Social life is a field to which historians began to pay attention relatively late. As in most countries of the world, modern historical research started with the studies on political history. In the second half of the twentieth century, in particular under the influence of the Annales School, the area of interest for historians expanded, and studies on institutions and culture became popular. The interest in the new areas of research gradually increased until the end of the twentieth century. Now historians in Turkey are conducting research on matters that shed light on many different areas of social history.
Studies focusing on social history, whose numbers have increased especially during the 1990s, continues to develop by diversifying areas of interests and the methods used. Without a doubt, the cities that benefit most from such social investigations have been the metropolitan cities. The main reason for historians’ special interest in these cities is the availability of a greater number of written sources that can be used in a historical research on them. A prime example of this situation is Istanbul, which came to prominence as the capital of two world empires, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Istanbul has remained in the limelight during the Republican period, particularly due to its large population, as well as for a number of other features. Both the abundance of resources and a continuing interest of researchers have enabled such a comprehensive examination of the city. Nevertheless, the “Social Life” section in this volume does not presume to demonstrate all aspects of life in Istanbul. First, it should be noted that religious life in the city has not been addressed, unless necessary, as this subject comprises another section of this work. Again, sections on the social lives of many distinguished people have not been included in “Social Life” as they have been dealt with in the “Politics and Administration” section. On the other hand, for many reasons, but primarily due to space, many issues that could be addressed in social life have not been included in this volume. There has to be a limitation here as every aspect of people’s lives can be included under the title of social life.
The “Social Life” part consists of seven sections, which, in most cases, include more than one theme. In the first section, social strata are examined. Various social groups, other than religious ones, such as elite/ordinary people, freemen/ slaves, military groups in the city, the population concentrations based on city of origin (hemşehricilik) and similar stratifications are investigated here.
The population in the Byzantine capital can be roughly divided into high, middle and lower classes; the upper stratum consisted of the emperor and his family, high dignitaries, senior officials and local aristocracy; the middle class comprised the rich people and people of medium wealth in the city and countryside; the lower class included servants, slaves and the poor. Undoubtedly, different classifications based on professions could be made with regard to the Byzantine capital, for example judges, teachers, etc.
The social strata in Ottoman Istanbul were at least as diverse as that of the Byzantine period. Several authors contribute to this section on the Ottoman period; a plethora of social groups and institutions, which no single writer can alone address, is investigated. The articles concerned with the family, the most important element in any social structure, as well as the ones that approach social stratification by concentrating on the distribution of wealth, aim to draw a general picture of the social layers. The fact that by the middle of the sixteenth century Istanbul contained janissaries, who numbered around 10,000, and other elements of the army, make it necessary to take soldiers into consideration. The fact that the formation of the cadres in some institutions and professional branches was based on hemşehricilik (the solidarity of the people, originated in the same province) makes the article on this topic important. This widespread phenomenon was directly connected to the common practice of the migration to Istanbul, which usually required kefalet (the surety of another person). As such, those who originated from the same town or village together worked in certain professions or government agencies. The same phenomenon continued to be strong during the Republican era. It should be noted that both during the Ottoman period and prior to it, slavery also played an important role in the social life of Istanbul.
In the second section, which is devoted to health and food cultures, 9 articles take place and investigate the health and cuisine cultures of Istanbul. The first health institutions of Istanbul were Christian hospitals; during the Ottoman period, unlike during the Byzantine period, the health institutions in Istanbul were organized and run by vakfs/waqfs (foundations). Healthcare institutions, which were darüşşifas (hospitals) and medical schools during the classical Ottoman period, evolved over time in parallel with changes in medical understanding. In this process, the darüşşifas were replaced by medical schools, and aktars (apothecaries) were replaced by pharmacies.
The article, in this section, about epidemics and quarantine practices is an important contribution to the field It has the distinction of being the first comprehensive study of plague epidemics in Istanbul. Similarly, the first well-organized research into dentistry in Ottoman Istanbul takes place in this section. This article illustrates how dental operations, previously carried out by barbers, were transformed into modern dentistry.
