Friday, August 27, 2010

Barack Obama's Muslim Childhood

What President Obama Could Learn From
UK Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli

Allen Z. Hertz was senior advisor in the Privy Council Office serving Canada's Prime Minister and the federal cabinet. He formerly worked in Canada's Foreign Affairs Department and earlier taught history and law at universities in New York, Montreal, Toronto and Hong Kong. He graduated from McGill University with First Class Honours and the Minister of Education's Gold Medal in History. He holds a Ph.D. in East European and Ottoman history from Columbia University and law degrees from Cambridge University and the University of Toronto. This is a revised version of "Religion and Politics: What Barack Obama Could Learn from Benjamin Disraeli," first published in American Thinker on August 27, 2010.

USA President Barack Obama

How did Disraeli deal with Jewishness?

Jewish-born Benjamin Disraeli served a total of seven years as British Prime Minister, during two terms between 1868 and 1880. As a child, Disraeli received Jewish instruction and his family belonged to a synagogue. Though he converted to the Anglican Church at the age of thirteen, Disraeli's Jewish religious and ethnic origins were both well known and frequently discussed throughout his long political career, during which he was proudly philo-Semitic.

Does religion play a role in USA politics?

On August 19, 2010, a Pew Research Center poll showed that a growing percentage of Americans (43%) do not know President Obama's current religion, with another 18% saying that he is now Muslim. This signals a potential political problem for President Obama because USA public-opinion polling consistently tells us that most Americans expect a politician to have firm religious beliefs and are genuinely interested in their leader's religious affiliations.

Why uncertainty about Obama?

Though explicitly philo-Muslim in policy, President Obama has repeatedly affirmed his own Christianity, which he adopted when he joined the United Church of Christ, at some point before his October 1992 marriage to Michelle Robinson. However, there remains the relevant question of his religious evolution before that time, including during his childhood. In this regard, his June 4, 2009 Cairo speech offered: "I'm a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims." Could it be that increasing uncertainty about President Obama's present religious affiliation is connected with his religious history from childhood, just as there was always lively interest in Disraeli's Jewish childhood?

Was Obama Muslim?

Theologically Islam regards all children to be born Muslim and to remain such until adults teach them otherwise. President Obama was probably Muslim during his childhood also because: (1) his paternal grandfather in Kenya was Muslim; (2) his Kenyan father (though Marxist and atheist) was born Muslim, always kept his two Muslim names, "Barack" and "Hussein," and when he died, his family wanted him buried with Muslim rites; (3) infant Obama was given two Muslim names, "Barack" and "Hussein"; (4) his Indonesian stepfather was also Muslim; (5) Indonesian classmates and playmates recall that he attended religious services at school and in mosques, when they believed him to be Muslim; (6) he was registered as "Muslim" at two elementary schools in Indonesia; (7) he studied the Koran in Indonesia; (8) an Indonesian teacher recalls that he was then also learning Arabic recitation of the Koran, which adult Obama has shown that he can still remember; and (9) reflecting on her childhood with young Obama, his half-sister Maya Soetoro in 2007 told The New York Times: "My whole family was Muslim."

UK Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli

Could Obama learn from Disraeli?

Though in 2008 both Barack Obama and his campaign staff specifically said that he had never been Muslim, the President might perhaps be wiser to follow Disraeli's example in speaking clearly about his religious experience in a way that is more intelligible to ordinary Americans who from childhood are generally people of faith.

A member of the Anglican Church, Disraeli repeatedly affirmed that there was nothing wrong in being Jewish or having converted from Judaism to Christianity. In the same way, there is nothing wrong in being Muslim or having been Muslim. However, suspicion that a previous religion may have been glossed over for political advantage creates a bad impression. Could it be that this is a factor contributing to the growing confusion about President Obama's particular religious faith today?

Okay to ask about Obama's religion?

Setting sociological norms of political behavior is the prerogative of the American people. They are entitled to decide whether it is proper to discuss President Obama's religious affiliation, which is a topic that he himself has broached in his speeches.  Though an articulate minority would strongly disagree, a broad range of public-opinion polling about the role of religion in USA public life clearly indicates that most Americans likely regard President Obama's current religion and religious history to be matters of legitimate public interest.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Muslims, Christians and Jews in 16th-Century Ottoman Belgrade

Allen Z. Hertz was formerly senior advisor in the Privy Council Office serving Canada's Prime Minister and the federal cabinet. He also worked in Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and earlier taught history and law at universities in New York, Montreal, Toronto and Hong Kong. As an undergraduate, he was at McGill University, where in 1967 he received his B.A. with First Class Honours and the Minister of Education's Gold Medal in History. In 1973 he received his Ph.D. from Columbia University, where he specialized in East European and Ottoman history. Dr. Hertz also studied public international law, with his LL.B. degree from Cambridge University and his LL.M. from the University of Toronto.

Ottoman Empire, 1300-1683.


