Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1739 Janissary yamakdahi
Subjectyeniceri yamakdahi leader of Janissary auxiliaries
Culture: Ottoman Turkish
Setting: Ottoman empire, Balkans/Anatolia 18thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Mugnai 2022 p62 caption
"[....]  At the turn of the [18/19th] century, the janissaries remained both the Ottoman Empire's most important military corps, and its greatest military weakness.  Their reputation was always high in Europe.  In his Travels, written during the Egyptian campaigns of 1800-1802, William Wittman gave a positive comment of the janissaries, though he admitted that compared to the discipline that in previous centuries rendered them 'so formidable' their present state was inadequate.  Since the state still lacked the funds to pay its swelling troops, the janissaries were allowed to engage in trade and craftsmanship.  It is hardly surprising, thus, than in the eighteenth century some 30 percent of the Janissaries were pensioners or second line soldiers, not fit for active military service.  By 1750, some 50 to 60 percent exclusively performed garrison duties; thus only a fraction of the force joined the field army on campaigns."

* Nicolle/Hook 1995 p32
"[A]s the Corps grew, the majority of its Ortas became permanently based in the provinces, under the command of local governors.  They developed local interests, local loyalties, sometimes taking over local administration, and eventually they became a source of unrest themselves.  Meanwhile Yamak volunteer auxiliaries of dubious military value were left to garrison the vital Bosphorus fortresses by the 18th century."

* Mugnai 2022 p94 caption
"[....]  The Turkish word yamak means 'assistant' or even 'friend.'  In the Balkans, the Bosniak name surname 'Jamakovic' is derived from the Ottoman term.  Initially, yamaks were civilians who were mobilised for different tasks but during wars or as volunteers who wanted to be recruited as janissaries, especially in borderland fortresses.  Local craftsmen, who associated with the janissaries, were referred to as yamaks because they assisted the kapıkulu soldiers.  Eventually they became poorly paid and trained Muslim infantry, particularly in the garrisons of Bosphorus, Black Sea and Danube, and for this in some sources, they are referred to as 'janissary border guards.'  However, the yamaks also performed on campaign, at least in not far region [SIC].  In this regard, in the 1760s and 1770s, during the mobilisation of troops against Russia, it is noticed the enlistment of 1,000 yamaks from Sarajevo, who were dispatched against Montenegro.  At the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, they became a source of unrest and resistance to reforms.  The number of yamaks who assisted the few active janissaries was growing because of the business opportunities this position provided.  There was a pattern that became characteristic in the provincial garrisons, especially in the Balkans."

* Nicolle/McBride 1998 p9
"Foreigners ... found it hard to distinguish between true Janissaries and their yamaks, or auxiliaries, many of whom were mercenaries who carried out the Janissaries' military duties.  They could change their orta, or regiment, whenever they wished.   A growing community of interest between provincial garrisons and local merchants or artisans meant that locals enlisted in Janissary ranks as a form of protection and to enjoy the privileges associated with the military élite."

* Sugar 1977 p241-242
"As members of the professional Ottoman class the janissaries enjoyed numerous privileges besides fixed pay, including tax exemption.  To gain these advantages many people of nonjanissary origin bribed officials and had themselves listed on the janissary rolls, thus swelling the number of those 'legally' belonging to this elite corps.  Yet, the growing financial troubles of the state touched the janissaries, too.  They had power to blackmail the government, but what they could gain was limited by the authorities' ability to pay.  To make it possible for the janissaries to earn a living they were allowed to join guilds which they in turn subverted. Most of these 'new janissaries' did not serve as soldiers, although they were armed, something of an artisan-militia, and drew pay from the treasury.  By the end of the seventeenth century they were the masters of Istanbul, and the government began to disperse them, a much as possible, as garrison forces.  This pattern was repeated in the provincial towns. A few active janissaries on military duty maintained close connection with a group of armed petty traders and artisans who were considered their auxiliary forces and were called yamaks."
​    "The meager opportunities offered by the business communities of the provincial cities and towns could not support the growing number of greedy yamaks.  Following their own leaders, called dahis, they descended on the countryside where they became the scourge of landlord and peasant alike.  Recognizing no authority but their own, they defied the officials of the state, disobeyed even the sultans' orders, and instituted a reign of terror.  Whenever they could they forced the peasantry to pay arbitrary taxes, murdered peasant leaders, and tried to eliminate the landlords whose fortified manor houses and armed retainers were the only force that could oppose them.  Although the peasantry suffered the most, landlords and office-holders were also constantly threatened by these roving yamak bands.  In Serbia prior to the 1804 revolt, for example, alliances of leading dahis created forces strong enough to become practically the masters of entire provinces.  However, unlike the areas in which strong âyans had made themselves petty rulers, the yamak-dominated regions knew no peace or order.  The inability of the authorities to check these lawless men illustrates the impotence of the once all-powerful Ottoman state.  It also created the circumstances that had to lead to that state's final disintegration."

