Around 1620, and at any case during the reign of Osman II (1617-22), to whom it must have been presented.
In the preface, the author states that he will enumerate the causes that brought annoyance to the subjects and disturbance of the world order, proposing also ways of restoring the situation. The work is divided in twelve chapters, being the number of the months of the year and of the signs of the zodiac.
(1) Until the beginnings of Murad III’s reign, the viziers and officials were administrating justice and respecting the Holy Law and the kanun of the Ottoman dynasty. Thus, the Sultans came to command huge lands, while the situation of the world was full of order; all subjects were quiet and happy. During Murad III’s reign, however, the administrators started to neglect justice and to act contrary to the old laws (kanun-ı kadîm); this is why the villages and the cultivated lands became deserted, the peasants dispersed, the expenses of the treasury surpassed its income, strangers (ecnebi) entered the janissary corps. Moreover, viziers and officials turned one against another, started to occupy themselves only with personal affairs, factions and bribery, and more generally abandoned the old laws (Y1-2, A601).
(2) Now, the first of these inappropriate acts was the intrusion of outsiders to the kul class, the unnecessary increase in their number and the continuous increase of their stipends. The old custom was that whenever the army gained a victory or conquered a castle, valiant soldiers were granted promotion or a fief, while those not participating were removed from their posts. All changes in salaries and fiefs were reported to the Sultan, who could approve or reject them. Starting with the Iranian campaign of Murad III, though, the commanders of the army have the liberty to grant promotions and fiefs at will and as a result of bribery, even as soon as the campaign starts. Thus, Turks, Kurds, Gypsies and Iranians of reaya origin infiltrated the army. The expenses increased abruptly and that is why the janissaries came to be paid in bad coin; as a result, Celalis and other rebels appeared, the subjects’ life deteriorated and the janissaries started to mutiny. The author promises to discuss the causes and the measures to be taken in another chapter (Y2-4, A602-3).
(3) Indeed, in this chapter the author analyzes the practice of promotions without sultanic approval. It is not lawful (kanun değüldür) that the Vizier grants promotions in salary or fiefs without first submitting them to the Sultan. However, since over than twenty-five years ago, he gives such privileges at will; the same happens with the other bureaucrats (sâ’ir ehl-i dîvân), such as defterdars and others, who buy and sell their posts for bribes. All this leads to undeserved appointments, unrest among the janissaries and problems in the treasury (Y4-5, A603-4).
(4) Further analyzing the janissary problems, the author begins by exposing the ‘traditional’ system of recruitment (devşirme) and promotion, of which he seems to have a detailed knowledge. He notes that a vizier following the ‘traditional’ career through all janissary and administrative posts knows their requirements and thus can deal effectively with any problem. Now the system has become corrupted and the corps is full with intruders, with the result that the number of bölük halkı has reached over 20,000, while it used to be 8,000; similarly, the yeniçeri ocağı used to count 8,000 members, which increased to 12,000 during Suleyman’s reign and has reached now 40,000. The army of the past was few in number but great in quality (az idi lâkin öz idi), having passed throughout their career in pains and battle. Nowadays a peasant (reaya) can sell his pair of oxen and become a sipahi or a janissary; outsiders have become more than the genuine kuls; some of them do not even know Istanbul, let alone the whereabouts of the sultanic court. It is evident that such a person cannot be commanded by a beğlerbeği; furthermore, an outsider who has become a judge or commander cannot look after the subjects or the treasury with justice and wisdom. The author observes that it is not necessary to mention the names of such ignorant officials, all the more so since it is not their fault; the generals and viziers have promoted them in order to gain from bribery (Y5-9, A605-8).
(5) While the janissaries used to be 12,000, retired but salaried members have increased up to over 7,000. Among them, a 1,000 are really old or invalid; the rest have bribed in order to enter the pay-rolls as retired or rural watchmen (korucu). However, the latter institution was created by Suleyman only to guard some vineyards, which were then abolished and turned to fields; it is totally unreasonable that their number reaches now several thousands. The author dwells a lot in this subject, noting again that no such appointment should be made without sultanic approval. Such matters cannot be left at the hands of the corrupt janissary aghas. Then the author criticizes the way campaigns are made, with no plan and resulting to the ruining of the provinces. It is not right to stop the campaigns, since they constitute a duty of the Sultan, especially against the heretic Kızılbaş; the author enumerates the castles and towns that have fallen to the Iranians. The government could take example from the borderlands of Rumili, which have kept their territory, and take the measures necessary for an effective campaign to the East (Y9-13, A608-12).
