Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the general feature of all economies was that they faced various difficulties in providing their populations with a continuous and sufficient amount of provisions. The importance of this challenge was particularly difficult for highly populated cities that had a substantial demand for raw materials due to their significant numbers of political and military staff. Both interruptions in the agricultural production, which possibly resulted from natural (unfavorable weather conditions, disasters, etc.) and unnatural causes (civil wars, riots, etc.); and the insufficiency of transportation facilities; as well as the resulting specialization problem, made provisioning more important to the governments of all cities. During the 19th century, problems related to provisioning started to fade away, especially in Western countries when transportation opportunities largely advanced, and significant increases occurred in agricultural productivity. However, throughout all periods, provisioning was still a problem for the Ottoman Empire, which was not able to adapt to developments sufficiently. Therefore, the Ottomans attempted to solve provisioning problems by making several administrative and organizational arrangements for the crowded cities. In addition to bringing basic goods or raw materials to the capital city, this administrative interest included taking the necessary precautions for a problem-free delivery and an equitable distribution for consumers.
With its exceptional features, Istanbul became the most important economic and political center of the empire after the fall of Constantinople, and maintained this identity till the end. Ottoman administrators made the provisioning of bureaucrats and soldiers their first priority, although they took care of supplying foodstuff to the inhabitants as part of the provisioning system. Meeting the basic goods for all the inhabitants in Istanbul necessitated a regular supply of raw materials to be made available for shopkeepers. Thus, provisioning process was an overriding concern for all, since the interruptions that occurred in the process endangered the livelihoods of the people of the capital. This situation caused the empire to pay close attention to the provisioning; hence the Ottoman administration decided that Istanbul should be a center to which any excess of production all over the country would be delivered to, and took all the necessary measures to have a continuous flow of goods from peripheries to Istanbul. The interventions contained incentive applications along with coercive, prohibitive, and controlling regulations.
The application of provision regulations in Istanbul in the Ottoman era had similarities to that of the Byzantine era in some aspects; in other words, the provisioning policies of the city continued throughout the ages. Moreover, it was clear that all the institutions for provisioning were not adapted from the Byzantine era, and that these institutions determined and implemented policies that were parallel to the Empire’s socio-economic realities and historical conditions. During the Byzantine period, there was a highly developed method to control and provide the basic needs of Istanbul. After the Byzantine period, the Ottomans reshaped their own provisioning policy to meet the needs of the capital city. Since the population of Istanbul was relatively low during the last periods of the Byzantine era and the first years of the Ottoman Empire, there was almost no need for resorting to any special attempts concerning the procurement of basic goods. As the population of the capital continuously grew in the 16th century, the Ottomans shaped and systematized a provisioning policy over time owing to their preemptive rights to buy goods in the Black Sea shores as well as the Danubian basin and Bulgaria in the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries. Provisioning politics targeting supply problems involved a number of measures and goals: stocking grain in case of a possible shortage, ensuring the procurement of basic items such as wheat and sheep through certain regulations, avoiding any export of goods, preventing the goods within the country from being transported to outside of Istanbul, and for this purpose, constantly fighting against speculators, known as scalpers (madrabaz), and profiteers (muhtekir). In addition, they distributed the goods brought to the capital among the guilds in accordance with the regulations to ward off any corruption.
Main Characteristics of the Provisioning of Istanbul
Although the applications for the provisions in Istanbul showed differences based on economic and political conditions in various periods, the framework of the application displayed certain fundamental features. One of them was that the empire devoted close attention to the provisioning process throughout all the periods; however, the degree of the attention depended on the conditions. In the earlier periods of the Ottoman Empire, the interventions in the provisioning of the capital were more limited, and it was thought to be sufficient to take measures in order to guarantee a smooth functioning of trade in the market. However, more direct interventions in the products such as grains and meat, whose consumption amounts were high, had occurred since the earlier periods. In general terms, the objective was to preclude the supply of goods from decreasing and avoid steep rises in the prices. This was done by fighting against any monopolistic and speculative bids, along with smuggling in the provisioning of the capital particularly in the periods when the Empire had a strong authority over the provinces - especially over the Balkans. On the other hand, having lost authority over the Balkans and the Black Sea basin as a result of the territorial losses that started in the later periods of the 17th century, the Ottomans had to make more direct interventions and regulations concerning the provisioning of the capital. This was also effective for temporary crises. This meant a shift from regulating the market mechanism -to ensure a steady flow of foodstuff to the capital- to forthright intervention in the market. In addition to increasing financial difficulties, it is certainly possible to assume that the objective of procuring basic goods and foodstuff to the public officers and soldiers at least through a form of taxation accounted for this policy change.
In the above-mentioned framework, the state’s expanded intervention in provisioning was manifest especially supplying grains and sheep. As of the third quarter of the 18th century, the merchants and ship owners had to obtain official permit to buy goods. Besides, grain-producing regions were subjected to deliver a certain amount of cereal for the consumption of Istanbul. The Grain Administration (Grain Administration), which was established toward the end of the century, formed a state-supported structure for grain procurement. Meanwhile, the implementation of the tithe of the sheep (ondalık ağnam) tax also stressed the role of the empire in procuring sheep. Although these developments constricted the activities of entrepreneurs regarding the provisioning of Istanbul, they increased the importance of state-initiated purchases. This interventionist grip, which continued almost until mid-19th century, was later loosened, and the state opted for purchasing from the market as the need arose.
Increased amount of interventions over time as part of the provisioning policy led many to describe the provisioning of Istanbul as a command economy. The practices that were taken as symptoms of a command economy included the following: price controls; a strict guild structure where the authorities assessed the manufacturing, distribution, sales processes; large-scale direct or mediated state purchases (mubayaas) made for the consumption of the city; special state purchases for the military units and officers (tertips); subjecting the circulation of basic goods within the country to official permission; bans on exports of raw materials and foodstuff of strategic importance; the presence of a keen interest on the part of the state in provisioning of Istanbul either for tayinat owners (people who were allocated with certain goods on a regular basis by the state) or for the general public. Nevertheless, statements that provisioning of Istanbul fitting in the framework of the command economy are by and large faulty; rather, the pragmatic approach also prevailed in the provisioning policies. The state monitored the market for a smooth functioning in times of tranquility and regulated it directly during the times of crisis.
