One of the most important political and social events in 18th century Istanbul was the rebellion that started on September 28, 1730. While this is referred to in Ottoman chronicles as “the rebellion which took place in 1143 A.H. (1730)” or more succinctly as the ihtilal (rebellion), vakia (event), or fitna (mischief), today in the Republic of Turkey it is referred to as the Patrona Halil Revolt. This rebellion is commonly credited as leading to the abdication of Sultan Ahmet III (r. 1703–1730) and the execution of his son-in-law, Grand Vizier Nevşehirli Damad Ibrahim Pasha (1718–1730). Ibrahim Pasha and his two sons-in-law (Kethüda Mehmed Pasha and Kapudan Atlamacı Mustafa Pasha) were executed on October 2, 1730. On November 25, 1730, Patrona Halil and the other leaders of the rebellion were executed.
While it took only four days for the revolt to succeed, leading to the execution of some of the most powerful men of the era, it took nearly a month for the new government to suppress the uprising and eliminate its leaders. Although the small rebellions that followed this challenged the Ottoman government for some time, November 25 is accepted as the date when the main rebellion was suppressed and the new government took its final form.
Throughout history, rebellions have been seen as events that directly affect the social and economic life of a city or country. To achieve the conditions necessary for a rebellion, a sense of unease, caused by the disruption of daily routine in the city, must be created. In this context, when the revolt started in Beyazıt Square on September 28, the first action of the rebels was to close all the shops in the Covered Market (Bedesten) and stop all commercial activity. Hasan Agha, the Janissary agha, made a statement that everything was under control and that the shops should continue to do business;1 this should be understood as part of the government’s efforts to convince the people that daily life in the city was continuing as usual. However, after the death of Patrona Halil, the rebels expressed their anger again by forcing the closure of the shops in the Covered Market. The worry that the closure of shops would immerse the city in chaos led the grand vizier to threaten shopkeepers who closed their shops with capital punishment.2 During the rebellion, one of the rebels went into a Greek tradesman’s shop to buy clothes; when they could not agree on the price, he threatened to kill the shop owner. The shop owner closed his shop in fear for his life, and all the shops in the bazaar followed suit.3
Many Janissaries participated in the 1730 rebellion. The identities of the rebels clearly show that they had widespread support within the corps. Many Janissaries who were occupied with trade in the capital city were awaiting orders to go on campaign to Iran; however, the failure of the sultan and grand vizier to give the orders lit the first spark of rebellion. When the sultan cancelled the campaign, the Janissaries met secretly and decided that they would go anyway, under the leadership of Sultan Mustafa’s son, Mahmud. The Janissary tradesmen closed their shops and joined the army to prepare for the expedition to Iran. The conflict created by the Janissaries’ desire to go on a campaign at the time the rebellion was about to break out, and the financial burden on the public caused by the repeated military campaigns against Iran led by Ibrahim Pasha, demonstrate how hard it was for the government to control the situation. The tax burden on people living in the provinces, created by the previous campaigns to Iran, had led some people to move to the capital and look for employment there. This new labor force increased the problems of the tradesmen already living in the capital; it was seen as a threat by the network of local tradesmen, including the 40,000 Janissaries who were a part of it.4
It can be argued that Istanbul experienced an atmosphere of terror during the rebellion. According to Abdi Tarihi, a contemporary source, the day after the rebellion broke out, the Friday prayer was not performed in Istanbul and the call for noon prayer was not recited.5 With the support of the crowd that had gathered in the Hippodrome, Patrona Halil and Muslu Bese could act without fear; they went as far as cutting the water supply and disrupting the supply of food to the palace.6 Rebels plundered the houses of powerful people, Ibrahim Pasha in particular, as well as the houses of other wealthy residents of the city. Indeed, Ibrahim Pasha’s kethüda (steward), Mehmed Pasha, was famous for having astronomically increased his wealth during his years in office; some groups who plundered the murdered kethüda’s house took bags of gold with them. However, reports of this looting were most likely exaggerated by Ottoman sources, with one even stating that plundering the kethüda’s house had made some of the rebels rich.7 In fact, the real target of the rebels was the highest governing elite of the period of 1718–1730. At the top of the list was Ibrahim Pasha, who, together with his two sons-in-law, can be referred to as the troika of his period. In addition to these men, a broad circle of people who were known to be close to them also faced the anger of the rebels. These included Yenişehirli Abdullah Efendi, the sheikh-al-Islam, and Kurkcu Manol, known for his closeness to the kethüda Mehmet Pasha. Another person affected by the looting was the voivode (municipal police) of Galata. The rebels argued that the voivode had accumulated wealth by stealing from non-Muslim citizens of the state and that this wealth should be returned to its rightful owners. However, when the voivode was forced to flee Galata, rebels directed their looting to Jewish houses and Greek churches.
Plundering targeted not only the governing elite but also the general public of Istanbul. Many people were forced to hide their valuables. In order to save their lives and their wealth, some even offered bribes to Patrona Halil. In addition to the terror that the looting caused, dreadful threats were made to the public: for instance, Patrona Halil warned that four districts of Istanbul would be burned if anything happened to him.8
Some of the rebels began to live in the houses of the wealthy, in the caravanserais or Janissary lodgings. A notable example occurred when Patrona Halil evicted the minister of finance, Ali Bey, from his house at Şehzadebaşı. Patrona asked the minister whether he had another house, and when the minister said yes, Patrona asked him why then he had bought this house, and forced him to leave it without taking any belongings. Although Ali Bey evacuated the house the next day, Patrona never moved in. His aim was to shake the foundations of the bureaucratic elite. He opted to move into the house of the former kethüda of the Janissary agha in Shehzadebashi.
