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Reform and the Conduct of Ottoman Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III, 1789-1807

Author(s): Thomas Naff

Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 83, No. 3 (Aug. - Sep., 1963), pp.
Published by: American Oriental Society
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REIGN OF SELIM III, 1789-18071

IN THE GRAND DAYS of the Ottoman Empire,

diplomacy had relatively little effect on affairs of
state. The Empire, in theory, existed to protect
and extend Dar iil-Islam, and so long as the task
was performed effectively by the formidable mili-

tary institution around which the Sultans organized their state, diplomacy served the cause in a
minor way. The Sultans, supported by an invincible army, customarily regulated the Empire's
foreign relations by the simple technique of issuing
a pronouncement of their will.
But by the end of the 17th century, the Empire
had reached the verge of collapse. With their

Empire in decay, and with the once splendid

Janissaries more often at their throats than at
their backs, the Sultans were uniformly unsuccessful in checking either the decline of their state or
the advances of their enemies. They were forced,
in these circumstances, to negotiate at almost every
turn of events, with the result that diplomacy came
to be more and more indispensable to the maintenance of their realm. However, the Ottoman
diplomatic establishment was markedly ill-suited
for its increased responsibilities, and as European
assaults whittled away the Empire from without,
reform from within became essential for survival.
It was not until the reign of Selim III (17891807) that reform was undertaken with determination.2 Selim was wholeheartedly committed to
1 This paper is part of a larger study being prepared
on reform and diplomacy during the reign of Selim III.

Research was done in London, Paris, and Istanbul between 1957-1961 with the aid of grants from the Ford
Foundation and the American University in Cairo.
2 After the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 1783,

reform not only to keep his domain intact, but,

above all, to restore the Empire to its former greatness. He was intelligent enough to realize that to
accomplish his mission he must emulate the technical progress of Europe, and so he attempted to

order and modernize some of his state's basic institutions after the pattern of the European powers.
The primary objective of his reform program was
to regenerate the military might of his Empire.
Consequently, it must be emphasized that all other
reforms, including those in the sphere of diplomacy, were intended in one way or another to contribute to the attainment of that goal.
However, Selim was aware that "like the wheels
of a watch" the affairs of government were interconnected, and reform must be comprehensive if it
were to be successful.3 Given such awareness, and
the fact that diplomacy had, by Selim's reign,
become one of the vital branches of the Ottoman
government, the diplomatic establishment occupied
a large place in the remedial schemes of the Sultan
and his advisers. While it was neither his intention nor his wish, Selim's reforms in the Ottoman
military and diplomatic systems opened channels
through which the thought and techniques of
Revolutionary Europe first penetrated the Empire.
The process of change was carried out with the
help of European instructors; Ottomans found it
necessary to learn European languages and, in
consequence, began moderately to delve into various lbranches of European literature: In this way,
western ideas gradually began to overcome the
barriers of Muslim prejudice against all things
Christian, and the evolution toward the modern
nation-state of Turkey had begun.

some reforms were attempted by Abdilihamid I and his

Grand Vizir, Halil Hamid Pasa; they were ineffectual
owing to the halfheartedness of the Sultan and opposition from the Janissaries and Ulema. See Ahmed Cevdet
Pasa, Vekayi-i Devlet-i Aliye (Cevdet Tarihi), Istanbul,

Although Selim's military reforms were significant in the evolution of modern Turkey, it is the
role of his diplomatic reforms in that transforma-

1891-2, tertib-i cedid, III, 85ff, 133 ff, V, 225-32, VI, 4;

Mustafa Nuri Pasa, Netaic il-Vukuat, Istanbul, 1877-79,

Nizam-i Cedit 1789-1807 (Ankara, 1940), 12-13; A.

IV, 4 if, 97; I. H. Uzungar?1li, " Sadrazam Halil Hamid

siecle," Feuilles d'Histoire (Paris, 1912), 386-402, 490-

Boppe, "La France et la 'militaire ture' au XVIIIe

Pasa," Tiirkiyat Mecmuas? V (1936), 213-67, who claims

501; H. A. R. Gibb and Harold Bowen, Islamic Society

that Hamid Pasa laid the foundations for Selim III's

and the West (London, 1950), I, i, 183-5.

reforms; E. Z. Karal, Selim III'iin Hat-ti Hiimdyunlarl

s Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 6, VIII, 146-48.


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296 NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III

tion which chiefly concerns us here. These reforms
are important not only in that they made possible
the penetration of European ideas, but equally in

that they form the starting point for any systematic study of 19th century Ottoman diplomacy.

pean diplomacy or to understand the reasoning

behind it. When the Sultan and his advisers attempted to reform Ottoman government during
Selim's reign, the persistence of this Muslim
rationale handicapped their efforts and retarded

The initial task of such a study would be to take

up various basic questions arising out of Selim's

their progress.

reforming activities. The most essential of these


questions have been posed by J. C. Hurewitz in


his exploratory article on the Europeanization of

Ottoman diplomacy.4 How, he asks, was Ottoman

diplomacy practiced, what were its techniques and
rationale, its peculiarly Muslim or Ottoman characteristics, and why did Selim's experiments in

diplomatic reform fail (or, we may ask, did they

fail altogether) ? It is the purpose of the present
article to seek answers to these questions.

An understanding of the rationale of Ottoman

diplomacy, which gave meaning to its practice and
organization, is an essential requirement to any
investigation of the subject. Ottoman thinking in

diplomacy, as in all matters of government, derived from the Muslim concept of the state, which

was rooted in the Sharita (Holy Law); traditionally, the Sharita provided for all the exigencies of
life and government, thus making the Muslim
state, in theory, self-sufficient. In this sense, the
Ottoman Empire was pre-eminently a Sharita
state.5 The Ottomans clung stubbornly to the illusion of Islam's innate moral and cultural superiority over Christian Europe. They expressed this
belief in their ideas of self-sufficiency and in their
practice of non-reciprocal diplomacy. The Muslim
prejudice that whatever was western was tainted
prevented the Ottomans from wholly accepting or
imitating western ways. Thus, despite its enduring
presence in Europe, the Empire remained, at the
outset of the 19th century, essentially a medieval
Islamic state in objectives, organization and mentality. This fact explains why, even after nearly
half a millennium of constant, though one-sided

diplomatic contact with Europe, few Ottoman

statesmen (except, perhaps, the Phanariot Greek
dragomans) possessed the experience, skill, or insight necessary to cope with the methods of Euro4"The Europeanization of Ottoman Diplomacy: The
Conversion from Unilateralism to Reciprocity in the
Nineteenth Century," Belleten, XXV, No. 99, July 1961,
r See the comments of Bernard Lewis, The Emergence

of Modern Turkey (London, 1962), 1-39, and Albert

Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age 1789-1939

(London, 1962), 1-34.

Jeis iil-Kiittab: The management of the Ottoman Empire's foreign relations was, in this period,
under the supervision of the Reis il-Kiittab, or
Reis Efendi (chief of the secretaries). The position had evolved from the office of Director of the
Secretariat, in which capacity the Reis had been
responsible for drawing up the communications
from the Grand Vizir to the Sultan and supervising the secretarial activities of the various
governmental departments. When the first European ambassadors took up residence in Istanbul,
the negotiations involved were carried out by the
Grand Vizir, with the Reis merely keeping a
record of the exchanges, as he did of all other
viziral business. Diplomacy did not begin to occupy him significantly until the latter part of the
17th century. As the Grand Vizir gradually
assumed the greater part of the Sultan's responsibilities in the affairs of state, he in turn delegated
to the Reis greater responsibilities in foreign
affairs, which, owing to their growing complexities,
demanded constant attention.7
,'For economy's sake, certain aspects of Ottoman
diplomacy, such as audiences, gifts, residence, etc., have
been omitted in the following discussion; these are
features which pertain mainly to the conduct of relations between the European embassies in Istanbul and
the Sublime Porte. Several published Turkish and
western works provide information about such matters;

among them are I. H. Uzungar?11, Osmanli Devletinin

Merkez ye Bahriye Te1kiclt! (Ankara, 1948); Cevdet,

Tarih, VI, 129 and passim; Zarif Orgun, "OsmanIT

Imparatorlugunda Name ve Hediye getiren Elgilere

yap'Ian Merasim," Tarih Vesikalar', I, No. 6, April 1942,

407-13; Mouradgea d'Ohsson, Tableau general de
1'Empire Ottoman (Paris, 1824), VII, 484ff; J. S. Zinkeisen, Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches in Europa
(Gotha, 1859-63), 7 vols.; B. Spuler, "Die Europaische
Diplomatie in Konstantinopel bis zum Frieden von
Beograd (1789)," Jahrbuch Kultur Geschichte Slaven,
Nf. 11, 1935, 53-115, 177-222, 313-66, continued in Jahrbuch Geschichte Osteuropas, I (1936), 383-439, 229-262;

A. F. Lybyer, The Government of the Ottoman Empire in

the Time of Suleiman the Magnificent (Cambridge,
Mass., 1913); and Gibb and Bowen, op. cit., I, i and ii.
7 Gibb and Bowen, op. cit., I, i, 213.

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By the end of the 18th century, foreign affairs
had become the concern primarily of the Reis
iil-Kiittab, although his duties remained both in
theory and in practice an adjunct of the Grand
Vizir's functions.8 This characteristic was one of
the features which distinguished the position from
its European counterpart, the foreign minister;
indeed, the entire ministerial system of the Ottoman government fails of precise comparison with
the ministerial or cabinet methods of government
on the Continent. Much that was oriental in
practice and Islamic in tradition, particularly as
regards the nature of the viziral office and the
application of Holy Law, lest Muslim sentiment be
offended, was retained in the Ottoman scheme;
thus a Grand Vizir was something more than a
prime minister and the Reis il-Kiittab something
less than a foreign minister. The discrepancy applied to other officials as well and caused Selim III
some difficulty when he attempted to align Ottoman diplomacy with European diplomacy.
In Europe, on the other hand, diplomacy and
government in general had become secularized, and
the administrative lines and duties of each branch
were clearly drawn. Furthermore, European
rulers generally delegated less of their responsibilities and powers to their principal ministers than

did the Padisahs. The more efficient organization

of the Europeans produced a diplomatic system
much superior to that of the Ottomans. It would
have been exceptional for a European ruler to
by-pass his foreign minister in making foreign
policy decisions, or the ministry in executing
them; in the Ottoman system, however, where the
Reis was in an appendant relation to the Grand
Vizir, the phenomenon occurred often enough to
be typical. As there was no true ministry of
foreign affairs, the Sultan would, as often as not,

call upon a favorite, the Grand Vizir or the Reis

himself, to carry out policy decisions. Conversely,
if the Grand Vizir were weak, a strong Reis could
dominate the Sublime Porte.9
The office, then, suffered constitutional defectsinevitably exacerbated in times of crisis-which
often handicapped the Porte in formulating and
executing its policies. In addition to his position
vis-a-vis the Grand Vizir, and his heavy reliance
on the interpreters of the Divan, the Reis Efendi
was hampered in the performance of his duties by
vices endemic to the whole of the Ottoman administrative body-intrigues, political rivalry,
malfeasance, and the appointment of incompetents
-vices from which the Reises themselves were by
no means free. During the three centuries of its
existence, the office of Reis idl-Kidttab was occupied
by 130 men, an average tenure of two years five
months. The position grew increasingly insecure
until, in 1797, four men were dismissed from the
post, in each case because of the activities of their

Few Reis Efendis of the 18th century held office

secure from intrigues directed against them, es-

pecially in times of crisis, or when, with the Grand

Vizir, they were required to accompany the army
on campaign. For instance, in the critical summer
of 1797, the incumbent Reis il-Kiittab was Rasih
Efendi, an ineffectual, upright individual who was
incapable of comprehending general political
affairs, to say nothing of the intricacies of diplomatic relations. Rasih had, in fact, been appointed
as a compromise candidate acceptable to the various
rival political factions. However, his enemies,
using against him his inability to keep pace with
events in Europe, managed to work his dismissal,
and to recall to office from eclipse in his position
as prefect of the capital's dockyards, the powerful

tains biographies of the 64 Reises down to Ragib Efendi,

9 See, for example, the accounts of Rabid Efendi's

career in the office, especially in 1797, in Cevdet, Tarih,
VI, 133 ff., 262 ff.; Ahmed Asim (Selim's royal historiographer), Asim Tarihi (Istanbul, 1871), I, 256-57;

in 1774, and continued by Suleyman Fa'ik Efendi, who

Ahmed Resim Efendi, Seftnet, 144-5 fF.; also GB, Public

carried on with the next 30 Reises to Vasif Efendi in

1805-6; Cevdet, Tarih, passim; Joseph von Hammer-

Record Office, F078/19, Smith to Grenville, Aug. 25,

1797, and France, Archives du Ministkre des Aifaires

Purgstall, Des Osmanischen Reiches Staatsverferassung

Etrangeres, Turquie/196, Dubayet to Talleyrand, Aug.

