The governance of Cyprus

Many changes occurred regarding governance during the Ottoman rule. According to Michael’s research (2019), during:

  • 1571-1670 Cyprus was a separate paşalik with Beylerbey as governor
  • 1670-1703 the island was under the jurisdiction of the Kaptan Paşa who appointed the Mütesellim as governor
  • 1703-1745 Cyprus was directly under the jurisdiction of the Grand Vizier who appoints a Muhassıl as governor
  • 1745-1785 the Grand Vizier leased the revenues of the island to a Muhassıl (governor)
  • 1785-1839 Cyprus was governed by a Muhassıl appointed by the Imperial Council (Divan-i Hümayun). [According to Edward Clarke in 1801, the governor resided in Nicosia and his appointment was annual. According to Michael the governor was replaced every two years [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]].
  • 1839-1861 Cyprus belonged to the paşalik of the island of Rhodes with a paid Mutasarrıf as governor. In 1838 there was a significant change: [According to Sakellarios (1890), following an order of the sultan, a new system was introduced within the Ottoman empire; Cyprus was now governed by a paid commander [Mutasarrıf], which held the political, military and financial governance of the island [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]].
  • 1861-1868 the island was an independent region directly under the authority of the Imperial Council
  • 1868-1870 Cyprus belonged to the vilayet of the Dardanelles
  • 1870-1878 Cyprus was an independent muterriflık [Michalis Michael, 2019].

A general view of the Ottoman administration

Theocharides describes the living conditions of Cyprus during the early decades of the 17th century (2019): “drought, locusts, rising prices, poverty, the flight of mainly the Christian inhabitants, and Islamization”. A firman dated 31/12/1706 mentions: “The poor reaya [non-Muslims] reported that, in this way, the remaining reaya, weakened because of taxation tyrrany, started to scatter and that, if mercy is not shown for their condition, the remaining ones would also disperse and flee” [Ioannis Theocharides, 2019].  According to Kemal Çiçek (2019), in the early 18th century: “socially, corruption in most of the institutions of the state caused crisis and lack of confidence; and economically, both the state and the people lost their main sources of income” [Kemal Çiçek, 2019]. According to Archimandrite Kyprianos in 1788, “The Greeks, who to a certain extent preferred to be subject to the Ottoman, rather than to a Latin, power, were even glad in all their wretchedness, because so far as concerned their rites and customs, they escaped the tyranny of the Latins”. For Edward Clarke in 1801, the situation in Cyprus was in a few words: ” Agriculture neglected — inhabitants oppressed — population destroyed — pestiferous air — contagion — poverty — indolence — desolation” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].  According to Sant-Cassia (1986), “there is no doubt that Cyprus suffered a serious decline during the Ottoman period. Governors were appointed for short periods and were more interested in extracting as much revenue as possible to make their bid pay. There was no investment in the infrastructure and the Island was probably in a worse state in 1878 than when the Turks captured it from the Venetians”. He also adds, “Due to the contradictions of Ottoman administration, the Greeks were as likely to have been oppressed by their Churchmen as by the Turks” [P. Sant-Cassia, 1986]. According to E. Rizopoulou (2019), the Ottoman rule was the reason that Cyprus was to remain in a pre-industrial stage for a very long period [Euphrosyne Rizopoulou-Egoumenidou, 2019].

Districts and Towns

Cyprus was divided at the beginning of the rule into sixteen districts, each having its aga or governor, and cadi or minister of justice; they consist of sixteen towns. The names of these towns are Nicosia, Larnaca, Pentayia, Kyrenia, Lefka, Morfou, Mesaoria, Karpasi, Limassol, Kilani, Kouklia, Pafos, Avdimou, Famagusta, Episkopi, Chrysochou” [there were also two sub-districts of Nicosia, Kythrea and Dağ] [Ronald Jennings, 1992]. There were in 1572, around 906 villages according to Jennings, in 1608 around 866 villages according to Dündar, in 1643 around 728 villages according to Dündar [Styliani Lepida, 2019], whilst during the 1777 census, 565 villages and towns were recorded, according to Archimandrite Kyprianos [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].

