Janissaries were uneducated except in violence and were fanatically conservative. In 1763, when Lord Baltimore passed through Constantinople, he observed that the Corps was still carrying bows and arrows, sabers and lances, having never got used to firearms. Sultan Selim III, in 1807, was dethroned and murdered during a Janissary revolt because he had attempted some reforms, among them the introduction of a printing press into Turkey. Turks had been resisting the printing press ever since it had been invented on the grounds that if the scriptures were printed, they wouldn’t be scriptures anymore.
It is hardly surprising that the Sultan, the Sublime Turk, at the top of this peculiar political structure, was always eccentric, frequently bloodthirsty, and sometimes totally out of his mind. From his solid-gold cradle on, he was the center of lethal intrigue. While he was heir apparent he was in continual danger of being murdered by his younger brothers, who had everything to gain by his death, since the law of the land, the Law of Fratricide, required that when an heir apparent succeeded to the throne he must destroy all his brothers so that there could be no excuse for civil war.
Another curious law, the Law of Succession, was borrowed by medieval Turks from the House of Genghis Khan in the war like days when a Sultan was apt to be killed in battle while still young, leaving only a child heir. The law provided that the inheritance must go first ti the eldest member of the royal family and then, on his death, back again to the direct heir. Thus a living brother of the Sultan took precedence over the Sultan’s son.
When Mohammed III came to the throne in 1595 he ordered the immediate destruction of his nineteen brothers. As these were all under the age of eleven and had not yet been circumcised, the executioners first circumcised and then strangled them. One child was eating chestnuts when his murderers found him and begged to be allowed to finish them, but his request was not granted. It was unlawful to spill royal blood, so the business was done by strangulation, usually by mutes, with a silken bowstring.
Lady Mary Whortley, 1717:
Part of the show seemed “barbarous”. Lady Mary couldn’t watch – people naked to middle and their arms pierced through with arrows left sticking in them, others – sticking in their heads, the blood trickling down their faces, slashed arms with knives. Blood spout out over those near – seen as expression of their zeal for glory (emic view). Altogether an important page….
….which the furriers’ made one of the best figures, being a very large machine set round with the skins of ermines, foxes etc. so well stuffed the animals seemed to be alive, followed by music and dancers. I believe there were, upon the whole, at least 20,000 men, all ready to follow his highness if he commanded them.
The rear was closed by the volunteers who came to beg the honour of dying in his service. This part of the show seemed to me so barbarous I removed from the window upon the first appearance of it. They were all naked to the middle, their arms pierced through with arrows left sticking in them, others had them sticking in their heads, the blood trickling down their faces, and some slashed their arms with sharp knives, making the blood spout out upon those that stood near, and this is looked upon as an expression of their zeal for glory. I am told that some make use of it to advance their love, and when they are near the window where their mistress stands, all the women in town being veiled to see this spectacle, they stick another arrow for her sake, who gives some sign of approbation and encouragement to this gallantry.Read More:http://www.swan.ac.uk/visualanthropology/projects/004_Montagu/turkishEmbassyLettersTheLetters.htm