Soon after Constantine the Great transformed the small Greek colony that Byzas founded, the Byzantion, to the city of Constantine, Constantinopolis, Roman authority collapsed in the West, leaving Constantinople as the center of the civilized world. As the capital of what western historians would later call the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople became a destination for merchants, travelers, pilgrims, diplomats, and myriad types of go-betweens. A religious as well as an administrative center and the largest city of the Mediterranean basin, the Nea Roma benefited extensively from the prestige that the imperial court bestowed on it. The New Rome was also the new caput mundi (head of the world), whose imperial grandeur cast a spell on foreigners who marveled at its monuments such as Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, and many majestic palaces and churches; whose court culture and protocol impressed foreign envoys; and whose distinct culture, complex social composition, and eastern ways aroused as much suspicion as curiosity among its visitors.
The city itself was an instrument of persuasion frequently utilized by the Byzantines. Coming from the “barbarian” world where no city could equal Constantinople in size, beauty, grandeur, or pomp, official visitors were intentionally guided through the city and exposed to the effects of its large monuments, beautiful landscapes, well-fortified walls, disciplined soldiers, busy ports, and well-ordered society, which fostered the image of a rich and powerful empire. This worldwide image-building might have produced impressive results; for good reason, western Europeans for centuries referred to the city as Nea Roma; Slavs called it Tsargrad (the City of Caesar), and Scandinavians and Icelanders simply knew it as Miklagard (also Mikligardr or Micklegart), the Great City.
In order to enhance this imperial effect, elaborate court rituals were developed to instill awe in foreign envoys. It should not be hard to imagine the extent to which foreign envoys were impressed with sophisticated palace protocols and complex ceremonies as well as many inventions such as the hydraulic machinery that elevated the imperial throne as visitors approached. It was all part of an imperial strategy,1 and the issue of how foreign visitors should be received was of utmost importance in a palace where ceremonial procedures were strictly codified in a 10th century book entitled Περί τῆς Βασιλείου Τάξεως (De Cerimoniis Aulae Byzantinae, On the Order of the Palace)2 The fact that the authorship of the book is attributed to the emperor himself demonstrates the importance of palace protocol in Byzantine Constantinople.
Leaving the city’s Roman and Byzantine past behind, let us move to the early modern period when it evolved from a center of attraction to a center of diplomacy.
Two concomitant trends shaped the destiny of early modern capitals. The rise of administrative-bureaucratic structures made these cities something more than just the ruler’s place of residence; as quasi-autonomous institutions became increasingly independent from the ruler’s household, the cities emerged as capitals of gradually centralizing polities. At the same time, the establishment of resident diplomacy, as opposed to short-term diplomatic missions, in the 15th and 16th centuries made these capitals centers of diplomacy and espionage.
The emergence of Constantinople/Istanbul as a center of diplomacy should be studied within this framework. The Ottoman Empire was slowly yet decidedly changing in nature as it evolved from a frontier principality, wherein the figure of the sultan was not much more than a primus inter pares and centrifugal powers repeatedly proved themselves beyond the control of the central government, to a centralized state run by a professional cadre of bureaucrats in the capital. Istanbul itself was a part of this state-building process. Its conquest, reconstruction, and repopulation were part of a careful plan by Mehmed II, who eliminated the traditional opposition powers and placed the centrifugal powers, such as the akıncı leaders (lords of the marches), under the close control of the central government. Istanbul was the new capital of the Ottomans, and just as it had provided the Roman emperors with a clean sheet eleven centuries earlier, it gave members of the Ottoman dynasty the opportunity to distance themselves from the traditional forces of Ottoman society and helped them build a new power base and enhance their imperial prestige. Even though Edirne continued to host the imperial court occasionally for centuries to come, the heart of the new state—its imperial institutions and the enlarged bureaucratic mechanism—remained in Istanbul.
At around the same time, certain global developments resulted in the establishment of the practice of resident diplomacy. While in the past sovereign powers had negotiated with each other and settled their differences through envoys and diplomats who were sent on ad-hoc missions, returning once their mission was over, resident diplomats started to be dispatched to foreign capitals in the second half of the 15th century in order to establish permanent diplomatic links and reliable channels of communication between two powers. Although there were sporadic precedents as early as the 13th century, the practice of sending resident ambassadors first emerged in earnest in northern Italy among city-states such as Florence, Milan, and Venice in order to keep the fragile Peace of Lodi (1455) in effect through constant negotiations between its signatories. The practice expanded throughout Europe in a matter of decades.
Long before the spread of this new practice, during the Byzantine era, Constantinople had already been hosting resident representatives of foreign powers. An important port city at the intersection of several trade routes, it hosted a sizeable community of merchants, mostly from Genoa, Venice, Florence, and Ragusa, who lived in Galata/Pera, an autonomous Genoese colony facing Constantinople on the other side of the Golden Horn ruled by a governor or podestà. When the Ottomans conquered the city, the Genoese lost no time in handing the keys of the Galata fortress to the Ottoman sultan and becoming his protected subjects, the zimmi; their magnifica communità would survive, if not thrive, under Ottoman protection for centuries. While the Genoese became Ottoman subjects, other foreigners flocked to Galata/Pera, chief emporium and clearinghouse for foreign goods. Some, such as the Venetian merchants trading within the city walls, were also transferred there. Apparently, the Ottomans realized the financial and strategic benefits of allowing European merchants in the city, even though they still regulated their presence with strict restrictions stipulated in imperial capitulations (‘ahdname).