In the year 1598, the only places that could be considered cities, according to Johann van Kootwyck were Nicosia and Famagusta [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]. During the 1760s Abbe Giovanni Mariti considers Nicosia and Famagusta as “the only places of importance”, with Larnaca playing a secondary role among the Cypriot towns [Giovanni Mariti, 1791]. Finally, in 1815, William Turner considers Nicosia and Larnaca the only populous towns of Cyprus, as the rest “are deserted”. He calls Limassol “a village” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].


Taxation imposed by the government

Due to the fact that the Grand Vezir could not rule Cyprus himself and collect taxes, the taxes collected from the population of the kingdom ended up in the hands of each governor, which was placed into this position following a bidding procedure. The ruler aimed to get the money back and much more, and by the time he had collected enough of it, he then gave his place to a new one who in his turn, would try to get reach by imposing new kinds of taxations and earn as much as possible. Tyranny, despotism, cruelty, oppression, and extraction of wealth are some words that describe the behaviour of governors against the folk, which led to continual emigrations. Taxes in the 1760s accumulated to approximately 200 piastres for each citizen, regardless of rank [Giovanni Mariti, 1791]. According to T. Sandwith in 1865-70, some £230,000 was raised in taxes every year, despite that island’s administration cost only £30,000. The surplus went to the treasury in Istanbul. In Crete taxes amounted to 1/11 of the island’s income, in Cyprus at 1/6. Sandwith assumed that the reason why Cyprus was so heavily taxed “is the fact that people are as submissive to exactions made upon them as so many sheep which offer their backs to the shearers”  [Stephen Boys Smith, 2019].

According to Giovanni Mariti in the 1760s, when new taxes were to be imposed, the Muhassıl informed the Dragoman (Greek interpreter), who in his turn informed the Greek Archbishop, who passed the news to the diocese (a district under the pastoral care of a bishop in the Christian Church) [Regarding the taxation of other minorities in Cyprus, G. Mariti does not clarify whether the same procedure happened with their prelates or whether it was as well, a job for the Greek Archbishop to inform them] [Giovanni Mariti, 1791].

Regarding the collection of tax, Alexander Drummond in 1750 mentions the following: “The method of levying these impositions is very strange: no time is fixed for payment, but when the officer empowered shall make his demand, if the unhappy man cannot produce the money, he must undergo imprisonment, the bastinado [canning the soles of someone’s feet], or some other torture: if he is possessed of any effects, houses, lands, cattle or other moveables, they are instantly sold at an undervalue, to satisfy those cormorants, who set his wife and children adrift, without remorse or compunction; nay, they even make a sport of their misery” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]. Kemal Çiçek’s research gives us another clue of what could happen to someone who owed tax money as he gives the testimony of a Greek in the Nicosia sharia court in 1714, who claimed he didn’t owe money: “I had a deficit of 350 piastres in my tax records. They said ‘since this is your unpaid debt’ of course you will remain in custody and be beaten to death’. Then they tortured me many times and beat me many times” [Kemal Çiçek, 2019].

List of Ottoman taxes in Cyprus

The taxation on agricultural products in 1572 was according to Recep Dündar 20% [Recep Dündar, 2019]. According to Ali Efdal Özkul’s (2015) research on the taxation in Cyprus by the Ottomans in the 18th century, Muhassils who worked in Cyprus sometimes exacerbated problems by using their official duties to heavily tax the people by inventing their own taxes. Sometimes Cypriots could not pay taxes because of epidemics, locusts, famine and numerous other problems. So, the islanders migrated to Syria and the Anatolia coast for a better life. For these reasons, the population of Cyprus was declining, and it wasn’t able to provide the annual budget of the Beylerbeylik [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015]. The following list of taxes was applied in the island (there might be more), of which data was recorded on archives of that era:

