Subject: başıbozuk 'broken head' irregular infantry
Setting: Ottoman empire late 18th-19thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Elgood 1995 p94
"[P]eoples of the Balkans, particularly from the impoverished mountain regions such as Albania and Montenegro, had a traditional occupation as mercenaries or bashi bazouks in the Ottoman army ...."
* Nicolle/McBride 1998 p9
"As the Janissaries declined in effectiveness, so other infantry formations arose. Troops raised by other provincial governors tended to be called sıratkulu and included pioneers, miners and hisarlıs who helped the garrison artillery. The Albanians also achieved a military prominence not seen at any other period in Albanian history."
* Gerolymatos 2002 p112
"In the eighteenth century, as the military effectiveness of the Janissaries continued to decline, the Ottoman authorities began to rely on Albanian mercenaries with increasing frequency. Eventually, their military reputation rose to such heights that it invited emulation of method, and soon ... the Albanians even set the fashion for Balkan warriors with their kilts."
* Elgood 1995 p95-96
"It may be said that the Balkans produced more warriors and arms than could be absorbed locally. The description of mercenaries as Albanian often covered levies from a considerably wider area; Albanians had a high reputation as skirmishers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries:
... the Albanians are a militia from Bosnia, Albania and Macedonia, most of them on foot; they are counted amongst the volunteers. They serve by contract ... they are recruited in this fashion: a Turkish officer proposes to raise a corps of eight to ten thousand men, whom he will arm and maintain in consideration of ten crowns [ecus] per month for each man; and this contract is normally for one campaign of five months. If these have further need of these troops, the contract is renewed ..."'
* Elgood 2009 p42
"Hobhouse continues: 'Their love of arms is so ardent, that those who fear too long an interval of peace in their own country enter into the service of the Pashas in every part of the Turkish empire. The guard of the sacred banner from Mecca to Constantinople used to be entrusted to one hundred and fifty of them, armed and dressed in their own fashion.' Leake says that the Albanians 'justly hold both Janissaries and Yaruks cheap in comparison of themselves; but they have a considerable respect for the Turkish cavalry'. He describes the Turks as looking upon the Albanians 'with a mixture of fear and contempt'."
* Nicolle/McBride 1998 p46 (reconstructing an Albanian chieftain, early 19th century)
"During the early 19th century the exotic Balkan costumes caught the imagination of western European artists and writers. None were more magnificent than those of the Albanians. The appearance and indeed the weaponry of the élite were highly decorated, and the Muslims generally carried more weaponry than the Christians. In fact, non-Muslims were theoretically barred from bearing arms at all."
* Harrold/Legg 1978 p122-124
"The men's costumes are ... in two styles, with trousers or, alternatively, a pleated skirt, or foustanella. The Ghegs wear white or black woollen trousers that fit tightly to the ankles; the seams are decorated with black braid. A white shirt with long sleeves, either loose or with cuffs is worn under a white and braided sleeveless waistcoat. Waistcoats vary between the villages. In Kukes, in the north-east, a rust-red waistcoat with dark-blue facings is worn with a broad-striped sash, rust-coloured socks and black leather sandals. In the south-east black baggy trousers are tucked into white felt gaiters and tied under the knees with black cord. The costume is completed with a red sash and a black jacket decorated with gold braid. Loose sleeves hang down the back. The unusual white shirt that is worn has a small round collar and wide loose sleeves reaching to the elbows, underneath which long tight sleeves reach to the wrists. Shoes are black and edged with red. The most popular form of hat is the white felt fez.
"The pleated white linen skirt, or foustanella, is less full than those worn in Greece and reaches to the knees. Long white woollen tight trousers are worn underneath this skirt. A plain white woollen sleeveless waistcoat edged with black braid is worn with a white, wide-sleeved shirt and a black-fringed coloured sash. Over this is a black jacket with loose hanging sleeves. The white shirt has sleeves gathered into cuffs, and black or light brown leather sandals with large black pompoms are worn. A white fez or black forage-cap type of hat are the alternative head-gear.
"Colours used throughout Albania are black, white and a particular shade of rust-red, as well as a range of pastels. Designs are geometric with zigzags, squares, triangles and an occasional floral pattern."
* Evans 1938 p248-249
"In mountainous Albania are found costumes that are decidedly Turkish in cut and type of decoration as a result of the continued occupation of the country by the Turks from their conquest of it in the fifteenth century until 1913. The picturesque effect of the baggy white or colored woolen trousers of the men is heightened by the rich black silk braiding often intermingled with red, down the sides and across the back. Tight-fitting at the ankles they are held at the waist by a broad belt over which is wound a brilliant red sash or cummerbund that serves as a pocket for holding small accessories and the formidable array of pistols with beautifully embossed handles. The white shirt has sleeves that, at the wrist, are baggy and full like the trousers. Reaching to the top of the broad sash is a bolero jacket of black rendered extremely decorative with finely wrought embroidery of gold threads, while fringe edges the short black wool coat whose sleeves display the puffs of the shirt sleeves at the wrist.
"A long chain of woven silver strands is worn around the neck, and the fez, of white felt for the Albanians, of red for the Turks, covers the closely-cropped head. The feet are shod in opingas, leather shoes whose ends turn upward and which are bound to the feet with thongs of leather."
