Janissaries . Corps of infantrymen , whose mission was the protection of the Ottoman sultan , as well as the custody of the imperial palace. Its name comes from the Turkish “Yeniçeri”, which means new troops and was created by Sultan Murad I in 1330 . It constituted what could be called the permanent imperial army , being a kind of praetorian guard similar to that of the Roman emperors and also the forerunners of modern professional military corps. It is abolished by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826 .


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  • 1 Origins
  • 2 Importance
  • 3 Recruitment
    • 1 requirements
  • 4 Training and education
  • 5 Structure
  • 6 Armaments
  • 7 Decline and end
  • 8 Janissaries in literature
  • 9 References
  • 10 Sources


The origins of the Janissaries are lost through history. According to tradition, its founder was Orhan I , who reigned from 1326 to 1359 . Modern historians, such as Patrick Kinross , put the date a little later, around 1365 , under Orhan’s son Murad I, the first sultan of the Ottoman Empire . [1] It is impossible to express the exact date when units of the Janissary Corps first formed part of the Ottoman Turkish Army. But the great contribution of the Janissaries as foot soldiers in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 , is a historical fact.


At the time of its founding, the Janissaries corps consisted of perhaps a few hundred soldiers, who constituted the sultan’s personal guard. However, its creation gave rise to a small stable army, whose skill in handling arms and esprit de corps, acquired through coexistence and common struggle, provided a stable center for the Ottoman armies. In addition, these troops had the obligation to serve the sultan, with which the desertion or the non-appearance in the battlefield, resulted in the loss of the payment. This allowed the sultan to recruit a predictable number of soldiers at any time.

In that role, they were an effective force and, lacking any other source of protection and patronage, reasonably loyal to the Sultan. In the last phases of the Battle of Ankara in 1402 , it was the Janissaries who were left fighting around the Sultan, when the rest of the army had deserted. At the Battle of Varna in 1444 , when most of the cavalry had left the field, it was the Janissaries who stood firm around Murat II and crucially captured and killed the Hungarian king [2]



In the beginning, the Ottoman army consisted mainly of free warriors who depended on tribal chiefs or clans (in the western style of vassalage during the Middle Ages ). This posed two major problems: firstly, the soldiers almost never accepted an infantry assignment due to the risk it entailed and, secondly, the character of the clans was very changeable, due to this, the sultan often could not trust the loyalty or morale of your troops.

In 1380 Sultan Selim I had the idea of ​​increasing their ranks as a result of a tax in human form called “devshirmeh”; by joining the ranks of men initially selected at random and subsequently according to increasingly stringent criteria. The Janissaries were, initially, slaves or subjects of the Yugoslav, Greek, Albanian and Hungarian regions and therefore, mainly Christian. This form of recruitment had a double advantage: it weakened Christian populations and gave the sovereign men who, owing him everything, knew no one but him, to whom they were consecrated body and soul. However, from the fifteenth century Soldiers began to be recruited from among the Turks themselves, with the aim of increasing the Muslim population of the European provinces which were almost exclusively made up of Christian villages.

Organized as an infantry corps at a time when feudal conscription was prevalent throughout Europe, the Janissaries were the first ex-officio army of modern times, an army whose discipline and efficiency sowed terror in the opponent’s camp.


The requirements for recruitment were as follows:

  • Boys to recruit had to be between 8 and 18 years old.
  • In case the individual could satisfy the other requirements, the age limit could be extended to 20.
  • It was essential that boys of these ages be in full health and have pleasant facial and body features.
  • Recruitment could be carried out throughout the country or only in a limited area.
  • In the recruiting season, in the towns or neighborhoods one young man was recruited for every forty houses.
  • The boy to be recruited according to the regulations, had to be one of every two male brothers.
  • Those who were the only (male) child in their family could not be recruited even if they met all the other requirements.
  • A boy who was married despite being less than eighteen years old could not be recruited, despite complying with all the regulations [3].

Training and education

During the time that their training lasted, the boys were confined in military schools called Acemi Oğlanı, in which they were taught hand-to-hand combat tactics and handling of the entire range of weapons of the time.