These foreign merchants were organized according to their “nations” (from Latin natio stemming from natus, referring to people who were born, nati, in the same place), and each nation of merchants had a governing body headed by a consul. In these early years of resident diplomacy, there was no clear distinction between an ambassador and a consul (the representative of a foreign merchant community), and the Ottomans conducted their diplomacy with the consuls. The intertwined relations between trade and diplomacy should not be underestimated, since merchants played pivotal diplomatic roles in key moments. For instance, it was a Venetian grain merchant, Andrea Gritti (later doge of Venice [523–1538]), who signed the treaty that ended the Ottoman–Venetian War of 1499–1503.3 Without his connections on both sides of the conflict, such a peace could hardly have been negotiated. Similarly, it was not a diplomat but a merchant, William Harborne, who established regular diplomatic contact between England and the Ottoman Empire in 1578. Hired by a number of English merchants seeking to trade in the Levant, Harborne first obtained trading capitulations from the Ottoman sultan and then appeared as the first resident English ambassador on the payroll of the Levant Company.4 However, in the time between the two examples, a distinction between a merchant and an ambassador seems to have emerged, for it should not only be his discontent at seeing an English ambassador receiving good treatment in the Ottoman capital that prompted the French ambassador to be scandalized when Harborne’s servant referred to his master as “ambassador.” He could not hide his feelings: “What ambassador? Your master is a merchant and not an ambassador.”5 Harborne may have fallen short of Jacques Savary de Brèves’s standards for a proper ambassador; nonetheless, his diplomatic function as the representative of the English crown in the Ottoman capital cannot be disputed. Moreover, French ambassadors were no less related to commercial circles; their expenses were partly burdened by Marseille’s Chamber of Commerce (16,000 livres out of 52,000, or 31 percent in 1678).6
The same capitulations also regulated the residence of these foreign officials in the heart of the empire. At the dawn of early modern diplomacy, rulers at first showed a disinclination to accept representatives of foreign powers residing in their capital. For instance, even though the Duke of Milan sent a resident diplomat to France in 1455, he refused to allow a French representative in Milan, fearing that he might engage in espionage and seek to intervene in the Duchy’s internal affairs. The Ottomans seem to have had similar concerns at the beginning; they restricted the Venetian bailo’s (resident ambassador) sojourn in Istanbul, first to one year in the capitulations of 1503 and then to three in 1513.7 Their suspicion led them to resort to harsher measures as well. They expelled the Venetian bailo Girolamo Marcello in 1492, for example, because he was sending intelligence to his government.8
While the only merchant communities and associated consuls/ambassadors in 15th century Istanbul were Italian, soon others followed suit and set up shop in the Ottoman capital. One important factor was further consolidation of central governments, which resulted in the emergence of larger and stronger states that devoured their smaller neighbors, the resources of which were no match for new requirements imposed by the military revolution and bureaucratization. At the same time as the number of actors in international politics decreased, diplomacy became even more important, due to the Mediterranean- and European-wide struggle between two imperial powers that rose to unprecedented prominence in the early 16th century in both halves of the Mediterranean basin, the Ottomans in the east and the Habsburgs in the west.
This imperial rivalry forced political actors to take sides and engage in diplomatic maneuvers. Throughout the 16th century, European states set up resident diplomatic missions in the Ottoman capital. France sent a permanent ambassador in 1535, the Austrian Habsburgs (a minor branch of the Habsburg dynasty) in 1547, and England in 1583. Others followed suit: Netherlands in 1612, Russia in 1700, Poland sometime after the Treaty of Carlowitz (1699), Sweden in 1737, and Prussia in 1761. In addition to these permanent ambassadors, Istanbul hosted many short-term diplomatic missions not only from sovereign powers such as Poland, Persia, and Morocco, but also from vassal states such as Ragusa, Moldavia, Wallachia, and Crimea. The fact that the Ottomans saw no difference between a diplomat from a sovereign state and one from a vassal state and used the same term, ilçi, for both, exposes their perception of their empire and capital as the center of the world.
Thus, Istanbul emerged as a cosmopolitan center of diplomacy, hosting a number of diplomatic missions and hundreds of diplomatic personnel associated with resident foreign ambassadors. It was only natural that such a presence would lead to state regulation as well as the development of elaborate court rituals, established diplomatic mores, and ceremonies that resonated with the city’s yearned glorious past during the heyday of the Byzantine Empire.
It has long been suggested by a Eurocentric historiography that the Ottomans were not part of European diplomacy. A corollary of this suggestion is that they did not feel themselves bound by the practice of pacta sunt servanda, (agreements must be kept) a statement which was further backed by a centuries-long tradition of negative representation of Ottomans as the “other,” uncivilized and lawless barbarians from the East whose existence was antithetical to that of Christian Europe. Recently, however, such biased statements have been called into question. Studies in Ottoman as well as European archives can easily reveal that the Ottomans took their diplomatic obligations very seriously and strove to act within the not-so-clear confines of law and acceptable diplomacy of the time. This sense of responsibility explains intermediaries’ frequent rounds between foreign diplomats and Ottoman dignitaries. When an ambassador of a nation that was protected by a sultanic ‘ahdname (capitulation) felt the need to correct a wrongdoing his compatriots had suffered during their sojourn in the Ottoman Empire, most of the time he found a solution based on relevant capitulation articles, or if there were none, on traditions, mores, and precedents.
