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Raif Kaplanoğlu: İlk Nüfus Sayιmlarιna Göre Istanbul'un Son Köleleri, İstanbul: Libra Kitap 2018, 352 S., ISBN 9786052380338
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Bahar Bayraktaroğlu
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Veruschka Wagner
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Bahar Bayraktaroğlu: Rezension von: Raif Kaplanoğlu: İlk Nüfus Sayιmlarιna Göre Istanbul'un Son Köleleri, İstanbul: Libra Kitap 2018, in: sehepunkte 22 (2022), Nr. 6 [15.06.2022], URL:

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Raif Kaplanoğlu: İlk Nüfus Sayιmlarιna Göre Istanbul'un Son Köleleri

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How many slaves were imported to a certain area in a certain time period? How many of them were survived? To what extent they were reliable? What primary sources could be found to provide these statistical data? These inquiries have preoccupied some Ottoman historians and researchers who have been exploring forms of slavery and the slave trade in the Ottoman context. Although this interest and these approaches not peculiar to the Ottoman historians, historians' interest might be due to the retrospective passion and desire some historians have to identify, as far as possible, the precise and exact numbers they need to carry out their research. An independent history scholar who is known for his works mainly on Ottoman Bursa, Raif Kaplanoğlu recently provided a contribution to the growing literature on Ottoman slavery literature with his recent work İlk Nüfus Sayιmlarιna Göre Istanbul'un Son Köleleri (The Last Slaves of Istanbul According to The First Consensus Records), in which he presents an overview of the last remaining registered slaves of the city of Istanbul in the first half of the 19th century, in light of the consensus records found for the city of Istanbul in 1838 and 1844. Even though the author first intended to study the consensus register of 1838 - and the book mainly relies on these data - missing parts of the registry are supplied using the register of 1844.

It is possible to read the book in two main sections: in the first part, the author provides preliminary but essential background on the Ottoman practices of slavery and its institutions across the centuries, while in the second part the author concentrates on 19th-century Istanbul. Relying on selected secondary literature on Ottoman slavery, archival documentation, and published materials, such as registries of important affairs (mühimme defterleri), chronicles, memoirs, and travelogues, Raif Kaplanoğlu begins by briefly discussing Ottoman sharia laws on slavery and its implementation in society. He concisely presents means of obtaining captives, slave markets, galley slavery, the pencik (one-fifth) laws, the binary theoretical slave-master relationship, and finally, methods of manumission, in which most of the instances come from the city of Istanbul. Nevertheless, he does not confine himself to Istanbul, occasionally referring to other Ottoman cities, such as Bursa, Konya, and Edirne. To contextualise the statistical data that the author encountered when transliterating the archival documents from Ottoman Turkish into Modern Turkish, the author moves on to discuss forms of enslavement and modes of slave acquisition in the Ottoman Empire. In this respect, the author mainly concentrates on the classical period of Ottoman history (1300-1699). Amongst types of unfreedom, the author limits his study to only mirî esirs (state slaves/captives), Janissaries (private troops of the sultan),kapι kullarι (slaves of the sultan) and ortakçι kullar (share-cropping slaves). The author draws a portrait of a spectrum of slave employment in various segments of Ottoman society, from the imperial palace to elite households. For instance, while some state slaves/captives (mirî esirs) were employed in the Imperial Arsenal to help craftspeople who understand ship-craft and even provided training, when necessary, some captives were shackled and held under poor conditions in the dungeons of the Imperial Arsenal. This shows the wide range of types of dependency and forms of unfreedom that existed within the empire. In the description of the Janissaries and the Kapιkulu soldiers, the author briefly notes what can be obtained from high school history books, often without, unfortunately adding any analysis or critique, for instance, how Christian children living in the borders of the Empire between 8-18 years old were assembled by the devshirme method and trained in the Acemi Ocaklarι (31). To avoid this, the work of Ismail Uzunçarşιlι, Hakan Erdem, or Gülay Yιlmaz could have been referred to. [1]

