Monday, July 18, 2016

Disarmed, Naked and Horseless in the Steppe.

Hungarian Noblewomen, Polish Rider, Turkish Slave (17th c wood cut)
In 1538 sultan Süleymân annexed the Black Sea litoral fortress of Cânkermân/Özü and laid claim to all the lands between the Dniester and Dnieper Rivers deep into the Pontic Steppe. This caused immediate tension with the king of Poland-Lithuania, Zygmunt I, who also claimed ownership of those lands. After a failed attempt to demarcate a common border in 1542, further negotiations devolved into a mediation of unchecked violence in the new Ottoman/Polish-Lithuanian frontier zone. While the Ottoman sultan continued to support and profit from the enormous Black Sea slave trade, which saw the disappearance or death of some 2,000,000 individuals in Poland-Lithuania and Muscovy between 1500-1700, Zygmunt I’s frontier commanders immediately set about staging their own raids on Ottoman settlements in the frontier.[1]
Theft and its sister crime of abduction were the root causes of most acts of frontier violence. One common occurrence involved raiders from the Polish-Lithuanian side making their way into the disputed frontier zone of the Pontic Steppe and attempting to catch Ottoman travelers unawares as they journeyed between the Ottoman Black Sea ports of Akkermân, Câkermân and Caffa, making off with goods, captives, and livestock. In this instance, on 12-20th April 1547 [21-29 Safer 954 H.], Süleymân sent a letter to Zygmunt I complaining of an attack on his subjects as they traveled from Akkermân to Caffa. The victims were attacked by the Polish-Lithuanian border commander Bernard Pretwicz at a place called “sihâkli” [صحاقلک].[2]A damage register compiled by Yüsuf bin İlyas, the kadi of Akkermân, was sent along with the sultan’s letter.
Bernard Pretwicz
The letter followed the typical practice of paraphrasing the contents of the register. However, there were discrepancies between the information contained within the sultan’s letter and the enclosed damage register. While the padişah condescended to mention specifically items such as the copper pot [bakr] stolen from one İsmail bin Hacı Satılmış, three victims present in the register were not even mentioned by Süleymân. The sultan may have chosen to focus on the more important individuals who were named specifically and declined to mention the unnamed akinci (irregular infantryman) or the other travelers mentioned in the register.
The register, in fact, describes the losses suffered by different individuals during what appears to have been three separate incidents.[3] These incidents were accorded their own entries. Thus, “(An individual by the) name of Sabânci Ahmed, a pious laborer, was on the road with his goods along with his brother and his brother’s wife, six horses, and other goods, (when he was fallen upon) and robbed.” Likewise, “Mustafa of Bursa was taken prisoner along with two slaves.” Greater detail was also furnished in both the damage register and the sultan’s accompanying letter in a related case concerning a group of seven heavily armed merchants accompanied by an akinci, all of whom were assaulted, the sultan claimed, by the notorious Polish-Lithuanian frontier commander Bernard Pretwicz, the “terror tartarorum”.

Damages claimed by the Ottoman travelers:

Hüseyin bin Boyacı Hacı
Slave boys: 3
Slave girls: 2
Furs: 2
Cloth: 1
Turban: 1
Horse tack: 1
Quiver with bow and arrows: 1
Saddle: 1
Horses: 2

Slave Girl: 2
Horse: 1
Saddle and tack: 1
Sword: 1
Fur covering: 1
Akçe: 180

Akçe: 3,000
Other loot: 1,000 akçe
Red scarlet cloth jacket [dolama]: 1
Turban: 1
Sword: 1
Shirt: 1
Cape [kepenek]: 1
Silver chased sheath with a knife: 1
Horse: 1
Saddle: 1

Embroidered brocade kaftans: 3
Scarlet red cape [çüka]: 1
Arabian horse: 1
Saddle: 1
Turban: 1
Sword: 1
Damascus stone: 1
Cape [yapınc]: 1

Ismail bin Hacı Satılmış
Circassian slave boy: 1
Circassian slave girl: 1
Cloth worth 100 akçe
Akçe 1060

Saddle: 1
Lathering Musk: 1
Tobacco: 3
Fur: 1
Felt caps: 15
Cape [yapınc]: 1
Copper pot: 1