The arrival or departure of an ambassador was both a state ceremony and a public spectacle, with crowds lining up in the streets of Istanbul in order to watch with curious eyes these foreign diplomats and their retinues. It was customary for an ambassador to send a messenger beforehand to inform the authorities of the date of his arrival and ask for permission (ruhsat) to enter the city. Once granted permission, the ambassador would proceed in quite majestic fashion, escorted by a cavalry regiment and accompanied by his staff, the leading merchants of his nation trading in the city, and representatives of other embassies. When this entrance became too elaborate, as was the case in 1616,9 it could result in a negative reaction from the proud Istanbulites. On the other hand, neglect by Ottomans’ of the proper ceremonial reception could be taken by ambassadors as insult. When Ottoman officials tried to rush the Austrian ambassador to appear before the sultan, the ambassador protested vehemently, stating that an ambassador of his stature should not be treated with “insistence and lack of respect” (ibrâm ve terk-i hürmet), and refused to take his sovereign’s present to Topkapı Palace on a rainy and muddy day without the usual grand parade and public spectacle (bir küşâde günde müretteb alay gûne cem’iyyetle varıp hedâyâsı dahi müte’addid kimseler yediyle gidip tantana-i mâlâ-kelâm arz-ı ihtişâm etmek merâsimi).10
The pinnacle of such ceremonial events was the reception of foreign ambassadors by the Ottoman sultan. After the extensive renovation of Topkapı Palace in the 1520s, several ceremonial changes were introduced, demonstrating the complex relationships between palace protocol and architecture and between diplomacy and imperial propaganda. Just like their Byzantine predecessors, the Ottomans strove to impose their pomp, splendor, and architectural magnificence on foreign ambassadors whose first experience in the Ottoman palace was to be dragged through the courtyards with their arms secured on either side by two gatekeepers and then to appear in front of the sultan, being forced to stand at all times without being able to directly communicate with the sultan.11 During this first meeting, the ambassador submitted the present he had brought for the sultan, and he and his entourage were given a robe of honor (hil’at). They also ate together with leading Ottoman dignitaries before being received by the sultan, who sat on a throne, keeping silent or only speaking a few words, while viziers passed to each other the letter that the ambassador had brought for the sultan. Such strict court etiquette imbued with the sultan’s immobility, secretiveness, and venerating silence was meant to reinforce what Ottomans considered sultanic dignity.12
Established ceremonies imposed keferea strict hierarchy on foreign diplomats. For instance, the Ottoman chronicler Naima recorded that the French ambassador was traditionally given prominence (tekaddüm ü tasaddur) over other ambassadors because the French king had been in a friendship of “a clean heart” (hulûs-ı bâl) with the Ottoman sultan for a longer time.13 Moreover, according to an Ottoman kanunname (legal code) from 1676, a Muslim diplomat (ehl-i İslam ilçisi) was treated more respectfully during ceremonies than his Christian counterparts: While the grand vizier and other high officials received an incoming Muslim ambassador by standing up as soon as he entered through the gate of the Imperial Council, everybody remained seated during the reception of a non-Muslim ambassador (kefere ilçisi). Furthermore, it was a custom that the grand vizier went to the “ablution room” (abdesthane) beforehand, only to welcome the Christian ambassador coming out of it. While the Muslim diplomat sat on the nişancı’s suffe (the sofa of the affixer of the royal cipher or chief chancellor), his Christian colleague sat on a stool (iskemle). The two were only equal (ale’s-seviyye) while eating with the grand vizier. The hierarchy was not only determined by the diplomat’s religion; the same source tells us that Ragusan and Transylvanian ambassadors were not served food in the palace and that the Ragusan ambassador left the palace without even sitting (hiç oturmaz), unlike his Transylvanian colleague.14
At times, the Ottomans did more than just impress foreign ambassadors; they also carefully staged scene in order to convey a diplomatic message to them. For instance, in 1616, while the Austrian ambassador and his retinue entered the second courtyard of Topkapı Palace for their first audience with the sultan, two men on camels entered the courtyard, carrying big drums. They were followed by Ottoman soldiers, five Iranian captives chained to each other, and 100 men each carrying on a rod three to five severed Iranian heads stuffed with hay.15 As they took their places on the left side of the Babü’s-saade (Gate of Felicity), the entrance to the third courtyard, they must have left a lasting impression on the entire Austrian mission. The idea was not only to stage a show of force but also to engage in disinformation by convincing the Austrian ambassador of Ottoman successes on the eastern front, where in fact the sultan’s armies were failing miserably.
It was a common practice for the sultan to provide for foreign ambassadors and their households, who were theoretically his guests in the empire. This was a show of the sultan’s grandeur and benevolence, since accepting food was a sign of allegiance and recognition of the ruler’s sovereignty, as proven by the symbolic meaning included in the janissaries’ raising of the regimental soup cauldron (kazan kaldırmak) and refusing to eat food from the sultan’s hand, an act they carried out to demonstrate their discontent. An Ottoman official called the mihmandar accompanied foreign diplomatic missions during their entire journey to and from Istanbul, making the necessary arrangements for their lodging and provisioning in cooperation with local authorities. The sultan regularly provided these ambassadors and their retinues with food, fuel, and fodder for animals as well as presents and gave them allowances with which they could meet their expenses. Such allocations continued to be paid even when the ambassadors were incarcerated during wartime.16
To serve the foreign ambassadors, the sultan appointed a small regiment of janissaries, named yasakçı, whose duty was both to ensure the safety of ambassadorial households and to keep a close eye on their activities. Given that it was the ambassadors themselves who paid these janissaries’ salaries, and that a good reference from an ambassador on behalf of the Ottoman authorities would mean a promotion for them, these yasakçıs were not troubled when circumstances required them to turn their head the other way and even, at times, to be accomplices.
Even though the arrival and departure of ambassadors as well as their first and last audiences were subject to strict codes, this ceremonial frenzy was soon replaced by a more relaxed environment in which ambassadors regularly negotiated with leading officials; they frequently visited Ottoman palaces, hosted Ottoman dignitaries and presented them with gifts, and engaged in social activities with them. Surprisingly, they even undertook dealings with other members of the Ottoman dynasty who were in the capital. Imperial women carried out all sorts of transactions with European ambassadors, asking favors for their protégés in foreign countries and commissioning presents, clothes, and artistic works through intermediaries. Surprisingly, ambassadors even dared to contact male members of the dynasty, risking at times the sultan’s disapproval. For instance, when the Venetian bailo Lorenzo Bernardo wanted to send his secretary to Manisa for an audience with the crown prince Mehmed, the governor of the city, the grand vizier, warned him that Sultan Murad III, jealous of his son, could take this the wrong way. The bailo insisted that such correspondence between ambassadors and Ottoman princes was only natural as there were precedents; this proves that a diplomatic tradition with rules and customs was already developed in late 16th century Istanbul. Murad III argued that he himself had never been a party to such correspondence while he was the crown prince and prevented the bailo from communicating with his son. Nonetheless, Prince Mehmed’s majordomo (kahya) in Istanbul contacted the bailo and reported his master’s satisfaction with him.17 The bailo might be pleased with this answer as such satisfaction was to be an important asset if the crown prince succeeded his father one day.
While an ambassador occasionally traveled between his residence in Pera and the city in order to negotiate matters of importance, most of the time it was his secretary, interpreter (dragoman, a distorted version of the Arabic word tercüman), or some other staff member who mediated between Ottoman officials and foreign ambassadors. The fact that, with a few exceptions, none of these ambassadors was conversant in Turkish increased the importance of translators in the daily conduct of diplomacy between European ambassadors and Ottoman dignitaries. While the Ottomans employed converts with the necessary linguistic capabilities in their palace as divan-ı hümayun tercümanı, ambassadors employed their own dragomans. In spite of early (and futile) Venetian attempts to train dragomans among their own subjects, in the end, most ambassadorial dragomans came from Istanbul’s local Christian community.