  • cizye: It was collected by non-Muslims and it is known as “Poll tax”. Cizye taxpayers are healthy, employed men, age 15–75. Cizye was taken from three classes: rich (a’lâ) non-Muslims as cizye 48 dirhams of silver; 24 dirhams of silver from middle-class; from the poor (ednâ) non-Muslims as cizye 12 dirhams silver. Also, cizye tax was collected as four, two and one dinar (gold). This tax was sent directly to the centre of the Ottoman Empire [This was the number one reason for conversions of Christians to Islam. As Özkul writes, “Some non-Muslim men who changed their religion in order to be exempt from the poll tax can be seen in the sources”] [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015].
  • pişkeş: According to Mehmet Demiryürek (2019), this was a sum of money that should be paid by the Christian Archibishop and Bishops in the form of “gift” when their selection at their posts was “approved” by the Sultan. They raised this amount by taxing the Christians [Mehmet Demiryürek, 2019].
  • resm-i patriklik: In addition to the previous “gift”, according to Demiryürek, the Church of Cyprus had to pay this annual tax as well, which was raised directly from the Christians. For instance, between 1594-1612, each taxpayer was paying 8 akçe [Mehmet Demiryürek, 2019].
  • resm-i şem hane [the wax factory tax]: According to Demiryürek, this was a yearly tax collected from the Christians. Between 1573-1612 for example the tax was 5 akçe per taxpayer [Mehmet Demiryürek, 2019].
  • bedel-i sirâcât: According to Demiryürek, this was a new tax on wax, seen in the Ottoman taxation records of Cyprus in 1612. The non-Muslims paid 30 akçe per taxpayer [Mehmet Demiryürek, 2019].
  • Bedel-i nüzul: This tax was taken for a soldier’s unpaid taxes [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015].
  • maişet-i vali: A direct income for the Muhassil. Maiset was taken from every taxpayer of cizye according to the class in which they belonged in Cyprus. It was also taken from Muslims [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015].
  • resm-i bennâk: According to Wikipedia it was a tax on peasants who had little or no land.
  • İspençe: According to Recep Dündar (2019), 30 akçe was paid by married or single men who owned land or not [According to Mehmet Ünal (1989)], from 1572 to 1637 and were non-Muslims [Recep Dündar, 2019].
  • bive resm-i: According to Halil Inalcik (1969), 6 akçe was levied on Christian widows [Recep Dündar, 2019].
  • mürdegâne: According to Recep Dündar, when a person recaptured and delivered a fleeing slave to his/her real owner, s/he was given 20 akçe as “good tidings reward”. The owner of a slave would pay 60 or 100 akçe as “good tidings reward” to the timar holder who owned the territory in which the slave was recaptured depending on the distance between the owner’s place and the place where the slave was recaptured [Recep Dündar, 2019].
  • adet-i ağnam: According to Recep Dündar (2019), 1 akçe was collected on every 3 sheep owned by Muslims and 1 akçe was collected on every 2 sheep of non-Muslim [another discrimination against non-Muslims] [Recep Dündar, 2019].
  • adet-i deştbâni: According to Recep Dündar, this tax was collected from animal owners to compensate for damages done by their animals to the fields of a timariot, and some of it was given to rural guards who were hired to protect the fields [Recep Dündar, 2019].
  • tapu-yi zemin: It was according to Çağatay a tax collected from fields that were left uncultivated for three successive years or on the transfer (with the title deed) of a field which belonged to people who did not have a son in return for a sum of money [Recep Dündar, 2019].
  • resm-i arusâne: It was according to Çağatay a kind of marriage tax of 60 akçe collected from virgin girls and 30 akçe from widows. This was mostly collected by the timar holder but sometimes it was shared with the ruler of the sanjak [Recep Dündar, 2019].
  • cürm ü cinayet: According to Pakalın (1983), this was a feudal law tax extracted by the feudal law by known criminals. They could be fined instead of imprisoned [Recep Dündar, 2019].
  • avarız-ı dîvâniye: According to Wikipedia, avarız was a property tax, an annual cash tax paid by households to supply the army with cash.
  • resm-i meyhane: According to Faroghi (1994), the places where Christian and Jews could purchase wine were called taverns (meyhane). The taxes collected from these places were called Tavern Tax [Recep Dündar, 2019].
  • resm-i kevvâre: According to Recep Dündar (2019), 5 akçe were collected for each bee-hive [Recep Dündar, 2019].
  • bâd-i hevâ: Muslim and non-Muslim falconers that were cultivating land, sometimes should pay this tax [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015].
  • damga resmi: According to Wikipedia, damga resmi was a form of stamp duty.
  • Resm-i dönüm: According to Wikipedia, the resm-i dönüm was based on the dönüm, a measure of farm size; The resm-i dönüm was a land tax paid each year to the landowner or timar holder, typically on 1 March.
  • bâc-ı ebvâb: This tax was collected at entrances to the city and other transition points. This means that the bâc tax was a customs duty and bringing an assortment of goods and belongings to the gates of the city could be taken as an entry fee [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015].
  • saray döşemesi: The Ottoman Empire received the tax of saray döşemesi from the Cypriots every year [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015].
  • resm-i gümrük: According to Wikipedia it was a customs charge or tax.
  • mîrî meredde-baha: Falconers were obliged to pay a tax called mîrî meredde-baha if they did not send hawks to Istanbul [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015].
  • mahsul-ı mukataa-i bahçe: According to Pakalın (1983), after the timar system was not applied to Cyprus, which was legally deemed to be the property of the Sultan. However, in practice, such areas were left to the former owners who cultivated them. The state imposed the tithe and other taxes on the owners [for example in Nicosia district, in 1572, we see this tax imposed on vineyards and gardens, totalling 61,568 akçe] [Recep Dündar, 2019].
  • bidat-ı hinâzir: According to Halil Inalcik (1987), 1 akçe was levied on each pig bred in a drove and 1 akçe on 2 pigs bred at home [Recep Dündar, 2019].
  • resm-i mizan-ı harir
  • penbe
  • resm-i kotoni 
  • resm-i peşmi
  • resm-i dimi
  • boya-i sürh
  • kahve rüsumu
  • gümrük-i duhan
  • resm-i mîrî
  • piskopos rüsumu
  • tamir-i saray
  • oda harcı
  • hass-ı aliyye
  • zarar-ı kassabiye
  • dem-i diyyet
  • resm-i kovan
  • celeb-keşan
  • başdinaları ve baltalıkları resmî
  • talgur akçesi
  • kul and cariye resmî
  • yasakcı
  • acemi oğlanı tekâlifi
  • paşa zahiresi
  • nal-baha
  • kaftan-baha