Four articles in the second section focus on the food culture of the city. There are three main articles and one framework article, discussing the food culture of Istanbul during the Byzantine, Ottoman and Republican periods. Byzantine cuisine was authentic, but it was also influenced by diverse cultures, thus creating a cuisine in the Byzantine period that was original, but not static and open to influences from other cultures. The influence of Byzantine culinary culture on the eating habits of Ottoman Istanbul has not yet been researched. Bread, grains, olives and olive oil, fruit and vegetables, meat and in particular fish, and to some extent dairy products can be listed as the characteristic items in common people’s menu during the Byzantine period. During the Ottoman period, it can be seen that grains were popular, but compared to the Byzantine period, meat and dairy products were in higher demand, and the olives and olive oil and some of the vegetables did not have much popularity in Ottoman cuisine. The culinary culture of the classical period in Istanbul was dominated by meat, dairy products and cereals with a balanced vegetable and fruit consumption.
This situation continued even into the nineteenth century, a time in which European influence became evident. Despite this continuity, the nineteenth century was a time of irresistible change, and the cuisine in Istanbul did not remain unmoved by the effects of this process. The change in food culture had two main pillars: Food products of American origin started to be used in cooking, and new products, imported from Europe, started to gain preference in the kitchen. In addition, European style of dining – sitting up at a table - became common in the Ottoman capital in this century.
The reform process of the nineteenth century continued into the next century. In the early Republican era, the adoption of European style table settings and manners, the introduction of some French dishes and pastry techniques into Istanbul cuisine can be listed as examples of important changes.
In the second half of the twentieth century, especially in the 1980s, food and drink were changing and new products began to find their way into the kitchens as a result of developments in the food industry and the country’s integration into the global economy.
However, despite the changes over the last two centuries, if important elements like sweet syrup (şerbet) and tomato paste are not taken into account, it can be claimed that Turkish cuisine evolved but no revolutionary transformation took place. Today, the Turkish dietary style relying on grains, meat and dairy products are habits that can be traced back to Central Asia. It is still possible to taste many meals consumed during the classical Ottoman period in some parts of Anatolia, although not in Istanbul. That sakatat (purtenance) still occupies a prominent place in Turkish cuisine shows this continuity.
The third section is concerned with dress, garments and the ceremonial/ entertainment culture of the people of Istanbul. As the capital, Istanbul reflected aesthetic and wealth in apparel during both the Byzantine and Ottoman eras, and played a central and pioneering role in both periods. This feature has continued to exist even during the Republican era, when the city no longer was the capital.
We see apparel elements of the Byzantine period, namely the period from the second half of the fourth century to the middle of the fifteenth century (taga, camisa, dalmatica, segmento, clavi, laticlavi, tunica, penula, etc.). Of these, the fainôlês (undershirt), which continued to exist and the külah (conic headgear), adopted from Persia, are interesting; the latter demonstrates that the Byzantines did not create a completely authentic apparel culture, but were influenced from Persian culture (especially between the fifth and seventh centuries).
During the Ottoman period, the existence of a fundamental divergence in clothing is remarkable, as the clothing of the Ottoman people was based on Islamic principles. On the other hand, in the second half of the nineteenth century and in the Republican era, at least in the elite neighborhoods, fashion was the most important factor that determined the style of clothing. During the periods in question, especially in the twentieth century, clothing styles were influenced by the important trends in European centers and by the seasons. The dominant style could be sometimes a narrow or sometimes a wide collar or trouser legs, sometimes a more revealing fashion. Sometimes a more modest approach would emerge.
Whereas strict codes were imposed in Byzantine social life, there were many examples of public ceremonies and entertainments in Constantinople in which fun was encouraged. The sacrifice of animals, banquets and festivities in organisations such as Boda, Bryta, Broumali, Mayoumas or Rozelia, which had been celebrated since the Roman times, Oi Apokries (carnivals) and weddings were all leading entertainment and ceremonial occasions for the residents of the Byzantine capital. As the flexibility introduced by the Christian faith had not existed in earlier Byzantine society, it can be understood that entertainment occasions aimed at ordinary people in Constantinople were very limited in number.
These limitations did not apply for the elite. The most important example of this were the chariot races held in the Hippodrome, where normally only official ceremonies were held. The teams that raced, called the Blues, Greens, Reds or Whites, reflected the political and religious power struggles rather than sports, and thus these races had a high symbolic value.
