Home » History » Between Hinterland and Frontier: Ottoman Vidin, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries

Between Hinterland and Frontier: Ottoman Vidin, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries

A STRONGHOLD AND A PORT ON THE DANUBE FROM ROMAN TIMES, and the capital city of one of the Bulgarian states (1371–96), Vidin was incorporated into the expanding Ottoman principality shortly after the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396 as a punishment for its ruler’s co-operation with the crusaders. The battle marked the end of the Second Bulgarian Empire and was the last substantial crusade of the Middle Ages. From then until the mid-sixteenth century the town and the surrounding sancak constituted an important part of the Ottoman frontier against Serbia, Wallachia and Hungary. It was besieged and captured several times, while the region was laid waste during neighbouring states’ raids. However, the fall of Belgrade (1521) and especially the conquest of Temes¸var (Temesvár, Timis¸oara) in the 1550s left Vidin in the second and even the third line of Ottoman defence. The unstable Wallachian affiliation to the empire, however, justified the need to retain a solid chain of fortresses on the Danube. Vidin remained an important component of the Ottoman fortified line, a military as well as a civil port on the south bank of the river. Yet, until the war with the Holy League (Austria, Venice, Poland and Russia, 1683–99), despite several attacks from the north, the region remained free from actual fighting. It was only then, in 1688–90 in particular, that Hapsburg forces penetrated deep into Ottoman territory, capturing the fortress of Vidin (13 October 1689). This event marked a turning point in the history of the town and the region, bringing them back to the front line, which was now against the Hapsburgs rather than the Wallachians, the latter coming directly under Ottoman authority.1 The importance of Vidin was enhanced after the war of 1715–18 when the Hapsburgs occupied and kept for thirty years Belgrade, much of northern Serbia, and even two districts of the Vidin sancak. During the war of 1737–9 Vidin was again besieged by the Hapsburgs.2

After the Treaty of Belgrade (1739), Ottoman control over the region was restored. However, in the last decades of the eighteenth century and the first of the nineteenth century, there occurred one of the most serious attempts to secede in the history of the Ottoman state, that of Osman Pasvanoglu3 and the Serbian Uprisings. In fact, it was only after the 1820s that Ottoman authority was finally restored in Vidin.

In this chapter I examine how the frontier and the changing fate of the region influenced the military system as well as the provincial administration and agrarian regime. I focus on Vidin in the period of the wars which made it a frontier outpost again, being either directly occupied (by the Holy League) or under immediate threat (in 1715–18). As in many other frontier areas, military activity affected relations between Muslims and Christians in the province and the town of Vidin.4 This chapter is not intended to be a comprehensive study of Ottoman Vidin, but rather to contribute to a better understanding of the complex impact of the wars during the expansion and contraction of the Ottoman state.5
The chapter is based mainly on documents from the series of kadı sicils, the records of the sharia court in the town, preserved from the last years of the seventeenth century onwards and kept in the Sofia National Library; tapu tahrir defters and single documents related to the functioning of the timar system in the region; and the results of relevant archaeological research, as well as published research on Vidin’s history.6

During the fifteenth century the main strongholds on the lower course of the Danube were Vidin, Nigbolu (modern Nikopol) and Silistre.7 Around them were clustered smaller forts on the river and deeper into the territory of modern northern Bulgaria, and several bridgeheads on the Wallachian side which were probably inherited from the Bulgarian tsardoms.8 These three fortresses constituted the backbone of the Ottoman frontier in the region until Bulgarian Liberation (1878) with one major shift.

Starting from the seventeenth century Rusçuk (Ruse) and Yergögi (Giurgiu), which was on the opposite side of the river, gradually replaced Nigbolu and its twin, Holıvnik (Turnu Ma˘gurele). The location of Rusçuk, safe from Hapsburg attacks, seems to have justified its choice as the base of the Ottoman fleet on the river and the seat of the kapudan pas¸a (admiral). During the seventeenth century all four places functioned as land fortifications, as bases of the respective sections of the Ottoman flotilla patrolling and guarding the river, and as important stores of munitions and provisions. What made Vidin particularly important was its proximity to the Hungarian front, which forced the Ottomans to preserve its more complex defensive system, including a constellation of satellite fortifications. Elsewhere on the Danube, after the fifteenth century and the establishment of Ottoman control over the region, the forts on the second and third lines of defence were abandoned and only a string on the river banks were kept, mainly to control the traffic across and along the waterway.

In the fifteenth century the sancak of Vidin, probably more an uc9 than a regular administrative unit, was defended by the fortress in Vidin and the forts of Belgrad (later Belgradcık, modern Belogradchik), Filurdin (Florentin), I˙sfirlik (Svrljig), and Bane (Soko Banja). Later, Fethülislam (Kladovo) was added to them,10 then Severin and Ors¸ova. The latter two remained in the sancak until at least 1586, but in the seventeenth century were no longer part of it.11 Towards the end of the war with the Holy League and immediately after, it fortifications were built, Brza Palanka in modern Serbia, and Archar, Lom (Polomiye) and Kutlofçe (Montana) in modern Bulgaria.12 Six of the fortifications in the sancak—Fethülislam, Brza Palanka, Filurdin, Vidin, Archar and Lom—are on the Danube, while four are in the hinterland; only Archar and Lom are east of Vidin. This clearly shows that the sancak’s defences were orientated against the north-west, with the river considered the weak point. An order from 1701 concerning stocktaking of munitions in the serhad (frontier) lists Vidin, Lom, Belgrad, Filurdin, I˙sfirlik and Archar as fortresses (kale) in the sancak.13 What had happened to the rest is difficult to judge—they may have been destroyed during the war or, more likely, to another administrative unit as part of the reorganisation triggered by the contraction of the Ottoman borders after the Treaty of Karlowitz.14 Some of the satellite forts are called interchangeably kale and palanka15 (Lom, Archar, Filurdin, Belgrad).16 At the beginning of the eighteenth century, units of the Janissary corps and of the local troops (yerlü) were stationed in all of them. There were detachments of the elite Janissary cavalry, the Six Regiments (altı bölük), in Vidin, Kutlofçe and Berkovitsa,17 the latter two being deep in the territory of the province, and probably included in it only after 1699. I have not yet discovered any evidence of a fort in Berkovitsa.

Originally the fortifications of Vidin, the focal point in the system and the seat of the governors, consisted of a citadel and fortress walls surrounding the outer city.18 During the reign of Bayezid II (1481–1512) the defences were reconstructed to accommodate artillery and firearms. At an unknown date the walls around the outer town were dismantled, perhaps after the conquest of Hungary, because they were no longer needed or, more likely, after the devastating raids of Michael the Brave, Prince of Wallachia and Transylvania, between 1595 and 1599, when Vidin, Filurdin and Fethülislam, along with Rusçuk, Silistre, Nigbolu and even towns deep within the Danube plain were plundered and set on fire, and their inhabitants killed, enslaved or forced to move across the river.19 The citadel of Vidin, however, survived this violent period. It continued to house the garrison, the residence of the governor, and stores of munitions, water and provisions.20 Its primary function was to repel eventual incursions of Wallachians and those of bandits. Changes were triggered by the Hapsburg conquest of the region during the war with the Holy League. On capturing the town, the Austrians started to restore the fortifications of Vidin in line with Vauban’s system.

This was completed by the Ottomans in 1722–3, after the Treaty of Passarowitz with the Austrians and Venetians (1718), when the fortress came to be directly on the frontier with the Hapsburgs.21 The citadel was modernised and a new semicircular fortress was constructed that protected some neighbourhoods from the river’s spring tide and military threats. Improvements to the fortifications continued during the eighteenth century. Osman Pasvanoglu renovated and strengthened them further, turning Vidin into an invincible stronghold, at least against the sultan’s army. The final enlargement and alterations to the fortifications were undertaken in the nineteenth century as part of the modernisation of the Ottoman military, and because of the region’s role as an outpost against the growingly independent Serbia and Wallachia, and the Russian menace.

