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A temporal analysis of wealth in eighteenth-century Ottoman Kastamonu



This article studies temporal variations in wealth levels and distribution in an Ottoman context during the eighteenth century. By analysing the probate estate inventories of the Muslim deceased in Kastamonu, located in north-central Anatolia, we demonstrate that real wealth levels generally declined over the course of the century. Our analysis also suggests that the economic conditions of poor men, if not women, deteriorated more so than those of the rich, fuelling growing inequality. The article explores the factors that contributed to these trends and discusses the relevance of our findings for long-term economic development patterns in the region from a comparative perspective.



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1 See, for example, Van Zanden, J. L., ‘Tracing the beginning of the Kuznets curve: Western Europe during the early modern period’, Economic History Review 48, 4 (1995), 643–64; Persson, K. G., Pre-industrial economic growth (Oxford, 1988); Crafts, N. F. R., British economic growth during the industrial revolution (Oxford, 1985); Cameron, Rondo E., A concise economic history of the world (Oxford, 1989).

2 Kuran, Timur, The long divergence: how Islamic law held back the Middle East (Princeton, 2011), 34.

3 Van Zanden, ‘Kuznets curve’; Lee Soltow and Jan Luiten van Zanden, Income and wealth inequality in the Netherlands, 16th–20th century (Amsterdam, 1998); P. Lindert, ‘Three centuries of inequality in Britain and America’, in F. Bourguignon and A. B. Atkinson eds., Handbook of income distribution, vol. 1 (Amsterdam, 2000), 167–216; Allen, R. C., ‘The great divergence: wages and prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War’, Explorations in Economic History 38 (2001), 411–47; Hoffman, Philip T., Jacks, David S., Levin, Patricia A. and Lindert, Peter H., ‘Real inequality in Europe since 1500’, Journal of Economic History 62, 2 (2002), 322–55; Santiago-Caballero, C., ‘Income inequality in central Spain, 1690–1800’, Explorations in Economic History 48, 1 (2011), 8396; Canbakal, Hülya, ‘Reflections on the distribution of wealth in Ottoman Ayntab’, Oriens 37 (2009), 237–52.

4 Kuznets, Simon, ‘Economic growth and income inequality’, American Economic Review 45, 1 (1955), 128, here 19.

5 Van Zanden, ‘Kuznets curve’; Lindert, ‘Three centuries’.

6 Soltow and van Zanden, Income and wealth inequality, ch. 4.

7 Wouter Ryckbosch, ‘Scarcity and prosperity before the Industrial Revolution: household wealth in the southern low countries: Aalst, 17th–18th centuries’ (unpublished paper presented at N.W. Posthumous Conference, Antwerp, 12–13 May 2011), available on; Alfani, G., ‘Wealth inequalities and population dynamics in early modern northern Italy’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 11 (2010), 513–49.

8 In the Ottoman context, tax farming refers to the farming of public revenue sources, including agricultural taxes and taxes associated with manufacturing, customs, mining and specific services. Individuals who won the right to tax these sources in public auctions paid the state a lump sum and fixed installments for the duration of their contracts. Between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries tax farm contracts did not extend beyond five years. Life-term tax farming was introduced at the end of the seventeenth century, as a result of increasing government demand for funds due to frequent wars and financial crises during this period.

9 Under the prebendal system, local cavalry forces collected land taxes, mostly in kind, as compensation for military service during the times of war and for maintaining order in their locales in peacetime.

10 Lewis, B., ‘Some reflections on the decline of the Ottoman Empire’, Studia Islamica 9 (1958), 111–27; C. Issawi, The economic history of the Middle East, 1800–1914 (Chicago, 1966); Y. Özkaya, XVIII. Yüzyılda Osmanlı Kurumları ve Osmanlı Toplum Yaşantısı (Ankara, 1985), ch. 8; Tabakoğlu, A., Gerileme Dönemine Girerken Osmanlı Maliyesi (Istanbul, 1985), 205–41.

11 Barkey, Karen, Empire of difference: the Ottomans in comparative perspective (Cambridge, 2008), 236–7.

12 McGowan, B., Economic life in the Ottoman Empire: taxation, trade and the struggle for land, 1600–1800 (Cambridge, 1981), ch. 1.

