The Janissaries and the Millet System:
Keystones of the Ottoman Empire
Atlantic Communities I
The Ottoman Empire was a Muslim state spanning from Austria to the Persian Gulf, from Russia to Egypt. It was formed at the end of the thirteenth century by Osman I, expanded through the conquest of the Byzantine Empire, and lasted for over 600 years. It was dissolved after it lost (along with Germany and Austria-Hungary) to the western allies in the First World War. To deal with such a large area over such a long period of time, it needed a strong military and a system to keep social order. The Janissaries strengthened the military and the Millet System helped to organize Ottoman society and both were vital to the rise and support of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Janissaries were a new form of military order organized under the Ottoman Sultan Murat I (1360-1389), and forming the first standing (professional) army. At first, the Janissaries were young Christians captured during wars with the Byzantine Empire and trained to fight (there was not anything new about this practice). “It is probable that the Christian captives formed the nucleus of a standing army; they may also have been the original company that was to grow into a new army; the yenceri or janissary corps. Their commanders were chosen from the Ottoman bey, thus giving him the benefit of his prestige, so that by the reign of Murat I in the mid- to late-fourteenth century the detachment had its own identity.” The Janissaries were converted to Islam and given special training. Later, the Janissaries were collected through the devsirme system, a kind of tax. Janissaries became a very powerful force within the Othman Empire; they sometimes deposed Sultans and installed others. In April, 1512, with the help of the Janissaries, Selim I forced his father Byezid II to abdicate the throne and became Sultan. The Janissaries played a role in the upper and ruling classes of the government. They were appointed to protect on of the upper class people. They helped them by guarding them as personal body guards, and on multiple occasions, saved their principles lives. The Janissaries could also get into positions of jobs in palaces. They were the runners for the rich. The Janissaries could become guards and groundskeepers. In the capitals of the towns and cities they took over, the Janissaries would keep order in the castles, and guard the chambers at night. On a few occasions, they stopped a murder while on their rounds. The intensive military training made the Janissaries one of the strongest corps of their time. Under Murad II they began to use guns, instead of Bows and Crossbows. They were the third to do that in Europe. “These elite troops could fire their weapons in a kneeling or standing position without the need for any additional support or rest.” They would use a structured formation to assault: two rows of nine gunmen. This ended up being a very successful method of fighting, and is one of the reasons that they were such good shots.“The Janissaries were accurate to the inch [when shooting], and were very lethal, each shot finding its mark” “The Janissaries would be aggressive and efficient fighters, on the ground, and horseback” The Battle of Varna, fought among the Ottomon Empire, Hungary, and Poland, took place on November 10, 1444. The king of Poland tried to rush the Ottomans, and overrun the Janissaries and take the Sultan prisoner. The Janissary body guards killed the king, and the Ottomans won the battle. The left flank, a total of 5,000 men in five banners (or battalions), was led by Michael Szilágyi, and was made up of Hunyadi's Transylvanians, Bulgarians, German mercenaries and banners of Hungarian magnates. Behind the Hungarians, closer to the Black Sea and the lake, was the Wagenburg, defended by 300 to 600 Czech and Ruthenian mercenaries under hetman Ceyka, along with Poles, Lithuanians and...
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