Capitalizing on their local and trans-imperial connections, and thanks to their familiarity with Ottoman court etiquette and diplomatic protocol, these dragomans became agents of daily diplomacy, demonstrating not only their diplomatic skills but also entrepreneurship by mediating between different cultures and promoting their own interests and agendas. They were the ones who followed the court when it was transferred to Edirne (Adrianopolis), who negotiated minor issues with Ottoman officials, and went back and forth between the embassies and Ottoman palaces. An ambassador relied on his dragomans while negotiating with the Ottomans to such an extent that, in the words of the bailo Lorenzo Bernardo in 1585, he had to “speak with others’ tongues, hear with others’ ears, negotiate with others’ brains.”18 Repeating exactly the same phrase, two years later the same Lorenzo Bernardo reported how the French ambassador’s dragoman chose not to translate his master’s words properly in order not to offend the grand vizier; as he was a “Turk” and thus an Ottoman subject, he feared some misfortune would fall upon him. He was able to escape the grand vizier’s wrath, but the French ambassador dismissed him from his service after becoming aware of what he had done.19
European travelers repeatedly emphasized Galata’s Frankish or European character, an assessment repeated in modern scholarship as well.20 The Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosphorus, even though only 750 meters across at its widest, was still an effective divider between Istanbul and Galata, as there were no bridges and it could only be crossed by means of small boats, whose numbers exceeded 15,000 in the 17th century.21 There was a large Muslim presence in Galata. In addition to Muslims who chose to live on the right bank of the Golden Horn, many Muslims visited Galata to taste some of its sinful pleasures away from the vigilant eyes of the Istanbulites.
The presence of European embassies contributed significantly to Galata’s Frankishness. While nonresident diplomats who arrived on short-term missions were accommodated in private palaces and houses,22 resident European diplomats lived in an area known as the vineyards of Pera (vigne di Pera), outside the city walls on the hills above Galata. The only exception to this rule was the Austrian ambassador, who was forced to live in the Elçi Hanı, on Divan Yolu and close to Çemberlitaş. According to Michael Heberer, a slave in sixteenth-century Istanbul, the Ottomans’ aim in keeping the imperial ambassador within the city walls was to have him under close surveillance.23 He was probably right, given that a quarter century later the Ottoman grand vizier would threaten to relocate all European ambassadors within the city walls in order to keep them under tight control.24 Other European embassies were located in Pera within walking distance of each other; ambassadors preferred the tranquility of Pera to Galata’s hectic atmosphere and chaotic port.
The fact that embassies were in close proximity to each other facilitated cooperation and communication; there was even a secret door between the Venetian and French embassies, which was kept open with both sides’ consent (per consento commune), when relations between French ambassadors and Venetian baili were amicable. This was not the case in 1585 when the French secretary and chargé d’affaires had the door closed, much to the Venetian bailo’s chagrin.25 With or without a secret passage between embassies, a lively social life developed among diplomats over time. Ambassadors paid regular visits to each other and talked about the rumors they overheard, the negotiations they undertook with the Ottomans, and their opinions on the political and military events of the time. These gatherings could take numerous forms, from simple dinners to lavish parties and from outdoor sporting activities to promenades in the gardens. Embassies also provided shelter for well-connected travelers who arrived in the Ottoman capital. 26
European ambassadors were not an exclusive social group. Even though their interactions with the Ottoman population in general merit further scholarly research that would dissociate exotic tales narrated in European accounts from the facts of life, there is substantial information on some aspects of social encounters between Ottoman dignitaries and European ambassadors. Just like any important European city of the time, Istanbul provided several venues for social encounters among the political and diplomatic elites. First of all, the prominent place that renegades attained in the Ottoman administrative and military hierarchy helped establish social links that crisscrossed civilizational and confessional boundaries. For instance, Calabrese Grand Admiral Uluç Ali negotiated friendly with Venetian baili, speaking in Turkish as well as in his native Italian,27 while his successor Uluç Hasan Pasha (or Hasan Veneziano as Europeans knew him) was a childhood friend of the Venetian bailo, Lorenzo Bernardo, at whose house he played ball (palla).28
Cross-confessional social encounters were not limited to those between Europeans and renegade Ottomans. Foreign diplomats and Muslim-born Ottomans regularly engaged with each other, demonstrating the fluidity of certain boundaries that were long assumed to have divided the Mediterranean basin into the two irreconcilable blocks of Christianity and Islam. The commonness of such contacts across confessional and civilizational barriers not only shows the cosmopolitan nature of early modern Istanbul, but also challenges the Orientalist historiography that presented Ottoman and Islamic society in general as a static entity with no interest in interacting with the western world.
High-ranking Ottoman dignitaries regularly joined European ambassadors in private dinners29 and hunting expeditions,30 attended banquets and parties that took place in Galata/Pera under the auspices of European ambassadors, participated in philosophical colloquies, and engaged in discussions on current affairs, politics, religion, and books.31 The few ambassadors who mastered the Turkish language could use their linguistic skills to great advantage not only during their diplomatic negotiations with the Ottomans, but also in cross-confessional social circles. For instance, thanks to his linguistic skills, the French ambassador François Savary de Brèves was reported to have established close friendships with several high-ranking ulama such as the mollas of Süleymaniye and of Hagia Sofia as well as members of Ottoman bureaucracy such as the chancelor of the sultan or nişancı.32
These social encounters between European ambassadors and high-level Ottoman officials enabled both sides not only to become familiar with each other but also to exchange ideas, opinions, and information. Such encounters were by no means strictly social, and exchanges were less than innocent. Each side tried to learn something valuable from the other side, giving as little as possible in exchange for as much as possible. European ambassadors employed several ruses to that end. For instance, in order to gather information from his Turkish visitors, Austrian ambassador Bartholomäus Petz abused the intimacy of such social encounters by getting guests drunk while he himself drank a special nonalcoholic formula that had the color of wine.33 Money was also a useful tool. While it was an established custom that European ambassadors gave Ottoman officials presents in exchange for political favors, they occasionally crossed the line between an acceptable present and an outright bribe and between favors that one could ask and those that one should not.