When all the practices applied by the Ottoman Empire for the provisioning of Istanbul and the army are assessed together, one can assert that the state intervened in the process with a selective and pragmatic reasoning. The state intervention was generally a means of providing food supplies, bringing generally agreed rules into force. The sanctioning power was not used arbitrarily; it was usually used to support the public welfare . In addition, the state made interventions to eliminate any difficulty in daily supplies when irregular changes in the regional grain stocks led to sharp price fluctuations. Periodical distributions (or sales) of great amounts of grains from the state-owned storehouses removed the cost of land transport and lightened the upward price pressure in local markets.
Another feature of the provisioning of Istanbul was that the sultan was more concerned with the provisioning of the army and civil servants. The sultan would warn the relevant authorities, who were responsible for providing soldiers with foodstuff, about formulating the needed procedures, implementing them effectively, and in short, taking all the necessary measures to maintain the continuous flow of supplies.1 In the politics of provisioning, the privileged position of military and civil bureaucracy became more significant during the times of hardship.
It was a general feature of the provisioning of Istanbul to closely track down and monitor those merchants condemned as scalpers and profiteers. Abusing the system of fixed price policy (narh), traders could sell goods at higher prices and profit from trading in several goods, particularly grain, that the officially fixed price policy emerged. On the other hand, the traders resorted to various tricks in order to increase their profit. In addition to the traders, it was imperative to monitor the officials serving in different capacities during the process., Officials or functionaries engaged in several types of corruption depending on the nature of goods at various stages such as purchase, shipping, delivery of goods and foodstuff to Istanbul.
The arrangements made for the provisioning of Istanbul were fairly complex and unique. Such arrangements caused a loss of wealth in the countryside in favor of Istanbul. In other words, they led to the transfer of wealth from villagers to the urban population of the capital. In essence, these regulations obliged the villagers to deliver a certain amount for foodstuff to Istanbul by way of taxation and they focused on supplies of grains and lamb. Moreover, the conditions affecting the consumption level of the capital came under close scrutiny. Thus the authorities discouraged migration to Istanbul.2 This was because it caused unemployment and housing problems as well as difficulties in provisioning, for it was hard to reach at exact figures regarding the consumption level of the city.
The whole region of Rumelia had a privileged position in terms of the provisioning of Istanbul until the end of the empire. Especially following the fall of Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire developed a number of practices to use the resources of Rumelia, which had rich agricultural potential in the area. These resources came to the surface during the supply process of grain and lamb, which were the most important two foodstuffs. The form and content of the practices varied from time to time; in particular, the emergence of economic and political difficulties led to the use of different methods in providing basic goods. Although Anatolia was not seen as a main supply area for basic goods, transferring foodstuffs from this area to the city gained importance particularly whenever a desired amount of goods could not be supplied from Rumelia. The priority of Rumelia in all periods was based on its geographical convenience, accessibility from Istanbul, and advanced opportunities to grow agricultural crops. The favorable position of Rumelia made a significant contribution to the feeding of the large population of Istanbul for many years.
Transportation was a major issue for the provisioning of Istanbul. Istanbul’s relatively favorable position for sea transportation enabled the city to use sea routes for transferring basic goods. Land transport was mostly used for moving goods from production sites to seaports. Goods such as grain, wood, charcoal, olives, cheese, soap, honey, salt, etc. offered a cost advantage when using transportation by sea due to their heavy and bulky nature. Along with the Unkapanı ships (ships owned by the shopkeepers of the Flour Market), available ships in the navy were also used, and more ships were chartered for grain transport when required. Livestock (sheep, lamb, etc.) were mostly brought to Istanbul via land route.
The regulations for the provisioning of Istanbul were supported by new measures in case of a state of emergency. Regular practices could undergo changes according to the problems at hand. Even though it is difficult to put forward the details, it is apparent that Istanbul was frequently liable to exceptional measures throughout Ottoman centuries. For example, during the reign of Selim III (1789-1807) when a shipment of sheep almost came to a halt in Rumelia because of the threats of Mountain Bandits, a huge amount of sheep would be immediately shipped from the provinces of Anatolia and Erzurum. Meanwhile, no sufficient quantity of wood could be obtained from the Black Sea shores for the same reason and so relevant officials were sent to Misivri, Ahyolu (Pomorie), and Yalova to seek wood supplies. The officials would also demand that the wood be transferred to seaports, and the timber ships were mobilized for their transportation.3 Again, in the first quarter of the 19th century, at a time when the provisioning of Istanbul proved to be a major challenge, ships loaded with grain in Izmir could not sail to Istanbul on one occasion. Therefore, authorities decided to hire a large number of camels from the surrounding regions in order to transport the cereals first to the Port of Bandırma to be shipped to Istanbul.4 In short, the provisioning of Istanbul was handled through constant state monitoring and intervention based on regular or exceptional practices as dictated by the necessities of time.
Grain Provisions in the Capital
The top priority of the provisioning of the capital were grains. Easily accessible areas were primarily preferred to supply the capital’s cereal need. The main places that supplied wheat to Istanbul were the low lands along the Port of Tekirdağ in Thrace, the Danubian basin, Northern Greece, Egypt, the Black Sea coast (Crimea, South Russia), the Aegean region (Izmir and vicinity), Kocaeli, Bursa, and the surroundings of Balıkesir. If the wheat transferred from these places failed to meet the need, grain would be supplied from distant regions in Anatolia (Erzurum, Sivas, Tokat, Amasya) via the Trabzon and Samsun seaports. More grains would be brought in from an increased number of places during the periods of famine. Especially since the second half of the 18th century, the administration evidently searched for alternative locations to provide grain to the capital due to the diminishing of power and territorial losses. In the 18th century, these types of changes were experienced in several locations of the empire based on the shifts in the political and financial conditions, which proved that the capital had periodic, if not chronic, shortages from time to time. It should be noted that despite all the state regulations, at some point, each period was faced with the threat of a shortage in the supply of basic goods. The flow of goods to the capital would always be affected by the limited transportation facilities and officially fixed price policy, whereas weather conditions or harvest failures in agricultural regions would affect it sometimes.
