The Janissaries were infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 units that formed the Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

Sultan is a title with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic language abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", and "dictatorship", derived from the masdar سلطة , meaning "authority" or "power". Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who...

's household troops and bodyguard
A bodyguard is a type of security operative or government agent who protects a person—usually a famous, wealthy, or politically important figure—from assault, kidnapping, assassination, stalking, loss of confidential information, terrorist attack or other threats.Most important public figures such...

s. The force was created by the Sultan Murad I
Murad I
Murad I was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, from 1361 to 1389...

 from Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 boys levied through the devşirme system from conquered countries in the 14th century and was abolished by Sultan Mahmud II
Mahmud II
Mahmud II was the 30th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1808 until his death in 1839. He was born in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, the son of Sultan Abdulhamid I...

 in 1826 with the Auspicious Incident
The Auspicious Incident
The Auspicious Incident was the forced disbandment of the centuries-old Janissary corps by Ottoman sultan Mahmud II in June 1826....



The origins of the Janissaries are shrouded in myth though traditional accounts credit Orhan I
Orhan I
Orhan I or Orhan Bey was the second bey of the nascent Ottoman Empire from 1326 to 1359...

 – an early Ottoman bey
Bey is a title for chieftain, traditionally applied to the leaders of small tribal groups. Accoding to some sources, the word "Bey" is of Turkish language In historical accounts, many Turkish, other Turkic and Persian leaders are titled Bey, Beg, Bek, Bay, Baig or Beigh. They are all the same word...

, who reigned from 1326 to 1359 – as the founder. Modern historians, such as Patrick Kinross, put the date slightly later, around 1365, under Orhan's son, Murad I
Murad I
Murad I was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, from 1361 to 1389...

, the first sultan
Sultan is a title with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic language abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", and "dictatorship", derived from the masdar سلطة , meaning "authority" or "power". Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who...

 of the Ottoman Empire. The Janissaries became the first Ottoman standing army
Standing army
A standing army is a professional permanent army. It is composed of full-time career soldiers and is not disbanded during times of peace. It differs from army reserves, who are activated only during wars or natural disasters...

, replacing forces that mostly contained tribal warriors (ghazi
Ghazi or ghazah is an Arabic term that means "to raid/foray." From it evolved the word "Ghazwa" which specifically refers to a battle led by the Islamic prophet Muhammad.In English language literature the word often appears as razzia, deriving from French, although it probably...

) whose loyalty and morale were not always guaranteed. But they all learned Islam in the madrasas and each of them became a Muslim. Turks took them as slaves but showed mercy and they stayed in the closest rooms to the Sultan's room. Turks themselves were not strangers to the "slave-soldier" system, since Turkish slaves and mercenaries served as memluk
A Mamluk was a soldier of slave origin, who were predominantly Cumans/Kipchaks The "mamluk phenomenon", as David Ayalon dubbed the creation of the specific warrior...

 or ghilman
Ghilman Ghilman Ghilman (singular ghulam describes either young servants in paradise or slave-soldiers in the Ottoman, Mughal and Persian Empires.-Islamic Theology:...

 soldiers in the Abbasid and Fatimid Empires. Ghaznavid Turks also used Afghan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

 and Indian
Indian people
Indian people or Indisians constitute the Asian nation and pan-ethnic group native to India, which forms the south of Asia, containing 17.31% of the world's population. The Indian nationality is in essence made up of regional nationalities, reflecting the rich and complex history of India...

 slaves in such manner.

From Murad I to 1648, the Janissaries were gathered through the devşirme system. This was the recruiting of non-Turkish children, notably Balkan Christians; Jews were never subject to devşirme, nor were children from Turkic families. In early days, all Christians were enrolled indiscriminately; later, those from Albania, Greece, Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria were preferred.

The Janissaries were kapıkulları (sing. kapıkulu), "door servants" or "slaves of the Porte", neither free men nor ordinary slaves (Turkish: köle). They were subject to strict discipline, but they were paid salaries and pensions on retirement, and were free to marry; those conscripted through devşirme formed a distinctive social class which quickly became the ruling class of the Ottoman Empire, rivaling the Turkish aristocracy in one of the four royal institutions: the Palace, the Scribes, the Religious and the Military. The brightest of the Janissaries were sent to the Palace institution (Enderun), where the possibility of a glittering career beckoned.

According to military historian Michael Antonucci, every five years the Turkish administrators would scour their regions for the strongest sons of the sultan's Christian subjects. These boys, usually between the ages of 10 and 12, were then taken from their parents and given to the Turkish families in the provinces to learn Turkish language and customs, and the rules of Islam; these boys were then enrolled in Janissary training. The recruit was immediately indoctrinated into the religion of Islam. He was supervised 24 hours a day and subjected to severe discipline: he was prohibited from growing a beard, taking up a skill other than war, or marrying. The Janissaries were extremely well disciplined (a rarity in the Middle Ages).

