The Battle of Prevesa, 1538

One formula for limiting military expenditure that had been successfully applied in the sixteenth century was to restrict central Ottoman treasury disbursements for the navy to a small proportion of general defence expenditure. Figures supplied by Ayn-i Ali for 1609 indicate that naval personnel accounted for only three per cent of manpower and four per cent of salary payments for the armed services borne by the central treasury. For a contemporary European context we learn that the cost to France of waging land wars against the Protestants in the 1620s represented roughly one-half of all state revenues from direct taxation. Because of the greater cost of equipment in naval wars, even apart from personnel considerations, land wars always represented the smaller burden. The French example, furthermore, represents an underestimation of real costs, since in foreign wars transport and provisioning costs were at much higher levels. That the Ottomans were able through much of the sixteenth century to wage a semi-continuous series of land wars without heavy reliance on exceptional levies and campaign contributions was due in part to the absence of competing resource commitments within the central fisc for the waging of sea battles. In the sixteenth century cost-containment in the naval sphere was achieved through the cooptation by the imperial fleet based in Istanbul of corsair freelancers whose fleets operated out of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli.

The large armadas mobilized on both sides of the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century were the result of multi-party collaborative effort representing the combined capacity of privately-operated and state-subsidized fleets. By contrast, in the seventeenth century a growing share of the burden and expense of activism in the naval sphere was being borne by the state and taxpayers in the core provinces, especially western Anatolia. Under exceptional circumstances the sixteenth-century fleet mobilizations of strategic importance for the Ottomans warranted treasury subsidy, but the short-term effect of such subsidies was to annihilate all surpluses accumulated by the treasury and curtail the Ottomans’ readiness to mobilize quickly for land campaigns. As an example, it is estimated in contemporary Western sources that the cost to the Ottomans of outfitting the fleet sent to aid their French allies in 1543 was 1.2 million ducats, equivalent at current rates of exchange to 72 million akçes. Ottoman treasury figures for that period show regular income of 198.9 million akçes against expenditure of 112 millions, leaving a positive balance of 86.9 million akçes. But even under such comfortable balance of payments conditions as this, naval activity on any scale in successive years represented an unsustainable burden to the treasury. In the mid-seventeenth century a significant proportion of fleet expenses was met from off-budget sources and extraordinary levies.

Another dimension of state military expenditure which, like the maintaining of a credible naval deterrent, formed an indispensable part of overall provision, involved both initial and ongoing costs for fortress construction and repair.

A dispassionate assessment of the Ottomans’ situation – whether in the spheres of naval activism and military construction reviewed above or in terms of their general strategic position – reveals that even in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, regarded as an unsurpassed era of prosperity and imperial success, the Ottomans had to prioritize, make choices and use their resources carefully.

Both distance and other geographical conditions strongly favoured a pattern of Ottoman military involvement oriented to the Balkans and Trans-Danubia in preference to the zone beyond the Euphrates. The limits to Ottoman expansion overland followed a similar logic to that which limited the Ottomans’ involvement in wars on the sea in the sixteenth century. A study by Pryor focusing on the Ottomans’ presence in the Mediterranean and contingent factors influencing the level of their naval activity has shown conclusively how physical, geographical and environmental constraints imposed by tides, prevailing winds and other natural forces defined the role they were able to play. Although Ottoman intentions in the Mediterranean had been signalled by the conquest of Rhodes in 1522, it was only through a patient and gradual building up of supply bases, especially in the Aegean – a process continued in phases over the course of an entire century between the late 1460s and the fall of Chios in 1566 – that they were able to position themselves to give adequate support to fleet operations in the mid- Mediterranean. According to Pryor’s study, position was of equal importance to advanced technology and seamanship in determining the limits of the possible on the sea.

The supply challenge in land wars, because of the exponentially expanded scale of operations, was orders of magnitude greater. According to calculations recorded by Katib Chelebi, a typical Ottoman fleet in the mid-seventeenth century consisted of only 46 vessels (40 galleys and 6 maonas), whose crew complement was 15,800 men, of whom roughly two-thirds (10,500) were oarsmen, and the remainder (5,300) fighters. The numbers of armed soldiers and support staff committed to land wars needed to be in the order of four to five times greater than this. In addition, while at sea each ship tended to operate as a self-contained unit, whereas on land army forces shared a collective destiny. Stormy weather at sea affected the opposing fleets equally, and in extreme conditions forced both sides to retreat to their home bases without giving battle.



A northern European cog with high sides, a straight prow, a flat keel and a single square sail. From a manuscript of ca. 1270.

Maritime power played a vital part in the Third Crusade because of the transportation of both men and supplies to the East. In addition, control of the sea was crucial in the fall of Acre in July 1191, and it enabled Richard I to recapture part of the Palestinian coast.

The Arabs only began to build warships after early Muslim rulers saw that they were needed to make conquests in the Mediterranean. They employed local experts to build and crew the fleets that defeated the Byzantines off Egypt in 654, and attacked islands such as Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes, and Sicily. In the late seventh century the Muslim governor of North Africa established shipyards at Tunis and built more than 100 ships. In the 840s a North African and Spanish Muslim fleet captured most of Sicily from Byzantium. In 904 an Arab fleet sacked Thessalonica, and throughout the tenth century Muslim ships dominated the Mediterranean. Although Muslim-owned warships were large, heavy, and slow, they were also stable and all-season vessels, unlike the Christian-owned types, which did not sail the Mediterranean in the winter. Most ships from Muslim territory operated as traders when they were not acting as warships and were hired by rulers on a freelance basis.

By the twelfth century improved western European ships, especially those of traders from the Italian cities of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa, were competing to control the Mediterranean. The most common warship was the long, narrow galley that sat low in the water and had the flexibility of oar- or sail-power, depending on the weather. The galley could be used for trade.

From 1177 Saladin began to improve the Egyptian fleet in order to defend his coasts from Christian ships and to attack ports of the Christian East. He imported timber from Europe and tried to recruit suitable crews. (In 1179 the church banned Christians from serving as captains or pilots in Muslim vessels.) Saladin’s improvements alarmed the Franks, who feared he would attack pilgrim ships and the crusader states-as he did in 1182, when at least thirty galleys unsuccessfully attacked Beirut.

After his victories of 1187 Saladin used his fleet to control the Syria-Palestine coastline. Only Admiral Margarit of Sicily resisted him in the north, while Conrad of Montferrat’s fleet at Tyre defeated him in the south. In his attempt to evade the crusader blockade of Acre during the siege of 1189-91, Saladin even disguised vessels as Christian ships (by putting pigs on board). The crusaders used ships to transport troops and supplies and to attack Muslim fortresses, erecting siege towers on ships to create mobile fighting platforms. Conrad defeated the Muslim fleet at Acre and Saladin’s naval supremacy finally ended in June 1191 when King Richard I arrived with a large fleet of warships and transports. They carried supplies up and down the coast, protected the crusaders marching along it, kept Richard in contact with coastal bases even when Saladin blocked the road, and enabled him to relieve Jaffa quickly in August 1192.

After Saladin’s death in 1193 Egypt’s rulers paid less attention to naval power, but still needed a fleet both for defense and to attack Christian settlements. Later, the Mamluk sultan Baibars I built up a fleet and in 1271 attacked Cyprus. In 1302 Egypt captured the island of Arwad from the Templars. Further north, Turkish ships raided the Greek islands, and in the fifteenth century the Ottoman Turks emerged as the greatest naval power in the Mediterranean.

Ottoman Maritime Arsenals And Shipbuilding Technology In The 16th And 17th Centuries

image alt text
Figure 1. “Goke” an Ottoman war ship. Miniature taken from Katip Celebi’s manuscript Tuhfetü’l-kibar. Topkapi Palace Library, R. 1192.

See the link below  to the full article if you need to obtain PDF reading softwareThis short article is taken from the full article (by Prof. Idris Bostan) which is available here as 16 page PDF file.

The Ottoman state that was founded in northwest Anatolia expanded its territories towards the west and the north and reached the coast within a short time period. While the conquest of Istanbul was a step for the Ottoman state to extend its hegemony worldwide, Ottoman navigation gained a new centre. The new centre of the state, Istanbul, started to develop as the centre of Ottoman navigation. Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, having noticed the mild and deep waters of the Golden Horn appropriate for a maritime arsenal, appointed the Commander of the Navy, Hamza Pasha, for The construction of a maritime arsenal.

The term tersane has entered the Turkish language after many usages of the Arabic word dar al-Sina’a by various Mediterranean countries throughout centuries. Arsenal from dar assina`ah meaning ‘house of making/industry’ like a factory was borrowed into Venetian Italian, somehow loosing its initial d, as arzanà, and was applied to the large naval dockyard in Venice. The dockyard is known to this day as the Arzenale. English acquired the word either from Italian or from French arsenale, using it only for dockyards. By the end of the 16th century it was coming into more general use as a ‘military storehouse.’ The Ottomans were using the word “port” instead of maritime arsenal, but from the beginning of the sixteenth century onwards, they started to use the term tershane or tersane which was similar to the Italian usage of the word.

The pictures of the late fifteenth century, depicting galleys anchored or repaired in the Golden Horn, point to the fact that the arsenal was functioning. The Ottoman fleet which was built in the Gallipoli Maritime Arsenal (Figure 1) that continued to be the Ottoman naval base in this period and the newly-established Istanbul maritime arsenal dominated the Black Sea and seized Otranto under the command of Gedik Ahmed Pasha (1480).

image alt text
Figure 2. The Imperial Arsenal (Halic) map drawn by Velican in the XVIth century. Hunername minyaturleri ve sanatcilari. Istanbul: Yapi ve Kredi Bankasi, 1969.

The basic modification in the Istanbul Maritime Arsenal was made during the reign of Sultan Selim I (1512-1520), who wanted to be strong in the seas as well as in the lands, and sought to expand the Istanbul Maritime Arsenal to have a greater fleet. Upon his return from the Caldiran campaign, he expressed his views to the Grand Vizier Pirî Mehmed Pasha as follows: “If these scorpions (Christians) are occupying the seas with their ships, if the flags of Doge of Venice, the Pope and the kings of France and Spain are waved in the coasts of Thrace, this is because of our tolerance. I want a very strong navy large in number as well.” Upon this, Pirî Pasha replies as follows: “My Excellency, you just stated what I would like to present. Scold me, especially, when we come to your presence with the other viziers. Order immediately for the construction of a maritime arsenal and five-hundred warships. The Franks will be frightened when they hear this news. You will see that before the completion of the yards and the laying out to the sea of forty galleys, they will come demanding for the renewal of the treaties and payment of taxes. By this way, most of our expenditures will be met by their payments.

After these meetings, they paid attention to the maritime arsenal and naval affairs. The maritime arsenal construction that had started in the area extending from Galata to Kagithane River under the supervision of Admiral Cafer was completed in 1515. In this construction, 50,000 coins were spent for each section and 150 ships were ordered to be built. By this way, the Galata (Golden Horn, Istanbul) maritime arsenal that would serve as the constructive and administrative centre of the navy was established.

As a matter of fact, Sultan Selim I had turned his attention towards the seas when he came back from the Egyptian campaign. He had previously seized important ports in the Eastern Mediterranean, such as Syria and Egypt and he regarded it as vital to conquer Rhodes which was on the route that connected these states to the Ottoman Empire. Because it was necessary to stop the Saint-Jean L. Hospitality knights of Rhodes, who would possibly threaten the commercial ships passing through, and to provide for the security of those who would visit the Holy Land. To this end, it was crucial to have Rhodes and other islands under the Ottoman control. Thus realising this fact, Sultan Selim I spent his last years with the preparation of a huge fleet. However, the conquest of Rhodes was accomplished by his son, Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent.

