chapter  13
19 Pages

The reign of violence: the celalis c.1550–1700: Oktay Özel

Modern historiography depicts Ottoman history in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as a period of crisis, generally associated with the celali rebellions which occurred primarily in Anatolia and, to a lesser extent, northern Syria.1 Discussion of celali causes has centred largely around sixteenth-century politicalfiscal and economic-demographic developments. Recently added to the argument has been the agency problem of the predatory state, the nature of the overall transformation that the empire and society experienced in parallel with the celali movements throughout the seventeenth century, and climatic changes. The present essay reassesses the issue in the light of new findings based on recently explored sources. It examines internal demographic, economic and political dynamics and conditions, as well as conjunctural factors in the s which led marginalized groups within rural society, primarily the peasant masses, into a violent reaction in the form of banditry and rebellion. A reconstruction of the historical context and causes is followed by discussion of the destructive character of the celali movements and its consequences in Anatolia, and of the nature of this violence as a phenomenon within Ottoman social history. The central argument of the essay is that the political-level analysis of the celalis falls far short in understanding both the peculiarities of the historical process which prepared the ground for the celali movements and the extent of destructive violence throughout the seventeenth century. Banditry and occasional rebellions continued, transforming rural society, the economy and the ecological environment as well as leaving a legacy of institutionalized violence which became an inherent characteristic of later Ottoman Anatolian society.