During the Ottoman period, ceremonies and the entertainment culture in Istanbul appear to have changed in form. Ceremonial and entertainment culture, with the exception of official ceremonies, included a variety of entertainment activities, ranging from shows to performing arts. Hokkabaz (magicians), şişebaz (glass jugglers), and çemberbaz (acrobats), karagöz oyunu (shadow plays), orta oyunu (light comedy), meddah (story tellers) and theatre plays can be mentioned in this context. In addition, ceremonies and entertainment events, arranged for the public in resort areas, as well as halva (sweet made of semolina and pine nuts) conversations, which were initiated by the elite and later on were held by all sections of society, even in rural areas, can be considered in this context. It is noticeable that recreational activities increased in frequency during the Tulip Period. Intensifying and diversifying throughout the 18th century, public ceremonies and entertainment life continued unabated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The distinctive feature of the ceremonies and entertainment events during the Republican period is that they were used as an instrument to create rapprochement between “Oriental society” and the “Europeanized state”.
The fourth section consists of articles that address the socialization practices of the people of Istanbul, the spaces of socialization and the etiquette that shaped people’s behaviors. Cafes, coffeehouses, public baths and bazaars, which constituted the venues for the three main social practices: beverage consumption, personal hygiene and trade, are investigated. In these spaces, the people of Istanbul could come together and interact. No doubt, coffeehouses did not remain solely a space for socialization. They also took on the function of being spaces for the formation of public opinion, and as such concerned the government. The first coffee houses were opened in the middle of the sixteenth century and spread throughout whole Istanbul throughout the nineteenth century. Indeed, the city appeared like one large coffee house. Such great number of coffee houses where people could sit and “talk about the state” could not go unnoticed by the government.
Compared to coffeehouses, which were only frequented by men, there were public bathhouses for men and others for women in Istanbul. Certainly, in terms of socializing opportunities, the public bathhouses were much more important for women. Women had the opportunity to socialize at gatherings in their houses, day trips and picnics to resorts, strolls around the market and bazaar, and finally group entertainments in the bathhouses.
Visits to the public bathhouses were more appealing for women when accompanied by entertainments and treats. Shopping venues were known as agora, embolus or ergasterium during the Byzantine period. They were then called bedesten, arasta or han in the Ottoman era. In the last 50 years, supermarkets, hypermarkets and shopping malls have caused a change in this traditional structure. Throughout history, all these spaces have been places where people stop to meet their daily needs. In fact, life flowed through the bazaars.
The propriety rules that shaped people’s behaviors existed not only in the mentioned venues of socialization, but also in other locations. European decorum gradually gained importance in Istanbul after the nineteenth century; as a result, a type of person who felt compelled to act or who acted according to either the Oriental or European style evolved; there were also those who combined the two. A large number of books on etiquette were published in order to teach the new rules. The patterns in people’s behaviors changed in parallel with transformations in urban life in Istanbul; however, people were always polite and courteous in every period.
Disasters like fires, earthquakes and floods; other social crises like storms and severe winters, which adversely affected daily life in Istanbul; the concept of philanthropy in such times and in normal times, and charitable institutions are discussed in the fifth section.
As far as the disasters in Istanbul are concerned, fires occupy the foremost place. The preponderance of wooden architecture in Istanbul, a city with a large population in every period, was an important factor in the increasing number of fires in the city. Although fires did not dramatically affect the city’s population as compared to earthquakes or epidemics, it meant not only the loss of a certain number of people, but also the loss of many living creatures and valuable property. Fires ceased to be the nightmare of the people of the city only after masonry structures started to become more common material for housing and with the development of a fire department.
Compared to fires, earthquakes had a wider zone of influence and caused a heavier death toll. Earthquakes were the unexpected guests of Istanbul in both the Byzantine and Ottoman times. At the many occurrences of earthquake, Istanbul was severely affected and fall into ruins. The last of the recurring earthquakes, happening approximately every 100 years, occurred in 1894; thus another devastating earthquake is expected in the near future.
Floods, which have a strong impact today due to the closure of river beds, were not greatly feared when they occurred in earlier periods. However, severe winters, which we do not witness today due to global warming, were events suffered at regular intervals in both the Ottoman and Byzantine periods.
Every disaster and crisis would bring untold suffering and distress. However, those left behind, those who struggled with a thousand problems, had to overcome this adversity with patience. The assignment of different meanings to these kinds of disasters or crises in the Christian and Muslim communities might have been an element that reinforced the patience of people. In both Byzantine and Ottoman societies, all such disasters and occurrences that led to crises were interpreted as divine warnings.