Such contacts exposed the Ottoman elite to Western influences to a certain extent. As ambassadors often provided Ottoman dignitaries with presents and rare European products in exchange for political favors, a close look at what the Ottomans requested from these ambassadors would reveal their taste in European art. To name a few examples that demonstrate diplomacy’s crucial role in cultural transfer between Europe and the Ottoman Empire: In 1568, Piyale Pasha asked the Venetian bailo to get him an organ, which he intended to use not only for himself but also for Sultan Selim II, per servitio anco di quella Mta. Such requests carried so much diplomatic importance that when the safe delivery of Piyale’s organ was delayed, the Venetian Senate was cautious enough to regularly update the influential vizier and the imperial son-in-law.34 It is impossible to know how such western-style musical instruments were used in Ottoman palaces at exactly the same time that a classical musical tradition was being developed in Istanbul;35 however, the intermediary capacity of European diplomats is obvious. It was not only music as a form of fine arts that aroused the interest of the Ottoman elites. Ten years later, at the request of the Venetian bailo, Sokollu Mehmed Pasha enfranchised one of his slaves, a painter, with the proviso that he later return to offer his services to the grand vizier. When the painter did not keep his word, it fell on the new bailo’s shoulders to find a competent replacement.36
Diplomats played an active role in the shaping of the image of the Turk in Europe with their writings on the Ottoman Empire and the Ottomans. In addition to a number of widely read travelogues and memoirs, ambassadors’ reports were widely circulated. Such texts not only prepared future diplomats who would serve in Istanbul, but also informed the European public of Ottoman political and military structures, culture, and society as perceived by these short-term visitors. The most influential of such texts were the relazioni that Venetian diplomats were obligated to present in writing to the Senate under a law promulgated in 1425.37 Even though they were written only to be read in the Senate, these relazioni were popular among the European literati and were published repeatedly starting in the late 16th century. They also left an indelible mark on the modern European imagination of the East, given that as soon as they were collected and compiled in the first half of the 19th century, prominent historians such as Leopold von Ranke, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, and Johann Wilhelm Zinkeisen used them extensively as sources.
Apart from such impressionistic works, diplomatic personnel wrote extensively on all things Ottoman and thus ensured a profound cultural transfer between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire. They gradually reached a sufficient level of expertise on Ottoman culture so as to produce, as early practitioners of Orientalism, important works on which European scholars later built their studies, the most groundbreaking example of which is Della Letteratura de’ Turchi, an analysis of Ottoman literature by the Venetian bailo Giambattista Donado.38 Apart from ambassadors, other ambassadorial staff participated in such productions as well. Among the early modern examples of Orientalist literature, one can find works created by Europeans working in embassies such as Pietro Businello, the bailate secretary and the author of Lettere informative (1746),39 and Giambattista Toderini, the renowned Venetian philosopher who spent five years in Istanbul as the preceptor of the bailo’s son, strolling curiously through the city’s bookshops, libraries, and archives, socializing with Ottoman intellectuals who satisfied his curiosity regarding Ottoman culture, and wrote, after returning to Venice, his internationally acclaimed three-volume work on Ottoman literature, La Letteratura Turchesca.40 Important works were also produced by Ottoman subjects working for foreign embassies. For instance, Ignatius Mouradgea d’Ohsson (Muradcan Tosunyan), an Istanbulite Armenian Catholic and the dragoman of the Swedish embassy, wrote the famous Tableau général de l’Empire Ottoman, a seven-volume classified work on late 18th century Ottoman government as well as Islamic and Ottoman law.41 Foreign and local ambassadorial staff occasionally collaborated, for example on the Cicogna Codex 1971, a manuscript that was “assembled in the bailo’s house in the early 1660s through collaboration between a Venetian diplomat and his dragomans, Ottoman miniaturists, and European draftsmen.”42 The importance of such works in shaping European perceptions of the East is evident from the speed with which they were translated into other European languages, especially at the dawn of the modern era in the late 18th century. While Letteratura Turchesca was translated into French and German in three years, Tableau général’s translations or partial translations shortly appeared in a number of languages, including Russian.
In short, Istanbul (including Galata/Pera) functioned as an “urban middle ground”43 between European diplomats and their households on the one hand and the Ottoman elite and Istanbulites on the other. Adding its own complex social structure and cosmopolitan urban culture to what Europeans brought from their homelands, this caput mundi served as a contact zone, an arena of interaction, exchange, and encounter. This cross-civilizational and cross-confessional contact not only dictated European perceptions of the East but also affected Ottoman society. To be sure, diplomacy is just one element in the equation, but it is an important one given the close relations between European diplomats and the Ottoman elite. Moreover, the presence of European diplomats provided Ottomans with a profound awareness of events in Europe, a window through which they could perceive the world around them. Istanbul’s particular position as a center of diplomacy must have compensated for the Ottomans’ lack of permanent embassies in Europe, a factor that has been referred to by some modern historians to support the widely held assumption that Ottomans did not develop an interest in developments in foreign lands, societies, and cultures.
In addition to their diplomatic responsibilities, ambassadors were also required to protect their nations’ interests in Istanbul, not only by protecting their trade and representing them before the Ottoman authorities, but also by adjudicating their disputes, officially endorsing their commercial transactions, redeeming individuals from slavery, and presiding over their elected bodies if there were any. While such a wide range of responsibilities placed the ambassador at the center of his own community, he was also very important in the eyes of the larger Christian community in Galata. In order to maintain his (and his ruler’s) prestige and integrity, the ambassador had to display a carefully crafted public image by attending religious ceremonies such as Sunday mass, organizing feasts and banquets, and participating in a variety of communal activities.