8 On the office of the Reis Efendi, in addition to

d'Ohsson and Spuler, cited above, note 6, consult Ahmed
Resmi, Sefinet il-Ruesa (Istanbul, 1852), which con-

und Staatsverwaltung (Vienna, 1815), I, 100 i., who

follows d'Ohsson in his description; A. Zajaczkowski
and Jan Reychman, Zarys Dyplomatyki OsmanskoTureckiej (Warsaw, 1955) (English translation to be
published), 106-9, who also provide a list of the Reises
down to Ra~id's first ministry in 1787, also Jean Deny's
article in El', 1140-42, and Gibb and Bowen, op. cit.,
I, i, 117ff., 122-23if.

25, 1797, f453; the comments of both men reveal Rapid's

abilities and power.

10 Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 137-40, 261; Tahsin Oz, " Selim

III'un Sirkatibi tarafindan tutulan Ruzname," Tarih
Vesikalarl, III, No. 15, May 1949 (?Oz publishes here
excerpts from the diary of Ahmed Efendi, Selim's private
secretary). See also the dispatches of Smith and Dubayet cited above, note 9.

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298 NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III

and capable Rabid Efendi, who had twice previously held the post.
Rabid, a consummate politician, at once joined in
a formidable and costly struggle for political control of the Sublime Porte with the new Grand

Vizir, izzet Mehmed Pasa, in whom he met his

match and who ultimately defeated him.1" The
Porte emerged from its absorption in this rivalry
to find that France had, by the Treaty of Campo-

Formio, extended her power in the Mediterranean

to the borders of the Empire, thus making an
assault on Egypt or the Morea feasible. The Ottomans were forced to alter hastily their friendly
policy toward the French Republic and to enter
into defensive talks with the British and the
For all the difficulties of his office, the Reis
Efendi directed the routine of Ottoman diplomacy
and contributed increasingly to the formulation
of policy. All diplomatic communications were
addressed to his office and acted upon under his
direction, the more important business being
passed on the Grand Vizir and ultimately to the
Sultan in the form of summaries and reports. In
Selim III's time, most of the original communications themselves, with marginal comments from
the Reis and the Grand Vizir, were forwarded to
the Sultan, who might add his views or instructions. One of the Reis Efendi's most important
tasks was to keep the Grand Vizir and the Sultan

abreast of events everywhere. But he lacked efficient means to collect and evaluate information,
even if his sources and lines of communication had
been adequate. Consequently, many of Selim's
notations are peevish because of the Reis's failure
to keep him informed.
The Reis also supervised negotiations or conducted them himself, generally with the assistance
of a dragoman and two other officials, often the

Kethiida Bey (a deputy of the Grand Vizir) and

usually a member of the Ulema, perhaps a Molla
of the Divan or a Kazlasker (the legal authority
of the Divan whose judicial power was exceeded
only by that of the Seyh id-lslam). Some of these
men became skilled negotiators. The variety of
business which fell within the purlieu of the Reis
Efendi was vast and the organizational resources

of his department were ill-fitted to cope with it.

His responsibilities ranged from attending to the
larger and routine issues of foreign relations, including regulations pertaining to foreign embas11 See above, notes 9 and 10.

sies and consulates, to such small matters as the

costumes which foreigners might be permitted to
wear on various occasions, the supervision of
special outlets allowed to supply alcoholic beverages
to foreigners, or the granting of permission for an
envoy to acquire a certain number of baskets of
grapes for household use.12
Formulation of Policy: The mechanics of policymaking reflected the organization and practice of
government, and provide yet another feature of
Ottoman diplomacy atypical of the European
system. Without the apparatus of a foreign ministry, policy was devised essentially by the Grand
Vizir and the Sultan, the former often being the
predominant figure. However, in the course of the
18th century, and particularly during the sultanate
of Selim III, the procedure became more consultative, while the Reis Efendi played an increasingly
larger role in the formulation of policy. Issues
were more frequently submitted for discussion to

the Council of State, a modernized version of the

Divan, after which a policy decision would be
made. Mlost typically, however, policy was made
on the basis of the deliberations of an inner circle
of men who were the closest advisers or favorites
of the Sultan and Grand Vizir; the Reis il-Kiittab
was usually included among them.
This broader basis of policy-making was in line
with Selim's tenet that responsibility for government should, to a limited extent, be shared by
statesmen of the realm. He once wrote, " It is for
statesmen to advise and for the Padisah to execute
decisions." 13 But the rivalries which existed at
all levels of the government, especially among the
closest advisers of the Sultan, often cancelled out
the benefits which might have been gained from
the consultative approach to policy-making. There
12 See, for example, Turkey, Basvekalet Ar?ivi, Cevdet
Tasnifi-Hariciye, Nos. 1440, 1546, 1818, 3343. A detailed
picture of the scope of the Reis's duties can be drawn
from the documents contained in the Cevdet TasnifiHariciye (a collection of documents pertaining to diplomacy hereafter cited as CH) and the IHatt! Hilmayunlar
(a collection of Imperial Rescripts hereafter cited as

13 Karal, Selim III, 148. One cannot accept Karal's

contention (147) that Selim, like Frederick II of

Prussia and Queen Victoria of England, considered rulership a service to be rendered to the people. A. de Saint
Denys de Juchereau, Revolutions de Constantinople en
1807 et 1808 (Paris, 1819), I, 176, points out that
Selim's insistence that all issues be discussed by the
Council diminished the authority and influence of the
Grand Vizir.

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NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III 299

The mission's chief interpreter was in charge of
diplomatic affairs; he translated into and from
Turkish all communications with the Ottomans,
assisted by a secretary assigned to the mission by
the Sublime Porte. He himself signed only those
state is about to be lost. Later will do no good.
notes of minor importance which he presented to
We have revealed to you our views. You too share
the Turks in Italian or French. The notes were
in the government." 14
addressed to the Reis Efendi, who referred them
Dragomans: Ottoman officials and resident
to the department concerned. He also accompaEuropean envoys alike required the services of
nied the envoy during interviews with the Reis
interpreters (dragomans or terciimans) whenever
Efendi or Grand Vizir. In earlier times he was
they wished to communicate. This fact, like so
not permitted to enter into the discussion in any
many others which characterized the relations
way, but by the 18th century this rule was no
between the European embassies in Istanbul and
longer applied; interpreters often represented enthe Sublime Porte, reflected the non-reciprocal
voys before the Reis or Grand Vizir.
nature of Ottoman diplomacy. Owing to their
But there was usually much delay and proMuslim prejudices, the Ottoman Turks refused to
crastination on the part of the Ottomans in their
employ the infidel lingua franca of European
communications, and they tended to take circuitous
diplomacy; moreover, inasmuch as the Reises
routes in transacting their business. The disiil-Kiittab were rarely ever well-informed regardpatches of the envoys contain many such coming European politics, or even, frequently, the
plaints and d'Ohsson explains that Ottoman offilocation of European states, they were forced to
cials trained and worked for years without making
rely on the Phanariot dragomans of the Porte in
or wishing to make decisions on their own; they
dealing with western diplomats.15
always took steps to cover themselves against critiIt was, in fact, only on major business that an
cism or the accusations of rivals. When necessary,
envoy had a conference with the Reis iil-Kiittab
however, the Ottomans were capable of expediting
(such a circumstance, however, became increasaffairs with remarkable celerity. The other emingly frequent during Selim III's reign), and then
bassy interpreters of secondary rank assisted the
he was often dealt with by the Porte's interpreter.
nationals of the embassy residing in the Empire in
Most embassies sent their interpreters daily to the
legal and police problems, in customs and other
Sublime Porte to observe the course of events.
matters. The French and Austrian governments
in the 18th century assigned to their Turkish mis14 Karal, loc. cit.
15 On the dragomans see Osman Nuri [Ergin], Tilrkiye sions young men for training in the languages and
ways of the Levant in preparation for future serMaarif Tarihi (Istanbul, 1940-41), II, 611-15, who pro-

were times when these rivalries seriously hampered

the taking of important decisions when they were

required, causing Selim to write on one occasion,
"For the love of God, tell us your views. The

vice in the area.'6

first quarter of the 19th century; Uzungar?l11, Merkez
ve the influence of these interpreters,
Bahriye, 71-2 ff.; Zajaczkowski and Reychman, Zarys
particularly the chief interpreters, on the conduct
Dyplomatyki, 110-12, who also provide a partial list of
of affairs was considerable. All the important
dragomans from the 16th to the 19th century; HammerPurgstall, Staatsverfassung, 110 ff., 131; Lybyer, Suleiembassy business passed through them, and the
man, 184-5; the articles, "Terdjuman" and "Fanar,"
success or failure of a mission depended in large
in El1, 725-6, 52-3; Gibb and Bowen, op cit., I, i, 122 ff.,
measure upon their capabilities and experience,
vides a list of all the Porte's dragomans in the 18th and

170; among useful works by Greek scholars on the

Phanariots are A. A. Pallis, The Phanariots: A Greek
Aristocracy under Turkish Rule (London, 1951) published in mimeograph; Ephminondas I. Stamatiadis,

18 On the " Jeunes de Langues " see H. Deherain, " Les

Jeunes de Langues A Constantinople sous le premier

Bto-ypaobat 7-rCe 'EXX^A'Pwz MeyyaiXwz Atepwzijvewz

de l'histoire des colonies frangaise, XVI
uIavtKov Kpairovs (Biographies of the Great Greek Drago(1928), 385 ff., and La vie de Pierre Ruffin, orientaliste

mans of the Ottoman Empire), Athens, 1865. The latter

is an apologia for the Phanariots; although he has committed many errors and inconsistencies, and indulged in
much overstatement, the author has conveniently brought
together biographies of all the Phanariot dragomans
from the first important one in 1690 to the last in
1822; also, it appears he had access to some Phanariot
family records.

et diplomat, 1742-1824 (Paris, 1929), I, 4-9, 102-3; Louis

XVI's ordinance and instructions concerning the
" Jeunes," dated 1781 is in the Archives Nationales,
Verse'ment du Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres, repe-

toire numerique de la sous-serie B.III/245, papiers de

l'Ancien Bureau des Consulats, and the Directory's new

regulations, addressed to Ruffin, Dec. 2, 1794, in B.


