The anonymous author of Kavânîn-i yeniçeriyân-ı dergâh-ı âlî (“Rules of the imperial janissaries”) begins his treatise stating that Ahmed I had inspected and implemented his ancestors’ laws (A130: ecdâd-ı izâmlarının kanun ve kâ’idelerin yoklayub icrâ etmekle), brought welfare to the subjects with his justice, and exterminated the Celali rebels, with the result that “the world is cheerful like it used to be and is bound to revolve around the pole of his will”. He decided to write the rules of the janissary corps, he says after presenting his credentials as a loyal and experienced servant, as he heard them from his grandfathers and as he found them himself. In various parts of the work the Sultan is addressed to in the second singular (e.g. A251).
The treatise is divided in nine chapters, explaining in every detail the history and structure of the janissaries. The first chapter (A133-168) deals with the creation of the corps and lays out the procedure of the collection and training of Christian youths. The emphasis he gives on the history of these institutions is interesting, since he presents them as something dynamic which underwent many changes with time; he usually finds recent innovations devastating, but there are exceptions (as when he mentions without much ado that “it used to be a rule that janissaries do not marry”, A154, 157; elsewhere he specifies that they should marry only after coming to an age and with the Sultan’s permission, A173). Moreover, the author often explains the reason for such or such arrangement, as if the justification by “the old law” was not sufficient. Among other such explanations, the author notes that the benefit of not recruiting Turkish boys (A138: Türk evlâdı) is that in that case, the recruits would oppress the peasants of their villages, evade taxes and create confusion with the local officials; also, boys who have a craft (A139: san’at ehli olan) would not risk for a salary and would rather stay back with their profession, while those that have lived in Istanbul have “their eyes too open” (A139; cf. again 145, 155-56). The author also claims that the innovation that should be first of all abolished is recruiting the servants of the aghas (A145: ağa çırağı): all of them are Turks and the like (Türk murk) and their recruitment led to the corruption of the devşirme system; the same goes for the sons of sipahis and of other officials (A152: ferzend-i sipahi).
Another interesting point is the mentioning of consultation: the appointment of the two aghas responsible for the training of the recruits was made after Mehmed II consulted “the ulema and wise of the time and the elders of the corps” (A136: ol zamanda olan ulemâ ve fuzalâ ile ve ocağın ihtiyârlariyle meşveret edüb; cf. also A142); on the other hand, Selim I in an occasion refused to listen to his vizier Piri Paşa (A143: “are you to teach me the law?”, kanunu bana sen mi öğredirsin) and recruited boys from Trabzon, which proved to be a mistake. In other instances as well the author speaks of consultation of the Sultan with judges, ulemas, “the pillars of the state” (A169: erkân-ı devlet), or just the ocak ağaları (A215).
The second chapter (A168-203) focuses in the uniforms (stressing again the historical dimension), the internal structure and lower officers, the vakfs (A178-80), the lodgings, the duties and the salaries of the janissaries. Throughout his discussion, the author keeps note of innovations that in one or another degree harm the quality of the corps and the public treasury (beytü’l-mal). Special emphasis is given to the occupations of the janissaries: the author repeats that a craftsman would not campaign for a salary, as he can make as much from his craft, and estimates that “now most [janissaries] have become craftsmen” (A196). The prohibition of janissaries having a trade is further illustrated with some anecdotes from Suleyman’s time. In the third chapter (A203-209), the author examines the internal discipline of the janissaries, stressing that their elders (korucu) should be appointed by the Sultan, again after a consultation with the Grand Vizier, the ulema and the elders (ocak ihtiyârları) of the corps (A206). The ordering of the janissaries and the sipahis, he notes, is the only way for the ordering of the world (A206).
The fourth chapter (A209-214) deals with the sekban division of the janissaries, while the fifth (A215-233) with the appointment of the janissary agha, as well as the duties and salaries of the janissary higher officers; here the author complains of the lack of discipline in his time, saying that janissaries bring “beauties” (A218: nigâr) and drink wine in their barracks, or even decoy and kill women, all because offices have started to be bought with bribery. (Another of his complains is that they use private muskets instead of those given by the state: mirî / mülk tüfeng, A223-24). In the sixth chapter (A233-238), he gives the history of the janissary barracks in Istanbul, focusing in the prohibition of women’s and especially prostitutes’ entering the soldiers’ rooms. The seventh chapter (A238-243) deals with the agha of Istanbul and his duties, stressing that he must keep his post for quite a few years. In the eighth (A243-262), the author speaks of the bureaucracy of the corps: the scribes of the janissaries and their subalterns, their registers and the way to keep them updated and handy. He warns against the dangers brought about by bribery in this office as well, and he stresses (as he does elsewhere as well) that the janissaries are “the arm and wing of the House of Osman” (A251).
Finally, in the ninth chapter (A263-268) the author enumerates those innovations in the corps that are against the (old) law, and those that are not (kanuna muhâlif olan bid’atlar… ve kanun üzere olanlar). He emphasizes that, although sons of janissaries may be admitted to the corps, the apprentices of the aghas may not; that janissaries should be allowed to marry only when they reach old age; that they should not be allowed to practice a craft; and so on, in fact recapitulating advice already scattered in the rest of the treatise.
Fodor, P., “State and Society, Crisis and Reform, in 15th-17th Century Ottoman Mirror for Princes”, Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hung. 40/2-3 (1986), 228-230.