Also inherited from the medieval Balkan states was the use of river men-of-war.22 It seems that the earliest organisation of the fleet on the Danube included units of boats attached to the main ports which patrolled strictly defined stretches. From the early fifteenth century there had been a captain (kapudan) in Vidin.23 In the 1660s he was in command of ten boats with 300 soldiers whose main task was to persecute brigands who crossed the river or infested the islands.24 It is not clear whether before the seventeenth century the Vidin detachment and the others in the sancak had formed an independent unit under the general command of the sancakbeyi or had been part of a separate structure of the river fleet. From the beginning of the seventeenth century,  when the Tuna kapudanlık (Danube Admiralty) was formed and the seat of the admiral was established in Rusçuk, until the mid-eighteenth century, all small captainships on the lower Danube, including the one in Vidin, were under the command of this high officer, who at the end of the seventeenth and probably at the beginning of the eighteenth century held the rank of a provincial governor (mirimiran).25 Unfortunately, the organisation of the Ottoman military fleet on the river for the following century has been little researched. According to a couple of documents in the sicils of the kadı of Vidin, it was the admiral of the Danube fleet who initiated the appointment of the new garrison commander (dizdar) of the palanka of Archar in 1705,26 but it is not clear why. Neither do we know whether he had control over all the fortified ports on the Lower Danube or if the dizdar was also the commander of the local unit of ships. Under Osman Pazvantoglu the defence of the Vidin fortress was supported by ships, which are mentioned in the context of the sieges by the imperial army. Until the end of the sixteenth century ships were constructed at several places along the Danube, including at Vidin. The local shipbuilding works produced boats for the last campaign of Süleyman the Magnificent in Hungary in 1566, and in 1573–4 after the destruction of the Ottoman fleet at Lepanto.27 It is difficult to tell when this activity ceased at Vidin, but during the second half of the seventeenth century the dockyard (tersane) at Rusçuk/Yergögi, under the direct supervision of the kapudan pas¸a, became the main basis for construction, repairs and equipment of the river state-owned ships. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries some workshops at Vidin were probably maintained for smaller repairs.

Human Resources

As elsewhere in the Balkans, after the conquest and the pacification of the region, the Ottomans introduced to Vidin the ‘classical’ timar system which supported the provincial heavy cavalry (sipahi) troops, the fortress guards (mustahfızan), the highest-ranking officers on the boats, and commanders of some of the paramilitary corps. In the midfifteenth century the sancakbeyi of Vidin led a force of 292 men, including timarlı sipahis (122, of whom two were zaims), their servants (gulam, 46) and the auxiliary armed men (cebelü, 124) they had to bring.28 Around 18 per cent of the sipahis were Christians, and 3 per cent were recent converts.29 In 1520–30, there were 10 zaims and 225 sipahis,30 that is a fighting force of probably double the number, or even more, if the proportion of auxiliaries seen in the previous registration remained the same. Around 1560 there were 12 zeamet and 190 timars of sipahis in the sancak but the register does not provide information about the nature of their holders’ military obligations and the number of the auxiliary soldiers. As elsewhere in the central Balkan provinces, by the middle of the sixteenth century, Christian sipahis had practically disappeared from the fighting force of the sancak.31 Unfortunately, the existing documentation concerning the timar holdings there from the last decades of the sixteenth century has, with a few exceptions,32 remained largely inaccessible to me.33 Even what is available, however, allows me to agree with the conclusion of Kayapınar that during the fifteenth to sixteenth century the number of the hasses, zeamets and timars in the region grew, and so did the number of their holders, with a noticeable tendency for the revenues of one timar to be shared by more than one sipahi.34

Sources for the seventeenth century are scarce. There are no registers that reveal the full size of the sipahi forces. Some information may be drawn from the Law-book of Ayni Ali (1609–10), who records 12 zeamets and 195 timars for the sancak of Vidin.35

Given doubts about the dating of the figures provided by him and the fact that the numbers are very close to the late sixteenth-century ones,36 I am reluctant to draw any final conclusions based on it alone. On the other hand, while the sipahis from Vidin do not figure in the 1605–6 and 1607–8 roll-calls (yoklama defter),37 they did participate in the war, only on another front, supporting the anti-Hapsburg revolt of István Bocskai in Transylvania.38 Evliya Çelebi, who visited the town in the 1660s, records 12 zeamet and 65 timars in the sancak. This would make about one-fourth to one-third of the cavalrymen supported by the timar system only a century earlier. However, according to the same author, the sancakbeyi, who at that time held a hass of 330,000 akçes, actually produced a force of 2,000 soldiers, which included the private troops of the pasha and another 300 furnished by the nazır (overseer) of the mukataas (tax units) in the kaza.39 As with Ayni Ali, suspicions about the reliability of Evliya’s data are widespread.

My work so far, however, suggests that while occasionally the numbers may be inflated and some of his stories sound rather fabulous, most of the information he provides about places he had personally visited does stand comparison with the documentary evidence.40 Despite the remoteness of the Hapsburg frontier, during the first three centuries of Ottoman rule, the number of the fortress guards increased steadily.

In Vidin alone their number grew from thirteen in 1454–5 to eighty-three in 1530, including the commander of the garrison and his deputy, and then to ninety-three in 1560,41 and around 150 in the 1660s.42

Thus for the seventeenth century the available sources43 suggest that the timarlı sipahi troops still existed in the sancak, but were clearly in decline; timars were being lost in favour of the expanding hasses of the sultan and the grand vizier.44 After the war with the Holy League the timar system and the cavalrymen and garrison troops supported by it seem to have disappeared from the landscape in this region. This situation, while reflecting a general trend of decline of the timarlı troops, shows that in the region of Vidin the process had developed faster than in the majority of the Balkans, where sipahis lingered at least in name until the mid-nineteenth century.45

After the war at the end of the seventeenth century Vidin emerged as a highly militarised town with a large number of Janissaries.46 Although precise numbers are unclear, we know that at the turn of the eighteenth century there were detachments of the elite Janissary cavalry (probably around sixty men on the territory of the sancak) and of the regular Janissary infantry as well as corps of the ‘local troops’ (yerlü) such as bes¸lüyan, farisan and so on.47 Half a century later, in 1750, according to Ahmed Cevad Pasha, the Janissaries’ number was an impressive 5,440 men, the largest contingent in the Balkans,48 probably including ‘local troops’. It seems that during the eighteenth century, as is well attested in other parts of the empire, ‘regular’ Janissaries in Vidin stopped rotating and started taking roots locally. At the same time enterprising

locals infiltrated their ranks. An exemplary case is that of the family of Osman Pasvanoglu. In the 1760s his father was the commander (aga)49 of the 31st Janissary orta, and later Osman too was to become one of its commanders, implying the existence of hereditary affiliation to the unit. Another interesting trait of the Vidin Janissaries in the eighteenth century is the fact that a significant number among them bore Abdullah as their patronym. This may indicate that in Vidin converts, though not levied through the devs¸irme, may have served as a major source to fill the ranks of the corps even in the eighteenth century, serving alongside Janissaries who had migrated to Vidin from the territories lost after Karlowitz and Passarowitz, and local Muslims.50

An important feature of the region, which can be traced back to the fifteenth century, is the very close links between the Muslim inhabitants of the town (and the whole sancak) and the military corps. In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries these groups to a great extent overlapped, as is demonstrated by the way in which names of members of military units are often linked with professions, such as grocer, butcher, barber, dervish, tanner and tailor. At the same time almost every single inventory of the estates of deceased Muslim men in the eighteenth-century Vidin sicils includes varieties of swords and rifles, revealing a society that lived with war at the doorstep, always ready to fight. This impression becomes even stronger after the war of 1715–18.51 None of these traits was unique to Vidin, but there they seem to have been particularly acutely expressed. It is difficult to say when and how exactly the transformation from a timarlı to a Janissary region took place but it may be related to seventeenth-century changes in the concept of warfare which had made the sipahi troops obsolete. Of no less importance was the impact of the frontier and of the wars of 1683–99 and 1715–18.