(6) Coming now to the issue of the acemî oğlanları, the author notes again the unreasonable increase in both their numbers and their salaries, along with other malfunctions of the corps. Special emphasis is given to their service in the boats carrying wood to Istanbul, which is not used for the benefit of the state. Similar malfunctions can be observed in other military classes of the lower kul hierarchy as well, such as the palace doorkeepers: their numbers and salaries have increased hugely from the time of Murad III on, with the result that the expenses of the treasury have surpassed the incomes; the public treasury needs now regular supply from the inner treasury (hazîne-i hassa) (Y13-15, A612-13).
(7) The timar system has bygone alterations of the same kind as well. The fiefs are now granted by viziers and magnates (ekâbir); even a scribe can ascribe fiefs to his servants, children and slaves, and thus collect the income, while the real timariot army gets smaller and poorer. In contrast, janissaries have increased greatly and are almost alone in waging campaigns, which cannot be considered appropriate and leads to great suffering of the public treasury. The rest of the army consists of Turkish, Gypsy and ex-Celali followers of the sancabeyis, along with low-rank and low-paid sipahis. The functioning of the janissary corps is made profitable for their aghas and other high officials, who buy and sell posts at will (Y15-17, A614-16).
(8) Sultan Suleyman used to campaign in person, accompanied by the agha of the janissaries and the Grand Vizier; up to the beginnings of Murad III’s reign these officials did not participate in campaigns unless the Sultan was heading them. Now the aghas of the janissaries, the sipahis and the silahdars accompany always the army, while they ought to stay with the Sultan. As a result, the peasants in Anadolu have been dispersed or turned to Celali and brigands. With campaigns waged every year, the treasury has suffered grave losses. Most of the kuls have turned to trade and other professions (kâr ve kisbe sâlik olub) or became servants in state magnates’ houses (devletlûlerin kapusında). However, it is written in history books that kingship (saltanat) needs three things in order to perpetuate: reaya, treasury and army. The treasury is fed by the reaya, the army is maintained by the treasury, and thus can defend against the enemy. These three things are secured through three means: (a) justice, (b) the granting of posts and fiefs according to the old laws (kanûn-ı kadîm), (c) the Sultan must not consult servants, who are irrelevant with the government (hükûmetde olmayan hademe). The author cites a story about Suleyman and his vizier Pirî Paşa, concluding that the only responsible for the affairs of the state (saltanata müte’allik umûru) must be the Grand Vizier and none else. Grand Viziers used to be feared by everyone, now they fear themselves everyone who could have access or influence to the Sultan. They give false reports about the conditions in the provinces, stating that the peasants have returned to their villages and that they prosper, while these villages in fact have been totally deserted and usurped by kuls. Villagers either fled to Iranian and Tatar dominions, or to the eyalets of Rumili; others have settled to Istanbul, Brusa or other cities, where they became porters, small traders or land workers for magnates (ekâbir çiftçileri). A story on Suleyman and Lütfî Paşa illustrates the point that what matters most is not the amount of money in the public treasury, but the well-being of the subjects; it is of no use destroying the peasants in order to fill the treasury. This high state has been founded on justice, while it is certain that nations become ruined with tyranny (bu Devlet-i Aliyye adl ile kâ’imdir ve illâ zulm ile memâlik vîrân olması mukarrerdir). Sultans should take example from the acts of their glorious predecessors and study history books, in order to stop bribery and restore the Empire (Y17-23, A616-22).
(9) Indeed, bribery is in the root of all such malfunctions of the system. It has infiltrated the system so much that bribes are given in the open and people who do not use them are considered light-minded. Kadis, mir-i mirân, sancakbeyis and other officials are all addicted to this practice. Kadis get heavily indebted while waiting for their appointment, and then have to pay back by extorting illegal money from the provinces where they get appointed. Poor peasants end by praising brigands and Celalis; all these [Celali] rebellions would not have occurred were it not for the judges’ oppressive behaviour. Two stories on Nûşirevân-ı Âdıl and Suleyman illustrate further this point (Y23-25, A622-25).