The Main Maritime Arsenal continued its development during the times of Sultan Suleyman and his son, Selim II. During the times of Hayreddin Barbarossa Pasha (Figure 2) and other famous seamen that he trained, the Arsenal served as the central base of the fleet which materialised the Ottoman hegemony. In this period, the maritime arsenal extended from Azapkapisi to Haskoy. Among its outhouses were sections that were approximately two hundred in number where shipbuilding and reparation took place, various ammunition depots, production studios, administrative buildings, a mosque, a dungeon, a bathhouse and fountains. With these facilities provided, the Istanbul Maritime Arsenal became the most famous one worldwide in the sixteenth century. A similar one existed only in Venice.

image alt text
Figure 3. The statue of Barbaros Khayreddin Pasha in Istanbul.

In the development of the Main Maritime Arsenal, known also as the Galata Maritime Arsenal, some Grand Admirals such as Guzelce Kasim Pasha, Hayreddin Barbarossa Pasha (Figure 3) and Sokullu Mehmed Pasha played an important role. From 1515 on, the activities of the maritime arsenal were transferred from Gallipoli to Istanbul and the Galata maritime arsenal had become the central base.

The Gallipoli Maritime Arsenal

The first biggest and orderly Ottoman maritime arsenal is built in Gallipoli. During the construction that had started in 1390, the damaged outer wall of the Gallipoli castle was pulled down and the inner castle on a hill was strengthened. The artificial port composed of two pools in each side for the ships to take shelter. Also, for security reasons two towers were built in the entrance of the port that could be closed with a chain. Together with this port, there were shipbuilding yards, equipment preservation depots, fountains to provide water for the ships, bakeries for the ship’s crackers, and gunpowder depots which made the Gallipoli maritime arsenal a complete state maritime arsenal.

Despite the establishment of a new maritime arsenal in Galata with the conquest of Istanbul, the Gallipoli maritime arsenal had kept its importance until the end of the reign of Sultan Selim I. Moreover, Gallipoli had become the settlement area and a central sanjak of the province of Cezayir-i Bahr-i Sefid in 1534.

After the assignment of Gallipoli to maritime arsenal and navigation affairs, during the first years of the Ottoman state, the indigenous Greeks appointed to work were paid salaries and some others were paid wages called harac ispenc and avariz-i divaniyye in the ship-building and reparation and the maintenance of the pool.

In the first half of the sixteenth century, with the development of the Galata Maritime arsenal, the Gallipoli Maritime arsenal became the second rank in importance and was used only when there was a need for ship-building. The Gallipoli Maritime arsenal which had 30 pools in 1526 was repaired from time to time in later stages.

The Ottomans increased their naval power towards the end of the fifteenth century. They adapted technical terms in navigation and navigation experiences from their Western neighbours and especially from the Venetians. They increased the number and type of their ships and established their hegemony in the Mediterranean in the first half of the sixteenth century.

image alt text
Figure 4. An Ottoman kalyon, a war ship and naval army personnel. From


The administrative staffs of the Ottoman navy were divided into two: Navy High Officials and Main Maritime Arsenal High Officials. Among the Navy High Officials were the navy commanders and the admirals who worked with them and the other servants on the ships. The Main Maritime Arsenal Officials included the workers in the Maritime Arsenal.

The military and civilian head above these ranks working in the Navy and the Maritime Arsenal was the Grand Admiral of the Ottoman Fleet (Kapudan Pasha). Previously, the Grand admirals used to serve as the sanjak beys of Gallipoli. In later stages, they were appointed as the governor-general of the province of Cezayir-i Bahr-i Sefid that was established with the joining of Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha to the Ottoman fleet, and by the end of the sixteenth century they obtained the rank of vizier.

The Ottoman Empire, which was building the greatest fleets in the world with huge personnel, was facing the problem of dispatching and administration of these fleets as they were put out to sea. The preparation of thousands of oarsmen in each expedition and the provision of the food for them necessitated a separate form of organisation.

For this reason, in the sixteenth century, with its presence in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Indian Ocean, the Ottoman Empire looked like a Seaborne Empire. Even though it had been influenced by Western states and especially by the Venetians, regarding the shipbuilding technology and navigation techniques, in time, it established a Nautical Organisation and had it maintained through modifications throughout centuries.

by: FSTC Limited, Sun 28 January, 2007

A Jewel of Ottoman Naval History: The Book of Kâtib Çelebi on Naval Campaigns


A Jewel of Ottoman Naval History: The Book of Kâtib Çelebi on Naval Campaigns

By Ruveyda Ozturk 1 and Dr. Salim Ayduz 2

Review of The Gift to the Great Ones on Naval Campaigns by Kâtib Çelebi, edited by Idris Bostan. Ankara: Prime Ministry Undersecretariat of Maritime Affairs, 2008. Hardcover with case: 464 pages with a CD containing the whole book as PDF files. ISBN-978-975-94785-2-0.

1. Presentation of the book

image alt text

Large image

Figure 1: Cover page of Tuhfat al-kibâr fî asfâr al-bihâr by Kâtib Çelebi in the edition of Idris Bostan (Ankara, 2008).

The impressive book The Gift to the Great Ones on Naval Campaigns edited by Idris Bostan is a great accomplishment for the history of navigation as well as a great reminder of the Ottoman control and supremacy of the seas during from the 16th and 17th centuries. The text of the actual book is accompanied by the enlightening and valuable information provided by the editor which includes a short biography of Kâtib Çelebi, his academic life and works as well as an extensive background information on the book, from the period of its commencement to presentation and later developments. The book also includes the beautiful facsimile copy of the text written in Ottoman Turkish presented to Sultan Mehmed IV (1648-87) and the high quality images of the maps and compasses contained in the manuscript and printed copies. It is definitely a noteworthy resource that will be beneficial to increase the recent interest in the history and culture of the sea, enabling readers and researchers to gain a clear understanding of the Ottoman relationship with the seas and the countless naval campaigns that were undertaken and documented in this important text.

Çelebi is presented by the editor as a naturally gifted scholar and a true man of science who wrote twenty-three books on a range of subjects and valued the science of geography immensely. Bostan expresses in his preface that The Gift to the Great Ones on Naval Campaigns is “the first known book on the subject of naval history and the organisation of navigation in the Ottoman Empire until the mid 17th century.” further showing the significance of this text and its reintroduction to the world of research on naval history. He also identifies the publication of this version of the book as an opportunity to commemorate Çelebi’s three hundred fiftieth anniversary of his death (in 2007) and four hundredth anniversary of his birth (in 2009).

image alt text

Large image

Figure 2: The first page of Tuhfat al-Kibar. Topkapi Palace Museum Library, Revan 1192, fol. 1b-2a.

The brilliant work by Kâtib Çelebi, presumed to be prepared by order of a statesman and was highly regarded as it was accompanied by the eulogies of men of important position of the time, carried a lot of significance in relaying important geographical information and the naval military campaigns of the past for the benefit of relevant authorities. One of the major aims of Çelebi was to ensure that his detailed work would be of assistance to the Sultan and the State in the military campaigns and would be utilised in order to protect and further expand the lands of the Ottoman Empire. The book draws the reader’s attention to the fact that Kâtib Çelebi highly valued the science of geography and regarded it as an essential area of knowledge that every state that wanted to maintain its borders and excel had to have and use extensively when preparing for military campaigns. Bostan highlights the actual intention of Kâtib Çelebi’s book and its timing as

“…to ensure that Venice and Austria, which were in war with the Ottoman state at that time, would be known better and this information would be used in the military campaigns to be organised in the future.” (p. 33)

The text also enables the reader to gain widespread knowledge on every aspect of Turkish navigation at the time; from biographies of grand admirals to naval wars and the required equipment and supplies of the field as well as ‘forty pieces of advice for the sailors’. This further shows Kâtib Çelebi’s great and extensive knowledge of and dedication to the subject and curiosity in passing every bit of detail so it may be of use during his time and later on. One of his main aims as also mentioned by Bostan was to identify the mistakes of the past to ensure that they were not repeated but rather learnt from. He also makes certain recommendations for the success of naval campaigns such as suggesting that the Sultan should lead the important campaigns and points out the mistakes made throughout history and how they may be corrected to achieve more efficient methods. Kâtib Çelebi identifies and praises good military practices both by the Ottoman State and its enemies, suggesting that they should be employed in the future to achieve better outcomes.

As a whole, this version of The Gift to the Great Ones on Naval Campaigns prepared by Bostan is an invaluable resource that sheds light on the naval history of the Ottomans and the importance of its recognition, reflecting the high regard placed on the seas, science of geography and naval power at the time. The hard-cover book printed on high-quality paper and complemented with a CD comes in a nice book case and would be an ideal collection item for any library specialising on navigation and its history.

2. The life of Kâtib Çelebi (1609-1657)

image alt text

Large image

Figure 3: Top: A Venetian “Mavna” ship. Below: An Ottoman “Goke” ship belonging to the Bayezid II reign (1481-1512). Topkapi Palace Museum Library, Revan 1192, fol. 16ba.

Kâtib Çelebi, who is one of the outstanding names of the Ottoman world of scholarship in 17th century and one of the most prolific persons in terms of the number and type of his works during that period, was a man of knowledge, ideas and culture who was widely spoken about in the Ottoman period of the Islamic World. He was a distinguished person whose life, which lasted for forty-nine years rightfully, carries the attributes “erudite” in terms of the diversity and depth of the subjects he was interested in and “prolific” in terms of the great number of works he produced. His biography is in the book Sullam al-wusûl which he wrote himself, his last book Mizân al-Hak and in his other books such as Jihannuma where he mentioned his biography as necessary. Kâtib Çelebi was born in Istanbul in February 1609 (recently, the UNESCO annouced the 400th anniversary of his birth). He was known as “Hajji Halife” among the clerks of the divan and as “Kâtib Çelebi” in the circles of knowledge, but his real name was Mustafa and his father’s name was Abdullah. His father, who had been educated at the Enderun School [the Palace School], worked both in the Divan Office and also attended the circles of scholars of his time because of his interest in knowledge.

Kâtib Çelebi entered the Anatolian Accounting Office that was linked to the Main Accounting Department as an apprentice next to his father when he was fourteen (1623). He learned the siyaqat style of calligraphy writing, divan numbers, the rules of calculation and writing from the clerks there in a short period of time. A year later, he joined the army that set off for Erzurum to suppress the rebellion of Abaza Pasha in the entourage of the Grand Vizier and Commander Çerkez (Circassian) Mehmed Pasha together with his father. After the defeat and fleeing of Abaza Pasha to Erzurum in the war that took place in Karasu, near Kayseri, they wanted to besiege the city, but Çerkez Mehmed Pasha withdrew to Tokat because of the arrival of winter and the intervention of some intermediaries. He was in the army that set off in 1625 to go to Baghdad together with Hafiz Ahmed Pasha who had been appointed to the post of the of the Grand Vizier upon the death of the Grand Vizier who had started the preparations for saving Baghdad which had been captured by Shah Abbas. He participated in the siege of Baghdad in 1626 and he was greatly influenced by the difficulties experienced in the military campaign which had ended in failure and those experienced on the way back. He talks about his assessments regarding this when necessary in Tuhfat al-kibâr.

Kâtib Çelebi lost his father in Mosul in August 1626 while he was on the way back. At that time his father was sixty years old and he was buried in the Jâmi’-i Kabîr cemetery there. This was not all of Kâtib Çelebi’s sorrow. A month later, he lost his uncle in Nusaybin. He had to stay in Diyarbakir for a while where he had come with some of his relatives. It was decided that the army would spend the winter in Aleppo. At that time, he was hired as an apprentice to the Office for the Calculation of the Expenses Related to the Cavalrymen, which was a department in the Ministry of Finance, through the help of Mehmed Halife, who was one of the friends of his father. After that, he participated in the second siege of Erzurum which was carried out under the leadership of Grand Vizier Halil Pasha and then Hüsrev Pasha after the dismissal of Halil Pasha against Abaza Pasha who had revolted once again (1627-28). After the revolt was suppressed, Kâtib Çelebi returned to Istanbul with the army in December 1628.