Greek Historian Dimitri Kitsikis
Dimitri Kitsikis
Dimitri Kitsikis is a Greek Turkologist, Professor of International Relations and Geopolitics. He has also published poetry in French and Greek.-Life:D...

 in his book, Türk Yunan İmparatorluğu ("Turco-Greek Empire") states that many Christian families were willing to comply with devşirme because it offered the possibility of great social advancement. Conscripts could one day become Janissary colonels; statesmen who might one day return to their motherland as governor; or even Grand Vizier
Grand Vizier
Grand Vizier, in Turkish Vezir-i Azam or Sadr-ı Azam , deriving from the Arabic word vizier , was the greatest minister of the Sultan, with absolute power of attorney and, in principle, dismissable only by the Sultan himself...

 or Beylerbey
Beylerbey is the Ottoman and Safavid title used for the highest rank in the hierarchy of provincial administrators It is in western terms a Governor-general, with authority...

 (governor general), with a seat in the divan (imperial council).

Perhaps the most famous Janissaries were George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, son of a despot in northern Albania
Albania , officially known as the Republic of Albania , is a country in Southeastern Europe, in the Balkans region. It is bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south and southeast. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea...

 who later defected and led a 20-year Albanian revolt against the Ottomans, and Sokollu Mehmed Paşa, a Serbian peasant from Bosnia who later became a grand vizier, served three sultans, and was de facto ruler of the Ottoman Empire for more than 14 years.

The Ukrainian, Bulgarian and Serbian languages employed the name Janissary to refer to any warrior who converted from Christianity to Islam.

Janissary characteristics

The Janissary corps were distinctive in a number of ways: they were the first regular army to wear unique uniform
A uniform is a set of standard clothing worn by members of an organization while participating in that organization's activity. Modern uniforms are worn by armed forces and paramilitary organizations such as police, emergency services, security guards, in some workplaces and schools and by inmates...

s; paid regular salaries for their service; marched to music, the mehter, lived in barracks and used mainly firearms. In those aspects janissaries can be seen as a precursor of the modern military system.

A Janissary battalion was a close-knit community, effectively the soldier's family. They lived in barracks, serving as policemen, palace guards and firefighters during peacetime.

In a sharp departure from the contemporary practice of paying armies only during wartime, the Janissaries received regular salaries, paid quarterly. (By tradition, the Sultan
Sultan is a title with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic language abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", and "dictatorship", derived from the masdar سلطة , meaning "authority" or "power". Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who...

 himself, after authorizing the payments, visited the barracks dressed as a Janissary trooper, and received his pay alongside the other men of the First Division.)

The Janissaries also enjoyed far better support on campaign than their contemporaries. They were part of a well-organized military machine, with one support corps preparing the road and others pitching tents at night and baking the bread. Their weapons and ammunition were transported and re-supplied by the cebeci
Cebeci may refer to:* Cebeci, Ankara, an important quarter in central Ankara* Cebeci, Kandıra, a sea-side town and an important tourist resort within Kandıra district in Kocaeli Province...

 corps. They campaigned with their own medical teams of Muslim and Jewish surgeons; their sick and wounded were evacuated to dedicated mobile hospitals set up behind the lines.

These differences, along with a war-record that was impressive, made the Janissaries into a subject of interest and study by foreigners in their own time. Although eventually the concept of the modern army incorporated and surpassed most of the distinctions of the Janissary, and the Ottoman Empire dissolved the Janissary corps, the image of the Janissary has remained as one of the symbols of the Ottomans in the western psyche.

In return for their loyalty and their fervour in war, Janissaries gained privileges and benefits. They received a cash salary, received booty during wartime and enjoyed a high living standard and respected social status. At first they had to live in barracks and could not marry until retirement, or engage in any other trade, but by the mid-18th century they had taken up many trades and gained the right to marry and enroll their children in the corps and very few continued to live in the barracks. Many of them became administrators and scholars. Retired or discharged Janissaries received pension
In general, a pension is an arrangement to provide people with an income when they are no longer earning a regular income from employment. Pensions should not be confused with severance pay; the former is paid in regular installments, while the latter is paid in one lump sum.The terms retirement...

s and their children were also looked after. This evolution away from their original military vocation was the major cause of the system's demise.

Recruitment, training and status

The first Janissary units were formed from prisoners of war and slaves, probably as a result of the sultan taking his traditional one-fifth share of his army's plunder in kind rather than cash. From the 1380s onwards, their ranks were filled under the devşirme system, where feudal dues were paid by service to the sultan. The "recruits" were mostly Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 youths, reminiscent of Mamelukes. Sultan Murad may have used futuwa groups as a model.