Belgrade is now the capital of the Republic of Serbia. However, from 1521 to 1867, the town was protected by the soldiers of the Ottoman sultan whose Muslim, Ottoman-Turkish Empire dominated the Near and Middle East for the four centuries before the end of the First World War. However, the Turks also reached deep into Eastern Europe, with the 16th- and 17th-century Ottoman Empire including almost all of the Balkan Peninsula, as well as the territory of modern Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and parts of Ukraine.

Principally based on my reading of a 16th-century Ottoman-Turkish tax register now housed in the Turkish State Archives, this paper first appeared in The Mutual Effects of the Islamic and Judeo-Christian Worlds: The East European Pattern, edited by Abraham Ascher, Tibor Halasi-Kun and Béla K. Király (New York, 1979), pp. 149-164.

The article was written in 1975-1976, when I was Visiting Assistant Professor in the History Department at McGill University in Montreal. The research was supported by a grant from the USA National Endowment for the Humanities to the Ottoman Domesday Research Group of the Institute on East Central Europe at Columbia University in New York.

Ottoman Conquest of Belgrade 1521.


From prehistoric times until the present, the Belgrade promontory overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers has been a favorite spot for human settlement. This location was defended on two sides by formidable streams and made even more inaccessible by the heights rising sharply from the shore. Here a relatively secure life combining fishing, agriculture and livestock raising was possible. Furthermore, the inhabitants of this headland enjoyed substantial advantages in trade. Such commercial opportunities were, of course, related to unparalleled access to the Sava and Danube Rivers. In addition, Belgrade lay directly on the main Balkan land-route linking Central Europe and Asia Minor.

For these same reasons, the town has also always been a valuable military position. Thus, more often than not, Belgrade has been the site of a major fortress coveted by a long succession of warlike peoples. Celts, Romans, Byzantines, Bulgars, Serbs and Hungarians were only some of the conquerors who held this stronghold in the course of its turbulent history.

After Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II in 1456 made an unsuccessful attempt to capture Belgrade, which did not fall into Ottoman hands until 1521. With the exception of three short periods of Habsburg rule, a Turkish garrison was in Belgrade until 1867.

Failed Ottoman Attempt to take Belgrade, 1456.

Upon the 1521 Ottoman conquest of Belgrade, the defeated Hungarian soldiers were permitted to return home and the Serbian townsmen were deported to a village near Istanbul. In their stead, an Ottoman force occupied the citadel and Turks, Vlachs, Gypsies and Jews were encouraged to settle in the town. Such population transfers were a common Ottoman practice designed to cut ties with the past and strengthen the sultan's control of newly-won possessions. During the twenty years from the 1521 Turkish conquest of Belgrade to the Ottoman subjugation of Hungary (1541), the town fully earned its nickname darülcihat or "gate of holy war." And thereafter, Belgrade continued to be a principal launching pad for several Ottoman campaigns into Central Europe. At the same time, it was the capital of the Ottoman province (sancak, liva) of Semendire (Smederevo), which occupied more or less the same territory as Serbia before 1878.

1456 Ottoman Siege of Belgrade.

Ottoman domesday book or tax register

This present study is based largely upon an unpublished Ottoman domesday book (defter-i mufassal) housed in the Prime Ministry Archives in Istanbul (tahrir defteri 517). This tax register is written in the Ottoman-Turkish language, in this instance expressed in the specialized Arabic handwriting known as siyaqat. This chancery script is particularly difficult to interpret because it characteristically omits the diacritical dots that in many cases distinguish one Arabic letter from another.

Sample of Ottoman siyaqat script.

The 755-page register attempts to survey taxable human settlement in the liva-i Semendire. Manuscript pages 363 to 381 are devoted to the population and agrarian production of the town of Belgrade. The document was executed by the official census taker (defter emini) Bali Mustafa at some time shortly before September 2, 1570 (1 rebiyülâhır 978).

The Ottomans were hardly concerned with obtaining a complete statistical picture of the entire population which might reveal sex and age structure and the many other demographic facets central to the concerns of a modern census bureau. Rather, they sought to provide a fairly accurate assessment of the state revenues to be derived from the populace, within the context of the existing tax law. This fiscal legislation consisted of the particular code (kanunname) applicable to that province, supplemented by specific decrees (emr-i şerif), e.g., authorizing exemptions for special groups performing public service.

For example, 52 of the 191 adult-male Gypsies of Belgrade possessed just such a document recognizing their existence as a corporation of tax-exempt state servants (cemaat-i müselleman). As such, they were "free from haraç, ispence and other extraordinary taxes and customary dues" in return for their labor as blacksmiths on the vessels of the Ottoman fleet, docked in the harbor of the lower fortress. Similarly, in the 1530s, 72 Vlach households had enjoyed comparable privileges in exchange for guarding the imperial powder magazines.[1]

Bali Mustafa had therefore to assign each potential taxpayer to the proper classification. With the exception of the civilian Muslims, all other groups whether ethnic, religious or vocational were perceived as constituting cemaats -- congregations, corporations, assemblies, religious communities, military units. Thus, the Jews of Belgrade were the cemaat-i Yahudiyan and the artillerymen the cemaat-i topçuyan.

