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Morality Tales

Morality Tales: Law and Gender in the Ottoman Court of Aintab

Leslie Peirce
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 475
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  • Book Info
    Morality Tales
    Book Description:

    In this skillful analysis, Leslie Peirce delves into the life of a sixteenth-century Middle Eastern community, bringing to light the ways that women and men used their local law court to solve personal, family, and community problems. Examining one year's proceedings of the court of Aintab, an Anatolian city that had recently been conquered by the Ottoman sultanate, Peirce argues that local residents responded to new opportunities and new constraints by negotiating flexible legal practices. Their actions and the different compromises they reached in court influenced how society viewed gender and also created a dialogue with the ruling regime over mutual rights and obligations. Locating its discussion of gender and legal issues in the context of the changing administrative practices and shifting power relations of the period,Morality Talesargues that it was only in local interpretation that legal rules acquired vitality and meaning.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92697-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. [Maps]
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In late June of 1541, a new judge arrived to take up office in the city of Aintab, an Ottoman provincial capital located in southeastern Anatolia. Almost immediately, things began to change at the court. Within two days, the judge’s residence—also the site of the court—was enlarged. Over the course of the summer, the caseload of the Aintab court doubled from what it had been before. And new kinds of cases began to be aired at court: women brought property suits against male relatives, murder cases began to be adjudicated under the judge’s oversight, and sexual misconduct was...


    • 1 Locating Aintab in Space and Time
      (pp. 19-49)

      The city of Aintab was not so small a place as that studied by Giovanni Levi—the Piedmont village of Santena in the seventeenth century. Yet as the center of one of hundreds of provinces in the sixteenth-century Ottoman empire, Aintab, like Santena, was not located at a hub of history. The city did not inscribe itself into the empire’s historical narrative until the latter’s final moments, when Aintab gained fame through its resistance in 1921 to occupying French forces. It then acquired the honorific titlegazi(heroic warrior)—today’s Gaziantep, the sixth-largest city in the Republic of Turkey. But...

    • 2 The People of Aintab and Their World
      (pp. 50-85)

      Now that we have located Aintab in historical space and time, we expand our portrait in this chapter by looking at the people who lived within the province and the variety of communities in which they lived. We watch the people of Aintab moving among city quarters as well as between village and city. Pursuing the question posed in chapter 1 about local residents’ vision of their place in the world, this chapter asks if the province of Aintab created Aintabans—in other words, if the provincial boundary defined a real entity in the minds of those within it. The...

    • 3 Introducing the Court of Aintab
      (pp. 86-126)

      On Tuesday, July 12, 1541, the judge of the Aintab court heard fifteen cases, six of which involved women. Of those six, women were plaintiffs or petitioners in three: Tatar requested a daily allowance from the court on the grounds that her husband had disappeared seven years earlier, Minnet won a suit for slander against a man who had publicly accused her of promiscuity in the most obscene of language, and Kuddam won a suit against her brother, who had sold a mule from her dower but failed to give her a chemise and a hair ornament that he had...


    • İne’s Story: A Child Marriage in Trouble
      (pp. 129-142)

      In December 1540, the court of Aintab heard testimony from a village girl whose young life appeared to be troubled by a dangerous domestic situation. This chapter attempts to reconstruct the story of the child bride, İne, and her child husband, Tanrıvirdi. As her case opened, İne was living in the household of Tanrıvirdi’s father, presumably until the time that the two were old enough to consummate their marriage and live together as a couple. What had apparently gone wrong in this arrangement was that Tanrıvirdi’s father had raped İne, or so she accused him in court. İne’s story is...

    • 4 Gender, Class, and Social Hierarchy
      (pp. 143-175)

      It was not an ideal of the premodern Ottoman legal system that its justice be blind. Not until the mid–nineteenth century was the idea entertained that the law should encounter the individual as a notional entity rather than as a particular combination of social and civil attributes to be scrutinized and entered into the calculus of judgment. Gender was a fundamental one of these attributes. The boundary between male and female is immediately visible in the Aintab court in the labels employed by scribes to identify all litigants and witnesses who were not freeborn Muslim men—namely, Christians and...