Istanbul was a battleground for power and prestige between different embassies, just like other European capitals. Ambassadors and their retinues constantly competed and quarreled, not only in the Ottoman palace for diplomatic and political purposes but also in Galata/Pera for the honor and prestige of the sovereign, they were responsible for representing. One recurring point of contention was the issue of precedence, which our modern minds should not easily ridicule when dealing with the early modern world, where issues of honor and prestige could make the difference between war and peace. To give a long but illuminating example: When the Ottomans honored the English ambassador too much, an offended French king, who felt that such an honor should be reserved for his own ambassador, decided to recall his ambassador, leaving the secretary in charge of the French embassy in Constantinople. The French sensitivity regarding the issue of precedence resurfaced shortly after in 1585. The secretary/chargé d’affaires devised a scheme to increase his standing among the diplomats in Istanbul, in spite of the fact that, as a secretary, he ranked below any ambassador in the Ottoman capital. He arrived on a Sunday at the Church of St. Francesco in Galata an hour before the mass and took the seat that was traditionally reserved for the Venetian bailo as the occupant of the oldest ambassadorial post in Istanbul. In spite of the bailo’s efforts, it proved impossible to remove the intransigent secretary, who went as far as to have his men threaten the bailo’s men. When an official ambassador, Jacques Savary de Lancosme, arrived and took charge of the mission, he lost no time in taking up the same issue, which had caused such confusion and scandal the year before. The problem could only be solved through the mediation of the priest of St. Francesco: two “equal stools” were made, one for each ambassador, in the same part of the Church. The French ambassador continued, however, to come up with stratagems to push the bailo to an inferior seat; apparently equality was not what he set his sights on.44 In July 1587, he engaged in a similar confrontation with the Austrian ambassador. He was even prepared for an armed clash, as he sent 60 Frenchmen in arms to defend the seat he intended to steal; it was only the Austrian ambassador’s conciliatory behavior that prevented disastrous consequences.45 When he tried again a few weeks later, the Periots locked the doors of the Church of St. Francesco, leaving the French ambassador helpless on the street in front of “infinite Turks and people who were watching him, not without a smile on their faces, banging on the door.”46 Such behavior was certainly irresponsible, exposing Periot’s religious autonomy and the Church of St. Francesco to Ottoman intervention. When Grand Vizier Siyavuş Pasha heard that the French ambassador was still trying to enter the church through the window of the adjacent monastery, he ordered that the Church be closed, threatening to turn it into “either a mosque or a tavern to sell wine”—not an empty threat in those days when the Ottomans had just confiscated the seat of the Orthodox Patriarchate,47 the Pammakaristos Church, in order to convert it into a mosque.48
It was not only the ambassadors frequented the streets of Galata and Istanbul. Ambassadors had large retinues, which in the Venetian case were called family (famiglia), composed of secretaries, personal assistants, accountants, chaplains, doctors, majordomos, dragomans, apprentice dragomans, several other servants, and even a Muslim, language teacher or hoca.49 One of an ambassador’s responsibilities was to protect the “family” who lived under the same roof with him from the vices of a cosmopolitan capital on the other side of the frontier, where traditional mechanisms of social discipline were lacking. One challenge was to prevent any instances of conversion among the ambassadorial retinue, especially its younger members. It was true that the Ottoman authorities enthusiastically encouraged such conversions. However, this threat was as much perceived as real; in a cosmopolitan city like Istanbul that was home to a large number of non-Muslim households, the spiritual dangers that awaited young and inexperienced Europeans should not be exaggerated. Conversion of a member of the ambassadors’ entourage could also create far-reaching security problems. For instance, when in 1564 one of the apprentice dragomans or giovani di lingua converted to Islam, he helped Ottomans to learn the secret code that Venetian ambassador used to communicate with. 50 In spite of the baili’s expression of disapproval, this giovane di lingua, named Colombina, served in the Ottoman chancellery for many years; in 1578 the Ottomans even considered sending him to Venice on a diplomatic mission, causing much protest and scandal on behalf of the Venetians.51
Apart from spiritual dangers, there were also moral issues at stake. Incidents of moral turpitude, including gambling, thefts, brawls, and even murders, created numerous problems—not only for relations between European states and the Ottomans, provoking Ottoman intervention in the internal affairs of ambassadors’ households and creating many diplomatic scandals, but also for relations between the local people and foreign diplomatic personnel, who were theoretically under the protection of the sultan.
Alongside formal diplomacy, Istanbul was also a venue for secret diplomacy. It was natural that diplomatic activity intensified espionage in a capital city; but two factors rendered Istanbul more vulnerable to foreign information-gathering efforts and espionage. First of all, it was not hard to find informants in the Ottoman capital. European diplomats used their connections in the Ottoman palace, especially but not only among the renegades within the Ottoman administrative and military structure, to gather sensitive information. The presence of several Venetians in strategic administrative and military positions during the closing decades of the 16th century can easily demonstrate this point. The bailo was not short of compatriots in Istanbul, including the powerful chief white eunuch of the Palace, Gazanfer Agha, the Ottoman Grand Admiral Hasan Veneziano, another eunuch named Ömer Agha, originally from the Venetian island of Zara, certain influential women in the Ottoman palace with whom he had regular contact via intermediaries, and a good number of Ottoman officials who held key positions as governors-general, governors, and commanders.52 Second, Istanbul’s cosmopolitan social fabric facilitated the free exchange of information. Unlike other European capitals, Istanbul was an easy target, a mecca for spies in European governments’ employ. The Ottomans had only a limited ability to control the exchange of information between Istanbul’s many foreign visitors and the communities of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds in this gigantic early modern city. The Ottoman capital, an administrative and trade center, was also a center of information.
Ambassadors played an important role in conducting secret diplomacy for their sovereigns; it was for good reason that they were dubbed honorable spies (honorable espions).53 They recruited spies, procured informants in key positions in the Ottoman administrative and military structure, made necessary payments, gathered and processed information, and then sent it in code by couriers to their governments. Occasionally, they themselves acted as spies, keeping one another under close surveillance, striving to capitalize on social acquaintances and use official visits to acquire classified information. Moreover, they closely watched enemy spy activity and informed their governments of Ottoman spies who left Istanbul to gather information in Europe as well as spies in the employ of other European powers who gathered information in Istanbul. Finally, these ambassadors strove to maintain a strong image for their sovereigns and tried to manipulate Ottoman perceptions of their governments. Thus they engaged in disinformation and became a part of the Ottoman decision-making process.