Initially the recruiters favoured Greeks
Ottoman Greece
Most of Greece gradually became part of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th century until its declaration of independence in 1821, a historical period also known as Tourkokratia ....

 (who formed the largest part of the first units) and Albanians
Albanians are a nation and ethnic group native to Albania and neighbouring countries. They speak the Albanian language. More than half of all Albanians live in Albania and Kosovo...

 (who also served as gendarmes
A gendarmerie or gendarmery is a military force charged with police duties among civilian populations. Members of such a force are typically called "gendarmes". The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary describes a gendarme as "a soldier who is employed on police duties" and a "gendarmery, -erie" as...

), usually selecting about one boy from forty houses, but the numbers could be changed to correspond with the need for soldiers. Boys aged 14–18 were preferred, though ages 8–20 could be taken. Recruits were sometimes gained through voluntarily accessions, as some parents were often eager to have their children enroll in the Janissary service that ensured them a successful career and comfort.

As borders of the Ottoman Empire expanded, the devşirme was extended to include Bulgarians
The Bulgarians are a South Slavic nation and ethnic group native to Bulgaria and neighbouring regions. Emigration has resulted in immigrant communities in a number of other countries.-History and ethnogenesis:...

, Croats
Croats are a South Slavic ethnic group mostly living in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and nearby countries. There are around 4 million Croats living inside Croatia and up to 4.5 million throughout the rest of the world. Responding to political, social and economic pressure, many Croats have...

, Serbs
The Serbs are a South Slavic ethnic group of the Balkans and southern Central Europe. Serbs are located mainly in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and form a sizable minority in Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia. Likewise, Serbs are an officially recognized minority in...

, and later Romanians
The Romanians are an ethnic group native to Romania, who speak Romanian; they are the majority inhabitants of Romania....

, Georgians
The Georgians are an ethnic group that have originated in Georgia, where they constitute a majority of the population. Large Georgian communities are also present throughout Russia, European Union, United States, and South America....

, Poles
thumb|right|180px|The state flag of [[Poland]] as used by Polish government and diplomatic authoritiesThe Polish people, or Poles , are a nation indigenous to Poland. They are united by the Polish language, which belongs to the historical Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages of Central Europe...

, Ukrainians
Ukrainians are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Ukraine, which is the sixth-largest nation in Europe. The Constitution of Ukraine applies the term 'Ukrainians' to all its citizens...

 and southern Russians
The Russian people are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Russia, speaking the Russian language and primarily living in Russia and neighboring countries....

. The Janissaries first began enrolling outside the devşirme system during the reign of Sultan Murad III
Murad III
Murad III was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1574 until his death.-Biography:...

 (1574-1595) and abandoned devşirme recruitment completely during the 17th century. After this period, volunteers were enrolled, mostly of Muslim origin.

The Janissaries’ reputation increased to the point that by 1683, Sultan Mehmet IV abolished the devşirme, as increasing numbers of originally Muslim Turkish families had already enrolled their own sons into the force hoping for a lucrative career.


When a Christian boy was recruited under devşirme system, first he would be sent to selected Turkish families in the provinces to learn to speak Turkish, rules of Islam and customs and culture of Ottoman society. After completion of this period, acemi (rookie) boys would be gathered to be trained in Enderun "acemi oğlan" school at the capital city. At the school, young cadets would be selected for their talents in different areas to train as engineers, artisans, rifleman, clerics, archers, artillery etc. Janissaries trained under strict discipline with hard labour and in practically monastic conditions in acemi oğlan ("rookie" or "cadet") schools, where they were expected to remain celibate. They were also expected to convert to Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

. All did, as Christians were not allowed to bear arms in the Ottoman Empire until the 19th century. Unlike other Muslims, they were expressly forbidden to wear beards, only a moustache. These rules were obeyed by Janissaries, at least until the 18th century when they also began to engage in other crafts and trades, breaking another of the original rules.

For all practical purposes, Janissaries belonged to the Sultan, carrying the title kapıkulu ("door subjects" or "slaves of the Porte") they were regarded as the protectors of the throne and the Sultan. Janissaries were taught to consider the corps as their home and family, and the Sultan as their father. Only those who proved strong enough earned the rank of true Janissary at the age of twenty-four or twenty-five. The Ocak inherited the property of dead Janissaries, thus amassing wealth (like religious orders and foundations enjoying the "dead hand
Mortmain is a legal term that means ownership of real estate by a corporation or legal institution that can be transferred or sold in perpetuity; the term is usually used in the context of its prohibition...