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300 NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III

and upon the contacts and sources of information

which they acquired within the Ottoman government. Frequently, interpreting was a long family
tradition. Such was the case with the brothers

Frangini, Frangois-Eugene and Antoine, Italian

Levantines who were interpreters for the Venetian
embassy at the time of the Treaty of CampoFormio (October 1797). Then they entered the
service of the French, and their ability and experience contributed importantly to the French
diplomatic victories in the peace negotiations with
the Ottomans and their allies in 1801 and 1802.
Another notable interpreter was Joseph Fonton,
educated and trained in Paris and employed in
several capacities in the Levant. He was chief
interpreter of the French legation under the ambassador, Choiseul-Gouffier, a Royalist, who defected when the French Revolution entered its
radical phase; Fonton then attached himself to
the Russian embassy. There, as the Russian ambassador Vasili Tamara's principal interpreter, he
exercised a strong influence over the Russian
ambassador and privately assisted the interests of
the French, for whom he retained a sympathy.
He was on intimate terms with Ruffin, French
charge d'affaires, and the Frangini's, whom he
often allowed to see copies of Russian correspondence.17
The position of dragoman of the Sublime Porte
(divan-i hiimayun terciimanl) was, in the beginning, neither esteemed nor rewarding. He was a

Phanariot dragomans served as interpreters for

both the Ottomans and European embassies; the
Sublime Porte probably became aware of the full
worth of their talents as a result of the skilful
performance of Alexander Mavrokordatos at the
negotiations for the Treaty of Karlowitz.18 They
also became prepared linguistically and intellectually to receive the new western ideas which penetrated the Empire during Selim III's reign. But,
as Bernard Lewis points out, the Greek Church
opposed such ideas and "the wealthy and conservative Greek aristocracy too, recognizing the
danger to the existing Ottoman order, preferred at
first to preserve a regime in which they had so
considerable an interest." 19
Early in the 18th century, the Porte began
regularly to appoint the Phanariot dragomans as
Hospodars of the Danubian Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. The posts of dragoman and
Hospodar were monopolized by a half-dozen or so
Greek families, the Mavrokordatos', Karatzas',
Sutsos', Callimakis', Moruzis', and Ypsilantis'.
Even in the 19th century, when the Ottomans had
overcome their prejudice against learning the languages of Christian Europe and employed Turks
as interpreters, and when the Reises (by then
foreign ministers) could speak at least French, the
Phanariot Greeks continued to fill important diplomatic posts abroad and in the foreign ministry in
the capital.20

The dragoman's function was to translate notes

exchanged between foreign representatives and the
very minor functionary who spent much of his
time in the ante-chambers of the Ottoman officials Sublime Porte, and to interpret for the Reis
whom he served. However, gradually, as Ottoman
Efendi during negotiations and whenever the latter, the Grand Vizir, or the Sultan received Euroforeign relations became more complex and the
pean emissaries. When the Reis and the Grand
dragomans came to be indispensible in the conduct
of diplomacy, so their lot improved radically: they Vizir accompanied the army on campaign, he or
one of his chief subordinates went with them. In
acquired honors, titles, authority, influence and
later times-the 18th and part of the 19th cenwealth.
turies-dragomans used often to conduct negotiaUp to the middle of the 17th century the dragomans were usually Jews or Europeans converted to
tions under their own direction, but not on their
own initiative; generally, they were accompanied
Islam. After that period, however, leading Greek
by an Ottoman official who observed their work.
Orthodox families of the Phanar sector of Istanbul
Most of the diplomatic exchanges which took place
began to Europeanize themselves by educating
at the Sublime Porte were between the dragoman
their sons in Italian universities, and were able to
of the Porte and the interpreters of the various
provide the requisite talents. Some of the earliest
embassies; minutes were taken by a chancery
17 Ruffin to Talleyrand, Oct. 21, 1801, AET/203, f77. scribe and/or an embassy secretary or second inLord Elgin, the British ambassador, considered Fonton
to be one of his most dangerous adversaries. The names
and activities of these Levantine interpreters appear
throughout the diplomatic correspondence of Europeans
and Ottomans alike, and in the contemporary published

18 Stamatiadis, Atepivqve's, 44, 75-77.

19 Emergence, 62.

20 Hurewitz, op. cit., 462-63, for a breakdown of posts

and numbers of years of service.

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NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III 301

terpreter. Also, he was occasionally sent for by an
envoy for talks, or he might go to an embassy
charged by the Reis with a particular mission.
The dragoman of the Porte had his own small staff
and subordinate interpreters to assist him in his
duties, the latter usually being younger members
of the leading Phanariot families training for the
Thus the dragomans were persons of some importance in the hierarchy of the Sublime Porte and
were treated accordingly by the diplomatic corps.

Moreover, because their duties brought them into

frequent contact in both an official and an unofficial capacity with the resident envoys in Istanbul, the terciimans became vital channels of information for Ottoman officials. However, while
the dragomans for the most part served the Ottoman government well and loyally, there were some
who amassed large fortunes through divulging
state secrets to foreign representatives. In 1794
the revelation of government secrets by a dragoman, Alexander Ypsilanti (Rabid Reis Efendi's
confidant, or " neck-embracer " as Cevdet calls
him) had figured importantly in the banishment
of the Kazlasker and Molla of the Divan, Tatarcik
Abdiillah Efendi, and had caused Selim III to
issue an imperial edict on the matter.2'
But the problem persisted into the reform era
and also manifested itself among the interpreters
who served Ottoman ambassadors in their new

posts in Europe. ialet Efendi, Ottoman ambassador in Paris, 1802-1806, reported in one of his
dispatches that Napoleon insisted only his own
private interpreter be present at a particular inter-

view, and that the minutes be taken down in

Arabic. Halet wrote, ". . . Bonaparte took me by
the hand and said: 'I do not in any way trust the
Greeks; they are all servants of Russia. That is
why I did not want your interpreter to know the
confidential matter I am about to communicate to
you. Our interpreter Frangini also has many
friends in Istanbul, and I excluded him, too, so
that he would not know of it [the secret] either.'
. . n22 In expressing anti-Greek sentiments to

21 Karal, Selim III, for the rescript; earlier, during

Halet, Bonaparte showed he was aware of ilalet's

prejudices against the Greeks, but at the same
time his indictment was well-founded, as he knew.
Halet's predecessor, Seyyid Ali Efendi, had a

Greek interpreter named Codrika, who had been

subverted by Talleyrand; Codrika had passed on
to him all communications arriving from the
Sublime Porte to the Ottoman embassy in Paris.

Since the interpreter's treachery came to light

before Halet's arrival, Bonaparte's words struck
the Ottoman ambassador all the more forcibly,
as the remainder of this dispatch, as well as others,

Beratll: The Porte had also to deal with a

subsidiary problem concerning dragomans. Just
as foreign embassies in the capital were permitted
to employ interpreters, so consuls in the provinces
were accorded the same privilege, and they recruited their interpreters locally from among the
non-Muslim citizens of the Empire. Some governments even employed such persons as consuls and
vice-consuls, although the practice was illegal.23
The service was allowed by a special patent or warrant from the Porte called a berat-hence these
interpreters were often referred to as beratll. They
were excused from payment of taxes and could
claim the same diplomatic immunity and privileges
as the consul for whom they worked. According
to Asim Efendi, they were also often provided with
homes. But, he claims, they sometimes passed on
government information to their employers, whom
they contrived to cheat and rob at the same time.24
The obvious advantages of the position led
wealthy Ottoman subjects to purchase berats from
foreign ambassadors and consuls in order to carry
on trade unhindered by government regulations,
to avoid the payment of taxes, or to acquire property otherwise denied to them as Christians. The
abuses reached scandalous proportions throughout
the Empire. In Aleppo, for example, where each
of the resident consuls was entitled to a single
dragoman, there were, in fact, no less than 1500
persons enjoying beratIT status.25 (The illegal
Sultan) which begins, " This scoundrel Ypsilanti! What

the war, Selim had to issue an edict ordering all officials

to take an oath of silence about affairs of state; see

is the meaning of his behavior. .."

Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 133-37, and Asim, Tarth, I, 256-57.

request for such permission from a French consul passed

22 Halet Efendi to the Reis Efendi, July 5, 1803, HH

5766b (the underline is in the document). For further
expressions of Halet's dislike and suspicions of Greek
interpreters, see his dispatch of Sept. 1, 1804, HH 5616,
to which Selim added a Hatt (marginal writing by the

along to the Reis Efendi by the French ambassador.

28 See, for example, CH 1995, Oct. 12, 1804, which is a

24 Tarih, I, 129-30.
25 The total number of berats allotted each embassy

varied according to treaty agreements. In 1772 the

numbers were allocated proportionately among the en-

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302 NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III

vending of berats on such a scale required, of
course, the connivance of Ottoman officials.) This
state of affairs was eventually reported by customs
officials to the Governor of Aleppo, Slileyman
Feyzi Pa~a, in 1794; he in turn passed the report
along to the capital. There, documents were examined and the means by which berats had been
wrongfully obtained came to light; those Christian
subjects who had escaped paying the capitation
tax were ordered to make immediate amends.
Others who claimed to be dragomans of consuls in
Negroponte, Mytilene, Acre, Jerusalem and the
Morea, though they might never have set foot in
those places, were ordered to proceed to their posts
within three days.26

The beratIl problem persisted, however, and

Selim III continued his attempts to check the
abuses to the end of his reign. He issued edicts
setting forth the precise duties and privileges of
beratlis, meted out punishment to offenders,
ordered complete and accurate lists of consuls
and their interpreters, fixed the maximum number of beratlis for any single country at 50, and
attempted to find suitable officials to administer
the new regulations. The issue broadened, encompassing the questions of the status of Christian

At the same time, Selim tried to profit from

the situation by competing with the European
envoys and consuls in the sale of berats. For a
fee of 1500 kuruU, Ottoman Christian and Jewish

merchants could acquire one of the Sultan's berats,

which gave them, along with other legal, fiscal
and commercial privileges, the right to trade with
Europe; thus, they were enabled to compete on
roughly the same terms as foreign merchants.
Early in the 19th century, the system was extended to Muslim merchants, but the number of
those who took advantage of the government's
berats was very small. In the end, despite the
Sultan's counter-measures, the sale of berats was
so rewarding to the foreign representatives and
Ottomans alike that the evil proved incorrigible.27
Sources of Information: Prior to the establishment of permanent Ottoman embassies abroad,
the Sublime Porte depended primarily upon two
sources for information about events in Europe:
One was the Beys (or Hospodars) of the Danubian Principalities, the other was the dragomans
of the Porte, whose means of gathering news has
already been discussed. The Beys maintained
agents in the capitals of central and eastern

foreigners in the Empire, their marriage with

Europe who provided them with unsifted and
Christian Ottoman subjects, the status of the
often inaccurate reports which they in turn transchildren of such unions and their property rights.
mitted to Istanbul. But during the reigns of both
For these matters the Sultan issued new regulaAbdiilhamid I and Selim III, communications
tions devised, on the whole, to limit intermarriagebetween the Principalities and the capital were
and the acquisition of property.
unreliable and at times even impossible, owing
the breakdown of central authority and the
voys, with the French and British being allowed the
resultant disorders and brigandage. Petty brighighest numbers, 50 and 39 respectively. See the report
of the Grand Vizir which reviewed the entire problem,
ands and powerful rebels like Pasvan O'lu conHH 7112, and CH 2898, which is a register dated June
trolled nearly all the major routes in Rumeli (the
21, 1793, containing a list of the interpreters of the

consuls in Aleppo; CH 3524, another register which lists

the dragomans employed by the Austrians and Russians
between 1801 and 1805; and Drummond to Hawkesbury,
June 22, 1803, F078/40, confirming the number allotted
the British.
26 The best sources on the beratl are the edicts issued

by the Sultan and Grand Vizir to curtail abuses, cited

below, note 27. However, see also Cevdet, Tarih, VI,
129-30, who maintains that many of the spurious interpreters tried unsuccessfully to bribe their way out of the

new orders, and Asim, Tarih, I, 128-30, on the status of

the beratel and the situation in Aleppo; Uzunqari11i,

Osmanli Devletinin Saray Teqkilatl (Ankara, 1945), 237
279-86, 401-16, and "Tugra ve Penqeler," Belleten V
(1945), 101-57; d'Ohsson, Tableau, VII, 506, Karal,

Islam Ansiklopedisi, Istanbul, 1940, II, 523-24; Gibb and

Bowen, op. cit., I, i, 310-11; and B. Lewis, " Beratll',"

ElI2, 1171.