* Mazower 2004 p98-100 (describing 18thc Salonica)
"In their own minds, the janissaries were the protectors of the masses, the voice of the hard-working Muslim artisans and traders, stepping in when the rich -- be they land-owners, Ottoman officials or Frankish merchants -- tried to exploit the poor.  Baron de Tott, a knowledgeable observer of the empire, saw them as the natural opponents of 'despotism.'  And it is true that whenever a sudden downturn in the market or a failure of the harvest threatened the city with starvation, the janissaries found themselves speaking for its consuming classes. ...
​    "Yet the janissaries made unconvincing Robin Hoods.  With their violent tempers, esprit de corps, rivalrousness and swaggering aggression they were as liable to fall on each other, beat up innocent Christians or ransack taverns as to worry about the food supply.  'The government, properly speaking,' wrote a visitor, 'is in the hands of the Janissaries who act here like petty despots.'  They rarely had anything to fear from those above them for the pashas appointed from Istanbul came and went -- sometimes three in one year -- and often did not even bother to turn up at their new posting.  The janissary agha himself often enjoyed only a nominal authority over the rank and file, and a prudent kadi would steer clear of trying to punish them: usually a few ounces of coffee were enough to buy him out of a guilty verdict.  About the only voices they were likely to heed belonged to the senior men of their own company.
​    "To make matters worse, through the eighteenth century Istanbul was exporting its own janissary problem, as it expelled troublemakers into the provinces.  In April 1743 Salonica was witnessing 'daily murders by Turks, either of each other or against Greeks and Jews' ....  By 1751 they were said to 'rule' the city, ready to kill 'a man for a salad.'"


* Vvedensky 2003 p89
"Different sources contain a fair amount of information concerning the Janissaries' uniforms, though there is still no their consistent [SIC] reconstruction.  One of the legends says that when the corps was created, Khwadji Beqtash himself blessed the warriors laying his hands on their heads.  Due to that, the Janissaries' headgear was shaped like a sleeve of the gown worn by the founder of the Dervish order and perceived as a symbol of the Order's army.  Its name, ketche, can be literally translated as felt; it was worn by all Janissaries with no exceptions.  The clothing included a caftan jacket, a shirt, and trousers.  'Every year, each of them gets a khazuka (caftan), a shirt, and huge trousers sewn, according to their custom, of three lengths of cloth, the shirt being sewn of eight lengths.'  The coverall caftan was called dolama mokmalu.  It could not be buttoned, had slits for the arms and long false sleeves (the word 'lokma' meant 'a slit, a hole').  The shirt worn beneath it and having sleeves was called simply dolama.  Their color was prescribed.  Aba or oba, the rough wollen fabric of which these clothes were sewn, was subjected to special dying.  'Dying and sewing coverall dolama lokmanu of red aba and yellow dolama requires money'.  To complete the description of a private Janissari, one must notice that 'Janissari yoldashes must have two black waistbands.  Having sewn their tchagshir sharovary trousers of dimi, they should tie them at their knees with garters or suspenders.  Officers in orta and belyuks [SIC] had one important distinguishing feature, red boots.  The mark of the 'generals', participants of the Janissary Divan, was boots made of yellow leather.  Another easy-to-notice sign were heron instead of crane feathers in the plumes worn by private yoldashes and orta officers.  The Janissari Aga wore a brocade gown with fur lining, and a turban.  Besides heron feathers, the ketche was to be decorated with three large black feathers."

* Mugnai 2022 p327
"The typical janissary headdress, 'the blessing sleeve of Allah' or ak börk, belonged to court ceremonial and was therefore used only on parade, or in quarters on active service.  The shape of this characteristic headdress had changed little over the centuries, but by the mid 1700s the ak börk appears to have been reduced in height and tended to flare out at the side corners.  The front side always displayed the traditional copper case, which orignally contained a wooden spoon.  This item was detachable and was often a prized work of art individually crafted for the janissaries as well as other kapıkulu  members.  Even the non-commissioned janissary officers and junior officers wore headdress similar to those of the common soldiers; the greater or lesser richness and elaboration of the spoon case and other items marked rank and authority in the corps.  Generally the odabaşi decorated his headdress with large plumage; the corbaci, on the other hand, wore on parade a white cloth cap, ending with a heron-shaped headpiece, adorned with a large white feather; around the base a circular band of felt was decorated with a golden cord like the one used for the janissary's ak börk.  This headdress was known as kalafat.  The headdress was the peculiar item of all the other members of the kapıkulu infantry.  The acemi-oglanis wore indifferently in parade or in active service the kulah, a felt hat painted in pale yellow with a characteristic conical shape."

