Education in the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire developed a system for taking as prisoners from captured lands “young children . . . reserved for the state and . . . sent to . . . [be] educated among the Turks . . . [and] employed in military service.” M. Fuad Koprulu, The Origins of the Ottoman Empire 114 (Gary Leiser ed. & trans. 1992). This peculiar institution, called the devshirme, allowed Ottoman sultans to maintain a cadre of slaves who could be selected for loyal service in government and military posts. The system successfully operated along the conquered frontier territories of the empire, territory that is now Bulgaria, Albania, Rumania, and the former Yugoslavia. See Lord Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire 344 (1977)(map).

[U]nder local supervision Christian villagers were to surrender all their male children between the ages of eight and twenty, who were brought to Istanbul where their Ottomization began. . . . “So perfectly did the Palace School mold aliens of divergent race and creed to the Turkish type, and so thoroughgoing was the process of assimilation, that there are few instances of rebels . . . among the officials educated within its walls.”

Karen Barkley, Bandits and Bureaucrats: The Ottoman Route to State Centralization 31 (1994)(quoting Barnett Miller, quoted in Metin Kunt, Ethnic Regional (cins) Solidarity in the Seventeenth-Century Ottoman Establishment, 5 Int’l J. Middle E. Stud. 234 (1974)).

As reflected in the Bible and other historical records, the devshirme concept was not an original innovation, but was instead an amalgamation of ancient cultural and institutional techniques in the Middle East, the Near East, Spartan/Platonic Greek tradition, and the Roman Empire. See e.g. Daniel 1:1-8; 3:9-22; 6:6-17; Exodus 1:8-14, 16-18, 22; Matthew 2:3, 4, 16. Similar practices have been utilized after the demise of the Ottoman Empire in such nations as Iraq.

See also Education in National Socialist Germany.

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