Janissaries also learned to follow the dictates of the dervish
A Dervish or Darvesh is someone treading a Sufi Muslim ascetic path or "Tariqah", known for their extreme poverty and austerity, similar to mendicant friars in Christianity or Hindu/Buddhist/Jain sadhus.-Etymology:The Persian word darvīsh is of ancient origin and descends from a Proto-Iranian...

 saint Haji Bektash Veli, disciples of whom had blessed the first troops. Bektashi
Bektashi Order or Bektashism is an Islamic Sufi order founded in the 13th century by the Persian saint Haji Bektash Veli. In addition to the spiritual teachings of Haji Bektash Veli the order was significantly influenced during its formative period by both the Hurufis as well as the...

 served as a kind of chaplain
Traditionally, a chaplain is a minister in a specialized setting such as a priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam or lay representative of a religion attached to a secular institution such as a hospital, prison, military unit, police department, university, or private chapel...

 for Janissaries. In this and in their secluded life, Janissaries resembled Christian military orders like the Johannites
Knights Hospitaller
The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta , also known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta , Order of Malta or Knights of Malta, is a Roman Catholic lay religious order, traditionally of military, chivalrous, noble nature. It is the world's...

 of Rhodes
Rhodes is an island in Greece, located in the eastern Aegean Sea. It is the largest of the Dodecanese islands in terms of both land area and population, with a population of 117,007, and also the island group's historical capital. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within...

. As a symbol of their devotion to the order, janissaries wore special hats called "börk". These hats also had a place in front called "kaşıklık", to put a spoon which symbolizes the "kaşık kardeşliği" (brotherhood of the spoon); a sense of comradeship between janissaries who eat and sleep and fight and die together.

Janissary corps

The corps was organized in ortas (equivalent to battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

). An orta was headed by a çorbaci
Çorbacı was a military rank of the corps of Janissaries in the Ottoman Empire, used for the commander of an orta , i.e., approximately corresponding to the rank of colonel...

. All ortas together would comprise the proper Janissary corps and its organization named ocak (literally "hearth"). Suleiman I had 165 ortas but the number over time increased to 196. The Sultan was the supreme commander of the Army and the Janissaries in particular, but the corps was organized and led by their supreme ağa (commander). The corps was divided into three sub-corps:
  • the cemaat (frontier troops; also spelled jemaat), with 101 ortas
  • the beyliks or beuluks (the Sultan's own bodyguard), with 61 ortas
  • the sekban or seirnen, with 34 ortas

In addition there were also 34 ortas of the ajemi (cadets).
A semi-autonomous Janissary corps permanently based in Algiers.

Originally Janissaries could be promoted only through seniority and within their own orta. They would leave the unit only to assume command of another. Only Janissaries' own commanding officers could punish them. The rank names were based on positions in a kitchen staff or troop of hunters, perhaps to emphasise that Janissaries were servants of the Sultan.

Local Janissaries, stationed in a town or city for a long time, were known as yerliyya
In the Ottoman Empire of the 17th century the yerliyya was a term used to describe local Janissaries. These were Janissaries that had been sent to an urban centre many years ago and had become fully integrated into their surroundings, often playing important roles in the commercial and political...


Corps strength

Even though the Janissary corps were the "hassa" (royal) army, personal royal guards of the sultan, the corps was not the main force of the Ottoman military. In the classical period, janissaries comprised only 1/10 of the overall Ottoman army, while the traditional Turkish cavalry forces were the main battle force. According to David Nicolle
David Nicolle
David C. Nicolle is a British historian specialising in the military history of the Middle Ages, with a particular in the Middle East....

, the number of Janissaries in the 14th century was 1,000, and estimated to be 6,000 in 1475, whereas the same source estimates 40,000 as the number of Timarli Sipahi
Sipahi was the name of several Ottoman cavalry corps...

, the provincial cavalry which constituted the main force of the army. After the defeat in 1699, the number was reduced, but it was increased in the 18th century to 113,400 soldiers, but most were not actual soldiers and were accepted into the army through corrupt means and were only taking salary.
Year 1400 1514 1523 1526 1564 1567–68 1574 1603 1609 1660–61 1665 1669 1670 1680
Strength <1,000 10,156 12,000 7,885 13,502 12,798 13,599 14,000 37,627 54,222 49,556 51,437 49,868 54,222


In the first centuries, Janissaries were expert archers
Archery is the art, practice, or skill of propelling arrows with the use of a bow, from Latin arcus. Archery has historically been used for hunting and combat; in modern times, however, its main use is that of a recreational activity...