* Kinglake p12-13 (writing ca.1839)
"Though the province of Servia generally has obtained a kind of independence, yet Belgrade, as being a place of strength on the frontier, is still garrisoned by Turkish troops under the command of a Pasha. Whether the men who now surrounded us were soldiers or peaceful inhabitants I did not understand; they wore the old Turkish costume; vests and jackets of many and brilliant colours divided from the loose petticoat-trowsers by heavy volumes of shawl, so thickly folded around their waists as to give the meagre wearers something of the dignity of true corpulence. This cincture enclosed a whole bundle of weapons; no man bore less than one brace of immensely long pistols and a yataghan (or cutlass), with a dagger or two of various shapes and sizes; most of these arms were inlaid with silver highly burnished, and they shone all the more lustrously for being worn along with garments decayed and even tattered (this carefulness of his arms is a point of honour with the Osmanlee; he never allows his bright yataghan to suffer from his own adversity): then the long drooping mustachios, and the ample folds of the once white turbans that lowered over the piercing eyes, and the haggard features of the men, gave them an air of gloomy pride, and that appearance of trying to be disdainful under difficulties which one almost always sees in those of the Ottoman people who live and remember old times; they looked as if they would have thought themselves more usefully, more honourably, and more piously employed in cutting our throats than in carrying our portmanteaus."
* Racinet 1988 p284 f3.2
"A well-off Arnaout from Ioannina, wearing a tall fez of red felt with a long puskul of blue silk; a wrap-over waistcoat, or djamadan, with a straight waistcoat, or yeleck, on top; a jacket or tchepken, with long open sleeves; and a leather belt. The toes of his elegant shoes curl up beneath a white fistan."
* North 1985 p15-16
"Perhaps because of predominating Western influences in the 18th century, pistols were far more widely used in the Turkish Empire than in Turkey itself. Blunderbusses were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the type of pistol known to collectors as a 'Balkan'. These include the rat-tail stock type of pistol ..., usually fitted with an imported flintlock and mounted in silver; and a more Western-looking pistol with an oval butt, also mounted in embossed silver and fitted with an oval butt, also mounted in embossed silver and fitted with an imported flintlock. The stock decoration of this latter type is generally more restrained, consisting of flowers and trophies. The butts are often worked in a twisted design. Many of these are fitted with English locks."
* Wilkinson 1974 p40-41
"The flintlock pistol from the Balkans, including Albania, Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Turkey in Asia Minor, again have certain features which distinguish them from those of Western Europe. As a generalisation it can be said that they are even more decorative than those of western Europe. The exact identification of these weapons is by no means certain, and much research still needs to be done before the provenance of particular pistols can be given with certainty. However it seems fairly certain that the very long thing so-called rat-tailed pistols were largely produced in Albania. They have an almost straight stock and butt and terminate in an onion-shaped pommel, but one of their most striking features is the stock which is either totally of metal or of wood completely covered with thin metal plates or bound with wire. Not only is metal decoration used, but semiprecious stones and coral are often set into the metal.
"Some of the Balkan pistols rather resemble those from western Europe of the 17th century, with their large pommels and butt caps, but even the most inexperienced collector is unlikely to confuse one with the other, for the quality of workmanship on the Balkan pistols does not usually compare with that of a 17th-century gunmaker. Frequently the western European inscriptions, such as makers' names, were copied, but the Balkan gunmaker, lacking any real understanding of the original, was often confused and consequently made simple mistakes. Many of these Balkan or Caucasian flintlocks lack a ramrod, for this item was carried separately mounted on a lanyard around the neck and was known as the suma. The metal case of the stock is often moulded to simulate a ramrod."
* Bošković 2006 p11-13
"[T]his was a weapon that was among the peoples of the Balkans and in the areas of the Austro-Turkish and Venetian/Dalmatian-Turkish military border that was extremely popular and well assimilated into the folk dress, as a sign of manliness, repute and status, irrespective of the cultural circle or religion of the population. And yet at the same time it was ascribed healing and apotropaic characteristics. For example, the yataghan was placed under the head of a woman about to give birth, or she would be supposed to drink water in which a yatagan had been steeped, in order to alleviate her pangs. Sickly and weakly children had yatagans placed in their beds to speed up their return to health, and it was supposed to be effective in numerous other illnesses. The jagluk (the long cloth, embroidered at the hem) with which the yatagan was wiped was used as a bandage for a wounded hero. Placed under the head of a corpse (or stuck in the ground above his head) a yatagan would prevent the deceased from being afflicted by lycanthropism. There can be no doubt that its miracle-working properties were produced or at least enhanced by the holy inscriptions from the Quran that it was common to engrave on or inlay into the blade of the weapon, to provide protection and long life, primarily to the possessor of the yatagan. The magic symbols (the seal of Solomon for instance) or the pieces of coral -- merdžani -- which embellished the hilt of the yatagan also served the same purpose. The sacredness of these invocations and symbols and their miraculous protection and power were probably identified to such an extent with the yatagan that it was probably that yatagans that did not have the same inscriptions and symbols on them nevertheless were ascribed to same properties."