To complete this inventory of the taxpaying and the tax exempt, it sufficed to record the adult-male population. Children and women were not enumerated except for those few Christian widows liable to taxation as household heads. Accordingly, the census results were generally expressed not in terms of the total number of individuals inhabiting a given quarter (mahalle), but by the total number of households (hane). For this reason, the present data can offer no information regarding family size, which renders impossible exact computation of the total population.

Despite this evident drawback, the 1570 census provides valuable evidence about the town and its inhabitants. For example, reading the defter has enabled compilation in the Ottoman-Turkish language of an alphabetical list (see below) of the various Belgrade occupations, including the number of individual practitioners by religion.

18th-century Ottoman Belgrade.

The town's layout

Geographically, Bali Mustafa divides Belgrade into three basic units -- the town itself (varoş); the upper fortress (kale-i balâ); and the lower fortress (kale-i zir). Although in terms of location and function the upper fortress formed the core of Ottoman Belgrade, the varoş was the real focus of urban life. Bounded by the Danube River on one side, the Sava River on the other side and by the upper fortress in the middle, the varoş extended south into the country where town life quickly gave way to agriculture. The varoş boasted an active market place (câ-i pazar), public baths, the government storehouse (ambar-i hassa) and nine different mosques.

Belgrade, a largely Muslim town

The varoş was the venue for most of the merchants and artisans, and all of the farmers. Here, as in the other two sections of the town, Muslims formed the overwhelming majority of the population. Bali Mustafa counted 481 Muslim households. In addition, for tax purposes, he separately identified fifteen imams, 16 müezzins and one sipahi, almost all of whom were probably also family heads. Accordingly, the varoş probably housed well over five hundred Muslim households, distributed throughout fifteen separate mahalles inhabited exclusively by their coreligionists.

Almost invariably bearing Islamic names, the Muslims of Belgrade cannot be assigned an ethnic classification. The domesday data, therefore, generally furnishes no clues which might allow us to determine whether these families were actually Turks, or Muslims of another ethnic origin. In any case, such ethnic or national consciousness probably did not exist in 16th-century Belgrade. All these Muslims probably felt themselves to be part of the ecumenical Islamic community, which found its political expression in the empire of the Ottoman sultan whom Sunni Muslims regarded as successor to the Prophet Muhammed.

16th-century Muslim merchants

Gradually, the testimony of both historical documents and linguistic research is prompting a reevaluation of the Ottoman role in the Balkans. Contemporary historians are no longer satisfied with the assumption that four centuries of Turkish rule can be adequately judged based on impressions drawn from the last 150 years. Thus, some attention to the question of Balkan commerce will reveal the great differences between the 16th and 19th centuries. Specifically, the stereotype of the Balkan merchant under the Ottomans demands that he originate from one of the subordinate ethno-religious groups.

Indeed, Belgrade then contained a substantial colony of Ragusan merchants whose special status required that they be omitted from the domesday book. Recent research has revealed much about these Ragusan activities that would appear to justify the traditional view of Balkan traders.[2]

Yet, all of the Belgrade merchants (tacir) and boatmen (sefinei) enumerated in the 1570 census were Muslims. The substantial role of these Muslim businessmen is corroborated by contemporary account books of the Ottoman customs-house at Buda. On the basis of this Buda material, it is clear that Muslim merchants and boatmen dominated domestic commerce on the Ottoman Danube and enjoyed a monopoly of the important grain trade.[3] Furthermore, every one of the approximately one hundred entries indicating shipments from Belgrade to Buda or Pest also records the name of a Muslim merchant or ship's captain. Although wheat was the staple -- barley, rye, rice, grapes, figs, chickpeas, dried fruit, honey, olive oil, vinegar, pepper, flax and flour were all traded by Belgrade's Muslim merchants. They also also dealt in textiles, dyestuff, leather goods, clothing, hardware, confections (helva), prepared meats and livestock. Along with the merchants of the Ragusan enclave and the Jews (described below), these Muslim traders made 16th century Belgrade a significant center of Balkan commerce.

Ottoman impact on the Serbian language

If data on the ethnic origin of the Muslim townsmen is lacking, information on the division of labor is abundant. Of the 513 adult-male Muslims of the varoş, over two hundred are identified by trade, official position or profession, as summarized in the list of occupations presented below. 160 of these men were engaged in commerce, transport, services and crafts, while the remainder occupied religious and governmental posts. With the exception of agriculture, smithery, stonemasonry and tanning, Muslims virtually monopolized every civilian job category.