Slave boy: 1
Slave girl: 2
Horse: 1
Saddle and tack: 1
Quiver with bow and arrows: 1
Sword: 1
Blue cloak: 1
Akçe: 400

El-Hac Isa
Akçe: 8,500
Silk lodre: 4
Bursa sashes: 8
Bunches of knives: 12
Foreign furs: 1
Cloak [ferace]: 1
Cotton twill borlu: 6
Cloth rolls: 10
Bow with arrows: 1
Knife: 1

Emîr Yüsuf
Akçe: 10,000
Arabian horse: 2
Moldavian horse: 1
Cloak [ferace] with fur mantle: 1
Cloak [şemle]: 1
Horse tack: 1
Arabian saddle: 1

Seals attached to damage register.
The Ottoman damage register describing this incident provides a unique account of what Ottoman subjects chose to take with them on the dangerous paths of the Pontic Steppe during the middle of the sixteenth century. The travelers were evidently robbed of whatever valuables they carried, including eleven slaves in total and in some cases the horses that they were riding at the moment of the attack. Most of the victims appear to have been carrying some items for trade; slave children [esîr gulâm, esîr cariye], felt caps [arakiye], tobacco [tönbeki], furs [kürk], lathering musk [misk köbük], various textiles, quantities of knives [bıçak deste], sashes from Bursa [Bursa kuşağı], and cash were all listed as losses. Furthermore, the victims appear to have been well armed, and reported swords, knives, and bows as lost items. Arabian and Moldavian horses were taken, along with saddles [eyer], tack [oyân], turbans [dulbend], and a variety of outerwear [şemle, ferace, çüka, kaftān, gömlek, kepenek, dolama] that may been on the victims when they were robbed. The seven merchants and their accompanying akıncı were not taken captive and appear to have been left naked and horseless in the steppe.
While the travelers do not appear to have been immediately compensated for their losses, Süleymân eventually brought a powerful case against the Polish-Lithuanian frontier commander Bernard Pretwicz in 1550 accusing him of orchestrating years of violence against Ottoman subjects in the frontier. Pretwicz appeared in person before the Polish parliament and king Zygmunt II August that year in order to speak in defense of his actions. He blamed the Crimean Tatars and direct Ottoman subjects of the frontier for launching slave raids in the king’s lands and robbing and rustling from Polish-Lithuanian subjects in the frontier. This particular band of Ottoman subjects was not mentioned specifically in the litany of violence that Pretwicz was pleased to claim responsibility for in the defense of the realm. It is easy to see, however, how this small group of armed Ottoman subjects accompanied by their slaves traveling through the frontier was set upon by Pretwicz as he enthusiastically combed the steppe for groups that fit this description.

Select Bibliography:

Dziubiński, Andrzej. “Polsko-Litewskie napady na Tureckie Pogranicze Czarnomorskie w Epoce Dwu Ostatnich Jagiellonów”, Kwartalnik Historyczny, 1996, 3, p. 53-86.

Veinstein, Gilles. 1986. “L’occupation ottomane d’Oč akov et le problème de la frontière lithuano-tatare (1538-1542)”, in: Lemercier-Quelquejay, Veinstein, Wimbusch [eds.], Passé turco-tatar present soviétique: etudes offertes à Alexandre Bennigsen. (Paris: Editions de l’Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales), p. 221-237.

Veinstein, Gilles. “Prélude au Problème Cosaque: à travers les registres de dommages ottomans de années 1545-1555”, Cahiers du Monde Russe et Soviétique. 1989. Vol. 30, p. 329-361.

[1] This rather modest estimate was proposed in: Kołodziejczyk, Dariusz. "Slave hunting and slave redemption as a business enterprise: The northern Black Sea region in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries". Oriente Moderno. 86 (2006): 149.
[2] For the original Ottoman document see:
[3] For the original Ottoman document, see:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mutiny on the Kadırğa

Bitwa pod Cecorą (Battle of Cecora) - Witold Piwnicki

During the early modern period Poland-Lithuania and the Ottoman Empire shared a frontier that stretched over 1,000 kilometers through the Pontic Steppe and into the Carpathian Mountains, encompassing territories in modern Ukraine, Moldavia, Romania, and Slovakia. Within this deep frontier zone, the Crimean Khanate, vassals of the Ottoman Sultan, engaged in the Black Sea slave trade, which resulted in the disappearance of some 2,000,000 individuals between 1500-1700 from the north Caucasus, Muscovy, and Poland-Lithuania (Kołodzejczyk, 2006). Prisoners of war often supplemented this trade, which funneled an immense body of human chattel south to work on farms, in manufacturing, as house slaves, or as galley slaves. The fates of these individuals are all but unknown.