Apart from the lawful taxes, the following taxes are some examples of taxes that were collected in Cyprus unlawfully, according to Özkul, by the local authorities:

  • maişet bırakma: In the 18th century, one of the long-serving muhassıl in Cyprus was Ismail Agha. Ismail Agha forced bishops to collect the cizye and received 6.5 piasters of maişet and 2.5 piasters of bırakma from everyone. Hasan Agha, like his father, collected 19.5 piasters from everyone using taxes that were named maiset, nüzul and birakma akçesi [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015].
  • nüzul bırakma: Ismail Agha also took 7.5 piasters of nüzul, 2.5–3 piaster as nüzul bırakması [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015].
  • döşeme akçesi: Ismail Agha also took and 6 paras döşeme akçesi (akçe of flooring) from every Cypriot [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015].
  • oda harcı: In a document dated in 1743, the old Alay Begi of Nicosia, Abdülbaki Agha, took 55 kese (pouch) of akçe, which was named oda harci (room fees), from Cypriots [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015].
  • zahire akçesi
  • kolcu akçesi
  • sarrafiye
  • kâtibiyye

Taxation imposed by the Christian Orthodox Church

During 1750, when Drummond was in Cyprus, the following was applicable to the Greeks according to him: “The revenue of the archbishop, communibus annis, may amount to 10,000 piastres, which are levied from the towns and villages, in wheat, barley, cotton, and other fruits of the earth; though not by the manner of tythes, but by a certain rate fixed to certain lands; and the other bishops draw their revenues from their own sees”. Each bishop in his turn “raises from every church in the towns within his own diocese, 100 p. annually. He exacts from 10 to 15 p. from every priest he ordains, and 1p. for every marriage: but the poor priests subsist almost entirely upon the charity of the parishes to which they belong”. According to Henry Light in 1814, “The Greeks are as usual oppressed. The dignitaries of the church are protected by the governor, who obtains contributions easily through their influence. They consist of one Archbishop and three bishops, the former with an income of forty thousand dollars; the latter has much less”. Ali Bey in 1806 claims: “These sums [of taxes], added to those exacted by the Governor-General and the local governors, probably bring up the total amount paid by the Greeks of Cyprus to the Turks to a million piastres. But the bishops and other leading men get as much again, and more” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].