27 The following documents illustrate the measures

Selim took: CH 1296, 1299, 1663, 8677 set forth the

status, duties and privileges of beratlf; CH 119, 1113,
2499, 7073, 8677 and HH 1550 are edicts and orders
prohibiting the employment of Ottoman subjects as consuls and vice-consuls for foreign powers, specifying and
ordering penalties for offenders, ordering lists to be
drawn up, appointing officials, etc.; CH 4487 is an accounting showing some of the abuses of tax exemptions of
beratles; and CH 385, 1886, 1985, and 2545 deal with the
wider question of the status and rights of Christian
foreigners. On the Sultan's berats and the edict concerning them, see Osman Nuri [Ergin], Mecelle-i Umur-i
Belediye (Istanbul, 1922), 675-89, and B. Lewis,
" Beratli'," EJ2. See also Drummond's dispatch cited
above, note 25, for testimony that the abuses continued

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NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III 303

Empire in Europe), and at times cut off the capital by land for weeks. When they were isolated,
the Ottomans had to rely for news on the dragomans and on a secondary source, which was often
useful although biased-the European envoys.
The Reis Efendi might tap them directly or, frequently, the envoys themselves volunteered information, which was usually shaded to suit their

ticularly good terms with the Ottoman Empire,

it was thought that the first permanent embassy
might well be sent to Paris. However, on consideration, it was feared that this move would
offend those other European states who were at
war with France and who might therefore refuse
to accept an Ottoman envoy. England, which had
also maintained long amicable relations with the

political objectives.28

Porte, then became the first choice.30

So long as the Empire had little to fear from

But the formalities involved in the establish
Europe, these arteries of diplomatic communicament of an embassy in Europe were unknown to
tion sufficed to furnish Ottoman officials with all the Ottomans. Consequently, the counsel of the
they cared to know about the west. However, even British ambassador was sought. At a conference
before Selim III's reign, this system had become
with Rabid Reis Efendi and Kaziasker Tatarc-lk
lamentably inadequate, and after 1789, with crisis Abdiillah Efendi on July 10, 1793, Ainslie promounting upon crisis, its retention was intolerable vided them with information and advice about
such matters as letters of credence and introducto the security of the Empire. The problem of
tion, ceremonial, traveling, expenses, and precommunications therefore bulked large in Selim's
program of reforms.
cedence of rank. As to the discrepancy in ministerial rank, Ainslie advised that the Grand Vivir
ought to address his communications to the king
and prime minister, and the Reis to the foreign
Permanent Embassies: Selim set out to renominister only.31 In the end, the Ottomans did
vate the diplomatic machinery of the Sublime
adopt this formula.
Porte at the start of his reform program. He
Shortly after this meeting, the Sultan aprealized that keeping abreast of events in Europe
pointed Yusuf Agah Efendi, former secretary of
was indispensable to the security of his state. His
the Admiralty, as ambassador to London, with a
first major move constituted a break with unilateryearly salary of 50,000 kurue and a traveling stialism. In 1792, he began modernizing diplomatic
pend of 15,000 kuru~. He set out overland (as
communications and techniques by assigning the
recommended by Ainslie) late in the autumn of
first of several resident missions to the major
1793, accompanied by (Ingiliz) Mahmud Raif
European capitals. The ambassadors were to be
Efendi as first secretary of the legation, Dervi?
replaced every three years, and they, along with
A'a as attache, two interpreters and a Christian
the young men who were to be attached to their
Ottoman subject whose duties were unspecified,
missions, were expected to inform themselves
but who was probably a commercial agent or
about the institutions of the countries in which
they served, and to "acquire languages, knowl-

edge, and sciences useful to the servants of the 80 Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 88-89; Uzunqar?lt, " Ondokuzuncu

Empire." 29 As France had always been on par-

Asir Baalarlna kadar TUrk-tngiliz MUnasebatina dair

Vesikalar," Belleten, No. 51, XIII, 1949, 581 (this is a

28 For examples of the Beys' reports, see CH 890, 891,collection of documents on Ottoman-English relations
3479; Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 257; Karal, Selim III, 163-64, from the 16th to the 19th century).
s1 Ainslie to Grenville, July 10, 1793, F078/14.
Fransa-Mlsfr ve Osmani' Imparatorliuu 1797-1802
82 Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 89, 257-60; Karal, Sejim III, 169(Istanbul, 1938), 113, and " Yunan Adalariiln Fransiziar tarafindan iegall ve Osmanli-Rus miinasebatl 76, 190-98 (both the latter record Ainslie's conference
1797-8," Tarih Semineri Dergisi, I (1937), 103; on the accurately except that they both date it erroneously as
situation in Rumeli and the activities of Pasvan Oglu, July 13); Uzunqarl!, "Tiirk-Ingiliz Miinasebatfi," op.
see the Grand Vizir's report, Sept. 21, 1804, HH 1474, cit., 584-89, for Agah Efendi's letter of credence and the
and Cevdet, Tarih, III-VII passim, Asim, Tarih, passim; gifts he took to London; his first report is in Cevdet,
the Polish ambassador's note to the Reis Efendi, May Tarih, VI, appendix 8, 377-85, and Karal, Selim III, 176-

31, 1791, CH 4808, is typical of its kind.

29 Cevdet, Tarilh, VI, 88, also 231, 257; B. Lewis,

77 (a summary from Cevdet); lHammer-Purgstall, "An

Account of the Mission of Yusuf Agah," Transactions of

Emergence, 61; Karal, Selim III, 79, 163-67; d'Ohsson,

Tableau, VII, 509-13.

Royal Asiatic Society, VIII, 496-505, is a description

of Agah's reception in London; another from a different

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304 NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III

In 1794 and 1795 ambassadors were assigned to

Vienna and Berlin respectively, and in 1796 to
Paris, but their departure was delayed by complications in the selection of personnel and by the
arrival of a new French ambassador. By the time
all was arranged, Yusuf Agah's three-year tour
of duty was about to expire, and Ismail Ferruh
Efendi, a learned man of literary talents who was
inspector of the Imperial Arsenal, was chosen as
his replacement. Thus, early in 1797 there were
assembled in the capital, poised to embark for
their assorted destinations, four new Ottoman
diplomatic missions.

First away to Paris on March 23 was Morali

Seyyid Ali Efendi, a secretary in the Divan. He
accompanied by Ahmed Efendi as first secretary,
his chief interpreter, Codrika ("an Athenian of
few scruples," Spencer Smith, the British Charge
d'Affaires, said of him), and two officers of the
French mission in Istanbul, citizen Venture, a
" Jeune de Langue," and an ex-nobleman, Caulaincourt, future aide to Napoleon. To Vienna and
Berlin, on the 1st and 6th of April, went Ali Aziz
Efendi and Afif Efendi, both considered by Smith
to be ill-suited to their posts for lack of political
experience; and on April 9th, Ferruh Efendi,
whom Smith described as a "well informed middle-aged man with some knowledge of Europeans,"

In addition to the ambassador, only the first

secretary and sometimes the attache were Turks;
the remainder of the staff were almost invariably

In assigning the permanent missions to European capitals, the Sultan left a glaring omission.
No embassy was delegated to Russia. The last
Ottoman ambassador to St. Petersburg had been
Rasih Efendi, who went in 1792 in accordance
with the Treaty of Jassy, which called for an
exchange of missions; Rasih's counterpart from
Russia was General Kutuzov. The Sublime Porte
was determined to dazzle the Russians by the
splendor of its mission and spent lavishly in the
endeavor, providing a notable instance of political
considerations over-riding the distressed condition
of the Porte's finances.35
While at St. Petersburg, Rasih was treated
uncivilly over the matter of Russian captives who
had embraced Islam; as a result he cut short his
mission and departed, after rebuffing overtures
for an alliance and refusing to cement closer re-

lations with Russia.6 The fact that Rasih's mission broke down just at the time when Selim was
beginning his diplomatic reforms and posting
embassies abroad must in large measure account
for his failure to include Russia in the scheme.
Furthermore, Russia was the Empire's perennial
enemy, whom the Ottomans feared and hated.
departed for London.33
Selim was pledged to restore the Crimea to the
Yusuf Agah's embassy set the pattern for subEmpire,
and the Porte obviously regarded the
sequent missions in many ways, including the
Treaty of Jassy as little more than an armistice.
number of personnel; in general the missions were
All these factors must have convinced the Ottomodest in size. A new ambassador was accommans
that the opening of a permanent embassy in
panied by a first secretary, a principal and second
interpreter, someone who acted as attache or consul at that juncture would have been unwise.37

(as relations developed the number of consuls

was increased accordingly), and various servants.

34 This is clear from the Turkish documents, particularly those concerning the pay and allowances of the
embassy staffs in the CH collection.

point of view is in Marquis de la Campe to Delacroix, 35 On estimate from the available documents, Rasih's
Apr. 20, 1797, AET/196; CH 4714 is a private letter ofmission cost over 600,000 kuru?, plus an unstipulated
amount authorized for credits for the purpose of gaining
Agah Efendi describing his journey, and CH 4250 is his

the release of Muslim prisoners. See CH 361, 6780,

official notification of arrival, giving the date as Dec. 21,
1793 (Cevdet, in appendix 8, must be mistaken in giving8925.
36f On Rasih's mission see Halil inalclk, "Yap
the date as Feb. 9, 1794).
muahedesinden sonra Osmanll-Rus MUnasebetleri ( Rasih
33 On the appointments, CH 2463, 6092, 3477; Smith

ve General Kutuzof elgilikleri) ," Ankara Cnito Grenville, Apr. 10, 1797, F078/18, and VentureEfendi
Dil ve Tarih-Cojrafya FakUltesi Dergisi, IV
Delacroix, Mar. 23, 1797, AET/196; Knobelsdorf's versitesi
dis(1946), 195-202; and F. Clement-Simon, "Ambassadeur
patches Apr. 10 and 25, 1797 in Zinkeisen, op. cit., VIII,
Extraordinaire Russe a Constantinople," Revue d'His18; Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 231-32; Karal, Selim III, 167,
177, who errs in saying the first missions were sent
to Diplomatique, Paris, 1946, 25-39; Ainslie to Grenville, May 23, 1792, and Feb. 9, July 10, 1793, F078/13
Vienna and Berlin. On Aziz Efendi, who knew French
and some German, see Lewis, Emergence, 53, andand
A. 14; Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 89; and Tahsin oz, "Ruzname," op. cit., 192.
Tietze, "Aziz Efendis Muhayyelat," Oriens, I (1948),
248-329, and "Ali Aziz," El2.

37 On the obsessive attitude of the Ottomans vis-&-vis

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NAYF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III 305

of Ali's reports that he noted in the margin,
Recruitment: Selim attempted by
"What an ass the fellow is! " 38
with respect to the problem of recruiting and

training for the new posts created by his reforms.