A swashbuckling tale of enslavement and escape accredited to a Polish nobleman named Marek Jakimowski was published in multiple European languages in the early 17th century. It serves as a quintessential example of the anti-Ottoman literature that circulated throughout Christendom during periods of conflict with the Padishah. In Poland-Lithuania, the continued popularity of the harrowing tale of nobleman-come-galley slave Marek Jakimowski for several centuries was emblematic of a society whose identity as the antemurale christianitatis (bulwark of Christendom) was tied closely to its shared frontier with the Ottoman Empire.

Marek Jakimowski, a szlachcic (nobleman/citizen) of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, who was born near the town of Bar in the province of Podolia, in present-day Ukraine. A participant in the 1620 battle of Cecora on the side of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, he was taken prisoner by Ottoman forces, and sold into slavery in Istanbul. His account explains that he was purchased was “Kassem Beg”, the Ottoman governor of Damietta and Rosetta and admiral of a fleet of galleys. Marek Jakimowski was assigned to Kassem Beg’s lead kadırğa (galley), where he was given a position that allowed him freedom of motion on board the craft.

Lepanto - Tommaso Dolabella
While anchored off the shore of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea, Jakimowski purportedly led a successful mutiny on the lead galley of the fleet. At an opportune moment when the bulk of the ship’s soldiers as well as its commander were on land, Jakimowski freed his fellow galley slaves with the help of two other Polish prisoners, Stefan Satanowski and Jan of Tulczyn. The freed slaves then killed or expelled the remaining Ottoman soldiers and commandeered the ship. Several accompanying Ottoman galleys from the same fleet gave chase, but the fugitives managed to lose them in a storm and sail successfully to Messina on the island of Sicily. From there they went to Palermo, where they left the captured galley in the possession of the Viceroy of Naples in exchange for two smaller vessels, which they took to Naples and on to Rome, where they arrived on February, 16th, 1621. Once there, Jakimowski and his companions left the Ottoman banners taken during their mutiny as votive offerings in several churches.

As the leader of the mutiny, Marek Jakimowski was given a special audience by the new Pope, Gregory XV, during which he made a personal gift of a banner he had taken, in return for which he was decorated with high honors. The former slaves were also received in Rome by Cardinals Cosima de Torresa and Francesco Barberini. While in Rome, Jakimowski married a certain Polish woman named Katarzyna, who he had allegedly freed from slavery and returned to Poland. Jakimowski and his wife made it successfully to Kraków on the 8th of May, 1628.

There is some debate as to when these events actually occurred; an account of Jakimowski’s adventure was printed in Rome, perhaps as early as 1623, under the title “La conquista della galera di Alessandria nel porto di Metelline, coll’oepra e gran coraggio del Capitano Marco Jakimowski Polacco”. Five years later, the tale was reprinted in Rome, Florence, and Kraków in Italian, German, and Polish. As no original copy of the 1623 publication has survived, it remains unclear whether the mutiny occurred in the year 1621, 1622, or 1627.

Regardless of whether or not Marek Jakimowski’s mutiny on Kassem Beg’s kadırğa actually occurred, the popularity of the tale is evidenced by its publication in Italian, German, and Polish- three of the major languages of the Ottoman/European frontier. The event was commemorated by the Venetian painter Tommaso Dolabella, active in the court of King Sigismund III Vasa (1566-1632) and his son, King Władysław IV Vasa (1595-1648), whose work depicted the marriage of Marek and Katarzyna. The dissemination of the tale and its enshrinement in Polish national consciousness continued into the 20th century.