Having discussed a few forms of enslavement during the classical period of the Ottoman Empire, Raif Kaplanoğlu, in subsequent chapters, moves on to discuss an important aspect of the slavery institution, that is, slave trafficking in the Ottoman Empire. The author underlines that the slave trade was being conducted across three main regions in the Ottoman classical period, namely, Europe, the Caucasus, and Africa, but confines the chapter only to the Black Sea slave trade, providing bits and pieces from Africa only within the context of the 19th century and the end of slave trade. The author speaks of taxes paid for slaves (harc-pencik) and the estimated annual numbers of imported slaves in light of some custom registers, citing specific ports and regions that stand out in the context of the Black Sea slave trade. Here. illegal slave importation into the empire's borders is not bypassed (45).

Then the author jumps to the Ottoman slave trade, in which the focus falls on white slaves shipped from port cites of the Black Sea. In the 19th century, importation of black slaves from parts of Africa is noted, underlining the ongoing illicit slave trade that continued after the slave trade was banned. This discussion, in my opinion, was inadequate to give a full picture. Kaplanoğlu finalises this part by discussing what happened when slave trade was limited in the late 19th century. He notes that slaves were gradually replaced by free labourers (53), even though many scholars have found evidence for the existence of free labour in the Ottoman Empire, even before the 19th century. [2] Nevertheless, the author goes on to discuss what happened to the slaves after the 'transformation' of slavery. Unfortunately, the author takes the title Abdullah (slave of God) in the consensus registers to only mean of slave origin (54).

In the second part of the book, he discusses ways that slaves were sold and the markets in which this was done, as well as the prices of the enslaved. The author notes the roles that gender and intersecting identities play in slaves' prices. It is worth noting that the author focuses on enslaved children and the illegal enslavement of free children, which the attention of other scholars of Ottoman slavery has recently been attracted to some (82). Putting that aside, the most fruitful part of the book begins where his statistical data reports on the distribution of enslaved and slave dealers of Istanbul - only males - in light of consensus registers of 1838, 1844 and 1856. The tables in this chapter allow the reader to compare and contrast the numbers of slaves and slave dealers in districts of Istanbul. From these records, the author draws slaves' names, ages, origins and owners. From the data that has been revealed, further research and examination of understudied topics, such as enslaved children, slave dealers, eunuchs and Kurdish, Iranian and Greek origin slaves can be established.

Raif Kaplanoğlu's book leaves us with a great deal to think about in relation to the following inquiries: how reasonable or acceptable are the figures that are given in the archival sources? How should we approach these resources? Another significant question is identifying what to do with the statistical details obtained. The author's translation work is valuable for what it provides in terms of statistical figures that can form the basis of further studies, in particular in the context of digital humanities, which rapidly attracted attention in the very recent past and has begun to appear in the projects of some historians. A city mapping project could be formed in Istanbul including data given at the back of Raif Kaplanoğlu's book and early period slave dealers where slaves can be shown on the map up to their households and neighbourhoods. In addition to all of this, there is an inconsistency that tires the reader, as references are sometimes given in the text in parentheses and sometimes in footnotes. Some very amusing Orientalist paintings are given in the book, mostly from Otto Pilny, likely to stimulate the imagination and provide a visual appeal. However, I am not convinced that this will enable us to comprehend the past experiences of unfree people, as it could just as well distort and muddy our vision of the forms and degrees of enslavement. Overall, this book could help junior and senior history researchers, as well as the general reader; everyone will have something to appreciate and benefit from.


[1] İsmail Hakkι Uzunçarşιlι, Kapιkulu Ocaklarι (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1943), Y. Hakan Erdem, Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and Its Demise 1800-1909, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), Gülay Yιlmaz, "Becoming a Devşirme: The Training of Conscripted Children in the Ottoman Empire" in Children in Slavery through the Ages, edited by Gwyn Campbell, Suzanne Miers and Joseph C. Miller (Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2009).

[2] As for the child labourers, see Yahya Araz, Osmanlι İstanbul'unda Çocuk Emeği: Ev İçi Hizmetlerde İstihdam Edilen Çocuklar (1750-1920) (Kitap Yayιnevi, Eylül 2020)

Bahar Bayraktaroğlu