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The Price Revolution of the Sixteenth Century: A Turning Point in the Economic History of the Near East

  • Ömer Lutfi Barkan and Justin McCarthy

The sixteenth century came to an end with the countries of the Ottoman Middle East falling into a grave economic and social crisis which presaged a decisive turning point in their history. The most symptomatic sign of what was, in fact, a structural crisis was a series of popular revolts which appeared most prominently among the Muslim Turkish population of Anatolia. Known as the Celali revolts, these uprisings developed into open civil war against the forces of the Ottoman state, and in their first phase lasted approximately fifteen years, from 1595 to 1610.

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page 3 note 1 Istanbul, 1927, III, 348–75.

page 3 note 2 ‘Vosstanie Kara Yazici-Deli Hasan v Turtsii’, Izd. Ak. SSSR, pp. 85–93.

page 4 note 1 Celali Isyanlart (Ankara, 1943).

page 8 note 1 Dalsar, Fahri, Bursada İpekçilik (Istanbul, 1960).

page 8 note 2 Akdağ, Mustafa, ‘Osmanli İmparatorlugunun Kuruluş ve İnkişaf devrinde Türkiyenin İktisadi vaziyeti’, Belleten (Istanbul, 1949, 1950), 51, 55.

page 9 note 1 Braudel, F., La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen a l'Epoque de Philippe II (Paris, 1966), vol. 1, part 2, ‘Métaux précieux: Monnaies et prix’, pp. 448, 488.

page 9 note 2 Barkan, Ömer Lutfi, ‘XV. asrin sonunda bazi büyük şehir1erde eşya ve yiyecek flyatlari’, Tarih Vesikalari, nos. 5, 7, 9 (1942).

page 9 note 3 Barkan, Ömer Lutfi, ‘Edirne Askeri Kassâmina ait Tereke Defterleri’, Belgeler, 3 (1966), 1479.

page 9 note 4 Barkan, Ömer Lutfi, ‘L'organisation du travail, dans le chantier d'une grande mosquée à Istanbul au XVIe siécle’, Annales (Economie, Sociétés, Civilisation), no. 6 (1962), 1093–106;idem, ‘Edirne ve çivarindaki bazi Imaret Tesislerinin Yilhik Muhasebe Bilânçolari’, Belgeler, I (1963), 235–377.

page 9 note 5 Barkan, Ömer Lutfi, ‘Türkiye şehir1erinin teşekkül ve inkişaf tarihi bakimindan, Imaret Sitelerinin Kuru1uş ve Işleyiş tarzina ait Araştirmalar’, Iktisat Fakültesi Mecmuasz 23 (1963), 239398.

page 11 note 1 The figures in these registers are from the annual account registers of the Imperial imarets (Sultanin İmaretlerinin Yillik Muhasebe Bilançolarz), with the exceptions of nos. 2 and 3 which come from the kitchen accounts of the imperial palaces. Some of the registers cover the solar year and some the lunar year, so some discrepancies are inevitable due to seasonal differences. In addition, the accounts in nos. 9, 12, 15, and 19 covered only six months or even less in the years mentioned, while that of 16 covered an eight-month period. In all cases, where several prices appeared for individual items, average prices paid for them have been used.

page 12 note 1 The figures presented here are based on the unpublished doctoral thesis of Doçent DrSahillioğlu, Haul, ‘Kuruluşundan XVIIe asrin sonlarma kadar Osmanli Para tarihi hakkinda bir deneme’ (Istanbul, 1958).

page 12 note 2 These figures are based on Sahillioğlu's study, which is based on the Tebrizi dirhem (drachma), weighing 3·072 grams, which he states was used in the Ottoman Empire toward the end of the seventeenth century. The dirhem used after that time, called Rumî, weighed 3·2O7 grams. Sahillioğlu states that the Ottoman gold goin called sultanî, contained 3·572 grams of pure gold in 1552, compared with a Venetian ducat of that time of 3·559 grams. The sultanî gold piece weighed 3·544 grams between 1552 and 1560, and 3·517 grams in 1563. It fell to 3·490 in 1641 and afterward to 3·464 grams. Between 1560 and 1641, the Venetian ducat fell to 3·426 grams.

