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Sources and Issues Other Written Sources


Quantitative data and sources for the pre-nineteenth-century Istanbul population are difficult to come by. The available estimates, most of them by European travelers and Orientalists, are approximations with a usually low degree of reliability. Besides, Istanbul was never taxed in the same manner as the provinces, never had a Tapu Tahrir Defteri, and was never, even immediately after the Ottoman conquest, subjected to a census. There are, for the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, only a few sparse cizye defteri (head-tax registers for the non-Muslim population) and some partial household counts for the occasional avârız taxation. As to the urban local level, population figures are non-existent. The first citywide reliable count is that of 1885.
The Archives of the Religious Courts (¥er’iye Sicilleri Arœivi) for Istanbul are classified on a topographical basis, given that many of the courts of justice were also responsible for law and order in specific chunks of the city. The archives for the Davud Paœa District, of which the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle is a part, span the period between 1782 and 1924. The Davudpaœa Court of Justice, always headed by an aide (na’ib) of the kadı of Istanbul, was one of the oldest courts of the city. Its foundation is probably contemporaneous with the namesake mosque and dates therefore from the last decade of the fifteenth century. The court operated at first within the Davudpaœa mosque itself but was moved, in the eighteenth century, to a two-story wooden building just adjacent to it. The devastating fire that ravaged a large part of Istanbul in 1782 destroyed both the Davudpaœa Court Building and its three centuries of accumulated archives.
As to the post-1782 religious court records for Kasap ƒlyas, they contain mostly deeds of sale of property, settlements of debts and of commercial disputes, cases of inheritance with litigation, and cases of divorce. The cases of divorce include declarations of outright repudiation as well as cases with mutual consent and financial settlement. There are also a number of rulings that amount to an outright rejection of the plaintiff’s case. A 10 percent sample spanning the 1782–1924 period has been drawn from among these court records. A total of 173 detailed court records have thus been transcribed, classified, and analyzed. A first screening was done by previously selecting the court cases where either the plaintiff, the defendant, and/or the object of discord were living or were situated in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle.

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Sources and Issues Quantitative Data


Quantitative Data (Late Ottoman Censuses)

Two other important Ottoman archival sources have been delved into, for the purposes of this book: The archives of the religious court (¥er’iye Sicili Arœivi) for the Davud Paœa District, spanning the period from 1782 to 1924, and the 1885 and 1907 late Ottoman Population Census (Tahrir-i Nüfus) documents. The censuses and registration schemes developed in the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the nineteenth century provide a rich source of data for historical studies. The two late Ottoman de jure censuses (tahrir-i nüfus) of 1885 and 1907 and the population registers that were built upon them comprise a rich array of information on many aspects of Ottoman population and society.37 Until recently, these data had been utilized only in a superficial way.38 Census-taking was an age-old Ottoman habit and a census of each newly conquered territory was indeed taken in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

But these early counts were done for the purpose of assessing agricultural output and potential tax returns. Besides, they were discontinued after the first decades of the seventeenth century.
The two censuses of 1885 and 1907 were in fact the first empire-wide censuses designed specifically for purposes other than either taxation, agricultural revenue assessment, or military conscription. They were the first “modern” censuses in which precise demographic and social information was col-
lected for each individual. All census registrations were nominative and they permit, therefore, the reconstruction of family and household structures. The 1885 census was also the first to record information about females. Individuals were recorded as members of residential groups of various types, the most common of which was the house or household (hane). The houses and other premises were all registered together by neighborhood and street address, and these are very helpful in drawing the social topography of the neighborhood.
Registration in the Ottoman capital during these two censuses is known to have been quite thorough, both for males and females. Strict measures were implemented to make sure that the census officials carried out their tasks. Each registered individual was then issued with a sort of population certificate (nüfus tezkeresi), which was a combination of a birth certificate and an identification card. This certificate was later to become an essential document for transacting all official and legal business, buying and selling property, seeking government employment, obtaining travel documents, and so
forth. There is reason to suppose that census regulations were most strictly applied in the capital-city. In the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, for instance, both the local headman and the imam of the mosque assisted the census officials in the registration process and signed the local census register upon completion of the operations as a testimony of the exhaustivity of the count. The data from these censuses are the most reliable source for the study of population, households, and families in late Ottoman society.
The basic rosters for the 1885 and 1907 censuses in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle are kept intact in the Population Registry (Nüfus Müdürlü™ü) of the Fatih District of metropolitan Istanbul. These two late Ottoman censuses were designed to also function as permanent population registers, probably
under the influence of Quételet’s Belgian population registers, and the census totals were to be regularly updated with the day-to-day registration of all subsequent vital events. All births, deaths, and in- and out- migrants to and from each neighborhood and city were to be recorded on the basic census rosters and these were to be kept in situ. The total failure of the postcensus registration schemes, however, stand in sharp contrast with the thoroughness and the reliability of the initial census registration itself. These rosters, which contain personal and confidential information, are still protected by a privacy aw. They have not yet been turned over to the Ottoman Archives of the Prime Ministry and are not yet, properly speaking, public archival documents. They can be consulted by special permission only.
We have done an exhaustive and systematic transcription of both the 1885 and the 1907 census documents for the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle. In the 1885 census, the non-Muslim population of the neighborhood was registered in a separate roster, which is unfortunately lost. As to the 1907 census, there is only one basic roster that contains both the Muslim and the non-Muslim inhabitants of the neighborhood. In 1885, the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle had 925 registered Muslim inhabitants and, in 1907, a total of 1,160 inhabitants, 1,039 of which were Muslim.