During the early period and as late as the second half of the sixteenth century, the majority, if not all, Muslim reaya (tax-paying subjects) in the sancak seem to have been engaged in paramilitary activities. Some, especially those living in its western parts, served as irregular cavalry (akıncı)52 whose major tasks included ravaging territories under attack, scaring the local population and clearing the way before the main body of the army, and taking part in defence in the event of enemy raids. In return they received part of the spoils and occasionally tax relief. Towards the end of the sixteenth century akıncıs were still found in the towns of Bane, I˙sfirlik, Belgrad, and several villages in the sancak. While all of them were Muslims, there is evidence that the corps contained converts.53 Muslims were also involved in the defence of the forts, although direct evidence for this in Vidin does not exist.54 However, in nearby Nigbolu under Mehmed II and Süleyman I, the Muslim reaya were obliged to serve in defending the fortress there and its counterpart across the Danube in lieu of the so-called ‘extraordinary taxes’.55 These arrangements were confirmed several times, including in 1697–8. Among the Muslim reaya in Nigbolu there were also serhadlis, irregular soldiers on the border within the so-called serdengeçti corps.56 The latter were conscripted by the state as volunteers from among the Janissaries and served as a vanguard entrusted with the most difficult tasks. The same arrangements were in place at Silistre, where the Muslim reaya also supported the local travel station and expenses for state messengers.57

The information about Nigbolu and Silistre, and the indirect evidence for Vidin in the seventeenth century, suggests that many, if not all, Muslims in Vidin and the province continued to be directly involved in warfare (let us not forget the 2,000 men Evliya Çelebi mentions) as volunteers or in auxiliary services, and that the boundaries between Muslim reaya and the askeri had become even more blurred than in earlier centuries.58 It is not surprising that Vidin is one of the places where the division between ‘Muslims’ and ‘reaya’, in which reaya stands for Christians, appears in local documentation rather early, from the first decade of the eighteenth century.59 Apart from its probably derogatory meaning, this may have reflected a reality in which all Muslims could serve as military and the Christians were completely excluded from it. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, however, the Christian reaya in the sancak of Vidin had also performed paramilitary and auxiliary services for the Ottoman military system60—as derbendcis (mountain pass guards),61 martolosan,62 voynuks,63 müselleman,64 and filurciyan.65 Christians were also involved in the maintenance of the fortresses, mainly as craftsmen—carpenters, builders, rope-makers, caulkers, smiths— but also as producers of arrows, shields, guns, cannons.66 Most of these men were exempted from the ‘extraordinary taxes’, and sometimes also from the ispence or paid it at a reduced rate (the derbendcis, martolosan, filurciyan, müselleman), the cizye (the martolosan, filurciyan, müselleman, voynuks), the tithes (the filurciyan). Some received a bas¸tina, a tax-exempt farm (voynuks, martolosan, filurciyan); others were salaried (especially the craftsmen). While these institutions were staffed as a rule by Christians, their commanders, who often received timars, were exclusively Muslims. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, after the frontier moved west, some of the corps were disbanded (such as the filurciyan), others were preserved, but their nature changed and they had less and less to do with military obligations. Their members were reduced to the status of ordinary reaya. Unfortunately, there are no reliable sources about the Vidin Christians’ participation in defence and military activities for the seventeenth century and until the war of 1715–18.

Christian participation in Ottoman military forces was not confined to Vidin. A glimpse at the other fortresses on the Danube may give some ideas as to how things might have developed in the century and a half between the late sixteenth century and 1718. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries a significant number of Christians in Nigbolu were engaged in real military service, defending the frontier and the fortress under the command of the sancakbeyi, as archers, gunners, martolosan, and in maintenance, as smiths, carpenters, arrow-producers, builders, in return for substantial tax exemptions. Some served also in the fortresses of Holıvnik (Turnu Ma˘gurele) and Yergögi (Giurgiu) across the Danube. Another group operated under the command of the Nigbolu kapudan, employed both as a fighting force and to undertake maintenance.

During the seventeenth century the numbers of all these groups dropped significantly, but more importantly, now the majority were auxiliaries, serving on the flotilla and as craftsmen, rather than having paramilitary or strictly military functions.67 Until the end of the sixteenth century only a small group of Christians were engaged as craftsmen, mainly smiths and carpenters in the defence of the fortress of Silistre. As with Vidin and Nigbolu there were also voynuks, who in the seventeenth century were no longer a paramilitary corps but were responsible for taking care of the sultan’s horses. The real change occurred after the Long War (1593–1606), when the local Christians fought bravely against the Wallachian invasion. The Ottomans appreciated their loyalty and granted them considerable tax exemptions. In exchange the Christians were obliged to equip and maintain two military boats, which were reduced to one at the beginning of the eighteenth century.68

Vidin seems to have been closer to the pattern of Nigbolu than of Silistre. What makes it distinct, however, is the fact that after the Treaty of Passarowitz (1718), at which the Ottomans lost substantial Balkan territories to Austria, local Janissaries applied to the central authorities to sanction their demand for the banishment of the Christians from the newly fortified part of the town, referring to the kanun-i serhad (the law of the frontier). The Christians were ordered to sell their houses to Muslims and build new ones of wood, not stone, outside the walls so that these could not serve as a shelter for an enemy in the case of attack. Their two churches were preserved where they were but were surrounded with high walls. Practising Christianity became very difficult, especially since Christians were not allowed to stay in the fortified part of the town after sunset. Jews remained in the walled part of the town, as a clear indication that they were the more trusted of the non-Muslim groups.69 The spatial division of faiths remained in force until the end of the Ottoman domination in the region, although some neighbourhoods outside the walls were mixed. The reasons behind this spectrum of attitudes to non-Muslims in the three strongholds on the Danube were varied. The decline in the use of non-Muslims in the military establishment was contemporaneous with the increasing ‘sunnification’ of the Ottoman Empire and in line with one of the limitations imposed by Islamic legal theory on the status of the so-called ‘protected’ (zimmi) non-Muslims in the Islamic state which prohibits their possession of weapons. It was accompanied by a steady growth of the Muslim population, which became sufficiently large to meet the requirements of both offensive and defensive warfare on its own. Another important factor was the expanded Janissary corps, which increasingly became an instrument for Muslim reaya to change their status.70

The curtailment of non-Muslims in regular military service was also rooted in the political climate, for the Ottoman authority was becoming increasingly aware of the shift in their Christian subjects’ sentiments towards Ottoman enemies. Normally, conquered non-Muslims—when they submitted voluntarily to the Muslims—would be left in their residential areas, even in the citadel of a fortress, as several examples from the Ottoman conquest show. However, any subversive act could upset this arrangement.71 So far I have not come across any evidence of any acts by the Vidin Christians in support of the Hapsburgs. However, there was (probably) in 1688 a rising of Bulgarian Catholics in north-western Bulgaria as well as several scattered rebellions and conspiracies in northern Bulgaria among the Orthodox.72 During the war with the Holy League, Orthodox Christians in Serbia widely supported the Austrian army. At  its withdrawal thousands of them followed, led by Patriarch Arsenije III of the Peć Patriarchate. Yet none of these events, which took place very close to Vidin, seems to have upset relations between Christians and Muslims there, at least not immediately.

After the war Christians in the district of Vidin applied for permission to reconstruct their churches, which had obviously suffered during the war.73 In 1696 and 1698–9 they were relieved from paying cizye on the grounds of poverty and devastation caused by military action.74 The list of the Ottoman authorities’ acts showing that they were dedicated to preserving good relations with their Christian subjects could be extended.

However, the Austrian occupation brought about not only significant displacement of Vidin’s population,75 but caused considerable problems for local Muslims. More than twenty years later the latter still referred to the ‘infidels’ invasion’ (kefire-i istilâ) as the reason for the flight of many local people, for the destruction and desecration of places of worship, and for the loss of the registers of the kadı court, which required recording many documents anew.76 This shock, reinforced by the even more disastrous war of 1715–18, when the district once again became the theatre of military hostilities, and not last, the fact that many of the Muslims now living in Vidin had come from the lost territories, must have laid a lasting imprint on the attitude of the Muslim inhabitants of the town vis-à-vis Christians. A final blow to the relations between the Ottomans/Muslims and the local Christian reaya must have been dealt by the growth of banditry during the war of 1715–18, which prompted the local authorities to demand the signing of a collective liability declaration from the local Christian reaya that they would not support the hayduds.77

Administrative System and Agrarian Regime

The territory of Vidin sancak remained relatively stable through the centuries. For most of the period under study until the end of the seventeenth century Vidin belonged to the eyalet of Rumeli. The new geopolitical situation after the Treaty of Karlowitz forced the Ottomans to restructure the administrative units in the region. Vidin was then included in the eyalet of Temes¸var and the frontier. After 1718 it went back to Rumeli, this time as the immediate serhad. Significant fluctuations in its boundaries can be observed during the fifteenth century, related to the Ottoman expansion westward, and then after the end of the seventeenth century, reflecting the reorganisation of the Ottoman frontier and the loss of territories to the neighbours.