page 13 note 1 In addition to the work of Sahillioğlu cited above, see Istanbul Belediye Kitapliği, Muallem Cevdet MS no. B/9, as cited in Barkan, ‘Tereke Defterleri’, p. 447.

page 13 note 2 Braudel, op. cit. p. 490, shows that a similar devaluation occurred in Iran at the same time, and that (p. 480) the money of account in most European countries also underwent devaluation during the same period.

page 13 note 3 Ibid. pp. 361–83. My own research in two Ottoman censuses taken in 1520–35 and 1570–80 confirms Braudel's hypothesis regarding the Ottoman Empire in this regard. The provinces of Anatolia increased by 56 per cent, those of Rumelia by 71 per cent, and the t a largest cities of the empire, excluding Istanbul, Aleppo, and Damascus, increased by 90 per cent during the sixteenth century (Barkan, Ö. L., ‘Essai sur les données statistiques des registres de recensements dans l'empire Ottoman aux XVe et XVIe siécles’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 1 (1957);idem, ‘Defter-i Khakani’, El.2 At this time, it is not possible to prove a direct connection between the population increase and that of prices. It seems to me that the former was not a cause of the latter, but that it did make the resulting crisis more severe and dangerous.

page 13 note 4 Istanbul Belediye Kitapliği, Muallem Cevdet MS no. B/9 and Barkan, ‘Tereke Defterleri’, p. 447.

page 13 note 5 As is seen in the records of the Narh Defters, the value of the akçe had fallen so much that, while it was theoretically 120 to the altun, the official price, it really became necessary to pay 180 akçes for one altun gold piece. In comparison, prices of goods increased as much or even more. Now, with the coinage regulation, the akçe was returned to 120 to one, a one-third drop, and prices of goods were caused to drop in a similar manner. Some goods went to two-thirds of the old price. Official price lists fixed the new amounts to be paid: bread which had been sold at 115 dirhems to the akçe was now to be sold at possibly 200 for one akçe; one akce now brought 120 dirheins of fine bread, not 80. A kite of flour, which had been 120 akçes, was now 80; less acceptable flour went from 75 to 50 a kite, rice from 56 to 39 a kile, honey from 20 to 13 an okka, an okka of butter from 26 akçes to 19. An even greater comparison is to be seen in the fall in price of imported luxury goods. For example, a cubit of fine French velvet could fall from 1,200 to 550, a cubit of Genevese velvet from 880 to 400, a cubit of ‘newly produced’ (nev-peyda) broadcloth from 300 to 120. In the records of the Bayezid II Imaret in Istanbul (number i a in the table), prepared a year after the officially fixed price went into effect, we find the following: the average price of a kile of wheat, 73·14 akçes; a kile of rice, 88 akçes; an okka of butter, 26; an okka of honey 16; and an okka of lamb 10 akçes.

page 14 note 1 Sahillioğlu, Halil, ‘XVII'nci asrin ilk yarismda İstanbul'da Tedavüldeki Sikkelerin Rayici’, Belgeler Dergisi, vol. 2 (1964), pp. 223–8.

page 14 note 2 Refik, Ahmed, Osmanli İmparatorluğunda Meskûkât, Türk Tarih Encümeni Mecmuasι, nos. 6, 7, 8, and 10 (Istanbul, 1330–40).

page 15 note 1 Bursa Arkeoloji Müzesi Arşivi, B/44 Kadi Sicilli, yp 90–91. In this official price list for food in Bursa, a kile of good wheat is 55 akçe, other wheat 40; barley is 20, Egyptian rice 50, native rice 40, an okka of butter 20, of olive oil 16, of honey 12, of lamb 8 akçes. One akçe would buy 2·5 dirhems of black pepper.

page 15 note 2 Concerning the coinage regulation, there exists a Narh Defteri which organizes, in the new market price of money, the prices of every sort of foodstuff and goods in Istanbul at this date. The prices in this defter are slightly higher than those in the defter of 1600, though they are figured at the same rate of exchange: an akçe will buy 200 dirhems of bread in the 1600 defter, 150 in this one; an okka of lamb is 8 akçes in one, 9 in the other, an okka of butter 29 and 24 akçes, an okka of honey 11 and 23 akçes. This demonstrates that, when needed, the official rate was flexible. (The Istanbul defter is in the Topkapi Sarayi Museum, Revan Kitapliği No. 1934. For the 1600 defter, see the source cited in footnote 1, p. 22.)