At that time, Kâtib Çelebi attended the classes of Kadizade Mehmed Efendi. Soon he left Istanbul together with Commander Hüsrev Pasha to participate in the military campaign of the Ottoman army against Hamadan and Baghdad in order to recapture Baghdad (1039). During these military campaigns, he wrote about the information he gathered on the cities that the army conquered and his own observations. Especially he wrote about the siege of Baghdad and the scenes of war in his history book Fazlaka. When he returned to Istanbul (1631), he continued attending to Kadizade’s circles.

image alt text

Large image

Figure 4: Inebahti port and the Ottoman Navy. Topkapi Palace Museum Library, Revan 1192, fol. 17a.

After a big Safavid army besieged the castle of Van, Kâtib Çelebi joined the Ottoman army that set out together with the Grand Vizier Tabaniyassi (Flatfeet) Mehmed Pasha (1633). It is understood that the army continued on its way even though it was heard in Izmit that the Iranian army had withdrawn upon the coming to help of the governors of Erzurum and Diyarbakir. While the Grand Vizier stayed with the army in Aleppo for the winter, Kâtib Çelebi went to Hejaz in order to perform the obligation of pilgrimage. On his return from the pilgrimage, he attended the circles and lectures of knowledge in Diyarbakir where the army had come to spend the winter. During this military campaign and especially when he was in Aleppo he formed the first components of the bibliography and biography books such as Kashf al-Zunun and Sullam al-wusûl. Finally, Kâtib Çelebi attended the military campaign to Revan together with Sultan Murad IV in 1635. When he returned to Istanbul the following year, he decided not to attend the military campaigns anymore, and to dedicate himself to scholarship. Kâtib Çelebi had attended seven big military campaigns in ten years up to that time. He dedicated the rest of his life to “the big struggle rather than the small struggle” [literally “to the big jihad rather than the small jihad“] and by “big struggle” he meant his work in scholarship. He spent the inheritance he received and all of his material means to purchase books. He used to collect and read mostly books of history, biographies and deaths (wafayat).

He lost his mother nearly ten years after the death of his father. He spent all of the inheritance he received from his mother on purchasing books. Two years after that he received another inheritance from a relative of his who was a merchant and again he spent a significant part of it in the amount of 300,000 aspers on books. With the rest of the money, he renovated his house in Fatih district and he tried to obtain the necessary furniture for marriage. So he continued with his scholarly works on the one hand, and was busy ordering his private life on the other. He was around thirty years old at that time. When Sultan Murad IV set off from Istanbul to capture Baghdad in the year 1638, he requested to be excused on the grounds of his scholarly works and he gave up the idea of attending the military campaign.

In this long and tiring life of learning which lasted about ten years, Kâtib Çelebi studied without getting tired of studying. He used to stay up until the morning reading with a candle light in order to examine a book he was interested. Meanwhile, he taught the students who wanted to take classes from him and he did not neglect them. The method he followed while teaching these classes was to go from the simple to the difficult, from the parts to the whole, and as a principle not to pass to another branch of knowledge without mastering the one that was being studied.

Kâtib Çelebi started writing books at this time. In 1641, he wrote his first book Fazlakat al-akvâl in which he talked about one hundred and fifty states and one thousand five hundred rulers. Although Sheik Al-Islam Yahya Efendi insisted that a clean, final copy of the book should be written and presented to the sultan, he did not do this.

Kâtib Çelebi followed the developments in his period closely as well as being engaged with studying and his job at the finance department, he also he took an interest in the events that took place at that time and tried to find solutions. When the war of Crete started in 1645, he began doing research on geography which was a subject that had had interested him before. He examined the books and treatises on map making. Probably at this time he prepared Muntahab al-Bahriya which he formed by the selections he made from Kitâb-i Bahriya of Piri Reis and the maps he utilized from Islamic geographers and some Ottoman historians and geographers. He must have wished to learn the geography of Venice and the European states with which the Ottomans fought and the geography of the Ottoman seas. However, it was also his right to be promoted in the job of clerkship which was his main job. When his application to become scribe in the department where he was an apprentice was rejected, he argued with the head scribe of the department and he left his job due to the anger he felt because his turn had not come yet. He started to live in solitude and kept himself busy with writing books and teaching students for three years.

image alt text

Large image

Figure 5: A page from the manuscript and an Ottoman Goke ship. Tuhfat al-Kibar, Istanbul University Library, TY. 6118, fol. 17b.

Around that time, Kâtib Çelebi became sick, and examined books such as those on science of letters, on mastics and senses as well as those on medicine for his treatment. When he finally recovered, he taught mathematics, astronomy and geometry to his own son and Mevlana Mehmed who was the son of his neighbour Ahmed Rûmi of Akhisar. However, both of them died shortly, and this caused him to leave unfinished the commentary on Muhammadiyya of Ali Qushji which he had started to write. At the end of 1648, Grand Vizier Koca Mehmed Pasha, whom he visited through the mediation of Sheik al-Islam Abdurrahim Efendi, appointed him as the second scribe to the Office for the Calculation of the Expenses Related to the Cavalrymen despite all the efforts of his opponents. He continued working at this job until the end of his life by going to that office once or twice a week.

Kâtib Çelebi died on the morning of Saturday 6 October 1657). Today his grave is in the enclosed graveyard in the Zeyrek-Sebsafa Mosque. Kâtib Çelebi, who was a hard-working person, was known as a taciturn, good-natured man who made many efforts in the fields in which he worked.

As a tribute to the editor of the original book, we reproduce in the following two sections of the first part of his impressive publication: chapter 1 on “The Life of Kâtib Çelebi (1609-1657/1017-1067)” (pp. 19-22) and chapter 2 on “Kâtib Çelebi’s Life of Scholarship: His Education and Circle of Scholarship” (pp. 23-29).

3. Kâtib Çelebi’s Life, Education and Scholarship (by Idris Bostan)

3.1. Education of Kâtib Çelebi

image alt text

Large image

Figure 6: A compass. Source: Müteferrika edition of Tuhfat al-Kibar, Süleymaniye Library, Hekimoglu, No. 710.

Kâtib Çelebi started his education around five years of age and he continued studying until the end of his life except for the seven military campaigns that he attended. When he was still a child, he took classes on Qur’an recitation and Islamic Law pertaining to personal matters from Isa Halife of Crimea because of the wishes of his father, he took language and calligraphy classes from Ilyas Hoca and Ahmed Çelebi. At that time, he had memorized half of the Qur’an.

In 1628 he returned from the military campaigns which had taken place one after the other, and he continued with his job as a clerk. On the one hand and he attended the circles of knowledge and especially the sermons at the Fatih Mosque and the classes of Kadizade Mehmed Efendi, whose fame had increased at that time, at the building where he taught in compliance with the advice of his father who had recommended this previously. Kâtib Çelebi was influenced by the correct articulation and effective speech skills of Kadizade and therefore his curiosity for reading and learning increased.

Kâtib Çelebi, who restarted taking the classes of Kadizade upon his return form the military campaign of Baghdad (1631), took many courses from him again even though he stated that the classes of his teacher, who was not interested in philosophical subjects and who avoided interpretation, were simple and superficial. According to the information he gave in Mizan al-hak fi ihtiyâr al-ahak, Kadizade Mehmed Efendi mostly taught the Qur’an commentary Anvâr al-tanzil of Kadi Baydavî, Ihyau Ulum al-Din of Imam Ghazalî, which was a work on Islamic Law and theology, the commentary written by Jurjanî on Mawakif of Adudiddin Ijî, which was a work on theology, Durar of Mullah Hüsrev, which was a book of Islamic Law, and Tarikat al-Muhammadiya of Imam Birgivî, which was a work on Islamic Law and ethics.

Kâtib Çelebi, who did not attend the military campaign that Sultan Murad IV organized to Baghdad in 1638, stayed in Istanbul, returned to scientific pursuits, and studied with the famous scholars of his period for ten years. He started taking the classes of A’raj Mustafa Efendi (d. 1653), who was among the scholars whom Kâtib Çelebi thought very highly of, after the teacher left his job as a judge. He attracted the attention of A’raj Mustafa Efendi in a short period of time. Kâtib Çelebi gave great importance to his classes because of his comprehensive knowledge in the rational and narrative types of knowledge. He became one of the students who were close to him and he attained his friendship. Among the books he studied while taking classes with this teacher were Tafsîr [commentary on the Qur’an] of Kadi Baydavî (d.1286), Sharh Muhtasar al-Muntaha of Adududdin Ijî (d. 1355) which was known as Sharh Adud and which was on the methodology of Islamic Law, Sharh Ashlkal al-Ta’sîs of Kadizade Rumi (d. 1440?) on mathematics, and Sharh-i Chagmini of Kadizade Rumi on astronomy, Aruz-i Andalusî of Abu Muhammad Abdullah al-Ansarî of Andalusia (d. 1154) on the mistakes of prosody and Zij of Ulugh Beg (d.1449) in order to learn how to make a calendar.

Later on he attended the classes of Kurdish Abdullah Efendi, who was a public lecturer at the Hagia Sophia and who was knowledgeable in rational and narrative knowledge and Keçi Mehmed Efendi, who was from among the public lecturers of the Süleymaniye Mosque and a specialist on the Arabic language. Finally he studied Al-Risalat al-Shamsiyya of Kâtibi (d. 1377), which was a book of logic with Veli Efendi of Ermenek and he studied Talhis al-Miftâh of Hatîb Al-Kazvînî (d. 1338) which taught the rules of literature under semantics, comparison and metaphor for the knowledge of rhetoric. He also took classes on Nuhbat al-fikar of Ibn Hajar al-Askalanî (d. 1449), which was a book on the hadith methodology, and on Alfiyya of Zeyn al-din al-Irakî (d. 1404) from Preacher Veli Efendi.

According to the information given in Mizan al-hak, Kâtib Çelebi also audited some classes. Among these courses and books are: Tafsîr by Kadi Bayzavî (d. 1286) that was mentioned above, Tavzîh of Taftazânî (d. 1390), on the methodology of Islamic Law, a commentary, which was famous with the name Isfahaî, on Tavali al-anvâr of Bayzavî by Shams al-Din Mahmud b. Abdurrahman (d. 1348), which was on theology, Sharh Hidayat al-Hikma which is famous with the name of Kadi Mir himself, Âdâb-i Bah of Adud Al-din (d. 1355) which is on the rules of discussion and debate, Fusul al-badayi of Mullah Fenarî (d. 1431) on the methodology of Islamic Law and the commentary written by Jalal al-Din Dawwanî (d. 1502) on Tahzîb of Taftazânî which is on logic and theology.

Large image

Figure 7: World map. Müteferrika edition of Tuhfat al-Kibar, Süleymaniye Library, Lala Ismail, no. 311.

3.2. His Views on History and Geography

Kâtib Çelebi valued history like we do in a modern sense today and asserted that most people did not know the real value of this branch of knowledge and thus viewed history as if it were a tale. He expresses his complaint about this saying “who reads and listens to a letter of love and faithfulness?”.

Kâtib Çelebi emphasizes the importance of the science of geography at the introduction of Tuhfat al-kibâr and explains that the rulers of the state should know the frontiers and borders of the Ottoman State and the states in this region even if they do not know the whole of the Earth. Only then, he explains, can entering the enemy territories and protecting the borders would be easy. The infidels had been able to discover America, which was called the New World, and they had captured the ports of the Indian countries thanks to the importance they attached to this science [he said].

3.3. His Relations with Scholars

image alt text

Large image

Figure 8: World Map, Müteferrika edition of Tuhfat al-Kibar, Topkapi Museum Library, R. 1195.