The amount of annual demand for wheat in Istanbul was nearly 100.000 tons. It was estimated that residents of Istanbul needed 3.600.000 kile (92.372 tons) of wheat in the middle of the 19th century. It was indicated that the regular army (nizamiye) soldiers and mariners (bahriye soldiers) in Istanbul needed 1.000.000 kile (25.659 tons) of wheat, and 434.000 kile (11.136 tons) of barley.5 The grain transferred to the capital mainly consisted of wheat. In the middle of the eighteenth century, when the figures on the grain provided to millwrights and bakers from Unkapanı were checked, out of the delivery amounting to approximately 5.000.000 kile, 70% consisted of wheat, 25% barley and 5% corn. If the consumption of soldiers in the provinces were taken into account, the amount of grain needed reached significant levels for the state administration. Regardless of the role of the state concerning the provisioning, high figures of distribution caused the bureaucracy to monitor the process closely and to impose restriction on exportation, if needed.
Historically, two different approaches were applied for the provisioning of Istanbul. The first one was during the period when entrepreneurship was dominant. Until the late 18th century, private capital had a rather influential role in bringing foodstuff, including grain, to Istanbul. For example, in the years of 1757 and 1758, 91.4% of all the grain in Istanbul was provided by entrepreneurs, while 8.6% was provided by the state. Committed to make a purchase with their own capital from the areas facing the coast of the Black Sea in Rumelia and to transport it to the capital by their own ship, merchants stood surety to one another to satisfy the grain demand of Istanbul. A significant amount of grain was purchased from the Black Sea basin. Few entrepreneurs could trade in grain under the same conditions, but separately and with special permission. These traders participated in the assessment of buying and selling prices. An additional freight rate and fair profit rate would be added to prices at which the bakers of Istanbul could sell their product. The grain brought by the traders would be discharged in Unkapanı and sold to bakers in the presence of the manager of Unkapanı. The state authorities would decide in advance the districts and port towns to deliver grain to the capital as well as which districts would transport their specified amount of produce to which port. In case of a shortage of grains in the capital due to various reasons, the state built several granaries In this system, the state was rather a regulator and it did not seek a direct intervention.
As discussed, the provisioning was performed under the supervision of state-owned institutions. While the qadi Court of Istanbul and the Imperial Council were the decision makers in the capital, the Ottoman constabularies (muhtesibs) had an active role in price and quality controls along with cereal distribution. According to the system, the qadi of Istanbul would oversee the whole process from unloading of grain from ships to its delivery to the consumer in the form of bread, and then consult the Council in case of any complicated matter. The Council attempted to solve out these problems with an approach that tried to benefit all parties involved, but also took decisions of active intervention, if necessary. In short, the state centrally planned and controlled all the aspects of the provisioning process during the period when grain was mainly supplied with private capital. In this framework, it determined the amount of grain to be purchases from the specified localities, the ports to send the consignments to Istanbul, the customers to buy at which quantity, the mills to grind them, and the bakeries to bake according to established standards and to sell at the fixed prices. On the other hand, the state would distribute grain from state storehouses to the mills and bakeries particularly in wintertime when millwrights and bakers in Istanbul had difficulties in obtaining wheat. Stockpiling was important in terms of both controlling price fluctuations and ensuring the continuity of supply in times of hardship.
The second approach to the provisioning of Istanbul came to the fore during the period in which the role of the state in provisioning increased. The political and economic developments in the eighteenth century resulted in increasing state interventions in the provisioning processes in the last years of the century. Grain Administration, which was founded in 1793, was a result of these developments. Apart from arranging and supporting the activities of Unkapanı merchants, the Grain Administration made direct state purchases in order to stock grain in state granaries in Istanbul and distribute it among the bakers. According to the regulation, grain quotas to be delivered were apportioned among several districts (mostly in Rumelia) and a state purchasers were sent to buy them at officially fixed (mirî) prices from the producers. Official prices were set to be lower than the ruling/market prices, and any increase in ruling prices was not reflected on the official ones. As a result, these prices rapidly came to represent a symbolic rate. Grain was collected in this way. However, when a failure in grain collection occurred, the grain contribution in-kind was assigned a cash value, calculated at a much higher price than the official price so that the villagers paid a compensation money in lieu of the failed delivery. The state purchasers would earmark a kile of grain in every ten kile of grain (ondalık) in return for their services. They would sell this to the Unkapanı merchants. This system was based on the increased role of the government in the provisioning of Istanbul through making direct state purchases. This continued until the beginning of the reform era of Tanzimat (1839) and after which, the grain supply in Istanbul was essentially abandoned to the market.
In the second half of the 19th century, the government continued to monitor the grain supply and to support the private entrepreneurship; however, grain was now purchased at local ruling prices, which led the government to make agreements with local traders. It attempted to procure the grain bought by the entrepreneurs through reputable merchants in purchasing areas. In compliance with the terms of their contracts determined by the ministries of Trade and Public Regulatory (İhtisab), merchants had to produce documents showing their purchasing expenses and then sold their grains to bakers adding transportation and commission charges to the purchase price.
For the processes of milling and baking grain in Istanbul, a large number of mills and bakeries were required. The government determined the number of mills. Some of the mills were owned by waqfs. Most of the mills were close to the bakeries. Horse-powered mills were to be built near bakeries when possible. There were two types of mills. First type worked for the bread bakeries, providing flour to them while the second type of mills sold flour in their stalls to public and sellers of bagels (simit), pastries (borek), and buns (çörek). The mills were generally run by draft animal power, and in normal conditions, a mill would have four millstones and four horses tied to these stones. An addition of stone required state permission, and mills were built near Unkapanı to minimize transportation costs.