In the course the complex evolution of Polish national consciousness, the tale of Marek Jakimowski served multiple purposes over the centuries. In more recent times, the “Turkish Threat” of the 17th century and the imagery and vocabulary of the antermurale christianitatis was redirected to the struggles of stateless Poles in the 19th century. In 1858, centuries after the events in question, and after the partition and dissolution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by its neighbors Prussia, Russia, and Austria, playwright and Polish nationalist Alexander Groza wrote a piece based the life of Marek Jakimowski. In the romantic nationalism of the 19th century, old conflicts and heroic figures were given new life through allegory. By this time, the usefulness of Jakimowski as a symbol of Poland’s role as the antemurale christianitatis vis-à-vis the Ottoman Empire had diminished. Instead, Groza portrayed him as a symbol of the defunct Polish nation’s struggle under the bondage and tyranny of the Tsar. Groza epitomized the bravery and sacrifice of Jakimowski, Satanowski, and Jan of Tulczyń, the enslaved veterans of Cecora, in the following manner:

And within the crowd [of captives] newly gathered
with whom should he meet? Jan of Tolczyń
and [a man] of Szatanów, two eagles,
his brothers – Podolians.
At Cecora, that unlucky venture,
they persevered courageously, persevered gloriously...
Oh! If only all [had been] like them,
the Turk would not have watered his horse in the Dniester,
nor would the bones of our knights rot
in the sands of so many riverbanks...

In Groza’s play, the battle of Cecora, where Jakimowski and his fellow Poles were captured, served as a stand-in for more recent Polish defeats at the hands of Russia during the Bar Confederation (1768-1772) and the November Uprising (1830-1831). Marek engages in hand-to-hand combat with “Mustafa Pasha”, though it is clear that Groza’s Turk is in fact the Russian Tsar. In this aspirational tale highlighting the historical sacrifice of Poland on the “altar of nations”, Groza’s “second David” (i.e. Marek Jakimowski), had returned to slay Goliath once again.

Here follows the account of Marek Jakimowski:

"The might of the Turkish state, as well as that of all of its members (clients) began once again to fall upon pious peoples and Christian life through the law of the Council of Trent, bringing in particular much suffering, and weakening the soldier of the sea, who is usually the foremost defense of every province. Through this, much succor was imparted to the heathen, who, in the past, ordinarily would have always taken into slavery young captured Christians.  Their galleys, which in the past [were] a terror [and] were full of Christian prisoners of every nation and ruled the entire sea, in these days are so weakened that, if not for the Tatars alone constantly invading the country[s] of Ruthenia and Muscovy, filling the Turkish armada with people, it is certain that the Turkish Monarchy, though it is so strong, would be without its arms upon the sea; Already [at present] on their galleys, prisoners are not commonly seen aside from the above mentioned nations, who [the Turks] purchase for money, rule over, beat and lacerate [at will] as their personal slaves.

In recent times, Kassymbek, a Turk from Alexandria, governor of Damiata and Rosseto, [who was] very wealthy in his properties, which are large in Egypt, and through various trade, which he undertook constantly in those countries with his brother Mehmed, having become for a period of four years the captain of four galleys, which guarded the port and navigation of Alexandria, filled his own foremost two-masted galley with two hundred Christian prisoners; among them were three Greeks, two Englishmen, an Italian and the rest were from either Ruthenian or Muscovites.

It came to be that the Lord God gave the [favorable] weather and occasion to a Christian to bring low that monstrous pagan, who everyone feared a great deal. This Kassymbek, remained for a while before [friendly] Turkish guns upon the [Black Sea] where the Dniester flows in for the building of a fortress at the orders of the [Turkish] Emperor  [to guard] against the invasion of Cossacks, a people who all Turks greatly fear. After the onset of winter, while returning home, [Kassymbek] took upon his galley in Constantinople Isuph Kadego with his wife and servants, who was a well-known judge from the Porte to Aleksandria. Traveling, then, along that route, they put in at the city of Metellino, which is located on the Aegean Sea; there they were provisioned with necessities at the beginning of the month of November. They put to sea many times, but they always had to return due to great storms and high seas. Aside from this galley there were three other galleys, which, on the last return [to port], remained apart from the lead galley; not far, about a third of a mile. At that point three galleys remained in the port known as Szeroki and in the port of Caramusciali; captain Kassymbek alone remained in the port called Stretto or Scisly. On the 12th of November he put to shore to refresh himself, having with him around seventy Turks, there being altogether one hundred and fifty soldiers, as well as officials, who he took with him, so that no more than eighty [Turkish soldiers] were left aboard.