    • 5 Morality and Self-Representation at Court
      (pp. 176-208)

      Although women came to the Aintab court less often than men, they spoke just as much once they got there, and perhaps even more. When they spoke volubly, it was often because they experienced greater difficulty in addressing the law, which was less favorable to females than to males in a number of ways. Legal practice in Aintab, for example, rarely permitted females to give testimony in support of plaintiffs or defendants, with the result that women could not call on other women to support their cases in court. Moreover, the legal option of the oath of innocence was almost...

    • 6 Women, Property, and the Court
      (pp. 209-248)

      That the women of sixteenth-century Aintab dealt in property is hardly news. The Aintab court resembles other Ottoman-period courts in that property was the issue that most often brought women (and men) before the judge.¹ Hence the question of property is a critical one in understanding the overall place of women both at court and in the community. Procedurally, property issues in the Aintab court were handled in accordance with sharia regulations, principally those regarding inheritance, contracts of purchase and sale, and proof of ownership. But the larger question of the cultural underpinnings of property relations—whobrought property cases...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)

    • Haciye Sabah’s Story: A Teacher on Trial
      (pp. 251-275)

      On July 6, 1541, the judge of Aintab sentenced one of the city’s residents, a woman identified in the court record as Haciye Sabah, to public humiliation and banishment from the city. This severe punishment ostensibly resulted from the court’s finding that Sabah was guilty of violating the practice of gender segregation: she had allowed males to be present at the religious-instructional classes for females that she ran in her own home. Indeed, she hadhiredthem to teach her female pupils. Her conduct in allowing the mixing of the sexes was characterized by the court record as “against the...

    • 7 Negotiating Legitimacy through the Law
      (pp. 276-310)

      Sometime after its conquest in 1514, the eastern Anatolian province of Erzurum underwent a cadastral survey carried out by Ottoman officials (for Erzuzum, see figure 8). This was a typical procedure in a newly conquered area and an early move in its incorporation into the Ottoman enterprise.¹ It was also customary Ottoman practice to temporarily retain the administrative infrastructure of the pre-conquest regime.² Since Erzurum had been part of the Akkoyunlu empire’s Anatolian domain, Akkoyunlu tax codes were reaffirmed in this initial survey, as they also were for other formerly Akkoyunlu provinces in eastern and southeastern Anatolia.³ In the prologues...

    • 8 Punishment, Violence, and the Court
      (pp. 311-348)

      Physical violence was a common affair in Aintab province, at least among men. The court records inform us that men hit each other, pulled beards and yanked collars, beat each other with a variety of objects, drew knives on each other, and killed each other with arrows, shovels, and other instruments. Yet the court record for 1540–1541 lacks any note of any violence visited on the bodies of Aintabans during the punishment of the guilty. While it mentions the criminal penalties of jailing, payment of blood money, banishment, and public humiliation it alludes only indirectly to the floggings routinely...


    • Fatma’s Story: The Dilemma of a Pregnant Peasant Girl
      (pp. 351-374)

      In late September 1541, a young peasant girl named Fatma was brought to the court of Aintab because she was pregnant. She was also unmarried, and so it was obvious that she was implicated in some manner in the crime of illicit sex, orzina.

      But who was the father? As the case unraveled, it turned out that Fatma had named two individuals, and moreover accused one of them of raping her. At no point in the proceedings does it appear that Fatma was suspected of sexual relations with more than one person. At issue then was an instance of...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 375-390)

      Fatma’s story frames the conclusion toMorality Talesbecause it brings together many of these themes of the book and, more important, because it looks at legal culture in sixteenth-century Aintab from the perspective of an individual unremarkable in the provincial landscape. This pregnant village girl, in trouble for naming two men as the unborn child’s father, gains significance for us as a consumer of the law—that is, as an individual engaged with the court in the process of interpreting legal rules. So this conclusion begins locally, echoing the book’s close focus on an individual community and its court....

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 391-452)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 453-460)