In this respect, the picture presented by the defter conforms with the results of linguistic research. For almost a century, philologists have concerned themselves with the phenomenon of Ottoman-Turkish loan-words in the languages of southeastern Europe. No Balkan language has borrowed more heavily from the Ottoman-Turkish language than Serbian, and nowhere in the Serbian language are "Turkisms" more common than in the realm of urban life, artisanry and trade.[4]  Evidence of this kind is probably indicative of the strong cultural influence of one civilization upon another.

This process is well illustrated by the social relationships reflected by the 1570 census. In this light, the Ottoman presence in Serbia cannot be regarded as sterile. After all, the medieval South Slavs had had little interest in town life. Preoccupied with livestock raising and agriculture, they preferred to live in many small villages.[5] The Belgrade which emerged in the first century of Turkish rule was consequently very much a product of an Ottoman civilization that linked the town with the Near and Mideast.

Belgrade's Christians

After the Muslims, the next largest community of the varoş was that of the Christians (cemaat-i gebiran). Bali Mustafa counted 212 Christian households distributed throughout seven mahalles. Although the Ottoman census here too does not specify ethnic group, Belgrade's earlier history would suggest the presence of large numbers of Vlachs. Confirmation of this supposition may be sought in onomastic analysis, for the domesday book generally provides both the name of the taxpayer and that of his father. Still, Vlach anthroponyms are exceedingly difficult to distinguish from South Slavic personal names. Centuries of interaction, intermarriage, a common faith and parallel subjection to identical third-party influences had lessened the differences between originally distinct peoples. Nonetheless, historical documents very like the present domesday book have furnished us with anthroponyms of individuals forming groups specifically identified as Vlach. Just such name lists were published by Karel Kadlec in his classic study on the Vlachs and the Vlach law.[6]

A comparison of the Christian (gebiran) names from the present defter with the Kadlec material reveals that more than two-thirds of the Belgrade anthroponyms may be considered to be Vlach. Among these appellations are many which the Vlachs shared with the South Slavs and some which they did not. Thus, Boğdan, D’ure, İstepan (Stepan), Istoyan (Stoyan), Marko, Nikola, and Radoye are personal names which may be viewed as either Serbian or Vlach. By contrast, Filip, Kuman, Mane, Manoylo, Maruş, Mire, Pavel, Radu, Radul and Rafil are clearly Vlach. Finally, the very common name "Peter" almost invariably appears in a Vlach form as "Petre," but only once in its Serbian guise as "Petar."[7]

Whatever the difficulties of ethnic analysis, the picture is clear with reference to occupation or profession. In this respect, it is apparent that almost all the Christians of the varoş were engaged in agriculture with special emphasis on wheat and grape must. In addition, two kinds of barley (şair, arpa), rye, honey, fruit and vegetables were cultivated on a relatively large scale. Added to the canonical tithe[8] on this produce, the defter reveals taxes on 17 separate mills (resm-i asiyap) and another levy on vineyards (resm-i dönüm-i bağan). In contrast to most other villages of the county (nahiye), Belgrade paid none of the dues relating to stockbreeding (âdet-i ağnam, bid’at maa bojit’, resm-i ağıl). Accordingly, the town’s needs for meat, animal fat and hides were satisfied by rural producers. Despite this omission, the detailed assessment for Belgrade's Christian community indicates a scale of agriculture sufficient to monopolize almost all of its labor. Through their efforts, the Christian peasants of the varoş made the town one of the more important agricultural centers of Ottoman Serbia.

Apart from farming, only eight other professions were practiced by 13 Christian townsmen. Bali Mustafa recorded three Christian tailors and two each of priests, tilemakers, bakers, and stonemasons. In addition, there was one each of carpenter, matmaker and quarryman. Although the defter fails to identify Christian tanners, one of the Christian quarters is labeled "district of the tanners."[9] Here, the names of 37 adult-males appear without job classification. Many of these individuals were probably involved in the preparation of hides. Clearly, the Christian community's vocational spectrum was relatively narrow. Assuming the domesday book to be comprehensive, Belgrade's Christians must have satisfied many of their daily needs through recourse to Muslim artisans.

Belgrade's Muslim and Christian Gypsies

Although the third group in size, the 192 adult-male Gypsies[10] of the varoş were the most enigmatic component of the population. Two peculiarities justify this designation of mystery. First, the Belgrade Gypsies formed a mixed Muslim and Christian community. Second, their Christian names were for the most part markedly Vlach. In as much as a characteristically Muslim name indicates Islamic faith, 97 of the Gypsies surveyed were Muslim and the remainder probably Christian. Nonetheless, the line between the two faiths could not have been sharp, for in several instances members of the same family bore names normally associated with the two different religions. Thus Yovan and Ali were both sons of Grade, and İstepan the brother of Kurt. Similarly, Bolko, Gazanfer and Kurt were all sons of Pıryak (Prijak). Data of this kind suggests a gradual process of conversion from Christianity to Islam. This conclusion is supported by the appearance 36 times of the Muslim name Abdullah, “the servant of God.” In each instance, Abdullah appears as a sub-inscription denoting the name of the registrant's father. As such, it was probably the Ottoman hypocoristic glossing over a Muslim convert’s "infidel" descent.

