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Book Reviews / JESHO 52 (2009) 153-184 159

Mark L. STEIN. Guarding the Frontier. Ottoman Border Forts and Garri-
sons in Europe. London and New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 2007.
ix + 222 pp., map, hardback. ISBN: 10: 184511301

Guarding the Frontier intends to “examine the nature of the Ottoman forts
and garrisons on the Ottoman-Habsburg frontier by investigating the
military, social, and economic aspects of their administration” in the
17th century (p. 3). The table of contents suggests that the reader will get
a thorough discussion of the Ottoman-Habsburg frontier in five chapters
on Frontiers and Ottoman Frontiers, The Fortresses, Garrison Troops, Garri-
son Size, and Frontier Administration respectively. Alas, the book delivers
very little of these promises.
The book’s title is misleading and its chapters lack context. The author’s
source base is quantitatively and qualitatively uneven, and the book’s data
are often haphazard and repetitive. More importantly, the book’s data are
of limited value for they are not evaluated in the larger context of Ottoman
Hungary as a whole, or against comparative information related to the
opposing Habsburg border forts. Furthermore, the book contains several
misleading statements and factual errors.
Despite its subtitle, Guarding the Frontier is not about “Ottoman Bor-
der Forts and Garrisons in Europe,” not even about those in Hungary. Out
of the some 130 forts of various sizes that guarded Ottoman Hungary in
the 17th century, Stein studies in detail only Kanije and Uyvar, two major
forts and provincial centers. However, it is not explained in the book that
Kanije and Uyvar, along with Budin, the center of Ottoman Hungary, dif-
fered in many ways from the other Ottoman forts in Hungary. Their stra-
tegic significance affected the size and composition of their garrisons,
weaponry and equipment. Chapter 1 situates the Ottoman-Habsburg
frontier in the broader historiographical context, emphasizing its transi-
tional character and the economic opportunities it offered. The assessment
is useful, but the author’s examples are random and the one regarding the
gönüllüs is misleading. As he knows, by this time the gönüllüs were not
volunteers, but salaried cavalry. Volunteers in the 16th and 17th centuries
who sought military service on the frontier were referred to in the sources
not as gönüllüs but as garib yiğit (lit. strange, destitute, poor men) (see,
P. Fodor, “Making a Living on the Frontiers: Volunteers in the Sixteenth-
Century Ottoman Army,” in idem, In Quest of the Golden Apple. Imperial
Ideology, Politics, and Military Administration in the Ottoman Empire, Istan-
bul, 2000, pp. 275-304.).
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2009 DOI: 10.1163/156852009X405384
160 Book Reviews / JESHO 52 (2009) 153-184

Chapter 2 is a brief summary of Ottoman siegecraft and fortresses, their

architecture and equipment. The short description of Ottoman siege tech-
niques does not advance our understanding beyond V.J. Parry’s succinct
article (“Hisar,” EI 2 3:476-481). The case study of the 39-day-long siege of
Uyvar could have been an excellent opportunity for the author to demon-
strate Ottoman prowess and limitations in siege warfare, especially in light
of the rich narrative and archival source material regarding the 1663 Otto-
man campaign. Likewise, in assessing the weaponry and military equip-
ment of his chosen forts, the author should have used registers related to
Kanije and Uyvar, his case studies, instead of the published registers of Eğri
(1643) and Ada Kale (mid-18th century!), especially given the different
strategic importance, and thus dissimilar weaponry, of these forts. The
irrelevance of the weaponry list of Eğri is illustrated by the fact that whereas
in 1643 Eğri had only two cannons (darbzen), four mortars, and 42 small
“hook guns” (şakaloz), Uyvar had 109 cannons and 17,330 cannon balls of
various sizes following its conquest (MAD 3279, p. 100.).
The author’s short assessment of Ottoman building activities leaves
doubts as to his understanding of Ottoman archival sources. He refers to a
report (Topkapı Sarayı Arşivi E 895) left by “an unnamed vizier” that listed
“the repairs needed by various border forts” (p. 53.). The document in
question is a list of repairs of 20 forts and 23 palankas, and was published
in Hungarian more than twenty years ago by Pál Fodor. Stein cites random
data regarding eight forts starting with the supposed repairs in Temeşvar,
which “required several cannon to be put on new carriages and wheels”
(p. 51). However, there is no mention of the fort of Temeşvar. Instead, the
first item refers to the Imperial Cannon Foundry (Tophane-i amire) in
Buda, “which was repaired in its entirety, 400 big and middle-size cannons
were put on carriages, their wheels renovated and all their equipment taken
care of.”
Chapter 3, which examines the different types of garrison troops, is
perhaps the best part of the book. However, the chapter’s data can over-
whelm even the specialist, and the inconsistencies of the author’s figures
are often difficult to explain.
Chapter 4 that examines the size of the garrisons of Kanije and Uyvar is
the most problematic part of the book. Stein does not seem to have real-
ized that his various sources listed different types of troops, but excluded
others. For instance, he is puzzled by the fact that some of his sources
recorded only Janissaries and not “any other types of troops” (p. 106.). This
is hardly surprising for certain pay registers listed only the elite Janissaries
Book Reviews / JESHO 52 (2009) 153-184 161