Bakeries’ numbers varied over time due to population growth. In addition to some bakeries that only baked bread, there were bakeries that offered other products such as French bread (francala), simit and çörek. Finished products were offered for sale in bakeries and shops or places with stalls, which were called iskemleci and tablakâr. As a staple in much demand, bread was subject to special regulations. Those who offered bread in sizes that were different from the ones determined by the standards, or who offered missing or stale bread, could be punished with imprisonment. When the grain or flour used was of poor quality bread did not comply with the standards, whereas some bakers practiced several deceits during the baking process. State officials put in great effort to eliminate this type of inconveniences.
Meeting the Meat Demand in Istanbul
Supplying meat, the second largest item in the provisioning system in Istanbul, had more interesting and unique practices than those of grain supply. Evidently, the residents of Istanbul consumed mostly small cattle such as sheep and goats. Also, it can be stated that the amount of slaughtered cattle in the city was low. On the other hand, it is known that poultry was brought to the city, particularly from İzmit and the surrounding areas of Istanbul. However, throughout Ottoman history, mutton was important for residents of Istanbul regarding their food culture, and it is apparent that there was a high demand for mutton.
The first method in supplying meat was the celepkeşan (sheep drovers) system. The core of this system was based on putting a certain number of people (celepkeş) in charge of bringing a certain number of sheep from the Balkans and selling them to butchers in Istanbul every year. The government monitored the whole process, including gathering sheep and selling them to consumers in Istanbul. The main purpose of the system was to guarantee the meat supply and to ensure that meat prices remained at a level that was proportional to the economic power of the people. According to the practice, persons included in the system (i.e. celepkeshes) were exempt from all extraordinary taxes (avarız) and other official obligations in return for their services.
In the celepkeşan system, which emerged in the years following the conquest of Constantinople, persons assigned as celepkeş were required to buy a certain number of sheep with their own capital, bring them to Istanbul, and sell them to butchers at the officially fixed price under the supervision of the qadi and the muhtesib. Most of the time, fixing a relatively low price for the official price caused celepkeshes to make a loss in this process. From this perspective, the system was a risky business requiring high capital. As a matter of fact, celepkeshes were generally selected from among the rich and the money-lenders, and they were mostly reluctant to be assigned to this position.
The celepkeşan system began to change when a series of events occurred towards the end of the sixteenth century. A rapid inflation that emerged in the 1580s raised the sheep prices in the provinces; but these raises were not reflected on the prices in Istanbul. Therefore, the expenses of drovers rapidly increased, and so did their economic burden. This led to a decrease in the number of sheep brought to Istanbul. As a result, the celepkeshes who failed to bring sheep were forced to pay a cash fee. Each kaza district that was part of the meat provisioning system had to shoulder in the payment of this fee. The functionary –a taxfarmer- in charge of collection of this fee was required to bring a specified number of sheep to Istanbul in return. In short, a drover now had to pay the fee only, and the whole responsibility to supply sheep was placed on the people.
In the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries, various approaches and practices were adopted regarding the demand for meat in Istanbul. As part of a particular administrative mechanism, the process of bringing sheep was performed on contract by traders. In the 17th century, the office of the chief butcher (kasapbaşılık) was established, and an annual budget was created for him -the person primarily responsible for meat provisioning. The demand for meat in Istanbul was met by transferring sheep from Rumelia, both with the contracted private traders and officials assigned on behalf of the government. Prices set by the government were used in the purchases. Having been the same as one of the market prices in the early periods of the practice, these prices did not place a big burden on the people. Yet, the cost of this practice increased for the people as a result of the fact that the emerging price escalations had not reflected on the official prices. In reality, buying sheep from the people at administered prices turned into a form of tax-in-kind. As part of this practice, a series of additional arrangements were brought in the second half of the eighteenth century, and the meat provisioning as a form of tax-in-kind was institutionalized. These arrangements included extending the purchase of sheep to all over Rumelia, making purchases based on a one-tenth rule, setting the official prices for all areas according to sheep breeds, and making purchases by force if necessary. The series of principles called the tithe of the sheep (ondalık ağnam) were enforced in 1783.6
There were three steps to receive sheep as part of the tithe (ondalık ağnam). The first step included the process of counting and taking sheep as a tax. This happened in counting seasons by civil servants called ‘counters’ who were assigned by the government. During the second step, the sheep were sent to their destinations. In summers, the sheep would be directly sent to Istanbul and they were sometimes kept in winter quarters for a while. In winters, the sheep placed in these winter quarters would be brought to the city. The government rented the winter quarters, which were located in today’s Eastern Thrace (Edirne, and Tekirdağ and the surrounding), from the public and ran them. Winter quarters were in use throughout the year, but they were especially important in wintertime when they provided the sheep supplies in Istanbul. Although mîrî sheep had the priority in using the winter quarters, private sheep traders could rent a winter quarter as well. The three most important winter quarters were called Velimese, Ipsala and Kuleli. During the third and final step, the sheep brought to the city were slaughtered in state-owned slaughterhouses and given to people and/or institutions that were indicated in advance. People called ‘cleaver users (satırcı)’ would carry out a daily activity by sending the previously cut meat to their destination. In exchange for this service, satırcıs were given approximately eight dirhems (3.2 grams) of meat per kıyye free of charge.
In Istanbul, there were slaughterhouses that were owned by the government and butchers to meet the meat demand. Besides having ownership, butchers were also responsible for their management. The Ottomans brought strict conditions to open slaughterhouses and butcher shops, and moved the slaughtering processes and related leather activities to regions that were far away from the center, thinking that it would be more appropriate in terms of health. The oldest slaughterhouse complex in Istanbul was built in Yedikule, near the area outside of the city walls, during the period of Sultan Mehmed II. It is clear that new slaughterhouses were established in Eyüp, Galata, Kasımpasa, Ortaköy, and Üsküdar as the population and the meat demand in the city grew each day.
An important amount of meat obtained through the tithe system was consumed by the troops in the capital. Some of the state-owned sheep were sold to butchers alive (at market prices) in order to make a contribution to meeting the people’s meat demand. The tithe of the sheep was collected in four zones in Rumelia: districts along the Bahar route, the Yenişehir – Selanik route, the Dobrice-Ivraca route, and the Samako route. Since the sheep of the last zone vulnerable to summer heat, the Samako sheep was set aside for winter consumption of the city. Kasapbaşı would assign a ‘counter’ to each area. These counters were responsible for buying and sending sheep on behalf of the state. Counters completed this process by hiring people called ‘stewards’ and ‘shepherds’. As the counters’ oppression of the people grew, the office of counting was abolished after the Tanzimat period, and the functionaries called kabzımal (wholesaler) took over the duty of collection. In exchange for their services, all of these functionaries received a certain number of (live) sheep per flock free of charge under the name of başkalık (i.e., excepted, separated).
