Ancient history


Last updated:2022-07-25

The Janissaries (in Turkish “Yeni Çeri”, literally “new militia”) were, at the height of the Ottoman Empire, the elite of the infantry.

The creation of this Janissary army corps responds to the ambiguities concerning the application of Sharia and the realities of the Ottoman conquest initiated under Orhan. If the Sharia prohibits the enslavement of Muslim children and men, Christian slaves, captured very young, trained and Islamized circumvent the dogmatic problem. Moreover, the Ottoman army, heir to Turkish-Mongolian military traditions, had no infantry, so the Janissaries formed the backbone of the army and proved their value, notably at the battle of Nicopolis in 1396 against the Hungarian crusade.

Created in 1334 by Orhan, the second Ottoman sultan, the corps of janissaries was exclusively made up of Christian children, either prisoners of war or recruited from the tribes at the rate of one in five sons. This practice was called devchirmé ("picking" in Turkish). Janissaries could therefore come from Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian, Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Albanian, Hungarian, Armenian or Georgian Christian families.

The empire thus killed four birds with one stone:

* strengthen his army;
* weaken his potentially rebellious Christian subjects;
* avoid recruiting from the heart of his Muslim population;
* convert these soldiers to Islam, and thus try to accelerate the total conversion of the population. The only example of real success are the Albanians, Catholics and Orthodox before the Ottoman conquest and today 75% Muslim. A counter-example is Vlad III the Impaler Dracula who massacred thousands of Turks to, it is said, avenge his time in this militia.

The Janissaries quickly acquired a role of “praetorian guard”, with the related political implications (especially in succession crises). They became a power within the court of the sultan, and the reforms decided by the sultan never affected their privileges. When Sultan Selim III wanted to suppress them, he was assassinated. Sultan Mahmud II's desire to modernize his army led to a rebellion by the Janissaries. The sultan had them executed (1826) and their institution was dissolved. Janissaries were feared by Western armies because they wielded both muskets and sabers.

The Janissaries were present in Algeria where, through marriage with indigenous women, they gave birth to the community of Kouloughlis (from the Turkish Köl oǧul:son of a slave).

Their symbolism and their grades were associated with cooking; officers carried a ladle in their headdress, the sacred soup tureen was revered (infidels touching it were executed for sacrilege, spilling it being a sign of revolt), and the sultan was called "foster father". The Janissary banner was surmounted by a golden hand holding a copy of the Quran written by a historical figure.

As their power continued to grow, the sultan set fire to their school in 1826 and massacred them all. The most amazing thing is that they never had the idea of ​​revolting against their kidnappers, instead of massacring their own villages themselves.

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