The New International Encyclopædia/Janizaries

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Edition of 1905. See also Janissary on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

JANIZARIES, or JANISSARIES (OF. jannissaire, Fr. janissaire, It. giannizzero, from Turk, yen̄icheri, new troops, from yen̄i, new + Ar. askar, army, soldier). A Turkish military force first instituted by Orkhan (1326-59), the son and successor of Othman, the founder of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, who levied from the conquered Christian peoples a systematic tribute of young children. These tribute children, always the healthiest and strongest, were trained under Mohammedan tutelage, and, together with Christian captives taken in war and Turkish subjects attracted by the special privileges offered, constituted a special corps of picked troops, which was thus composed of many nationalities. In turn it became the bulwark of the Empire, and, like the Roman pretorians and Russian streltsi, a dictatorial power. The corps was more perfectly organized by Amurath I. after 1360, when its strength was raised to about 12,000. After the sixteenth century the drafting of Christian children and captives ceased, and the corps was recruited by voluntary enlistment. There were two classes of janizaries, one a standing force, garrisoned in Constantinople and the chief towns and varying in number from 25,000 to 100,000, the other a trained militia known as jamaks, scattered throughout all the towns of the Empire, and numbering from 300,000 to 400,000. The janizaries proper were divided into ortas or regiments. At the head of the whole force was the aga, whose power extended to life and death, for the janizaries were always ready to break out into deeds of violence if their pay or perquisites were withheld. In times of peace they acted as a police force. They served on foot, generally formed the reserves of the Turkish Army, and were noted for the wild impetuosity of their attack. The Sultan's bodyguard was formed of them. They became in the course of time very unruly, and their history abounds in conspiracies, assassinations of sultans, viziers, and agas, and atrocities of every kind; so that by degrees they became more dangerous to the sultans than any foreign enemies. Attempts were made by several sultans to reform or dissolve the corps, but they were always unsuccessful. The reforms of Sultan Mahmud II. (q.v.) were bitterly opposed by the janizaries, especially the reorganization of the army on the European model. This opposition broke forth in open revolt, and on June 15, 1825, Mahmud ordered the flag of the Prophet to be unrolled and the Faithful to be arrayed against the mutinous corps. The janizaries, deserted by their aga and other principal officers, were defeated, with the loss of 16,000 men; their barracks were burned, 6000 to 8000 of them being killed in the assault or destroyed by the flames. A proclamation of June 17, 1826, declared the janizary force dissolved. All opposition was defeated with bloodshed. Thousands were put to death, and more than 20,000 were banished. In the Imperial Museum at Constantinople are 150 life-size figures illustrating the appearance of these famous troops.