The Janissaries – The Elite Soldiers of the Turkish Empire

The Janissaries were the military elite of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. Dedicated fighting machine loyal only to Sultan. Learn about Janissary armor, weapons, battles, and revolts.

Image for postJanissary Elite warriors (Source: Pinterest/Artstation)

Did you know?

  • During Turkish raids, small boys were especially coveted plunder. Turkish warriors kidnapped young Christian boys and gave them as a gift to the sultan. Sultan brainwashed them and converted them into Islam. These boys became Janissaries.
  • They were not allowed to marry, nor to father children. Their life was dedicated to constant drilling and exercise. Slaves, loyal only to the sultan, they were brought up with a single purpose only. To kill and maintain the power of the Ottoman empire.
  • The Janissaries were the sultan?s personal bodyguard. Since they were taken from abroad, they didn?t sympathize with ordinary Turkish people.
  • Later, the Janissaries, aware of their power, forced the sultan to give them more privileges. They were allowed to marry. They were allowed to conduct business. Their ranks became hereditary.
  • They became similar to the Pretorian Guard in the Roman empire. Raising sultans to power or dethroning them. Sultans were outraged at becoming ?subject to their own slaves?.
  • Janissaries’ power was also a source of their demise. Strongly holding to their rights and controlling sultans, they resisted any reform. Indulging in the ordinary life of married ones and conducting businesses instead of training caused their military prowess to vain.
  • Eventually, they became a burden to the Ottoman Empire. In mid 19th century sultan carefully orchestrated their destruction. Once formidable military force was destroyed. The Janissaries simply haven?t adapted to new circumstances.

Image for postJanissaries in battle, 17th century (

Now let?s start from the beginning

Sultan Murad I, ruled the Ottoman empire from 1362 until 1389. He started a blood tax system known as dev?irme, or ?gathering,? for Christian territories conquered by the Ottoman Empire.

Every 5 years Turkish officials would travel to Balkans and took one boy aged between 6 and 10 years from every 40 houses. Since only 1 out of every 40 houses were taken, those boys had no friends. Another way to gather young boys was to buy them from slave traders or kidnap them during raiding.

Young boys were taken to central Anatolia and given to Turkish families to be raised in Islam and get familiar with Turkish customs. After 7 years of work at farms, they were taken back to the capital and tested. Based on their physical strength, intelligence and looks were assigned to different branches of the military, ranging from artillery, navy to infantry. But in general, they were infantry troops.

Young boys trained for over 6 years. During this time they were drilled and trained to use a variety of weapons, including bows, muskets, javelins, and swords. Ony after, they became yenieri (new soldiers).

The Janissaries played a decisive role in the capture of Constantinople in 1453. They defeated Egyptian Mamluks in 1486 and in 1516 and Iranian Safavids in 1514. The greatest moment of Janissary victory was at the battle of Mohacs in 1526, where Jannisaries destroyed Hungarian cavalry with swift gunfire attacks.

Image for postJanissaries in battle (Source:Pinterest/@pinturasdeguerra)

According to some of the sources, the Janissaries were superb marksmen who could aim accurately and also maintain a fast rate of firing, even in bad light conditions. They were famous for their discipline and silent movement.

After a while, poor Turkish families started to bribe officials to take their sons in as Jannisary recruits and thus enabling them a decent life. Their numbers grew from approximately 20,000 men in the 16th century to well over 100,000 by the 19th century

Food played a key role in the daily life of janissary. Each division was called a hearth (Ocak). High-rank officers were called soup makers (orbac?). Other military ranks were designated by culinary terms: A??ba??, the chef; karakulluku, the scullion; reki, the baker; gzlemeci, the griddle bread maker. As a symbol of his rank, the soup maker carried a large ladle.

Important decisions were taken around the cauldron, where soup was cooked. In case of the coup the cauldron would be overturned, the soup spilled and the cauldron would be used as a huge drum banging with the beat of the ladle. Sultans were scared to death to the sound of ladles on the cauldron.

Image for postBattle of Belgrade ? Elite Janissary corps in action (Source:Instagram/@picsabouthistory)

Jannisarries were slaves, however, they had many privileges. They held important positions in the Ottoman government, some of them rising to the position of vizier. Viziers answered only to the sultan himself.

Janissaries quickly adopted gunfire and through discipline, fanatism and advanced armament played a key role in the expansion of the Ottoman empire. After a while, they became the warrior elite of the Ottoman Empire.

They were shock troops, therefore were swift and agile. They wore only light armor and a small round shield. The main weapon of choice for Janissaries was the bow and Turkish yatagan swords and later on when they really started to become powerful, the musket. They wore plain uniforms.

Image for postTypical Janissary weapons (Source: Alberto Malagugini, Artstation)

After a defeat against Poland in 1622, Osman II decided to curb Janissary excesses and angry at becoming ?subject to his own slaves? tried to disband the corps. However, the Janissaries revolted and murdered teenage sultan in the notorious Seven Towers.

In 1807 Janissaries revolted again and deposed Sultan Selim III, who had tried to modernize the army. His successor Sultan Mahmud II stroke compromise with Janissaries to stay in power. Aware of Janissary’s threat, the sultan diligently planned the destruction of Janissaries.

By 1826 plot was ready and the sultan ordered janissaries to be disbanded. As expected, they revolted, therefore sultan used force and had more than 6,000 Janissaries executed.

As for the Ottoman Empire goes, it was already too late. In mid of 19th century, the empire was known as a ?Sick man of Europe?. Slowly waiting for its end.

Image for postJanissary in 16th century (Source:Pinterest/Norman Miller)Image for post


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