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History 103 Research Paper Proposal

Title: Abolishment of Janissaries

Historical Question: How did Mahmud II abolish the Janissaries and what were its effects? [Read here how to develop a good historical question.]

Though some dispute about the Janissaries' foundation in Ottoman history, the devshirme system was founded in the early era of Ottomans, probably during Orhan's reign due to his relationship with Bektashi sect through his brother. From their foundation to their removal, the Janissary troops remained the backbone of the Ottoman army; they were perhaps the best organized and centralized army among their contemporaries in Europe when they were founded. As a well-organized army located in the capital during peace times, the Janissaries held a considerable threat for their enemies both outside and inside of the state. Janissaries had a key role in the Ottoman princes' crowning, and they usually used their power to crown the prince who they favored. They also initiated rebellions against Ottoman sultans who were acting against their interests, and they sided with common folk and ulema on these occasions. The reason for this alliance was that the janissary soldiers' held common interests with citizens; janissaries had alternative jobs such as shopkeepers because of the economic problems that the Ottoman state faced especially after sixteenth century, and the measures that Ottoman Sultans took affected both once distinct now embedded classes in similar ways.

Most of the sultans who tried to abolish or replace the Janissaries to increase their authority over state suffered from these different classes' alliance, and they were dethroned, and in some extraordinary cases like Osman II, were killed. The historians such as Berkes, Lewis, and Shaw tend to explain these revolts against the Sultans as conservative acts of Janissaries and common folk who were against reformation and westernization , but one should not forget that these rebellions were also reactions of the mentioned classes against increasing centralization and its limiting effects on their daily lives. Selim III, who tried to implement the Nizam-i Cedid army and financed it with additional taxes, was dethroned by a rebellion that was supported by not only janissaries but also common folk. Mahmud II learned from the mistakes of Selim III, and he never faced two different enemies at the same time when he tried to increase his authority. He first eliminated the notables (except Mehmed Ali Pasha of Egypt) with the help of Janissaries and common folk; then he initiated new troops named Sekbans with the approval from the ulema, which Selim III did not get for his European-style dressed Nizam-i Cedid Army. Mahmud formerly bribed some important figures from ulema and with the help of their networks, he presented the Bektashi characteristics of Janissaries to gain support from common folk, who were mostly Sunnis. Therefore, he managed to break the alliance between Janissaries and common folk; then with the aid of ulemas and theology students, he exterminated all Janissaries and brought a new level of state centralization. The event was named "Vaka-yi Hayriye" (Auspicious Incident) by the state historians, but it also emphasized the Sunni Islamic characteristics of the state more than ever in its history. The Bektashi sect was banned in the Empire after this event and lots of regions in Balkans, where the Bektashi sect was most powerful, separated from Empire because of the increased pressure from central authority and its subjects' lack of religious bonds unlike the Sunni community in other regions. The absence of a central army definitely decreased the power of the state and seeing the effects of "Vaka-yi Hayriye" in recent Ottoman history, it is debatable that which party benefited from the abolishment of Janissaries.

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