13 Salzmann, Ariel, Measures of empire: tax farmers and the Ottoman Ancien Régime, 1695–1807 (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1995), 331; Salzmann, Ariel, Tocqueville in the Ottoman Empire: rival paths to the modern state (Leiden and Boston, 2004), 6071; Kasaba, R., The Ottoman Empire and the world economy: the nineteenth century (Albany, 1988), 14; Suraiya N. Faroqhi, ‘Declines and revivals in textile production’, in Suraiya N. Faroqhi ed., The Cambridge history of Turkey, vol. 3: The later Ottoman empire, 1603–1839 (Cambridge, 2006), 356–75, here 362; Mehmet Genç, ‘Ottoman industry in the eighteenth century: general framework, characteristics, and main trends’, in Donald Quataert ed., Manufacturing in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, 1500–1950 (Albany, 1994), 69–70.

14 Özmucur, Süleyman and Pamuk, Şevket, ‘Real wages and the standards of living in the Ottoman Empire, 1469–1914’, Journal of Economic History 62, 2 (2002), 293321, here 301. Skilled wages remained flat.

15 Canbakal, ‘Reflections’, 249. Canbakal does not adjust her observations for inflation. However, since prices declined during the two centuries, this does not change the inference of a declining trend in wealth levels.

16 Mehmet Genç, ‘A study of the feasibility of using eighteenth-century Ottoman financial records as an indicator of economic activity’, in Huri İslamoğlu-İnan ed., The Ottoman Empire and the world economy (Cambridge, 1987), 345–73, here 358.

17 Nikolai Todorov, The Balkan city, 1400–1900 (Seattle, 1983), 149–50.

18 One exception is the finding by Canbakal that inequality increased in Ayntab between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; Canbakal, ‘Reflections’, 287–8.

19 Özkaya, Osmanlı Kurumları; McGowan, Economic life; M. Genç, ‘Osmanlı Maliyesinde Malikane Sistemi’, in O. Okyar ed., Türkiye İktisat Tarihi Semineri (Ankara, 1973), 231–91; M. Çızakça, A comparative evolution of business partnerships: the Islamic world and Europe, with specific reference to Ottoman archives (Leiden, 1996), 159–69.

20 See, now, Coşgel, Metin M. and Ergene, Boğaç A., ‘Inequality of wealth in the Ottoman Empire: war, weather, and long-term trends in eighteenth century Kastamonu’, Journal of Economic History 72, 2 (2012), 308–31.

21 Parts of the discussion on historical background and dataset are adapted from Coşgel and Ergene, ‘Inequality of wealth’.

22 B. A. Ergene, Local court, provincial society and justice in the Ottoman Empire: legal practice and dispute resolution in Çankırı and Kastamonu, 1652–1744 (Leiden, 2003), ch. 2.

23 Cited in C. Behar ed., Osmanlı İmparatorluğu'nun ve Türkiye'nin Nüfusu, 1500–1927 (Ankara, 1996), 7.

24 Kinneir, J. M., Journey through Asia Minor, Armenia and Koordistan in the years 1813 and 1814: with remarks on the marches of Alexander and retreat of the ten thousand (London, 1818), 282. Kemal Eyüpgiller, who studied the urban history of the town, does not regard the period as one of major construction or urban expansion. He also claims that the boundaries of the town by the end of the nineteenth century were not much different from those in the sixteenth century. Eyüpgiller, Kemal Kutgün, Bir Kent Tarihi: Kastamonu (Istanbul, 1999), 383–4. Charles Issawi gives the population of the town as 12,000 in the 1830s, 16,000 in 1890, and 20,000 in 1912. Cited in Behar, Osmanlı İmparatorluğu, 33.

25 Ergene, Local court, ch. 2.

26 ‘Kastamonu’, Meydan Larousse, vol. 7 (Istanbul, 1969), 60.

27 Ibid.

28 Faroqhi, Suraiya, Towns and townsmen of Ottoman Anatolia: trade, crafts and food production in an urban setting, 1520–1650 (Cambridge, 1984), 131–5. Eyüpgiller, Bir Kent, 44–6.

29 Ergene, Local court, ch. 2; Eyüpgiller, Bir Kent, 44–5; Yaman, T. M., ‘Küre Bakır Madenine Dair Vesikalar’, Tarih Vesikaları 1 (1941), 266–82; Faroqhi, Towns, 175.

30 Faroqhi, Towns, 225–7; Karagöz, M., ‘XVII. ve XVIII. Asırlarda (1650–1750) Kayseri’, Fırat University Journal of Social Science 19 (2009), 266.

31 Ergene, Local court, ch. 2.

32 Ergene, Boğaç A. and Berker, Ali, ‘Wealth and inequality in 18th-century Kastamonu: estimations for the Muslim majority’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 40, 1 (2008), 2340.

33 For detailed discussions of the contents of these documents and the ways in which they can be used to understand the material culture of a particular locale, see C. Establet and J.-P. Pascual, Familles et fortunes à Damas: 450 foyers damascains en 1700 (Damascus, 1994); and C. Establet and J.-P. Pascual, La gent d'état dans la société ottomane damascène: les ‘askar à la fin du XVIIe siècle (Paris: Institut français du Proche-Orient, 2011).