page 16 note 1 See the source quoted in footnote 2, p. 9.

page 16 note 2 Ibid.

page 17 note 1 Three of the four budgets on which these figures are based have been published in the Istanbul University Iktisat Fakültesi Mecnmuasι as ‘Osmanli Imparatorluğu bütçelerine aft notlar’ (‘Notes relating to the budgets of the Ottoman Empire’). The other will be forthcoming in the same journal. Listed below are the dates and numbers of the volumes in which they were published, along with the financial years of the budgets: (A) 1527/8, in volume xv (B) 1567/8, in volume xix (1960); (C) 1581/2, to be published; (D) 1669/70, in volume xvii (1961).

page 17 note 2 In order to find the real measure of value, the yearly income figures, which were expressed in akçes in the budgets, were converted separately to gold. According to the exchange lists (resmi kur') of the times, one gold coin would convert to 55 akçes in budget A, 60 in budgets B and C, and 120 in budget D. As was shown in footnote 55 p. 13, and footnote 2, p. 15 above, in times of inflation the value of the akçe decreased and, compared to the official exchange lists (resimi kur'), a different free exchange rate for gold would be in effect. Until an adjustment was made, the superintendents of wages and incomes (dar-gelirli maaş sahipleri) and the Financial Bureau (devlet maliye idaresi) experienced a great many difficulties.

page 19 note 1 Also included in these budgets are the acemi oğlans, the topçus, and the cephanecis, who together amounted to 1·98–3·07 percent of the national expenditure. The acemi oglans, youths who were organized into labor battalions to work in construction, transport, and gardening before they became Janissaries, numbered 8,000–10,000. The topus (artillerymen) and the cephanecis (munitions workers) numbered 1,377, 1,689, 1,645, and 2,445 in the four budgets.

page 20 note 1 The increase in the mean yearly income of the individuals in budget B can be explained by the addition of 355 akçes a day made to the soldiers' pay on account of the accession of a new sultan, which occurred during the year. ‘Total Salaries’ increase is due to the increase in the number of recipients. These additions were men enrolled in the ocaks who, together with about 5,000 of the household guards, took part in the Anatolian wars of accession on the part of the new sultan. Later dissatisfaction among the Istanbul Kapu Kulus caused a great number of them to be erased from the rolls. They nevertheless still contribute to the swelling of this budget's figures.

page 20 note 1 These figures, based on the official rates of exchange, estimate the amount of gold which would equal the mean yearly salary. In these periods the difference between the free and official rates of exchange was great. It is clear that this must have resulted in great problems over methods of payment. On one hand the state would not have wanted to give out, at the official exchange rate, the foreign silver coins or gold it had taken with great difficulty from the people at those same official rates. On the other hand, those affected would not have wanted to accept payment in akçes, because their value in the market place had drastically fallen. For this reason, those on the imperial payroll tried as much as possible to be paid in gold. They could then take the pay they received at the rate of 120 akçes to the altun and change their gold back into akçes at 225 or even 250 to one.

page 24 note 2 Barkan, ‘Tereke Defterleri’, pp. 5974.

page 24 note 3 This spread achieved such intensity that even the ‘fiefs’ of the smaller timariots and the revenues of charitable institutions (wakfs) were being sold to contractors who specialized in such business. This further demonstrates the tremendous need for revenues and money, a need that gave birth to a class of financial speculators who were interposed, to the great injury of the public interest, between the administrative cadres of the state and the people.

page 25 note 1 See the section ‘Avariz’; in the Islam Ansiklopedisi, vol. 2, Istanbul.

page 27 note 1 Barkan, ‘Tereke Defterleri’, pp. 30–58;Celali Isyanlart, pp. 36–43.

page 27 note 2 See footnote 3, p. 13 above.

page 27 note 3 Akdağ, Celali Isyanlart, p. 44Cezar, Mustafa, Osmani: Tarihinde Levendler (Istanbul, 1965), Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi Yayinlari, no. 28.

page 28 note 1 Akdag, Mustafa, ‘Türkiye Tarihinde Içtimai Buhranlar serisinden: Medreseli Isyanlari’, Iktisat Fakültesi Mecmuasι, vol. 9 (1950).

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