October 1603.
Because fratricide and filicide was practiced during the reigns of Murad III (1574-1595) and Mehmed III (1595-1603), it should be noted that the number of objections and reactions to this practice increased. In addition, it was understood to cause serious deadlocked situations. When Mehmed III had the 19-year-old prince Mahmud strangled shortly before his own death in 1603, his successor Prince Ahmed was a child and not even circumcised. He was circumcised 14 days following his enthronement and celebrations were organized for this event. The inhabitants of Istanbul were used to the flamboyant circumcision ceremonies of the princes, but on this occasion, they participated in the circumcision ceremony of a sultan for the first time.
A dynastic crisis was added to the already-difficult situation. Conditions arose which rendered the faction struggles inevitably contested. Afterwards, these tensions and struggles turned into frequent crises and deeply influenced both life in Istanbul and the Empire in general during the reign of Mustafa, Osman, Murad and İbrahim and his grandsons succeeding to the throne after Ahmed I respectively. During the reign of Ahmed I in 1605, the former Bölük Ağaları (Chiefs of Regiments) raided the Imperial Council together with the sipahis in order to be recruited into the guild again. It is possible to say that they obtained a result since their past deeds and crimes were pardoned. In addition, they were accepted into the guild on the condition that they embark on a military campaign. Later on, the Janissaries and sipahis revolted under the pretext of ulufe payments, although they could not achieve any results and their chief was punished. When Ahmed I (1603-1617) died, all other problems combined with the dynastic crisis and created chaos that prevailed throughout the city of Istanbul.
The capital was about to undergo extremely difficult years. Upon the death of Ahmed I, his half-lunatic and unhealthy brother, Mustafa, was enthroned instead of one of Ahmed’s sons. This preference is significant in that it served as the first step for moving into a system based on ekberiyet (agnatic seniority, that is, the succession of the eldest male member of the dynasty) in order to prevent filicide and fratricide. In this way, the succeeding prince would be determined, and heirship to the throne would be institutionalized. Therefore, it would be possible for the sultan to avoid strangling his own offspring. However, Mustafa was dethroned in a short time and Osman II (1618-1622) replaced him as the sultan. Osman II renewed the fratricide practice and killed his brother. As understood from the fatwa of Sheikh al-Islam Esad Efendi regarding fratricide, he did not approve of fratricide legally. Pressure of those who objected to Osman II’s reforms during his short reign grew into a great uprising. Prices increased as a result of the cold weather, which caused the waters of the Bosphorus to freeze over in 1621. This development made life in Istanbul difficult and thus indirectly contributed to an expanding opposition against the sultan. His four-year reign ended with dethronement as a result of a revolt in 1622, and his death thereof. Life in Istanbul was not secure during these events and the senior administration completely failed to restore order. Shopkeepers could not open their stores out of fear, and the public could not even go out of their residences. There were even people who left the city altogether. Although the chaos appeared to calm down at times, the demonstrations continued. Residents of Istanbul were astonished as the sultan was openly berated before the public and murdered in Yedikule.