34 R. Gradeva, ‘Towards a portrait of “the rich” in Ottoman provincial society: Sofia in the 1670s’, in A. Anastasopoulos ed., Provincial elite in the Ottoman Empire (Rethymno, Crete, 2005), 152–63; Establet, Colette, Pascual, Jean-Paul and Raymond, André, ‘La mesure de l'inégalité dans la société ottomane: utilisation de l'indice de Gini pour Le Caire et Damas vers 1700’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 37, 2 (1994), 171–82; Ergene and Berker, ‘Wealth and inequality’, 26.

35 The court of Kastamonu charged about 3.4 per cent of the gross values of estates for assessing their values and dividing them among heirs. See Ergene, Boğaç A., ‘Costs of court usage in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ottoman Anatolia: court fees as recorded in estate inventories’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 45, 1 (2002), 2039, here 29.

36 See Annalies Moors, Women, property and Islam. Palestinian experiences, 1920–1990 (Cambridge, 1995), ch. 3 for the prevalence of this practice in modern Palestine.

37 Wrigley and Schofield give the crude death rate as 0.035 for preindustrial Italy and France and as 0.025 to 0.03 for preindustrial England and Wales. See Wrigley, E. A. and Schofield, R. S., The population history of England, 1541–1871: a reconstruction (Cambridge, 2002), 181–2.

38 C. Heywood, ‘Kastamonu’, in Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd edn, vol. 4. (Leiden, 1978), 738.

39 Özmucur and Pamuk, ‘Real wages’. We compared the consumer price index of Özmucur and Pamuk with the prices of select food and consumer products from the lists of official prices (narh) in Kastamonu court registers, which are consistent.

40 Ergene and Berker, ‘Wealth and inequality’.

41 Our ability to think about wealth and inequality in different ways is restricted due to the limited nature of historical sources. For example, it is impossible to determine if the control of land, through tax farming or other means, became concentrated in fewer hands in eighteenth-century Kastamonu, since terekes do not provide information about land, which was technically owned by the state. On the other hand, a few historians have suggested, based on the experiences of a few prominent provincial families, that land control was becoming concentrated during our period in other locations in Anatolia and the Balkans; see, for examples, Barkey, Empire of difference, ch. 7; and Çağlar Keyder and Faruk Tabak eds., Landholding and commercial agriculture in the Middle East (Binghampton, 1991).

42 For women, the slopes calculated for the Gini coefficient and wealth shares appear to be influenced by the aberrant values found for the sub-period of 1723 to 1732, which is why we offer in Table 2 a second set of slope calculations that exclude this decade.

43 Genç, ‘Malikane Sistemi’, 252.

44 Ianeva, Svetla, ‘Financing the state? Tax-farming as a source of individual wealth in the nineteenth century’, Oriens 37 (2009), 209–24. For a similar observation in the context of seventeenth-century Greece, see Fodor, P., ‘Fur of lynx and arable land: the wealth of an Ottoman tax farmer in early seventeenth century’, Oriens 27 (2009), 191208.

45 Initially, Istanbul-based elites dominated public auctions in which tax farms were sold to the highest bidders. From the very start, however, these groups managed their investments indirectly, through local agents or sub-farmers, many of whom were among the provincial elite. Later, the roles of the provincial elite expanded substantially. ‘Over the course of eighteenth century’. Pamuk notes, ‘some 1,000 to 2,000 Istanbul based individuals, together with some 5,000 to 10,000 individuals based in the provinces, as well as innumerable contractors, agents, financiers, accountants and managers controlled an important share of the state's revenues’; Pamuk, Şevket, ‘The evolution of financial institutions in the Ottoman Empire, 1600–1914’, Financial History Review 11, 1 (2004), 732, here 17.

46 According to Pamuk, ‘the greatest fortunes in the larger cities of Bursa and Edirne during the seventeenth century belonged to people who lent a large part of their assets’. Ş. Pamuk, A monetary history of the Ottoman empire (Cambridge, 2000), 80. Estate inventories provide information about the outstanding debts and credits of the deceased. However, the important question of how credit relations might have changed in Kastamonu during our period cannot be addressed here due to the scope of the article and space considerations.

47 H. İnalclk, ‘Centralization and decentralization in Ottoman administration’, in T. Naff and R. Owen eds., Studies in eighteenth century Islamic history (Carbondale, 1977), 27–52.

48 Ryckbosch, ‘Scarcity and prosperity’; Alfani, ‘Wealth inequalities’; van Zanden, ‘Kuznets curve’; Soltow and van Zanden, Income and wealth.