Even though ambassadors played a pivotal role in leading intelligence networks, their presence was not a sine qua non. Even those European powers that did not have a resident ambassador in Istanbul employed a number of spies, relying mostly on go-betweens who traveled Europe and the Ottoman Empire or the eastern and western Mediterranean. One good example would be the Spanish intelligence network in Istanbul, operational after the 1560s, which was composed of entrepreneurial go-betweens who convinced the Catholic king of the value of their services. These Christian merchants and renegades in the Ottoman navy and the Arsenal not only regularly provided Madrid, Messina, and Naples with information on political and military developments in the Ottoman capital but also engaged in several clandestine operations, such as torching the Arsenal and the Ottoman fleet, bribing prominent Ottoman grandees to defect to the Spanish side, and arranging the assassination of key political figures acting against Spanish interests in the Ottoman capital.54
In light of the numerous types of formal, informal, and covert exchanges that took place in the Ottoman capital, Constantinople/Istanbul must be seen as a center of diplomacy and espionage as much as it was an administrative and trade center. Many diplomats, as well as their households and the spies they employed, contributed to the city’s imperial grandeur and multicultural character. Their presence definitely gave Pera a “Frankish” character, while their activities helped bridge the cultural differences between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe.
1 Edward N. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, Cambridge and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009, pp. 124-129.
2 De Cerimoniis Aulae Byzantinae, in Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, ed. J. Reiske, Bonn: Weber, 1829, pp. 679-692.
3 For details of his mission, see. Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Mss. Italiani, VII. 878 (8652), Andrea Gritti, Copialettere.
4 S.A. Skilliter, William Harborne and the Trade with Turkey, 1578-1582: A Documentary Study of the First Anglo-Ottoman Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
5 Archivio di Stato di Venezia (hereafter ASV), Senato, Dispacci Costantinopoli (hereafter SDC), fil. 23, c. 181v (16 April 1586).
6 Archives Nationales, B1 377, dated 1678 quoted by Robert Mantran, 17. Yüzyılın İkinci Yarısında İstanbul: Kurumsal, İktisadi, Toplumsal Tarih Denemesi, tr. M. Ali Kılıçbay and Enver Özcan, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları, 1990, vol. II, p. 153, fn. 32
7 H. Theunissen, “Ottoman-Venetian Diplomatics: the ‘Ahd-names. The Historical Background and the Development of a Category of Political-Commercial Instruments together with an Annotated Edition of a Corpus of Relevant Documents”, Electronic Journal of Oriental Studies, 1998, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 391, 397.
8 Annali Veneti dall’anno 1457 al 1500 del Senatore Domenico Malipiero, ed. Francesco Longo, Firenze: Gio. Pitro Viesseux, Direttore-Editore, 1843, vol. 1, pp. 141-142.
9 Adam Werner, Padişahın Huzurunda: Elçilik Günlüğü, 1616-1618, tr. Türkis Noyan, İstanbul: Kitap Yayınevi, 2011, p. 58.
10 Naîmâ, Tarih-i Naîmâ, ed. Mehmet İpşirli, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları, 2007, vol. III, p. 1017.
11 Gülrü Necipoğlu, Architecture, Ceremonial, and Power: The Topkapı Palace in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1991.
12 Pál Fodor, “Sultan, Imperial Council, Grand Vizier: Changes in the Ottoman Ruling Elite and the Formation of the Grand Vizieral Telhis,” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 1994, vol. 47, p. 80; Necipoğlu, Architecture, Ceremonial and Power, pp. 102-103; Dariusz Kołodziejczyk, “Semiotics of Behaviour in Early Modern Diplomacy: Polish Embassies in Istanbul and Bahçesaray”, Journal of Early Modern History, 2003, vol. 7, no. 3-4, 245-256.
13 Naîmâ, Tarih-i, vol. 2, p. 379.
14 Ahmet Arslantürk (ed.), Abdurrahman Abdî Paşa Kanunnâmesi, İstanbul: Metamorfoz Yayıncılık, 2012, pp. 36-37.
15 Werner, Padişahın Huzurunda, pp. 61-62.
16 ASV, Senato, Archivio Proprio Costantinopoli (APC), fil. 5, cc. 177r (1 August 1551), 197r (1 September 1551). For instance, the imprisoned Austrian ambassador’s daily allowance was increased from 5 akçe to 15 akçe in 1551, because it was “the duty of great rulers to keep them well.” Ibid., cc. 212v-213r (22 September 1551).
17 ASV, SDC, fil. 21, cc. 557r-557v (16 August 1585) and 599r-600r (30 August 1585).
18 ASV, SDC, fil. 22, c. 273r (6 December 1585).
19 ASV, SDC, fil. 25, cc. 161v-162r (15 April 1587).
20 Mantran, 17. Yüzyılın İkinci Yarısında İstanbul, vol. 1, p. 71.
21 Mantran, 17. Yüzyılın İkinci Yarısında İstanbul, vol. 2, p. 71.
22 For instance, in 1634, the Polish ambassador was housed in Tekfur Sarayı, the former Byzantine Palace of the Porphyrogenitus. Naîmâ, Tarih, vol. 2, p. 780. Three years later, the Safavid ambassador stayed in Davud Paşa Sarayı. Ibid., p. 857. The Indian ambassador who arrived in 1656 first stayed in Üsküdar for a couple of days in a house that belonged to local notables, ayans. He was then transferred to the palace that once belonged to Koca Siyavuş Pasha within the city walls. Ibid., vol. 4, pp. 1670-1671.
23 Michael Heberer von Bretten, Osmanlı’da Bir Köle: Brettenli Michael Heberer’in Anıları: 1585-1588, tr. Türkis Noyan, İstanbul: Kitap Yayınevi, 2003, p. 311.
24 Eric R. Dursteler, Venetians in Constantinople: Nation, Identity, and Coexistence in the Early Modern Mediterranean, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006, p. 26.
25 ASV, SDC, fil. 21, c. 38r (20 March 1585).
26 A. H. de Groot, The Ottoman Empire and the Dutch Republic: A History of the Earliest Diplomatic Relations, 1610-1630, Leiden/Istanbul: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut, 1978, p. 199.
27 Emilio Sola Castaño, Uchalí: El Calabrés Tiñoso, o el mito del corsario muladí en la frontera, Barcelona: Edicions Bellaterra, 2011, pp. 68, 366. This aged Calabrese renegade experienced difficulties expressing himself in Italian.
