Turkish Capitulations Begin Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A series of capitulations, granted to non-Muslims for protection within Muslim lands, were given to France after it requested the military aid of the Ottoman Turks. The Turks capitulated through a binding treaty rather than through a unilateral edict issued by a sultan, and also for the first time explicitly entered a military and political alliance with a Western power.

Summary of Event

Capitulations are based on the Islamic doctrine or custom of aman. Aman allows a Muslim community or any individual within the community to grant protection to any specified individual or small group of non-Muslims. Islam;Ottoman Empire Only the imam, the religious leader of the community, or the sultan, however, could give protection to groups of unspecified size, such as all diplomats, traders, or citizens of a specified nationality. Ottoman Empire;alliance with France[France] Süleyman the Magnificent Charles V (1500-1558) Francis I (1494-1547) Ibrahim Paşa Selim II Sokollu, Mehmed Paşa Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor) Francis I (king of France) Süleyman the Magnificent Ibrahim Paşa Sokollu, Mehmed Paşa Selim II

Individuals or groups protected under aman were allowed to travel or live without harm in Muslim territory and were treated generally as were non-Muslim subjects of the realm. The protection had to be formally requested and required a reciprocal promise of peace and friendship. Aman was documented by a berat, a document similar to a passport and issued by the sultan or his representative. The issuing officer, or his superior, alone had the right to revoke the berat.

From the beginning of the Ottoman Empire, sultans unilaterally granted capitulations to foreigners to promote commerce and to protect the interests of the merchant class. The sultan retained authority to retract a capitulation whenever he felt that the recipient had broken his pledge of friendship or exceeded the sultan’s conception of the prerogatives of the capitulation. Capitulations were, however, granted to serve Ottoman political, economic, or financial needs. In some cases, a capitulation might be granted to enlist a Christian political ally. Commercial rights might be granted to obtain scarce commodities, such as silver bullion, woolen cloth, tin, steel, or paper. In addition, stimulation of trade would increase customs revenues.

Privileges granted under capitulations included the right to establish merchant communities in Ottoman cities, such as the foreign enclave of Pera in Constantinople. Consuls with judicial authority to arbitrate conflicts within these communities also were established.

In the fifteenth century, the Ottomans, combating Venetian dominance of the Levant trade, unilaterally granted capitulations to Genoa, Ragusa, and Florence, in succession. The first French capitulation came in 1517, when earlier capitulations granted by the Mamlūks in Syria and Egypt were allowed to stand after the Ottomans conquered Egypt.

In 1535, war was renewed between Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and King Francis I of France. Francis immediately sought aid from the Ottomans, whose naval forces already were in conflict with the Habsburg Dynasty’s fleet. On February 18, 1536, Süleyman the Magnificent and Francis I concluded a treaty negotiation by Grand VizierIbrahim Paşa that provided a permanent exchange of envoys and a capitulation for the French.

The agreement, modeled on previous arrangements with Venice and Genoa, permitted French merchants to operate under French law in Ottoman territory administered by a French representative in Constantinople. French and Ottoman subjects were granted the right to travel and trade freely in the territories of both nations. They also were granted a favorably low customs duty of only 5 percent on imports and exports.

French consuls were designated to hear all civil and criminal cases arising among French subjects in Ottoman domains without interference by Ottoman court officials. The Ottomans, however, made themselves available to enforce French judgments if requested to do so. Although civil cases involving Muslim Ottomans had to be tried in Ottoman courts, defendants protected under the capitulation were allowed advice from French consular representatives.

In criminal cases involving French citizens, they were excused from appearing before Ottoman judges but were referred to the grand vizier or his agent, where the testimonies of Ottoman and French subjects were to be given equal weight. In contrast, the testimony of non-Muslims had no effect in contradicting Muslim testimony. In addition, the French were allowed complete religious liberty in the Ottoman Empire, with the right to guard the Christian holy places. In effect, this amounted to a French protectorate over all Catholic inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire.

