24 Temmuz 2007 Salı

Ottoman Lifestyle

Life in the Ottoman Empire was a mixture of western and eastern life. One unique characteristic of Ottoman life style was it was very fragmented. The millet concept generated this fragmentation and enabled to coexist in a mosaic of cultures. The Capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople also had a unique culture, mainly because it laid on two continents.

Some of the basic social structures with Ottoman flavours can be summarized under items such as Coffeehouse, Hammam etc.


Story teller at a coffeehouse

Story teller at a coffeehouse

Socialization was a very important function in the Turkish culture. The coffee shops were where people gather and exchange information. Coffee was an excuse to bring people from different homes. The first Coffeehouse was opened in 1473 in Istanbul, which is 20 years after the Fall of Constantinople.

With the extension of the Ottoman Empire, such as in the Middle East, since the 16th century, the coffeehouse (al-maqhah in Arabic qahveh-khaneh in Persian or kahvehane or kıraathane in Turkish) has served as a social gathering place where men assemble to drink coffee or tea, listen to music, read books, play chess and backgammon, perhaps hear a recitation from the works of Antar or from Shahnameh.


At the end of the 17th century, pashas, grand viziers and other distinguished citizens of Ottoman Istanbul began to build themselves elegant villas - yalis - along the shores of the Bosphorus. These served as summer residences, and the styles employed reflected their owners' prestige. Since then, the yalis that have been built have become larger and more elaborate, adopting Baroque, Art Nouveau and modern styles of architecture. Most of them still conform to a traditional plan, making maximum use of the waterfront and, inside, having a large sitting room surrounded by bedrooms.


Turkish baths were unique. They had played an important role in Ottoman culture, serving as places of social gathering, ritual cleansing and as architectural structures, institutions, and elements with special customs attached to them. After a long journey, cleaning at a bath was a requirement for every Turkish house. There was a separate water fountain for each patron.

Social Spaces

Social center


Government life

Economic Life


Farmers' Market

On special days farmers brought their production and present them to public. This tradition also extends to the Kurban Bayrami (ar:Eid ul-Adha tr:koor-BAHN bahy-rah-muh) where sheep, camels, etc are sold instead of agricultural products.


19 Temmuz 2007 Perşembe

Devarya, an unknown Ottoman Mint in Eritrea


During the last ten years or so there have been some discussions about an Ottoman copper coin with an enigmatic legend, as to whether this represents the coin's denomination or the name of its mint. The coin concerned is known from perhaps half a dozen specimens present in a few collections. It shows distinct similarities with 16th - 17th century (10th - 11th century AH) Ottoman copper coins from the Yemen and is therefore thought to originate from that part of the world. As it is unknown for any pre-19th century Ottoman coin to have its denomination or value shown as part of its inscription, it may be safely assumed that the inscription on this particular coin represents its mint name, and not its denomination. Having said that, this then leaves us with the identification of the mint name of these coins.

The Coin

The legend in Arabic script on the coin's obverse from the top downwards shows the usual dhuriba (it was struck), where the letter ba forms a horizontally drawn-out line below the letters dha and ra; (dha is used to decribe the Arabic letter that is normally transcribed by a d with a dot below it, which I cannot do in my computer) below this horizontal line of the letter ba there are the naturally unconnected letters: dal-wau-alif-ra-ya; below these letters is the word sanah (year) again in a horizontally drawn-out line, below which there is the year 974, the year of Sultan Selim II's accession.

The coin's reverse shows a hexagram of two superimposed triangles with dots and accents, very similar to the reverse of the large Ottoman copper coins from Malhaz in the Yemen which, incidentally, show the same year.1) Thus the coins under discussion look like a fraction of the Malhaz coin. See illustrations Fig. 1-5.

The coin's weights are around 2.8 g, its diameter 12-14 mm and its thickness 1-1.5 mm. Its metal composition visually appears to be pure copper. The existing coins are generally fairly well struck

The proper reading (e.g. the letter ra might also be read as zay) and voweling, and therefore the pronunciation of what should be the mint name, appears not to relate to an existing or known topographical name in the Yemen, and has sofar remained an enigma.