, but they began adopting firearms as soon as such became available during the 1440s. The siege of Vienna in 1529
Siege of Vienna
The Siege of Vienna in 1529 was the first attempt by the Ottoman Empire, led by Suleiman the Magnificent, to capture the city of Vienna, Austria. The siege signalled the pinnacle of the Ottoman Empire's power, the maximum extent of Ottoman expansion in central Europe, and was the result of a...

 confirmed the reputation of their engineers, e.g. sapping
Mining, landmining or undermining is a siege method which has been used since antiquity against a walled city, fortress, castle or other strongly held and fortified military position.-Antiquity:...

 and mining. In melee combat they used axe
The axe, or ax, is an implement that has been used for millennia to shape, split and cut wood; to harvest timber; as a weapon; and as a ceremonial or heraldic symbol...

s and kilij
A kilij is a type of saber used by the Turks throughout history starting from late Hsiung-nu period to Avar Empire and Göktürk Khaganate, Uyghur Khaganate, Seljuk Empire, Timurid Empire, Mamluk Empire, Ottoman Empire, and later Turkic Khanates of Central Asia...

s. Originally in peacetime they could carry only clubs or dagger
A dagger is a fighting knife with a sharp point designed or capable of being used as a thrusting or stabbing weapon. The design dates to human prehistory, and daggers have been used throughout human experience to the modern day in close combat confrontations...

s, unless they served as border troops. Turkish yatagan swords were the signature weapon of the janissaries, almost a symbol of the corps. Janissaries who guarded the palace(Zülüflü Baltacılar) carried long shafted axes and hallebards.

By the early 16th century, the Janissaries were equipped with and were skilled with musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

s. In particular, they used a massive 'trench gun', firing an 80 millimetres (3.1 in) ball, which was "feared by their enemies". Janissaries also made extensive use of early grenades and hand cannon, such as the abus gun
Abus Gun
The Abus gun is an early form of howitzer or more likely a bazooka created by the Ottoman empire. They were small, but often too heavy to carry, and many were equipped with a type of tripod...

. Pistols were not initially popular but they became so after the Cretan War (1645–1669)
Cretan War (1645–1669)
The Cretan War or War of Candia , as the Fifth Ottoman–Venetian War is better known, was a conflict between the Republic of Venice and her allies against the Ottoman Empire and the Barbary States, fought over the island of Crete, Venice's largest and richest overseas possession...



The Ottoman empire used Janissaries in all its major campaigns, including the 1453 capture of Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, the defeat of the Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

ian Mamluks and wars against Hungary
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

 and Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

. Janissary troops were always led to the battle by the Sultan himself, and always had a share of the booty. The Janissary Corps was the only infantry division of the Ottoman army which was otherwise mainly composed of cavalry forces. In battle the janissaries' main mission was to protect the sultan, using cannon and smaller firearms, and holding the center of the army against enemy attack during the strategic false retreat of Turkish cavalry. The Janissary corps also included smaller expert teams: explosive experts, engineers and technicians, sharpshooters(with arrow and rifle) miners who dug tunnels under fortresses etc.

Revolts and disbandment

As Janissaries became aware of their own importance they began to desire a better life. By the early 17th century Janissaries had such prestige and influence that they dominated the government. They could mutiny and dictate policy and hinder efforts to modernize the army structure. They could change Sultans as they wished through palace coups. They made themselves landholders and tradesmen. They would also limit the enlistment to the sons of former Janissaries who did not have to go through the original training period in the acemi oğlan, as well as avoiding the physical selection, thereby reducing their military value.

When Janissaries could practically extort money from the Sultan and business
A business is an organization engaged in the trade of goods, services, or both to consumers. Businesses are predominant in capitalist economies, where most of them are privately owned and administered to earn profit to increase the wealth of their owners. Businesses may also be not-for-profit...

 and family life replaced martial fervour, their effectiveness as combat troops decreased. The northern borders of the Ottoman Empire slowly began to shrink southwards after the second Battle of Vienna
Battle of Vienna
The Battle of Vienna took place on 11 and 12 September 1683 after Vienna had been besieged by the Ottoman Empire for two months...

 in 1683.

In 1449 they revolted for the first time, demanding higher wages, which they obtained. The stage was set for a decadent evolution, like the Streltsy
Streltsy were the units of Russian guardsmen in the 16th - early 18th centuries, armed with firearms. They are also collectively known as Marksman Troops .- Origins and organization :...

 of Tsar Peter's Russia or Praetorian Guard
Praetorian Guard
The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman Emperors. The title was already used during the Roman Republic for the guards of Roman generals, at least since the rise to prominence of the Scipio family around 275 BC...

 which had proved the greatest threat to Roman emperors, rather than an effective protection. After 1451, every new Sultan felt obligated to pay each Janissary a reward and raise his pay rank. Sultan Selim II
Selim II
Selim II Sarkhosh Hashoink , also known as "Selim the Sot " or "Selim the Drunkard"; and as "Sarı Selim" or "Selim the Blond", was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1566 until his death in 1574.-Early years:He was born in Constantinople a son of Suleiman the...

 gave janissaries permission to marry in 1566, undermining the exclusivity of loyalty to the dynasty.

