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Monday, 7 May 2012

Ottoman Empire | Turkey | Sublime Porte

I had a request from DeanM from WAB Corner regarding the Ottoman empire, specifically the Russo-Turkish War 1806-12. So here is what I have been able to pull together. Doing the research is one of my most favourite parts of this hobby. I usually find all that I can, start with the basics and work up. I collect all the plates I can and then I draw them in my sketch book with notes on each uniform and unit relevant to painting them up. I am no artist, it is simple stuff, but I find it invaluable.

I hope you like it. Any errors please feel free to comment or email me so I can fix it.


The Ottoman army was broken into three main divisions: regulars; irregulars; provincial forces. Sultan Selim III had attempted to reform the army during his reign, 1789-1807. However, this went poorly as he was after a Janissary revolt in response to his creation of new forces that resulted in his nephew Sultan Mustafa IV replacing him. The return of loyal soldiers to Selim III in 1808 during a temporary peace with Russia (Treaty of Tilsit) led to the death of Selim and Mustafa and the sole survivor of the family Sultan Mahmod III was enthroned.

The Grand Vizier used his personal irregular force of 10,000 Kirjalis to suppress the Janissaries and installed Selims new troops as battalions called Nizam-i Cedit that were initially associated with te Bostanji Imperial Guard. The 1807 revolt by the Janissaries saw the Nizam-i Cedit attacked and disbanded. However, they were promptly reinstated in 1808 under Sultan Mahmoud.

I put this picture back together from the Vinkhuijzen collection. It was probably done around 1812 but possibly as late as 1820. I think it shows Sultan Mahmoud II reviewing his troops. There are various officers and grandees in the foreground. Janissaries can be seen in the midground. In the background to the right and left are more troops, possibly regional troops. These are matched by the light cavalry, probably Sipahi. 


Each army corp was known as an Ojak, or 'hearth'. It was divided into ortas, or battalions, and each orta into odas,  or rooms, the notional barrack room of each oda.  Each orta was as small as 100 men, reaching upto 500 men during times of war. However, recruitment for ortas may have been influenced by the fame of each orta. McLean (1818) records the 35th being the most famous and having a peak number of 30,000 men. Although there were likely around 150,000 Janissaries registered in this period, and some estimate upto 400,000, the actual numbers that could be summoned were likely to be no more than 50,000.

Administrative Ranks
Nazir - Supervisor of a corps
Aga - Commander of regiment of large unit
Kethuda - Executive officer
Katib - Chief scribe
Cavus basi - Sergeant-major
Kapu cukador - Chief orderly

Senior officers
Corbaci - Colonel
Odabasi - Colonel's aide
Vekilharc - Commissary
Middle officers
Bayraktar - Standard bearer
Asci Basi - Chief cook
Saki - Water bearer
Junior officers
Mulazim - Junior officer
Kullukcu - orderly
Cavus - Sargent or disciplinary officer
Ser boluk - Corporal
Bolukbasi - Junior NCO

Regular infantry

L-R Janissariy of the Guard Corps, Pay Officer of the 25th orta, Oda Bashi (room leader), Kolouk Bariaktari (sub-officer) of the Guard Corps.

The main infantry force of the Ottoman army were the Janissaries. The Janissaries were chosen from among the christian populations of Anatolia and the Balkans. These troops were broken into three
classes of orta. Jemaat, of which there were 101 (the 1st guarded the Sultan, the 101st was a marine orta) and guarded the frontiers. The Beuluk of 61 ortas, who also guarded the sultan.. The Sekban or Seiman (irregular troops of musketeers) of 34 ortas. There were also 34 ortas of ajami or cadets based in Algiers.

As noted above some ortas had specific duties they had won. The 1st Jemaat orta guarded the Sultan, the 101st was a marine battalion. Some guarded foreign embassies, policed Istanbul, acted as firemen, some ortas held individual citadels in Istanbul.  

