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Problems in the Ottoman Adminstration in Syria during the 16th and 17th Centuries: The case of the Sanjak of Sidon-Beirut

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 January 2009

Abdul-Rahim Abu-Husayn
Abdul-Rahim Abu-Husayn teaches history at the American University of Beirut, c/o New York Office, 850 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022, U.S.A.


The history of the mountain hinterland of Sidon and Beirut—the area often referred to as the Druze Mountain—has hitherto been treated mainly as parochial Lebanese history, with inadequate reference to the Ottoman administrative context. Now that Ottoman archival material has become generally accessible, the subject needs to be revised in its light. In so doing one must keep in mind that most Ottoman chancery documents are normally orders issued in Istanbul for the governors of the provinces—in this particular case, the Syrian provinces—which were not necessarily acted upon, but which can serve to indicate the sort of problem that the Ottoman administration faced in a given province, whether or not they tell us what action was actually taken.This means that to attempt a reconstruction of the administrative history of a given Syrian region—or of any region of the far—flung Ottoman realm—purely on the basis of the Ottoman chancery documents, without taking into account what the local chronicles have to say, is bound to leave major parts—sometimes, perhaps, the most significant parts of the story in question—untold. On the other hand, to reconstruct such a history purely from what the chronicles relate, without reference to the official documents of the Ottoman chancery would leave much of the story unexplained or inexplicable. It is only by combining the two that one can gain a full historical picture of the subject under investigation. From this combination, what transpires, in the case of the sanjak of Sidon—Beirut, is an account of repeated Ottoman accommodations to local realities, made at the expense of administrative norms which existed in theory, but whose application in the different parts of the Ottoman world was far from uniform.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1992

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1 Among those who submitted to Ottoman authority and declared their loyalty to the Ottoman sultan Selim I were the “Lebanese” chiefs Karkmaz Maʿn, Jamal al-Din al-Yamani and Assaf (Istifan, al-Duwayhī, Ta⊇rikh al-Azmina, ed. Ferdinand, Tautel [Beirut, 1951], 236).Google Scholar The contemporary historian Hamza Ibn Sibat, however, did not mention Korkmaz Maʿn's submission, but spoke of two meetings between Sultan Selim I and a rival Druze chief of the Tanukh family (Ḥamza, ibn Sibāt, Ta⊇rikh Ibn Sibāt, also known as Ṣidq al-Akhbār, American University of Beirut ms. No. 956.9, fol. 373).Google Scholar See also Kamal, Salibi, “The Secret of the House of Maʿn”, International Journal of Middle East Studies 4 (1973): 277–88.Google Scholar

2 For Sidon and Beirut forming one sanjak, see Heyd, U., Ottoman Documents on Palestine 1552–1615 (Oxford, 1960), 48, n. 4.Google Scholar The sanjak of Sidon–Beirut, while constituting part of the province of Damascus for the greater part of the period under consideration, was at times detached from this province and placed under the jurisdiction of the province of Tripoli. This will be discussed later. For the administrative divisions of the province of Damascus, see Bakhit, M., The Ottoman Province of Damascus in the Sixteenth Century (Beirut, 1982), 6880;Google ScholarRafeq, A., The Province of Damascus: 1723–83 (Beirut, 1966), 1.Google Scholar

3 The individual names of these three nahiyes were the following: (a) Shuf Ibn Maʿn (comprising the regions called al-Shuf al-Haythi, sometimes rendered al-Hayti, and al-Shuf al-Suwayjani); (b) Shuf al-Bayyada; and (c) Shuf al-Harradin. For all the nahiyes of the sanjak of Sidon-Beirut, see Bakhit, , Ottoman Province of Damascus, 6880.Google Scholar

4 The most renowned Druze chief Fakhr al-Din Maʿn (known as Fakhr al-Din II) had actually built a mosque in Florence while he was a fugitive there, where one of his men acted as a muezzin. Aḥmad, al-Khālidī, Ta⊇rikh al-Amīr Fakhr al-Din a1Maʿni, ed. Rustum, A. and Boustany, F. (Beirut, 1936), 235–36.Google Scholar