Naturally, the inhabitants of Istanbul quailed at the thought of what atrocities might be committed by groups powerful enough to murder the sultan. The whole city was anxious and disturbed by “haile-i Osman” (the terrible event that befell Osman), and new events constantly transpired. Even after a period of six months following the bloody downfall of the ruler, the sultan’s still impacted the normalization of daily life in Istanbul, and events had not completely normalized. Escalating tension once again brought about a new uprising. While Abaza Mehmed Pasha, who accused the janissaries of murdering the sultan, marched towards Istanbul, Kapıkulu sipahis reiterated their displeasure with the accusations and demanded that the real culprits and initiators to be punished. They verbalized this demand before the Imperial Council and openly in public spaces. Because this demand pointed the janissaries as responsible for the sultan’s murder, the tension between the janissaries and sipahis were hardly prevented at the last minute before the conflict turned into a war. So in reponse, the former Grand Vizier Kara Davud Pasha, and those held responsible for the murder of Osman II, were executed. It is also stated that Mere Hüseyin Pasha encouraged military uprisings following these events and forced Grand Vizier Pasha Gürcü Mehmed Pasha to retreat in order for himself to be appointed as the Grand Vizier. Appointment of Mere Hüseyin Pasha as the Grand Vizier and his practices caused widespread repercussions. He distributed the capital in the treasury to his supporters without any concern for the law, had the Rumeli Beylerbeyi beaten to death, and did not abstain from bastinadoing (foot-whipping) the qadi. All these events influenced processes ranging from the provision of food, security, and the smooth operation of commerce to state administration. It is to be expected that people in Istanbul were uncomfortable under such circumstances. Supporting the qadi beaten by the Grand Vizier’s order, and objecting to his violence, ulema members gathered in Fatih Mosque and stated that they could not accept any public bastinado of a qadi and requested that this action be punished. The ulema members performed such an action for the first time. Among them were well-known scholars such as Bostanzade Yahya Efendi, müderrises (professors) and qadis. They issued a fatwa (a legal opinion) that the Grand Vizier was heretical and shedding his blood was legitimate.
Nevertheless, nothing turned out to be as expected, and the conscript soldiers and some Janissaries raided the mosque upon the Grand Vizier’s order. Those refusing to leave the mosque were fired upon. According to the records, nine ulema members were killed and their communities were disbanded. Some of the survivors and those suspected of encouraging this event were sent into exile. The Guild of Janissaries supported Mere Hüseyin Pasha and it is noted that one of the aims of this alliance was to completely eliminate the Kapıkulu sipahis. Upon receiving the news, the sipahis raided the divan and expelled Mere Pasha from the council. The toppled Grand Vizier was subsequently executed. As the Kapıkulu sipahis were higher in rank according to protocol, and as the closest combatant troops to the sultan, they were more prestigious. It might be said that members of the sipahi and Silahtar Guild had more advantage in being promoted thanks to the fact that they and the remaning four regiments performed actions such as protecting the sultan. This situation was one of the natural causes of the struggle between the sipahis and janissaries; however, political reasons contributed to the transformation of this tension into a continuous conflict.
The claim that the Sipahi Guild would be disbanded came as a result of the struggles and conflicts. Revelation of all these was caused by the Valide Sultan (the sultan’s mother) and guild chiefs holding the administration, as Sultan Mustafa I’s health was not stable. In addition, the treasury was emptied due to the careless distribution of available cash and incomes delivered to the treasury to satisfy the dissidents. There also occurred cuts in goods and supplies in Istanbul as the uprisings in Anatolia continued. Therefore, the public and shopkeers were naturally discomforted by all these events. Since the course of events inevitably necessitated dethroning the sultan, a deal was reached with the Guilds of Kapıkulu regarding the enthronement of Murad IV (1623-1640) on the condition that they did not ask for gratuities. Shortly after the change in sultan, the Guilds of Kapıkulu started demanding gratuities despite their promise, and organized demonstrations. In order to pay the gratuities, gold and silver plateware, as well as the valuables in the Enderun treasury, were given to the empire. Thus, the necessary sum of money was coined and gratuities could be paid as a result.
Apart from political struggles, epidemics constituted an important factor posing threat to the life in Istanbul. When the number of plague victims in the summer of 1625 reached 1000 per day, city residents desperately gathered in Okmeydanı for collective prayers. In addition, the sipahis revolted again in September because of the ulufe. When Kapıkulu soldiers in Anatolia and those in the Iranian front returned to Istanbul in 1631, a new series of uprisings commenced. Firstly, they marched to the palace on 10 February 1632 and called the sultan to an urgent council. Most of those occupying the palace were Kapıkulu sipahis, although there were also shopkeepers and commoners among them. It was Topal Recep Bey, the Sadaret Kaymakamı (the deputy Grand Vizier), who directed the soldiers. Recep Pasha desired to become the Grand Vizier and cooperated with the ulema and Valide Sultan. Directed by Recep Pasha, the masses requested the execution of those seventeen in the sultan’s circle. Among these were the sultan’s musahib (favourite companion), former Grand Vizier and a popular statesman, Hafız Ahmed Pasha. Surrendering his musahib and Ahmed Pasha to the rebels, the Sultan would regretfully learn that the pasha was then hacked to death. Approximately one month later, the palace was raided in a similar instance and another urgent council was requested.