The role of the Church of Cyprus and the Higher Clergy since the 18th century

After 1700 we view a change in the authority of the Church of Cyprus. According to Sakellarios (1890), due to the decrease of the population, the plague and the disaster caused by the locusts, the Porte in its efforts to contain the greed of the governing authorities and to provide better living conditions for the population, recognized the archbishop and bishops of Cyprus as tax collectors and commissioners of the Christians [who could represent the at the Porte], so that the Christians, having seen that they have the protection of their prelates, they would not emigrate, and those who emigrated would return back, and each governor feeling the authority of the prelates would fear of them and would not press the people [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]. Thus, we see according to Archimandrite Kyprianos (1788), Archbishops of Cyprus [and of lower rank as we read from Kyprianos] often appeared boldly in person before the Grand Vazir, stating their complaints and asking for a diminution of the taxes paid by the rayah, and begging for help and support in other necessities. Journeys of this kind on behalf of the commonwealth were made to Constantinople by Nikiphoros, the two James, Germanos, Silvestros, by Philotheos twice, by Paisios and his suffragans, and only a few years ago, in 1783, by the present worthy Archbishop Chrysanthos, with Panaretos, Bishop of Paphos, Meletios of Kition, and Sophronios of Kyrenia. And they were often listened to and obtained assistance. But often too through the malevolence of the Cypriots, they suffered imprisonment and banishment” [for example Silvestros and bishop Ioannikios according to the same source were banished]. Louis Lacroix in 1853, writes how the power of the Archbishop grew during the centuries: “The Archbishop of Nicosia, who had the title of ri’aya-vekili, as representing the Christian subjects of the Porte, had annexed pretty well the whole administrative authority, and not only had made himself independent of the Muhassils but generally determined on their appointment and recall [beginning of the 19th century according to Sakellarios]. From his palace, the Archbishop administered the whole island, filled up the offices in every district, assessed the amount of the annual contributions, sent the sums for which the island was farmed out to the Grand Vezir, or the Imperial Treasury. Certain privileges, purposely granted, attached the Turkish Aghas to the support of his authority, and all the inhabitants, Turks and Greeks alike, looked upon him as the real Governor and grew accustomed to taking no notice of the Muhassil. The supreme power of the Archbishops of Nicosia reached its height during the reigns of Selim III. and Mustafa IV., the immediate predecessors of Sultan Mahmud II.” He adds thought how things evolved after 1821: “in 1821 in a bloody coup d’ etat, which put an end to the administration of the Muhassils, overturned the authority of the Greek clergy” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].

Law and order

The legal system

The law imposed by Ottoman law courts, including that of the province of Cyprus, was the Sharia and the judge of the tribunals was a cadi, both in Nicosia and the other regions. The courts served all the people, not just Muslims. Ottoman kadis were obligated to apply the same standard of justice for both zimmi and Muslim [Ronald Jennings, 1992]. Çiçek’s research tells us that non-Muslims were obliged to present themselves in a sharia court only for purposes of land registration or for criminal offences. The negative about non-Muslims and justice was that a non-Muslim could not win his case against a Muslim unless the Muslim accepted his guilt or the non-Muslim had two Muslim witnesses by his side [Kemal Çiçek, 2019].

According to Jennings’s research, we know the following: The court of Nicosia examined between 1570-1640 cases involving at least one Muslim at a percentage of 73%. From a tabulation of the names of Muslims using the court at those three times, 34% were converts in 1593- 1595, 24% in 1609-1611, and only 12% in 1633-1637. Conversion had to be registered at the court to make it legitimate and to change the tax status of the converts officially, who then had more legal rights and were exempt from the head tax. Of all the cases a quarter involved at least one woman, of which most of them Muslims. Women could be represented by a legal agent instead of being physically present themselves. Women could be present as witnesses as well, but despite the fact that their eyes were considered as good as the eyes of men, “their minds were not” and “their testimony counted half of that of men”. Additionally, in matters of inheritance, “they usually inherited half of what men did, and in marriage, where women had no right to divorce”. Regarding men, the zimmis’ most serious disability was that the testimony of two zimmi eyewitnesses against Muslims did not constitute sure proof, as it did with Muslims [Ronald Jennings, 1992]. Kemal Çiçek published similar research in 2019. According to his findings, the non-Muslims, despite the fact that they had the legal right to apply to the Christian Church in certain matters of a community nature such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, often preferred to make use of the sharia court in their own volition. During the years 1698-1726, there were 822 cases in the sharia court of Nicosia involving non-Muslims. Of these cases, 82 involved inheritance issues, 21 dealt with maintenance allowances, 35 with an appointment of a guardian for minors and 20 with divorce. The number of cases in which both parties were non-Muslims was 27% [Kemal Çiçek, 2019].