Each orta was normally a closed organisation and permanently garrisoned. Discipline and promotion normally from only inside the orta. The head of the orta was know as a Çorbacı. The jannisaries were unpaid in peacetime but were provided rations and usually illegally supplemented this with a craft trade.

The uniform was largely unregulated however the Albanian or European style troops appear to have been uniform (see below).

The distinctive feature of the Janissaries was their tall cap being originally white but later red. At times of ceremony the Janissaries wore blue breeches, red shoes and a cap. The cut being important to the identity of the Janissaries. Officers were distinguished by their boot colour. The Beuluk Çorbacı wore red boots, the other orta Çorbacı wearing yellow. Subordinate officers wore black boots. The Janissaries were meant to neither marry nor wear beards.

The weapons used by the Janissaries usually were comprised of the older style matchlocks (unlike the flintlock, slower but more accurate), knives and swords. Bayonets were despised.

Salaried Regulars. Stationed around Istanbul and Edirne. Elite reserve. Similar in attitude regarding warfare to the Janissaries. Several thousand in number.

Small ceremonial guard unit of the Sultan's palace.

Nizam- Cedit (new army), attached to the Bostanjis 
The first westernised troops were raised in 1791 (Nicolle 1998) and trained to perform Russian drills. The Nizam-i Cedit was a mixture of old and new and perhaps heralded the end of the old ways. The first troops were raised from Istanbul's poor and officered by Russians and Germans (Nicolle 1989). These new troops were attached to the Bostanji Imperial Guard to try and minimise the reaction of the Janissaries. Their expansion began in earnest. A body of 12,000 men were raised in 1796 based upon the armaments and field manual of the army of Great Britain (McLean 1818), however, Nicolle (1998) states it was based on the french manual. by 1806 there were 25,000 Nizam-i Cedit, with half in Isnabul and Anatolia (Nicolle 1998). The provincial Pashas were encouraged to raise regiments.

The first regiment had the following command structure:
binbasi - colonel
aga-i yemin - major of the right
aga-i yesar - major of the left
Each aga-i was in charge of a battalion.
Each battalion had 12 boluk or companies each led by a bolukbasi or yuzbasi and each company into platoons under and onbasi.

Each boluk had a cannon and eight topci or artilleryman, a top ustasi or cannon master, five arabasi or cannon wagoneers and six kullukcu or orderlies.

Blue pants, red coat, red brimless cap, white belts. Blue piping, collar, cuffs. Red shoes.  Lighter red cap in the field. Officers have gold lace on jacket.

Irregular Infantry

Light volunteer infantry, also conscripted. Volunteered on the basis of hope of plunder. (Schevill, Ferdinand 1922 The History of the Balkan Peninsula. Ayer Publishing)

Corp of Grand Viziers irregular troops. 10,000 in 1806. The Kirjalis were recruited largely from urban and semi-urban sources. These included demobilised soldiers, property less servants and farmhands, as well as the homeless. Ethnically they were mixed Turks and other Asiatic groups as well as Albanians, Bosnians and Bulgarians as well as being Christians and Muslims. (Stoianovich, T. 1994 Balkan Worlds: the first and last Europe. Armonk, New York)

Segban Infantry
Rural militia

Arnaut Infantry
Troops raised in Macedonia, Morea, Sclavonia and commanded by native officers. Excellent marksmen, ideally formed into units of 1000. Some are mounted. Their commander is called Bin Bachi. (McLEan 1818).

Albanian Infantry
These troops were native Albanians, often considered the best in the Turkish army, at least the most fearless (or foolhardy) regularly forming the Forlorn Hope (McLean 1818). McLean (1818) also mentions they were powerful opponents of the Russians (presumably in the 1806-1812 Russo-Turkish war). They would regular volunteer for the forces of Pashas throughout the Ottoman Empire (McLean 1818).