Interested numismatists have tried to identify the coin's inscription as dawari, dawariya or dawazia etc. with known names in the Yemen, using historical literature and narrative sources, not only going thorough indexes, but also checking texts. As no corresponding place name is recorded for this coin, an alternative meaning, e.g. the coin's denomination came to mind.

The denomination dawari has apparently been recorded from a 17th century Yemeni source 2) and it is said to be known from an Iranian coin too3), but clear references fail. To solve the enigma, it was suggested that on this coin perhaps the denomination rather than the mint name is shown. So far the reading of this word has remained a problem to which this presentation proposes a fitting solution

Dr. Vladimir Suchý has always insisted that the coin's legend represents its mint name and suggested to attribute it to a so far unknown mint place. In 2000 he published an article in a Turkish numismatic journal on Selim II s coinage in Yemen, where he has provided a drawing and a photo of this enigmatic coin and mentioned two of these coins in the Tuebingen collection which originate from the former Album collection.4) Since then several more of these coins have come to light in private collections.

During the last five years I have also tried hard to find a proper mint place for this enigmatic coin. It is well known that the Ottomans did not mint copper coins in small villages or unimportant places. The coins should have been minted in important administrative centers. Eventually I came across this relatively unknown place, Devarya or Dawariya, an Ottoman fortress, in today’s Eritrea on the west side of the Red Sea, instead of in Yemen. I found this information in the book ”Habes Eyaleti” by Cengiz Orhonlu5). The mint place of this enigmatic coin was Devarya (Dawariya, Debaroa......etc.) without any hesitation.

When I wrote to Dr. Suchy about this discovery, in return he immediately sent me copy of a letter by the late Samuel Lachmann6), dated 20th November 1990 (see attached). As you will find in this attachment, Lachmann was not as lucky as I, to read Orhonlu’s book but he had cleverly suggested 15 years before me, that this coin was struck in Debaroa.

Solving the problem

Debaroa was located in present day Eritrea. It was briefly the capital of the Ottoman Habesh Eyalet (province) during the early period (later the seat of that Ottoman administration was moved to Sawakin on present day Sudan's Red Sea coast). It was a fortress named variously as Debaroa, Debarva,and Devarya . In Orhonlu’s book, although the author himself has used Debaroa and Debarva rather than Devarya, in official documents given in the book7), the name of Devarya has been used instead of Debarva. Documents have been written with divani calligraphy. In divani line (dal) is written like and sometimes (ti) is used instead of in Ottoman Turkish. But normally as it is the case on the mangir, has been used. Devarya in one official document was written8) but in an other one was written9). In all cases it is normally read Devarya (Dawariya).

Historical Context

In the middle of the 16th (10th AH) century, as a result of an economic crisis due to a shortage of precious metals (specially gold) in the Ottoman Empire, the Porte followed an active policy of searching for and exploiting sources of wealth in Africa, starting from the Egyptian border southwards to Mombasa in East Africa including today’s Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. The Ottomans decided to establish a province in Habeshistan (Abyssinia / Ethiopia), in order to control the trade in gold, ivory and slaves which were available there in regular supply. The Ottomans started a military action in southern Egypt under the command of Özdemir Pasha, when Khadim Sulayman Pasha was beylerbeyi in Egypt (1524-1535). As a result quite a large portion of this area came under the control of the Ottomans (Qasr Ibrim and Derr in southern Egypt) and later also the port of Sawakin on the Red Sea coast.

On occasion the Ottoman military authorities in Yemen had supported the Muslim Sultanate Adal across the Red Sea with Ottoman soldiers armed with muskets, in their struggle against the Christian Amhara and Tigre rulers of Ethiopia, further to the north, who in turn, had called on Portuguese assistance against the Muslim invaders.

In 1554 (962 AH) the Ottoman army under former Yemeni beylerbeyi Özdemir Pasha started military actions in and managed to take control of the Red Sea ports of Massawa and Arkiko in 1557 (965 AH) in order to counter Portuguese influence there.

