Janissary Revolt and Osman II’s Assassination Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Members of the elite Ottoman Janissary corps assassinated Sultan Osman II after they mutinied and overthrew his government. The Janissaries were deeply opposed to planned corps reform.

Summary of Event

In 1617, Sultan Ahmed I Ahmed I died after a reign of fourteen years. Best remembered for his monumental Blue Mosque (Ahmediye Mosque), his reign epitomized the dynastic flaccidity that had set in since the death of Süleyman the Magnificent in 1566. Until this time, sons of reigning sultans had been sent to the provinces to learn administrative skills as sanjak beys (provincial governors). Ahmed I was the first sultan to not have had this experience, and his successors, like him, were brought up in the harem, learning only what the women and eunuchs cared to teach them. [kw]Janissary Revolt and Osman II’s Assassination (May 19, 1622) [kw]Assassination, Janissary Revolt and Osman II’s (May 19, 1622) [kw]Osman II’s Assassination, Janissary Revolt and (May 19, 1622) [kw]Revolt and Osman II’s Assassination, Janissary (May 19, 1622) Government and politics;May 19, 1622: Janissary Revolt and Osman II’s Assassination[0910] Organizations and institutions;May 19, 1622: Janissary Revolt and Osman II’s Assassination[0910] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May 19, 1622: Janissary Revolt and Osman II’s Assassination[0910] Middle East;May 19, 1622: Janissary Revolt and Osman II’s Assassination[0910] Ottoman Empire;May 19, 1622: Janissary Revolt and Osman II’s Assassination[0910] Osman II Janissaries;revolt

Ottoman succession practices in earlier times had been based upon the law of fratricide, the practice whereby a new ruler ordered the execution of his brothers and their male children, and also the execution of pregnant imperial concubines (haseki). With Ahmed’s accession to the throne, this practice ceased because the sultan was only fourteen. The execution of his half brother, Mustafa, would have endangered the Ottoman succession. Eventually, Ahmed had three sons who survived: Osman II Osman II , by a concubine, Mahfiruz; and Murad IV Murad IV andIbrahim Ibrahim (Ottoman sultan) , by another concubine, Kösem Sultan Kösem Sultan . Under usual circumstances, Osman should have succeeded, but a palace clique preferred the late sultan’s half brother Mustafa Mustafa I , whose reign of a few months (1617-1618) proved so incompetent that the sheyhülislam (chief judge), Esat Efendi, working with Osman’s mother, Mahfiruz, managed Mustafa’s deposition and his substitution by Osman II. Osman possessed considerable energy and determination, which was unusual for seventeenth century sultans.

A simmering problem for the new administration was the frontier with Poland. In 1615, landowners in southeastern Poland invaded Moldavia (an Ottoman vassal) to intervene in the succession. In 1617, Iskender Paşa Iskender Paşa , beylerbey (governor-general) of Özü (Ochakov), retaliated, taking ten thousand men into Moldavia to a stand off with the Poles at Busza, where an agreement was signed. Poland agreed to not interfere in Moldavia, Walachia, and Transylvania and to curb Cossack depredations, while the Ottomans were to do the same regarding the Crimean Tatars. Polish-Ottoman War (1618-1621)[Polish Ottoman War (1618-1621)] This treaty, however, was disregarded by the Polish king, Sigismund III Vasa Sigismund III Vasa , who, staunchly pro-Habsburg, attacked the prince of Transylvania, Gabriel Bethlen Bethlen, Gabriel , an Ottoman protege. On September 18, 1620, Iskender Paşa attacked a Polish force under its commander, Stanislas Zolkiewski, Zolkiewski, Stanislas at Cecora, overwhelming it and sending Zolkiewski’s head to Constantinople. However, the Poles rallied and established a strong bridgehead at Khotin (now in the Ukraine).

Sultan Osman II then led his own troops (an increasingly rare phenomenon during the seventeenth century). For weeks, the Ottomans tried to assail the Polish defenses, with a final, unsuccessful assault on September 28, 1621. Irritated by the conduct of the Janissaries, whom he berated publicly, Osman renegotiated the 1617 Treaty of Busza Busza, Treaty of (1617) .

Osman’s brief experience in the field came at a time when Ottoman reformers were advocating fundamental internal changes. The moment seemed ripe for the sultan to take the initiative, but reform programs inevitably threaten vested interests, and the inexperienced sultan soon faced major opposition. Traditionally, the sheyhülislam made all clerical appointments, but Osman transferred this function to himself. Esat Efendi was left with his juridical authority intact, but he soon became a bitter opponent, along with dismissed officials from Mustafa’s brief reign and the entourage of his stepmother, Kösem.

More serious, however, was his conflict with the army—the Janissaries and the sipahi of the palace (cavalry units stationed in the capital)—recruited from non-Turks, mainly through the devshirme system Devshirme system , the so-called tribute of Christian slave-boys from the Balkan provinces. Osman had been angered by the performance of these units on campaign (and they were disappointed with his leadership), but the issue transcended mere irritation. Since the glorious days of Süleyman the Magnificent, great changes had come over military life. The days of highly mobile border warfare had come to an end with the virtual closing of the Hungarian and Caucasian frontiers. In war zones far distant from Constantinople, where siege warfare was replacing mobile raiding, the actual fighting was becoming arduous and dangerous, with little expectation of booty. The disgruntled soldiers still were recruited through the devshirme, which could no longer provide the numbers of troops needed. Osman thought that he knew the solution.