Serbian HaydukSerbian militia formed as circa 100 man Hayduks under a buljakbasha (similar to junior NCO). Formed from mountain bandits.

Bosnian Panduks/Pandurs and eflak sharpshooters
Bosnian troops from the frontier.

Bulgarian Infantry

Wallachian Dorobanti and Pandurs

Moldavian Slujitori

Kurdish Musketeers
Mounted infantry.

Pasha of Baghdad
Had his own Mamelukes from Georgian slaves. Fortifications manned by Arab troops.


Regular Cavalry
The Sipahi were the main cavalry force of the Turkish army. They were drawn from their European and Asiatic provinces. The officers appear to have worn a long blue coat with a large band of red piped with yellow along either side, yellow boots, white turban and red fez (plumes on the Asian, flat on the European). But this may be a copied image. So don't quote me! In the background of the European Sipahi below there is a trooper with a red top, blue pants. Perhaps similar to the European infantry?

There were around 10,000 paid Sipahi during the period.

Irregular Cavalry

The Mamelukes were Circassian slaves, originally ruling Egypt from 877-905CE and again 1250-1517CE. They remained powerful throughout these periods. They regained power in 1749CE controlling Egypt once again. The Sultan destroyed them in 1811. The Mamelukes were an important organisation and their members helped to administer the eastern Ottoman empire. There were perhaps around 10,000 Mamelukes in Egypt. 

The Mamelukes were highly trained, carried a pair of pistols and usually a blunderbuss as well as knives and swords.

Mounted light volunteer cavalry. Volunteered on the basis of hope of plunder. Useful as scouts and advance guards but little else. (Schevill, Ferdinand 1922 The History of the Balkan Peninsula. Ayer Publishing).

Rural militia cavalry. From Balkans and Anatolia.

Usually Turkish Anatolians.

Mostly Kurdish.



In 1790 the Ottoman Empire possessed 30 ships-of-the-line, 50 frigates and 100 galleys. The sailors were generally from the Greek provinces. The vessels were similar to European designs however their

tactical knowledge was lacking. As mentioned above the 101st orta of the Janissaries were marines.


I have found out little on the artillery. There as clearly foot and horse artillery. There were also mortars.


Egypt – 1798-1800 - French
Crimea and Balkans – 1788-1791/1792 – Austria/Russia
Moldavia, Wallachia, Bessarabia – 1806-1812 – Russia. British fleet in 1808?
Serbia – 1804-1815 – nationalist uprising




Nizam-i Cedit - New Army
2nd reform under Sultan Mahmoud. Post 1808.
Colonel - Chef du Battalion



Soldiers of the Nizam-i Cedit under Selim III (to 1808). Kalpak wearing, flanker, flanker, ordinary infantryman. Note the skull cap on the first flanker. 


Janissary General

Colonel of Janissary - Corbaci - 'Giver of Soup'

Subaltern of Janissary
Janissary Captain

Janissary Captain

Janissary Bimbasha - there are four of these under a captain.

Ladle Bearer. The Janissaries officers were named for positions in the Sultan's household. McLean (1818) records the 'colours' of the ortas being a kettle and ladle, the loss of either would lead to the disbanding of the orta.
Cooks? Or officers? Not sure because of the whole odd titles thing.

Chasseurs and Officer 33rd orta?
Officer of the 1st orta?

Another Janissary
Janissary in alternate uniform
Janissary of a Fireman Orta
Janissary of a police orta on the beat

Elite and Guard

Solaks - Imperial Palace Guard

Commander of the 1st Guard Corp

Sargent of Com' of the Guard Corp
Executor of High works (sounds important!)

Chief of Volunteers - Azabs or Kirjalis perhaps?

Albanian Officer

Albanian infantry
Albanian Infantry

Arnaut Infantry
Wallachian Infantry

Bulgarian Infantry

Baghdad Infantry - perhaps Arab?