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the timar system and the corps based on it underlay the administrative system in the region. Indeed, one of the main features of the landholding there, with a direct bearing on the development of the administrative system, was the introduction of the miri system. The imperial hass in the sancak comprising 498 villages in 1560 was, according to D. Bojanić -Lukać , the largest one in the Balkans.78 Other hasses were held by the sancakbeyi, and in the late seventeenth century by the grand vizier.79 The rest of the tax-yielding sources were assigned to timar-holders and to Muslim and Christian reaya who provided various services to the state, mainly related to warfare. This was paralleled by the absence in Vidin of agrarian mülk properties and vakıfs, that is, no significant plots of land were held as quasi-private property even by the powerful lords from the time of the conquest.80

According to a synoptic defter of 1454–5, the sancak consisted of the vilayet of Vidin, and the nahiyes of I˙sfirlik, Bane and Belgrad, as well as the unspecified units of Timok (along the river of the same name), Gelviye (along the upper course of the river Crni Timok), Veles¸niçe, Çerna Reka (along the middle and lower course of the river Crna Reka) and Zagoriye. All reflect the sub-units within the troops coming out of the province. Around the mid-sixteenth century the administrative structure seems to have attained its optimal shape, including the nahiyes of Vidin, I˙sfirlik, Bane, Timok, Zagoriye, Çerna Reka, Fethülislam, Krivina, Lom and Belgrad.81 However, there was also a parallel administrative system based on judgeships, the kazas of Vidin, Bane, I˙sfirlik and Fethülislam. In 1699 at least two districts (Berkovitsa82 and Kutlofçe83) formerly in the Pasha sancak had been added to the Vidin one, while others (Fethülislam and Bane) were no longer part of it. Between 1718 and 1739 Fethülislam and Krajna, the north-westernmost parts of the sancak, were in Hapsburg possession, but then were joined again to the Vidin province, where they stayed until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The evolution of internal divisions reflected changes in military and political structures, in the first place the disappearance in the course of the seventeenth century of the timars and of the tax-exempt holdings of reaya groups with paramilitary functions at the expense of the imperial hasses. The Vidin nezaret, founded on the hass lands during the seventeenth century, expanded after the war with the Holy League to include the territory of the whole sancak, which was divided into several territorial and/or taxbased mukataas.84 The parallel division into judgeships remained, at the end of the seventeenth century comprising Vidin, Fethülislam,I˙sfirlik, Bane, Timok85 and Lom.86

However, they seem to have ceased to function as the basis of the Ottoman administration in the province. During the eighteenth century the sancak of Vidin had turned into a nezaret, and the division into mukataas had replaced the classical one of the sancak-kaza-nahiye type in the province, although occasionally there is indication that mukataa X belonged to (tabi[) kaza Y.87 Their revenues were allocated as ocaklık88 for the salaries of the paid troops in the sancak and in several other provinces, such as Temes¸var and Isakçea, and of captains and crews of the river ships stationed up the Danube.89

This process, combined with the massive migrations and the displacement of villagers during the wars at the end of the seventeenth and in the first half of the eighteenth century, led to the emergence of a specific system of land ownership in the area (gospodarlıks90). The title deeds (tapu) were no longer in the possession of the peasants cultivating the land, but in the hands of new agents who intervened between the nazırs, acting as representatives of the sultan, and the direct cultivators. The tapus were bought by local notables, mainly Janissaries, citizens of Vidin. This deprived the villagers of their legal possession rights to the land, for they were now treated as tenants.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century this process was given additional impetus by another series of wars, and by the devastation of the countryside by massive brigandage, by plagues, and especially by the regime of Osman Pasvanoglu. The peasants no longer paid the traditional taxes, which were replaced by a single tax to the owner of the tapu and one to Pasvanoglu (in the Vidin area) who had acquired, among other positions, the combined prerogatives of the former superintendents of the imperial hasses and of the nazır.91 As late as the first quarter of the nineteenth century the Janissaries in Vidin claimed that, in compliance with the kanun-i serhad, the law of olden times, property rights on land in the frontier areas belonged exclusively to the Muslim soldiers from these fortresses.92 The transformation of the villages into gospodarlıks or agas’ villages, as they were also called, corresponds to the process of citlucenje taking place in the adjacent Belgrade pas¸alık, where a similar agrarian regime established by the Janissaries was among the direct causes for the uprising of 1804, leading to the emergence of the Serbian Principality, the first successor state to the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans.93 This agrarian relations problem seems to have been tinged by religious confrontation, because at that time the Muslim population was concentrated in urban centres while the peasants were exclusively Christians.94 The regime remained in force until well into the nineteenth century, after the introduction of the agrarian reforms in most of the Ottoman Balkans, probably because the central authorities were reluctant to confront openly local Muslim society in this strategic region. It was only a series of riots and especially the uprising of 1850 that convinced it that reforms could no longer be avoided. These were finally introduced only in 1863.95


When assessing the impact of war on the Vidin region one must bear in mind the similarities but, more importantly, the distinctions in the two periods when it was directly on the Ottoman frontier. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the wars were waged by a rapidly expanding state; in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, despite some reversals in the trend, wars led to retreat and contraction. Both periods put a great strain on the entire local society. The different circumstances required different responses, and, naturally, had different consequences. Warfare demanded the involvement of all the available manpower and infrastructure, and flexibility on the part of the authorities. After the Crusade of 1443–4, and with the exception of the raids of Michael the Brave, Prince of Wallachia, in the late 1590s, no other serious disruption of the order had taken place in the region. However, from 1688, the Ottoman territories again became a theatre of war. This required changes in the administrative and defensive systems, the construction of new forts, especially along the Danube, forming a constellation around the modernised and enlarged fortress of Vidin.

In the first period the Ottomans took advantage of the existing infrastructure and human potential and adapted it to their needs, introducing at the same time the kadı court and the timar system, the two most important institutions in provincial administration.

Although occupying the lowest level in the military corps, Christians were conspicuously present in them, and they were widely used in paramilitary and auxiliary corps. Over the centuries local circumstances in combination with the changed realities led to the abandonment of the traditional timarlı troops and the transformation of Vidin into a Janissary town and to the militarisation of local (Muslim) society, a society in which Muslims were the soldiers, and Christians were already entirely excluded from warfare, even from auxiliary functions. While reducing the participation of the non-Muslims in the armed forces had been a general trend, it seems that the attitude to them varied from place to place, and the closer to the border the less acceptable they were in defence, though they still had a role in maintenance. Thus, in Vidin, on the basis of the ‘law of the frontier’ (which, interestingly, does not appear in sources from the earlier period!) Christians were excluded not only from service but also had to leave their residences in the fortified part of the town. The same law was used by the Vidin Janissaries to give legal sanction to the deprivation of Christian peasants of land ownership.

Similar events occurred around the same time, in the 1720s, in Nis¸, Sofia, and several other places that had changed hands during the wars or had been under direct threat, and had remained in frontier areas. In some cases the justification was the kanun-i serhad, in others it was different, but the result was the same—the expulsion of Christians from the central/fortified parts of the town. This seems to have been initiated by local Muslim communities, while the central authorities had to accept it more or less as a fait accompli. The reasons for their demands are not necessarily rooted in concrete acts of the local Christians but rather in an atmosphere in which Muslims felt more and more vulnerable and exposed to danger from outside. ‘The infidels’ invasion’ was definitely an important memory for the Vidin Muslims, who attributed many of their misfortunes to it, as did Jews. Probably Christians did too, but Muslims saw in them potential danger to the Ottoman rule. This memory was reinforced by the Hapsburg expansion, which brought the frontier very close to Vidin. These events contributed to the emergence of a frontier spirit, very different from that of the expanding Ottoman Empire. It did not imply a pervasive hostility between the faiths, and there were even friendships between Muslims and Christians across the border in the tradition of the old epics, but it made the Muslims very sensitive to the position of Christians, and of course gave them opportunity to profit economically.


1 On relations between Wallachia and the Ottomans during the period, see Mihai Maxim, L’Empire ottoman au
nord du Danube et l’autonomie des Principautés Roumaines au XVIe siècle: Études et documents (Istanbul: Isis,
1999); Viorel Panaite, The Ottoman Law of War and Peace: The Ottoman Empire and Tribute Payers (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).

2 On the contemporary military and diplomatic developments and their effect on the region see Ivan Parvev,

Habsburgs and Ottomans between Vienna and Belgrade (1683–1739) (New York: Columbia University Press,

1995), 75–115, 163–91, 211–46.

3 See on him Rossitsa Gradeva, ‘Osman Pazvantoglu of Vidin: between old and new’, in Frederick Anscombe (ed.),

The Ottoman Balkans, 1750–1830 (Princeton: Markus Wiener, 2006), 115–61, and the bibliography referred to


4 For space considerations the effect of these events on the Jewish community will only be mentioned in passing.

5 Space precludes discussing here the very important issue of the migrations towards and from Vidin throughout

the centuries.