Throughout Ottoman history, charity was organized for those who suffered in disasters and those who were in need. These charity events, which were supported by waqfs, during the classic period, acquired a new form in the Tanzimat period; new charitable organizations were created in addition to the existing foundations. Darülacezes (houses of poor) and darüleytams (houses of orphans) were established in every city to relieve poverty and to ward off beggary; the organizations such as the Hilal-i Ahmer (Red Crescent) and the associations for the protection of the deprived (fukaraperver) as well as the İstanbul Muavenet-i İctimaiye Müdürlüğü (Istanbul Directorate of Social Solidarity), were established to help war refugees and migrants in the first quarter of the twentieth century. In the twentieth century, social aid activities were conducted via the Red Crescent, as well as some foundations and institutions that had corporate / personal identities.
The sixth section focuses on children in Istanbul and sports activities in the city. Children during the Ottoman period are one of the least explored areas. The lack of studies in this field has led to the formation of the perception that Ottomans did not pay enough attention to their children. The articles in this section reveal that this perception is not true. The Ottomans attached importance to childcare and education, built on the prior experience and developed new techniques to guide them. Preparations for a baby would begin before the birth and continue in full swing afterwards. As many practices spread throughout the entire empire, a common language was formed with respect children and childhood. Surely, children in Istanbul were in an advantageous position compared to children in many other cities in terms of maintenance, education and child-raising. This claim is accurate even in terms of the availability of toys.
Sporting history in Istanbul is an interesting issue of continuity and discontinuity. During the Byzantine period, sports and entertainment were two intertwined phenomena. The sports tradition in the Byzantine Istanbul mostly relied on the Greek and Roman heritage, but abandoned some sports habits of two cultures. Games from the Turks and the Persians also found their way to the city. Gladiator fights were one of the ancient sporting activities; however, as this sport caused severe injury and even deaths, it was banned during the Byzantine period. Sports such as wrestling, boxing, athletics, archery and discus throwing were the leading sporting activities. The most important sports center was the Hippodrome; the most remarkable sports activities were the chariot races, which, as mentioned above, had a political content.
During the Ottoman period, the sporting activities were limited by those activities that were permitted by Islam; this resulted in a focus on building physique and war games. In this regard, sports, which had their roots in Central Asia, such as archery, wrestling, horse riding and jirit (javelin throwing), alongside hunting, club throwing, matrak (wooden sword game), rifle shooting, tomak (wooden mace game), mace throwing, running sports, swimming and some other water sports, were heavily practiced in the city during the Ottoman classical period. During the period of modernization and the Republican period, some of the above-mentioned games became neglected and were replaced by gymnastics, football, volleyball, basketball, handball, boxing, fencing, weightlifting, golf, martial arts, cycling and motor sports.
The twentieth century became the century of sports; during this century football came to the fore. This continues to be the same today.
The seventh and final section contains three different issues: (1) the gardens, (2) crimes, and (3) criminals, penalties as well as investigations, which became intensified from the eighteenth century onwards.
Gardens had an important place in the daily life in Istanbul during both Byzantine and Ottoman periods. They were locations for strolls, relaxation and even hunting. The flowers, trees and animals they contained defined the flora and fauna of the city. The royal gardens were particularly spectacular and captivating, compared to gardens open to the public strolls..
The research on crime in this section shows that bachelors were predominantly responsible for committing crimes in the city. The crimes committed included murder, assault, espionage, banditry, prostitution, rape and drinking. Although the penalty of some crimes was fixed, many penalties were determined according to variables such as the way in which the crime was committed and the social conditions of the criminal.
From time to time, a tour of inspection would be carried out in order to prevent crime in the city, as well as to discipline trade and service groups. The most important point in these inspections was to confirm people’s addresses and to determine whether there was someone who could vouch for their reliability. The guarantor system was used in every period and every field as a type of a social cohesion tool. When the inspections loomed, anyone who had no guarantor had to leave their work immediately, or if they were caught, they were banished from the city. The main reason for this type of inspections was to enable those who were living in the city to be identified in some way as part of a group and to ensure that such people were known to the state.
This section, which deals with studies that examine social life in Istanbul, a city which served as the capital of two empires, namely the Byzantine and Ottoman empire, and has been the largest city of the Republic of Turkey for about century, does not claim to reflect all details of the historical reality or to address all social phenomena. However, the articles in this section bring to light important elements of social life in Istanbul from the Byzantine period to the present day and make substantial contributions to the formation of the greater picture of the history of the city. At the same time, while articles in this section predominantly address the daily life of the ordinary people, the life of the elite is examined from time to time. This section, in its present form, sets out a picture in which ordinary people are more noticeable in everyday life, thus eliminating the constricting and restraining effect of the historical approach which argues that history was shaped by the elite.