Rather he operated within the existing methods

of selection, which were characterized by intrigue,

Pay and Allowances: Because the Sublime

Porte. was anxious to make a good impression
with its first resident mission abroad, it allocated

favoritism, self-seeking, and by a constant eye to

approximately 103,000 kurue for Yusuf Agah's
the attitudes of the army and religious authoriembassy.39 As matters turned out, this was the
ties. The traditional system of recruitment, based
only time during Selim's reign that a mission
on the Devsirme (compulsory recruitment from
was adequately financed. The reports of all the
among the subject non-Muslim population), and
Ottoman envoys who were posted by Selim for a
of training, based in part on the Palace School,
term in Europe contain evidence of chronic finanhad been discarded in the 17th century. During
cial embarrassment which to one degree or anthe 18th century, in the absence, of the old system, men were drawn increasingly from the ranks

other had an invidious effect on their missions.

Seyyid Ali borrowed regularly from the French

of the Ulema for government service, and those

government, while Galib Efendi, returning to
who did not come from a religious background
Istanbul after having negotiated the peace treaty
had received a traditional education in a medrese
of 1802 with France, was stranded in Vienna,
(school for Muslim training). Consequently, both
and to continue his journey he had to borrow
types brought with them to office a conservatism
from a money-lender, because the Ottoman emuncongenial to change. With these conditions
bassy there was unable to provide him with funds.
prevalent, it was impossible to develop a modern
Halet Efendi arranged an advance of 50,000
corps of professionals or a tradition of honest
kuru~ from the Papal Nuncio to meet embassy
dedicated service in the various departments of
expenses, the amount to be credited to the Papal
representative in Istanbul.40


The new ambassadors and some of their staffs

With few guide lines to follow, and with the
were selected from among traditionally-minded
treasury always in a crisis, the Porte appears to
bureaucrats or Ulema. They were not given any
have eschewed regularity for expediency in the
special preparation for their tasks, and their dematter of pay and allowances. The distinction
ficiencies were very soon revealed in their reports
between an ambassador's salary and allowances
and in the way they handled their work. When
Seyyid Ali Efendi was in Paris, for example, the
38 Asim, Tarih, I, 176-77, and Karal, Fransa-Misir, 177
French foreign minister was Maurice Talleyrand,
(in which a selection of Ali Efendi's dispatches are
edited); note also the comments about Ali of Count
ble advantage of Ali's shortcomings throughout Semen Vorontsov, Russian ambassador to London, in
the crisis of the Egyptian expedition. Also, he Arkhiv Kniaza Vorontsova, Moscow, 1870-97, P. Barrarely allowed the smallest error in the conduct tenev, ed., X, 402-3. Ali's general report on his mission
was published by Ahmed Refik in Tarih-i Osmanl Enof business to pass; he returned faulty documents cumeni Mecmuasl, IV (1911), 1246 ff., 1332 ff., 1378 ff.,
to Ali for correction with a precise explanation of 1458 if., 1548 if. The reports of Ibrahim Efendi from
what the proper form should have been. Because Berlin were even worse than Seyyid Ali's. For almost
of such experiences, Asim Efendi later wrote of six months in 1799-1800 his dispatches consisted only of
translations from newspapers concerning events in Paris

the master of master diplomatists, who took pitia-

the Ottoman ambassadors in Paris, "When they

gained one advantage for the Empire, they did
so at the cost of many losses. After all, our purpose was inot to serve the political ambitions of
France." Selim himself was once so exasperated

-11 5593a-g. Selim wrote in the margin of one such

report, "We have heard and read these rumors before.

Why doesn't he write in detail? "-CH 4778, May 2,


39 Agah Efendi received a 50,000 kuru? salary and a

traveling stipend of 15,000 kurus, Mahmud Raif a salary

of 10,000 kuru? and 4000 kuru? for travel, Dervis Aga

8000 kuru?
the reconquest of the Crimea, see Nuri Pasa, Netaic,
IV, plus 4000 kuru?, the interpreters 6000 plus
kuru? each, and the Christian subject 2500 and
97, and Lewis, Emergence, 49. In a letter to the2500
kuru?-Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 89, 257-60 and Karal,
sian king in 1790, Selim pledged not to make peace
Selim III, 169-76.
Russia until the Crimea was retaken, CH 301. (The
40 CH 8778 and HH 7217e.
document is erroneously dated Dec. 1789.)

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306 NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III

Ottoman government defrayed virtually all the
for embassy expenditures was vague, even in the
expenses of the permanent foreign missions in
records. Moreover, these expenses for the resiIstanbul, a feature uncharacteristic of European
dent missions were. not separately budgeted, so
diplomacy. This practice evolved originally as an
that pay might come out of the New Income
aspect of the Sublime Porte's policy of non-retreasury (established to pay for Selim's reforms)
ciprocal diplomacy which was intended to emphawhile other costs might have to be met from a
size the superiority of the Ottomans and to remind
contingency fund of the mint (the regular
the European ambassadors that they were present
treasury). The Porte attempted to maintain a
within Dar iU-Islam only on sufferance of the
system of quarterly payments, but poor communiGrand Seigneur. Such a view was tenable while
cations and constant political and financial emerthe Empire was at its zenith; then, the European
gencies defeated the effort. At times, the only
pay some embassy officials received until their re-envoys were forced into financial dependence on
the Sublime Porte by the effective combination of
turn to the capital was the advance salary and
Ottoman unilateralism and poor communications
travel allowance given them when they set out
on their assignments.

with their governments. Moreover, the rulers of

Europe themselves contributed to this situation

A man's salary and residence allowance, includby their tendency to skimp in the amounts they
ing the ambassador's, began on the day of his
were willing to spend on diplomacy, a habit which
arrival at his post and ended on the day of decaused their emissaries in the Ottoman Empire to
parture. The Porte, following the precedent of
indulge in profit-making abuses of their diploYusuf Agah's mission, attempted to fix ambasmatic privileges to supplement their incomes.
sadorial salaries at 50,000 kurue a year, but it
The Sublime Porte met the expenses of a forfailed owing to such factors as favoritism and
eign envoy's inward and outward journey within
influence. Differences came, usually, in allowOttoman territory and provided him with a special
ances; thus, ialet Efendi received about 10,000
guide called the Mihmandar who escorted him to
kurus per year more than Muhib Efendi, who
and from the capital, arranged for transport as
followed him in the post a few years later. Furthermore, the salaries of lesser embassy personnel,required, and in general looked after his wants
and security. The Ottomans doled out funds for
from charges d'affaires to secretaries, not only
the envoy's residence and that of his principal
varied widely from capital to capital, but were
staff, his embassy (rarely separate from his living
disproportionate within ranks. For instance, the
quarters) and furnishings, his rent, and monthly
dragoman to Sidki Efendi, charge d'affaires in
living allowances for himself, his secretary, and
London, received a salary of 24,000 kurue per
sometimes his chief interpreter. The amounts
year, while Sidki himself was paid only 20,000
spent on any given mission were not systemakurus, and the Ottoman charge d'affaires in
Vienna received 30,000 kurus per year. The latter
tically regulated; rather they were determined
largely by the rank of the envoy, the influence
was himself an interpreter promoted to charge'4.
his government enjoyed at the Sublime Porte, the
It is hardly surprising that a diplomatic position
abroad was often less coveted than a sinecure at state of the treasury (this factor was often overridden by political considerations), and by the
political circumstances obtaining during his resi-

End of Ottoman Subsidies to Foreign Missions:

Prior to Selim's reforms the European missions

in Istanbul enjoyed certain noteworthy benefits
peculiar to Ottoman diplomatic practice. The


42 This feature of Ottoman diplomacy can be reconstructed in detail from the voluminous memoranda, petitions, registers and treasury orders in the CH collection.
41 HH 5843 for the irregularity of budgeting; CHNumbers 1836, 2106, 2108, 2187, 2392, 2800, 3263, 3566,
4250, 9189 on beginning and termination of salaries and4230, 4539, 4820, 6035, and 6170, provide a good samallowances; CH 8984 and 6397 for ambassadorial sala-pling of the wide range of the allowances and the variety
ries and for the discrepancies in ambassadors' allow-of expenditures including salaries, maintenance, rent,
etc. In this selection of documents the living allowances
ances; and CH 4707, 6748, 9295 on disproportion of pay
varied from the handsome sum of 5800 kurue per month
among lesser officials. A detailed structure of Ottoman
for the Prussian ambassador in 1789 to 225 kurus per
financing for diplomacy can almost be built from the

documents in the CH collection alone.

month for the Polish ambassador in 1790.

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NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III 307

In Selim III's reign, the Sublime Porte, hardpressed for money, introduced a scheme to help
meet the. traveling expenses of foreign diplomats.
The Sultan or the Grand Vizir would issue a
firman (rescript) ordering all district officials
along the specified route to provide, in exchange

the delusion of inherent Islamic superiority continued to influence the Ottomans in the matter;
the habit of subvention had become for them, in
part, a psychological crutch, for the Europeans,
a sign of Ottoman subservience.

However, the experience of Yusuf Agah's embassy caused the Sublime Porte to attempt another
significant break with past diplomatic practices.
ney. The value of the credit receipts could then
In 1794 it was decided to abandon the burdenlater be deducted from the official's tax obligations
some practice of defraying traveling expenses of
to the treasury.48
foreign ambassadors and of subsidizing the costs
The Ottomans discharged not only the major
of their embassies in Istanbul. There is evidence
financial obligations of the European embassies
that the Ottomans intended to move gradually
in Istanbul, but, when they could no longer dicin this matter, but when it was seen that Agah
tate peace treaties to their enemies and were
Efendi had not been treated reciprocally on his
forced to negotiate, they also underwrote the costs
arrival in England, the Porte made it an occasion
of the negotiations. They indemnified the enemy's
for dropping the practice altogether and at once.
plenipotentiaries and met the expenses of any
On June 11, 1794 Selim III introduced the new
mediators who might be involved in the negotiapolicy by an imperial rescript. The action protions. At times, the Sublime Porte was lavish in
duced much chagrin among the European envoys,
rewarding the latter if the Sultan was pleased with
who had in the past often complained that the Ottothe outcome of the exchanges. For example, the
mans were not liberal enough in their allowances.
bonuses awarded the Prussian ambassador and his
The British and Dutch ambassadors, who arrived
staff, for mediating the Treaty of Sistova with just after the new policy went into effect, claimed
Austria in 1790, included a grant from the Sultan
the act was a direct insult to their governments.
of 25,000 gold kurus, 4000 gold nuggets wrought
Pressure from the European embassies to revert
into hazel-nuts, and an additional 500 nuggets for
to the old practice continued until 1796, when the

for credit receipts produced by the lihmanrdar,

the supplies and transport necessary for the jour-

his secretary.44

The Ottoman government continued to assume

Padisah adamantly reconfirmed the policy, with

the single exception that the expenses from and

large portions of the costs of the European embasto the frontier would be met out of the treasury
sies even after the eclipse of the Empire as a
only for ambassadors extraordinary; at the same
great power, when it could ill afford to do so. By
time, he emphasized the new regulations by orderthat time, the Europeans, able to assert their
ing that the guide who accompanied the envoys
military supremacy, and not unmindful of the
no longer be called Mihmandar.46 But the sources
convenience of the practice, insisted on its retenshow that the name stuck and continued to be
used by Ottomans and Europeans alike. Further-

tion almost to the point of extortion.45 Hiowever,

more, Selim's firmness very soon melted away

and he once more allowed various payments for
Istanbul, and CH 1816, Jan. 28, 1793, one for the Polish
travel and maintenance to the representatives of
ambassador returning to Poland.
friendly states, even though the new regulations
4' OH 307, also 2351, 2352, 2418, 6417, and 8984. The
last item is a register throughout which is recorded thewere not rescinded. Notably, exceptions were
payments made by the Sublime Porte to its own negotia-made in the cases of French representatives betors, to those of the Austrians and Russians, and to the fore the Egyptian expedition, and for the English
43 See, for example, CH 1837, a firman dated Dec. 12,
1791 issued for the Prussian ambassador en route to