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Sources and Issues


What is known of the demographic structures and the social relationships within the capital-city of the Ottoman Empire, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mostly concerns either the Palace itself and its web of political relationships or the more “Westernized” suburbs of Galata and Pera, whose inhabitants were mostly the Levantine or the non-Muslim. In any case, the available information concerns mostly middle- or upper-middle-class strata. The stock of published sources and materials (novels, memoirs, biographies, travelogues, etc.) also concern, for obvious reasons, more or less the same groups.
Besides, they are, for the most part, concentrated in the post-Tanzimat period. As exemplified by the history of Kasap ƒlyas however, grassroots Istanbul, much less “visible” both to contemporaries and to historians, was certainly quite different. The majority of the Istanbulites, especially those living in the intramural city, shared more modest households and neighborhoods, and it is they and their movements that ultimately put their stamp on Ottoman Istanbul. However, not much of significance has been written either on the daily lives of ordinary citizens, on the structure and the web of relationships of average neighborhoods or, for that matter, on the human fabric of Ottoman cities at large.
As far as the Anatolian towns are concerned, the picture is not all that different. In the heyday of their discovery and frenetic exploitation as a new source, it was hoped that the early Ottoman tax cum land cadastral surveys of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the tapu-tahrir registers (the Defters), could be used to reconstruct quarter by quarter their demographic and economic structure. These documents, however, have proven to be too schematic, too isolated, and too incomplete to provide anything more than a simple indication of relative population densities and, in some cases, of global
population trends36 in these cities. Besides, consistent long-run series are almost impossible to obtain for the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

As to the Ottoman/Turkish tradition of local history, this literature deals quite extensively with the archaeological remains and the architecture, the historical monuments, the urban layout, and so forth, of various cities. Notwithstanding a few notable exceptions, much of this literature, especially that concerning Anatolian cities, is little more than undigested raw historical source material with almost no attempts at detailed comment or synthesis. Besides, this literature is, mainly for lack of historical documentation, largely silent on what is the basic element of any community object of study: the people and their daily lives in the Ottoman period.
There is a small number of brilliant exceptions to this sad state of affairs. Faroqhi on seventeenth-century Ankara and Kayseri, André Raymond on various Arab cities under Ottoman rule, Haim Gerber on seventeenth century Bursa, Abraham Marcus on eighteenth-century Aleppo, Daniel Goffman on Izmir, and Özer Ergenç on sixteenth-century Ankara deserve special mention. All of these studies use the archives of the local religious court records as one of their main source of documentation.
Local Archives
We know, however, of no equivalent historical study focusing on a single mahalle within an Ottoman or Middle Eastern city. Indeed, one of the reasons why, among all of the neighborhoods in traditional Istanbul, the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle has been picked up for such an in-depth, demographic, and historical study is, first and foremost the availability of a really exceptional set of archival sources pertaining to its population. The equivalent of these historical sources exist, to the best of our knowledge, for no other urban neighborhood of Istanbul, or for that of any other Ottoman city, for that matter.
These quite exceptional archival sources consist of three thick notebooks accompanied by a number of loose folios, all handwritten by the successive imams of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque and by the muhtars of the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle in the second half of the nineteenth century. These notebooks and folios contain, among other items of information:
1. a nominative list of 654 marriage contracts registered by the imams of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque in the second half of the nineteenth century;
2. a complete list and description of waqf property in the neighborhood starting from the 1660s and ending about the middle of the nineteenth century, as well as the uses to which these waqf buildings and land have been put and the revenues that accrued;

3. a nominative list of population movements in and out of the neighborhood in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as well as a (very incomplete) list of births and deaths in the mahalle;
4. a very precise descriptive count of all real estate property, public and private, in the neighborhood conducted in 1885 with names of owners and of tenant(s), if any.
The care with which the successive imams and muhtars of the the nineteenthcentury Kasap ƒlyas mahalle took note of the demographic events that occurred in their neighborhood is truly surprising. Prior to the late nineteenth century regulations on registration, there was no Ottoman/Muslim tradition of registering or centralizing vital events. A particularly zealous scribe (the local headman, muhtar Osman Efendi, of whom more will be said later) was instrumental in preserving these local documents. We have used these exceptional local records to complement the official census documents, to obtain an insider’s perspective about the social and economic makeup of the neighborhood, and to trace the process of rural migration and integration into the mahalle. The marriage records contain little demographic information, for neither the ages, nor the dates and places of birth of the spouses were noted.
These records are, however, a good indicator of the progressive secularization of vital registration. As to the local waqf records kept by the imam, the local trustee, they furnish important glimpses on intramahalle relationships in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The movements in and out of the neighborhood have provided a means of analyzing a multisecular migration model from the Anatolian town of Arapkir.

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