Light Infantry of Arabia Felix
Archer with Mamelukes

Egypt and Mamelukes
Military Chief, Attendant to the Aga, of Egypt

Officer of Mamelukes

Mameluke of Egypt
Mameluke of Constantinople

Mameluke of the Grand Seigneur

Mameluke of the Grand Vizier

Regular Cavalry

Pasha or General of Cavalry

Sipahi Officer

Sipahi - Asiatic provinces light cavalry

Sipahi - Asiatic provinces light cavalry

Sipahi - Asiatic provinces light cavalry
Sipahi? Not sure if they had the same name. European provinces light cavalry

Sipahi of Baghdad
Sipahi, Zaim, with a large fief.

Irregular Cavalry
Chief of Irregular Cavalry - Akindjis perhaps?

Cavalry of Allepo

Court and Senior Administrative Officers

Sultan Mahmoud II

Sultan in state apparel at the Bairam fest.

Grand Vizier
Grand Vizier in state dress

Chef du Corps
Serasaker - Field Marshal or Chef du Corps

Lieutenant General
Aide de Camp to the Lieutenant General

General of the Army Arsenal
Military Chief of Upper Egypt


Captain Pacha - Grand Admiral
Captain Pasha - Grand Admiral, Another print
Captain Pasha - Grand Admiral, note turban, but fur trimmed coat remains.

Galley Captain

Sailor - Possibly Janissary 101st orta

Turkish Marine - Possibly 101st orta

Artillery, Armoury, Engineers, Ordinance

Turkish artillery
Chief of Artillery
Horse artilleryman
Officer of the artillery - looks like the horse artillery as above.

Turkish artillery, artilleryman (Foot artillery?)

Foot artilleryman

Bombardiers - mortar gunners
Colonel and Guard of the Armoury
Officer of the Ordinance


Elting, J.R., 2000. Minor States. In Napoleonic Uniforms Vol. IV. Rosemont, Illinois: The Emperor’s Press, pp. 634-635. Janissary and European Infantryman.

Haythorthwaite, P.J., 1990. Ottoman Empire. In The Napoleonic Source Book, London: Arms & Armour. Love this book, very useful. Out of print so you have to hunt around.

Johnson, W., E., 1994. The Crescent among the Eagles the Ottoman Empire and the Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815 1st ed., Ocean Springs, MS: W. Johnson, distributed by G. Nafziger. Now have a copy from Nafziger, soon to be reviewed (12/12)!

McLean, T., 1818. The Military Costume of Turkey, London: Thomas McLean. Available Google Books. Very useful with descriptions.

Moiret, Joseph-Marie. Memoirs of Napoleon’s Egyptian Expedition, 1798-1801. Haven't got this. Would like a copy though! Link

Morier, J.P., 1801. Memoir of a Campaign with the Ottoman Army in Egypt from February to July 1800: Containing a description of the Turkish Army.-The Journal of its March from Syria.-General Observations of the Arabs and on the Treaty of El-Arish, with an account of the Event which followed it., Piccadilly: J. Debrett. Available Google Books

Nicolle, D., 1998. Armies of the Ottoman Empire 1775–1820, Osprey Publishing. Talked to Osprey about when they will have all their books digitised. Slowly slowly. Link

Nicolle, D., 1995. The Janissaries, Osprey Publishing. Ditto. Link.

Pope, S., 1999. Ottoman Empire etc. In Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. London: Cassell.

Sweet, D., 1975. The Turkish Army of the Napoleonic Wars. Empires, Eagles and Lions, (74), p.75ff. Someone must have a copy :(

Napoleon Series

Wikipedia actually has some good info.