Mariti claims in 1760s that trials were processed within a few hours. There were no written laws, hence in this case the Koran determined the law. Therefore, each cadi utilized passages from the Koran suited for every circumstance, and interpreted them in his own manner, which in fact, was giving them a different meaning, other than the one that was initially intended. According to each amount for which a trial was taking place, the cadi was earning 10% commission from the winner of the trial, which means either the plaintiff or the defendant. The cadis had also the right to the tenth part of the effects of each person who died in his district. Besides the tribunals, there were also sixteen cadilichs, in each of which a cadi was leading. The mullah was the supreme chief of those cadilichs. In cadilichs no sentences were passed [Giovanni Mariti, 1791]. According to Ali Bey in 1806, “The greatest crime is forgiven when the accused puts into the scales the amount of gold which the greed of the judge thinks equal to the gravity of the offence. Property is only respected when the owner is stronger or better protected than the spoiler. One frequently sees a wretched Greek villager ousted by a Turk who enters into possession of his patrimony” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]. Kemal Çiçek agrees on the issue of the corruption of the officials, “especially during the 18th century”. For instance in 1698, “the kadi of Kyrenia was found guilty of oppressing the people and taking bribes and was sentenced to imprisonment following complaints made by the Greek inhabitants of Kyrenia [Kemal Çiçek, 2019].

Murder, rape, and blood money

According to Özkul’s research published in 2019, the penalty for a murderer was normally death, but, if the criminal could pay the “blood money” he could save his life. The Nicosia court judicial records show several such occasions when the culprit paid blood money to the family of the murdered to be set free from jail or skip execution. During the 18th century, there were no records of a convicted person being sentenced to death. If the culprit of murder was not found the inhabitants of the place where the crime was committed had to pay the blood money themselves [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2019]. According to Giovanni Mariti (1760s), the fine for the murder of a man varied according to his age and the taxed revenue that he was expected to create during his life. For example, the murder of a man of the age of 30-35 would cost a fine of 500 piastres. The murderer was made to pay the equivalent or more. To take the life of a citizen, the consent of the mullah was absolutely necessary [Giovanni Mariti, 1791]. Also, in instances of rape, if the rape was proved, Ozkul’s research of the judicial records show that efforts were made to compensate the victim of rape in order to withdraw her claims. Hence, the rape victim was paid money and the rapist would skip jail having paid [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2019].

Crime and the absence of rebellion

According to Boys Smith (2019), European observers remarked on how safe was Cyprus for the traveller. The French scientist Gaudry noted in 1855 that robbery was unknown and that there were no brigands. Robert Lang around 1870 said that there was no brigandage and commented that Cypriots were much more easily governed than Cretans. Thomas Sandwith (1865-70) seemed to see the people of Cyprus as lacking the spirit and enterprise he had seen elsewhere. In this, he was at one with a number of other foreign observers, some of whom referred to Orthodox Cypriots as apathetic, even indolent [Stephen Boys Smith, 2019].