By 1622, the Janissaries were a "serious threat" to the stability of the Empire. Through their "greed and indiscipline", they were now a law unto themselves and, against modern European armies, ineffective on the battlefield as a fighting force. In 1622, the teenage sultan, Osman II
Osman II
Sultan Osman II or Othman II was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1618 until his death on 20 May 1622...

, after a defeat during war against Poland determined to curb Janissary excesses and outraged at becoming "subject to his own slaves" tried to disband the Janissary corps blaming it for the disaster during Polish war. In the spring, hearing rumours that the Sultan was preparing to move against them, the Janissaries revolted and took the Sultan captive, imprisoning him in the notorious Seven Towers: he was murdered shortly afterwards.

In 1804, The dahis had taken power in the Sanjak of Smederevo
Sanjak of Smederevo
The Sanjak of Smederevo , also known as the Pashaluk of Belgrade , was an Ottoman administrative unit , that existed between the 15th and the outset of the 19th centuries...

in defiance of the Sultan and they feared that the Sultan would make use of the Serbs to oust them. To forestall this they decided to execute all prominent nobles thorughout Central Serbia
Slaughter of the knezes
The Slaughter of the Knezes, , was an event which occurred in January 1804, on the central square of Valjevo, Serbia, when the most prominent Serbian nobles, titled knezes , of Belgrade Pashaluk, were executed by the order of the Dahias, the Jannisary junta that ruled Serbia at the time.The Dahis...

. According to historical sources of the city of Valjevo
Valjevo is a city and municipality located in western Serbia. It is the center of the Kolubara District, which includes five other smaller municipalities with a total population of almost 180,000 people...

, heads of the murdered men (following their decapitation
Decapitation is the separation of the head from the body. Beheading typically refers to the act of intentional decapitation, e.g., as a means of murder or execution; it may be accomplished, for example, with an axe, sword, knife, wire, or by other more sophisticated means such as a guillotine...

) were put on public display in the central square to serve as an example to those who might plot against the rule of the janissaries.
The event triggered the start of the Serbian revolution
Serbian revolution
Serbian revolution or Revolutionary Serbia refers to the national and social revolution of the Serbian people taking place between 1804 and 1835, during which this territory evolved from an Ottoman province into a constitutional monarchy and a modern nation-state...

 with the First Serbian uprising
First Serbian Uprising
The First Serbian Uprising was the first stage of the Serbian Revolution , the successful wars of independence that lasted for 9 years and approximately 9 months , during which Serbia perceived itself as an independent state for the first time after more than three centuries of Ottoman rule and...

 aimed at putting an end to the 300 years of Ottoman occupation of modern Serbia
Serbia , officially the Republic of Serbia , is a landlocked country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, covering the southern part of the Carpathian basin and the central part of the Balkans...


In 1807 a Janissary revolt deposed Sultan Selim III
Selim III
Selim III was the reform-minded Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1789 to 1807. The Janissaries eventually deposed and imprisoned him, and placed his cousin Mustafa on the throne as Mustafa IV...

, who had tried to modernize the army along Western European lines. His supporters failed to recapture power before Mustafa IV
Mustafa IV
Mustafa IV was sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1807 to 1808.-Biography:...

 had him killed, but elevated Mahmud II
Mahmud II
Mahmud II was the 30th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1808 until his death in 1839. He was born in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, the son of Sultan Abdulhamid I...

 to the throne in 1808. When the Janissaries threatened to oust Mahmud II, he had the captured Mustafa executed and eventually came to a compromise with the Janissaries. Ever mindful of the Janissary threat, the sultan spent the next years discreetly securing his position. The Janissaries' abuse of power, military ineffectiveness, resistance to reform and the cost of salaries to 135,000 men, many of whom were not actually serving soldiers, had all become intolerable.

By 1826, the sultan was ready to move. Historian Patrick Kinross suggests that Mahmud II incited them to revolt on purpose, describing it as the sultan's "coup against the Janissaries". The sultan informed them, through a fatwa
A fatwā in the Islamic faith is a juristic ruling concerning Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar. In Sunni Islam any fatwā is non-binding, whereas in Shia Islam it could be considered by an individual as binding, depending on his or her relation to the scholar. The person who issues a fatwā...