They asked for a guarantee in exchange for protecting the princes in the Kafes (literally Cage, apartments of the Crown Prince), and demanded a guarantor because the sultan’s ruling would not be sufficient. Topal Recep Pasha and Sheikh al-Islam Ahîzade Hüseyin Efendi stood guarantor for the princes. This incident served as the last straw for Murad IV, who was not a child anymore. He had been deeply disturbed by the whole situation, and he retaliated by killing them both. Apparently numerous rampages and lawlessness prevailed in Istanbul and the palace. Daily life came to a halt due to the attacks of rebels drinking alcohol in the streets despite Ramadan, and plundering the stores and extorting money from people. By claiming that it was an old guild tradition during Ramadan, swings were set up in the streets and squares and everyone including the Grand Vizier was asked to bring presents. Out of fear, people even had to give in to all kinds of extortion and bring items ranging from money to fabrics under the name of present. There was no limit to the chaos and lack of order, and there were even sporadic cases of women and children being raped.
During this chaotic time, all these events rendered Istanbul unliveable. The sultan called for an urgent council, which reached an agreement with the statesmen and guild chiefs. According to this agreement, they promised to stop plundering, robbing and assaulting people, and abide by the sultan’s orders. Following this settlement, Murad IV’s strict reign (1623-1640) commenced. The inhabitants of Istanbul started living on tenter-hooks as a result of the severe measures taken by the sultan. Rebel chiefs, many state officials and ordinary citizens were killed by strangling on the grounds of non-conformity with the new strict rules and bans. This time, residents of the city were subject to the state pressure implemented for security reasons. Qadis and Kapıkulu members were killed on the grounds of bribery and shirking their duty. Shiekh al-Islam and the Grand Vizier could not escape the sultan’s wrath either. A shiekh al-Islam was strangled to death on the order of the sultan for the first time in Ottoman history. The sultan also proved that he did not adopt the newly formed system of succession and adhered to the old system by killing his three brothers. Called “the Mad” owing to his unpredictability and the fact that he resided in the Kafes (literally “cage” referring to the room reserved for princes in the palace) for years, Ibrahim was the only remaining brother. The crisis in the dynasty was ongoing.
Sultan Ibrahim’s reign (1640-1648) witnessed a period of bribery, favoritism and palace scandals. Even the most private issues would reverberate outside the palace. It is presumed that discussion of these issues in public spaces, such as banned coffee shops and taverns, which conducted their activities undercover, became widespread. Nevertheless, astonishingly enough, sipahis and janissaries did not demonstrate any notable reactions. This carried on for nearly four years. Later on, there were rumours that the janissaries and sipahis would start a new uprising on 15 July 1644 when the high state officials were in Edirne. It is thought that this rumour was spread by the guild members to gage the reaction of the public and state officials. When the rumours of a new uprising spread, daily life came to a halt again and prices increased as the people started stocking food in their households. In actuality there was no uprising, but this event is significant in terms of demonstrating to what extent the residents of Istanbul were influenced by the four-year accumulation of tension. Even a whisper of an uprising was sufficient to bring daily life to a halt.
