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Date Posted: 07:59:04 04/30/16 Sat
Author: John Tredrea
Subject: Re: New Info on Ottomans
In reply to: Albert Parker 's message, "Re: New Info on Ottomans" on 20:59:12 04/29/16 Fri

The situation with the Ottomans is murkier than Al opines.

First of all, Ottoman society and government simply was not bound up in the kind of bureaucratic record keeping that became the norm in northern Europe and, to perhaps a lesser degree, in the Mediterranean region including most prominently the Spanish state after the Renaissance. I can only speak on the basis of conversations I have had with Emir, but the Turkish archives that still exist are not centralized, are organized along lines that seem, shall we say, a bit odd from Western perspective with matters of, say personnel levels and armaments carried, being held by completely discrete departments and at different locations. Access to the various departments is still restricted to a very great degree. One can only shudder to think what the situation is at present with Erdogan trying his damndest to return Turkey to conditions that have not existed since establishment of the modern state of Turkey in 1923.

The language problem is also very difficult to deal with because what 18th century records are available are in a form of Turkish parlance limited to the inner circles of Turkish aristocracy and court bureaucracy and only able to be easily now accessed by a very few scholars with the relevant linguistic training. As Emir's article makes clear, hard data on ship construction and design characteristics and armament are extremely difficult to access. As for dates of construction and periods of service and dates of disposal, the information is fragmentary and inconsistent. Ships built prior to about 1700 did not have names at all because the Ottomans only began producing limited numbers of larger sailing warships along with the large fleets of galleys after the onset of the wars with Venice after 1683. Nomenclature styles and consistency remained a problem throughout the period prior to the 19th century and ship names were frequently duplicated and obfuscated by the use of the ship's designated function as fleet flagship, second flagship, third flagship (Kapudane, Patrona, Riyale) or commander's name in place of the ship's actual name. Centralized listings of the warships actively available to the Sultanate were routinely compiled every ten years. These listings limit themselves with respect to recorded data and do not make clear whether or not a ship bearing a particular name is the original vessel or a replacement for an earlier ship with a similar name. As Emir's article makes clear, the number of gun ports listed reflect neither the number of cannon actually carried or any clear indication of their caliber although Ottoman ships generally carried much lighter caliber gun fits than were the norm for Western ships of similar size for reasons that Emir's article make clear. The only dimensional listing available in government records is the ship's length in Zirras with no useful reference to breadth or depth of hull. The Zirra itself lacked consistency between different shipyards and different periods until 1838 (I believe or thereabouts) when it was locked into .757 meters or 2.48' by the initial reforms of the Tanzimat.

As for operational histories, the situation becomes extremely murky. It is not that the Ottoman commanders did not have clear ideas about strategy or tactics, but that their reports to the Sultanate were intended to conceal their failures and exaggerate their successes to a manner that was rarely the case with Western navies even allowing for a similar tendency. The use of ship's logs as a means for recording campaigns and battles did not come into play until the sultanate of Selim III and there was no broad based system of oversight and evaluation as was the case in the British Royal Navy,for example.

Even during the period after the accession of Selim III in 1789, the compilation of accurate information on warship construction is exceptionally difficult. The only comprehensive listings are for ships built in and around the Imperial Naval Arsenal in the capital. There was a network of shipyards scattered around the litoral of the Black Sea and the coasts of the Levant engaged in supplementary construction and consistent information is frustratingly difficult to obtain. In addition to this, there is the additional question of the vessels, often of frigate size, made available by the semi-autonomous Barbary states of the Maghreb.

I feel that I am grossly simplifying and possibly misstating aspects of an extremely complicated situation here. My point is that the problem in dealing with the Ottoman Navy transcends government censorship or even the degree of attention given it by Turkish historians. It is a can of worms that far exceeds that of Western nations. It may well be more than a question of unearthing information that is available or of reconciling conflicts in data. If the Ottomans operated along lines that precluded the kind of data recording that we find so reassuringly available, we may have to settle for what IS available.

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