The military corps and the police

According to Jennings, the Ottomans placed soldiers in 1571 in Nicosia (1130), Famagusta, Larnaca (1045), Pafos (310), Limassol and Kyrenia. The Janissaries in Cyprus, between 1570-1640 were an elite infantry, of which were converts to Islam (slaves, conscripted for life as children from Christian villages, constantly drilled, converted to Islam. In 1593-1595 the slaves accounted for the 46% and by 1633-1637 they fell down to 12%, and the rest were freeborn Muslims. The janissary corps was paid salaries directly by the Porte. They were allowed to marry
have families. The court records preserve evidence of janissaries buying and selling land and property, giving and receiving loans, and otherwise engaging in the business of the market place. The greatest number of janissaries during that period was 963 in 1620. The Spahi in Cyprus, between 1570-1640 were cavalrymen which were supported by stipends from the revenues of agricultural taxes (the timar system), and they were involved in important credit transactions. They were required to reside in the provinces where their timars were located, to serve on military campaigns when summoned, and also had a role in keeping law and order in the villages of their timars. They were allowed to marry and have families. Spahis of this period were 46% converts to Islam in 1593-1595, grew between 1609-1611 before falling to 20% in 1633-1637 [Ronald Jennings, 1992].  According to Giovanni Mariti, during the 1760s there were approximately 100 spahis and 2000 janissaries [Giovanni Mariti, 1791]. According to Çiçek, non-Muslims were exempted from military service [Kemal Çiçek, 2019].

One finds three kinds of police in Cyprus. (I) First muhzirs, who work for the court and have the responsibility of getting people there, although everyone was supposed to go automatically (2) The muhtesib worked to maintain law and order in the market places, especially for accurate weights and measures, and fair prices, apprehending people who broke laws publicly. (3) Police from the governor’s office, the subashi, and the nightwatchmen (asses bashi). All were normally concerned with public immorality unless a personal appeal was made as in the case of drunkenness in a home [Ronald Jennings, 1992]. Regarding safety, according to Cornelis van Bruyn in 1683, “To these advantages, you may add that of being able to travel where you will in the island without fear, and in as great security as you might at home.” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].

Other administration key roles

According to Michael in 2009, “apart from the local administration, the two eminent institutions of power that were gradually developed and at the beginning of the 19th century seemed to constitute perhaps the most important ruling institutions of the Ottoman Cyprus, were the Church of Cyprus through the initial privileges of the High Clergy of course, and the dragoman of the Saray” [Michalis Michael, 2009]. Paul Sant-Cassia (1986) writes: “Whilst the governor required the Church machinery to collect taxes, the latter clearly benefited from the arrangement. It could appeal to Constantinople on behalf of its flock to restrict a governor’s rapacity, or inversely to safeguard its own resources from peasant depredations”. Michael adds: “In times when the local administration and the Prelates do not seem to find support in each other we observe an effort on behalf of the Ottoman governor to undermine the leading role of the Prelates and vice versa.” Also, we have the Dragoman or Greek interpreter in the Government Palace. According to Hill (1940), [initially] his functions were “to take a census of the inhabitants with a valuation of their property, to assign the amount of tax payable by each, to draw a budget for each year and having the right of direct access to the Sultan which made him a veritable thorn in the flesh of the Turkish Governor” and “the Dragoman was usually chosen by the Bishops or notables” and by 1806 he had become “the most powerful, as well as probably the wealthiest person in Cyprus [By 1814 the Archbishop had usurped the authority of the Dragoman according to Kinnier (1814). According to Jeness (1962), The Church then assessed each village’s share of the taxes which the Church collected through its grammatiki (clerks) and monks]” [P. Sant-Cassia, 1986].

Hatt-i Humayun Ottoman Reform Edict 1856

Hatt-ı Hümayun was a promise by the Sultan to his citizens, subjects. Sultan promised to be held responsible for the constitution of the “Provincial Councils” and “Communal Councils” and the fairness of this process and the results. The decree from Ottoman Sultan Abdulmejid I promised equality in education, government appointments, and administration of justice to all regardless of creed. Some rules of this reform include:

  • Non-Muslims could become civil servants,
  • The establishment of a higher court (judiciary) and the representation of all congregations with two representatives from each.
  • The obligation to do one’s military service,
  • The reexamination of religious privileges to make them equal (some millets lost privileges relative to others)
  • The abolition of arbitrary fees exacted by priests all along from their congregations
  • The establishment of salaries (fixed income) to spiritual leaders (priest, patriarch etc.)
  • The obligation of spiritual leaders to take the oath of devotion [Wikipedia].