After 1845, the taxfarming system was initiated to reduce the oppression and corruption in the process of tax collection, and to increase the tax revenues. This system remained in force with minor changes in application until the date when the tax was removed. As a result of the corruption it caused, the tithe system was abolished along with other taxes on livestock in 1858. They were replaced by an all-encompassing tax based on the commutation of the primary and secondary products of the sheep into cash.7 After this date, free meat distribution was considerably limited, and those who eligible for free meat allowances (tayinat) received their meat from the taxfarmers (mültezim) who bought the sheep at market prices.
During the years when the tithe of the sheep was collected, the Istanbul residents’ demand for meat, except for those with meat allowance, was mainly satisfied with the sheep brought in by free merchants. However, even though the supply of meat was met by the market, the government did not refrain from intervening in the process in many ways. The matter of supplying meat to the general public was not as urgent, but it preserved its importance for the administrators. Some sheep collected as tithe were offered to the public through shopkeepers, which apparently showed the given importance. In addition, the chief butcher who was sometimes responsible for supplying state-owned sheep was also responsible for providing sheep to the people. This very same approach led the government to provide incentives for traders, and dispatch orders to provincial administrators to give directions to them to help drovers. It was forbidden to demand taxes and fees under different names from traders, who brought sheep to Istanbul. As part of the attempt to meet the sheep demand in Istanbul, a chief drover (celepbaşı) was employed to organize the process of bringing sheep to the city via traders a short time after the Tanzimat period.8 Especially during the nineteenth century, some of the big tribes in Anatolia were obliged to transfer a certain amount of sheep to Istanbul every year with the aim of meeting the demand for meat. For example, the Cihanbeyli tribe from Anatolia had to send approximately 100,000 sheep to Istanbul every year. On the other hand, while there were times when some compulsory measures were taken regarding sheep transfers by traders, some attempts were also made to supply large stock based on the need.
It is possible to make some predictions on the need for sheep and consumption of meat in Istanbul. The fundamental element that determined the sheep need was the population of the city and the number of those eligible for free meat within this population. When both of these groups grew in number, the demand for meat and other foodstuff grew as well. It is known that both the population of the capital and the number of those with meat allowance increased over time. Therefore, the demand for sheep in the 19th century is assumed to be higher than those in the previous periods. The healthiest predictions on the level of the meat need in the city belong to the nineteenth century. According to the calculations conducted by the authorities within the third quarter of the century, the annual demand for sheep (including sacrificial lambs) in Istanbul was 850,000. This number included 300,000 sheep that were allocated by the government and 550,000 sheep that were needed by the people living in the capital9. Furthermore, it is obvious that the total level would be a bit higher if the amount of meat obtained from sheep and other animals slaughtered illegally (under no supervision) had been added.
The meat demand of the people in Istanbul was mainly met with sheep brought by traders. In the period when the tithe of sheep led to the intensification of state purchases, the number of sheep brought to the city by private traders decreased. In the middle of the 19th century, the percentage of state purchases dropped again, and they were limited to the meeting of the demand of those with meat allowance. As previously mentioned, the state received all taxes related to the sheep completely in cash after a while, and it provided free meat to its dependents by making purchases in the market. As Rumelia continued to meet most of the meat demand in Istanbul, there was an increase in the number of sheep brought from Anatolia.
A negligible number of lambs were sent to the city as part of meat provisions in Istanbul. Every year, the arrival of lambs would take place on May 6 (rûz-ı Hızır or Hıdırellez) and continue till the end of June. In the middle of the 18th century, the traders who were called ‘Balkancı’ and who mostly dealt with ewes, would buy nearly 30,000 ewes from Rumelia and bring them to the city10. Balkancıs generally accommodated the ewes in winter quarters near Üsküdar and, after they gave birth, their lambs were also put on sale. In the nineteenth century, the number of lambs brought to the city was almost 20,000. These lambs were provided from the kaza districts (Büyükçekmece, Küçükcekmece, Catalca and Terkos) and farms near Istanbul. A described for the sheep, lambs were also distributed to butcher shops and slaughtered in private slaughter-houses for selling.11. When it was impossible to take the herds to summer pastures in time because of long winters, lambs did not grow fat so that the authorities were unable to find any at the the current official fixed price. On such occasions, the sheep owners were allowed to bring their lambs near Yedikule on the day prior to Hıdırellez and sell them alive in Istanbul, Eyüp, Galata, and Üsküdar (Bilad-ı Selase or the Three Towns) for four days during the Feast of Sacrifice. Furthermore, those who could not afford to buy a whole lamb were allowed to buy chopped lamb from the vendors around the mosques during this time period at the established standards for slaughtering and official pricing. This liberty of selling and slaughtering essentially aimed to increase the lamb supply and decrease the prices.12 The state regularly put in charge an inspector to ensure that the lambs destined for Istanbul would not be concealed, nor sold to scalpers and profiteers. They made make sure that lamps were not sent to other locations different from Istanbul with the help of local officials.
Lambs to be distributed as meat allowance were bought by the official ‘counters.’ The primary localities for lamb purchases were Silivri, Ereğli, Tekirdağ, Burgaz, Hayrabolu, Cisriergene, Malkara, Dimetoka, İpsala, Ferecik, Evreşe, and Gelibolu. In addition, in case of excessive demand, Dobrice and its surroundings were also brought under the system. As in the case of sheep, there was also continuous competition for the purchase of lambs between the ‘counters’ and profiteers. The state banned those who did not carry the relevant imperial order from buying lamb in order to limit the operations of the profiteers. The lamb allowance allocated by the government was limited to only a few people in the palace.