Kâtib Çelebi knew the highest-level scholars of his time closely and attended their circles. For example, when he talked about his relations with Shaik al-Islam Abdurrahim Efendi, he mentioned that he attended his classes, talked with him on scholarly matters and even presented a treatise to him adding that he [i.e. the Shaik al-Islam] was someone who appreciated him. Kâtib Çelebi even mentioned the gratefulness he felt because of Abdurrahim Efendi’s being an intermediary in getting him appointed as the second scribe at the Office for the Calculation of the Expenses Related to the Cavalrymen through his initiative vis-à-vis the Grand Vizier Koca Mehmed Pasha. In addition, Kâtib Çelebi pointed out that he often met with Abdurrahim Efendi and he consulted with him on the subject of history. He took his opinion regarding the dispatch of the soldiers of Crete to Anabolu from the land against the Venetians who had blocked the passage of the navy from Dardanelles in 1647. He also consulted him after the consultation conducted on the subject of starting the construction of galleons and wanted to find out if galleons existed in the navy in the past.

Kâtib Çelebi also mentioned that he talked with Shaik al-Islam Bahayi Efendi, he could not obtain satisfactory answers to the questions he asked about three problems, and that he had an argument with the Shaik al-Islam about the method in teaching.

4. The Works of Kâtib Çelebi (by Idris Bostan)

Kâtib Çelebi wrote works in branches of knowledge such as history, geography, biography and bibliography and wrote many books on social, cultural and folkloric subjects.

4.1. Works of History

1. Fazlakat al-tawarîh [summary of history]: This is a book which was written in Arabic in the original and its real name is Fazlakat akwal al-ahyar fi ilm al-tarih wa al-ahbar. It is a general Islamic history covering the period from the creation of the universe until 1641. This work has been known as “the Arabic Fazlaka” in order not to mix it up with the Turkish Fazlaka [3].

2. Fazlaka [summary]: It is a work of Ottoman history that is written in Turkish and that covers the years 1592-1655 [4].

3. Takvîm al-tawarîh [almanac of history]: It is a kind of chronology that covers the events that took place from Adam until 1648 and that has the character of a table of contents of the Arabic Fazlaka. Some appendices were later added to this work which Kâtib Çelebi said that he wrote in two months, it has been translated into some Western languages such as Latin, Italian and French [5].

4. Tuhfat al-kibâr fî asfâr al-bihâr [Gift to the Great Ones on Naval Campaigns]: It is the first book written on the history of the Ottoman navigation. Kâtib Çelebi wrote this book in order to lift the negative atmosphere that emerged and affected the statesmen and people after the failure to conquer Crete even though many military campaigns had been conducted in the eleven years starting in 1645. Kâtib Çelebi narrated all the important naval military campaigns and the lives of the grand admirals of the navy from the time of Mehmed II (the Conqueror) until 1656 in order to remind [the statesmen] the old naval victories and he also gave organized information about the naval establishment. Information on the construction and equipment of a ship, the required supplies for this, and the administrative structure of the Arsenal and advice for sailors comprise the important Sections of the work [6].

5. Dustûr al-amal [the rules of practice]: It was written to research the operation of the Ottoman state, the reasons for the deficit seen in the central state budget and to find a solution to this. This work, whose full name is Dustûr al-amal li Islâh al-halal and which is similar to the treatises written at that time, is a report prepared in 1653 for the benefit of the statesmen even though there was not anyone it could address directly. Three years later it was presented to Sultan Mehmed IV by Shaik al-Islam Hüsamzade Abdurrahman Efendi (1655-56) [7].

6. Târîh Kostantiniyya wa Kayasira [the history of Istanbul and Emperors]: This work, which is also known as Ravnak Al-saltana, is the translation of the parts regarding Istanbul from a book of world history written by the Byzantian historian I. Zonaras-N. Khoniates-N. Gregoras-L. Khalkokondyles and which covers the period until 1463. The work covers the expansion of Islam, the collapse of the Bulgarian State, the Byzantium, the Seljuk’s, the Crusades, and the aqueducts, earthquakes and fires of Istanbul [8].

7. Mülûk-i Küffâr Târihi [the History of the Kings of the Infidels]: It is a partial translation of the book of European history named Chronik by Johann Carion that he translated together with Mühtedî Mehmed Ihlâsî [9].

4.2. Works of Geography

8. Jihannüma [Showing of the Whole World]: It is a book of physical and human geography for the Ottoman country as well as a book of world geography [10].

9. Lawami Al-nûr [the Lusters of Light]: It is a translation of Atlas Minor of G. Mercator-J. Hondius from Latin that he made together with Mühtedî Mehmed Ihlasî Efendi so as to use as a resource for Jihannüma. Its full name is Lawami al-nûr fi zulumât-i Atlas Minor [i.e. the lustres of light in the darknesses of Atlas Minor]. The work covers the geography and the countries of Europe starting with the North Pole [11].

10. Muntahâb-i Bahriye [Selections from Kitâb-i Bahriye the Book of Navigation]: It is a work on sources that he made by taking Kitâb-i Bahriye as its basis as a preparation for the writing of Jihannüma or during the military campaign to Crete which had started recently, in order to get to know the Mediterranean Sea [12].

4.3. Bio-Bibliographical Works

11. Kashf al-zunun [the Unveiling of Suppositions]: This book in which Kâtib Çelebi gives information on knowledge and sciences in the introduction and which was written in Arabic is the first comprehensive book of bibliography of the Islamic world. This work, whose full name is Kashf al-zunûn an asâm al-kutub wa’l-funûn, was prepared in twenty years [13].

12. Sullam al-wusûl ila tabakat al-fuhûl [the Means of Attaining to the Stratum of the Excellent Ones]: It is a book of biography written in Arabic on the authors of the books mentioned in Kashf al-zunûn and it lists the names alphabetically. Later on, Müstakimzade (d. 1788) wrote an appendix for this book [14].

13. Jami’ Al-mutûn min jall al-funûn [Collected Texts from Major Sciences]: It is a collection composed of the summaries of and commentaries on twenty-seven works in various branches of knowledge which Kâtib Çelebi taught [15].

4.4. Works of Religion

14. Mizan al-hak fi ihtiyâr al-ahak [the Scales of Truth in Choosing the Most True]: It is a book of advice which provides guidance with common sense and recommends adopting a moderate approach for some controversial matters that took place between the people from Kadizade and the people from Sivasî in the middle of 17th century. It is the last book he wrote and also his most popular and most read book [16].

15. Ilhâm al-mukaddas min al-fayzi al-akdas [the Sacred Inspiration from the Most Sacred Spiritual Power]: This is a treatise Kâtib Çelebi wrote while he was dealing with astronomy in order to answer the three questions of how the timing of worship of daily prayer and fasting would be determined in the poles, whether there was any place on Earth where the sun rose from the West and whether there was any place other than Mecca where one could stand and face the qibla [the direction of prayer] from each of the four directions [17].

4.5. His Social, Cultural and Folkloric Works

16. Tuhfat al-ahyâr fi al-hikam wa al-amsâl wa al-ash’âr [the Gift to the Chosen from Wisdoms, Proverbs and Poems]: This is an encyclopaedic dictionary that contains philosophical and literary jokes, various legends, interesting facts about the world of animals, anecdotes and proverbs [18].

17. Irshâd al-hiyâra ila târîh al-Yunan wa Al-Rum wa Al-nasara [the Best Guidance to the History of the Greeks, the Byzantines and the Christians]: It was written in order to inform the Ottoman scholars about the European’s understanding of religion, and their situation in the political, administrative and social spheres [19].

18. Durar Muntasira wa Gurar Muntashira [the Victorious Pearls and the Widely Spread Glows of the Dawn]: It is a collection that contains beneficial information on many subjects such as intention, the qibla, food and the etiquette of eating, worship, fear and hope, chess, contentedness and wittiness [20].

Other than these works, Kâtib Çelebi mentioned the following in his autobiography: a commentary named Tafsîr Kadi Bayzavi Sharhi, Muhammadiyya Sharhi which was a commentary he wrote on the work of Ali Quiscu, Rajm al-râcim bi’s-sin wa’l-jîm which is composed of the fatwa [religious edicts] of some Sheik al-Islams, Kânunnâma and Tutune dair bir Risale [i.e. a Treatise on Tobacco]. However no copies of these works have been found in the libraries [21].

5. About the Author

Prof. Idris Bostan teaches at Istanbul University Faculty of Letters, Department of New Period History, is the Head of the Department of Research on the Mediterranean at Institute of Social Sciences and is a consultant of the Undersecretariat for Maritime Affairs. He has surveys on the reflections of maritime affairs on the social and economic life as well as the Maritime Policies, Sea Trade and Technology of the Ottoman Empire. Some of his works were published under the names Osmanli Bahriye Teskilati: XVII. Yüzyilda Tersane-i Amire (Ottoman Navy Organization: The Arsenal in the 17th Century) (Ankara 2003), The 1565 Ottoman Malta Campaign Register (Malta 1998 together with A. Cassola and T. Sheben). Kurekli ve Yelkenli Osmanli Gemileri (Ottoman Rowing Boats and Sailboats) (Istanbul 2005) and Osmanlilar ve Deniz (the Ottomans and the Sea) (Istanbul 2007). Books that were prepared under his editing on the subjects of the Management of the Aegean Islands. The National Committee of Strategic Research and Studies (YOK, Higher Education Council) published Aegean Islands with Maps and the Invasion of the Islands. He teaches on the subjects of Ottoman Naval History, the Administrative Structure of Ottoman Maritime Affairs, the History of Naval Trade, Southern Policy of the Ottoman Empire and it Presence in North Africa, the implementation of trade in the sea until the periods in which the Black Sea was opened to international trade and he has various articles and research.

Prof, Bostan is about to complete research on Adriyatik’te Korsanlik: Osmanlilar, Uskoklar, Venedikliler (1575-1620) (Piracy in the Adriatic the Ottomans, Uskots and Venetians) for which he has used the documents of Venice, Spain and the Ottoman documents in Istanbul; and XVI. Yüzyil Osmanli Baskentinde Elçiler (Ambassadors in the Ottoman Capital in 16th Century).

6. Content of the Book


Presentation 5

Preface 7

I. THE LIFE OF KÂTIB ÇELEBI (1609-1657/1017-1067) 19

II. Kâtib Çelebi’s Life of Scholarship: His Education and Circle of Scholarship 23
Education of Kâtib Çelebi 23
His Scholarly Thought 23
His Relations with Scholars 24

His Works on the Subject of History 27
His Works on the Subject of Geography 28
His Works on the Subjects of Biographies and Bibliographies 28
His Works on the Subject of Religion 29
His Social, Cultural and Folkloric Works 29

The Reason for the Writing of Tuhfetü’l-kibâr 31
The time period in which Tuhfetü’l-kibâr was written 31
The Eulogies that were Written for Tuhfetü’l-kibâr and the Presentation of the Work to the Palace 31
The Contents of Tuhfetü’l-kibâr 33
Some Examples Regarding the Lessons to be Taken from the Past According to Tuhfetü’l-kibâr 35
The Margin Notes in Tuhfetü’l-kibâr and the Additions Made to the Text 36
The Additional Margin 36
The Additions that were Made Later to the Text of Tuhfetü’l-kibâr 38
The Sources of Tuhfetü’l-kibâr 39
The Influence of Tuhfetü’l-kibâr as a Source on Subsequent Works 41
The Editions of Tuhfetü’l-kibâr 42
The Copies that are Abroad 45
Incomplete Copies 47
Translations 48
The Features of the Tuhfetü’l-kibâr Edition Published here 48
The Comparison of Tuhfetü’l-kibâr edition that is being published with the Müteferrika edition 48
The Method Used in the Publication of the text of Tuhfetü’l-kibâr 50

V. TEXT 53



PART TWO: Topics Related to the Arsenal, Fleet and the Naval Affairs 137

The Conclusion of the Book and the Summary of the Account 151

Footnotes 153

Maps and compasses in the manuscript and printed copies of the gift to the great ones on naval 155

Bibliography 187

Index 189

7. Resources and further reading


[1] Reviewer, FSTC, Sydney, Australia.

