The institution of Chief Astrologer in the Ottoman State
Keywords: Ottoman State, Chief Astrologer, 15th century, 16th century
The person heading the astrologers of the Ottoman state in general and ofthe palace in particular was known as the müneccimbaşı. From what we can see in archival documents and other sources, the institution of chief astrologer appeared sometime during the late 15th century or early 16th century. Ottoman palace chief astrologers were among the group called birun (administration, the offices of which were not in the inner palace) dignitaries and were scholars, who had studied at a medrese (Muslim theological school). During the 16th century, the position of chief astrologer was occupied by people like Seydi İbrahim b. Seyyid, İshak Sadi Çelebi, Yusuf b. Ömer, Mustafa b. Ali, Takiyüddin-i Risıd. Mustafa b. Ali wrote important works in the fields of astronomy and geography. In addition to also writing many works in the fields of astronomy and geography, Takiyüddin-i Rasıd founded an astronomical observatory in İstanbul and made celestial observations. The chief astrologers were employed by the palace for duties having to do with astronomy as well as astrology. Beginning from the 16th century, chief astrologers began to compile things like calendars, imsakiyes (timetable for fasting hours) and zayiçes (astronomical tables for horoscopes) for thepalace and upper level Ottoman dignitaries. However, the most important duty of chief astrologers was to prepare calendars. Until 1800 calendars were prepared according to the Uluğ Bey Zic (astronomical table); after this date they were prepared according to the Jacques Cassini Zic. Preparing zayiçes and imsakiyes before the fasting month of Ramazan was also among the duties of chief astrologers. The chief astrologers and sometimes the secondary astrologers used to calculate the most auspicious hour for events like the ascension to the throne, a declaration of war, birth, marriage, launching of ships, letting the royal horses out to pasture and the sultan's transfer to his winter or summer residence. Many statesmen, chief among them the sultans, evaluated the chief astrologers according to the quality of their zayiçes, granting favours to those chief astrologers, the zayiçes of whom turned out to be exact. However there were also sultans, like Abdülhamid I and Selim III, who did not believe in auspicious hours and zayiçes, but even these allowed this matter that they did not approve of to continue, since it had become a tradition. On the other hand, chief astrologers also monitored events like the passage of comets, earthquakes, fires, important astronomical phenomena like solar and lunar eclipses, and other important events, and they reported them to the palace, together with their commentary. In a way, institutions like the muvakkithanes (office of the timekeeper for prayers) also depended on the chief astrologers. In addition to this, Takiyüddin-i Rasıd administered his observatory and chief astrologers like Hüseyin Hüsnü and Sadullah Efendi administered the Mekteb-i Fenn-i Nücum (Astronomical School). The chief astrologers were palace employees, members of the class of religious scholars and were part of the retinue of the chief doctor, who reported to the silahtar ağa (sword bearer of the sultan); as such they were appointed and dismissed by the chief doctor. As far as we have been able to ascertain, thirty-seven people occupied the position of chief astrologer during the Ottoman Empire. The chief astrologers being religious scholars, they could also occupy positions like müderris (medrese teacher) or kadı (religious judge). The position of chief astrologer, which was officialised in the 16th century, survived until the end of the Ottoman Empire. When the last chief astrologer, Hüseyin Hilmi Efendi, died in 1924, no new chief astrologer was appointed in his place and the position was abolished. In its place the position of chief muvakkit (timekeeper for prayers) was created.