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Crime and Punishment in Istanbul

Crime and Punishment in Istanbul: 1700-1800

Fariba Zarinebaf
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Crime and Punishment in Istanbul
    Book Description:

    This vividly detailed revisionist history exposes the underworld of the largest metropolis of the early modern Mediterranean and through it the entire fabric of a complex, multicultural society. Fariba Zarinebaf maps the history of crime and punishment in Istanbul over more than one hundred years, considering transgressions such as riots, prostitution, theft, and murder and at the same time tracing how the state controlled and punished its unruly population. Taking us through the city's streets, workshops, and houses, she gives voice to ordinary people—the man accused of stealing, the woman accused of prostitution, and the vagabond expelled from the city. She finds that Istanbul in this period remains mischaracterized—in part by the sensational and exotic accounts of European travelers who portrayed it as the embodiment of Ottoman decline, rife with decadence, sin, and disease. Linking the history of crime and punishment to the dramatic political, economic, and social transformations that occurred in the eighteenth century, Zarinebaf finds in fact that Istanbul had much more in common with other emerging modern cities in Europe, and even in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94756-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction: A Mediterranean Metropolis
    (pp. 1-8)

    European travelers, diplomats, and artists left a rich narrative and visual record of daily life and their encounters in the Ottoman capital for a curious and eager audience back home.² For some, Constantinople was the embodiment of Ottoman decline, the violence of the Turk, the decadence of Islam, and the slow pace of European modernity’s attempts to gain a firm foothold in Ottoman culture. The Ottoman modernization effort actually started in Istanbul in the late eighteenth century. For the romantic traveler, it was a picturesque Eastern city in the process of decline, with its rich Byzantine and Ottoman heritage and...


    • 1 Istanbul in the Tulip Age
      (pp. 11-34)

      Lady Montagu, wife of the English ambassador, wrote these words to her women friends and relatives in England about their trip and her Ottoman friends in Edirne and Istanbul during 1717–18. She was in Istanbul during the Tulip Age (1718–1730), which witnessed a construction boom by Sultan Ahmed III (1703–1730) and his grand vizier and son-in-law, Nevşehirli Ibrahim Pasha (1718–1730).The sultan also demonstrated a great interest in all varieties of tulips and had them planted in gardens everywhere to beautify Istanbul. The Tulip Age (Lale Devri) is considered Istanbul’s first serious cultural opening up to the...

    • 2 Migration and Marginalization
      (pp. 35-50)

      Who made up the underclass and the poor in eighteenth-century Istanbul? What was the social profile of men andwomen, Muslims and non-Muslims, who engaged in crime and violence? Records of the estates of deceased residents of Istanbul reveal a general level of poverty among a good portion of the residents, especially less-skilled artisans, servants, unskilled laborers, peddlers, and divorced or widowed women.¹ Mendicancy was a way of life for many residents of Istanbul whose lives had been affected by natural disasters, wars, economic difficulties, and illness. But the vast majority of migrants, despite their hardships, stayed in the city, preferring...

    • 3 Istanbul between Two Rebellions
      (pp. 51-70)

      The frivolities of some members of the Ottoman ruling class and their public display of grandeur, wealth, and pleasure during the Tulip Age brought about the most violent rebellion in the history of Istanbul, one that led to the overthrow of Sultan Ahmed III in October 1730 and the destruction of many of the recently built royal mansions. The city had barely recovered from the political and social upheaval of the earlier 1703 rebellion when some of the same actors, under the leadership of an Albanian sailor and former janissary, started another rebellion and ruled the city with his followers...


    • 4 Crimes against Property and Counterfeiting
      (pp. 73-85)

      In the decade leading to the Patrona Halil rebellion, it appears that the rate of convictions for crimes against property, counterfeiting and selling light bread rose in Istanbul, although it is difficult to establish trends in the absence of available research on crime for the earlier period. Petty theft and larceny occurred daily, and some thieves were repeat offenders. Theft from houses made up an important part of convictions. The report from the galley register cited above represents an example of what the state considered armed robbery and assault by repeat offenders against women and minors in Istanbul during the...

