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:


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