, that he was forming a new army, organised and trained along modern European lines. As predicted, they mutinied, advancing on the sultan's palace. In the ensuing fight, the Janissary barracks were set in flames by artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 fire resulting in 4,000 Janissary fatalities. The survivors were either exiled or executed, and their possessions were confiscated by the Sultan. This event is now called the Auspicious Incident
The Auspicious Incident
The Auspicious Incident was the forced disbandment of the centuries-old Janissary corps by Ottoman sultan Mahmud II in June 1826....

. The last of the Janissaries were then put to death by decapitation in what was later called the blood tower, in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki , historically also known as Thessalonica, Salonika or Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the region of Central Macedonia as well as the capital of the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace...


Janissary music

Sultan Mahmud II abolished the mehter band in 1826 along with the Janissary corps. Mahmud replaced the mehter band in 1828 with a European style military band trained by Giuseppe Donizetti
Giuseppe Donizetti
Giuseppe Donizetti was, from 1828, Instructor General of the Imperial Ottoman Music at the court of Sultan Mahmud II .His younger brother Gaetano Donizetti was a famous Italian opera composer...


In modern times, although the Janissary corps no longer exists as a professional fighting force, the tradition of Mehter music is carried on as a cultural and tourist attraction.

The military music of the Janissaries is noted for its powerful percussion and shrill winds combining kös (giant timpani), davul
The davul or tupan is a large double-headed drum that is played with sticks. It has many names depending on the country and region.-Names:Some names of davuls include:*tupan *davul...

(bass drum), zurna
The zurna , is a multinational outdoor wind instrument, usually accompanied by a davul in Anatolian folk music. The name is from Turkish zurna, itself derived from Persian سرنای surnāy, composed of sūr “banquet, feast” and nāy “reed, pipe”...

(a loud shawm), naffir, or boru (natural trumpet), çevgan bell
Bell (instrument)
A bell is a simple sound-making device. The bell is a percussion instrument and an idiophone. Its form is usually a hollow, cup-shaped object, which resonates upon being struck...

s, triangle
Triangle (instrument)
The triangle is an idiophone type of musical instrument in the percussion family. It is a bar of metal, usually steel but sometimes other metals like beryllium copper, bent into a triangle shape. The instrument is usually held by a loop of some form of thread or wire at the top curve...

, (a borrowing from Europe), and cymbal
Cymbals are a common percussion instrument. Cymbals consist of thin, normally round plates of various alloys; see cymbal making for a discussion of their manufacture. The greater majority of cymbals are of indefinite pitch, although small disc-shaped cymbals based on ancient designs sound a...

s (zil), among others. Janissary music influenced European classical musicians such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...

 and Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

, both of whom composed marches in the Alla turca style (Mozart's Piano Sonata in A major
Piano Sonata No. 11 (Mozart)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K 331 is a sonata in three movements:#Andante grazioso — a theme with six variations#Menuetto — a minuet and trio#Alla Turca: Allegretto in A minor and major....

, K. 331 (c. 1783), Beethoven's incidental music for The Ruins of Athens
The Ruins of Athens
The Ruins of Athens , Opus 113, is a set of incidental music written in 1811 by Ludwig van Beethoven. The music was written to accompany the play of the same name by August von Kotzebue, for the dedication of a new theatre at Pest....

, Op. 113 (1811), and the final movement of Symphony no. 9), although the Beethoven example is now considered a march rather than Alla turca.

In 1952, the Janissary military band
Military band
A military band originally was a group of personnel that performs musical duties for military functions, usually for the armed forces. A typical military band consists mostly of wind and percussion instruments. The conductor of a band commonly bears the title of Bandmaster or Director of Music...

, Mehterân
Ottoman military band
Ottoman military bands are thought to be the oldest variety of military marching band in the world. Though they are often known by the Persian-derived word mahtar in the West, that word, properly speaking, refers only to a single musician in the band...

, was organized again under the auspices of the Istanbul Military Museum
Istanbul Military Museum
Istanbul Military Museum is dedicated to one thousand years of Turkish military history. It is one of the leading museums of its kind in the world. The museum is open to the public everyday except Mondays and Tuesdays....

. They have performances during some national holidays as well as in some parades during days of historical importance. For more details, see Turkish music (style)
Turkish music (style)
"Turkish music", in the sense described here, is not music of Turkey, but rather a musical style called Alla turca that was occasionally used by European composers of the 17th and 18th centuries...

 and Mehter.

In Popular Culture

Janissaries are shown in the 2011 video game Assassin's Creed: Revelations
Assassin's Creed: Revelations
Assassin's Creed: Revelations is a video game in the Assassin's Creed franchise developed and published by Ubisoft Montreal. The game was released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on November 15, 2011. For Microsoft Windows, the game is delayed until December 2, 2011...