But it wasn’t all hard physical exercises at Acemi Oğlanı. Apart from the things that future soldiers would need to carry out their profession, they were taught others such as literature, languages ​​or calculus, in addition to various games and sports designed to promote camaraderie and cohesion among the future squad of Janissaries.

The students who studied in these military schools were obliged to memorize the Koran and, although they were not obliged to do so, the majority ended up converting to Islam before the moment that everyone was fervently awaiting arrived, the day when they stopped being children to become Janissaries.

Only those who had shown greater aptitude during the long period of training achieved this status and, from that moment, devoted their lives to the line of duty. The only family of a Janissary was the rest of his platoon and his only father was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire .

The Janissaries were animated by a select group spirit, with their own emblems and flags, and they also enjoyed a pension “fund” for the elderly and the disabled. They had as their emblem a kettle, a symbol of the abundant food they received.


The Janissary guard was organized in orta (equivalent in Turkish to regiment), reaching up to 196 ortas at its peak. The sultan was the supreme commander of the Janissaries, although the body was organized and commanded by the ağa (commander). The Janissary Guard was divided into three categories:

  • Cemaat (border troops), with 101 ortas.
  • Beyliks or beuluks (the Sultan’s personal guard), with 61 ortas.
  • Sekban or seirnen, with 34 ortas.

In addition, there were 34 ortas integrated by the acemi (apprentices). At first, they could rise in rank only within their own rank and only by criteria of seniority and rank. They left the unit only to assume command of another.

The number of members of the Janissary troops varied according to the time from 100 to more than 200,000.


As for weapons , there was a great variety. Although, at first, slings and bows predominated , the development of firearms, typical of the Modern Age , was not alien to these soldiers who soon began to incorporate pistols and muskets .

Decline and end

The Janissary Corps had been an elite military force within the army of the Ottoman Empire since the mid- 15th century , and had remained so throughout the 16th century , sustaining the Ottoman military triumphs decisively throughout their wars against Spain , the House of Habsburg and the Safavid Empire . However, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the military effectiveness of the Janissaries declined as their political ambitions increased. Dedicated to commerce, and to political intrigue, they lost much of their effectiveness and prestige.

From the middle of the seventeenth century they had ceased to be an elite troop to degenerate into a military caste inefficient in combat but endowed with great wealth and political influence, powerful enough to impose conditions on the sultan himself or to intrigue with the viziers regarding the appointment of successors to the Ottoman throne, from their headquarters in Istanbul . However, they still had sufficient military strength to impose their power on the Ottoman sovereigns, preventing any attempt at military reform and demanding privileges and wealth, in imitation of what happened centuries before with the Praetorian Guard of the Roman Empire . By the beginning of the 19th century they numbered about 135,000 men throughout the Empire, most of whom were not even active soldiers but simple civilians attached to this troop in administrative functions.

In 1826 , after the humiliating defeat in the Greek War of Independence , Sultan Mahmut II issued an edict informing that a new army was being formed, called Nizam-ı Cedid , organized and trained with European techniques, and based on ethnic conscripts. Turkish. It seems that the intention of Mahmut II was to provoke an uprising of the Janissaries, who would never accept the formation of a new elite troop.

The publication date of the edict was June 11 , 1826, being received with great opposition from the Janissaries. Just as Mahmut II and his ministers had foreseen, the Janissary troops of Istanbul, the main ones of the Ottoman Empire, revolted in the streets of the capital, being reduced by Sipahi cavalry troops. Better armed and trained troops loyal to the government put down the Janissary revolt and bombarded their barracks with modern artillery , killing nearly 4,000 rebel Janissaries after three days of fighting. Thousands more were massacred by Nizam-ı Cedid troops in the streets.

On June 16 , after exterminating the last Janissary chiefs, the sultan ordered the expropriation of the Janissary assets and officially dissolved this body, depriving its members of all rank and military equipment, and exiling the survivors to distant provinces of the Empire. Large numbers of Janissaries managed to survive the revolt, hiding from the authorities and quietly migrating to other trades.

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