Also, all Christian ships, with the exception of Venetian vessels, were required to fly the French flag for protection in Ottoman waters. The trade agreement was soon followed by a secret military alliance directed against Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain. Finally, the king of France, alone among European sovereigns, was henceforth treated as an equal by the sultan, to be addressed as padishah in the same manner as the sultan, rather than as a bey.

The capitulation of 1536, however, was never fully implemented and, after the death of Francis I, Ottoman-French relations cooled. Stress that was attendant on the advent of the Ottoman-Venetian wars of 1570-1573 caused a revival of the Ottoman-French accord. On October 19, 1569, a new capitulatory agreement, negotiated by Mehmed Paşa Sokollu, was signed by Selim II. This agreement restored the former Ottoman-French capitulations, which then persisted, with modifications, suspensions, and renewals, until the sultanate was abolished. Under the 1569 capitulation, all other Western nations were obliged to sail and trade under the French flag. One result of this situation was that, by the beginning of the seventeenth century, Levantine trade accounted for half of all French trade.


Capitulations began to infringe on Ottoman sovereignty, however, amounting to special concessions deleterious to the Turkish economy. Still, England was granted a trade monopoly in 1580 between Egypt and Istanbul, and a British consulate was opened in Egypt. Following the Franco-Spanish rapprochement of 1573, the English and Dutch became stronger rivals of the Habsburgs than were the French, leading to their being granted Ottoman capitulations.

The French capitulations again were revised and reenacted in 1739, the most extensive ever granted. In addition, extraordinary and exclusive privileges were granted to French traders in Ottoman territories. Special rights were granted to Roman Catholic monks in the Holy Land and generally to Catholics throughout the Ottoman Empire. Ultimately, these Latin rights in the Holy Land under this capitulation, which had come to be usurped by the Orthodox Church, became a pretense for Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte in helping to precipitate the Crimean War in 1854. The Treaty of Lausanne, however, finally abolished capitulations in 1923.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fisher, Sydney Nettleton, and William Ochsenwald. The Middle East: A History. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004. Chapter 18 of this well-known general history is entitled “The Ottoman Empire as a World Power.” Provides a comprehensive review of the major events of Süleyman’s reign.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goffman, Daniel. The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Reconsideration of the Ottoman Empire, arguing that it should be understood as part of Renaissance Europe, rather than as a “world apart,” isolated and exotic.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Inalcik, Halıl. The Ottoman Empire: Conquest, Organization, and Economy. London: Variorum Reprints, 1978. Includes a concise definition of the nature of a capitulation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kinross, Lord. The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. New York: William Morrow, 1977. A comprehensive history emphasizing cultural and economic factors and political changes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"


    The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age, 1300-1600. Translated by Norman Itzkowitz and Colin Imber. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Aristide D. Caratazas, 1973. Discusses the politics of capitulations and their effect on Ottoman society.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kunt, Metin, and Christine Woodhead, eds. Süleyman the Magnificent and His Age: The Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern World. New York: Longman, 1995. Anthology of essays covering the genesis of the Ottoman Empire, the policies and problems faced by the empire in the sixteenth century, and Süleyman’s reign in the context of those problems.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marriott, J. A. R. The Eastern Question: An Historical Study in European Diplomacy. 4th ed. Reprint. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1958. Covers the character and effects of the capitulations from the reign of Süleyman I to 1916.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Palmer, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1994. Palmer describes the progressively less favorable terms of the capitulations that were offered subsequent to the reign of Süleyman I and examines their destructive consequences.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Richardson, Glenn. Renaissance Monarchy: The Reigns of Henry VIII, Francis I, and Charles V. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Comparison of Francis I to two other monarchs who helped define Renaissance government and culture. Focuses on their careers as warriors, governors, and patrons. Includes maps, bibliographic references, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shaw, Stanford. Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808. Vol. 1 in History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1976. Shaw outlines the concept of capitulations, discusses many individual capitulation agreements, and describes the effect of the policy on the Ottoman economy.

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