28 AGS E 1417, fol. 41, 62 and 109 (1583). ASV, SDC, fil. 30, no. 38 (20 January 1590) quoted by Antonio Fabris, “Hasan ‘il Veneziano’ tra Algeria e Costantinopoli”, Quaderni di Studi Arabi, 1997, vol. 5, p. 52, fn. 5.
29 ASV, SDC, fil. 23, c. 186r (12 April 1586).
30 A. H. de Groot, The Ottoman Empire and the Dutch Republic, 51-52.
31 Dursteler, Venetians in Constantinople, 178. Also see. ASV, SDC, fil. 57, cc. 208r-208v (16 May 1603); fil. 32, c. 138v (8 October 1590).
32 Viorel Panaite, “A French Ambassador in Istanbul, and his Turkish Manuscript on Western Merchants in the Ottoman Mediterranean (Late 16th and Early 17th Centuries),” Révue des etudes sud-est éuropeennes, 2004, vol. 42, p. 124.
33 W. Sahm (ed.), Reinhold Lubenau Seyahatnamesi: Osmanlı Ülkesinde, 1587-1589, tr. Türkis Noyan, İstanbul: Kitap Yayınevi, 2012, vol. 1, pp. 252-253.
34 ASV, Senato, Secreta, Deliberazioni, Costantinopoli, , reg. 3, cc. 109v (26 June 1568), 116r (24 August 1568), 118r (18 September 1568), 124r (8 January 1568, m.v.), 131r (5 February 1568, m.v.); reg. 4, c. 7r (21 May 1569).
35 Cem Behar, “The Ottoman Musical Tradition,” in The Cambridge History of Turkey, Volume 3: The Later Ottoman Empire, 1603-1839, ed. Suraiya N. Faroqhi, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 393.
36 ASV, SDC, fil. 12, c. 166r (3 August 1578).
37 Before 1425, Venetian diplomats were still required to present their relazioni to the Senate, but they could do so orally. Oratores in reditu dent in nota ea quae sunt utilia dominio, declared a law promulgated in 1268; it sufficed to submit some notes regarding important things that would be beneficial to the government. Armand Baschet, Les Archives de Venise, Histoire de la Chancellerie Secrète, (Paris: H. Plon, 1870), pp. 346-347.
38 Venezia, Per Andrea Poletti, 1688; Paolo Preto, Venezia e i Turchi, Firenze: G.C. Sansoni Editore, 1975, p. 351; Mustafa Soykut, Image of the “Turk” in Italy: A History of the “Other” in Early Modern Europe, 1453-1683, Berlin: K. Schwarz, 2001, Chapter 6.
39 Pietro Businello, Lettere informative delle cose de Turchi riguardo alla religione et al governo civile, militare, politico, et economico, manuscript in Biblioteca Universitaria di Padova. Preto, pp. 442-450.
40 Venezia, presso Giacomo Storti, 1787; Preto, Venezia e i Turchi, pp. 525-533
41 Paris, (1788-1820). Also see. Carter Findley, “Mouradgea D’Ohsson (1740-1807): Liminality and Cosmopolitanism in the Author of the Tableau Général de l’Empire Ottoman,” The Turkish Studies Association Bulletin, 1998, vol. 22, no. 1 pp. 21-35; Kemal Beydilli, “Ignatius Mouradgea d’Ohsson (Muradcan Tosunyan): Ailesi Hakkında Kayıtlar, “Nizâm-ı Cedîd”’e Dâir Lâyihası ve Osmanlı İmparatorluğundaki Siyasi Hayatı,” Tarih Dergisi, 1983-1984, vol. 34, p.p. 247-324.
42 E. Natalie Rothman, “Visualizing a Space of Encounter: Intimacy, Alterity and Trans-Imperial Perspective in an Ottoman-Venetian Miniature Album,” The Journal of Ottoman Studies, 2012, vol. 40, pp. 39-80, here 43.
43 Dursteler, Venetians in Constantinople, Chapter Six.
44 ASV, SDC, fil. 21, cc. 35r-47r (20 March 1585); fil. 23, 150r-151r, 156r-156v (12 April 1586).
45 W. Sahm (ed.), Reinhold Lubenau Seyahatnamesi: Osmanlı Ülkesinde, 1587-1589, tr. Türkis Noyan, İstanbul: Kitap Yayınevi, 2012, vol. 1, pp. 407-410; ASV, SDC, fil. 25, cc. 534r-534v (5 August 1587).
46 ASV, SDC, fil. 25, cc. 573v-574v (20 August 1587).
47 ASV, SDC, fil. 26, cc. 16r-17r (2 September 1587).
48 While the confiscation of the monastery took place in 1587, the mosque was completed in 1591 and named Fethiye Camii in honor of conquests on the Persian front. Semavi Eyice, “Fethiye Camii”, Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslâm Ansiklopedisi (DİA), XII, 459-460.
49 Dursteler, Venetians in Constantinople, Chapter One.
50 ASV, Consiglio di Dieci, Lettere Ambasciatori, b. 3, fol. 55; Christiane Villain-Gandossi, “Les Dépêches Chiffrées de Vettore Bragadin, Baile de Constantinople (12 Juillet 1564 – 15 Juin 1566), Turcica, 1978, vol. 10, p. 77; Maria Pia Pedani, In Nome del Gran Signore: Inviati Ottomani a Venezia dalla Caduta di Costantinopoli alla Guerra di Candia, Venezia: Deputazione Editrice, 1994, p. 42.
51 ASV, Consiglio di Dieci, Parti Secrete, reg. 11, cc. 154v (24 March 1578), fil. 20, 24 March 1578.
52 Maria Pia Pedani Fabris, “Veneziani a Costantinopoli alla fine del XVI secolo”, Quaderni di Studi Arabi, 1997, vol. 15, pp. 67-84; Eric Dursteler, Renegade Women: Gender, Identity, and Boundaries in the Early Modern Mediterranean, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.
53 The term was coined by François de Callières, a writer and a diplomat in Ludovican France. De la manière de négocier avec les souverains, Amsterdam: La compagnie, 1716, p. 30.
54 Emrah Safa Gürkan, “Espionage in the 16th century Mediterranean: Secret Diplomacy, Mediterranean go-betweens and the Ottoman-Habsburg Rivalry” (Ph.D. Diss.), Georgetown University, 2012, Chapter Five.