[2] Senior Researcher at the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation, UK and Research Visitor at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures, The University of Manchester, UK.

[3] The only copy of the work written with the handwriting of the author is in Bayezid Devlet Library, No. 10318.

[4] The edition that was published in two volumes in Istanbul in 1286-1287 has many errors. The latest research on the Fazlaka and the text that was established most recently was prepared as a doctoral dissertation by Z. Aycibin.

[5] The book was published by Müteferrika in (1146) but the edition prepared by Ali Suavi together with notes and appendices (Paris 1291/1874-5) could not be completed. For the appendices of Takvîm al-tawarîh and its translations into foreign languages see Aycibin, Fazlaka, p. XLII.

[6] The work, which has a lot of manuscripts in the libraries, was published in Ottoman Turkish twice in the printing houses of Müteferrika (1141) and Bahriye (1329), it was published in modern Turkish using the Latin alphabet after it was simplified and notes were added by O. S. Gökyay (Istanbul 1973, 1980). For more information please see the remarks about Tuhfat al-kibâr fi asfâr al-bihâr in this book.

[7] For the manuscripts of the treatise, its translation into German and its editions see. Gökyay. Kâtip Çelebi, pp 82-84; Aycibin, Fezleke, pp. LIX-LXI.

[8] The only copy of this work is at Konya Izzet Koyunoglu Library, No. 14032.

[9] The only copy of the work is in Konya Izzet Koyunoglu Library, No. 14031. For more information and revisions about the work which was introduced by the name Târîh-i Frengî Tercümesi by Gökyay, see Aycibin, Fezleke, pp. LII-LVI.

[10] It was published by Müteferrika (1145) except for the part on the Rumelia territories of the Ottoman Empire. For more information on Cihannüma see F. Saricaoglu, “Cihânnümâ ve Ebûbekir b. Behrâm ed-Dimeskî-Ibrahim Müteferrika”, Bekir Kütükoglu’na Armagan, Istanbul 1991, pp. 121-142.

[11] The author’s copy is in Nuruosmaniye Library (No. 2998) and for its other manuscript copies see Gökyay, Kâtip Çelebi, pp. 75-76.

[12] On the definition of the work and an evaluation of its sources see F. Saricaoglu, “Pîrî Reis’in Kitâb-i Bahriyye’sinin Izinde Kâtib Çelebi’nin Yeni Bulunan Eseri: Kitâb-i Müntehab-i Bahriyye”, Türklük Arastirmalari Dergisi, 15, Istanbul 2004, pp. 7-57. For another view that does not agree that the work belongs to Kâtib Çelebi see Mine Esiner Özen, “Piri Reis ve Müntehab-i Kitab-i Bahriye”, Osmanli Bilimi Arastirmalari, VII/2, Istanbul 2006, pp. 119-130.

[13] This work was published in two volumes by S. Yaltkaya-K. M. Rifat in Arabic (Istanbul 1971); G. Flugel published it in seven volumes together with its translation into Latin (Leipzig-London 1835-1858).

[14] The only manuscript and complete copy of the work is in Süleymaniye Library, Sehit Ali Pasha Section, at no. 1887.

[15] The only manuscript copy is in TSMK, Emanet Hazinesi, at no. 1763.

[16] This work, which has eighty known manuscripts in the country and abroad, was published in three editions in Ottoman Turkish (1281, 1286, 1306), it was published in newspapers in instalments twice (Tasvir-i Efkar/1280, Mecm’a-i Ulûm/1296), it was simplified and published with the Latin alphabet by O. S. Gökyay (Mîzanü’l-hakk fi ihtiyari’l-ehakk, Istanbul, 1972) and S. Uludag-M. Kara (Mîzânu’l-hak fi ihtiyâri’l-ehak/Islâmda Tenkid ve Tartisma Usûlü, Istanbul 1990). Also see Aycibin, Fezleke, pp. LXVI-LXXI.

[17] Kâtib Çelebi wrote this work because he could not get a response to these three questions from Sheik Al-Islam Bahai Efendi. A translation of this work has been published by B. N. Sehsuvaroglu with the title “Ilham al-Mukaddas min-al-fayz-al-Akdas Risâlesi ve Kâtip Çelebi’nin Ilmî Zihniyeti Hakkinda Birkaç Söz” (Kâtip Çelebi Hayati ve Eserleri Hakkinda Incelemeler, Ankara 1985, pp. 141-176). For the manuscript copies see Gökyay, Kâtip Çelebi, pp. 76-77.

[18] For the two known manuscript copies of the work see Gökyay, Kâtip Çelebi, pp. 79-81; Aycibin, Fezleke, p. LXXIX.

[19] For the manuscript copies see Aycibin, Fezleke, p. LXXIV.

[20] The copy with the author’s handwriting is in Nuruosmaniye Library at No. 4949.

[21] The last comment on these works was made by Aycibin (Fezleke, p. LXXXII).

by: Ruveyda Ozturk and Salim Ayduz, Sat 24 January, 2009

"The Ottomans and Their Rivals, Galleys and Galleons, Portolan Charts and Isolarii,"


Svat Soucek, “The Ottomans and Their Rivals, Galleys and Galleons, Portolan Charts and Isolarii,” from his Piri Reis & Turkish Mapmaking After Columbus: The Khalili Portolan Atlas, Nour Foundation, 1995, pp. 10-33.

Turkey is a country blessed with long and beautiful coasts along three seas: the Mediterranean to the south, the Aegean to the west, and the Black Sea to the north. For several centuries, however, Turkey was the central part of a great and powerful state, the Ottoman Empire, and by the time this empire reached the peak of its might and extent during the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (ruled: 1520 -66), its Mediterranean maritime frontier ran from the coasts of Albania and Greece to the Dardanelles, along the western and southern shores of Asia Minor and then by way of Syria, Palestine and Egypt to the province of Algiers in north-west Africa. Much of the Black Sea also came under Ottoman sway, as did the Red Sea. In southern Yemen the Turks acquired the great port of Aden on the Arabian Sea; and their conquest of Iraq gave them Basrah and the southern coast of the Persian Gulf.

Those were the days when Christendom both admired the Turk and trembled before him, for his armies were advancing ever closer to Europe’s core. In 1521 they took Belgrade, in 15 26 Budapest, and in 1529 they laid siege to Vienna. Turkish fleets were eventually to launch equally spectacular campaigns in the Mediterranean, after having demonstrated their effectiveness early in Suleyman’s reign at the conquest of Rhodes (1522). The naval build-up had started in the previous century,’ and its first notable success occurred when Suleyman the Magnificent’s great-grandfather, Mehmed the Conqueror (ruled: 1451-81), captured Constantinople in 1453. The conquest was in no small measure due to the war galleys he managed to introduce into the Golden Horn. Constantinople, which the Turks called Istanbul, became the empire’s capital and eventually also its principal port and naval base. Mehmed the Conqueror used his navy again to assert Turkish supremacy over his two main maritime rivals, Venice and Genoa, in the Aegean and Black Seas, and by the time Suleyman the Magnificent took charge of the empire, the navy’s range of operations covered the entire Mediterranean. Between 1533 and 1546 the Kaptan Pasha, or chief admiral, was Hayreddin Barbarossa (1470? – 1546), the greatest Turkish naval hero of all time, and the fleets under his command were the terror of the sultan’s enemies and the hope of his friends.

Sultan Suleyman’s most powerful adversary was Charles v of the Habsburg dynasty, who, as King of Spain from 1516 and as Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1556, ruled a vast array of territories in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy as well as several islands in the western Mediterranean. Charles’s lands did not border on Suleyman’s as did those of his younger brother Ferdinand I, Archduke of Austria and from 1526 King of Bohemia and Hungary. At sea, however, there was a fife-long confrontation between two sovereigns, two religions, even two captains. The sultan in Turkey was the champion of Sunni Islam, and every victory he scored against Charles V earned him religious merit; the emperor in Spain was the defender of Catholic Christianity and was fired by a similar religious zeal. The symmetry extended into the two rulers’ preoccupation with combating their heretical co- religionists: Suleyman the Shi’ites, Charles the Protestants. The two monarchs clashed repeatedly through their navies, during expeditions against each other’s coasts and islands. In 1533 Barbarossa, a Turk from the island of Mytilene (Lesbos) who had conquered Algiers and become its first governor in 1519, was summoned by Suleyman to take charge of the Ottoman navy and undertake a number of official campaigns in the western Mediterranean; Charles V chose a Genoese nobleman and mariner, Andrea Doria (1466-1560), as his naval commander.

From a distance the confrontation might have appeared as a see-saw struggle between two ideologically incompatible rivals, with a slight edge held by the Turk. For throughout the two monarchs’ lives the initiative and the offensive remained mostly on the Turkish side, without affording enough superiority to destroy the pponent. This would have been an increasingly distorted view, however, for only the Christian emperor saw the span of his realm reach beyond the oceans and ultimately acquire a vast dimension that encompassed the globe. This new dimension, absent from the Muslim ruler’s mental horizon, may have gradually reduced the importance of the Mediterranean frontier in Charles V’s eyes- and even more so in the eyes of his son Philip II.

The Mediterranean was the sea the Turks were familiar with and where they became the foremost naval power in Suleyman the Magnificent’s time. Beyond the Strait of Gibraltar and the Suez isthmus, it was a different matter. The Turks felt less comfortable in the Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic lay below their horizon. By contrast, the ocean acted as a magnet to the maritime nations of western Europe, promising unprecedented opportunities once they had overcome their ancient fear of its vast expanse. It was the Portuguese who took the lead in this change of attitude after they acquired the port of Ceuta in Morocco in 1415 and started exploring that country’s Atlantic coast. Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) was the founder of a seafaring research centre at Sagres near Cape St Vincent and symbol of the methodical, government-sponsored advance southwards along the African coast. Trade, access to overseas resources and religious zeal motivated the Portuguese exploration. The riches of western Africa eventually confirmed their hopes: slaves, ivory, pepper and especially gold, traditionally traded northwards across the Sahara to Mediterranean ports, were now drawn to such ports as Elmina in Ghana, where they were bought by the Portuguese. For over half a century (c. 1480 -1540), Lisbon functioned as Europe’s foremost point of entry for imported gold.

The explorers, meanwhile, had fixed their sights on a still more ambitious goal: discovering a sea route to the Orient and its riches, especially the spices for which there had been an insatiable appetite in the Near East and Europe since Classical antiquity. Grown chiefly in India and the East Indies, spices usually came to Europe in three stages: maritime merchants of the Indian Ocean brought them to the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf, local middlemen carried them to Mediterranean ports, and European merchants took them to their final destinations. In the later Middle Ages, Venice gained a virtual monopoly over this last leg of the spice traffic and cherished it as one of the chief sources of her wealth. The route made the products costly and their supply often unpredictable, because its first two stages were beyond the Europeans’ control. People in western Europe began to search for direct maritime access to the sources of these goods. Their quest was reinforced by the spirit of adventure and curiosity characteristic of the Renaissance, but at first it was also driven by religious fanaticism bent on spreading Christianity among the heathen, finding the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John in Africa or the Orient, and combating Islam, with the recovery of Jerusalem as the supreme goal.

Two maritime routes to the Orient were proposed: south around Africa and then north-east to India, or west across the Atlantic all the way to the Far East. It was not known whether either was possible until two memorable voyages in close sequence demonstrated, or seemed to demonstrate, the feasibility of both. In 1488 Bartolomeo Dias, the commander of yet another expedition sent by the King John II of Portugal (ruled: 1481-95), passed by a cape at the southern tip of Africa, which he called Cape of Storms but which his sovereign renamed Cape of Good Hope in recognition of the breakthrough this voyage represented in the quest for a sea route to India; and in 1492 Christopher Columbus, a Genoese in the service of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, accomplished what he thought was a voyage to the Far East by sailing west.