Prussian mediators during the years 1788-92. A very

sizeable number of edicts and orders, in 19 separate
documents, issued in connection with the wars between
Turkey, Russia and Austria, are contained in a CH
register under the listing Askeri Kisminde, 34554.
45 See, for example, HH 783, 955, 955a, in which
Abdiilhamid I, in 1789, ordered that a discussion of
problem, with a view to easing the financial burdens of
the Porte, be held confidentially at the residence of the

feyh-l-Islam, out of fear of European reactions. The

and Russians after the alliance of 1799.47

,6eyh-iil-Islam was the mufti of Istanbul and the head of

the religious hierarchy of the Ottoman Empire, a powerful office.

the4' CH 1660; for Selim's edict, Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 12829; Karal, Selim III, 185; and d'Ohsson, Tableau, VII,


47 CH 2108, an informative three-part document dated

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308 NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim, III

Rank and Precedence: An incident arising out

of Aziz Efendi's mission-he was, it will be recalled, designated ambassador to Berlin-caused

the Sublime Porte to turn its attention to the
problem of rank and precedence in diplomatic

rank. In redressing the Berlin incident, the

Sublime Porte adopted a formula which was more

in line with contemporary western diplomatic
engagements. Henceforward, Ottoman emissaries
to European states were to be regarded as pos-

representation. It was a question which the Otto-

sessing full ambassadorial rank unless otherwise

mans had hitherto neglected, not only because of

stipulated, and the representatives of foreign gov-

the Muslim rationale of Ottoman diplomacy,

ernments resident in Istanbul were to receive

which allowed no formal place for it in Ottoman

treatment corresponding to that given Ottoman

non-reciprocal diplomacy with Europe, but be-


cause the Porte had assumed its envoys would

However, these changes by no means laid the

receive treatment equal to that given European

matter to rest. The problem recurred during

representatives in Istanbul. When Aziz arrived

Selim's reign and brought forward the related

in Berlin, the reception accorded him was less

than that due a full-fledged ambassador (bilyik

question of precedence, as the experiences of

elti) of the Sultan, and on that account he lodged

an official complaint. The Prussians attempted

short interval between his arrival and Bonaparte's

to mitigate the affront by explaining that the

Prussian ambassador in Istanbul, Knobelsdorf,
had relayed to his government his own impression
that Aziz Efendi had been sent to Berlin as a

charge d'affaires.48

However, the basic source of confusion derived

from the fact that in standard European diplomatic forms there existed three principal ranks
of resident envoys-ambassador extraordinary,
ambassador, and charge d'affaires-while the Ottomans in practice recognized only one, that of
ambassador. In the episode concerning Aziz
Efendi, the Reis iil-Kiltab, unfamiliar with European usages, had failed to make clear Aziz Efendi's

Seyyid Ali and Halet Efendi reveal. During the

invasion of Egypt, Ali Efendi enjoyed a station
second only to that of the Papal Nuncio. This
was in conformity with the treatment accorded

the French ambassador in Istanbul, who by the

capitulations of 1740 was given precedence over
all other foreign emissaries. (The honor was reconfirmed and extended to French consuls in

1790.) Nonetheless, at the time of Ali's mission,

the matter of Ottoman precedence was actually
not clear. Several factors made the condition of

Ali Efendi's tenure in Paris extraordinary;

among them were the absence of ambassadors of
other governments which, such as Austria, had
older diplomatic ties with France, the anxiety of
the Directory, prior to the Egyptian expedition, to
flatter the Ottomans, and then the war itself. In

the circumstances, Ali avoided occasions which

Sept. 7, 1796, consisting of notes from the defterdar
involved ceremony, limiting his diplomatic con(treasurer) and gedikli gavui (a member of the Grand
Vizir's usher and messenger staff), with notations from tacts to informal receptions and minimizing his
the Sultan. The notes concern the defrayment of travelpersonal dealings with the French.
ing expenses for the newly appointed French ambassador
Halet inherited the problem when he reached
(Aubert Dubayet) in which the defterdar cited the new
Paris in 1803. Being a more aggressive Muslim
regulation, but Selim ordered payment to be made. The
document also shows the procedure used; an estimate
and Ottoman than was Seyyid Ali, Halet was
of expenses was made and the amount advanced to the offended when he found that the Austrian and
guide before his departure; no money was paid to the
Papal envoys preceded him in rank. He wrote to
envoy himself. Also, presumably because of the new
the Sublime Porte, for instructions, stating that
regulations, in this instance the gedikli Cavue was to
assume the function of the mihmandar-" In this case
49 Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 254-57. Cevdet commences his
. . . the aforementioned gedikli cannot be regarded as a
mihmandar but one who is appointed to ensure the safe explanation of the confusion with a premise interesting
because it was written after nearly a century of reform
conveyance of the envoy," the defterdar wrote. But this
was precisely the duty of the mihmandar. On the
and western influence in Turkey: " As in all the world,
gedikli vavus see Gibb and Bowen, op. cit. I, i, 349, rights
362, can be divided into two categories: natural and

relative rights. So the rights of nations fall into the

Midhat Sertoglu, Resimli Osmanti Tarihi Ansiklopedisi
same two divisions. According to natural rights, all
(Istanbul, 1958), 80, and Uzungarksll, Merkez ve

Bahriye, 138-39 ff.

48 Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 253-54; Zinkeisen, op. cit., VII,

18-19, 55; Karal, Selim III, 168.

independent nations are equal, and, therefore, their

envoys, sent to settle their common problems, are equal


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NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III 309

until he received a reply he would attend no

ceremonies. The answer of the Porte was of little
help in clarifying the matter. Halet was not to

compete with the Papal Nuncio or involve him

in any wrangles, owing to his religious significance. But with respect to the Austrian
ambassador, he must insist on precedence and in
general follow the examples set by Seyyid Ali
(which were of little value). However, the Reis
Efendi qualified,
. . .although you must strive to uphold the dignity of
Islam and the Padigah's government in those quarters,
you ought not to precipitate a controversy over the
question of precedence. Avoid giving rise to agitation
and gossip; be courteous and cautious. There is no way
to instruct you clearly in the matter. You must manage
by means of your own wisdom and understanding in the
circumstances. Such is the will of the Padiah."

Obviously, the Ottoman ministers did not grasp

European ways of diplomacy, nor were they prepared to be adamant about most issues of protocol.
Settlement of the question awaited further experience and the full adoption of European diplomatic practices.

Communications: The Porte made a small

effort, hardly more than a gesture, to improve
its lines of communications. In December 1799,
the Grand Vizir issued orders for the improvement of roads in Wallachia and of roads between
the principality and the capital, so that news from
Europe could reach the Hospodar more rapidly
and then be transmitted to Istanbul without delay.
However, the war in Egypt, the intrigues of the
governors and brigands, and the opposition of the
Janissaries to Selim's military reforms prevented
the Sublime Porte from exerting effective government control over the European provinces,
making improvement of road communications impossible. The Porte was therefore often forced
to use irregular channels for its communications
with the Ottoman missions abroad. Thus, Ismail
6 Seyyid Ali Efendi to Reis Efendi, Dec. 21, 1801,
Halet Efendi to Reis Efendi, Mar. 1804 (the document is
erroneously dated Mar. 1805), Reis Efendi to Halet
Efendi, Feb. 11, 1804, RH 5602, 5716 and 5741; Karal,

Halet Efendinin Paris Bityitk Eltiliji 1802-1806 (Istan-

Ferruh Efendi acknowledged in one of his reports

the arrival of several dispatches from Istanbul
sent to London with an Ottoman merchant.51 The
liabilities and defects inherent in the situation
are obvious.

General Conduct of Affairs: Even after Selim

introduced his diplomatic reforms, the basic organizational structure of the Sublime Porte-the
set channels of communication, the ill-defined
lines of responsibility, the personnel-remained
unaltered. Transactions of the Reis Efendi continued to be referred to the Grand Vizir and
through him to the Sultan. In the case of an
energetic ruler such as Selim III, to judge from
the documents which carry his Hatt, a large portion of the Reis's affairs, even minutia, came under
his scrutiny. Thus, the conduct of business was
still excessively time-consuming. The situation
worsened as the pace of events abroad demanded
greater and more efficient output of work, and
the result was often confusion for the Ottomans
and Europeans alike. Halet Efendi was obliged
on one occasion to explain Ottoman techniques at

length to Bonaparte, who asked him to transmit

the substance of their interview directly to the
Sultan. ilalet told Bonaparte:
. . . I cannot do such a thing. The procedures of the
Padisah's government do not resemble those of any other
state. Whenever our ambassadors or ministers wish to
communicate with the Imperial Palace, they must, regardless of the confidential nature of the matter, address
their communiques to the Sublime Porte. The [executive] powers of the Grand Vizir are absolute; none of us
may write to the Imperial Palace without his knowledge.
Whatever is addressed to the Sublime Porte, be it important or trivial, must always be submitted to the
Padi~ah by the Grand Vizir. Such is the rule of the

Padisah's government. To write to the Sublime Porte is

tantamount to writing to the Imperial Palace. Even if
officials of other states who are unaware of these facts
should address the Imperial Palace confidentially, the
Padigah's office would refer the letter to the Sublime
Porte, where a reply would be prepared . . . Bonaparte
then asked me, 'If I, personally and officially, write to
the Sultan, would it go to the Sublime Porte? ' At all
events, I answered, it would go to the Sublime Porte and
there it would be officially translated by the Interpreter
[of the Porte]. After referral to the Padisah, a reply
would be composed and submitted again to the Padisah,
and with his approval would then be sent from the

bul, 1940), 52-53 (Karal publishes here only part of

Halet's report and adds one of his first secretary, Nazmi
Efendi, concerning precedence in treaty engagements
with France); Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 254-57; and CH 927,
Jan. 14, 1790 for the berat giving French consuls in

wrote in Turkish or Arabic, would the Interpreter see

Turkey precedence.

Ferruh Efendi to Reis Efendi, June 12, 1799, HI 5898.

Sublime Porte. Napoleon then asked, 'Supposing I

61 CH 2874, Dec. 17, 1799 for the Grand Vizir's order;

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310 NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III

it? ' I said no, the Interpreter would not see it. Only
the Grand Vizir and, if necessary, some of the Ministers
of State would examine it.52

Policy, International Law and Public Opinion:

Although Selim's diplomatic reforms were of a
technical sort involving the mechanisms of diplomacy, some comment must be made about policy.
The formulation of policy remained fundamentally in the hands of the Sultan, the Grand Vizir,
and their inner circle of advisers, with the Reis
iil-Kiittab playing an expanding role. What
concerns us here, rather, is a new development in
Ottoman foreign policy which was initiated by
Selim III. He embraced the principle that sound
alliances were essential in the times to acquire
strength and security.

relations. Nevertheless, by initiating and signing

them, the Sultan set a precedent of considerable

importance for the Ottomans. This was the first

of a series of moves which, during the 19th century, ended in the complete abandonment of nonreciprocal diplomacy. Moreover, in accepting and

experimenting with the principle of western alliances, Selim III was ahead of most of his ministers; it required the French assault on Egypt to
awaken them to the necessity.54

However, it cannot be said that Selim ever fully

understood the new principle he had adopted, and
he was often bewildered by the way it was applied

in the normal practice of European diplomacy.

