- Created in the fourteenth century as a personal bodyguard by Sultan Orkhan (1326–1360) and named in Turkish jeniçeri, meaning “new militia,” Janissaries were the elite soldiers of the Ottoman Empire. The Janissaries became the first regular infantry unit maintained in constant employment by any European ruler. Composed of recruits from the European parts of the empire, Christian prisoners of war, and even slaves, the Janissaries were also the first Ottoman troops to be trained in the use of firearms. They became politically as well as militarily powerful, demonstrating on many occasions a capacity to depose sultans and dictate Ottoman policy. By the nineteenth century the Janissaries became a law unto themselves. In 1825, Sultan Mahmud II created the eshkenjisa, a new military unit based on European standards, and attempted to reform the Janissaries along similar lines. They revolted, were defeated by the eshkenjisa on June 15, 1826, and then hunted down and slaughtered by the civilian population of Constantinople. Between 6,000 and 20,000 were massacred, their bodies tossed in to the Bosphorus.FURTHER READING:Goodwin, Godfrey. The Janissaries. London: Saqi, 1997.MOSHE TERDMAN
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.