6 There is vast literature on Vidin and its region, mainly for the early Ottoman centuries and for the late eighteenth

and nineteenth centuries but much less for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In addition to the works

referred to in this article, see the following important studies: Bistra Tsvetkova, Prouchvaniya na gradskoto

stopanstvo prez XV–XVI vek (Sofia: Nauka i izkustvo, 1972), including law-books for Vidin and the sancak, 164–6,

168–78; eadem, ‘Za etnicheskiya i demografski oblik na Vidin prez XVI vek’, Izvestija na Etnografskiya Institut i

Muzey 7 (1964), 11–21; Vera Mutafchieva, L’Anarchie dans les Balkans à la fin du XVIIIe siècle (Istanbul: Isis,

2005), chapters 2–7, passim, on Osman Pasvanoglu and the situation in the region of Vidin during the last decades

of the eighteenth and the beginning of nineteenth century; Halil I˙nalcık, Tanzimat ve Bulgar Meselesi, Doktora

Tezi’nin 50. Yılı 1942–1992 (Istanbul: Eren,1992), who discusses at length the Nis¸ and Vidin Uprisings of the midnineteenth

century, and the gospodarlık regime in Vidin, 45–67, 83–107; Machiel Kiel, ‘Urban development in

Bulgaria in the Turkish period: the place of Turkish architecture in the process’, International Journal of Turkish

Studies, 4 (1989), 101–2.

7 Immediately upon their conquest they were made administrative centres of the newly established units

stretching along the Danube from the Iron Gate to the Black Sea.

8 See Aleksanda˘ r Kuzev and Vassil Gyuzelev (eds.), Ba˘ lgarski srednovekovni gradove i kreposti, I: Gradove i kreposti

po Dunav i Cherno more (Varna: Izdatelstvo ‘G. Bakalov’, 1981), 94–200, passim, on the medieval defence system

including information on the Ottoman period, the latter based mainly on archaeological research and narrative


9 See Rossitsa Gradeva, ‘Administrative system and provincial government in the Central Balkan territories of the

Ottoman empire, 15th century’, in eadem, Rumeli under the Ottomans, 15th–18th Centuries: Institutions and

Communities (Istanbul: Isis, 2004), 26–8.

10 370 Numaralı Muhasebe-i Vilâyet-i Rum-ili Defteri (937/1530) (Ankara: Bas¸bakanlık Devlet Ars¸ivleri Genel

Müdürlügü, 2002), 2: 594–7, 604, 607. Fethülislam appears for the first time as a fortified place in this register.

11 Mihnea Berindei, Marielle Kalus-Martin and Gilles Veinstein, ‘Actes de Murad III sur la région de Vidin et

remarques sur les qanuns ottomans’, Südost-Forschungen, 35 (1976), 15.

12 For all of them we find references as ‘newly constructed palanka’—Saints Cyril and Methodius National

Library-Sofia (hereafter NBKM), Oriental Department, S 13, fol. 30a, doc. II (the establishment of Brza was

clearly still in progress since the order is about staffing its garrison with soldiers from the palanka of Lom); fol.

27b, doc. II (Lom); fol. 26b, doc. II (Kutlofçe); fol. 16b, doc. II (Archar), of 1698–9.

13 NBKM, Or. Dept., S 14, fol. 31b, doc. II.

14 Bane, Brza Palanka and Fetülislam were the westernmost forts in the Vidin system.

15 See Chapter 8 by Burcu Özgüven in this volume, and Behija Zlatar, ‘Tipologija gradskih naselja na Balkanu u

XVI vijeku’, in Verena Han (ed.), Gradska kultura na Balkanu (XV–XIX vek) (Belgrade: Institut des études

balkaniques, 1988), 65.

16 See for example for Belgrad, an old fortress in the province, NBKM, Or. Dept., S 13, fol. 23a, doc. I (as a ‘newly

constructed palanka’ , probably reconstructed and strengthened after the withdrawal of the Hapsburgs, 1699), and

S 14, fol. 40b, doc. I (as kale, 1701).

17 NBKM, Or. Dept., S 13, fol. 29b, doc. I, of 1699.

18 See in more detail on its fortifications, Kuzev and Gyuzelev (eds.), Ba˘ lgarski srednovekovni gradove, 98–115;

Svetlana Ivanova, ‘Widin’, in EI2, 9: 206–8; Rossitsa Gradeva, ‘War and peace along the Danube: Vidin at the end

of the seventeenth century’, in eadem, Rumeli, 107–19; Nikolay Tuleshkov, ‘Krepostnoto stroitelstvo po vreme na

osmanskoto vladichestvo’, in Stefan Boyadzhiev et al., Krepostnoto stroitelstvo po ba˘ lgarskite zemi (Sofia: Stampa,

2000), 289–300.

19 See descriptions of the events left by Christian sources in Konstantin Veliki, ‘Pohodite na Mihai Viteazul na yug

ot Dunav’, Istoricheski Pregled, 29 (1973), 65–7, 70–1; Boyan Beshevliev and Pavlina Boycheva, ‘Istorikogeografski

svedeniya v tri dokumenta, posveteni na Mihai Hrabri (kraya na XVI–nachaloto na XVII vek)’, in Axinia

Dzhurova, Georgi Bakalov et al. (eds.), Obshtoto i Spetsifichnoto v Balkanskite Kulturi do Kraya na XIX Vek:

Sbornik v chest na Prof. V. Ta˘pkova-Zaimova (Sofia: Gutenberg, 1999), 256–64. See a detailed account of the effect

of the Wallachian attack on Silistre in particular based on foreign and Ottoman sources in: Stefka Pa˘ rveva,

‘Ba˘lgari na sluzhba v osmanskata armiya: voenni i voennopomoshtni zada˘lzheniya na gradskoto naselenie v

Nikopol i Silistra prez XVII vek’, in Elena Grozdanova, Olga Todorova, Stefka Pa˘ rveva, Yoanna Spisarevska,

Stefan Andreev, Katerina Venedikova, Kontrasti i Konflikti ‘zad kada˘r’ v ba˘ lgarskoto obshtestvo prez XV–XVII vek

(Sofia: Gutenberg, 2003), 240–2.

20 In the seventeenth century the other fortified places along the Danube also had just one citadel, where the garrison,

the stores for provisions and munitions, the seat of the commander, and a mosque would be located. See for

Nigbolu (an exception, with two, one at the port and another on a hill dominating the area) and Silistre, Pa˘ rveva,

‘Ba˘lgari na sluzhba’, 227–8; for Rusçuk, Teodora Baka˘ rdjieva and Stoyan Yordanov, Ruse, Prostranstvo i Istoriya

(kraya na XIV v.-70–te godini na XIX v.): Gradoustroystvo, infrastruktura, obekti (Ruse: Avangard Print, 2001),


21 Three inscriptions of 1723 have been preserved, commemorating the work of the Ottoman architect who, upon

the sultan’s order, had completed the fortifications. They praise in particular the wall along the river fortified by

the Austrians: Vera Mutafchieva (ed.), Rumeliyski delnitsi i praznitsi ot XVIII vek (Sofia: OF, 1978), 71.

22 On the organisation of the Ottoman fleet on the Danube in the first centuries of Ottoman rule, see Rossitsa

Gradeva, ‘Shipping along the lower course of the Danube (end of the seventeenth century)’, in Elizabeth

Zachariadou (ed.), The Kapudan Pasha: His Office and His Domain (Rethymno: Crete University Press, 2002),


23 Du8anka Bojanić-Lukać, Vidin i Vidinskiyat sandzhak prez XV–XVI vek. Dokumenti ot Tsarigradskite arhivi, ed.

Vera Mutafchieva and Mihaila Staynova (Sofia: Nauka i Izkustvo, 1975), 73: the timar of Ahi Ali, kapudan in

Vidin in 1454–5. A note in the margin of the register explains that he had served in this position for more than ten

years, but had earlier received a salary in cash.

24 Evliya Çelebi, Seyahatname, 6: 97–8.

25 See on the institution Svetlana Ivanova, ‘Ali Pasha: sketches from the life of a Kapudan Pasha on the Danube’,

in Zachariadou (ed.), The Kapudan Pasha, 325–45; Gradeva, ‘Shipping’, 307–13.

26 NBKM, Or. Dept., S 38, fol. 13b, doc. II, fol. 14a, doc. I (the berat), of 1705.

27 Colin Imber, ‘The navy of Süleyman the Magnificent’, in idem, Studies in Ottoman History and Law (Istanbul:

Isis, 1996), 62; Olga Zirojević, Tursko vojno uređenje u Srbiji, 1459–1683 (Belgrade: Istorijski Institut, 1974), 232.

28 Bojanić-Lukać, Vidin i Vidinskiyat sandzhak, 55–94: sixteen timars were held jointly by more than one timariot

but this does not change the number of the horsemen serving on campaigns. See also Vera Mutafchieva, ‘Vidin i

Vidinsko prez XV–XVI vek’, included as an introduction to Bojanić-Lukać, Vidin i Vidinskiyat, 22–9; Ays¸e

Kayapınar, ‘Le sancak ottoman de Vidin du XVe à la fin du XVIe siècle’ (Unpublished PhD thesis, École des

hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris, 2004), 214–19 also gives an overview of the timar system and the sipahi

and mustahfız troops supported by it during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, without distinguishing between

the two groups.