See also

  • Culture of the Ottoman Empire
    Culture of the Ottoman Empire
    The culture of the Ottoman Empire evolved over several centuries as the ruling administration of the Turks absorbed, adapted and modified the cultures of conquered lands and their peoples...

  • Devşirme system
  • Ghilman
    Ghilman Ghilman Ghilman (singular ghulam describes either young servants in paradise or slave-soldiers in the Ottoman, Mughal and Persian Empires.-Islamic Theology:...

  • Mamluk
    A Mamluk was a soldier of slave origin, who were predominantly Cumans/Kipchaks The "mamluk phenomenon", as David Ayalon dubbed the creation of the specific warrior...

  • Millet system
    Millet (Ottoman Empire)
    Millet is a term for the confessional communities in the Ottoman Empire. It refers to the separate legal courts pertaining to "personal law" under which communities were allowed to rule themselves under their own system...

  • Military of the Ottoman Empire
    Military of the Ottoman Empire
    The history of military of the Ottoman Empire can be divided in five main periods. The foundation era covers the years between 1300 and 1453 , the classical period covers the years between 1451 and 1606 , the reformation period covers the years between 1606 and 1826 ,...

  • Saqaliba
    Saqaliba refers to the Slavs, particularly Slavic slaves and mercenaries in the medieval Arab world, in the Middle East, North Africa, Sicily and Al-Andalus. It is generally thought that the Arabic term is a Byzantine loanword: saqlab, siklab, saqlabi etc. is a corruption of Greek Sklavinoi for...


  • Agoston, Gabor. Barut, Top ve Tüfek Osmanlı İmparatorluğu'nun Asker Gücü ve Silah Sanayisi, ISBN 975-6051-41-8.
  • Goodwin, Godfrey (2001). The Janissaries. UK: Saqi Books
    Saqi Books
    Saqi Books is an independent UK publisher co-founded in 1984 by author and feminist Mai Ghoussoub to "print quality academic and general interest books on the Middle East". It now claims to be "the UK's largest publisher of Middle Eastern and Arabic titles"...

    . ISBN 978-0-86356-055-2
  • Goodwin, Jason
    Jason Goodwin
    Jason Goodwin is a British writer and historian. He studied Byzantine history at Cambridge University. Following the success of A Time For Tea: Travels in China and India in Search of Tea, he walked from Poland to Istanbul, Turkey...

     (1998). Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. New York: H. Holt ISBN 0-8050-4081-1
  • Jelavich, Barbara (1983). History of the Balkans, 18th and 19th Centuries. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521 27458-3
  • Kinross, Patrick (1977). The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire London: Perennial. ISBN 978-0-688-08093-8
  • Nicolle, David
    David Nicolle
    David C. Nicolle is a British historian specialising in the military history of the Middle Ages, with a particular in the Middle East....

     (1995). The Janissaries. London: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-85532-413-8
  • Shaw, Stanford J. (1976). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Vol. I). New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-29163-7
  • Shaw, Stanford J. & Shaw, Ezel Kural (1977). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Vol. II). New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-29166-8
  • Uzunçarşılı, İsmail (1988). Osmanlı Devleti Teşkilatından Kapıkulu Ocakları: Acemi Ocağı ve Yeniçeri Ocağı. Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu. ISBN 975-16-0056-1

External links

Representations in popular culture

  • The Janissary Tree
    The Janissary Tree
    The Janissary Tree is a crime novel, written by Jason Goodwin. It is set in Istanbul in 1836.The first in a series featuring the eunuch detective Yashim, it deals with the fictional aftermath of a real event in Ottoman history – the so-called Auspicious Event, which took place in June 1826 – the...

    a novel by Jason Goodwin set in 19th Century Istanbul
  • The Sultan's Helmsman a historical novel of the Ottoman Navy and Renaissance Italy
  • Janissary and Elite Janissary are units available in Age of Empires II and Age of Empires III
  • The Janissaries Of Emilion a short story by Basil Copper
    Basil Copper
    Basil Copper is a prolific English writer and former journalist and newspaper editor. He became a fulltime writer in 1970.In addition to horror and detective fiction, Copper is perhaps best known for his series of Solar Pons stories continuing the character created as a tribute to Sherlock Holmes...

  • In Assassin's Creed: Revelations
    Assassin's Creed: Revelations
    Assassin's Creed: Revelations is a video game in the Assassin's Creed franchise developed and published by Ubisoft Montreal. The game was released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on November 15, 2011. For Microsoft Windows, the game is delayed until December 2, 2011...

    they are one of the many different type of enemy soldiers the player can fight
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