The two voyages were followed by others, and within a generation they led to the birth of Europe’s first colonial empires, the Spanish empire in America and the Portuguese empire in Asia. The discoveries caused a sensation in Europe and were soon emulated, but the Turks and other Muslims, living in a different cultural and economic climate, felt no involvement in these events. Exploration of the earth and its oceans, desire for direct access to overseas sources and markets, curiosity about other places and peoples, even such questions as whether the sun was the centre of the universe and the re-examination of nature itself were all matters characteristic of Renaissance Europe but not of the contemporary Orient; and, last but not least, the invention and spread of printing in Europe created a new and important difference between its civilization and that of the Muslim world, where this innovation was banned until the beginning of the 18th century. The Orient felt superior to Europe culturally and spiritually, and perfectly satisfied with the existing structure of economic relations. Even on the religious level most Muslim countries had by then lost the conquering zeal of Islam’s early centuries and accepted the status quo, in sharp contrast to the combined effect of crusading ideals and the success of the Reconquista, which gave the Iberian vanguard of Christendom its characteristic militancy. True, the Ottoman Turks, who had now assumed the religious leadership of the Muslim world, displayed as much commitment to the duty of the jihad, the Holy War, as their Arab predecessors. The sultans viewed the Balkans and Central Europe as their principal target, however, and they completely overlooked the offensive gradually being mounted around the globe by their opponents. It was Europe that strove consistently to find the route to the Orient, in fact to explore the real Orient and the rest of the unknown world. Initiatives from the Orient were few, and they seldom fared well. This fact alone makes them the more interesting and important. One such initiative was that of Piri Reis, an Ottoman Turkish mariner, cartographer and geographer, the main theme of this study.

No essay on Piri Reis could be considered complete without a few words on the ships of the time because of the variety he and others mentioned in their works and depicted on their charts. The most frequently mentioned and commonly used type is a vessel he calls the kadirga, a Turkish word of Greek origin meaning galley. A long, low, narrow ship of shallow draught, the galley was propelled by oars when entering or leaving harbours, when pursuing or fleeing an enemy, or in battle. In normal cruising conditions, however, it relied mainly – unless becalmed – on one or two lateen (triangular) sails. An average galley in Piri Reis’s time had between 24 and 26 oar-benches, or thwarts, on each side. There were smaller and larger versions. One of the former, calledkalita in Turkish and probably corresponding to the Italian galiotta or fusta, was a ship favoured by corsairs for its speed and its ability to operate in difficult circumstances, penetrating shallow anchorages, hiding in coves, suddenly pouncing on its prey or withdrawing into havens that were inaccessible to others. Versions larger than the standard type were rare among the Turks but commonplace among their longest-standing rivals and neighbours, the Venetians. One type was the bastarda, a term applied in Turkish to the special galley used by the commander of an Ottoman fleet. The word is seldom used by Piri Reis, because his work on navigation in the Mediterranean, the Kitab-i Bahriye (‘Book of Seacraft’), pays attention chiefly to the ‘civilian’, commercial aspect of seaborne traffic. He frequently mentions the mavna, the largest type of merchant galley, known in Italian as galera grossa di mercato (‘large merchant galley’). This was the standard ship of the republic’s convoys, bringing such valuable cargo as pepper or silk from Alexandria and other Levantine ports to Venice. Passenger traffic taking Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land also mostly used galleys.

The galley and its variants, especially the smaller ones, had a long history in the Mediterranean. Greek legend has Jason sail in a galley in quest of the Golden Fleece, while Homer portrays Odysseus and his companions sailing in one, on occasion practising piracy. Classical fleets used galleys in their battles, as did those of the Byzantines and Arabs when they fought in the early centuries of Islam or when they preyed on each other as corsairs. The Saracens terrorized the Christian part of the western Mediterranean in a similar manner, as did the Catalans the Muslim part of the eastern half, where they raided some of the prosperous Egyptian towns, such as Tinnis, out of existence. And it was with their kadirgas and kalitas that the Barbarossa brothers completed what Kemal Reis and Piri Reis had shown to be possible, the Turkish conquest of North Africa and its rescue from the Spanish Reconquista.

The galley family, then, were ships of war and piracy rather than of freight and trade. But there were numerous and important exceptions – the large Venetian merchant galleys, for example – and the definition needs serious qualification. Broadly speaking, galleys and their relatives belonged to the category of ‘long ships’, whereas pure sailing ships belonged to that of ’round ships’, which were not entirely round, of course, but were so called because they had a wider beam and taller freeboard than long ships. The term ’round ship’ is used mainly in the context of the later Middle Ages, when sailing ships began to grow taller and more massive, notably the ever-larger merchantmen of the Italian republics. Oarless, purely sail-driven ships also had an age-old Mediterranean lineage, having been the standard vessels of Greek and Phoenician traders.’ Economics was the main reason for their popularity in Classical times, as It was in the Middle Ages: instead of feeding and carrying a large number of rowers, an expensive proposition, more cargo could be added; and, unlike prisoners of war, slaves and convicts, of whom rowing crews were often composed, a cargo presented no security risk. But all sailing ships depended on the whims of the wind, which could play a critical role in moments of emergency. It was the greater mobility of the galley that weighed in its favour as a vessel of war and piracy; and the corsairs often turned the burden of rowing crews to their advantage, for the rowers were comrades-in-arms who could join the battle if necessary. An analogy with the Vikings and their ships immediately comes to mind.

Unlike the ‘Frankish’ galea and the Turkish kadirga, there is no distinctive term for the purely sail-driven ship of Piri Reis’s time. In the Romance languages of the Mediterranean and Atlantic seaboards, people simply used the generic word for ship, based on the Latin navis: nave, nao, nau or nef. This imprecise generic usage could be sufficient if the vessel was a large merchantman of the exclusively sail-driven type, but specific terms were used for a vessel with special characteristics, such as the carrack or caravel. In Turkish the generic term for ship, gemi, was not used to distinguish sail-driven vessels from oar-driven craft; specific terms were used for the former, such as barca, koke, karaka or kalyon. These were all words borrowed from the lingua franca, and they frequentlyappear in the Kitab-i Bahriye of Piri Reis. Barca, derived from the Venetian barza, is the word most often encountered; it referred to the massive, tall, square-rigged merchantman that Venetians and other traders used for hauling heavier, bulkier, less costly cargo than spices, silk or precious stones. Such ships, no doubt fairer game than the large merchant galleys bristling with defenders, were a frequent prize of the Turkish gazis, who usually sold them and their cargoes but sometimes – probably not for long included them in their fleets. In the first version of the Kitab-i Bahirye Piri Reis relates how the Turkish gazis approached the Algerian port of Bijayah with such a barca, as one of their three ships. But Piri Reis’s use of the term suggests that he is often simply referring to any sail-driven merchantman, regardless of its size or specific characteristics, a usage akin to that of the words derived from navis in Romance languages. It seems that the word barca, acquired this generic connotation in Ottoman Turkish, especially in the form parca.

When Piri Reis wants to emphasize that he has a very large type of merchantman in mind, he uses the term karaka. Known in English as carrack, this was the largest sailing ship of his time, a massive vessel developed by the Genoese which instantly captured any Observer’s eye with its high superstructures of forecastle and sterncastle. It was taken over by the Portuguese once they had launched their Carreira da India — the regular sailings of their fleets to the Orient. The carrack was square-rigged like most large merchantmen, but with one and eventually two additional lateen sails on the mizzen-masts that gave it greater manoeuvrability. Piri Reis never mentions carracks owned by Turks; they were ships of long-distance trade and eventually of oceanic voyages, and the Turks shied away from both.

As for Piri Reis’s koke and kaylon, they illustrate the shifting nature of maritime terminology. The former is a loan- word derived from the Italian cocca, which in turn is an adaptation of the German kogge, the single-masted square- rigger of the Hanseatic League’s North Sea fleets. Italian shipbuilders emulated and eventually transformed the Hanseatic kogge into their barzas andcarracas. The term cocca was waning in Italian by the time of Piri Reis, who himself uses the word koke only seldom, and then with the general meaning of a large vessel used by the infidels; on the map of 1513, moreover, both barca and koke are used as synonyms for karaka.

The kalyon, on the other hand, was to know its days of glory only after Piri Reis’s time. The equivalent of the galeone or galeon (literally, ‘large galley’) in Romance languages, and of galleon in English, kaylon appears in the Kitab-i Bahriye to denote a merchant vessel used chiefly by Christians and more or less synonymous with a smaller kind of barca. Our author could not have foreseen that, two generations later, Spanish and English galleons would grow into great oceanic sailing ships built and equipped both as freighters and men-of-war; for by then these vessels, partly a development of the carrack on the one hand and of the galley on the other, had elongated hulls studded with cannons, and confronted each other in battles that were totally different from those traditionally fought in the Mediterranean.

Finally, three more vessels current in the Kitab-i Bahriye deserve mention: igribar, kayik and sandal. The igribar, the Turkish form of the Greek griparion, appears to have been a relatively small, one-masted type of sail-driven merchant vessel routinely used for coastal shipping in Turkish home waters. The kayik, besides the generic gemi, is the only term under discussion that has a genuinely Turkish etymology. It was a small vessel equipped with oars and a sail, similar to one of the lesser versions of the galley. In the Ottoman fleet its role appears to have been mainly to provide logistical support, but Piri Reis applies it also to boats used by local privateers along Turkey’s Aegean coast. In later times the term was also applied to merchant vessels plying the eastern Mediterranean between Egypt and Istanbul. With the sandal we return to the common Mediterranean heritage, for the term goes back to the Byzantine Greek sandalion. It was a rowing boat small enough to be carried on board or to be towed. There are innumerable references to the sandal in the Kitab-i Bahriye, and its most typical function was carrying a scouting party ashore to get fresh water or perform some other duty.

A term hardly used in the Kitab-i Bahriye – perhaps only once – is karavele; on the other hand, the word and the vessel it depicts appear several times on both of Piri Reis’s world maps. This was the caravel, a vessel the Portuguese and Spaniards favoured for their voyages of exploration and discovery. A fight, nimble ship with two or three masts, itwas at least partly lateen-rigged and thus able to sail close to the wind, yet it was frequently re-rigged with square sails for cruising before a steady wind. The caravel could operate in a broad range of situations and was well suited to exploring unfamiliar coasts or entering river estuaries, while also being able to cover any distance. Although it probably combined elements drawn from the shipbuilding traditions of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean – and was thus partly Arab in origin the triumph of the caravel began when Henry the Navigator launched the great exploration of Africa’s Atlantic coasts and adjacent waters. Columbus called two of the three ships with which he sailed on his first voyage carabelas (the Pinta and the Nina; the flagship, the Santa Maria, was a nao), and one of the three ships with which Vasco da Gama reached India in 1498 is also believed to have been a caravel. Once the routes were established and regular sailings started, however, the larger nao passed to the fore: in the form of the carrack, as we have seen, it became the standard ship on the Portuguese Carreira da India. The galleon was destined to play a similar role in the Spanish silver fleets of the Atlantic and on the Manila run between Mexico and the Philippines, and eventually to become the English ‘ship of the line’, the battleship with which England began to emerge as the dominant sea power.

The galley is absent from Piri Reis’s world maps, and from any discussion of oceanic exploration and voyages. Indeed, a parallel might be drawn between the galley and the portolan chart: both were an essentially Mediterranean, phenomenon, and both were used on the oceans for brief periods and with no long-term effect. The galley could not match the caravel or other types of sailing ships in seaworthiness – a critical factor on the oceans. And its fighting force, primarily of an infantry character, was that of the past and had little chance of succeeding against the carracks and galleons, ever more heavily armed with artillery. This disparity, which was to play a role in the confrontation between the Ottomans and the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean, is also illustrated by the change in circumstances that took place in the 17 years between the battle of Lepanto in 1571 and the English fleet’s defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Lepanto was a combat between the troops of two galley fleets, and, despite the initial cannonade from Don John of Austria’s six famous galleasses, it was close in character to the naval encounters of the Greeks and Persians in the 5 th century BC, whereas the manoeuvre-and-artillery duel between the Spanish and English galleons in 1588 was more akin to the contests between British and German warships in the First World War.