29 See on them Halil Inalcık, ‘Stefan Dus¸an’dan Osmanlı I˙mparatorluguna: XV. Asırda Hıristyan Sipahiler ve

Mens¸eleri’, in Mélanges Fuad Köprülü—60 Dogum yılı münasebetiyle Fuad Köprülü Armaganı (Istanbul: Ankara

Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih-Cografya Fakültesi, 1953), 207–48; for Vidin, 224, 233.

30 370 Numaralı Muhasebe-i Vilâyet-i Rum-ili Defteri, 608.

31 Bojanić-Lukać, Vidin i Vidinskiyat, 97–160; Mutafchieva, ‘Vidin i Vidinsko’, 35–6. Unfortunately the other published

timar registers for the intermediary period are only fragmentary and do not allow conclusions about the

exact military force provided by the sancak. See Du8anka Bojanić, ‘Fragmenti zbirnog popisa Vidinskog sanđaja

iz 1466 godine’, in Me8ovita Građa (Belgrade, 1973), 2: 5–77; eadem, ‘Fragmenti op8irnog popisa Vidinskog

sanđaka iz 1478–81’, in ibid., 79–177; ‘Timari va˘v Vidinsko, Berkovsko, Belogradchishko i porechieto na Timok

(1479/80 g.)’, three fragments of an icmal defter, published in Nikolai Todorov and Boris Nedkov (eds.), Izvori za

ba˘ lgarskata istoriya: Seriya XV–XVI vek (Sofia: BAN, 1966), 13: 103–59; ‘Otka˘ s ot podroben regista˘ r na timari v

sandzhak Vidin ot vtorata polovina na XVI vek’, in Bistra Tsvetkova and Asen Razbojnikov (eds.), Izvori za

ba˘ lgarskata istoriya (Sofia: BAN, 1972), 16: 496–523: some of the timars in the latter belonged to sipahis, others to

fortress guards.

32 See NBKM, Or. Dept., F. 26 A, archival unit (a.u.) 1997, fol. 2b, doc. II, about a timar in the nahiye of Zagoriye,

of 1584; F. 1, a.u. 14690, 221–2: documents about the movement of timars in the nahiyes of Vidin, Timok and

Bane, of 1588/89, and D 15, fol. 12b, and fol. 36a: respectively timars in Vidin and Fethülislam, of the same year.

33 See the list in Kayapınar, ‘Le sancak ottoman de Vidin’, 113–14: BOA, Maliyyeden Müdevver (MAD) 123 (of

timars), of 1574/5; Tapu Tahrir (TT) 664 (icmal), of 1574–95; MAD 15428 (of timars), of 1584; MAD 15278 (of

timars), of 1591; Tapu ve Kadastro Genel Müdürlügü, Ankara (TK) 219 (of timars), of 1579—according to

Kayapınar it includes data on six hasses, 16 zeamets and 465 timars, those of the fortress guards included; TK 57

(mufassal), of 1586. Undated information about the sixteenth century evaluates the military based on the timar

system in the sancak at 201 sipahis (without the cebelüs) and 268 fortress guards, see Evgeni Radushev, Agrarnite

institutsii v Osmanskata imperiya prez XVII–XVIII vek (Sofia: Akademichno izdatelstvo ‘Marin Drinov’, 1995), 78.

34 Kayapınar, ‘Le sancak ottoman de Vidin’, 214. See also Strashimir Dimitrov, ‘Politikata na upravliavashtata

va˘rhushka v Turtsiya spriamo spahiystvoto prez vtorata polovina na XVIII vek’, Istoricheski Pregled, 18/5 (1962),

36, who explains that this tendency continued also in the seventeenth century combined with a growing number of

the cebelüs the sipahis were obliged to bring on campaigns.

35 Ga˘la˘b Ga˘la˘bov, Turski izvori za istoriyata na pravoto po ba˘ lgarskite zemi (Sofia: BAN, 1961), 1: 107.

36 See for example Caroline Finkel, The Administration of Warfare: The Ottoman Military Campaigns in Hungary,

1593–1606 (Vienna: VWGÖ, 1988), 56–7. Hezarfen’s treatise of 1669–70 (Hezarfen Hüseyin Efendi, Telhisü’lbeyan

fi kavanin-i Al-i Osman, ed. Sevim I˙lgürel (Ankara: TTK, 1998), 117, quoted from Kayapınar, ‘Le sancak

ottoman de Vidin’, 219, n. 1016) gives the same numbers but this is not surprising bearing in mind that to a large

extent he relied on the data provided exactly by Ayni Ali, Lütfi Pasha and Kâtib Çelebi, see Victor Ménage,

‘Husayn Hezarfenn’, EI2, 3: 623b–624a.

37 Vera Mutafcieva, ‘Sur l’état du système des timars au cours de la première décade du XVIIe s. d’après les

yoklamas datants de 1014 et 1016 de l’Hégire (1605–1606 et 1607–1608 A.D.)’, in Vera Mutafcieva and Stra8imir

Dimitrov, Sur l’état du système des timars des XVIIe–XVIIIe ss. (Sofia: BAN, 1968), 10–11.

38 Finkel, The Administration of Warfare, 59. Unfortunately the mobilisation order does not specify numbers.

39 Evliya Çelebi, Seyahatname, 6: 97–8.

40 See also Robert Dankoff, ‘Evliya Çelebi’, in Historians of the Ottoman Empire, Cemal Kafadar, Hasan Karateke

and Cornell Fleischer (eds.), www.ottomanhistorians.com, and cf. Chapter 6 above, Malcolm Wagstaff, ‘Evliya

Çelebi, the Mani and the fortress of Kelefa’.

41 Bojanić-Lukać, Vidin i Vidinskiyat, 73–5, 137–45; 370 Numaralı Muhasebe-i Vilâyet-i Rum-ili Defteri, 594. Some

data about the fortress guards can be drawn from the above-cited fragmentary registers but they are not sufficient

to evaluate fully their numbers in Vidin. The garrison troops included also artillerymen as well as auxiliaries, which

I shall not discuss here.

42 Evliya Çelebi, Seyahatname, 6: 97–8.

43 The existence of timars and sipahis in the region even after Evliya’s visit to the region is confirmed by, for

example, NBKM, Or. Dept., F. 26, a.u. 1976, of 1678, about a timar in the nahiye of Timok, in the sancak of Vidin.

44 There are occasional references to sipahis and zaims in the sancak also from the very end of the seventeenth

century, listed among the local administrators who are warned against interfering with the collection of some taxes

(see for example NBKM, Or. Dept., S 13, fol. 13b, doc. I, of 1698). I tend to agree with Hristo Gandev that these

incidences should rather be considered a cliché, as part of an already accepted format, without actually meaning

that they really existed. See Hristo Gandev, ‘Zarazhdane na kapitalisticheski otnosheniya v chiflishkoto stopanstvo

na Severozapadna Ba˘lgariya prez XVIII vek’, in idem, Problemi na Ba˘ lgarskoto Va˘zrazhdane (Sofia: Nauka i

izkustvo, 1976), 287. In the rare cases of identification of individuals as sipahis, there is a very high probability that

the persons in question were members of the sipahi regiments of the Janissary corps. See for example NBKM, Or.

Dept., S 38, fol. 6b, doc. II: Medine-i Vidin sukkânından olub kalâ kethüdası Osman sipahi . . .

45 On the later history of the sipahilik, see Dimitrov, ‘Politikata na upravliavashtata va˘rhushka v Turtsiya’, 32–60,

as well as NBKM, Or. Dept., F. 26, a.u. 303, 313, 316, and many others in the same collection about timars in the

neighbouring districts of Oriahovo, Lovech, Nigbolu, Ta˘rnovo, Sevlievo, Vratsa and S¸ehirköy (Pirot, Serbia) from

the 1830s and 1840s.