* Steele ed. 2005 v2 p406 (Patricia L Baker, "Middle East: History of Islamic dress" p402-409)
"The peyk troop of court messengers had a distinctive rounded 'helmet' of gilded and incised copper, while the other Janissary regiments demonstrated their association with the Bektashi Sufi order by wearing the keche, a white felt 'tube' rising some twelve inches from a stiff gold-embroidered band, then falling down the back; it symbolized the garment sleeve worn by the order's founder."


* Boskovic 2006 p49
"[T]he first pictures of janissaries with their yatagans hanging from their bensilah came from the mid or second half of the 18th century. In numerous earlier prints of the 17th century that show scenes of the warfare of the Austrian and German troops with the Ottomans, or in pictures of treatises being made between the western and Ottoman forces, there are no depictions of yatagans at the belts of janissaries, soldiers or officers."

* Boskovic 2006 p53
"[W]e can conclude that the yatagans appeared and started to be used at the time when in the 18th century firearms -- flintlock muskets and pistols, and hand grenades -- had become sufficiently practical, certain and accessible -- and the outcome of the conflict mostly not depending only on cutting and disabling the opponent with cold steel (sword, sabre, mace, axe or some weapon on a pole). The tendency of armaments in western armies in the 18th century was toward soldiers being furnished with flintlock muskets (the miquelet mechanism), on which bayonets were starting to be used.
    "We can assume that Ottoman tradition of the opulent decoration of arms and equipment, and of the need for rank and dignity of the owner of a weapon to be expressed visually in the spirit of imperial or sultanic luxury, it was precisely the yatagan that became a match and response to the new style of warfare with firearms and cannonry, and to the Western European bayonet." [CONTRA Vvedensky 2003 p125]

* Mugnai 2022 p349
"[T]he most popular and widespread dagger was the yataghan.   This weapon became the favourite dagger among the kapıkulu, especially within the janissaries.  By the eighteenth century the yataghan was a large knife with a long, single-cutting S-shaped blade.  The origin of the yataghan is probably to be found in the Balkans and more precisely in Albania, but in any case similar weapons already existed throughout the Mediterranean in ancient times.  The blades always had a decoration that thickened the edge at the base of the blade, in order to strengthen the insertion point into the hilt.  This latter constituted the sign of identification for the yataghan and was formed by a hilt without a guard terminating with two 'ears', or 'wings', with a typical rounded shape similar to a femoral head.  The end of the scabbard carried a metal sphere or the stylised head of a monstrous animal.  The length of a yataghan exceeded 55 cm, and some specimens even 70 cm."

* Boeheim  1890 p279-280
"In den arabischen-türkischen Ländern bildete sich, veranlaßt durch die Streitweise, seit dem 16. Jahrhundert eine Waffenform heraus, welche, soweit hierher gehörig, in der Dimension und der Form der Klinge zwischen der Säbel und dem Dolchmesser in der Mitte steht; es ist dies der Khandschar, gemeiniglich Handschar gennant.  Die große Handschar hat eine zweifach gebogene, in eine Spitze auslaufende Klinge.  Die Schneide ist anfänglisch leicht konkav, gegen das Ende zu konvex gekrümmt.  Der kleine Handschar, gewöhnlich auch Yatagan gennant, stammt in dieser Form aus Ostindien; seine Klinge ist messerartig spitz und leicht gekrUmmt.  Der Griff des Handschars ist eigentümlich.  Ursprünglich bestand er aus dem Ende eines Röhrenknochens, aus welcher Urform sich später jener charakteristische zweilappige Knauf (pommeau à oreilles) herausgebildet hat.  Der Griff besitzt keine Parierstange.  Die meist sehr reich in Tausia gezierte und mit orientalischen Inschriften, Koransprüchen u. dgl. ausgestattete Klinge staht mittelst einer Zwinge mit dem Griffe in Verbindung.  Die Scheide, gewöhnlich von einem stark ovalen Querschnitte, hat einen Bezug von Leder, Stoffen, auch wohl Silberblech, welches in gepreßter Arbeit reich geziert ist.  Handschars werden im Gürtel auf der Brust getragen."

* Evangelista 1995 p635
"YATAGAN.  A Turkish sabre with an incurved blade.  It had no hand guard.  It was designed with a forward weight especially useful for making cuts from the wrist.
​    "The yatagan was normally worn thrust through the belt, and when going into combat, its owner would throw away the sword's scabbard.  The reasoning was that if he won, he would have plenty of time to locate it, and if he lost, he would not really care." [CRITICAL THINKING QUESTIONS: Did soldiers on campaign really have time to locate discarded items at leisure?  Wouldn't scouring the field break down an army's order and discipline, leaving it vulnerable to counterattack?]