Between 1718 and 1730, Ibrahim Pasha and other members of the elite lived in mansions on the banks of the Bosphorus, enjoying a high standard of living. After the rebellion, the rebels either destroyed the mansions of the bureaucratic elite or lived in them themselves. Mansions around Sadabat Park were the most affected by this destruction. Four hundred rebels seized houses in Istanbul and started to live “with pleasure and enjoyment.” Apparently, participation in city life as such was a significant relaxation compared to their spartan life in the military corps. The 28-day rule of the rebels allowed them to live through a “false spring.” They chose whom they wanted to appoint to various positions in the government and enjoyed the excitement of their short-lived power. Making a direct association with Sultan Mahmud, Patrona Halil even distributed money to people while on horseback.
The rebel leaders were executed on November 25, and thus the rebellion was largely suppressed. However, the government’s announcement of the end of the rebellion was dated December 26, exactly a month after the executions. State officials, scholars, and the Janissary corps unanimously announced that the revolt had been suppressed; order and safety had been restored to the streets of Istanbul, and chaos in the city had come to an end. However, the government expressed concern that some remnants of the rebels were still organized in certain parts of the city and that it would be beneficial to take precautions against them. In this context, a declaration dated July 16, 1731, stated that some rebels had been identified as living in fields and gardens; as a result, everyone who worked in the fields and gardens was ordered to register their names and appearance; it was forbidden to hire workers of Albanian descent, since Patrona was of Albanian origin. Another place where Albanians were forbidden to work was public bath houses.
The Rebellion of 1730 continued to have an effect on subsequent movements. Six months later, on March 26, 1731, another revolt threatened social life in Istanbul, this time attempting to dethrone Sultan Mahmud I. There are conflicting reports about how many people participated in the rebellion, ranging from 300–400 to 5,000. Some sources claim that this rebellion was plotted by Fatma Sultan, who wanted revenge for her dethroned father and murdered husband. Other reports indicate that approximately 50,000 people were either murdered or exiled in order to neutralize the rebellion. In another uprising, which took place in early September 1731, the Anatolian kazasker (military judge) and the Janissary agha participated. Nearly all the participants of this relatively small uprising were executed.
In conclusion, the representation of the Rebellion of 1730 in classical Ottoman historiography as a burst of populist anger about increasing poverty and the extravagant lifestyles of the elite is misleading. The day-to-day lives of the governing elite of 1730, and their level of wealth, were similar to those of the privileged classes both before and after them. It is true that there was rage and plundering during the rebellion, but these were not the real forces that led to its success. The real reason was the management skills and ambition for power of both those who were in government and those who aspired to be. From another perspective, this rebellion was part of a phenomenon that can be observed throughout Ottoman history: a common end to a government’s tenure. When understood from this perspective, the Rebellion of 1730 was not a reaction to the tulips adorning the gardens of Istanbul’s wealthy elite. Similarly, dragging Ibrahim Pasha’s dead body behind a carriage was not a reaction to his fondness for tulip or halva parties. This rebellion needs to be understood as a function of Ottoman politics. Those who could not voice their political opposition through legal channels were expressing it through bloody uprisings. The population of the city was heavily affected by these bloody revolts and continued to be affected by subsequent developments.
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1 Abdi Tarihi, prepared by Faik Reşit Unat, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1943, p. 29; Selim Karahasanoğlu, Politics and Governance in the Ottoman Empire: The Rebellion of 1730 -An Account of the Revolution that Took Place in Constantinople in the Year 1143 of the Hegira, Cambridge: Harvard University, 2009, p. 139.
2 A Particular Account of the Two Rebellions which Happen’d at Constantinople in the Years MDCCXXX, and MDCCXXXI. At the Deposition of Achmet the Third, and the Elevation of Mahomet the Fifth: Composed from the Original Memorials drawn up in Constantinople: With Remarks, Explaining the Names, Offices, Dignities of the Port, London: Printed for G. Smith, 1737, p. 74.
3 A Particular Account of the Two Rebellions, p. 41.
4 For details see Münir Aktepe, Patrona İsyanı (1730), Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi, 1958, tür.yer.; B. McGowan, “The Age of Ayans, 1699-1812”, An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1914, ed. Halil İnalcık and D. Quataert, Cambridge: Cambridge University Pess, 1994, pp. 697, 704.
5 Abdi Tarihi, p. 35.
6 A Particular Account of the Two Rebellions, pp. 16-17.
7 Şem‘dânîzâde Fındıklılı Süleyman Efendi, Muri’t-tevârîh, Beyazıt Devlet Ktp., no. 5144, f. 349a; Şem‘dânîzâde Fındıklılı Süleyman Efendi, Tarih: Müri’t-tevârîh, ed. M. Münir Aktepe, Istanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi, 1976.
8 A Particular Account of the Two Rebellions, p. 78.