It is by no means certain that the ideas for reform originated with the sultan himself, who, in 1621, was still a teenager, although he had learned much in the past three years. More probably, the ideas came from his grand vizier, Dilawar Paşa Dilawar Paşa , appointed in September, 1621. A devshirme boy of Croat origin, he had risen through the ranks of the palace service to enjoy successively the offices of beylerbey of Cyprus, Baghdad, Erivan, and Diyarbakir. He had accompanied the sultan to the Siege of Khotin (1621) Khotin, Siege of (1621) , where the sultan elevated him to the grand viziership. It was Dilawar who proposed a practical solution to the problem of military recruitment: Abolish the devshirme, which could not provide sufficient recruits but instead created a corporate truculence toward authority, and expand the Janissaries’ numbers with free-born Turkish recruits from Anatolia and Syria. Dilawar urged the sultan to leave Constantinople for Anatolia for his own safety, since the reform would be highly controversial. The sultan’s pretext for leaving would be the pilgrimage to Mecca. This was logical but dangerous advice, only to be implemented if the sultan could secretly escape from his capital, a hotbed of Janissary discontent, including growing resentment of the sultan.

Hearing a rumor that Osman planned to leave for Mecca, the Janissaries, along with discontented ulama and bureaucrats, assembled in the Blue Mosque in May, 1622, to demand that he forgo his pilgrimage, but the meeting quickly got out of hand: The sheyhülislam produced a fetva (a religious decree) declaring the sultan’s evil advisers worthy of death. The sultan agreed to abandon his pilgrimage, but the Janissaries demanded the grand vizier’s death, and a mob broke into the palace and lynched him and other high officials (May 19). The sultan was then deposed and taken to Yedikule, the Castle of the Seven Towers, Constantinople’s bastille.

The Janissaries and the city mob were being secretly manipulated by Davud Paşa Davud Paşa , a Bosnian product of the devshirme system, and a one-time beylerbey of Rumelia, who had served briefly as Kapudan Paşa (grand admiral) and had accompanied Osman on the Khotin campaign. He had married a sister of deposed sultan Mustafa I and was now acting on behalf of the future valide sultan, Kösem. As Osman’s stepmother, she was eager to be rid of him, fearing that, in the Ottoman tradition, he would order the execution of his half brothers. For the present, with her own sons mere children, she and Davud arranged to have the deposed Mustafa I brought from his gilded captivity and restored to the throne (May 20), at which time she appointed Davud grand vizier

Osman clearly could not be left alive, and Davud promptly departed with his accomplices for Yedikule. Osman must have known why he had come, but he was young and put up a tremendous struggle. According to the Ottoman writer, Evliya Çelebi, it took several men to overcome him. One of the late sultan’s ears was sent to the vengeful Kösem, and a finger was lopped off to obtain a valuable ring. As the English ambassador Sir Thomas Roe astutely observed, “this was . . . the first emperour that they ever laid violent hands on; a fatal signe, I think, of their declynation.”


Although fratricide within the palace was an Ottoman tradition, Osman’s execution was, as Roe remarked, the first time that a sultan had been murdered by his subjects. It set a grim precedent, often repeated in the years that followed. Above all else, it illustrated the arrogance of the Janissary corps and its growing appetite for mutiny and mayhem. The devshirme system itself, which Osman and Dilawar had rightly identified as the problem, was abolished by Osman’s half brother, Murad IV Murad IV , but the corps survived, passing through various mutations until Mahmud II (1808-1839) ordered in 1826 its disbandment and the massacre of its rank-and-file.

Not long after the wretched Osman had been murdered, the Janissaries, with the waywardness typical of mobs, displayed overwhelming remorse for what they had done. The feeble-minded Mustafa I survived only a few months (1622-1623) and was soon returned to isolation. Davud was dismissed from the grand viziership (1622) and later executed (1623), along with his associates. In the ensuing chaos, widespread protests by the ulama led to the accession of the eleven-year-old Murad IV with his mother, Kösem Sultan, acing as regent on his behalf.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodwin, Godfrey. The Janissaries. London: Saqi Books, 1997. An excellent account of the rise and fall of the Janissary corps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Imber, Colin. The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power. New York: Palgrave, 2002. An updated overview of the period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kinross, Lord. The Ottoman Centuries. New York: Morrow Quill, 1977. A popular account of Ottoman history, including Osman II’s misadventures.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murphey, Rhoads. Ottoman Warfare, 1500-1700. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999. A sophisticated analysis of the Ottoman war machine, in which the Janissaries played a central role.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pierce, Leslie P. The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1963. A groundbreaking study of the central institution of the Ottoman Empire. Essential reading.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Kösem Sultan; Murad IV; Sigismund III Vasa. Osman II Janissaries;revolt

Categories: History