* Boskovic 2006 p17
"[I]t was the janissaries, the standing, mercenary [SIC] Ottoman army, composed of excellently trained and strictly hierarchically organised elite, exclusive and far-famed units, that took the forefront in the dissemination of Ottoman military models.  And then, the appearance and use of the yatagan is certainly connected with the janissaries at the beginning or during the first part of the 18th century.  The janissaries diffused the yatagan, part of their equipment and armament, throughout the Empire, into areas in which they served.  The oldest depictions known to us that allow yatagans to be clearly identified are also depictions of janissaries."

* Vvedensky 2003 p125
"As a rule, attention gets drawn to the most exotic weapon, the yatagan.  In the 18th century, they Janissaries were prohibited carrying side arms outside the oda.  Once in town, they might carry nothing but knives and axes.  The knife gradually grew in size and turned into what we know as yatagan.  It was a dagger (30 to 70 cm long) curved like a bull horn and having a sharpened edge along its concave side.  Its handle had a summit resembling a joint of the shinbone."  [CONTRA Boscovic 2006 p53]

* Cтaриннoe oружие 1993 p121
"Ятaгaн никoгдa нe cчитaлcя тaбeльным apмeйcким opyжием, a пpeдcтaвлял coбoй личнoe вoopyжениe тypeцкиx пexoтинцeв (янычap) и шиpoкo бытoвaл в иx cpeдe в XVIII - 1 чeтвepти XIX вв."

* Sprague 2009 p173
"...[T]he traditional yataghan short sword [was] without quillons, measuring between 23 and 32 inches in length and named after a town in southwestern Turkey.  Its distinguishing characteristic was the double curve of the blade and the lack of a hand guard on the hilt.  Its relatively light weight and moderate blade length made it a good weapon for the infantry Janissaries of the elite Turkish guard, who could march with the sword without it becoming a hindrance to movement."

* Arms and armor 2002 p38-39
"Yataghans were commonplace in Anantolia and the Balkans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, serving as a standard side arm for the Janissaries."

* Wilkinson 1978 p139
"An edged weapon of the Balkans and Turkey was the yataghan which was a large, single-edged knife, usually with a slight curve to the blade, rather reminiscent of the Egyptian khopesh or the Greek kopis.  The characteristic hilt had, in place of an ordinary pommel, two broad, round-angled wings at the end of the grip.  The scabbard was often of metal or decorated with beaten sheets of metal."

* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/Larocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson 1993 p142-143 (Anthony North, "Swords of Islam" p136-147)
"The majority of yataghans date from the period 1750-1860, and from the number of plain, wooden-hilted weapons that survive in areas such as Vienna, unsuccessfully besieged by the Turks in 1683, they were honest fighting weapons as well as parade weapons.  Occasionally blades were cut down from broadswords or cavalry swords, but in general the forward-curving single-edged blade was used.  Verses in gold or silver are often laid along the blade, together with details of the owner and maker.  Various hilt materials were employed -- wood, bone, ivory, silver -- and sometimes the hilt style betrays a particular place of origin, especially on examples made in the late eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth.  Silver hilts mounted with filigree and coral, for example, are associated with Bosnia; many of these are dated 1800 or thereabouts.  The scabbards of the richest examples are of wood, entirely mounted with silver embossed in the flamboyant late Ottoman style.  Having no guard, the yataghan fitted closely into the top of the scabbard; this was customarily worn thrust into a waist sash, retained by a hook.  Many yataghan blades bear clearly stamped armourer's marks and many silver-mounted examples carry a tughra or Turkish reign mark.  Sometimes the date and name of the owner are set into nielloed plaques on the hilt." 

* Fryer 1969 p89
"Yatagan  A Turkish sword with slightly recurved single-edged blade.  The guardless hilt has grips of ivory, horn, silver, etc., often with large-eared pommel."


* Mugnai 2022 p349
"Alongside the sabre, daggers and knives mainly equipped the janissaries and other infantrymen, who carried them alone or in pairs under their sashes.  Among the most common knife, the kancjar was recognisable by the slightly curved cutting blade and a straight T-shaped hilt.  Some models reached 60 cm in length, but usually the kancjar ranged between 35 and 45cm, including the hilt.  This knife was the most widespread throughout Anatolia and the Caucasus, whereas there was also another type of knife, with a straight and double-edged blade, called a kincal.  It was not unusual to see both these weapons among the panoply of the Ottoman or Egyptian Mamluk infantrymen and horsemen."

* Nicolle/Hook 1995 caption
"Caucasus-style kincal swords ... became very popular among Ottoman troops in the 18th century."