Supplying Other Staple Goods
Apart from grains and meat, provisioning of the city required several commodities to be brought in on a continuous basis. For the supply of these commodities, which were related to food, fuel, and clothing, different practices came in use depending on the intensity of demand. Among these commodities, edible fat was one of the most important components. Its types were clarified butter, tallow, and çerviş fat (type of suet inferior to clarified butter in quality). Authorities usually preferred to obtain these together from the same location by the same method. The provinces of Rumelia, Eflak, and Moldavia were important locations regarding the supply of fat and wax besides sheep.13 Wax to be used in the palace kitchen would be supplied from the kazas of Hemşin and Silistre.14 Fat of the sheep slaughtered in butcher shops in Istanbul was given to candle manufacturers. Sheep-skins constituted a raw material for tanners (debbağs). The shopkeepers often had issues with finding raw materials such as skin and candles, etc., and hence it was forbidden to export these materials.15
Thousands of tons of clarified butter from Walachia were transferred to Istanbul via the port of Varna. Caffa was one of the locations sending animal fat to Istanbul. A special group of merchants with a guild-like structure known as kapan tüccarı (kapan merchants) had the sole right of buying fat from Moldavia towards the nineteenth century. They also purchased animal fat from Şumnu. In addition to Unkapanı (flour market) there were also separate markets for animal fat (yağ kapanı) and honey (bal kapanı). While Unkapanı merchants engaged in trading in cereals, merchants engaged in honey and fat also underwent specialization. Fat market was in Galata whereas the honey market was in the traditional city. The arrival of clarified butter to Istanbul took place during the months of August and September; and the rest of the fat arrived to the city after September.16 Starting from the second half of the nineteenth century, military demand for clarified butter was met by the merchants on a contractual basis. These contracts indicated the locations for purchasing animal fat. If these contracts remained unfulfilled, the authorities bought from markets in Istanbul by low-quality fat to deliver to the army. The state developed incentives to promote merchants and manufacturers in Anatolia and Rumelia to meet the public demand for clarified butter. These incentives were based on offering fair prices for clarified butter in the market. This approach was effective for the procurement of other foodstuff in the period under question. After the Tanzimat period, as a general principle, the government made several arrangements and employed special civil servants occasionally to meet the demand for staple food in the army. As for the demand of the people in Istanbul, giving incentives and eliminating various obstacles were thought to be sufficient, which proved the government was more interventionist regarding the demand of its soldiers.
Rumelia and especially the Black Sea region were the main areas to procure tallow. After having arrived in Varna overland, tallow and çerviş fat brought from Silistre were transferred to Istanbul by sea. In addition, tallow was also obtained from slaughtered animals in Istanbul and regularly distributed to certain shops by the chief butcher. Tallow, which was also demanded by the Imperial Cannon Foundry and the navy, was sent from Walachia. In Istanbul, it was used by candle makers, while chervish fat was sold to grocery stores and to the public. Apparently, leather bags were preferred to keep these two types of fat in the transportation process.
Olives and olive oil were two important consumer products that people needed. Olive oil was used for different purposes. Apart from its use as a food item, it was used in lighthouses as a fuel as well as in galleys, for harnessing equipment, and for cleaning rifles and swords. The oil was also an important input for the process of soap making; therefore, the supply of olive oil was handles together with the procurement of soap. The main locations to procure olive oil were the areas surrounding the Aegean coastlines, such as Lesvos Island, Ayvalık, Edremit and Kemeredremid, and the valleys near Athens.17 Soap factories were established in Izmir, Girit, Eğriboz (Euboia), and Ayvalık to specifically meet the demand in Istanbul. They received olive oil from the surrounding areas.18
A series of foodstuff were important for the provisioning of Istanbul. Rice was brought from Egypt and cultivated in various districts, such as Filibe and Tatarpazarı, and in state-owned rice fields. In later periods, Pazarcık and Beypazarı also became rice-providing localities. Egypt was also significant for the supplying Istanbul with lentils, sugar, and coffee. By necessity the districts that received these foodstuff were sometimes required to send them to Istanbul.19 The hardtack biscuit was rather the staple of the navy; Tekirdağ, Gelibolu, and Çanakkale baked biscuits for the navy while Istanbul received its biscuit from districts such as Bursa, Izmir, Ahyolu, Tekirdağ and so forth,.20 Chick peas were provided from Western Anatolian districts such as Bandırma, Tavşanlı, Sandıklı, Edremit, Uşak, and Afyon.21 Sesame seeds were obtained from Kuşadası, and onions were sent from Kocaeli and its vicinity. Kocaeli, Adapazarı and the surrounding reigons were also important locations as a supplier of chickens and eggs. The area between Silivri and Tekirdağ was a significant center for the procurement of this type of consumer product.22 This was also true for the surrounding areas of the Anatolian side of Istanbul.