However, rumours were not always groundless. The intervention which ended the reign of Sultan Ibrahim (1640-1648) yielded notable results for the history of Istanbul and the Empire. In view of the reactions against the incidents in the palace during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim, arbitrary decisions for executions by the sultan, his unbalanced practices, and escalating bribery and illegalities, guild chiefs agreed with the ulema and started preparing for the dethronement of the sultan. Scholars in Istanbul, Kapıkulu chiefs and regiment chiefs gathered in Fatih Mosque and moved to Orta Mosque for their meeting. They selected Sofu Mehmed Pasha as the Grand Vizier and sent him to the palace. In the meantime, they also disconnected the land and sea links of Istanbul. Considered responsible for the sultan’s practices and a supporter of the sultan, the former Grand Vizier Damat Ahmed Pasha was put to death. A representative was sent out to the sultan in order to warn him politely that he was about to be dethroned, and that he should not resist. Sultan Ibrahim resisted despite their request, but was ultimately unsuccessful, and was dethroned in August 1648. His very young son Mehmed (1648-1687) was enthroned by force. Ibrahim was killed ten days after the spread of the rumour that the last Sultan Ibrahim, who was screaming in his apartment, would be enthroned again by the Kapıkulu sipahis. This was the second time a sultan was murdered. This development and the problems that arose subsequently caused radical changes in the Ottoman political order.
A series of events triggered by the murder of Ibrahim continued until 1656 when the Köprülü family’s administration began. Following Ibrahim’s murder, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque and Atmeydanı (Hippodrom) witnessed a war-like quarrel between the sipahis and the janissaries in 1648. Hundreds of people died during the quarrel. Sipahis revolted the following year on the grounds of non-payment of the ulufe. The ulufe was paid with avarız levies (taxes collected in times of urgencies or disasters) obtained from city residents, and money collected from shopkeepers in Dersaadet and Galata bazaars, and thus the uprising was quelled. However, as the residents of Istanbul and shopkeepers were badly affected by this process, they revolted in 1651 on the grounds that they were asked for money based on similar reasons. While they did not want to pay the avarız levy to the son-in-law of Murad IV, Grand Vizier Melek Ahmed Pasha, they also objected to the pasha’s attempt to debase the coins in order to meet the financial deficit. Here, the people and shopkeepers objected to state demands through a direct uprising for the first time.
Supported by Anatolian Celali groups and a relative of the well-known Abaza Mehmed Pasha, İbşir Mustafa Pasha marched to Istanbul together with state soldiers and forces comprised of Celalis in 1654. In order to diffuse the pressure he created, Ibşir Pasha was appointed as the Grand Vizier. Ibşir Pasha’s men, agreeing with the janissaries, fought the Kapıkulu sipahis on the streets of Istanbul. Marketplaces and bazaars were plundered once again. Moving from Üsküdar to Dersaadet, the Kapıkulu sipahis put an end to these events via a counter-revolt, and executed İbşir Pasha. Upon their return from Crete on 28 February 1655, the janissaries asked for their accumulated ulufe and unfurled a flag in At Meydanı with the support of armourer and artillery units. Their number reached 5,000 within a short period of time. In a matter of five to six days, this number doubled and the rebels sent their demands in a petition to the palace. However, when they did not receive a positive reply, they prepared an execution list comprising almost sixty people. The sultan dismissed Shaykheikh al-Islam in the urgent council of Alay Köşkü and prevented a greater uproar by surrendering two of the palace chiefs to the rebels. On the other hand, strict precautions were taken during investigations and more than fifty janissaries and sipahis were executed. Life in Istanbul came to a standstill for approximately thirteen days during these events.
The Çınar Incident (the Sycamore Tree Incident) of 1656 is one of the most unique events that occurred in the city of Istanbul. The incident is referred to as such since dead bodies were hanged on a sycamore tree in Sultanahmet Square. However, the incident is better known as “Vaka-i Vakvakiye” (the Waq-waq Tree Incident) because of parallels drawn between the mythological Waq-waq tree which bore beautiful women as fruits. This incident left its trace in the history of Istanbul and serves as one of the most striking incidents, which exemplifies the extent of struggles between different groups during consecutive power crises. Grand Vizier Süleyman Pasha was incapable of bringing the events under control and thus had to leave his Office in 1656. A surprising Imperial Reform Edict (Hatt-ı Hümayun) sought to appoint the Cretan Chief Commander Deli Hüseyin Pasha as Grand Vizier. Nevertheless, the Hatt-ı Hümayun sent to the pasha was written in extremely ambiguous language and amounted to the following: “If you need to stay in Crete and your absence should constitute a problem, keep on with your duty. If your absence should not cause any interstice, come to Istanbul.”