“The Ottomans estimated and expected nearly 60.000 sultanis worth in gold in return by establishing a province in Habeshistan". It is also documented that they intended to strike coins, sikke, in the Sultan's name, and mention his name in the khutbah.10)

"The Ottoman Turks under Özdemir Pasha seized Massawa and Arkiko [Harkiko] in 1557 and fought their way up into Hamasien, where they built a fortress at Debarwa, south of Asmara.This provoked strong Tigrayan resistance. The Tigrayans drove the Turks back toward the coast but could not dislodge them from Suakin, Massawa and Arkiko, and the Turks made repeated incursions into northern Ethiopia during the remainder of the century, at times gaining the support of rivals of the [Ethiopian] emperors."11)

Devarya (Debarva, Davaro, Debaroa, Debarwa etc.) and its environs were under the control of the Ottomans in 1559. Devarya (Dawariya) had a strategic importance for military action and for controlling the region. The Ottomans built a strong fortress with a big mosque (jam'i) and many mescids (masajid) there. It was a central and strong fortress to keep the spoils safely. After Özdemir Pasha died in Devarya from a serious illness in 1560, the Ethiopians captured Devarya and destroyed everything there. Özdemir's son Uthman Pasha took back Devarya and its environs again from King Minas in 1562. In 1576 the Ethiopians captured Devarya again but the Ottomans took it back again in 1577. In 1579 Sarsa Dengel, King of Ethiopia attacked the Ottomans and took back Devarya again. Devarya was in the hands of the Ottomans again from 1582 till 1588. After this date political relations were established between the beylerbeyi of the Habesh Eyalet and the Ethiopian kings. In the middle of the 18th century the Habesh Eyalet lost its importance as there was not sufficient revenue for its administration.12)

From the 1820's onwards, a much reduced Habesh Eyalet became part of the Egyptian controlled territories along the western Red Sea coast after Mehmet Ali assumed the rule of Egypt as its Khedive. From the middle of the 19th century the western Red Sea coast ports became much contested territory by the expansionist policies of the European colonial powers (France, Britain, Italy mainly), especially so after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.

From the numismatic point of view there is no better attribution for this coin than the Devarya fortress. Clear proof of this would come in new finds of such coins or other denominations / metals for the same mint in Eritrea or Ethiopia. Apart from these copper coins, up to now only one Ottoman gold sultani from the mint of Tacura (Tajoura) is known, presumed by some to be from the western Red Sea region.13)

General Note

The location of Debarwa / Devarya in present day Eritrea is still known. It is shown as Debaroa, at coordinates 15o 5' North by 36o 33' (map) East approximately, according to an old map of the area produced by Werner Munzinger in 1862 and published in his book Ostafrikanische Studien (Schaffhausen, 1864). There are several publications by early European explorers of those lands from the middle of the 19th century onwards, who mention the name Debaroa / Debarwa as an existing settlement, but without any further information on its status or condition. However, on Munzinger's map it is shown in extremely small letters, and does not even merit a dot for its exact location, just west of the upper reaches of the river Mareb, which eventually flows into Sudan near Kassala under the name Gash.

The Gurush: A New Ottoman Monetary Unit in the Eighteenth Century

The seventeenth century had been a period of instability for the Ottoman currency culminating around the middle of the century in the closure of Ottoman mints, the cessation of the production of silver akches and their use as a means of exchange.

The decline of the akche posed serious challenges to the Ottoman administration. Without control over the currency, its control over the economy diminished considerably. Moreover, the disintegration of the monetary system and the increasing reliance on foreign coins had serious political implications. During the second half of the seventeenth century the government thus made numerous attempts at establishing a new currency but these proved to be unsuccessful due to the continuation of wars and fiscal difficulties. After a long interval of inactivity, the mint in Istanbul resumed operations in 1685, producing the small akches and the copper mangir beginning in 1689. Supported by the revenues from this experiment, the government then renewed its efforts to establish a new system around a large silver unit modelled after the European coins circulating in the Ottoman markets since the middle of the sixteenth century.