46 One of the interesting peculiarities in this region is the presence of a unit of twenty-six yeniçeri oglanları in the

nahiye of Bane in 1586 who served as martolosan and were exempt from the extraordinary taxes (avariz-i divaniye

ve tekalif-i örfiye) and other services. See Berindei, Kalus-Martin, and Veinstein, ‘Actes de Murad III sur la région

de Vidin’, 58–60. This, to my knowledge unique, occurrence of employment of ‘young Janissaries’, in such a

capacity may be an indication of the sources of conscription for the corps at the time and of the range of their


47 See details in Gradeva, ‘War and peace’, passim.

48 Ahmed Djevad, L’état militaire ottoman depuis la fondation de l’Empire jusqu’à nos jours, trans. George Macridas

(Constantinople, 1882), 167. On the expansion of the Janissary corps in Vidin after the fall of Temes¸var in 1716,

see Evgeni Radushev, ‘Osmanlı Ordusu ve Balkan Halkları’, in Hans-Georg Majer and Raoul Motika (eds.),

Türkische Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte von 1071 bis 1920, Akten des IV. Internationalen Kongresses

(Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1995), 275–6, and later, Virginia Aksan, ‘Whose territory and whose peasants?

Ottoman boundaries on the Danube in the 1760s’, in Anscombe (ed.), The Ottoman Balkans, 67.

49 In some sources, the standard-bearer.

50 The issue of the voluntary conversion to Islam with the intention of joining the Janissary corps is approached

by Anton Minkov, Conversion to Islam in the Balkans. Kisve Bahası Petitions and Ottoman Social Life, 1670–1730

(Leiden: Brill, 2004), 75–7, and Evgeni Radushev, Pomatsite. Hristiyanstvo i isliam v Zapadnite Rodopi s dolinata

na r. Mesta, XV-30te godini na XVIII vek (Sofia: NBKM, 2005), 224–30. The latter also discusses the phenomenon

of the ‘rural’ Janissaries in the Rhodopes and elsewhere in the Balkans in connection with ‘personal applications’

for conversion. The two authors call this phenomenon ‘voluntary devs¸irme’ and regard it as one of the reasons for

the abrogation of the ‘original’ devs¸irme in the late seventeenth century, a hypothesis that I do not find very

strongly substantiated.

51 For a snapshot of the structure of the military, the militarisation of local society, and the interaction between

peaceful professions and military obligations in Vidin at the turn of the eighteenth century see Gradeva, ‘War and

peace’, 113–19.

52 ‘Otka˘ s ot podroben regista˘ r na timari v sandzhak Vidin’, 499–502. See on them Aurel Decei, ‘Akindji’, EI2, 1:

340. For much of the second half of the fifteenth century the sancakbeyi of Vidin was Ali Bey Mihaloglu, of the

family of Gazi Mihal who were hereditary leaders of the akıncıs and led their incursions against Wallachia and

Hungary. In 1527 sancakbeyi with a hass worth 400,000 akçe was Yahs¸i Bey, also of the Mihaloglus. See Metin

Kunt, The Sultan’s Servants: The Transformation of Ottoman Provincial Government, 1550–1650 (New York:

Columbia University Press, 1983), 105. Members of other akıncı bey families also held the position, a clear

indication about Vidin’s importance as one of their bases. On the Mihaloglus see Franz Babinger, ‘Mikhal-oghlu’,

EI2, 7: 34.

53 Several of them have Abdullah as a patronym. This is not surprising bearing in mind that non-Muslims could

also be enrolled as akıncıs. See Boris Nedkov, Osmanoturska diplomatika i paleografiya, II: Dokumenti i rechnik

(Sofia: Nauka i Izkustvo, 1972), 175–7, defter of the akıncıs, of 1472. The order preceding it explicitly states that

non-Muslims were also eligible.

54 ‘Otka˘ s ot podroben regista˘ r na timari v sandzhak Vidin’, 499–502.

55 This is the more or less standard arrangement with the categories of reaya with special obligations including

those with military functions. Sometimes they would be exempt also from other services and taxes. For an overview

see Elena Grozdanova, ‘Die Privilegien—’Tojanisches Pferd oder Achillesferse’—als Element der Innenpolitik

des Osmanishen Reiches auf dem Balkan während des 15.–18. Jh.’, Bulgarian Historical Review, 22/3–4 (1994),


56 Pa˘ rveva, ‘Ba˘lgari na sluzhba’, 229–31. I have not found the latter in Vidin, at least in the documentation I have

worked with, which is rather strange, because they were part of the garrisons in all eighteenth-century Ottoman

towns in these parts, including Rusçuk: Gradeva, ‘War and peace’, 114.

57 Pa˘ rveva, ‘Ba˘lgari na sluzhba’, 231–2.

58 See the observations of Hülya Canbakal on the basis of Ayntab at the end of the seventeenth century, Society

and Politics in an Ottoman Town: Ayntab in the Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 85–8.

59 NBKM, Or. Dept., S 38, passim. Even earlier this division appears in a kadı sicil from Rusçuk, 1663–4, History

Museum-Ruse, B 2919, passim, contemporaneous with another war which ended with the defeat of the Ottomans

at the Battle of St Gotthard, but with the preservation of the border status quo at the Vasvár Peace (1664). It had

become a standard formula only from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. See on the term and its meanings

through the centuries Joseph Kabrda, ‘Raia’, Izvestiya na Istoricheskoto druzhestvo v Sofiia, 14–15 (1937), 176–85;

Suraiya Faroqhi, ‘Raiyya’, EI2, 8: 404.

60 See in more detail the survey of the paramilitary and auxiliary institutions on the territory of the sancak in the

fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Kayapınar, ‘Le sancak ottoman de Vidin’, 242–79; eadem, ‘Les filorici dans la

région timoko-danubienne à l’époque ottomane (Xve–XVIe siècles)’, in Faruk Bilici, Ionel Cândea and Anca

Popescu (eds.), Enjeux politiques, économiques et militaires en Mer Noire (XIVe—XXIe siècles). Études à la

mémoire de Mihail Guboglu (Braïla: Éditions Istros, 2007), 243–88, including also a survey of the martolosan and


61 Depending on the importance of the place for the maintenance of security and order, sometimes all the villagers

would be serving (especially on the banks of the Danube and the Morava rivers and close to mountains), but in

others just some of them, while the rest were ordinary reaya. The institution was progressively expanding on the

territory of the sancak, including towards the end of the sixteenth century nearly 4,000 households.

62 They were employed as a policing force fighting against banditry in the mountainous areas in the nahiyes of

Çerna Reka and Bane, while those in the fortresses of Vidin and Fethülislam served on the state boats on the

Danube, also ensuring security in strategic places.

63 Voynuks originally (fifteenth-century) had exclusively military functions and participated in campaigns but from

the beginning of the sixteenth century became more and more an auxiliary institution, involved, for example, in

pasturing the sultan’s horses. In the late fifteenth century there were over 1,500 men registered as voynuks in the

sancak of Vidin.

64 Vidin was one of the few places where the müselleman were Christians, serving on boats on the Danube and

controlling the river banks.

65 The filurcis, conscripted mainly among the semi-nomad Vlachs, were one of the specific corps in this province

and the western parts of the neighbouring Nigbolu sancak. They served as the advance guard, spying and showing

the routes to the main body of the army.

66 Bojanić-Lukać, Vidin i Vidinskiyat sandzhak, 55–94.

67 Pa˘ rveva, ‘Ba˘ lgari na sluzhba’, 232–9. For the earlier period see Evgeni Radu8ev, ‘Ottoman border periphery

(serhad) in the Nikopol Vilayet, first half of the sixteenth century’, Études balkaniques, 31 (1995), 140–60.

68 Pa˘ rveva, ‘Ba˘lgari na sluzhba’, 239–44.

69 NBKM, Or. Dept., Vidin, muhafız, N 2534; Ivanova, ‘Widin’, 206; Mitko Lachev, ‘Kratka istoriya na hrama

“Sv. Nikolay Mirlikiyski Chudotvorets” v gr. Vidin’, Duhovna kultura, 70/11 (1990), 20–30.

70 Pa˘ rveva, ‘Ba˘lgari na sluzhba’, 246–7. See on these developments in general Halil I˙nalcik, ‘Military and fiscal

transformation in the Ottoman Empire, 1600–1700’, Archivum Ottomanicum, 6 (1980), 283–337; and on the settlement

of Janissaries in the provinces, Tsvetana Georgieva, Enicharite v ba˘ lgarskite zemi (Sofia: Nauka i izkustvo,

1988), 116–72.

71 This is what happened in Ioannina in 1611 when local Christians led by the metropolitan rose in an uprising and

massacred their Muslim co-citizens. After its suppression Christians who had been granted special privileges as

a prize for their voluntary submission to the Ottomans at the time of the conquest, the right to remain in their

residences in the fortified part of the town and exemption from devs¸irme, lost both.