Of the various features with which Piri Reis adorned his map Of 1513, the carracks and caravels most readily catch the eye. Ships and boats also appear on the charts of most manuscripts of the second version of the Kitab-i Bahriye: sailing vessels Piri Reis would have called barcas, galleys, kayiks and sandals. In certain cases attempts were made to be explicit: in one manuscript the lagoon of Venice – whose canals are studded with gondolas – is alive with vessels identified as passenger kayiks and water-hauling sandals; a kaylon is approaching the Rialto bridge, while two carracks, too large to enter the lagoon, he outside the entrance. An altogether special case is the chart of the Nile at the level of Cairo. Piri Reis must have been fascinated by the various boats he saw on the river, for he included drawings of four types, all of them known by name from Arabic sources: jarim, ‘aqabah, qiyasah and shahtur. This instance of four types of vessel being both named and drawn by a contemporary witness may well be unique.

Two other Turkish manuscripts depicting ships deserve mention, the History of the Conquest of Siklos, Esztergom and Szekesfehervar, also known by the less unwieldy title of theSuleymanname, and the Shahnamah of Selim Khan.

The former consists of a text and illustrations by Matrakci Nasuh, a janissary who later became a chronicler and court artist and is better known for his illustrated account of Sultan Suleyman’s Iraq campaign of 1534-5. The Suleymanname describes the twopronged campaign Of 1543 against the Habsburgs: the land war in Hungary led by the sultan himself, and, on folios 16b-36a, the sailing of the Ottoman fleet under Hayreddin Barbarossa to the western Mediterranean, where France was Turkey’s ally. The fleet is shown calling at or making naval demonstrations before the ports of Reggio, Antibes, Toulon, Marseilles, Nice and Genoa and off an unspecified coast. Matrakci Nasuh depicted these places as if seen from an elevated position offshore – a similar perspective is used in later manuscripts of the Kitab-i Bahriye – and usually with part of the fleet either anchored in the harbour, as in the case of Marseilles, or sailing by information, as before Genoa. The ships, elegantly drawn, are mostly galleys.

The Shahnamah of Selim Khan, produced in 1581, was written by Lokman, while its paintings are believed to be by the court painter Osman, an artist who illustrated many other manuscripts produced at the Ottoman court at this time. This ‘Shahnamah‘ intended to glorify some of the achievements of the reign of Suleyman’s successor, Sultan Selim II (ruled: 1566-74), and it includes episodes from a confrontation between the Ottomans and Venetians at Navarino in 1572 and from the siege of La Goulette (Halq al-Wadi), a prelude to the recapture of Tunis in 1574. Folio129a shows the infidels precipitately leaving the shore at Navarino in an effort to reach a galley lying close inshore; only the ship’s stern is depicted but with all the paraphernalia – flag, pennants, lanterns and the end of the row of oars. On the facing page, folio 128b, we see one Ottoman galley displayed in full and the stern of another. The scene from the siege of La Goulette on folios 145b-146a appears to show the fortress moments after the resistance of the Spanish garrison has collapsed. Again the place is shown from above, from a position somewhere in the Gulf of Tunis, where we see four galleys and the stern of a tall sailing ship. Had the artist placed a full view of the latter in the midst of the galley fleet, his miniature might have been more eloquent still.

When Piri Reis went to sea some time in the late 1480s, his uncle or other companions must have introduced him to the navigational tools they were using. Besides the memory and experience of the men themselves, the most useful of these were nautical charts, texts on sailing and the compass. The charts and texts would not have been in Turkish, but in the Romance idioms of the principal Mediterranean seafarers of the time, the Italians and Catalans. Carta portolana or portolano were the usual terms for such charts, and the texts themselves were also often calledportolani, for both were tools of the ‘haven-finding art’. (The term compasso was also sometimes applied to such charts and texts as well as to the instrument.) Modern historians use the terms ‘portolan’ and ‘portolan chart’ rather than simply calling them nautical charts and sailing directions because of their special character.’ When they first appeared in the 13th century they differed from any tools of similar purpose made earlier, and they also differed markedly from those that were introduced in the early modern period with the advent of celestial navigation. Moreover, they had a very specific geographical focus, the Mediterranean.

It was the spread of the compass that assisted the creation of the portolan as a new type of nautical chart in the 13th century, and it was the growing role of improved instruments of celestial navigation, coupled with the different demands of the rapidly expanding oceanic voyages, that made it obsolete several centuries later. The introduction of the magnetic needle into the Mediterranean (the earliest record is from 1187) made it possible for pilots to plot their courses more precisely according to the points of compass and allowed them to grasp much more accurately the contours of the two seas they most frequently sailed, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Thus the portolan chart was a revolutionary innovation compared to earlier maps of the area or to contemporary land maps that did not take the development of the portolan into account. The most characteristic feature of the portolan chart was the network of thumb fines indicating the points of the compass and facilitating the plotting of the ship’s course. These lines radiate from several focal points arranged concentrically around a central point which was later often embellished with elaborate windroses, as were some of those on the periphery. The second most important feature of portolan charts was the scale bar, which provided an improved method of measuring the distance from one place to another. Both features later proved inadequate in the face of competition from nautical charts created with instruments of celestial navigation. Mariners of the Atlantic Ocean eventually abandoned the meshes of thumb lines showing the compass points or ‘winds’ on their charts, and replaced them with grids of parallels and meridians showing latitude and longitude; the windrose was preserved as a necessary component. Determining the ship’s position in terms of latitude, vital for navigation over the vast expanses of the world’s oceans, had not been needed in the relatively small and enclosed Mediterranean. (Significantly, neither the curvature of the earth nor magnetic variation was taken into account in the latter case.) Once Atlantic mariners began to dominate the art of seafaring, the portolan chart had to give way. 

This did not happen overnight, for the portolan chart was used in the Atlantic in the 15 th century and spread over the world’s oceans in the 16th, 6th, being the type adopted and given a new dimension by the earliest discoverers themselves, with the Portuguese far in the vanguard. The transition to charts also indicating latitude and longitude and grappling with the problem of projection eventually got under way, but a significant number of world maps from the Age of Discovery were portolan charts in style: Piri Reis’s two maps are outstanding examples of this group.

The classic portolan chart focused on the Mediterranean, however. Sometimes it also covered the Black Sea or the Atlantic coast of Europe, including the British Isles, north-west Africa or both, the range of operations of medieval Mediterranean seafarers. Its physical dimensions tended to be limited to that of a sheepskin, for such charts were most frequently drawn on parchment. By the turn of the 16th century, two, three or even more such skins were combined to make world maps of the portolan type. This was the case with Piri Reis’s famous Map of1513 and probably also with the map of 1528, although only parts have survived in both cases (one half or one third of the former and one sixth of the latter).

Other features that set the classic portolan chart apart are worth noting. One is the relative comprehensiveness and consistency of scale: they cover the entire Mediterranean or a large segment of it, such as its western or central or eastern part, or the Adriatic or the Aegean; the scale remains basically the same even when the chart has been cut up and assembled in an atlas. In other words, there are no known large-scale portolan charts of a small area, as is standard in modern nautical cartography. Another distinctive feature is that the names of harbours and other coastal features are usually written in a close sequence at right angles to the coast but ‘inland’, so as to leave room on the water side to record the location of shoals (by means of minute dots), submerged rocks (by means of little crosses) or islands. The small scale of a typical chart means that the names crowd its coastal contours in a continuous row, while the interior of the land mass is empty, as it is on modern nautical charts. The colour of the ink also played a role. It is mostly black, but the more important cities are in red. Black was used for the rhumb fines of the eight principal points of the compass, or, to use the mariner’s parlance, the eight ‘winds’ (north, north-east, east, south- east etc.); green for the next subdivision, the eight ‘half-winds’ (north-north-east, east-north-east, east-south-east, south-southeast etc.); and red for the last subdivision, the eight ‘quarter-winds’ (north-by-east, north-east-by-north, north-east-by-east, east-by-north etc.) – 32 points of the compass in all. Some of these features may appear decorative to us, and most portolan charts are indeed pleasing to the eye, but the function of colour is beyond doubt: the pilot could more easily spot an important port written in red ink or recognize that the rhumb line leading to a specific location indicated west-south-west when drawn in green.

It was the Italians and Catalans who had created the portolan chart by the beginning of the 13 th century, and they continued producing the greatest number of charts until the demise of the genre in the 17th century. There eventually appeared groups of well known cartographers or workshops founded by them. A brilliant example is the workshop of Abraham Cresques, a Jewish cartographer of Majorca who was succeeded in this profession by his son Jefuda. By 1375 Abraham Cresques had drawn a beautiful mappamundi of 12 folding leaves that is customarily called the Catalan Atlas. It is an amalgam of three principal traditions: it follows earlier medieval concepts in making Jerusalem the geographical centre of the world; information derived from recent travels such as those of Marco Polo or of Arab sources – possibly Ibn Battutah – were used for the interiors of Asia and Africa; and the portolan genre is evident in the depiction of the Mediterranean and adjacent areas and in the mesh of rhumb lines.

As for the makers of portolans in the stricter sense of the word, the craftsmen were often former mariners. One such sailor-turned-mapmaker was the Venetian Andrea Bianco, remembered for an atlas he made in 1436 and for a remarkable chart he drew in 1448 . Grazioso Benincasa, a native of Ancona but active also in Venice, Genoa and Rome between 1461 and 1482, was among the most prolific of the strictly professional craftsmen . Another Anconese, Conte Hectornano Freducci, lived a generation later and was thus a contemporary of Piri Reis; Freducci’s earliest chart dates from 1497, and he made an atlas as late as 1537. Some of these chart-makers, such as Bianco and Benincasa, took note of Portuguese exploration along the coast of western Africa, and their charts document its progress. By Piri Reis’s time, the Portuguese began to take the lead in oceanic cartography, and the achievements of 16th-century Portuguese cartographers present a fitting counterpart to their nation’s voyages of exploration and to the work of a remarkable group of contemporary historians and poets who recorded them.

Maps in general have an intrinsic aesthetic appeal, and portolans often reached the level of an exquisite minor art. The higher the aesthetic level of a portolan chart, however, the less likely it was that it was actually used on board ship; more probably, these presentation’ charts were produced for important or wealthy customers. Sailors contented themselves with plainer examples, most of which have not survived. One of the distinguishing features of ‘presentation’ portolan charts is that the interior of the land mass is no longer blank but frequently displays such features as cities, rulers or other persons worthy of attention, animals, birds, rivers, mountains and so forth; flags often indicate the political allegiance of a place. With the spread of the portolan chart to the oceans and newly discovered or explored territories, brief texts were added to tell the story of a voyage or of the quaint creatures or plants or other novelties found there. Piri Reis’s world map of 1513 eloquently displays most of these elements.

Mariners of Christian Europe – the Italians and Catalans – were the creators and principal producers and users of portolans within the Mediterranean, yet the Muslims Arabs and Turks – controlled one half of the Mediterranean coastline, and one of the best contemporary definitions of what portolan charts were and who used them is by an Arab author, the great Tunisian historian Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406):

    … These islands (the Canaries) can be reached only by chance and not intentionally by navigation. Navigation on the sea depends on the winds… Thus a ship sails according to nautical norms evolved by the mariners and sailors who are in charge of sea voyages. The countries situated on the two shores of the Mediterranean are noted on a sheet which indicates the true facts re regarding them and gives their positions along the coast in proper order. The various winds and their paths are likewise put down on it. This sheet is called a KUNBAS (i. e. a COMPASS0). It is on this that [sailors] rely when on their voyages. Nothing of the sort exists for the Ocean. Therefore, ships do not enter it, because were they to lose sight of the shore, they would hardly be able to find their way back to it.