5 This tax is officially documented where the Nusayris are concerned. Mantran, R. and Sauvaget, J., Règlements fiscaux ottomans les provinces syriennes (Paris, 1951), 76, n. 1.Google Scholar According to the contemporary local literature, however, other heterodox Muslim communities, especially the Druzes, were subjected to the same treatment. A 17th-century Aleppine biographer says that Ottoman governors had repeatedly confiscated Druze property in al-Jabal al-A⊇la, an area in the province of Aleppo, and that these governors imposed money payments on the Druzes in return for allowing them to go unmolested. Abū, al-Wafā Ibn ʿUmar al-ʿUrdī, Maʿādin al-Dhahab fi'l-Rijāl al-Musharrafa bihim Ḥalab, ed. Altunji, M. (Aleppo, 1986), 295–96.Google Scholar

6 Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad Ibn Ṭūlūn, “Sall al-ṣarīm ʿala aṭbaʿ al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh,” Taymuriyya Library, manuscript No. 79, fols. 247–60.

7 Following an Ottoman attack against the Druzes, Shaykh Taqiyy al-Din al-Balatinsi (d. 1529) issued a fatwa declaring it legitimate to shed the blood of the Druzes and confiscate their property. On the same occasion a number of Damascene poets wrote in praise of Khurram Pasha, the leader of the Ottoman forces; an example is the poem, written by al-Shams Ibn al-Farra al-Salihi. See Shams, al-Dīn Muḥammad lbn Ṭulun, Iʿlām al-Warā bi man Waliya Nā⊇ iban min al-Atrāk bi-Dimashq al-Kubrā, ed. Khaṭṭāb, A. (Cairo, 1973), 273-74.Google Scholar

8 For further details regarding the establishment of the province of Tripoli, see Abu-Husayn, A., Provincial Leaderships in Syria: 1575–1650 (Beirut, 1985), 1720.Google Scholar

9 For this rebellion, see Hamza, Ibn Sibat, Taʾrikh, fols. 373–74.Google Scholar For the Hanash chiefs, see Hour, F. and Salibi, K., “Muhammad ibn al-Hanash, Muqaddam de La Biqa 1499–1518; un episode peu connu de l'histoire Lebanaise,” Mélanges de l'Université Saint-Joseph 43 (1968): 323;Google ScholarBakhit, M., “The Role of the Hanash Family and the Tasks Assigned to It in the Countryside of Dimashq al-Sham 790/1388–976/1568: A Documentary Study,” in Land Tenure and Social Transformation in the Middle East, ed. Khalidi, T. (Beirut, 1984), 257–89.Google Scholar

10 The two Biqas refer to the so-called al-Biqāʿ al-Baʿalbaki (the nahiye of Baalbek, in the sanjak of Homs), and al-Biqāʿ al-ʿAzīzī (the nahiye of the Biqāʿ proper, in the sanjak of Damascus).

11 Ibn, Sibāt, “Ta⊇rīkh,” fols. 373–74.Google Scholar

12 Shams, al-Din Muḥammad Ibn Ṭūlūn, Iʿlam, 272–73;Google Scholar idem, “Sall,” fol. 247; Muḥammad, Ibn Jumʿa, Kitāb al-Bashāt wa⊇l-Qudāt, published with other texts under the title in Wulā at Dimashq fi'l-ʿAhd al-ʿUthmānī, ed. al-Munajjid, S. (Damascus, 1949), 6;Google ScholarHusayn, A. Abu, “The Ottoman Invasion of the Shuf in 1585: A Reconsideration,” al-Abḥath 32 (1985): 1321.Google Scholar Al-ʿUrdi also speaks of the Druze books as being openly atheistic; see al-ʿUrdī, , Maʿādin, 298.Google Scholar

13 Shams, al-Din Muḥammad Ibn Ṭūlūn, Iʿlām, 274;Google ScholarMuḥammad, Ibn Jumʿa, Kitāb, 8; Abu-Husayn, “Ottoman Invasion of the Shuf,” 20. For the reaction of Damascene ulama and poets to Khurram Pasha's action against the Druzes, see n. 7.Google Scholar

