Turkey in the 1800s - Question about day-to-day details.
April 11, 2011 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Turkey/Istanbul/Constantinople/19th Century History question. I need some help discovering some basic cultural info - naming conventions, religious practices and beliefs, headwear details. All specific to Istanbul/Constantinople between 1790s and 1820s. Specific questions inside.

I'm having a hard time coming up with Google keywords that don't deliver a lot of noise, and what I do find, I'm not sure if I'm using correctly (specifically, the name). I'm also not much of a history scholar nor do I personally know any history scholars. And it seems like the sort of day-to-day information I'm looking for is not something that gets written up a lot.

I've written (and/or am editing) some fiction and I'd like to double-check the cultural accuracy. Here's what I'm wondering. All within the context of Istanbul between 1790 and 1820:

- For persons of Turkish ancestry, what form did names take? Firstname + Familyname? Would it change depending on the religious affiliation of the family?

- What was the religious makeup of the area like? What religious affiliation would the ruling family(ies) have (the sultan and other officials, for example)? What about, say, a Janissary officer?

- Help me understand the different headwear - in visual reference, I see so many different shapes, and I would like to understand the significance of one shape or another. Or what, for example, the signification would between wearing nothing, wearing a fez, wearing a turban with the sort of integrated fez, or a turban sans-fez. (Apologies if my terminology is inaccurate).

Thanks for your time, everyone!
posted by TangoCharlie to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think it will directly address the specific questions you listed, but I recently read a delightful book, written in 1833, of a voyage from Naples to Constantinople in the aftermath of the Greek War of Independence. Journal of a Visit to Constantinople and Some of the Greek Islands in the Spring and Summer of 1833, by John Auldjo. It's available in ebook formats.

If you're setting fiction in the early 1800s in Turkey, I think this first-hand account by an Englishman would be right up your alley.
posted by General Tonic at 1:11 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

What about, say, a Janissary officer?

A Janissary is, by definition, traditionally a soldier recruited/kidnapped from among the Christian populace and converted to Islam. By the era you're talking about, however, being a Janissary became hereditary, which was in part the reason for their increasing ineffectiveness, threat to the Sultan's power, and ultimate abolishment. But they were still Muslim-- just soldiers that were now raised Muslim instead of being converted to Islam.

Are you referring to which specific sect of Islam? While the Ottoman Turks were Sunni Muslims, to this day, Turkey has a significant Alevi Islamic religious minority, but I really have no idea how well they were represented among the ruling classes in Ottoman times.

I find it's also useful to look at the 19th century engravings of Constantinople that you can find on ebay to get a better idea about personal dress. If you can find any copies of Dupre's "Voyage from Athens to Constantinople", that also has a lot of depictions of personal dress during that era.
posted by deanc at 1:27 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're up for some more lengthy reading, I recommend Lords of the Horizons, A History of the Ottoman Empire by Jason Goodwin.

Fascinating read. It covers the entirety, so is more comprehensive than what you are looking for, but you can cherrypick.
posted by likeso at 1:42 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know Turkish people, who vouch Wikipedia is correct here:

Until the introduction of the Law on Family Names in 1934, as part of Atatürk's Reforms, most Muslim Turks had no surname. The law required all citizens of Turkey to adopt an official surname. Before that, male Turks used their father's name followed by -oğlu ("son of"), or a nickname of the family, before their given name (e.g. Mustafa-oğlu Mehmet, Köselerin Hasan) before the modern era. Turks descended from a ruling house used -zade ("descendant in the male line") (e.g. Sami Paşazade Mehmet Bey).

Short version, "last name" first, with the structure of "last names" as described.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 2:42 PM on April 11, 2011

Response by poster: I will look into those books! Thanks for the heads-ups!

deanc - I'm not sure which Islamic sect I'm referring to - I'm not entirely sure what my options are.
Thank you for those excellent links - I have a great load of visual reference, but I'm always happy to have more. I haven't encountered Dupre's work. Difficulties arise, though, as I'm unsure if or how a given garment (especially a headdress) carries some sort of political/social/religious significance.

striketheviol - brilliant, thank you. So if I understand correctly, in the example "Mustafa-oğlu Mehmet", Mehmet is the given name, Mustafa is the father's name while in "Sami Paşazade Mehmet Bey", Mehmet is the given name, Sami is the father's name (and "Bey" is a title, correct?). Do you know if there's a term for that sort of "son-of" naming system?
posted by TangoCharlie at 2:58 PM on April 11, 2011

Patronymic is the term for 'son of'. It's still used in Iceland.
posted by plonkee at 3:32 PM on April 11, 2011

I'm not sure which Islamic sect I'm referring to - I'm not entirely sure what my options are

Looks like you're really starting from square one here, TangoCharlie :)

The Ottoman Sultans were exclusively Sunni Muslim, as the whole ruling family would have been. At this time, the Empire constituted the spiritual center of Sunni Islam, to the extent that the Sultan was also a spiritual leader, at least in name. (Your period was very turbulent.) Alevis were harshly persecuted. Janissary soldiers were exclusively Islamic, but not always Sunni (see above).
posted by StrikeTheViol at 4:46 PM on April 11, 2011

Oh, also, here's a list of Ottoman titles, and a slightly too brief article that mentions hats. Fezes came to Istanbul after your timeframe.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 5:00 PM on April 11, 2011

Best answer: Given the degree to which you seem to be starting from zero, it might help to familiarize yourself with various ethnic maps of the Ottoman empire (Google images is good for finding these).

Istanbul and Izmir, for example, had a smaller population and were more ethnically and religiously diverse than they are today. ask.com had some good articles on Ottoman demographics (see here and here). There aren't a lot of detailed records until the mid 1800s, but it should give you a general idea of what the overall society was like.

The government was Sunni Muslim in identity, but non-Turks/non-Muslims who were particularly wealthy and well educated many times served Dragomans. The Greek Orthodox Phanariots many times held administration positions.
posted by deanc at 7:19 PM on April 11, 2011

Best answer: Headgear depends on the era. After Sultan Mahmud II suppressed the Janissaries in 1826, he decreed that the official headgear for his modernized military would be the fez. Before that the turban was official wear for the ruling classes, with restrictions on who else could wear one and in what style, shape, or color.

Janissaries wore special hats called "börk". These hats also had a place in front called "kaşıklık", to put a spoon which symbolizes the "kaşık kardeşliği" (brotherhood of the spoon); a sense of comradeship between janissaries who eat and sleep and fight and die together.

Add to this the various ethnicities that populated Istanbul in the 19th century would include modern Europeans and "Levantines" in the Pera/Beyoglu districts, loads of Greeks and Armenians, as well as recent refugees from the Caucasus and Tatars wearing seep woll "kalpaks" hats.

Jeremy Seal's book "A Fez of the Heart" is a fun read about the Turkish obsession with haberdashery. And trolling through the archives of the blog Mavi Boncuk will reval tons of Ottoman era ephemera of interest.

Jannisaries, having been raised in non-muslim homes and later converted often found themselves drawn to the more heterodox sufi sects of Islam, in particular the Bektashi sect. This allowed for some drinking of alchohol, adoption of local patron saints, and a modicum of equality for women. Even today Bektash is one of the most widespread forms of Islam in the Balkans.
posted by zaelic at 4:56 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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