While this demand was sent through an ambigious Imperial Reform Edict to Deli Hüseyin Pasha, Zurnazen Mustafa Pasha was appointed as the deputy Grand Vizier. However, he expected to be the Grand Vizier, and thus was somehow appointed as the Grand Vizier for just four hours. An uprising broke out when the struggle between factions of power created a misunderstanding. On the surface, the reason for the uprising was salary payments in debased coins and non-payment to some Kapıkulu soldiers. But additionally, influence of the white and black palace chiefs on the government is referred to as the trigger for this uprising. Zurnazen Mustafa Pasha is said to have been among the instigators of the week-long violence and uprising. However, he could not escape the violence himself. Via their representative before the sultan, rebels reiterated the situation with precise clarity. According to this, the country was in complete misery; while they were given coins of low carat and the shopkeepers did not accept these coins, they asked for the execution of palace chiefs and Enderun members who were accused of reserving pure and full-carat coins for themselves.
Moreover, they stated that the loss caused by their influence on the state administration was incalculable. There were thirty people on the list provided by the rebels. Fifteen-year-old Mehmed IV (1648-1687) proposed to confiscate the assets of the complainers, spare their lives and send them into exile. The sultan’s proposal was rejected, and thus he deemed the situation to be more fragile, and penned an Imperial Reform Edict for meeting the demands. Thereafter, the chief harem eunuch and gate chief were executed, and their bodies were thrown out of the palace. The hasodabaşı (Sultan’s private chamberlain), sultan’s teacher and the treasurer ran away and hid somewhere. Despite their attempts, upon the request of rebels, they were found and summarily executed. The bodies were dragged by the rebels and displayed on the sycamore tree in Sultanahmet Square. Most of those in the list were killed and their bodies took their place on the sycamore tree. The rebels calmed down at the promise that those who could not be caught would be hanged. In the meantime, one of the instigators of the uprising, Zurnazen Mustafa Pasha, was dismissed. Arbitrary pressure and violence by notable sipahi chiefs continued for two months following the Çınar Incident. In order to compensate for this situation, a meeting was organized before the sultan under the pretext of discussing the Anatolian uprisings and banditry cases.
Following the Çınar Incident, sipahi chiefs known as arena chiefs were captured and beheaded. Mobilized by Kadızadeli preachers in 1656, the rebels started raiding dergâhs (Islamic monasteries) and tekkes (dervish lodges), and attacked the sufis by stating that these institutions should be closed. They stated that dergâhs and tekkes should be demolished and mosques with multiple minarets should eliminate redundant minarets. They even opposed Qur’an elocution and recitation methods. According to them, most sufi movements and religious orders (tarikat) were profane and fabricated. They suggested that leading a simple life as in the first period of Islam was Sunnah (tradition) of the prophet and it was known that they occasionally attempted to repress social life based on this belief. However, they were not content merely with preaching, indoctrinations and edicts, but directly mobilized in order to materialize these claims and organized an uprising in Fatih Mosque. However, they were effectively prevented and removed from the mosque, and important figures of the group were sent to exile. In fact, it is possible to reiterate that the new Sadrazam Köprülü Mehmed Pasha’s uncompromising approach played a great role in preventing this potentially dangerous situation from growing serious. With this event, the old Sadrazam demonstrated the method he would use for similar attempts. The Köprülü adopted the same attitude he had for the Kadızadeli Incident for the sipahis who attempted to revolt on the grounds of non-payment of ulufe and attacked the head of the provincial treasury in 1657. He set the janissaries onto the sipahis and in this way, suppressed them.