14 For further details on this point, see Abu-Husayn, A., “The Korkmaz Question: A Maronite Historian's Plea for Maʿnid Legitimacy,” al-Abḥath 34 (1986): 34.Google Scholar

15 Heyd, , Ottoman Documents, 94, n. 4.Google Scholar

16 On the question of the sources of firearms, see Heyd, , Ottoman Documents, 79; Umuri Muhimme Defteri 26:488, dated 1574;Google Scholar see also Halil, Inalcik, “The Socio-Political Effects of the Diffusion of Firearms in the Middle East,” in War, Technology and Society in the Middle East, ed. Parry, V. and Yapp, M. (London, 1975), 195211.Google Scholar

17 For the relations between local Syrian chiefs and Catholic Europe, see Bulus, Qarali, ʿAli Basha Junblat, Wāli Ḥalab, 1605–1611 (Beirut, 1939),Google Scholar where the correspondence between Tuscany and the papacy and the Syrian rebel chief ʿAli Pasha Janbulad is published. Qarali also published the correspondence between the papacy and Tuscany and the Druze chief Fakhr al-Din Maʿn in a three-volume work under the title Fakhr al-Din al-Maʿnī al-Thānī wa-Dawlat Tuskana (Harisa, 19371938).Google Scholar

18 Bakhit, , Ottoman Province of Damascus, 165.Google Scholar

19 This according to an order from Istanbul to the governor of Damascus, , Muhimme Defteri, 29:70, dated 15 12 1576.Google Scholar

20 See, for example, Muhimme Defteri, 26:488, 614; 27:686; 29:70; 46:854.Google Scholar The last order cited here is published in Heyd, , Ottoman Documents, 82. All these orders were issued between 1574 and 1582.Google Scholar

21 For further details regarding this expedition, see Abu-Husayn, , “Ottoman Invasion of the Shuf,” 1321.Google Scholar

22 The Ottoman Defteri Mufessel utilized by Hutteroth, W. and Abdul-Fattah, K. in their study, Historical Geography of Palestine, Transjordan and Southern Syria in the Late 16th Century (Erlangen, 1977), clearly indicates this change; see esp. p. 17. Subsequent Ottoman orders confirm this.Google Scholar

23 For the career of Jaʿfar Pasha al-Tuwashi, see Munajjim Bashi (Aḥmad Ibn Lutf Alläh), Jāmīʿ al-Duwal, Topkapi Palace Library, ms. no. 5966, fol. 1221A; for that of Yusuf Sayfa, see Abu-Husayn, , Provincial Leaderships in Syria, 1156.Google Scholar

24 For a detailed account of Fakhr al-Din Maʿn's career, see Abu-Husayn, , Provincial Leaderships in Syria, 80128.Google Scholar

25 For the Assafs, see Salibi, K., “Northern Lebanon Under the Dominance of Ğazir 1517–1591,” Arabica 14 (1967): 144–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

26 For this appointment, see Abu-Husayn, , Provincial Leaderships in Syria, 81.Google Scholar

27 See, for example, Muhimme Defteri 71:187, 188, 190; 73:87, 88, 89.Google Scholar All of these orders belong to the period between 1594 and 1595. Some of them refer to previous administrative orders issued in earlier reigns concerning the sanjak of Sidon–Beirut as part of the eyalet of Tripoli, ; Muhimme Defteri 73:87, 88, 89.Google Scholar

28 For the conflict between the governors of Damascus and Tripoli and Fakhr al-Din Maʿn and Yusuf Sayfa over Kisrawan and Beirut, see Abu-Husayn, , Provincial Leaderships in Syria, 2122, 24, 83.Google Scholar

29 Ibid., 33, 36, 37, 95.

30 Ibid., 97.

31 Salibi, K., “The Lebanese Emirate, 1667–1841,” al-Abḥath 20, 3 (1967): 115.Google Scholar

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