Among the Christian prisoners on that galley was Marek Jakimowski of a family from Bar in the region of Podolia. Having trained since youth in the knightly arts, he was at the battle of Cecora, and having been captured there he fell into the hands of the enemy. Seeing at that time that the captain of the galley [had] put ashore with no small portion of the Turks, he placed himself in the care of the Lord and began to think of how he and the crew might free themselves. He therefore entrusted his plan to two others; Stefan Szatanowski and Jan Stolczyn both of whom, along with [Jakimowski], were prisoners, [but] were not fettered, and walked freely about the galley during the daytime in order to [perform] a variety of duties. These two, not trusting that they would be able to escape, doubted him greatly. He said, in brief, that in such brave counsel one must have more faith in God and in the strength of [ones] mighty hand for the protection of ones own health and honor, than in the use of reason and common ability.

Having declared that he [was] absolutely prepared and resolved to do what he could, and having neither arms nor armor, he took three rods from those which the cook used in the fire; and when the cook defended himself, Jakimowski hit him in the head so well that he immediately fell dead. And having given the other two [mutineers] rods, he leapt to the stern, where Turks normally keep numerous cannons; but a soldier, a Turkified Greek, barred his way with a raised saber. Marek, taking the rod from the fire began to struggle with him and, though he was already wounded on the left side of his head and shoulder, [Jakimowski] overcame the soldier and killed him. Entering then the stern of the galley he got weapons, of which there were many, and with great speed distributed them amongst the prisoners, his comrades, who already defended themselves and beat the enemy with whatever they could reach; rods, paddles, barrels, and cooking implements. Captain Marek made his way to the aft of the galley where [there was a certain] Mustafa, [a man] of Naples, who did not know what was happening, because the galley was covered. He only knew that there was some kind of activity amongst the prisoners, which was nothing new.

Seeing, however, that Marek was hurrying towards him with his comrade, he seized two sabers, wanting to defend himself; but the manly Marek, [already] bloody and wounded, struck Mustafa between the ribs, killed him, and dumped him into the sea. At that point the Turks gathered the ropes of the cover [stretching over the length of the vessel] in order to enshroud and entrap the prisoners; at Marek’s order, [the prisoners] rolled up the canvas covering, and already having weapons, fought gallantly with the Turks, killed one and cast the other into the sea. Next they severed the lines and anchors that held the galley near the shore and beat out to sea from the port, at which point thick gunfire erupted behind them from the defensive works of the city and from the port’s fortress, although without [incurring] any damage.

Captain Kassymbek ran to the shore and waded out up to his belt in the sea crying out and cursing, tearing as his beard until he calmed down and returned. But the victorious Christians beat out to the deep sea where they were chased by three other galleys. Beginning at eight o’clock in the evening that day up until the morning of the second day and a few hours after daylight, at which time there came, probably through the will of God, a great and awful storm with winds, rain and thunder until those [pursuing] galleys had to return to Metellina, failing to give [further] chase to the galley commandeered by the Christians."

Select Bibliography:

  1. Groza, Alexander. Marek Jakimowski, Duma Historyczna. (Wilno: Drukiem Józefa Zawadzkiego, 1858).
  2. Knoll, Paul W. 1974. “Poland as ‘Antemurale Christianitatis’ in the late middle ages,” The Catholic Historical Review 60, (1974): 381-401.
  3. Kolodziejczyk, Dariusz. 2006. "Slave hunting and slave redemption as a business enterprise: The northern Black Sea region in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries". Oriente Moderno. 86 (1):
  4. Ślaski, Bolesław. 1927. Opanowanie w roku 1627 przez Marka Jakimowskiego okrętu tureckiego. Poznań: Czcionkami Drukarni Sw. Wojciecha
  5. Zielinski, Stanisław. Maly Slownik; Pionierow Polskich Kolonjalnych i Morskich; Podroznicy, Odkrywcy, Zdobywcy, Badacze, Eksploratorzy, Emigranci-Pamietnikarze, Dzialacze i Pisarze Migracyjni. Warszawa: Liga Morska i Kolonjalna, 1933.