This impression of the Gypsies' easy transition from one faith to the other is corroborated by 19th-century observers. According to Ami Boué, the Gypsies "change their religion with as much ease as their domicile...." And, François Pouqueville opined: "Ready to follow all religions, the Bohemians [Gypsies] have not any religion at all."[11] Whatever the worth of these flippant assessments of Gypsy piety, the census structure suggests that Gypsies were regarded as distinct from the other Muslims and Christians. As in the 19th century, the Gypsies were then probably not fully accepted by either community.[12]

The Vlach character of the non-Islamic Gypsy anthroponyms is especially salient. Again employing the Kadlec list as a yardstick, we discover the correspondence of close to fifty of the almost seventy different names. Many of these appellations are common to more than one Balkan people. Others are more distinctive, e.g., Dorkun (Drokun), Bobe, Bota, Buta, Kalana, Korda, Kuman, Manoylo, Mire, Murşa, Petre, Radul and Yarul. In addition "Gabriel" appears neither in its Ottoman form "Gebrail" nor as the Serbian "Gavrilo," but in the Vlach way as "Gevril."

The domesday book conforms to the Balkan stereotype in associating Belgrade's Gypsies with metalwork. As above indicated, 52 of them serviced the Ottoman Danube fleet and performed whatever smithery was needed in the fortress. But for one locksmith, their kinsmen in the varoş were registered without any information regarding profession. Any assessment of Gypsy agriculture or livestock raising is absent. Consequently, the 140 non-service, adult-male Gypsies paid none of the agrarian dues and tithes rendered by the Christian peasants of the varoş. At the same time, ispence, the customary (örfi) poll- or gate-tax, was not levied upon these civilian Gypsies of Belgrade.[13]

Belgrade's Jews

Subject to the same freedom from ispence and agricultural taxes was the Jewish community of the varoş. Together with the 16 adult-male Jews of the town of Semendire (Smederevo), the twenty adult-male Jews of Belgrade are the only ones which the domesday book records. On this basis, permanent Jewish residence in the other towns and villages of the sancak may probably be ruled out.

Although the census preserves no indication of the manner in which the small Jewish community earned its livelihood, contemporary Hebrew sources point to local commerce and Danube trade. Thus, among the published responsa of the Sephardic Rabbi Samuel of Medina (circa 1506-1589) appears one case relating to 16th-century Belgrade Jews. In this legal process -- Ruben, Simon, Levy and Yehuda are all mentioned in connection with the leasing and exploitation of a shop, warehouse and residence constituting part of the Muslim vakıf (trust) properties located in the town.[14]

Similarly the published (1599) judicial decisions of Rabbi Samuel ben Moses Kalai (circa 1500-1582) include a record of the official proceedings of a Belgrade Jewish communal court. Meeting on November 3, 1547, this body heard testimony relating to a brigand attack upon Jewish merchants, travelling by boat from Belgrade to Buda. In addition to this information concerning the existence of Jewish Danube merchants, the inquiry protocol specifically says there was a synagogue in Belgrade.[15]

It is noteworthy that both of these cited cases refer to Jewish travel or trade between Belgrade and Ottoman Buda, where there was then a much larger Jewish settlement.[16]  Moreover, the circumstance that these two cases appear in early printed collections of Hebrew-language Rabbinic responsa, published in Salonika and Venice respectively, probably indicates that Belgrade's small Jewish community also kept close ties with other centers of Jewish life. In this respect, it would be nice to be able to classify the Belgrade Jews as Ashkenazim, Sephardim or Rumanyots. Unfortunately, the personal names preserved in our defter are biblical anthroponyms common to all three of these Jewish traditions.

The Ottoman army

Abandoning the varoş, Bali Mustafa continued his survey in the upper fortress where 615 cannon and mortar of all sizes held the heights for the sultan.[17]  Here, the overwhelming majority of the population consisted of the various units of the Ottoman armed forces. Nonetheless, one civilian mahalle of 17 Muslim households surrounded the mosque of Sultan Süleyman (cami-i şerif-i hazret-i hudavendigâr). Twelve of these noncombatants practiced eleven different trades. There were two müezzins and one each of imam, tailor, saddler, barber, merchant, carder, carpenter, shoemaker, iron boot-tip maker and button maker. The services which they were able to provide the garrison were supplemented by several soldiers who were also artisans. Thus, the Janissaries (müstahfazan) had four carpenters (neccar) and both the azaps and martolos had one tailor each. Altogether, the Ottoman garrison here consisted of 541 men, of whom 380 were Muslim and 161 Christian.