It is also possible to speak of a long, quiet period during the administration of Köprülü Mehmed Pasha, his son Fazıl Ahmed Pasha and members of the Köprülü family. However, it should be pointed out that there occurred several incidents that caused destruction in Istanbul, but did not lead to plunderings, terror, armed conflict and deaths. The event, which broke out on 15 February 1665, sufficed to scare the public. On the same date prisoners collectively escaped from the Shipyard Dungeon, plundered Galata and Kasımpaşa districts and caused some deaths. The events were suppressed within a short time and the destruction and loss did not turn out to be as great, due to the fact that the prisoners were once more sent to the dungeon.
Another incident took place in 1684. While their ships were under maintenance in the shipyard, naval soldiers raided the Bosphorus villages and conflicted with French merchants and guards disembarking from French galleons. There were losses on both sides. An incident described by Evliya Çelebi is notable here. According to him, the appointment of the janissary chief in Crete as sadaret kethüdası (chamberlain of the Grand Vizier) in 1668 led to the rumour that the crown princes would be murdered, and particularly the shopkeepers gathered in At Meydanı and protested against this.
Furthermore, it was not easy for the empire to recover following the disintegration of the Second Vienna Siege (1683). Soldiers on the battlefront, particularly at Kapıkulu, returned to Istanbul and mobilized to dethrone the sultan. The years-long unsuccessful wars, loss of Budin and other large territories, food shortages in Anatolia, abandonment of the city by the public due to the allocation of both human and other resources to the army, and the resulting subsistence levels of life in Istanbul, and increasing banditry are among the reasons behind the continuing unrest. The army and city residents also verbalized their opposition to the indulgence of the sultan for hunting, and the ulema started openly criticizing the sultan on the same grounds. In the face of this situation and widespread opposition, Mehmed IV had to step down in 1687, and his brother Süleyman was enthroned in his place. However, truly nightmarish days were just about to begin for the city. As the soldiers could not be kept out of the city or stopped, they entered the city rampantly and started looting. On the grounds of non-payment of their ulufe, they plundered the market and stores. Their demand could not be met, as there were no resources for paying the large sums of money they requested under the name of accession bonus and advances. Sipahis and armourers assaulted the stores and marketplaces thereafter, and almost all stores were closed in Istanbul. As a counter-measure, Siyavuş Pasha was dismissed and some rebel chiefs were executed. However, this measure exacerbated the problem instead of ending it. At one point, Istanbul was completely captured by the rebels.
Nevertheless, shopkeepers unfurled their flag, declared mobilization and started a counterstrike. The crowd growing with the participation of Istanbul shopkeepers and residents reached 5000-6000 people within a short period of time. This reaction transformed into a civil movement comprised of shopkeepers and residents and was directed at the palace. They asked for Sancak-ı Şerif (the Battle Flag of Muhammed) against the rebellious soldiers. This request scared the soldiers who were terrorizing the city, because it signified that perhaps the whole city was against them. This action of the shopkeepers and residents functioned well. The situation was brought under control by execution of some of the instigators and with the assigning of some to duties outside Istanbul. This process continued for approximately four months and rendered Istanbul once more unlivable. The uprising of the shopkeepers holds special importance for sending out a public warning and the formation of a civil initiative.