After contracting the treaty with Prussia, he
failed to understand why Prussia, owing to her

For decades it had been apparent that the Ottoinvolvement in the Polish Question (the compleximans were incapable of defending themselves
ties of which confused him thoroughly), could
without foreign assistance. But the only source
not support him in all matters against Russia
of effective military support was Europe. Yet theand Austria; and when Sweden, contrary to her
myopic Islamic view toward Europe, and the
agreement with the Sultan, unilaterally came to

political rivalries of the European powers themterms with Russia, Selim wrote to the Kaymalcam

selves, inhibited the Sublime Porte from involving itself in Europe's alliance systems. However,
Selim realized he could not preserve his domain
by continuing such unrealistic attitudes. Thus,
shortly after his accession, even before he embarked upon his reforms, Selim deviated from
traditional Ottoman unilateralism by entering
into separate defensive alliances with Sweden and
Prussia, who, in 1790, were also at war with

Pasa that the peace was "a harmful matter . .

Infidels are so inconsistent! '155 The Ottomans

benefited little from this venture into the European alliance system. On the contrary, the experience seemed to bear out the criticisms and
warnings of the Sultan's opponents. Disappointment and absorption in domestic affairs caused
the government to revert to the old policy of noninvolvement after the Treaty of Jassy in 1792.

Russia. But he did not do so without opposition

from legal and religious quarters.53
The results of those pacts amounted to no more
than a false start toward a new system of foreign

There was another basic, albeit tentative, step

taken during Selim's reign which drew the Ottoman government a little out of its Islamic mould
and closer to the European bi-lateral system of

diplomacy. This was the increasing reference

62 Halet Efendi to Reis Efendi, July 5, 1803, HH
made by the Ottomans to international law in

5766b. HH 5720, dated Feb. 26, 1804, is a summary of

the complete document. The interview was the one re-

their dealings with the Europeans. For example,

in 1799 the Grand Vizir informed Selim III that
6' Cevdet, Tarih, V, 12-15, and appendix 1, 294-96 for
squadron of Russian warships had entered the
the treaty; Karal, Seltim III, 157-58 (the Ordu Kddisi
[judge of the camp], *anizade, objected to the treaties Straits unannounced. The Sultan commented,
on grounds that alliances with non-Muslims were con"My Vizir: The Reis Efendi ought to take this

ferred to above, note 22.

trary to the Holy Law, but he was overruled by the

opportunity to remind the Russian interpreter in

&eyh-41-Islatm). On the treaty negotiations see also HH
an amicable way of the international rules of
128, 1114; Nuri, Netaic, IV, 28-29, who places the alliconduct and of the reasons for the clauses in the
ances in the wider context of European politics;

Zinkeisen, op. cit., VII, 18-21; and D. S. Margoliouth,

"Turkish Diplomacy in the 18th Century," Moslem
World, VII (1917), 36-54. The exception to unilateralism was Sifleyman's treaty with Francis I in 1536, but

54 Asim, Tarih, I, 65-66; Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 284, 333.

65 Karal, Selim III, 159-60; Selim's confusion is apparent in his letter to the Prussian king, written in the
first week of Nov. 1790, CH 301, and in the entries on
then, with the Empire at its height, the Sultan was still
Prussia in Ahmed Efendi's journal, Oz, "Ruzname,"
dictating treaties and the element of self-preservation
op. cit., 112ff.; Cevdet, Tarih, V, 117.
was entirely absent.

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NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III 311

treaty [with Russia] governing this matter. It

not fight to preserve a treaty agreement is an

is contrary to the canons of international law that

interesting example of how rapidly the Ottomans

a war fleet should enter a foreign port without

were becoming sophisticated in the. workings of

prior notification and without specifying the num-

the European alliance system, the real point here

ber of vessels. This act of the Russians causes

is that in former times the only opinions that

agitation among ill-intentioned persons. They

counted were those of the Sultan, the Janissaries,

look on such acts as insults to our state." 56 Inter-

and the Ulema. That public opinion was even

national law was uniquely a European achieve-

referred to as a factor in Ottoman diplomacy was

ment, and although in the beginning the Otto-

an indication of changes that were taking place,

mans made use of it only to suit their convenience,

and a harbinger of changes that were on the

these early references are an important indica-


tion that the Islamic rationale of Ottoman diplomacy was being breached by western thought.
Finally, yet another new element entered the

workings of Ottoman diplomacy in Selim's reignthe element of public opinion. The idea of de-

ferring to public opinion was, for Ottomans of

the period, decidedly a modern one, even though
it was often used as an excuse in dealing with the

European powers. True, public opinion was not

as yet the vital factor it was to become in the
19th century; it was still rudimentary, uninformed, and confined mainly to the capital and a
few of the larger provincial cities. But it warrants brief attention because Ottoman ministers
were beginning to consider and make use of popular feeling in devising their policies. For instance,

when in 1804 the Porte came to fear that France

might really declare war over the Sultan's refusal to recognize Bonaparte's emperorship, the
Reis Efendi tried to persuade the Russian ambassador to withdraw his objections to recognition,

arguing, "Why should the recognition of Bonaparte's title dissolve the treaty [of 1799] ? The

only circumstances in which the Ottoman government can go to war would be if the security
and the territorial integrity of the Empire are
threatened. How can it be explained to the public
that the government has gone to war for the sake
of a treaty? How can the. people be told they will
have to fight a war for the sake of one simple
word [emperor] ? " 57
While the Reis's statement that the Porte could
56 HH 1725 (dated only 1214/1799). There are, of
course, other examples in the documents.
57 HH 1480 (dated only 1219/1804). Here, the Reis
Efendi was obviously using public opinion as an excuse.

The factor of public opinion appeared, in general, most

prominently in the Porte's dealings with Russia (see
Knobelsdorf's comments in Zinkeisen, op. cit., VII, 98),


Selim's reforms, praiseworthy and courageous

as they were, can hardly be said to have achieved

even the moderate aims of their promoters.

Neither the new techniques which were adopted,
nor the principles which guided Ottoman diplomacy made the Empire appreciably stronger or

foreign policy more effective, at least during

Selim's reign. Furthermore, while the paraphernalia of Ottoman diplomacy had few strong fea-

tures to redeem its inherent weakness, the one

factor which might have sustained and braced it,
the military, remained too corrupt and weak to
be effectual. The changes which he introduced
into the. diplomatic establishment, and the means
by which those changes were applied, were limited
and defective. Diplomacy in Europe had evolved,
by the end of the 18th century, into a very intricate and technical business, requiring the services

of highly skilled professionals, an adequate system of communications, and an efficient central

bureau to direct and coordinate the' whole. Even
after Selim's reforms, the Ottoman government
possessed none of these requirements to a sufficient
Selii, in his limited attempts at modernization, retained most of the old apparatus and
methods of Ottoman diplomacy, and this fact leads
us to the root cause of his failure: Although he
was willing to experiment with westernizing reforms, he was unwilling to recast the Islamic
mould of the state. His reforms left intact the
traditional bases of Ottoman diplomacy. But, as
a devout Muslim, it never occurred to Selim to
58 For the traditional attitude and broader aims of

and was referred to repeatedly in the problem of the

Ottoman foreign policy in Selim's reign, see the memorandum of AtIf Reis Efendi in Cevdet, Tarih, cited

recognition of Bonaparte's imperial title.

below, note 59.

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312 NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III

undertake such drastic innovation, nor, it will be

recalled, was it his intention to create a new
European-type state. The time had not yet arrived
when the Ottomans could or even felt a need to
adapt the Muslim rationale of their state to the
European ideas and techniques which Selim introduced into the Empire. Nowhere does this fact
emerge more clearly than in the trenchant Muslim

view of the French Revolution contained in the

policy report of Reis iil-Kiittab Atif Efendi, written in May 1798. Ile wrote, ". . . It is well
known that the ultimate basis of the order and
cohesion of every state is a firm grasp of the roots
and branches of holy law, religion and doctrine;
that the tranquillity of the land and the control
of the subjects cannot be encompassed by political
means alone, that the necessity for the fear of God
and the regard for retribution in the hearts of
God's slaves is one of the unshakably established
divine decrees; that in both ancient and modern
times every state and people has had its own
religion, whether true or false. ..." 59 Clearly,
such beliefs were incompatible with the secularism
integral to western ideas and methods. So long
as Ottoman thinking was grounded in the men-

tality evinced by Atif, the changes Selim proposed

could be imposed only with difficulty and at best

ing entirely the non-reciprocal feature of Ottoman

diplomacy. After 1802, it found new expression

in the Sublime Porte's unsuccessful attempt to
pursue a policy of neutrality in Europe's conflicts.
Within the diplomatic esetablishment, the place

where tradition, with all its faults, remained

firmly entrenched was the office of the Reis idiKiittab. Little was done to improve the security
of the office or its efficiency. (It goes without
saying that this criticism applies to most of the
cardinal positions of the Ottoman government,
particularly to the Grand VTizir.) True, Selim
was fortunate in having available several men of
ability whom he appointed as Reis-Rancid, Atif,

Qelebi, (Ingiliz) Mahmud, and Galib Efendis, to

name them. But, as has been noted, the Ottoman

Reis enjoyed few of the advantages of his European counterpart, especially an effective foreign
ministry, a professional diplomatic corps, and an
effective system of communications.

Because the office of the Reis iil-Kiittab remained within the purview of the Grand Vizir's
functions, the factors which handicapped the
Grand Vizir and made his position insecure, also
applied to the Reis Efendi. The insecurity of
both their offices made the Porte's efforts to con-

front its enemies with a sustained and well-administered foreign policy all the more difficult
to achieve. An able Reis was often deprived of
the use of his influence and initiative when they

Rationale, then, along with the organization of

the diplomatic establishment and the practice of
might have been desirable.
non-reciprocity, constitute the features of OttoThe ramifying events in Europe over-taxed the
man diplomacy which were peculiarly Muslim and
administrative machinery of the office
Ottoman. Together, these features are crucial to
been designed for the unilateral diploany assessment of Selim's reform experiment.
macy of an invincible empire. Furthermore, the
Without a change in rationale, there was, conseReises had to put into operation a new but imperquently, no appreciable modification in the organifect diplomatic system along side the old, a situazation, procedures, or personnel of the government.
tion which could only breed confusion. Their
It was hopeless to expect that the established agendifficulties were increased because they were uncies of government, staffed by traditionallyfamiliar
with the techniques of the new system,
minded bureaucrats, would effectively implement
even in such matters as diplomatic languages and
Selim's program of reforms. Furthermore, after
terminology.6" Partly as a result of reform, the
his disappointing foray into the European alliance
system, the old mentality of Ottoman statecraft
60 Cevdet, Tarih, VI, 275, remarks that the "vague,
reasserted itself, preventing Selim from discardnewly invented language of diplomacy" was first applied by the Reis Efendi in the summer of 1797 in his
69 The complete memorandum was published by Cevdet, exchanges with the French and Russian envoys. The
problem of terminology slowed down treaty negotiations
Tarih, VI, appendix 17, 394-401. The above quotation is
with the British in 1798 when the Reis insisted that the
B. Lewis's translation, Emergence, 65-66 (394-96 in
phrases " in order to safeguard nations friendly to ourCevdet). Sentiments similar to Atif's were expressed
selves" and "in order to safeguard the general order"
with less sophistication and more color by Asim in
had the same meaning-Reis Efendi to Grand Vizir,
Tarih, I, 76-78, 223, and by Halet Efendi-See Karal,
Halet 11fendi, 32-35, 62.

Nov. 17, 1798, HH 1511.

