Family Zénahat, 1718


I recently had entered into a business arrangement with one of my Venetian friends. My family has, for many years, remained friends with Venetians, even though they are supposed to be our enemy during this war. I had gone against my great-grandfather’s advice by joining this venture. My great-grandfather had entered into a similar business arrangement, but he then lost all the products he had acquired to the dreadful Knights of Malta. However, in the end I should have listened to him because the same thing happened to me. Neither my business partner nor I actually went on the trip, but instead sent someone in our stead. The saica had been traveling back to Constantinople from Alexandria when they made a stop at the Peloponnesus.[1] Then after leaving the Peloponnesus, while still in sight of the land, the ship was attacked by the Knights of Malta. These pirates took all of our merchandise and tortured some of the people aboard.[2] Once the pirates were able to ascertain that one of the owners, me, was a Muslim they then took everything. The sailors were all able to get to the Peloponnesus safely, but I still wanted justice. My partner and I had both decided to take this case to court. Specifically, we decided to take this case to the Tribunale degli Armamenti. Luckily, as soon as the sailors got to back to land, they gave witness statements. So now we need to figure out who we want to represent us in court. They will be biased against both my business partner, because he is Venetian, and they will be biased against me, because I am Muslim.[3] Another problem that we are encountering is the problem with whether or not the Peloponnesus was a Venetian holding. The case happened during the war and so they might claim that the lands and therefore the waters which we were sailing in were no longer Venetian.  However, we are trying to claim that our saica was within Venetian waters since the war was not yet over. With our witness documents and papers from various authorities, such as religious authorities, to help authenticate our claim. We need to do everything we can to try and prove we deserve to be compensated.

[1] Molly Greene, Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants: A Maritime History of the Mediterranean (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 131.

[2] Ibid., 1.

[3] Ibid., 11.

Familyv Zénahat, 1651


I recently came across one of my grandfather’s journals. He spoke of a lawsuit that he was a part of while trying to enter into a side venture outside of his tailoring. A Greek merchant and he were in a dispute with the Venetian authorities over some goods that were seized by the Knights of Malta. My grandfather had entered into a partnership with one of his nearby Grecian neighbors here in Galata.[1] They were in a business partnership of buying and selling textiles. The Greek partner was transporting the textiles from Livorno back to Constantinople where my grandfather awaited his return. I find it odd that they would buy their goods from Livorno since many of the goods in Livorno are stolen goods.[2] However, I guess it was a good enough deal that they were willing to overlook where the goods came from originally. But while at sea the vessel containing all the textiles and my grandfather’s Grecian partner were attacked by pirates.[3] They were attacked by those known as the Knights of Malta. They call themselves the knights, but I agree with my grandfather that they do not deserve the name.[4] They confiscated the goods, but even my Grandfather’s partner was able to free himself from these pirates. Together, my grandfather and his partner decided they would take the matter up with the court of the Knights of Malta.[5] They decided that the partner should be the one to bring the case before the Knights since my grandfather was Muslim and would be discriminated against because of that. Instead, the part would go there, as he was a Grecian, and state his Christianity. Thus, they hoped that the court would give compensation for the lost goods. They were unable to receive compensation and instead of taking this case to anyone further, they gave up. Due to their religions they were unable to obtain any reparations and so the associates parted ways. My grandfather, after this, decided that he should just abandon these sorts of ventures and instead stuck to tailoring.

[1] Molly Greene, Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants: A Maritime History of the Mediterranean (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 49.

[2] Ibid., 92.

[3] Ibid., 98, 121.

[4] Ibid., 3.

[5] Ibid., 11.

Family Zénehat, Undated Business Letter, c. 1670

My name is Aahil Zénehat and it is the year 1670. My family and I live here in the region of Galata within Constantinople. We live here happily within the Ottoman Empire. I have followed the tradition, set by my forefathers, of staying out of politics. However, recently with the empire at war with the Venetians it has become difficult to ignore politics. Yet, the Cretan War was recently brought to an end with the surrender of Candia.[1] Just during the last year Candia surrendered and this surrender resulted in the defeat of the Venetians within Crete. While I do not care for these politics or try to take sides, I do feel badly over the fate of my Venetian friends who are affected by this defeat.