Positive changes in Cypriots’ lives that Ottoman rule fetched, compared to the previous administrations

  1. We have seen that at least since the Byzantine Rule, in Cyprus existed slaves who were working for free, as well as paying tax. In Ottoman rule, there were no local slaves. Slaves existed but those slaves, primarily bearing black skin, were imported in Cyprus from the Asian and African coasts. We learn details about the slaves’ characteristics in Jennings’s research.
  2. During the Ottoman rule, the timar system was abolished, and the entity of the people acquired the right to buy land and cultivate it, and as Sakellarios claims, at low prices.
  3. Despite the fact that there was no absolute religious freedom, we see that the Cyprus Church was not oppressed as in the Venetian rule, in fact, the Ottomans needed the Christian prelates to better collect the taxes from the Christians. Hence, due to the taxes, authority and independence were accumulated in the arms of the Christian Church’s prelates, as we see from M. Michael’s research.
  4. It was now easier for the inhabitants of the islands to form families. During the Venetian rule, a parici needed permission even to get out of his village, thus it was likely unusual for people from two different villages owned to two different masters to get married, and the children of this marriage were supposed to be a possession of the master of the woman. To wed also required permission. More on the topic could be found in Excerpta Cypria.
  5. Each district had a court and a kadi, and each peasant or citizen could claim his right at somehow equal terms. We see from Jenning’s research that Muslims and Non-Muslims could seek refuge to the court to solve disputes, and at that many cases even women sought the protection of it, something that definitely couldn’t happen in the preceding centuries.
  6. After 1700, the Church appears as the protector of the Christians when it came to high taxation or in periods when they were unable to pay the tax. In the antecedent centuries, the powerless peasants did not have someone to represent them and make their voice heard. In this case, a Christian prelate could even visit the Porte to assess the complaints against each governor, as we read from Kyprianos, Sakellarios and Sant-Cassia. Needless to say, this also had a negative impact, because alongside power comes greed and corruption. For more on the topic see Lacroix, M. Michael and Sant-Cassia.

Negative changes in Cypriots’ lives that Ottoman rule fetched, compared to the previous administrations

  1. We see from many writers’ records that Cyprus as a country declined during the Ottoman rule and it wasn’t so prosperous as in previous centuries. This is based due to the decline of trade, the several appearances of plague, the emigrations and most of all, the lack of infrastructure. Due to the fact that each governor of Cyprus was supposed to hold his position for one year, no efforts had been made within this little timeframe from each governor whose first intent was to break even with his investment and then, of course, gain a decent payback. For more on this topic see Sant-Cassia’s research. Lack of infrastructure not only didn’t help the country strive (as it happened during the British rule) but also didn’t let the people flourish, as well. For instance, in 1858 according to Sakellarios, the income of the Ottomans originating from Cyprus sank to 208,000 ducats in 1585, compared to 940,000 during the Venetian rule.
  2. We furthermore see that across the millennia the Greek element preserved most of its “DNA”. Unfortunately in Ottoman rule, we observe too many converts to Islam due to two causes: Initially, the aim to have a better life or at least the life that Muslims relished with half the annual Poll Tax, and the second reason was intermarriage, where a Muslim could marry a Christian, but a Christian could not marry a Muslim (for both topics see Sant-Cassia’s research). Many of them as crypto-Christians didn’t intend to remain as such for their entire life, as they were prospecting for better days without the Ottomans. Having nonetheless the Ottomans preserved their existence through centuries in Cyprus, those crypto Christians’ grandchildren or in the worst case their grandchildren’s grandchildren finally fully integrated into Islam, whether it was initially intended or not. So we see an island that despite the fact that even entire Greek villages were directly or indirectly forced to convert to Islam, Muslims emerge to be in 1974 merely the 18% of the population of it, with their patrons claiming almost half of it through an invasion. A question is hence raised of how much of that 18%’s 1570 ancestors have been Turks.
  3. The taxation burden was unbearable and was by far larger than it was during the Venetian era. Özkul wrote in his research that even in the official Ottoman records it was found that non-Muslims converted to the Muslim religion in order to be exempt from the poll tax. Moreover, taxes had been a justification for emigration, for both Muslims and non-Muslims. Sibthorp, Kyprianos, Michael de Vezin, Edward Daniel Clarke and John Macdonald Kinneir are few writers of that era who wrote that one reason that Cypriots abandoned their country was the heavy taxation.
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