The first large silver coins were minted in 1690 after the Polish coin isolette or zolota which was imported in large quantities by Dutch merchants during the seventeenth century. These coins were about one third smaller than the Dutch thalers.[1] Their weight was fixed in standard dirhams (3,20 grams) and they contained 60 percent silver and 40 percent copper. The largest of these weighed 6 dirhams, or approximately 19.2 grams. Later, in 1703, an even larger coin weighing approximately 8 dirhams, or 25-26 grams and its fractions were also minted. It appears that the first large coin of 1690 was intended as a zolota or cedid (new) zolota to distinguish it from the popular Polish coin and not as a gurush or piaster.[2] Only after larger silver coins began to be minted in the early decades of the eighteenth century, was the new monetary scale clearly established.

The new Ottoman gurush was then fixed at 120 akches or 40 paras. The early gurushes weighed six and a quarter dirhams (20.0 grams) and contained close to 60 percent silver. The zolotas were valued at three fourths of the gurush or at 90 akches. The fractions of both the gurush and zolota were then minted accordingly.[3] Due to wars and continuing political turmoil, however, many coins were minted with sub-standard silver content until the monetary reform of 1715-16. The appearance of sub-standard coinage attracted large numbers of counterfeiters until the 1720s.

By the 1720s a full spectrum of silver coinage had emerged from the gurush down to the para and the tiny akche. While the gurush, zolota and the 20 para piece were used for medium and larger transactions, 1, 5 and 10 para pieces served as petty coinage. By this time, the purchasing power of the akche, valued at one-third of the para, had become too small for most daily purposes.[4] For this reason, the para, more than the akche, served as the basic unit of account for small transactions. In addition, some copper coinage were minted in Istanbul and eastern Anatolia but their volumes were limited.

As for gold coins, the Ottoman sultani, or sherifi as it was also called, which had remained close to the standards of the Venetian ducat since the fifteenth century was discontinued late in the seventeenth century. In the early part of the eighteenth century, as gold made a comeback in Europe and elsewhere, Ottoman minting activity also resumed. In the place of the sultani, a number of new gold coins called tughrali, cedid Istanbul, zincirli, findik and zer-i mahbub were initiated between 1697 and 1728. All but the last of these started close to the standards of the ducat. Following the practice dating back to the fifteenth century, the government did not attach a fixed face value to these gold coins. Their exchange rates were determined by the markets. In payments to the state, gold coins were accepted at the official rates of exchange.

The eighteenth century until the 1780s was a period of commercial and economic expansion coupled with fiscal stability in most parts of the Ottoman Empire. These favorable conditions as well as the rising supplies of silver helped establish the gurush as the leading unit of account and means of exchange by the middle of the eighteenth century. The emergence of the new unit was accompanied by centralization of mint activity in the core regions of the empire, from the Balkans to Anatolia, as well as Syria and Iraq.

  1. These new coins carried the date of H.1099 (1687-88), the year of accession to the throne of sultan Süleyman II.
  2. Numismatic catalogues incorrectly suggest that the 6 dirham piece minted in 1690 was the first Ottoman gurush and the weight of the Ottoman gurush was revised upwards to 8 dirhams in 1703.
  3. The new unit was also called cedid (new) gurush to distinguish it from the European groschen, most notably the esedi ("lion") gurus or the Dutch thaler which had become emerged a unit of account as well as a medium of exchange for medium and large transactions. See J. Sultan, Coins of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic, A Detailed Catalogue of the Jem Sultan Collection, 2 vols., (Thousand Oaks, California: B and R Publishers, 1977), pp. 196-211.
  4. The daily wage of an unskilled construction worker in Istanbul was approximately 8 paras or 24 akches during the early decades of the eighteenth century.