New York Public Library
The Vinkhuijzen collection of military uniforms / Turkey /
This has a lot of very good and useful pictures, check out the many other countries, I haven't yet..  The collections I have used are the 1810-1817 some of these make up McLeans (1818) book above and the 1820 collection (at least one is also in the McLean book). Link

Great Battles Blog
Some useful papers but mainly about much earlier periods.
Plates dated 1805 from an album labelled: Vorstellung der vorzuglichsten Gattungen des Türckischen Militairs und ihrer Officiere. Presentation of the genres of Turkish military men and their officers. Link

Characteristic representation of the principal European military menor, Augsburger Bilder, 1802-1810, Ottoman. Link

The Corps of the Janizaries By Arthur Leon Horniker. Link

Useful Maps

David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. Link. So many maps, sooo good.
Turkey in Europe in 1811. Link
Turkey in Asia, 1811. Link


The Balkan History page has some Ottoman models painted up. Link


AB figures (15/18mm) at Eureka Miniatures has the basic Ottomans. Link
Minifigs (15mm) Ottoman Turks. Link
Essex Miniatures (15mm) has some Renaissance Turks that would do. Link
Venexia Miniatures (15mm) Have what looks like a very nice range. Link
Museum Miniatures (15/18mm?) have an interesting range you might be able to pull a few models from. Link
Quick Reaction Force (15mm) have a lot of models in their medieval and renaissance Turk range. Link
15mm.co.uk have a stocky range of Ottoman renaissance turks. Link I rather like the look of them.
Roundway Models (15mm). I found them through Navwar under 15mm, medieval and renaissance, then had to search through the pages (third I think). Link. No pics :(
Legio Heroica, an Italian company. They are "Vienna 1683” Ottoman Turks but they look usable  convertible. Their scale page puts them at about Essex size (c.15mm?). Link. I really like these.
Vexillia Limited (15mm) They bought One Tree Miniatures Ottoman range. Link.


Parkfield (25mm) have a nice range of models. Link
Brigade Games (28mm?) have what look like some very nice models. Link
Dixon Miniatures UK (25mm). A good number of models. Link
The Assault Group (28mm) have some Renaissance Ottomans that could be used. Link
Perry Miniatures have Bashi-Bazouks which could be used. Link
Foundry Miniatures (28mm) crimean turks might be useful for Nezim-i Cedit. Link
Old Glory (25mm) Ottoman Turks. Link. A lot of different models.
RSM 95 (30mm?) hard to figure out how to buy these, not sure of the quality. Link. Review here.
Eureka Miniatures (28mm) has a similar range to the AB in 15mm. Link

Last updated 1/2013


Anonymous said...

While you made a good job the descriptions of some pictures doesnt fit what the pics say like in the case of the Albanian officer while the pic writes sipahi

Nathan Woolford said...

Thanks Anonymous. The comment is much appreciated. I collected the pictures from around the web. I used Osprey and looked at their prints and then tried to track them. There are a surprising number of print collections now on the web.

I am working on a revised version (I did this over a couple of days having never considered the Turks before). I know that there are different versions of some of the prints I used and some had different labels. There is also a set which is clearly a copy of another set. All a bit confusing. So I will have to go back and consider the different versions.

However, I did get the sense that there were stylistic differences between the Sipahi depending on where they came from, especially among the Balkans and as compared to the east.

Anyway, thanks for the comment. It is nice to know people are looking at the post! Nath

Engel said...

Wow, I just wanted to say thanks for the write up. Some very interesting read and collection of pictures.
Big thanks for the interesting read.

Nathan Woolford said...

Thanks Engel, I just got the sources I was missing so I am hoping to fix and expand the post. Perhaps do a free ebook. It was very exciting finding the prints, so much is on the internet now. I had seen very poor black and white copies in Osprey books and others. Nathan

Osmanlı Ordusu said...

Thanks for blog ...

Brian said...

I have a copy of Sweet, D., 1975. The Turkish Army of the Napoleonic Wars. Empires, Eagles and Lions, (74) and some other Old EEL mags on ebay number
111144791174 finishing 25th August. I also have several other books and maps, some antique that cover the ottoman empire and India in and around this period . contact me Briangosis@yahoo.co.uk if you are interested.

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