Large quantities of tulum cheeses (made of goat’s milk in skinbag) wheels (tekerlek) of cheese were sent to Istanbul from the ports of Walachia, Rumelia, and the Black Sea. Izmit was a major supplier of cheese. Selanik, Gelibolu, and Mora were among the areas sending cheese to Istanbul. Bulky and relatively cheap items such as fresh fruits, olives, molasses, and pickles were brought from the plains and valleys around the Sea of Marmara, which led gardening activities to flourish in these areas. Fruit and vegetable products, which were grown by people in the areas extending out to Gebze and Hereke from Maltepe, Pendik, and Kartal, were sold at markets in Istanbul. Fruits were carried by ships to seaports and sold to people and stallholders. Out-of-season fruits and vegetables grown in Bayındır were sent to Istanbul through the port of Izmir.23
Salt was a staple good for the masses. Apart from honey and beeswax, a certain amount of salt was sent to Istanbul from Walachia every year. Honey was also sent to Istanbul from the districts in the Danubian basin (Tirnova, Zistovi, Rusçuk, Pravadi, Osmanpazarı, Hezargrad, and Silistre).24 Grapes were sent to Istanbul from Izmit, Mudanya, and Gemlik and the surrounding areas. These goods were illegally purchased by non-Muslim merchants along the Bosphorus and used in the production of vinegar, şıra (grape must), and wine. The authorities relentlessly fought to stop these activities in order to prevent the tax loss and shortage of grapes in the city. For the Ottoman court, a set amount of grapes, apricots, pistachio, and olives were brought from Damascus every year. Dried grapes and figs were provided from Western Anatolia as well. Hazelnuts were transported from around the Trabzon and Giresun, and chestnuts were brought from Bursa. Sakız (Chios) and Istankoy (Kos) islands were the citrus groves of Istanbul. From these places, produce including lemon juice, bitter orange, and citrons, were regularly sent to the palace.25
To meet the demand for fuel in Istanbul, wood and coal were needed, especially in winters. As a heavy and bulky good, wood was brought from places near Istanbul. Wood brought to Istanbul by the sailors would be sold at the officially fixed price. However, rich merchants bought wholesale wood in lower prices and sold it to shopkeepers or other clients at higher prices. Several orders were issues against these activities, and there were efforts to create control mechanisms. To transport wood, boats were constructed in the Shipyard (Tersane) and other appropriate places. Wood was regularly ordered from the kaza districts in Thrace such as Tekirdağ, Edirne, Silivri, Çorlu, and Catalca as well as Kocaeli, Adapazarı, and the vicinity. Apart from the cities along the Rumelian coasts of the Black Sea, towns of Amasya, Bartın, Sinop, etc., wood was sent from the ports of the Middle and Eastern Black Sea regions to Istanbul. In addition, wood was regularly cut in highlands near Yalova and sent to Istanbul by sea. Mules and horses were used to transport wood to ports. The process of cutting wood was mostly conducted between May and November, and the goal was to complete all wood collection for the demand before winter.26 In the nineteenth century, civil servants assigned by the War Department (Seraskerlik) met the demand of military units for wood and charcoal by having them transported to the city. Those who traded in wood and coal to meet the demand of the people in Istanbul were offered several incentives, and several attempts were made to remove any obstacle they faced in relation to the issues of cutting, transporting, etc.
The demand for timber in Istanbul would reach high levels. Places for transporting timber were the same as those providing wood. Timber was procured from various districts in the Black Sea region as well as the forestlands in Pomorie (Ahyolu) and Silivri in order to meet primarily the construction demand. The authorities decided in advance the regions to obtain wood in specified features and measurements. In case of a state of emergency such as an earthquake or fire, the demand for timber would increase and additional measures would be taken. The demand for timber concerning institutions such as the Naval Arsenal and the Cannon Foundry as well as official buildings to be constructed, had to be met as well. With this purpose, timber was bought from districts in the Marmara basin including Izmit, Sakarya, Gemlik, and Gönen as well as different localities in the Black Sea province. If required, it was brought from other places. It was observed that people in some of the nahiye villages (sub-kaza districts) near Istanbul provided a certain amount of wood and timber, etc. in exchange for an exemption from extraordinary taxes. In Izmit, it was understood that there was a group of reaya working for the timber demand in Istanbul.27
The demand for charcoal in Istanbul was also met along with the supply of wood in similar places. Since charcoal was generally prepared by burning wood, the supply of wood and that of charcoal went together. Additionally, it was forbidden to cut wood in the sites where coal was manufactured and to burn coal in sites where wood was transported. The demand for coal was partially met by having it prepared with wood which people in the kazas such as Hasköy, Filibe, Tatarpazarı, etc. cut in the Istranca Mountains in the springtime. Istanbul was surrounded by mountain forests that had a relative advantage in supplying Istanbul with charcoal. Therefore it was possible to meet the demand for charcoal with systematic woodcutting in these areas. The charcoal burners selected from among the Rumelian reaya subjects were employed in these forests in return for wage. Generally used for heating purposes, the, charcoal was a daily necessity for bakeries and bathhouses (hamams) in Istanbul. Coal was also needed in the Mint (Darphane), iron foundries (demirhane), and the Cannon Foundry in the capital. For casting cannons, coal made from pinewood was brought from Izmit and its surroundings, while charcoal made of heath and shrub (funda kömürü) was provided from Kapıdağı, Bandırma, Gemlik, and surrounding areas to meet the demand of institutions such as the Naval Arsenal, the Mint and so forth. After being prepared and stocked in locations near Istanbul such as Şile, Silivri, and Yalova, coal was transported to Istanbul by sea on demand. Similarly to other goods, there was an ongoing fight against profiteers to protect the charcoal supplies.28
The water supply in Istanbul was taken care for after the conquest by fixing and improving the existing system. As the city developed, new waterways and aqueducts were built, forming the main water system of Istanbul. New underground canals were continuously built in the following periods. The Ottomans firstly determined a water resource, secondly built a water intake near the source, and finally constructed water pipelines that were covered with rubble stones on the top to provide the water flow. Along the water pipeline, several water separators were built to provide water to the required locations. One of the most important water network was the Halkalı water network, which was composed of 16 underground canals, originating from the region between Halkalı and Cebeciköy. Built during the reign of Suleyman I, the Kırkçesme water system filled an important gap regarding the water demand in the city. As part of this system, aqueducts and dams were constructed. In Taksim, there were underground canals, aqueducts, dams, and storage tanks to provide water in response to the water demand. Suleymaniye and Hamidiye water networks were among the sources that provided water for the city. The canals and dams built at the springs had to be fixed, maintained, cleaned, and renewed on a regular basis.29 No vineyards and houses were allowed within a certain distance to water canals. On the other hand, it was common to dig wells in any region of the city or any area if there was a problem with the water demand.
Apart from the mentioned items, various raw materials would be brought to Istanbul for textile fabrics. Several measures were taken to send Istanbul different materials such as woolen cloth woven in Ankara, fleece of sheep shorn in the kazas of the Marmara basin, processed leather, buff (meşin) and cowhide leather (kösele) from various towns in Anatolia, silk obtained from Bilecik, Amasya and surroundings. The procurement of these raw materials was of importance for the continuity of shopkeepers’ activities and price stability. As a principle, it was forbidden to sell any goods to anyone, including locals and foreigners, when there was a difficulty in providing these raw materials, and if the demand in Istanbul failed to be met.