Ottoman Arts - Miniatures (Oriental style painting)

Bab-ı Hümayun
Bab-ı Hümayun
Topkapı Palace Libarary
16Th Century

Prince Cem
Prince Cem

Reception of ambassadors by Sultan SelimII
From Şehname-i Selim Khan
Topkapı Palace Libarary
16Th Century

Oriental rulers never paid much attentian ta the pra hi-bition on figurative art. The Omayyad and Abbasid caliphs had the walls of their palaces decorated with murals featuring human and animal figures. The magnificent architecture of the Seljuks was adorned with sculpture, and above all in the great palaces of Eastern rulers miniature painting developed. The roots of this type of painting can be traced back to the pre-Islamic period. Miniature painting passed by turn from the Timurid and Türkmen states, to the Safovids of Iran, the Seljuks and the Ottomans.

Sultan Mehmed II was the first Ottoman sultan to display an interest in the art of figurative painting, hiring famous nakkaş and musavvir to execute paintings on some of the palace walls. He was the first to have his portrait painted by a Western artist (Bellini), and started the collection of works by Eastern and Western artists which was later to become known as the Fatih Album.

But Mehmed II’s successors did not take the same interest in figurative painting, and Ottoman miniature painting survived only as the art of book


Ottoman miniature paintings are less ornate, have a more straight forward narrative style, and are remarkably realistic in comparison to those of other Eastern countries. As a general rule they depict specific historic events, wars, victories and public festivities in meticulous detail.

The miniaturist - musavvir - ohs cried his subject carefully, closely studying its morphological and spatial characteristics, and graphic structure. Rut he was obliged to represent these an paper using the traditional narrative stereotypes passed down over the centuries. Within this traditional framework the Ottoman miniature painter exercised an unexpected degree of freedom, and in his constant search to portray reality, achieved a highly sophisticated narrative medium.

Marginalised by religious disapproval of human representation, miniaturists suffered from a sense of guilt. They worked only at the palace workshops on orders for the sultan, illustrating his major achievements, campaigns, biographical accounts of the sub tans known as şehname, and public festivities.

Although the emphasis is on historical documentation, the world which the artist observes so closely isa lively and vigorous one which stretches his imagination. In addition to visual documentation of the events of his age -like the press photographers or documentary film producers of our own- the Ottoman miniaturist is also an undiluted artist; even if fate confined his art to the palace and to the book.


Night Attack
Night Attack
From Hubanname-Zenname
Topkapı Palace Libarary

Night Attack
16th Century
Topkapı Palace Libarary

The first major miniature pointer known to us by name is Sinan Bey, author of the celebrated portrait of Mehmed II (1451-1481). It is thought that this artist may hove been influenced by Western art through acquaintance with the art of Bellini. Famous book illustrations of the same century, are those for Badi-el -Tebrizi’s Dilsizname (Edirne 1455-56), Kulliyat-ı Kátibi and by an anonymous artist for the poet Ahmedi’ s Iskendernâme. It was during these years that an original style of historical depiction emerged.

In the 16th century a very distinctive master painter came to the fore with his famous illustrations far Beyan-i Mendazil-i Sefer-i lrakeyn, describing the places the army passed through during Ottoman campaigns to Iraq. Matrakçı Nasuh el-Silahi was not only historian, writer, calligrapher, and mathematician, but skilled in the martial arts, particularly the sport known as matrak involving the tossing of clubs, and above all an outstanding painter. His paintings ore reminscent of today’s paintings, but have no counterparts eithar in Eastern miniature or the contemporary art of the West.

The reign of Sflleyman the Magnificent was when the şehname as a literary work came into its own, and the Ottoman art of miniature rose to its zenith. Of the five-volume şehname written by the poet Arifi and illustrated by various painters, three volumes stand out as being of particular importance: the Enbiyaname, Osmannâme and Süleymannâme.

The most outstanding years of Ottoman miniature coincide with the reigns of Selim II and Murad II in the second half of the 16th century. The succession of books written by Şehname writer Seyyit Lokman were illustrated by the great miniaturist Nakkaş Osman and other miniature painters working under his direction.

