Second Janissary Revolt in Constantinople Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The revolt of the Ottoman Empire’s elite and highly respected Janissary military corps, angered at being paid in debased currency, reflected the declining power of the empire and its sultans.

Summary of Event

The once-proud Janissary corps, the Ottoman Empire’s elite military organization made up of slaves, those captured in battle, and Christian youth recruited from throughout the empire and southern Europe, declined significantly during the 1580’, largely because Sultan Murad III failed to gain the corps’ respect. Murad’s father, Sultan Selim II, an inconsequential ruler, had a regime in which bribery flourished and political offices could be bought for a price. Because the sultan was the designated commander of the Janissaries, their effectiveness depended on the sultan’s ability to gain and command the respect of his troops. Janissary Revolt, Second (1589) Ottoman Empire Murad III Selim II Murad III (Ottoman sultan) Selim II

Selim II had not met this criterion, and his son, Murad III, fell short even more significantly. The Janissaries, top infantry troops supplied with firearms rather than the lances, bows, and swords of the cavalry, were essential to his expansionist visions. Lacking their confidence in him, he had to command through fear of harsh punishment rather than through genuine respect. The Janissaries, however, turned into an undisciplined and uncontrollable group within Selim’s chaotic ruling environment.

The Janissary corps, in addition to being made up of slaves, also included young men brought to Constantinople under the child levy laws of the time. The child levy, also called devshirme, decreed that every three to seven years one male child was to be taken, or recruited, from each non-Muslim family in Turkish, Balkan, and Anatolian villages and transported to Constantinople to serve the sultan. Military;Ottoman Empire

These youth were trained intensively in the sultan’s palace, where their conversion to Islam was required. The most promising of them remained in the palace to serve the sultan as slaves, but as privileged slaves. Those who were not retained for the palace were sent to Turkish villages to learn the Turkish language and traditions and for physical fitness. It is from this second group that the Janissary corps had traditionally been formed.

The corps had been established by Murad I in the last half of the fourteenth century as an elite and respected military force under the direct command of the sultan. Its members had long been forbidden to marry. Selim’s father, Süleyman the Magnificent, however, relaxed that ban in the sixteenth century.

Janissary service was considered a privilege. Unwavering and unquestioning loyalty to the sultan was demanded, but the benefits were alluring. Janissaries received a regular salary and were considered part of the Ottoman Empire’s ruling class. Those who performed well as military commanders were often made viziers or, in some rare cases, grand viziers. Upon retirement, Janissaries who had performed well could be sent into the provinces, where they led comfortable and secure lives as provincial administrators.

Under Selim and Murad, Janissaries were permitted to work outside the corps during their off hours to earn extra money, which, unlike earlier Janissaries, gave them a tie to the community. Being able to work outside the corps for money, and being allowed to marry and have families, led to drastic changes in the nature of the corps.

When Murad became sultan, many of his subjects resisted the child levy. Desperate to fill the ranks, those responsible for enforcing the levy drew recruits from wherever they could find them, even from the Muslim population. The rule excluding Muslims from becoming members (according to the religious tradition, Muslims could not be enslaved) had to be relaxed to fill the need. What was once viewed as a privilege was now considered compulsory and, therefore, something to be avoided. The Janissary corps became quite unlike the elite military corps it had been before the end of the sixteenth century.

There were, at minimum, two salient factors that led to widespread discontent throughout the empire, including the corps. The government’s spending excesses necessitated higher taxes, which strained the populace. Taxation;Ottoman Empire During the mid-1580’, inflation overtook the Ottoman Empire because of an influx of cheap silver to Spain from South America. The Ottomans, who bought this silver from Spain and made coins that had little value, used the coins to pay the Janissaries. Silver;economy and In essence, however, the Janissaries had not been paid. A corps already demoralized by high taxation, inflation, and administrative chaos grew restive. In 1589, Janissaries revolted, storming their way into the Seraglio, the meeting place of the divan, or imperial council. They demanded punishment for those responsible for the empire’s declining state of affairs.

Murad, knowing how dependent he was on the Janissaries to implement his land-grabs, responded to their demands by ordering the executions of the chief treasurer, the beylerbey of Rumelia (Europe), and the master of the mint. This temporary palliative, along with payment to the Janissaries in a more stable currency, did not offer a permanent solution to the deep-seated problems within the Janissary corps, but it did contain the immediate problem.


The 1589 revolt of the Janissaries—who, despite their loyalty to the sultan, did hold political power within the empire—reflects the decline of a once-powerful empire and an all-powerful sultan. Murad had to meet the demands of what were his Janissaries in a military culture that epitomized the Ottoman ideal of subservience and absolute loyalty to the sultan.

The revolt also reflects the increased power of the Janissaries, who, after 1589, began to demand higher wages because of inflation. The corps also became more and more undisciplined as the revolts multiplied into the next century. The Janissary corps was officially dissolved in 1826 and replaced by an army fashioned like the armies of other European countries.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barber, Noel. The Sultans. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. Barber’s highly readable account of the Ottoman sultans is an essential resource.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Faroqhi, Suraiya. Subjects of the Sultan: Culture and Daily Life in the Ottoman Empire. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2000. A lively account of everyday life and culture in the Ottoman Empire.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodwin, Godfrey. The Janissaries. London: Saqi, 1997. A complete and comprehensive resource on the Janissaries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Itzkowitz, Norman. Ottoman Empire and Islamic Tradition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972. The author provides considerable detail about the formation and activities of the Janissary corps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kinross, John P. The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Ottoman Empire. New York: William Morrow, 1977. In addition to a general history of the empire, this work also contains a compelling overview of the Janissary movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Somel, Selcuk Aksin. Historical Dictionary of the Ottoman Empire. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2003. A brief but comprehensive overview of the reign of Murad III.

1454-1481: Rise of the Ottoman Empire

1512-1520: Reign of Selim I

Aug. 29, 1526: Battle of Mohács

1534-1535: Ottomans Claim Sovereignty over Mesopotamia

1559-1561: Süleyman’s Sons Wage Civil War

1574-1595: Reign of Murad III

Categories: History