Family Zénehat, Undated Letter Book Entry from the Year 1660

It is 1660 and I am continuing my family’s tradition of keeping a record of how things are currently in Constantinople. My family still lives in Constantinople, the heart of the Ottoman Empire. Constantinople is a place that is teeming with activity and thus it is teeming with slaves. Also, there were many slaves in service to the Sultan since Constantinople is the home of the Sultan. Some of the slaves that are here are taken for the devşirme. This is known among Christian as the blood tax in which young Christian boys from areas such as the Balkans and Anatolia have been taken from their homes and families. They are then converted to Islam and forced to become Janissaries.[1] The Christians from the west, however, do not fare as well. They are often put onto galleys and then forced to row the galleys around the Mediterranean.[2] My family, however, only owns a few slaves. We keep them to assist in my tailoring business. I was able to procure slaves from the bedestan that had some tailoring experience. I was lucky to receive them since most captured slaves lie about their abilities. We treat them fairly and do not scorn them for being Christians. We, as Sufis, are tolerant of all religions. The slaves arriving in Constantinople are fearful, for it said that once a slave arrives in Constantinople, their chances of escaping the life of slavery are lessened. I have heard other such stories from a Venetian friend of mine who was captured and held as a slave for some time. Even with the Venetian power waning here in Constantinople, I still remain friends with many Venetians, though. My friend was captured while at sea and was forced to work on the galleys. He, however, was lucky enough to be ransomed by the city of Venice. Venice had followed in the Vatican’s steps and had been helping ransom individuals since 1586.[3] My friend was captured, but did not turn renegade because he was able to keep his faith through going to the chapel in the bagno.


[1] Eric R. Dursteler, Venetians in Constantinople: Nation, Identity, and Coexistence in the Early Modern Mediterranean ( Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2006), 72.

[2] Robert C. Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Master: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, The Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 73-82.

[3] Robert C. Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Master: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, The Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 150.

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