The Zafernâme, Şehnâme-i Selim Han, Sehinşehnâme, Hünernâme and Zübdetü’t-Tevarih are the products of this brilliant epoch. We find the most interesting miniatures of the period in the Surname illustrating the festivities held to celebrate the circumcision of the sons of Murad IlI

Other celebrated illustrated manuscripts of the period are the Siyer-i Nebi on the life of the Prophet Muhammed, and the Eğri Fetihnamesi illustrated by Hasan, famous miniaturist of the reign of Mehmed III.

A later miniature painter of exceptional renown is tevni cognomen for Abdülcelil celebt whose celebrated Surname-i Vehbt and his sensitive portraits and unusual depiction of human figures mark the final peak of this art in the early isth century.

Yıldırım Beyazıt in hunting

Ottoman Arts - Divan Literature

When the New Literature (Edebiyat-ı Cedide) arrived in the midigth century it became known as the Old Literature (Edebiyat-ı Kadime). Then such terms as Palace Literature, "Enderun" Literature, Medrese Literature, and "Ommet" Literature were tried, and finally Ottoman Literature, Classical Literature, and Classical Turkish Literature. The term we use taday, Divan Literature, was cained at the beginning af the 20th century by diner Seyfettin and Ali Canip.

Divan literature is one facet of the story of Turkish, which has been widely used as a literary language since the 11th century. Theoretically and aesthetically divan literature draws on the Islamic world view, and was shaped under the influence af Persian literature, emerging in the late 13th century and surviving until the second half of the 19th century. In essence and linguistic structure it is Turkish, but makes extensive use of Arabic and Persian words, which like Latin and Greek in Europe were the languages of theology and scholarship respectively.

Throughout the Ottoman period diverse types of literature existed side by side, such as folk literature, which made the most skilful use of Turkish and in its purest farm, tekke literature of the mystic orders, and the literatures of the minority communities in languages including Arabic, Armenian, Syriac and Aramaic. Divan literature was the most "Ottoman" of these, and foremost among the cultural elements which typified the Ottoman identity.

Divan literature is the literary equivalent of architecture in the Ottoman world of forms of its domes, arches and colonnades and of the music, miniatures, calligraphy, and decorative arts produced and appreciated in these buildings.

In a sense divan literature is the written key to the world of Ottoman forms.

Necati,picture of album
Necati, Picture of album

"Divan" by Necati, Suleymaniye Library Collection

Example of script-text picture
"Divan" by Ahmet Pacha, Suleymaniye Library Collection

Example of script-text picture
"Divan" by Fuzuli, Suleymaniye Library Collection


In the eastern countries emotions and thoughts are expressed most often in poetry. joy, love, grief, melancholy, and all kinds of experiences of life are poured into lines and couplets. It is as if poetry is the most natural form of speech in these lands, where everyone has something of the poet in them.

The divan poet was someone raised in Ottoman traditions, literate, and acquainted with the art of poetry. They could be any government official, craftsman, cleric, judge, clerk, soldier, slave or sultan (most of the Ottoman sultans were accomplished poets). They were heirs to a poetry tradition going back centuries, and continued to use its forms, to think according to its rules, and for a lifetime to seek the miracle and alchemy of the word within its framework.

Theft poems were first read at gatherings called divan, attended by eminent people, sometimes including the sultan. Subsequently poems by one poet would be compiled into anthologies known as divan after these gatherings. For their subject matter the poems drew on the extensive eastern and Islamic mythology, on religious or secular stories, and on legends. Their narrative was based on a very diverse series of conventional metaphors and puns.

Poets never wrote under theft real names, but always used pennames (mahlas), and this anonymity extended to their anthologies, too, which were generally entitled after the poet’s penname, for example the Bakt Divani or the Muhibbi Divani. Nor did the poems themselves have names.

Despite the strict traditional conventions of divan poetry, Ottoman poets often managed to take this form to outstanding heights of literary excellence. In one of his poems, the great sixteenth century poet Raki boasted, In this epoch my words were possessed of sovereignty / The ’kaside’ lode] was presented to me, and the ’gazel’ [lyric poem].

According to an Ottoman Turkish saying, ’The poet is one fourth prophet.