Ottoman Incorporation of Trabzon
In his account of the ruling institution during the classical period, İİnalcıık explains how the palace, the seat of centralized government, organized and supervised the core Ottoman provinces in Asia Minor and the Balkans. A hierarchy of military officers was appointed to govern a hierarchy of administrative units. There was a governor of each province (beylerbeyi), a few sub-governors of its several sub-provinces (sancakbeyi), and a large number of subordinate officers (sipahi) assigned to groups of villages (tıımar) in the sub-districts of each sub-province. The palace appointed the governors to their positions for a limited term, rotating them from province to province. The palace also approved the governor's appointments of subordinate officers, also for a limited term, rotating their assignments from time to time. The powers of this hierarchy of military officers was further subject to certain checks and balances. The chief treasury official (hazine kethüdasıı) was responsible for seeing that the fiscal affairs of the province were in order. The chief court official (kadıı) issued judgments in accordance with administrative and religious law. The provincial governor could dismiss both these officials, but only upon notification of the palace.
As we have seen, the military, treasury, and judicial officials were members of a special class without ties to the lands and peoples they governed. Only some members of this special class would actually have been trained in the institutions of the imperial capital, but of those who were not from Istanbul, only some would have been born and raised in the eastern coastal region. So the military, treasury, and judicial officials of the province of Trabzon had no multistranded ties with either the lands or the peoples for whom they were responsible. In this regard, they were unlike the lords and vassals of western Europe during the Middle Ages. They generally lacked castles or estates in the provinces to which they were posted, just as they lacked supporters among their inhabitants.
Furthermore, official procedures insured that the military governors would remain loyal and obedient servants of the central government rather than set down roots and build a following among the populations they governed. The sipahi, who were assigned to the countryside as a kind of country police force, best exemplify how this was accomplished. They came into direct contact with villagers on a routine basis in the course of collecting taxes, apprehending fugitives, imposing forced labor, and carrying out court decisions. They were therefore in a good position to build a base of local support, by favoring or disfavoring the villagers for whom they were responsible. But to counter this very possibility, the sipahi were subject to all kinds of controls.
The provincial governor could renew or revoke their appointment to a tıımar, as well as allow or disallow their relatives to succeed them as asipahi. So both their assignment in the countryside and their tenure as subordinate military officers were entirely dependent on higher state officials rather than local preference or election. Normally, they were rotated from district to district during the course of their service, so that they usually found themselves among peoples with whom they had no previous social contacts. They also had limited opportunity to develop social contacts since they were obliged to report for military campaigns, during which they were replaced by deputies for extended periods. Treasury and judicial officials also subjected them to periodic inspections and were in a position to bring charges against them for malfeasance. Complaints could be lodged against them by townsmen and villagers and could result in dismissal if confirmed.
In other words, all kinds of precautions had been adopted to prevent lower state officials from doing exactly what some would do during the period of decentralization. Policies of appointment, rotation, and inspection prevented the sipahi from setting down family lines and building local followings. It was as though the Ottomans had designed the institutions of the classical period in anticipation of the post-classical period that followed it. As we shall see, this would not have been a coincidence. Those who were responsible for inventing and implementing the imperial project would have taken care to neutralize a decentralizing potential that was inherent within its logic.
Four Ottoman registers attest to the thoroughness and efficiency with which the classical system of provincial government was put into practice in the province of Trabzon. Taken once every generation during the first century of incorporation, the registers tabulate the different classes of tıımar assignments, list the names of the sipahi appointed to them, and establish the tax obligations of each household head. Although the same structure of government would have been operating in other parts of Asia Minor and the Balkans, the province of Trabzon was in certain respects unusual. Initially, as confirmed by the registers, the Ottomans appointed sipahi who had taken part in the conquest. Some of these individuals came from the western coastal region (the province of Canıık), which had been Islamized and Turkicized for many years. More than a few came from still further away, from other parts of Asia Minor, or even the Balkans. Thus, thesipahi in most of the coastal valleys of Trabzon would have been even more distant from their charges than was the case in some other provinces. The villagers among whom they resided were a newly subjected Byzantine population composed mostly of Orthodox Christians. The sipahi and the villagers therefore observed different customs, spoke different languages, and belonged to different religions.
Accordingly, the rural societies of the sixteenth-century province of Trabzon faced a bureaucratic hierarchy whose officials were part of interpersonal networks closed to ordinary townsmen and villagers. The townsmen and villagers found themselves subject to strangers who represented a foreign fiscal and legal administration. Appointments to military, administrative, and judicial positions were limited to insiders rather than open to outsiders. The entry of ordinary townsmen or villagers into the official class was unlikely. State regulations made it difficult for villagers to leave or neglect their farms. Even conversion from Christianity to Islam may have been discouraged, since every new Muslim household, no longer obliged to pay a tax (haraç) imposed on Christian households, would have had a negative effect on treasury receipts. The policies and institutions of the classical period were therefore incompatible with the peculiar character of the eastern coastal region as described in the preceding chapter.
And yet, as we shall see, the foundation had been laid for the "imperialization" of the rural societies in the province of Trabzon. The Ottomans had incorporated the inhabitants of the eastern littoral as a Christian population subordinated by imperial institutions. But the latter would eventually discover channels into the military and religious establishments that ruled them. In doing so, the inhabitants of the eastern littoral would evolve into a Muslim population participating in imperial institutions. To some degree, this transformation came about as local elites of the eastern coastal valleys took advantage of the breakdown of bureaucratic centralism during the period of decentralization. But this was not the most important process that led to the emergence of ottomanized rural societies in the province of Trabzon.
As we shall soon see more clearly, the official class of the ruling institution subscribed to a discipline of social thinking and practice that instilled qualities of individual behavior and disposition. Reinforced by bureaucratic policies and procedures, the exercise of sovereign power through interpersonal association bound the official class together even as it divided them from ordinary townsmen and villagers. But once individuals of the subject population were in a position to adopt this same "imperial tactic," they would be able to assert their prerogatives within the imperial system, even at the expense of higher state officials. The dissemination of the exercise of sovereign power through interpersonal association, its spread from insiders to outsiders, was then a cause of the period of decentralization. The breakdown and corruption of bureaucratic centralism can be seen as the corollary rather than the cause of this dissemination. To understand the emergence of ottomanized provincial societies in the eastern coastal region, it is therefore necessary to clarify the social thinking and practice of the official class.