Inter-faith relations in the Ottoman army

The 230 Janissaries were exclusively Muslim. Their commander Nashuh was also the governor (dizdar) of the upper fortress. The artillerymen were separated into a Muslim unit of 36 and a special Christian contingent of ten commanded by a Christian serbölük. The four bombardiers (kumbaracı) were all Muslim, but the 21 limancı (military stevedores) were of both faiths. In this instance, there are two examples of Christian officers (seroda) commanding Muslim enlisted men. The combined unit of marines, caulkers and carpenters (cemaat-i azaban ba kalafatçıyan ve neccaran) was formed by one hundred Muslims and 47 Christians, serving side by side within the same odas. Finally, of the 93 martolos, 86 were Christian and only seven were Muslim. Their commander, the ağa-i martolosan Hudaverdi was a Muslim, but four of his six officers (seroda) were Christian. Again, here two Muslim soldiers served in odas commanded by Christian officers.

Common service and personal contact prove the existence of far friendlier inter-faith relations than prevailed in later centuries. Certainly, the barrier between Muslims and Christians in the 16th-century Turkish army was not insuperable. However, the succeeding period witnessed fewer Christians in the Ottoman armed forces. This phenomenon has generally been ascribed to the competition of Muslims who forced their way into traditionally Christian units (e.g., the martolos). However, the Christian military service reflected in this domesday book is probably indicative of an environment favorable to Islamization. Is it not possible that the gradual decrease of Christians in the Ottoman army was the product of conversion? According to this view, exactly those Christian elements (e.g., the Vlachs), with a strong tradition of military service, would be the most susceptible to Islam. Their desertion would tend to exhaust the military skills of the Christian community. And, this process would ultimately render the remaining Christians less qualified to serve and less willing to regard the army as a viable career.

Muslims of the lower town

Between the water and the heights, a relatively flat strip of shoreline accommodated the lower fortress (kale-i zir). Here, an exclusively Muslim population inhabited both the lower town and a citadel known as Bölme (barrier). The latter was held by a Janissary garrison of 41 which included one each of imam and müezzin. In addition, Bölme boasted a civilian population of fifty households grouped around the Hasan Ağa mosque and another three families living near the Bölme landing (iskele). The remainder of the lower fortress stretching as far as the harbor was occupied by three civilian quarters. Here, 73 households worshipped in the cami-i şerif-i hazret-i padişah. Bali Mustafa recorded little of their activities. There were four imams, five müezzins, and two vakıf officials (kaim). More secular needs were served by two each of boatmen and porters; and one each of merchant, perfumer, barber, carpenter and butcher. If these were indeed the sole tradesmen, the lower town could not rival the commercial activity of the varoş.

How big was Belgrade's population?

The enumeration of Belgrade complete, Bali Mustafa had entered into the domesday book the names of 1,654 inhabitants. 582 of those registered formed part of the Ottoman garrison. The remainder were civilians, of whom there were 823 names representing households (hane) and another 249 names inscribed "by person" (neferen). As the hane/neferen distinction appears fiscal and not demographic, it seems preferable to treat the entire civilian population as one unit consisting of 1,072 households.

Although the total number of persons constituting each household will never be known, some historians familiar with Ottoman domesday research have fastened upon five as a reasonable fiction.[18]  Adherence to this arbitrary convention will not guarantee authenticity. It will, however, preserve the possibility of comparison with the estimates for other 16th-century Ottoman towns whose population has been calculated on the same assumption. On the basis of five persons per household, Belgrade’s civilian population was in the neighborhood of 5,360 individuals distributed as follows: Muslims 3,240; Christians 1,060; Gypsies 960; and Jews 100.

To the total civilian population, Turkish historian Ömer Lutfi Barkan generally adds ten percent. This addition is designed to cover "certain army units, the entourage of high civilian and military officials, the Janissaries, the employees and servants of the imperial court for certain towns and finally the slaves" all of whom tend to be omitted from the domesday books.[19]  However, our 1570 Belgrade census already includes the Muslims (421) and Christians (161) of the Ottoman garrison. For this reason, Barkan’s addition of ten percent will not be employed.

Instead, two noncombatants for each member of the military will be added to the corresponding civilian population. This addition (1,164) is an estimate intended to capture soldiers' families and other dependents, as well as some of the unregistered categories detailed by Barkan. Accordingly, our calculation of Belgrade’s civilians will rise to 6,524 distributed as follows: Muslims 4,082; Christians 1,382; Gypsies 960; and Jews 100. If soldiers and civilians are considered together, Belgrade’s total population was probably around 7,106 distributed as follows: Muslims 4,503; Christians 1,543; Gypsies 960; and Jews 100.