72 There are many questions around the so-called Chiprovtsi events. See in more detail Yoanna Spisarevska,

‘Chiprovskoto va˘stanie—mit i realnost’, in 300 godini Chiprovsko va˘stanie. Prinos kam istoriyata na ba˘ lgarite

(Sofia: BAN, 1988), 180–203; on contemporaneous developments among the Orthodox see Stra8imir Dimitrov,

‘Mouvements de libération en Bulgarie orientale pendant les années 80 du XVIIe siècle’, Études balkaniques, 28

(1992), 235–48.

73 S 14, fol. 4b, doc. I, of 1699.

74 Boris Nedkov, ‘Pogolovniyat dana˘k v Osmanskata imperiya s ogled na Ba˘lgariya’, Istoricheski Pregled, 1

(1945–6), 25.

75 Muslims, as sicil material from the beginning of the eighteenth century shows, had dispersed to more or less distant

places—from Bursa to nearby Vratsa. Some of them returned, others chose to sell their property and leave

for good. The same had happened to Jews. Rossitsa Gradeva, ‘Jews and Ottoman authority in the Balkans: the

cases of Sofia, Vidin and Rusçuk, 15th–17th centuries’, in eadem, Rumeli, 245–6.

76 See numerous references in the following kadı sicils: NBKM, S 345, of 1696; S 13, of 1698–99; S 14, of

1699–1702; and especially in S 38, of 1705–13.

77 In 1711 the Ottomans discovered a conspiracy involving Orthodox Christians in several places in northern

Bulgaria (but not in or near Vidin) who were in connection with Tsar Peter the Great and planned an uprising in

support of his campaign. Rossitsa Gradeva, ‘Villagers in international trade: the case of Chervena Voda, seventeenth

to the beginning of eighteenth century’ Oriente Moderno, 25 n.s. 1 (86) (2006) (Special Issue, The Ottomans

and Trade, ed. Ebru Boyar and Kate Fleet), 20. I do not believe that it could have had any contribution to the

events after 1718, though. A much more probable direct cause for the demand of the Vidin Janissaries may have

been the bandit activities of the Bulgarian haydud Papazoglu who in 1715 disrupted traffic on the Danube and

crossed to the south bank from Wallachia. In 1716/17, according to an order to the overseer (nazır) of Vidin, the

three ‘captains’, Georgi, Dimitri and Filimon, crossed the Danube with a numerous band (and their families) and

encamped in a place eight to nine hours away from Vidin, between Vidin and Lom, trying to raise the local reaya

against the Ottomans. However 200 ‘brave Muslims’ from Vidin attacked and routed them. See Bistra Cvetkova,

‘Un document turc inédit concernant un mouvement de résistance en Bulgarie du Nord-Ouest au XVIIIe siècle’,

Rocznik Orientalistyczny, 38 (1976), 96, 99–100.

78 Bojanić-Lukać, Vidin i Vidinskiyat, 13.

79 Strashimir Dimitrov, Va˘stanieto ot 1850 g. v Ba˘ lgariia (Sofia: BAN, 1972), 18.

80 The Mihaloglus had large estates around Pleven, Ihtiman, and probably also Filibe/Plovdiv, in Bulgaria, as well

as around Edirne, Turkey, but none is registered in the Vidin sancak. See Babinger, ‘Mikhal-oghlu’, 34.

81 Gradeva, ‘Administrative system’, 36–7; Kayapınar, ‘Le sancak ottoman de Vidin’, 117–29; NBKM, Or. Dept.,

S 14, fol. 14b, doc. II.

82 There is conflicting information about Berkovitsa. While the document we have referred to above speaks of the

election of the kethüda yeri (their local leader and representative in front of all authorities) by the commanders

(aga) of the six detachments of the altı bölüks stationed in the sancak of Vidin, there is evidence from the same

year that Berkovitsa was a nahiye in Pas¸a sancak: Dokumenti za ba˘ lgarskata istoriya, III: Dokumenti iz turskite

da˘rzhavni arhivi, trans. and ed. Pancho Dorev (Sofia: Pridvorna Pechatnitsa, 1940), doc. 73, 72–3, also from 1699.

The two documents might be reflecting a transitional period or some confusion in the Ottoman central records.

83 Both districts are attested as part of the sancak until the late eighteenth century.

84 In the documents appear the territorial mukataas of Sahra, Timok, Krivina, Belgrad, Polomiye, Krayna, Archar

and others. See for example, NBKM, Or. Dept., S 14, fol. 14b, doc. I, S 38, fol. 20a, doc. I; or the mukataas of the

revenues from the ports of Vidin and Filurdin, the varos¸ of Vidin, etc., ibid., S 38, fol. 78b, doc. I. See also

Radushev, Agrarnite institutsii, 57–102.

85 NBKM, S 345, fol. 4b, doc. I, of 1697.

86 NBKM, S 14, fol. 9b, docs II and III, of 1700.

87 This tendency is not unique to Vidin. In the first decades of the eighteenth century the timar holdings were

abolished and added to the sultan’s hasses (for example on the islands of Mytilene and Crete). Even earlier, in the

late seventeenth century, timars were transformed into mukataas in the sancaks of Diyarbakır, Tokat, Aleppo,

Amasya and others. See Radushev, Agrarnite institutsii, 71–2. Sometimes this was done as the result of yoklama

(muster rolls), Dimitrov, ‘Politikata na upravliavashtata va˘rhushka v Turtsiya’, 37 (in 1715 on the basis of yoklama

were confiscated 2,199 timars in Erzurum, of which 1,517 were vacant and 602 belonged to deserters; they were all

included in the sultan’s hasses).

88 On the ocaklık as a system of payment and administration see Rhoads Murphey, ‘The Functioning of the

Ottoman Army under Murad IV (1623–1639/ 1032–1042): Key to the Understanding of the Relationship between

the Center and Periphery in Seventeenth-Century Turkey’ (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Chicago, 1979),

187–202; Michael Hickok, Ottoman Military Administration in Eighteenth-Century Bosnia (Leiden: Brill, 1997),

79–98; Radushev, Agrarnite institutsii, 80–9. On the use of mukataas for direct salary assignments see also Haim

Gerber, ‘Mukataa’, EI2, 7: 508.

89 NBKM, Or. dept., S 13, fol. 25a, doc. I, fol. 25b, doc. I, both of 1699; S 14, fol. 36a, doc. I, of 1700; S 13, fol.

21b, doc. II, of 1699.

90 The term originates from the Slavic word gospodar, that is, master.

91 Dimitrov, Va˘stanieto ot 1850 g., 13–34. See also Gandev, ‘Zarazhdane na kapitalisticheski otnosheniya’,

271–393. Bruce McGowan based his discussion of the developments in the region of Vidin on Gandev’s works:

Economic Life in Ottoman Europe: Taxation, Trade, and the Struggle for Land, 1600–1800 (Cambridge and Paris:

Cambridge University Press/Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1981), passim.

92 Dimitrov, Va˘stanieto ot 1850 g., 32.

93 While citlucenje comes from the term çiftlik, in essence it represents a process similar to the above-described

emergence of gospodarlık villages in which the tapu holders were usually members of the local military elite. In this

regime the peasants rented the land, sometimes even their houses, and paid not only the usual taxes to the state

but also a land rent to the holder of the tapu, that is the Janissaries, and had the status of tenants. However, in

Serbia there existed another power centre supported by the central authority, the sipahis, Dimitrov, Va˘ stanieto ot

1850 g., 21–2. On Serbia and Bosnia, see also Bruce McGowan, ‘The age of the ayans, 1699–1812’, in Halil I˙nalcık

with Donald Quataert (eds.), An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300–1914 (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1994), 685–6; on Kiustendil and on the distinction between gospodarlık and çiftlik

lands see Slavka Draganova, Kiustendilskiyat Region, 1864–1919 (Sofia: Akademichno izdatelstvo ‘Marin Drinov’,

1996), 26–38.

94 For an exception of a powerful Christian who had agricultural estates of a similar nature in the nearby Vratsa

region see Svetla Ianeva, ‘Dimitraki Tsenov HADZHITOSHEV’, in Iliya Todev (ed.), Koi koi e sred ba˘ lgarite,

XV–XIX v. (Sofia: Anubis, 2000), 281–3.

95 See for example the lists of the ‘agalar villages’, in the nahiye of Polomiye/Lom from around 1835 and prior to

1850 in Simeon Damianov, Lomskiyat kray prez Va˘zrazhdaneto. Ikonomicheski zhivot i politicheski borbi (Sofia,

1967), 324–38. In many cases there are direct indications that the villages in question had been transformed into

çiftliks by or during the rule of Pasvanoglu.


Tags: Bulgarian, Eighteenth Centuries, history, Ottoman, Turkish, Vidin

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