    • 5 Prostitution and the Vice Trade
      (pp. 86-111)

      The report froma police officer cited above is a rare example of the arrest of a prostitute in Istanbul who had also been implicated in the death of her client, a janissary officer. Her nickname,deli kız(crazy woman), underlines her reputation for violent conduct, her marginal status, and her moral impropriety that drove her neighbors to cooperate with the police in her arrest after she allegedly caused the death of her lover. She operated from her house, a situation that was the case for most Muslim prostitutes. The crime took place in a working-class neighborhood of Istanbul. Ayşe, who...

    • 6 Violence and Homicide
      (pp. 112-122)

      Armed assault and street violence took place frequently in working-class neighborhoods in eighteenth-century Istanbul. The increase in the number of single men, soldiers and sailors, and underemployed workers led to street violence and gang activities. As the case noted above demonstrates, randomviolence was used against women and minorities to protect religious and sexual boundaries in mixed neighborhoods. The harassment of women who appeared in public by themselves was part of the masculine culture’s effort to safeguard male space and target vulnerable women. In the above case, the assailant was a migrant from the town of Özü in the Balkans, and...


    • 7 Policing, Surveillance, and Social Control
      (pp. 125-140)

      In his second preface to the history of the Ottoman Empire and the events of the Edirne rebellion in 1703, Mustafa Naima (1665–1716), the official chronicler to Sultan Mustafa II (1695–1703), wrote about the need for strong leadership, direct rule of the sultan or the grand vizier, and a strong military. Offering an early-eighteenth-century perspective on the events of the previous century, Naima tried to underline the importance of clandestine state control in creating political stability out of chaos in the aftermath of the 1703 rebellion. He praised Murad IV for disguising himself at night, spying and patrolling...

    • 8 Ottoman Justice in Multiple Legal Systems
      (pp. 141-156)

      Max Weber must have been well informed of Western accounts of Ottoman justice when he wrote his brief but important analysis of Islamic law. His views have influenced the debate on Islamic law among scholars who have written on this topic. Weber argued that in the patrimonial Muslim empires, Islamic law, in contrast to Western law, lacked formal rationality and uniformity. Since the Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition (acts and sayings), two important sources of sacred law, offered few positive and fixed laws, Islamic law developed through the interpretation and consensus of jurists. Furthermore, Weber added, the kadi (Islamic judge)...

    • 9 Ottoman Punishment: From Oars to Prison
      (pp. 157-174)

      Western travelers to the Ottoman Empire usually commented on the cruelty and arbitrariness of the Ottoman penal system during the early modern period. They viewed corporal punishment as a primitive expression of the absolutist power of the sultan against the opponents of his authority.² Corporal punishment in the form of beheading was usually carried out against rebels and political opponents (see chapter 3). However, Lord Charlemont noted the disappearance of most forms of corporal punishment except for capital punishment two decades after the Patrona Halil rebellion. In France, too, corporal punishment and torture had disappeared by the nineteenth century.³


  10. Epilogue: The Evolution of Crime and Punishment in a Mediterranean Metropolis
    (pp. 175-182)

    Braudel placed Istanbul in the same category of imperial cities as Paris and London and criticized the notion of decline so often attributed to Istanbul. Moreover, the history of the eighteenth century has been the black hole of Ottoman studies for some time since historians of the modern period have by and large focused on the nineteenth century as the period of transformation in governance, law, and policing. I have made an attempt to study the modalities of political, social, and economic transformation as well as state society relations by focusing on political violence, crime, and social control in eighteenth-century...

  11. APPENDIX: A Janissary Ballad from the 1703 Rebellion
    (pp. 183-186)
    Mehmed Riza
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 187-236)
    (pp. 237-244)
    (pp. 245-270)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 271-287)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 288-288)