Gülay Yılmaz

Keywords: devshirme, early modern childhood, Bursa, acemi oglan, Ottoman children

Abstract

This paper addresses two main questions in regards to the devshirme system: how did the devshirme system function at a local level and how were local politics triggered by the levy; and what were the experiences of the children who were levied. Utilizing a unique register called sürü defter that lists children who were levied in 1603-4, the system is traced in the region of Bursa in 1603-4. The mühimme defters and court records from Bursa are also referenced. Besides examining the bureaucratic implications of carrying out the devshirme, one of the important questions addressed is what did it mean to be a Christian child in the early modern Ottoman world. Issues such as who these children were, how they were selected as devshirmes, and how they reacted to being selected or not, are considered here. The paper shows that reactions to the child-levy by the families and children involved varied across a spectrum - from resistance to desirability. This paper also looks at where these children were selected, their age, appearance, and health as registered in the documents, as well as what happened to them after their arrival in the capital, Istanbul. We also learn that locally powerful figures in Bursa such as landlords, voyvodas, kadıs, subasıs, formed groups to lobby the levy officers in order to influence their decisions.