CONCLUSION and Assessment
Throughout history, institutional and administrative regulations were required to meet the needs of densely populated centers, although provisioning of cities was basically an economic problem. Phenomena such as underdeveloped agricultural technology, insufficient transportation facilities, and excessive agricultural dependence on weather conditions would lead to a provisioning crisis at any moment, especially in bigger centers like Istanbul. This was also a risk for all European cities prior to the Industrial Revolution. As for the Ottoman Empire, since there were few centers as big as Istanbul, very detailed provisioning regulations were generally limited to this city.
It is possible to state that governments followed two different provisioning policies for metropolises; (i) supportive and (ii) interventionist and restrictive policies regarding the markets. The very same fact was applicable to the Ottoman Empire as well. According to the conditions of different periods, the empire used both of the systems. Even though the Ottomans maintained the practice of setting prices for basic goods based on officially fixed prices, they were content with taking stimulus measures, monitoring the process, and sustaining the flow of staple goods to the city with private capital. However, due to the loss of authority and territory, as mentioned before, especially in the late eighteenth century, the government grew interventionist in the provisioning of Istanbul through direct state purchasing of goods with high consumption level; this limited the opportunities for the private sector.
Ottomans handled the single task of provisioning of the capital on two levels. The first one was supplying foodstuff to the palace, the army, and bureaucracy. Here, the state went to more decisive interventions and monitoring so that the process acquired a relatively extensive administrative mechanism over time. This group made up of one-tenth of the city population had consumed some basic goods, particularly bread and meat on a regular basis thanks to a tayinat mechanism (free allocations of meat and bread) run by the state for many years. It was clear that the mechanism that was built by the state for its dependents also helped procuring provisions to the subjects living in the capital. On a second level, the state did not shy away from monitoring or intervening in the process of provisioning of the Istanbul public. It applied administrative instruments for this purpose, though generally leaving to entrepreneurs to bring in supplies from provinces or enabling the private capital to play a larger role in the provisioning of the city.
In the late eighteenth century, the state started to intensify its interventions and direct regulations. It is known that, a similar process was experienced once the state lost power as was the case in the Roman Empire. In other words, as states lost their power and authority, they had to intervene in the social and economic lives of the population. The Ottomans seem to have had the same problem; especially the harder to obtain goods from the Black Sea basin due to territorial losses the more interventionist the state grew. One should note that state interventions and controls (primarily concerning the fixation of the predetermined prices) in economy caused many developments that endangered the provisioning system –a general principle which is usually glossed over. This was because keeping the officially fixed price low to protect the consumers encouraged smuggling and transferring of goods and foodstuff to other markets by merchants. The consequences of price ceilings were responsible to a great extent for ‘ scalpers and profiteers’ to organize a large smuggling network in the surrounding areas of Istanbul and to buy goods brought to the capital only to re-sell them secretly at higher prices. Despite having prevented severe shortages, price restrictions and similar restrictions were put into force to lighten the burden of provisioning problems. In actuality, this created a vicious cycle and became a major reason for the setbacks experienced in supplying staple goods. In other words, the purchases made by the state at a lower price than market prices, and the obligation for merchants to abide by ceiling prices in the Istanbul market resulted in smuggling and increased the provisioning problems. At the same time, this policy sapped the motivation of peasants to utilize marginal lands or resources thereby, preventing any expansion in agrarian economy and supply. Thus, there was an upward trend in prices. The same process prompted merchants to black market trade and smuggling which was a big hindrance for the development of free trade and competition. The Ottoman Empire strained to employ provisioning policies with a pragmatic approach based on limited intervention and check mechanisms that favored different social strata. The government made an effort to use its sanction power in a way that supported the welfare of its citizens, and undertook important functions regarding the provisioning. The capital city of Istanbul as well as the institutions such as waqf, imaret, and menzilhane supported this system. However, interventions in the provisioning process inevitably had an alternative cost, incurring losses for the producers and merchants.
The demand for basic goods in Istanbul, whose population had reached half of a million after the conquest of Constantinople, could be met thanks to a provisioning system based on constant and comprehensive regulations without any chronic shortage. On one hand, these policies resulted in creating more opportunities regarding consumption, primarily for bureaucrats and secondly for soldiers compared to other residents of Istanbul. On the other hand, they protected the poorest people in the Ottoman capital against severe famines and shortages. From this perspective, the provisioning policies can be considered to have been successful. From an overall perspective, even though an ordinary subject of Istanbul could not attain ideal levels of consumption due to the provisioning system, they did better than other subjects living in the provinces. However, the provisioning regulations brought about income inequalities between the inhabitants of Istanbul and the provincial subjects. In addition, the fact that the state bought staple goods and foodstuff at prices lower than market rates amounted to a form of taxation and the income distribution worsened at the expense of producers. Moreover, the price controls carried out as part of the provisioning reduced the motivation for producing. These facts constituted the negative aspects of the provisioning policies. After the Tanzimat period, having realized the problems created by the provisioning policies, the state gradually removed price controls and gave a larger room to the actors in the market in supplying the staple goods. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Ottoman bureaucrats began to emphasize clearly that each producer and merchant should have the opportunity to market his products at a price of his choice. By so doing, they assumed that markets of Istanbul would have an abundance of goods with lower prices and that illicit trade would be eliminated.30 This argument obviously suggested a dramatic shift in mentality regarding the provisioning of Istanbul.
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15 BOA, C.İKTS, no. 1064 (1216/1801-2).
16 BOA, HH, no. 4999 (1218/1803-4); BOA, C.BL, no. 4005 (1195/1780-1).
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26 BOA, HH, no. 5003 (1220/1805-6); BOA, C.BL, no. 243 (1173/1759-60); no. 284 (1179/1765-6); no. 1589 (1146/1733-4); no. 1953 (1165/1751-2).
27 BOA, C.BL, no. 4938 (1218/1803-4); no. 6077 (1175/1761-2); no. 5852 (1198/1783-4); BOA, C.AS, no. 16164 (1223/1808-9); no. 23845 (1223/1808-9); BOA, C.ML, no. 25528 (1119/1707-8); no. 28568 (1117/1705-6).
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