A similar event was experienced in the larger uprising of 1703. Instigated by a couple of hundred of armourers on the classic grounds of non-payment of ulufe, the protests grew serious as they were based on a deeper political struggle and crisis. There was almost no one who did not object to the administration of the Shaykheikh al-Islam Feyzullah Efendi and the Sultan who was in Edirne at the time. Rumours that Edirne would become the capital city constituted one of the reasons for shopkeepers and residents to participate in the widespread opposition. The rebellion of 15 July 1703 grew and spread. The apartments of the Janissary Agha and the residence of the Istanbul subgovernor were raided. Prisoners at the apartment of the Janissary Agha were released. Suprisingly enough though, there was no assault or looting of Istanbul markets, shops, bazaars, residences, or depots of foreign merchanders. The rebels thought that their actions were legitimate and paid great attention to taking security measures, since they did not want to lose their cause. As they did not recognize Shaykheikh al-Islam Feyzullah Efendi in Edirne, and were actually against him, they attributed their actions to the legitimacy of fetva by appointing a new Shaykheikh al-Islam. Simultaneously, the decision that the Friday prayer in Istanbul would not be performed was based on a method as such and announced thereof. Because the number of rebels went beyond expected calculations as a result of moving the boundaries of legitimacy and strategy, the crowd was transferred from Etmeydanı to Yenibahçe. Money sent from Edirne and the dismissal of the Sheikh al-Islam were not sufficient to calm down the rebels. On August 10 nearly 30,000 Kapıkulu members and the same number of members of the public set out to Edirne as a large army. More importantly, a large majority of the inhabitants of Istanbul supported the rebellion, although they did not participate as combatants. The army that set out from Edirne and the rebel army from Istanbul came to the point to kindle a war. Sultan Mustafa II (1695-1703) had to abdicate, and Ahmed III (1703-1730) became the Sultan. Sheikh al-Islam Feyzullah Efendi, some of his supporters, and even closest relatives were killed by unprecedented torture and torment. The rest were sent into exile.
Reforms appear to have taken place in Istanbul during the reign of Ahmed III (1703-1730), particularly between 1718-1730 when Sadrazam Nevşehirli Damat İbrahim Pasha served as the Grand Vizier. Reconstruction of the city and urban elements such as square fountains and Sadabad were among long-neglected urban improvements. However, all these attracted reactions and the rumours that pleasure-making prevailed turned into an oppositional discourse. In the Patrona Rebellion, which broke out in 1730, Ahmed III was dethroned, some individuals died and some were killed during the rebellion. The famous poet Nedim and Sadrazam İbrahim Pasha were among those who lost their lives. Several reconstructed and new spaces, as well as Sadabad, a symbol of the period, were ruined by the rebellion during the period referred to as the Tulip Period later on. Only gardens remained intact and many points in the city including neighbourhoods, marketplaces and stores were looted.
It might be said that a calmer period prevailed in Istanbul in the eighteenth century compared to the turmoils of former centuries. There were, indeed, short-lasting tensions and struggles during this century as well. However, it did not witness large massacres or uprisings that rendered the city unlivable. It is possible to say that this calmness was caused by balanced changes, which took place in Ottoman politics. The Ottoman Empire was occupied with foreign relations, wars, struggles and conflicts between the Anatolian notables in the eighteenth century. The results of these conflicts and struggles were reflected in the center, even though the city was able to avoid the great destruction that had occurred in former periods. Nevertheless, attempts at modernization after the last quarter of the century, and a new reform wave impacted Istanbul with long-forgotten chaos. Implementation of radical reforms, called “Nizam-ı Cedid” during the reign of Selim III (1789-1807), incited new discussions. Reactions to the enforcement of military, administrative and fiscal reforms, that is, the Nizam-ı Cedid, turned into the Kabakçı Mustafa Rebellion in 1807. The dethronement of Selim III, renouncing of the Nizam-ı Cedid reforms, killing of some of the supporters and enforcers of these reforms stopped the implementation of these changes. Those desiring to enthrone Selim III again, organized under the name of Rusçuk Yaranı (Rusçuk Committee), and Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, a member of the Rumeli notables, set out to Istanbul with his army. Alemdar’s forces lodged in the Çırpıcı Meadow and clashed with Boğaz yamakları (Bosphorus apprentices). Seeing this, Mustafa IV (1807-1808) feared that he would be dethroned at the end of this struggle and so he had his brother Selim III killed. His other brother, Mahmud, escaped death at the last minute thanks to the harem ladies. Enthroning Mahmud II (1808-1839), Alemdar was first appointed kaymakam (deputy governor) and later grand vizier.
