ABSTRACT

We have already dealt in some detail in the preceding chapter with those aspects of food

provision connected with the calculation and delivery of the troops’ and animals’ daily

grain rations while on campaign. In this chapter we focus on the scale and quality of

provisions for the soldiers’ consumption, and give some examples of the burdens and

benefits associated with army supply. From the standpoint of his basic daily diet the

Ottoman soldier, especially if he was a member of one of the elite regiments such as the

Janissaries, was the envy of his European contemporaries. Before setting out for the

front, members of the sultan’s standing regiments received generous supplementary

allowances to complete their outfitting for campaign. In addition to their regular

salaries, the Janissaries were also provided a yearly clothing allowance.1 A special cash

fund (vakf -i nukud) was set up to subsidize the Janissary companies’ purchases of staple

commodities under the names zarar -i nan (price supports for bread) and zarar -i lahm

(price supports for meat).2 Even though everyday needs were provided for,3 in campaign

years exceptional allowances were handed out to the troops to defray their additional

equipment expenses.4 The individual Janissary companies also themselves took up special

collections to use as a reserve fund for the communal mess during campaign. Each

These allowances and cash bonuses distributed to Janissaries and others as they set out

on campaign also served to cushion the effect of price surges, especially for basic foodstuffs,

that unavoidably took effect in the last weeks of the season’s campaigning when supplies

dwindled to dangerously low levels. Because they were foreseeable such endemic shortages

could usually be compensated for, but in years of extraordinary crop shortages price

fluctuations for basic army supplies reached unmanageable proportions. During the

famine of 1625, which coincided with a nine-month siege of Baghdad by the Grand

Vezier Hafiz Ahmed Pasha in 1625-6, Ottoman military reports testify to the seriousness

of the problem, noting the rise of the price of dry biscuit to 5 gurush (500 akçes) per

okka, and of barley to 10 gold pieces (1,200 akçes) per kile.6 Local sources from Baghdad

indicate that the situation for the civilian population of the besieged city was, if anything,

worse. One observer recorded that the price of a ratl (approximately a third of an okka)

of wheat rose to seven silver dirhems.7 While the examples given here may be extreme,

they accurately reflect a phenomenon that itself was all too common. While price rises

were clearly connected with the presence of the army and increased demand on local

grain supplies, the underlying problem of crop shortages was a cyclically repeating

phenomenon which sometimes coincided with war, but was not demonstrably causally

connected with it.