(10) The Sultan is like a glorious bird of the spirit of the world, whose body are the wise ulema; its right wing is the Grand Vizier, and its left one the kapu ağası of the Sultan’s harem. Now, after ulema such as Ebussu’ud, viziers such as Mehmed Pasha [Sokollu] and kapu ağaları such as Mahmud Ağa, the situation is lamentable. The kapu ağası is normally the left-hand vizier of the Sultan and second only to the Grand Vizier; Sultans are to consult with kapu ağaları on various serious matters. After the aforementioned Mahmud Ağa, however, things changed. The devşirme system declined and nine out of ten kul recruits are şehr oğlanları from Istanbul, Turks, Armenians or Gypsies. Now, if it was appropriate to use such persons in the palace, the glorious rulers of the past would not have ordained the devşirme system. Discipline has faded away; young apprentices in the palace have perfect communication with the outside world, while normally no one should know even whether they were dead or alive (Y25-27, A625-26).
(11) The anonymous author proceeds now to propose measures in order to mend all these malfunctions described above. One cannot use as pretext the fact that God’s will defines everything; God does not ask from His slaves to pass their days in rebellion (isyan), nor to take bribes and oppress the people. Kings’ hearts are pure, always striving to fulfill God’s will, and that is why the old law orders that the Sultan appointed a Grand Vizier as “an agent of governing power” (vekîl-i saltanat): the latter was to guard justice and equity, to punish oppression, to ensure that every subject enjoys peace and well-being. He was to check discipline and just promotion among the janissaries; to control the finances; to prevent properties of orphans and vakfs from finding their way into the public treasury. Viziers who did not follow these rules were punished severely. Now, however, viziers are led by bribery and corruption, and do not care for the long-term. “The fish stinks from the head”, they say; the Sultan’s not choosing a wise and honest Vizier is in the root of all present-day’s disasters. According to a story about Suleyman’s vizier Pirî Paşa, three things can bring forth a powerful state’s destruction: (a) that the state falls to hands of a stupid vizier, (b) that the gates of bribery open and posts start to be sold and bought, (c) that the rulers (hükûmet nâmında olanlar) move according to the whims of their wives. Thus, the first cause of all these malfunctions is none else than the absence of a virtuous Grand Vizier. (Y27-31, A626-30).
(12) The solution is obvious: the Sultan must find and appoint as Grand Vizier a God-fearing, pious Muslim, who will follow the path of justice like his predecessors. This Muslim may be a second or third vizier, an ulema, a military commander, a poet, or whoever is judged fit for this post; for a state cannot be destroyed but by its Grand Vizier, and cannot be reinstated but by the same way. Such a Vizier would deal with the malfunctions described above, and all other improvements will inevitably follow. The author here speaks of his essay, explaining his background in the service of the palace and stating that he does not mention his name, because he has no expectations of promotion or gifts other than the well-being of the state. He finishes the chapter with various Koranic citations and a long verse [in other mss. with a series of hadiths as well] (Y31-35, A630-41). In the Fatih ms., hadiths and other material follow (A636-41); among them, notes on how Selim II used to perform imperial councils in the open, in order for the people to see that the Sultan was not neglecting its affairs (A639), as well as a note on the classification of social groups (A640): God has divided humanity in five groups, namely (a) kings, who practice justice and equity, (b) ulema, who explain the Holy Law, (c) military (ehl-i silâh), who guard the state (memleket), (d) reaya, by whom is the treasury filled, (e) artisans (ehl-i sanâyi’), of whose all the world benefits.
The essay is finished with an “appendix” (not in the Fatih ms.), posing seven questions the Sultan has to ask from the viziers, the ulema, and the sipahi and janissary officials. These questions are: (1) How come the military victories of old gave their place to defeat and retreat; is there any relation with the fact that Sultans do not lead campaigns in person any more? (2) Why cannot the army repeat the victories of old, although the numbers of the janissaries and the sipahis have increased so much? (3) This increase notwithstanding, in times of campaign very few soldiers appear to battle, since many of them occupy themselves with trade or other professions; what military use can be expected of such persons? (4) In old times, all military officials participated in the campaigns along with their retinue, which now is not the case; why have the old rules been neglected? (5) How come outsiders such as sons of Turkish, Kurdish, Gypsies and Iranian reaya intrude the kul class? (6) Is it right that only janissaries get their full salary, while sipahis take false money and other kuls have fallen to the hands of Jewish and other unfaithful tax-farmers? (7) What happened with the sultanic fiefs (havass-ı hümayun), which used to yield considerable income, while now their peasants are scattered and their incomes decreased due to the oppression of the appointed agents (voyvoda) (Y36-40, A641-45)?