Ibn Khaldun’s perceptive account stops short of giving us one vital piece of information: how great was the share of Muslims in the production and use of portolan charts? An inventory of known portolans made by the time Piri Reis joined the profession speaks for itself. 180 made by Christians as against three Arab and no Turkish specimens. One contributing factor may have been the predominance of Christians in long-distance commercial shipping and passenger traffic. The oldest example is the socalled Maghrib Chart in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan. Anonymous and undated, it covers the western Mediterranean and is believed to have been drawn in the first half of the 14th century. The other two Arab portolan charts date from the 15 th century, and their authors’ names also suggest a Maghribi origin: the first, now in the Topkapi Palace Library in Istanbul, was prepared by Ibrahim al-Katibi al-Tunusi (‘of Tunis’) in AH 816 (AD 1413-14) and covers the entire Mediterranean; the colophon of the second, which covers both the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and is now in the Maritime Museum in Istanbul, records that it was drawn by Ibrahim al-Mursi (‘of Murcia’) at Tripoli in AH 865 (AD 1461). No comparable Arab charts of the Mediterranean are known from subsequent periods; the quaint maps and atlases produced by the dynasty of Tunisian cartographers known by their nisbah of Safaqusi (‘of Sfax’) in the 16th and 17th centuries are an amalgum of the portolan tradition with other cartographic methods going back to al-Idrisi in the 12th century and could hardly have reflected actual practice. On the Turkish side, Piri Reis’s works dominate this period, but three other atlases of portolan charts of the standard Mediterranean type have survived: the Atlas of Ali Macar Reis, which is preserved in the Topkapi Palace Library, the so-called Atlas-i Humayun (‘imperial atlas’), recently discovered by Thomas D. Goodrich in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul,” and the Deniz Atlasi (‘sea atlas’), which the same scholar found in the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. They all pertain to the second half of the 16th century, and, with the more refined copies of the Kitab-i Bahirye, they reflect the vogue this genre must have enjoyed among the more sophisticated Ottomans. The plainer, functional marine charts or atlases that no doubt existed have not survived, except for such isolated examples as the Aegean sea-chart of Mehmed Reis ibn Menemenli.

Portolan charts and the texts that accompanied them were two faces of the same coin. The text must have been equally indispensable to the mariner, for it complemented the chart by focusing on features and details better suited to verbal description: the position and quality of harbours and anchorages, their landmarks when approached from the sea, ships’ lanes and difficult passages, the availability of fresh water, even the human and political situation in a port or area. Some of these data make the portolan text more part of the seafaring literature which began in Antiquity with Greek periploi and stadiasmoi and continues today with constantly updated sailing directions. At the same time, the texts reflect the three main stages of navigational technique: the pre- compass stage of Antiquity (directions but no compass bearings); the compass stage of the later Middle Ages (bearings and distances but no latitude and longitude); and the latitude and longitude stage of the modern era.
The three phases are made palpable by the different cartographic forms used. Virtually no charts have survived from the periplous period of Classical antiquity, no doubt because those that may have existed were too rudimentary or too marginal to have been produced in any quantity. The portolan charts of the second stage held sway for some four centuries and are perhaps the most distinctive cartographic type ever, while the third phase is represented by the modern nautical chart. The decorative glamour that has always surrounded the more elaborate maps reached its climax with the portolan genre, for it is these which drew the attention of the contemporary elite and continue to draw that of collectors and scholars. The texts, on the other hand, have always remained the charts’ poor relations, for they were read only by sailors. There are no renowned authors of portolan texts and no contemporary or modern collectors, and without the conscientious archivist of the past and the scholar of the present, who find them to be welcome historical sources, they would have been doomed to oblivion. Piri Reis’s works confirm this contrast but qualify it in a special manner.

Any discussion of the portolan genre, but especially an analysis of Piri Reis’s Kitab-i Bahirye, would be incomplete if it failed to mention the related genre of the isolario. This was a combination of text and maps describing various islands. In contrast to portolan texts, those of the isolarii focused on the topical and historical aspects of a given island and paid only marginal attention to navigational matters, for their purpose was not to help the mariner but to amuse and instruct the curious reader. The maps lack the networks of rhumb lines characteristic of portolan charts, but there is a greater wealth of detail pertaining to the interior. However, they betray a strong fink with portolan charts in that they usually retain a rudimentary windrose with the eight principal winds, and in their contours and style, which are those of the portolan charts but on a larger scale. The craftsman making an isolario map drew an enlarged rendition of a model he found on a portolan chart.

The genesis of this delightful genre occurred in 1420 when the Florentine priest Cristoforo Buondelmonti, who had lived in Rhodes and travelled in the Aegean and Ionian archipelagos between 1406 and 1419, presented his Liber insularum archipelago to Cardinal Orsini of Florence. The autograph does not seem to have survived, but there are several copies, one from 1429, and there is even a contemporary Greek translation. Another indication of the book’s success is the fact that other authors have shamelessly pillaged it. Buondelmonti’s isolario consists of 79 chapters and 36 maps, the islands ranging from Rhodes to Crete and Corfu. The author made two sidesteps to the mainland by including descriptions of Gallipoli and Constantinople, which is also depicted in a topographic view. His idea caught on, and other people compiled isolarii. In 1477 the first printed specimen, the isolario of Bartolommeo da li Sonnetti, appeared. is also limited itself to the Aegean Sea, but by the 16th century other authors were producing isolarii that described islands in the Mediterranean and even in other parts of the The Libro … de tutte l’isole del mondo of Benedetto Bordone, published in Venice in 1528, and Tommaso Porcacchi’s L’isole piu famose del mondo, published in the same city in 1572, are the best known examples. The division of the subject matter into chapters, the provision of the chapters with maps and the emphasis on the historical aspects of each place set the isolario genre apart from that of the portolan. Some of these characteristics are present in the Kitab-i Bahriye, however, and the isolario‘s influence on the Turkish work is certain both in its conception and in a number of specific details.

Mamluk Studies Review

Mamluk Studies Review

Mamluk Studies Review is a biannual refereed journal published by the Middle East Documentation Center devoted to the study of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria (648-922/1250-1517). It appears in January and July. The goals of Mamluk Studies Review are to take stock of scholarship devoted to the Mamluk era, nurture communication within the field, and to promote further research by encouraging the critical discussion of all aspects of this important medieval Islamic polity.


Humphreys, R. Stephen, Ayyubids, Mamluks, and the Latin East in the Thirteenth Century – from volume 2 (1998)

Fuess, Albrecht, Rotting Ships and Razed Harbors: The Naval Policy of the Mamluks – from volume 5 (2001)

Chevedden, Paul E., Black Camels and Blazing Bolts: The Bolt-Projecting Trebuchet in the Mamluk Army – from volume 8:1 (2004)

Book Reviews

Reuven Amitai-Preiss, Mongol and Mamluks: The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War, 1260-1281 – reviewed by John E. Woods

Shai Har-El, Struggle for Domination in the Middle East: The Ottoman-Mamluk War, 1485-1491 – reviewed by W.W. Clifford

Linda S. Northrup, From Slave to Sultan: The Career of al-Mansur Qalawun and the Consolidation of Mamluk Rule in Egypt and Syria (678-689 AH / 1279-1290 AD) – reviewed by Robert Irwin

Yaacov Lev (ed.), War and Society in the Eastern Mediterranean, 7th – 15th Centuries – reviewed by W.W. Clifford

via Mamluk Studies Review.

Acta Viennensia Ottomanica

Acta Viennensia Ottomanica

Edited by Markus Kohbach, Gisela Prochaska-Eisl, and Claudia Romer

Vienna: Im Selbrstverlag des Instituts fur Orientalistik, 1999

A collection of over forty articles on the history of the Ottoman Empire, ranging from the medieval period to the 20th century. Most of the articles are in English, but also include French, German and other languages. We thank the authors for their permission to republish the following articles.

Turkish Raids in Friuli at the End of the Fifteenth Century, by Maria Pia Pedani (PDF file)

The Byzantine-Turkish Frontier, c.1250-1300, by Keith Hopwood (PDF file)

Other medieval articles in this book include:

Beans for a cough, lion’s gall for a laugh: The poet and physician Ahmedi’s materia medica as a mirror of the state of the art around 1400 in Anatolia, by Edith G. Amrbos

Istanbul in Divan Poetry, 1453-1600, by Hatice Aynur

Sultan Bayezid II as the only legitimate pretender to the Ottoman throne, by Istvan Nyitrai

via Acta Viennensia Ottomanica.


Charles V meets with the Bey of Tunis, 1535. Both Habsburg and Ottoman power in North Africa depended in part on agreements with local clients. Here the size of the Imperial expedition of 1535 is apparent. Note the lines of galleys in the bay to the upper right – projecting power across the Mediterranean took enormous resources.

The Ottoman sultan, especially after the conquest of Mameluke Egypt in 1517 (during the first year of King Charles’s reign), enjoyed his own growing influence along the central North African coast. The sultan’s most successful client was Khayr ad-Din, the Barbary pirate better known as Barbarossa for his red beard. Fearful of the growing Spanish influence which threatened his corsairing, in 1518 Barbarossa pledged himself to the sultan Selim and in return received a title and military aid. With a large galley fleet and a mixed army of Maghrebis, Christian renegades, Moorish refugees from Spain and Turkish adventurers, Khayr ad-Din seized Algiers (1529) and Tunis (1534) from local Muslim rulers. In 1533 Süleyman made the pirate his high admiral with all the substantial resources of the Galata dockyards at Constantinople. Barbarossa continued to plague the shores and shipping of Christian Europe until his death in 1546. These were not insubstantial raids, threatening only unlucky fishermen and villagers, but major acts of war. In 1543, his most spectacular year, Barbarossa first sacked Reggio Calabria (for the second time) and then, cooperating with the sultan’s French allies, the city of Nice (a possession of the Spanish-allied Duke of Savoy). The war in North Africa and on the waters of the western Mediterranean thus became a confrontation between the emperor Charles and the sultan Süleyman.

In Charles’s first Mediterranean offensive he personally led the great invasion fleet and 25,000-man army that sailed from Barcelona to take Tunis in 1535, a direct response to Barbarossa’s seizure of the city the previous year. The fortified island of Goletta off Tunis became one of the principal Spanish forts of the Maghreb, and the southernmost position of a Habsburg cordon stretching down from Naples, Sicily and Malta to block further Ottoman expansion. Süleyman replied to the loss of Tunis with a planned invasion of Italy in 1537, landing a preliminary force of horse under the command of an Italian renegade to scour the countryside of Apulia. To secure his crossing to Italy Süleyman first laid siege to the Venetian fortress of Corfu, extensively protected by massive new-style fortifications. The Turkish besiegers proved incapable of reducing the Venetian citadel, and the entire operation had to be abandoned. The next year Charles continued the Spanish offensive, his Genoese admiral Andrea Doria taking Castelnuovo (now Herceg Novi) in Montenegro. In the late summer of 1539 Barbarossa retook Castelnuovo at a tremendous cost of life. Neither power could successfully bridge the straits of Otranto.

In 1541 Charles directed an enormous fleet against Algiers, a twin to his successful operation against Tunis in 1535. Again the emperor was personally in command, and success looked certain: Barbarossa was in the eastern Mediterranean; the janissary garrison tiny. But soon after disembarking a tremendous three-day gale utterly wrecked the supporting Spanish fleet, and the invading force (reduced to eating their horses) had to be evacuated. For almost ten years following this Spanish disaster there were no major land operations in the Mediterranean.