Born on the Golden Horn and raised in the Sultan’s palace in Istanbul, Çelebi traveled throughout Ottoman domains between 1640 and 1680. He published an account of his travels and experiences as the Seyahatname, or Book of Travels. In the first of his ten books in the document, Çelebi provides a lengthy description of Istanbul around the year 1638, including a panoramic view of 1,100 artisan and craft guilds. The numbers and diversity of trades represented underscore the extent of Ottoman commerce—as well as the pride of place each of the city’s working people claimed as their due.
Robert Dankoff, An Ottoman Mentality: The World of Evliya Çelebi, 2nd ed. (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2006), 86–89.
The Janissaries constitute the most famous and centralized of the Ottomans’ military institutions. A feared and respected military force, the Janissaries were Christian-born males who had been seized from their homes as boys, converted to Islam, and then trained as future soldiers and administrators for the Turks. Under the direct orders of the sultan and his viziers, the Janissaries were equipped with the latest military innovations. In the early fifteenth century, these units received cannons and matchlock muskets. The muskets continued their evolution in the Janissaries’ hands, becoming the standard equipment for Ottoman and other armies.
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Mary Wortley Montagu
Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762), who was born into the British aristocracy, sought out an acquaintance with the leading literary and scientific figures of her day, and traveled with her husband to Constantinople while he was ambassador to the Ottoman emperor. Although her husband was recalled to England within a year, Lady Mary had endeavored to learn as much as possible about Turkish customs and behavior, especially those concerning women and children. She frequently had paintings made of herself (and her son) dressed in Turkish costume, and she considered it patriotic to import Turkish customs that she thought could benefit her fellow Englishmen. Her introduction of the Turkish practice of inoculation against smallpox drew the great admiration of Voltaire, who praised her intelligence and her willingness to learn from others in his Letters Concerning the English Nation (1733).
Mary Wortley Montagu, Letters from the Levant during the Embassy to Constantinople, 1716–18 (New York, Arno, 1971), 124, 128–129, 146–148.
Up until the modern era, Muslim soldiers wore talismanic shirts designed to protect them in battle and ensure victory over their enemies. This tunic, from Safavid Persia from about 1600 CE, was worn next to the warrior’s skin and embroidered with verses from the Quran.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq
Ghiselin (1522–1592) was a Flemish ambassador who represented the Austrian Habsburgs at the court of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–1566) in Istanbul. In 1581, he published an account of his time among the Ottomans as Itinera Constantinopolitanum et Amasianum (Travels in Constantinople and Asia Minor). In this segment of his travel narrative, he draws attention to the personal habits and behaviors of a contemporary emperor—one who saw himself as the heir to the Romans as well as to the other monarchs who had held Constantinople/Istanbul.
Wayne S. Vucinich, The Ottoman Empire: Its Record and Legacy (Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1965), 127–129.
Ogier Ghiselin de Bosbecq
Ghiselin (1522–1592) was a Flemish ambassador who represented the Austrian Habsburgs at the court of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–1566) in Istanbul. In 1581, he published an account of his time among the Ottomans as Itinera Constantinopolitanum et Amasianum (Travels in Constantinople and Asia Minor). A polymath, a sensitive observer of court politics, and an adventurous intellectual, Ghiselin also discovered a nearly intact copy of the autobiography of the Roman emperor Augustus which had been inscribed at Ankara, and he publicized the contents of this Monumentum Ancyranum for scholars around the world—and up to the present day. However, in this segment of his travel-narrative, he draws attention to the personal habits and behaviors of a contemporary emperor—and one who saw himself as the heir to the Romans as well as to the other monarchs who had held Constantinople/Istanbul.
Wayne S. Vucinich, The Ottoman Empire: Its Record and Legacy (Princeton: Van Nostrand, 1965), pp. 127–129.
Thomas the Eparch and Joshua Diplovatatzes
The siege and conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks under Mehmet II (r. 1451–1481) was one of the turning points of world history. Unfolding over two months between April 5 and May 29, 1453, the siege exposed the inability of the Byzantine emperor Constantine XI to withstand a sustained and massive attack. Outnumbering the defenders 11 to 1, the Ottomans battered Constantinople’s walls with heavy cannons and took advantage of the natural weaknesses of the city’s geography. This account, told by two survivors and (self-proclaimed) eyewitnesses to the siege and its aftermath, details some of the specific stages of the defeat—and the suffering for Christians that came as a result.
trans. William L. North from the Italian version in A. Pertusi, ed., La Caduta di Constantinopoli: Le testimonianze dei contemporanei (Milan: Mondadori, 1976), 234–239, available online at https://apps.carleton.edu/curricular/mars/assets/Thomas_the_Eparch_and_Joshua_Diplovatatzes_for_MARS_website.pdf.