However, they are not the only ones who are affected by the Venetians’ defeat. Here in Constantinople we have been affected by the surrender as well. We are affected by it because of the numerous Cretans moving here in the hopes of escaping from the awful piracy that is now plaguing Crete. Many also have come here as janissaries in hopes to seize all the opportunities they possibly can.[2] I have spoken to some of these Cretans and it is really interesting to hear what they have said about their previous home. Most of these individuals are renegades who have forsaken their previous ways in favor of joining the Islamic faith.[3]  They have all spoken of the fear and dread felt by everyone in Crete about the piracy that is so prevalent there. And that was not the only big problem in Crete.  According to the Cretans, there were also problems with agriculture and class tension. They often speak of problems obtaining enough wheat to sustain the island, because of the fact that the major crop on the island has been grapes so that the island’s landowners could make wine to sell.[4]

[1] Molly Greene, A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002), 18-19.

[2] Ibid., 33-44.

[3] Ibid., 39-40, 95.

[4] Ibid., 62-67.

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.

Family Zénehat, c. 1600-1625

I continue the tradition in my family of having tailoring as a trade. However, many things have changed since my family first came here to Constantinople. The population rises daily and the city is constantly evolving.[1] I, along with my family, continue to live in Galata. Galata is an area that is filled with many different types of people. We live towards the west of the Tower of Galata. This is an area where most Muslims congregate. However, we also live amongst and interact with the Jews, Spanish, Italians, Germans, Russians, English, French, Dutch, fellow Turks, and many more.[2] Our trade receives business from many of these different types of people too. There are many different types of officials who come to me for tailoring. Ottomans, Frenchman, and even some Venetians come to me for my expertise. The Venetians are slowly losing power and this is something that is not favorable to me. I feel this way because I will be losing business, but also because I count some Venetians as good friends of mine. While I do not like to be involved in politics, it does bother me to see my friends upset over their loss of power. The French have been becoming a larger of our community ever since the French moved their Embassy to Galata. Another change that is occurring currently is the growing number of my fellow Turks living here in Galata. Due to this increase in Muslims living here, there are more Mosques and less non-Muslim churches. I, along with many other Muslims, have always been very interested in these other faiths. Since, I am a Sufi, I am extremely open to different religions. In fact, as a child my mother took me to one of these churches when I was sick in the hopes that I would be healed.[3] On a daily basis I trade with and encounter many different people.

[1] Eric R. Dursteler, Veneians in Constantinople: Nation, Identity, and Coexistence in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2006), 156.

[2] Ibid., 155.

[3] Ibid., 182.

Family Zénahat, 1457

I, Al-Mutakabbir Zénahat, am a tailor in the city of Constantinople in the year of 1457. By Allah’s grace I have been bestowed a wonderful wife and two children. I am one of the most esteemed and respected tailors within all of Constantinople. Constantinople is a growing city. This is because in the past few years things have changed greatly for this city. This city, which for many years had been ruled by the Genoese, has recently become the capital of the Ottoman Empire.[1] The city fell into Ottoman’s hands in the year 1453. After the fall, I moved here with my family when the orders to resettle the area came from Mehmed II. Moving to this city has brought me many new opportunities and an increase in sales for my trade. It is the help of the empire through the reestablishment of many trade routes and use of some of the old Byzantine buildings that has led to the current resurgence in trade.[2] It is with the revival of commerce that has led people to own more clothing and with the call for more clothing there is now more demand for my tailoring skills. Within our neighborhood of Galata, we live amongst numerous Greeks who decided to stay in the city even after the siege. My family gets along very well with our Greek neighbors since we are Sufis.[3] Our religion actually tends to rely more on Greek and eastern philosophies. However, that is not the only component that allows us to get along. Our religion also allows us to be less judgmental and more open to others. The Ottoman Empire’s main wish for Constantinople was for it to become the powerful city it once was. Furthermore, this wish is gradually being achieved as more people and their families are locating to Constantinople. I, along with my empire, hope that trade will continue to develop and perhaps Constantinople can become the center of the world and of trade that it once was.

[1] Phillip Mansel, Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire, 1453-1924 (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998).

[2] David Abulafia, ed., The Mediterranean in History (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2003).

[3] Louis Mitler, “The Genoese in Galata: 1453-1682,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 10, no.1(Feb., 1979): 71-91, (accessed January 31, 2013)