49 In Flanders, the increasing reliance of the economy on income from previously accumulated capital, such as financial assets and land holdings, in a period of economic stagnation, was the primary cause of worsening inequality; Ryckbosch, ‘Scarcity and prosperity’, 21. In northern Italy, demographic fluctuations were the responsible factors; Alfani, ‘Wealth inequalities’.

50 Establet, Pascual and Raymond, ‘La mesure de l'inégalité dans la société ottomane’, 171–82, here 177–80.

51 Canbakal, ‘Reflections’, 248.

52 For more on the historical meanings of these titles and others, see Ergene and Berker, ‘Wealth and inequality’.

53 Elite title-holders, in addition to being wealthy, were also more urban, legally literate, and less hesitant to use court services than the rest of the society. Since the relationship between non-elite titles, such as Beşe, Halife or Çelebi, and sources of human capital formation is less clear, we chose to include them in the omitted category along with individuals with no titles.

54 Y. Cezar, Osmanlı Maliyesinde Bunalım ve Değişim Dönemi (XVIII. yy. dan Tanzimat'a Mali Tarih) (Istanbul, 1986), 68–74; Tabakoğlu, Gerileme Dönemi, 295–300.

55 Tabakoğlu Gerileme Dönemi; Özkaya, Osmanlı Kurumları.

56 M. Genç, ‘18. Yüzyılda Osmanlı Ekonomisi ve Savaş’, in M. Genç, ed. Osmanlı İmparatorluğunda Devlet ve Ekonomi (İstanbul, 2000), 215–25.

57 R. Murphey, Ottoman warfare, 1500–1700 (New Brunswick, 1998), 85–6, 181.

58 Halil İnalcık and Donald Quataert eds., An economic and social history of the Ottoman Empire, 1300–1914 (Cambridge, 1994); Virginia H. Aksan, Ottoman wars, 1700–1800: an empire besieged (Harlow, 2007).

59 Akkemik, Ünal, Dağdeviren, Nesibe and Aras, Aliye, ‘A preliminary reconstruction (A.D. 1635–2000) of spring precipitation using oak tree rings in the western Black Sea region of Turkey’, International Journal of Biometeorology 49, 5 (2005), 297302. This study reconstructs a record of yearly precipitation from the rings of living and dead oak-trees in the Pınarbaşı region, located about 80 kilometres northwest of the modern city of Kastamonu.

60 Stephens, D. J. and Lyons, T. J., ‘Rainfall–yield relationships across the Australian wheatbelt’, Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 49, 2 (1998), 211–23; Özkan, B. and Akçaöz, H., ‘Impacts of climate factors on yields for selected crops in southern Turkey’, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 7 (2002), 367–80.

61 In comparison, when we regressed the annual wealth averages (in natural logarithmic scale) on Time and elite titles only, we found the coefficient for Time as –0.007, which was significant at 1 per cent. This value represents percentage annual change in wealth averages if we do not hold constant the wealth effects of war incidents, weather patterns and the post-1767 crisis.

62 The partial F test, which determines if a group of variables collectively has any effect on a dependent variable (H0: βjkl=…=0), indicated that the joint wealth impact of the coefficients calculated for post-1767 economic crisis, wars and elevated precipitation levels was also statistically insignificant at 5 per cent.

63 Because the number of years with 8 or more female terekes (31) is very small, a similar type of analysis for women generates unreliable results.

64 Cezar, Osmanlı Maliyesi, 74, 135; Tabakoğlu, Gerileme Dönemi, 295–300.

65 Cezar, Osmanlı Maliyesi, 110.

66 Genç, ‘Malikane Sistemi’, 252.

67 The partial F test indicated that the joint impact of the war variables is also statistically insignificant at 5 per cent in the regressions for the second quartile.

68 Ianeva, ‘Financing the state’, 211–12.

69 The F tests indicate that for the second, third and fourth quartiles the joint effects of the wet variables are insignificant at 5 per cent.

70 According to the F test, the joint effect of the dry variables is insignificant at 5 per cent in the regression for the second quartile.

71 When we regressed the yearly wealth averages (in natural logarithmic scale) on Time and elite titles only, we found the coefficients for Time as –0.003, –0.005, –0.009, –012 and –0.013, respectively, for the top 10 per cent, first quartile, second quartile, third quartile and fourth quartile. The coefficients estimated for the top 10 per cent and first quartile were statistically insignificant; the coefficients for the second, third and fourth quartiles were significant at 1 per cent.

72 See Coşgel and Ergene, ‘Inequality of wealth’, for a quantitative investigation of this issue.


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