Belgrade compared to other towns in the sancak

Employing the identical calculation method, we may now turn to the same domesday book to compare Belgrade’s population with that of the other major towns of the sancak:
  • Semendire (Smederevo) probably had a total population of around 4,496 distributed as follows: Muslims 3,366; Christians 970; Gypsies 80; and Jews 80.
  • Užice probably had a total population of about 3,175 (consisting of 2,955 Muslims and 220 Christians).
  • Valjevo perhaps had a total population of around 2,700 (consisting of 2,420 Muslims and 280 Christians).
  • Rudnik probably had a total population of around 1,620 (consisting of 655 Muslims and 965 Christians).
Belgrade’s status as the province’s largest center is immediately apparent. Like Belgrade, the towns of Semendire, Užice and Valjevo were predominantly Muslim. Although largely Christian, Rudnik had a substantial Muslim minority. In this context, Belgrade can be seen as fairly typical of urban life in 16th-century Ottoman Serbia.

Belgrade compared with Ottoman towns elsewhere

From other Ottoman provinces, similar domesday data reveals the likely population (1571-1580) of some selected cities. Thus, Belgrade was more populous than Monastir (5,918), in the same category as Sofia (7,848), but far behind Sarajevo (23,485) and Bursa (70,686). Of course, all these Ottoman towns were dwarfed by Istanbul's agglomeration of about 700,000 individuals.

Like Belgrade, the cities of Istanbul, Bursa, Edirne, Ankara, Tokat, Konya, Sarajevo, Monastir, Skopje, Sofia, Siroz and Larissa were largely Muslim. By contrast, Christians predominated in Athens, Sivas, Trikala and Nicopolis, and Jews constituted the majority in Salonika.[20]  Among Ottoman towns, Belgrade was of relatively modest size. Nonetheless, it was a full participant in an Ottoman urban civilization that left a deep mark on the various Balkan cultures and languages.



Belgrade Vocations: Muslims(M) and Christians(C)

ağa (3M), head of military unit, cemaat.
alemdar (1M), standard bearer, a military rank.
arabai, arabacı (4M), teamster or cartwright.
attar (1M), perfumer or druggist.
azap, kalafatçı, neccar (100M, 47C), marine, caulker, carpenter.
baçdar (1M), toll-collector.
bakkal (7M), grocer.
bezzaz (3M), linen draper.
canbaz-i esb (3M), horse dealer.
cebei, cebeci (4M), armorer.
cerrah (2M), surgeon.
çilingir (2M, 1M Gypsy), locksmith.
çizme-duz (4M), bootmaker.
debbağ (4M, 37C), tanner.
dizdar (2M), fortress commander.
düğmei (2M), maker or seller of buttons.
dülger (2C), carpentar.
emin (1M), official, steward, custodian, trustee.
gülâbi (1M), rosewater maker, julep maker.
habbaz (2M, 2C), baker.
halife (3M), deputy head of guild.
hallaç (1M), carder.
hamami (1M), keeper of public bath.
hâmil (3M), porter.
hayyat (10M, 4C), tailor.
helvai (4M), confectioner.
ilbad (12M), carder.
imam (21M), leader of Muslim prayer.
kâhyai (2M), warden of trade guild.
kaim (5M), official of vakıf (Muslim trust).
kalafatçı (see, azap), caulker.
kalai (7M), tinker, tinsmith.
kasap (25M), butcher.
kâtip (2M), clerk, scribe.
kazgani (6M), coppersmith, cauldron maker.
kefşger (14M), shoemaker.
kethüda (4M), deputy head of military unit.
kumbaracı (5M), bombardier.
kuşçu (1M), bird dealer, falconer.
kürekçi? or kürkçü? (1M), oarmaker? or furrier?
limancı (3M, 18C), military stevedore.
martolos (7M, 86C), militia man.
muy-tab (2M), hair-rope maker.
muzeduz (1M), bootmaker.
müezzin (26M), one who calls Muslims to prayer.
müsellem (52MC Gypsies), tax-exempt public servant.
müstahfaz (271M), garrison soldier, Janissary.
naibelşeri’ (1M), judge.
nakarazen (2M), kettledrummer.
nalbent (5M), blacksmith, farrier.
nalça-ger (2M), maker of iron boot-tips.
nassah (1M), tailor.
neccar (8M), carpenter.
nefyei (2M), matmaker.
pop (2C), Orthodox priest.
saka (1M) water carrier or Janissary corporal.
saraç (7M), saddler.
sefinei (8M), boatman.
semerci (1M), packsaddle maker.
senktraş (1M, 2C), stonemason.
serbölük (31M), head of unit of ten Janissaries.
seroda (12M, 6C), head of unit of ten soldiers, marines.
sertraş (6M), barber.
sertopçuyan (1M), head of artillerymen.
seyyaf (1M), maker or seller of swords.
sipahi (2M), cavalryman.
tacir (12M), merchant.
taşçı (1M, 1C), quarryman.
tave-gir (2C), brickmaker or tilemaker.
tellâl (6C), town crier or commercial broker.
topçu (36M, 10C), artilleryman, gunner.
turşucu (1M), maker or seller of pickles.
voyvoda (1M), mayor or town governor.
zer-ger (1M), goldsmith.