However, opposition against him and the Kırcalı soldiers under his order triggered a new rebellion. On the other hand, the opposition was caused by the power loss of Istanbul forces and the risk that the rural groups have the advantage. Mahmud II, who owed his life and reign to Alemdar, is claimed to have been among the opposition. During the rebellion that started against the non-recognized new government represented by Alemdar, Mahmud II had his older brother and former Sultan Mustafa IV killed. At the same time, no one could guess that Alemdar would detonate his residence from his gunpowder chamber upon the raid of the rebels. Pasha died in his residence together with the rebels. Ramiz Pasha, who was one of the supporters of Selim III and a member of the Rusçuk committee and chief admiral during the viziership of Alemdar, destroyed the Süleymaniye and Janissary barracks with his naval fleet. This attempt did not yield the desired results, but old districts of Istanbul were subject to great damage, and some people lost their lives. The rebels took over the whole city and all the markets were looted. Bâbıâli (the government headquarters) was set on fire, and gangs of robbers were disguised in janissary clothes. There were even those who arrived in Istanbul from the countryside with the intent to plunder. The rebel soldiers were brought under control in 1809, and were sent to the battlefront in order to restore peace in the city. Nonetheless, this was only a temporary solution, as Istanbul did not see peace until the Guild of Janissaries was gorily removed in 1826.
With respect to these events, it is possible to state that Istanbul experienced a period of chaos between 1807 and 1826. The actions of the janissaries directed both the administration and the people to find a radical solution to the problems within this period. Events that broke out among the janissaries during this period were conflicts called ‘wars in the open,’ and based on a sort of appropriating robbery districts. Because they created their own districts by hanging up axes as signs, they put marks in certain districts in order to rob and extort the public. Later, they would start turf-wars for these districts. An abduction of a woman in Balıkpazarı by a couple of janissaries in April 1810 and transporting her to their district caused the uprising of shopkeepers. The shopkeepers obtained arms the following day and announced that they would shoot anyone in janissary clothes if these acts did not come to an end. Not expecting such a determined crowd, the janissaries had to retreat and executed several soldiers they accused in order to calm the shopkeepers. The janissaries killed their own chief in 1814. Hasköy and Kasımpaşa districts were looted during a war that began in 1819. Barracks in these districts were set on fire. At the same time, Galata and Karaköy turned into a battleground. Backfire from the ships and Galata Tower caused extensive damage in the city. As similar events continued, the ulufe “festivals” that were organized every three months constituted another problem. The janissaries extorted the city and fired bullets in periods when they organized events called “festivals” for their ulufe payments. Some were killed as a result of these events. Unable to prevent all these incidences, the palace encouraged the armament of Istanbul residents, and introduced a ban that forbade anyone to go out without arms. There was also a significant lack of legal authority in the city. Some other incidents broke out as a result of a power vacuum. In the incident that broke out among the Armenians in 1820, a group of Armenians assaulted their own patriarchate. When the Greek rebellion in Mora started in 1821, university students and groups provoked by the students, following the execution of some patriarchs and officials, attacked Greek and other Christian neighbourhoods and churches on April 26. During the same incident, residences and businesses were set on fire and looted in Galata and Beyoğlu. The uprising of 15 January 1826 was the last uprising that led to their end. When the uprising started, a Sancak-ı Şerif was taken, and a general war was declared against the janissaries. Supported strictly by the public, this incident turned into a sheer janissary massacre accompanied by the participation of new military classes. Days-long pursuits took place in the countryside and Istanbul, and the captured janissaries were put to death. The janissaries had gained legitimacy by claiming membership of the Bektashi order. Following this incident, activities of the order came to a halt and their lodges were closed and transferred to other orders, particularly the Naqshibendi Order. This decision sounded the death knell for the Guild of Janissaries and “Urban Bektashism,” which was an important cultural institution in Istanbul and rural towns.
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