of the Porte, who were sent from and paid by Istanbul, while other sources
recorded only local garrison troops (including local Janissaries) who were
paid from the provincial treasuries. In order to get a full picture of the size
and composition of a given garrison, one has to use both types of sources.
Failure to do so will distort the picture. For instance, Stein finds that the
number of central (kapukulu) troops dropped drastically in Kanije by
1613-14: from the initial 1,837 Janissaries to 254. While he knows that his
sources are “deceptive,” (p. 106.), he is unable to give more complete data.
What was happening here, and later in Uyvar, is a known process: as the
Ottomans managed to man the forts with local troops the number of cen-
tral troops decreased. In Kanije, for instance, by 1615 there were 1,325
and by 1627 about 1,650 local troops. At the same time, the number of
Janissary troops sent from Istanbul dropped to 170 by 1629. Stein’s data
for Uyvar are similarly incomplete and led him to erroneous conclusions.
He states that “Janissary troops were a much more important part” of the
Uyvar garrison than in Kanije, where, according to Stein, the number of
Janissaries “was quite small—usually under 200” (p. 111). Contrary to his
claims, the number of Janissaries at Kanije was high following its conquest,
in fact higher than in Uyvar, and declined gradually, reaching the low fig-
ures suggested by Stein only about ten years after the conquest. A similar
trend occurred in Uyvar, where the number of Janissaries was also high
initially and decreased gradually.1
Moreover, Stein never puts his data into context. What do his figures
mean in the larger context of the provinces of Kanije and Uyvar, or Otto-
man Hungary as a whole? How do Ottoman garrisons compare to those
on the Habsburg/Hungarian side of the military border? Stein does not
seem to realize that by focusing on the central fort and by ignoring the
other garrisons of a given province he distorts the picture. Defense was
multi-layered and was carried out by a number of first-, second-, and third-
tier garrisons on both the Ottoman and the Habsburg sides of the frontier.
Whereas Kanije had 1,354 salaried local troops in 1618, the total number
of soldiers serving in all the forts of the province (north of the River Drava)
was 3,789. As to the larger context: despite their strategic importance, the
combined military force of Kanije and Uyvar represented only about one
fifth of the estimated 21,000 salaried garrison troops serving in the four

See Klára Hegyi, A török hódoltság várai és várkatonasága 3 volumes. Budapest, 2007,
vol. 3, pp. 1537, 1543, 1547; 1623-1629.
162 Book Reviews / JESHO 52 (2009) 153-184

Ottoman provinces of Budin, Temeşvar, Eğri, and Kanije in 1619/20 and

even less in the second half of the 17th century. (Hegyi, vol. 1, p. 170.)
The topics of Chapter 5—frontier administration—are important and
Stein has some useful observations regarding late payments, accounting
practices, and the limitations of pay registers and other sources. However,
his limited source material does not allow the author to cover these topics
in depth and to put them into context. For instance, he mentions that
“revenues from cizye [head tax paid by non-Muslims] along the border
could be substantial” (p. 148.), but beyond this vague statement the reader
does not learn how and to what extent this important source of revenue
was used for financing the garrisons of Kanije and Uyvar. It is unfortunate,
for it is known that in 1618 some 75% of Kanije’s 12.1 million akçe reve-
nue came from cizye taxes. Of this, more than 87% came from the Balkans
and not from the province, a fact that has important implications as to the
frontier’s general financial situation. Similarly, Stein gives a brief descrip-
tion of the ocaklık-system (an Ottoman method of resource mobilization
and financing, whereby the government allocated particular revenue
sources to cover specific expenses, e.g., troops’ payments), but he does not
examine it with regard to the Ottoman garrisons in Hungary, although
ocaklıks became common in Ottoman Hungary by the 1610s. In 1631 in
the province of Budin, for instance, 28% of the mukataa-revenues were
allocated to the garrison soldiers as ocaklıks. As in Uyvar and Kanije, the
majority of the province’s mukataa-revenues came from the Balkans. This
raises the broader question of the cost of frontier forts and garrisons. Here
again, the situation in the eastern and western provinces of Ottoman Hun-
gary was rather different. Whereas the provincial treasuries of Temeşvar,
Eğri, and Varad usually managed to pay their garrisons, the soldiers serving
in the forts of the western provinces of Buda, Uyvar, and Kanije were
mainly paid from revenues in the Balkans and from subsidies sent from
Istanbul, for local revenues could cover only the fraction of the soldiers’
pay (see Hegyi, A török hódoltság várai, vol. 1. pp. 173-206; on the ocaklıks
see Pál Fodor, Vállalkozásra ítélve. Budapest, 2006, pp. 272-299). It is
equally important to note that the situation was similar on the other side
of the Ottoman-Habsburg frontier: the maintenance of the Habsburg
military frontier in Hungary and Croatia depended to a large extent on
subsidies from the Habsburg Hereditary Lands and the Holy Roman
Despite some pretentious claims in the three-page Conclusion, the reader
will not learn from Guarding the Frontier “how the defense system actually
Book Reviews / JESHO 52 (2009) 153-184 163

operated on the ground” (p. 155). Due to its many shortcomings and lack
of context, non-specialists can profit little from the book, while those
familiar with the Ottoman-Habsburg frontier can find better works to
turn to.

Gábor Ágoston
Georgetown University