1. B. Djurdjev, “Belgrade,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, I, p. 1164.

2. J. Tadić, Dubrovačka arhivska gradja o Beogradu: knjiga I, 1521-1571. Gradja za istoriju Beograda, Belgrade, 1950; R. Samardžić, “Belgrade, centre économique de la Turquie du nord au XVIe siècle,” in La ville balkanique XVe-XIXe siècles, Studia Balcanica III, ed., N. Todorov (Sofia, 1970); V. Čubrilović, ed. Istorija Beograda, I (Belgrade, 1974), chapter IX, “Ragusians in Belgrade in the 16th and 17th centuries,” pp. 423-51.

3. L. Fekete-G. Káldy-Nagy, Rechnungsbücher türkischer Finanzstellen in Buda (Ofen), 1550-1580: Türkischer Text, Budapest, 1962, p. 749.

4. M. Mladenović, “Die Herrschaft der Osmanen in Serbien im Licht der Sprache,” Südost-Forschungen 20 (1961), pp. 159-203; A. Knežević, Die Turzismen in der Sprache der Kroaten und Serben, Meisenheim am Glan, 1962, pp. 397-407; A. Škaljić, Turcizmi u srpskohrvatskom jeziku, Sarajevo, 1966; F. Miklosich, “Die türkischen Elemente in den südost- und osteuropäischen Sprachen,” Denkschriften der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften: philosophisch-historische Classe 34-35, Vienna, 1884-1885.

5. J. Cvijić, La péninsule balkanique: géographie humaine, Paris, 1918, p. 257.

6. K. Kadlec,Valaši a valašské právo v zemích slovanských a uherských, Prague, 1916, pp. 451-68.

7. Ottoman scribes were sensitive to this Petre/Petar distinction as is clear from recently published domesday material, see G. Bayerle, Ottoman Tributes in Hungary According to 16th-Century Tapu Registers of Novigrad, The Hague-Paris, 1973, p. 138.

8. Earlier domesday material defines the tithe or öşür as one seventh or one eighth of the grain harvested and a full one tenth of vegetables and grape must. See B. McGowan, “Food Supply and Taxation on the Middle Danube (1568-1579),” Archivum Ottomanicum 1 (1969), p. 190.

9. Mahalle-i debbagin der varoş.

10. Like Jews and members of the Ottoman military, adult-male Gypsies were, for tax reasons, enumerated neferen (as individuals) and not by hane (household). Despite this peculiarity, there were probably 192 Gypsy households in the varoş.

11. Quoted by A. G. Paspati, Etudes sur les Tchinghianés ou Bohémiens de l’Empire ottoman, Constantinople, 1870, p. 13 n.1.

12. Idem., pp. 12-13.

13. On this particular exaction, see H. Inalcik, “Ispendje,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, IV, p. 211.

14. A. Hananel-E. Eškenazi, eds., Evrejski izvori za obšestveno-ikonomičeskoto razvitie na balkanskite zemi prez XVI vek, Sofia, 1958, I, pp. 219-20.

15. Idem., pp. 468-71.

16. L. Fekete, “Budin,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, I, p. 1285, refers to 75 Jewish households in Ottoman Buda (circa 1550). But, more recently published Ottoman census material for Buda from the year 1546 indicates about 220 adult-male Jews, divided among a total of 99 households. See G. Káldy-Nagy, Kanuni devri Budin tahrir defteri, 1546-1562, Ankara, 1971, pp. 10-11 and 14-15.

17. For an inventory of armaments and munitions of Ottoman Belgrade from the year 1536, see H. Šabanović, Turski izvori za istoriju Beograda, Belgrade, 1964, pp. 283-84.

18. Ö. L. Barkan, "Essai sur les donnés statistiques des régistres de recensement dans l’Empire ottoman aux XVe et XVIe siècles," Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient I (1958), pp. 9-36; idem., “Quelques observations sur l’organisation économique et sociale des villes ottomanes des XVIe et XVIIe siècles,” Recueils de la Société Jean Bodin, VII, La Ville: deuxième partie, Institutions économiques et sociales, Brussels, 1955, p. 293, n. 1; T. Halasi-Kun, "16th-Century Turkish Settlements in Southern Hungary," Belleten 28 (1964), p. 68; the household-size puzzle is surveyed by McGowan, op. cit., pp. 157-164. Employing a different method, McGowan suggests 4.59 as the appropriate household size for late 16th-century Semendire sancak. This question is further discussed in three articles on Serbia in Household and Family in Past Time, eds., P. Laslett-R. Wall, Cambridge, 1972, pp. 335-427.

19. Barkan, “Quelques observations...,” p. 293 n.1.

20. Idem., pp. 292 and 295.