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NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III 313

defective, it was inevitable that Selim's technical

was not out-going enough and was, besides, an

invalid. From among the Ulema, Vahid Efendi
and Amer Bey were qualified, but the Grand
Vizir's choice was Vah'd, who he said, was more
able than the gossip about him might lead one
to believe. In the end, Selim approved Vahld
Efendi. His Hatt underscores the slackness in
recruitment. ". . . Since you prefer Vahld
Efendi," he wrote, "assign him to the post and
let him be sent with Heaven's Grace. In truth,
I know nothing of their [the candidates'] qualities. Make the necessary inquiries discreetly and

reforms should have been disappointing in their

charge him with his duties." 62


Obviously, the criteria by which men were

selected for diplomatic posts and the background
from which they came, either clerical or religious,

correspondence reaching the Reis Efendi mounted

geometrically. However, his office lacked the organization and knowledge for filing such a quan-

tity and variety of papers, "so that it became

impossible to keep track of commitments, negotiations, and intelligence. Precisely because there

was a good deal of communication where none

had existed before, the confusion was compounded." 61 Indeed, all these circumstances at
times reduced Ottoman diplomacy to a veritable
muddle. With the nerve center of diplomacy so

At the time when expertness in the conduct of

diplomacy was vital to the security of the Empire,

the government failed to provide an adequate
system of recruitment and training necessary for
creating a professional diplomatic corps instructed

in the new diplomacy. Consequently, it remained

a problem to find men suitably qualified to serve
in the missions abroad. For example, in 1805,

when the question of a possible alliance with

France was becoming critical, the Grand Vizir
proposed to the Sultan several candidates who

might replace Halet Efendi in Paris, a change

necessitated by the breakdown of Halet's relations

with the French. The memorandum is revealing.

From among the men who had previous diplomatic experience or who held posts in the Sublime
Porte, the Grand Vizir suggested Seyyid Ali
Efendi, former ambassador to France, Ibrahim
Efendi and Ismail Ferruh, who had served respec-

tively in Vienna and London, and Ramiz Efendi,

a functionary of the Sublime Porte.

Ali and Ramiz Efendi were rejected by the

Grand Vizir because their current positions, he
said, were superior to an ambassadorial post; the
appointment of one of them might therefore
arouse curiosity. With respect to Ibrahim and
Ferruh Efendi, the Grand Vizir pointed out that
the latter, because he had served in London, might
not be acceptable to the French, and the former
I" Hurewitz, op. cit., 461; however, Spencer Smith
complained to Grenville about the difficulty of "extracting anything in writing from a government which
is not accustomed and is even averse to the delivery of
manuscript memoranda in diplomatic transactions," Feb.
10, 1797, F078/18. But the enormous bulk of diplomatic
papers preserved in the archives of Turkey overwhelmingly supports Hurewitz's statement.

were not likely to produce the desired types. But

granted the rationale and conditions of Ottoman
government, the procedure could hardly have been
otherwise. The same can be said of the results.
Few Ottoman diplomats accomplished either the
immediate or broader objectives of their missions,
even within the limitations imposed by the weakness of the. Empire. Their dispatches show that

" most of them . . . learned little about the countries to which they were sent, and were not greatly
impressed by what they did learn." 63 The embassies gradually fell under the direction of lesser
officials, who were mostly Greeks.64
The reports of most of Selim's ambassadors
reflected their incompetence as observers and information gatherers. These deficiencies, combined
with the Porte's failure to create effective lines
of postal communications and the continued
anarchy in the. provinces adjacent to the capital,
beggared the Ottoman government of news. Although sea communications remained open, they
were, on the whole, longer than overland routes,
and quarantines restricted the quick passage of
information by that means. Spencer Smith complained in February 1799 that " the Sublime
Porte remains the worst informed government in
all of Europe. It learns of events only weeks
after their occurrence and thus remains most of

the time in ignorance (which is, however, often

feigned). . . .o 65
62 HH 1540 (dated only 1220/1805).

63 Lewis, Emergence, 61.

44 Hurewitz, op. cit., 462.

65 Smith to Grenville, Feb. 25, 1799, F078/21; similar

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314 NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III

Handicapped by an inefficient diplomatic

estabwith Christian
powers, especially with Russia, the
lishment, by chaos within the Empire, and most
state that had annexed the Crimea, violated the
importantly, by the absence of sustaining military Holy Law, and they often roused the Muslim
power, Ottoman foreign policy was reduced by the citizens of the capital to express their indignation.
rivalries of the European powers to a continuous
By undermining support for the Sultan, these facdilemma for which there was almost no solution.
tions made Ottoman diplomacy an even more
Because those rivalries were focused on themdesperate matter than it already was, for if its
selves, the Ottomans came to fear both friend
policies failed, the government was then exposed
and enemy, and in the circumstances it was imnot only to greater external dangers, but to serious internal disorders which would result from
possible for the Ottomans to rely for any length
of time upon a system of alliances for their exter- outraged Muslim sentiments. Thus, even if he
nal security. Being unable to reap the benefits
wanted to, the Sultan could never altogether depart from tradition, which was, in diplomacy,
of a European alliance, or to cope with the quarunilateralism.
rels of the Europeans which encompassed their
But Selim III was, after all, himself a sincere
Empire, the Ottomans sought refuge in neuMuslim with the Muslim's prejudices toward
trality. But weakness denied them even this
infidels. These he repeatedly vented in his Hatts,
and any assessment of Selim which does not take.
While neutrality was largely a reflection of the
this fact into account will err seriously. It exEmpire's debility, it was also a reassertion of the
plains not only the premise on which he acted, but
Ottoman's traditional unilateralism toward the
west. Their conviction of the superiority and self-as well the paradox of his reign: His objective
was Muslim and his means were western. In his
sufficiency of True Believers, the source of unilateralism, was still a powerful one. Even though day, the two elements were irreconcilable. As a
by Selim's reign this view was unrealistic, it exer- descendant of the Gazis, and as a Gazi himself,67
cised considerable influence over the Sultan's poli-the primary objective which Selim set for his recies. It was also the basis for the fanatic opposi- forms was to restore the Empire to its previous
tion he encountered to his westernizing reforms. grandeur. For this purpose, he encouraged the
importation of some of Europe's superior weapons
The two most influential bodies of the Ottoman
community, the Janissary corps, closely identified and techniques, and with them came, inseparably,
with the mystic dervish orders, and the conserva- European ideas. Ultimately, the adoption of
western innovations brought destruction to himtive religious spokesmen, especially among the
lower ranks of the Ulema, were most hostile to self and to his program of reforms.
the Sultan's experiments.66 Lacking their support, Unfortunately, Selim III did not wholly com-

and not being powerful enough to ignore their

opposition, Selim had always to move cautiously

in the face of their antagonism.

prehend the forces against which he was contending or the magnitude of his task. His optimism,

his energy, and his admirable intentions were

simply not enough to bring him the achievement

he desired. The limitations of his talents, above
diplomacy. They criticized such aspects of diploall, the variety and overwhelming nature of the
matic reform as the learning, of European landifficulties which beset his domain, robbed him
guages and the adoption of European diplomatic
of success. Furthermore, little discretion was
usages. They vehemently objected that alliances
These enemies of reform had their effect on

shown in the way European methods, experts,

and inventions were introduced, and his oppocomments appear in Koehler to Grenville, June 30, 1799,

nents were stirred to resentment and fanaticism.

and Elgin to Grenville, July 23, 1800, P078/26,29, and

the earlier reports of Ainslie to Grenville, Sept. 23, Oct.

The complaints and warnings which came from

25, 1791, F078/12A. Also informative is an unsigned

various important quarters were given little
document entitled " Observations sur la voie de transit
pour correspondance entre Paris et Constantinople," AN,
AEBIII/415, and Thomas Thornton, The Present State
eT See CH 4615, Dec. 5, 1801, a decree ordering festiviof Turkey (1807, 2nd ed.), I, 34.
ties to celebrate the delivery of Egypt and Selim's
88 See Uriel Heyd's contribution on the Ulema and
having acquired the title of Gazi.
reform in Uriel Heyd, ed., Studies in Islamic History
68 Cevdet, Tarih, VIII, 146-48, 186 ff., who says the
and Civilization (Jerusalem, 1962), 63-96.

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NAFF: Reform and Diplomacy in the Reign of Selim III 315

And yet, despite failure, it cannot be concluded

embassies in Europe did enable a few young Otto-

Many of the specific reforms were left unchanged,

though some fell temporarily into disuse. This
is true especially in the case of diplomacy. When
Mahmud II recommenced the task of reforming
the Empire, he successfully adopted many of
Selim's diplomatic reforms, most conspicuously,
continuous diplomacy through resident missions
abroad. Selim III's reign generated the forces of
change and produced the essential precedents,

mans to learn a European language and to inform

indeed, even the necessary failures.

that the results of Selim's labors were all negative. Western innovations and particularly western ideas, did not end with Selim's reign. They
found in the decayed Ottoman Empire a rich soil
in which they eventually took root. Selim's diplo-

matic reforms made a particular contribution to

this process. His establishment of permanent

themselves about some of the revolutionary ideas

current in Europe. Some, on their return, "be-

new ideas from the west were perverted by many and

Examples of such men are "lngiliz" Mahmud Efendi

and Galib Efendi (later Galib Pasa). On Mahmud
Efendi see Mehmed Suireyya, Sicill-i Osmani (Istanbul,
1890-98), IV, 329-30, Cevdet, Tarih, VII, 5-6, A. Adnan,
La science chez les Tures ottomans (Paris, 1939), and
Lewis, "The Impact of the French Revolution on Turkey," Journal of World History, I (1953), 112. On

"took the form of free-thinking, or were clothed in

mysticism, and were displayed even among the digni-

Galib Efendi see Uzungar?l11, "Amedi Galib Efendinin

Murahhasliki ve Paristen G5nderdigi $ifreli Mektuplar,"

came officials at the Porte, where they formed a

Westward-looking minority among the bureaucratic hierarchy, similar to that created among
the officers by the military and naval reforms." 69

taries of the Palace and the Sublime Porte "; also Nuri,

Belleten, I (1937), 357-410, F. Babinger, Die Geschichts-

Netaic, IV, 41-42, on the resentment and opposition

schreiber der Osmanen und ihre Werke (Leipzig, 1927),

aroused by Selim's reforms.

Il Lewis, Emergence, 61; also d'Ohsson, VII, 513.

pedisi, IV, 710-14.

331, and F. Kopriilu, "Galib Pa5a," Islam Ansiklo-







The notion of cyclicly recurrent cosmic disasters, a catastrophe by flood alternating with one
by fire, both accompanying conjunctions of all
planets at the zero point of the zodiac, has been
traced from ancient Babylonia and Iran through
Pythagorean and Stoic philosophy, thence into the

medieval world.' Because of its essential connection with astronomy, the concept of the world-year
is of interest and utility to historians of science.
Its ramifications provide clues elucidating the role
of Sasanian Iran in the origin and transmission of

the ninth century astrologer widely known in

medieval Europe as Albumasar. He wrote a trea-

tise called Kitab al-Ulfif (Book of the Thousands),

no copy of which is presently available. It was
summarized, however, by Ahmad 'Abd al-Jalil
al-Sijz!3 (fl. 1000) and the summary, though
mutilated, has come down to us.

ming ultimately from Ab-d Ma'shar 2 al-Balkhl,

The first, referred to hereafter as A, appears on

f. 236 of the anonymous MS (Paris) BN Arabe
5968. This important document, to which our
attention was called by Mr. Marcel Destombes, is
a collection of astronomical and genealogical tables
and treatises evidently compiled by a member of
the Ismaili sect. In fact, Blochet 4 states that the

1 See van der Waerden, B. L., " Das grosse Jahr und
die ewige Wiederkehr," Hermes 80 (1952), pp. 129-155.

suppl. Vol. I, p. 388.

2 Brockelmann, C., G. A. L. (Leiden, 1943), Vol. I (2d.

ed.), p. 250; suppl. Vol. I, p. 394.

4 Notices et extraits des manuscripts de la Bibliotheique

Nationale, XLI (1923), pp. 391-398.

scientific theory, particularly towards India.

Translated below are two fragmentary versions of
a chapter descriptive of the world-year and stem-

3 Brockelmann, C. op. cit., Vol. I (2d. ed.), p. 246;

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