Country Survey: Ottoman Empire & Modern Turkey


Q. Name of area

The Ottoman Empire & the Modern Turkey

Q. Current status

The Ottoman Empire has no current legal status.

Q. If the area has no current legal identity, when was it defined and by whom?


Q. Outline history:

The Ottoman Empire lasted as an independent unit for six and a quarter centuries (1300-1922), and it s history may be conveniently divided into six periods of rougly a hundred years each:

  1. 1300-1402. Beginning with the collapse of Selcuks of Konya, nominal overlords of the young principality of Osman, ending with the defeat of Bayezid I at the battle of Ankara, the century witnessed a steady in western Anatolia, and is divided halfway by the estabilishment of the first bridgehead in Europe (1334), with the subsequent conquest of Thrace, Bulgaria, and eastern Macedonia.
  2. 1402-1503. Until the mid-century the sultans were occupied in regaining the ground lost by Timur's invasion; the next fifty years sees the conquest of the Balkan peninsula in the west and Asia Minor up to the Taurus Mountains in the east. The period ends with the general peace of Buda in 1503.
  3. 1503-1606. The kingdom is transformed into an empire by vast acqusitions in Asia, the attachment of the states of North Africa, and the conquest of Hungary. The period ends with the treaty of Zsitvatorok in Europe, but in Asia a more convenient date is 1612, when peace was made with Persia.
  4. 1606-99. The Empire hold its own until the failure of the second siege of Vienna (1683), with the subsequent loss of Hungary and the humuliating treaty of Kalowitz.
  5. 1699-1812. A period of general decline and and of unsuccesfull wars with Russia, ending in the three treaties of Küçük-Kaynarca (1774), Jassy (1792) and Bucharest (1812).
  6. 1812-1922. In Europe the frontiers continue to recede, bu a series of internal reforms enables th Turks to recover a good deal of ground in Asia until the final collapse during and after the Fir World War. D. E. Pitcher, An Historical Geography of the Ottoman Emire, Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1972, p. 21.

Today, there are  26 states on the territories that one time or another were under the Ottoman  rule;  10  in Europe, 11  in Asia and 5 in Africa.


Q. Describe the MODERN hierarchy of geographical areas used for civil administration

In Modern Turkey:

Bottom layer:

Köy (village)

Next layer:


Next layer:


Top layer:


There are 34954 köys,  580 ilçes, 81 ils and  6 regions

Q. How long has this system existed?

Seventy five years.

Q. Describe earlier administrative geographies:

In the Ottoman Empire:

Bottom layer:

Karye (village)

Next layer:


Next layer:


Next layer:


Top layer:


The number of these units as well as the number of layers changed as the empire expanded and receded throughout  its existence.

Q. Can we identify a hierarchy of broadly similar units that exist for all countries?



Q. When was the first national census of population carried out?


Q. Outline the later history of the census.  Have censuses been carried out at regular intervals, and if so with what frequency?

In the 1830s the Ottoman government had established the Office of PopulationRegisters fund (Ceride-i Nüfus Nezareti) as part of the Ministry of Interior. By 1839 the census responsibilities were decentralized. Various officials-inspectors of population (nüfus naziri),  population officials (nüfus memuru), and registrars  (mukayyid)-were appointed to the provinces and smaller administrative districts and charged with recording births  and deaths and periodically compiling lists (cedvels) indicating the total number of people in each district. These officials were originally attached to the Office of Population  Registers in the capital; but, owing to a variety of internal causes, this office was soon abolished and the provincial population offices were reassigned, first to the Office of Property Surveys (Tahrir-i Emlak Idaresi) and then, for a  short period, to the Military Affairs Office. During this period interest in the maintenance of the registers languished, reviving only with the renewed concern for population censuses in the late 1860s.

After the Council of State (Şuray-i Devlet) was established in 1867, it assumed jurisdiction of all population matters. In 1874 the Council introduced a series of measures for taking a census and establishing a registration system; and in 1881/82 it engineered the establishment of a General Population Administration (Nüfus-u Umumi Idaresi) attached to the Ministry of Interior (where it remained until the end of the empire). In the later 1880s a statistical office attached to the Ministry of Trade and Construction (later reorganized as the Ministry of Trade and Agriculture) was established; it issued population statistics on the basis of information supplied by the Population Administration.

The first modern census was conducted beginning in 1828/29 in both Europe and Anatolian part of the Empire, although it did not count all the kazas of  the empire. This census also did not count females. Its main purpose was to estabilish a quantitative basis for leviying of personal taxes on non-Muslims and for the conscription of muslim male adults into the army.

Next census  was carried out  in 1844. The Ottoman Goverment apparently did not published rusults of his census. And the archives have not yet yielded any related information. Because, the Ottoman archives are  not yet fully cataloged. But some second hand summary figures are available.

The census of 1866 in Tuna (Danube) province. Tuna province was comprised of Ruscuk, Vidin, Sofia, Tirnova, Varna (northern Bulgaria) Niş (Serbia), and Tulça (dobruca-Romania).

The census of 1881/82. This was the first empire-wide census undertaken  for the purposes other than . The either taxation or military conscription. The Last Ottoman census was carried out in  1905.

In modern Turkey, the first census was in 1927 and second in 1935. England the first census was in 1801, and There has been a census every five years since then.

Q. What are the main geographical units used in published reports?  Have these changed over time?

The census results are published in official yearbooks (salnames) between 1847-1918 by eyalet (province), sancak and kaza- that is the main administrative units of the time.

Q. Is there access to more detailed unpublished information? If so, what geographical units do these refer to?  Here again, have these units changed over time?

Unpublished information about all the individual people is available for all the Ottoman censuses. But due to the incomplete catologing, access may be restricted. Unpublished censuses locate individulas to street address, villages, farms, and tribe and community as well as giving kaza, sancak (district) and eyelet (province).

To my knowledge, no computerised databases are  available.

Q. What publications describe the history of the census, and of census geographies?  Are any available in English?

Kemal H. Karpat, Ottoman Population 1830-1914. Demographic and Social Characteristics,  The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985, 242p. This is an excellent book covering all aspects of  the Ottoman censuses and census system.


Q. When was the recording of vital events (births, marriages and deaths) first required by law?

1839. The recording of  vital events were closelt tied with the census registration; the censuses were also designed to function  as permanent population registers. The census totals were to be periodically updated with the help of another series  of  registers for vital events (vukuat defteris) in which births, marriages and deaths were to have been recorded on a day to day basis.   No separate registers for vital events are exists before 1905.

Q. What organisation was responsible for recording vital events?  How has this changed over time? 

See the outline the of  history the census above.

Q. What geographical units were used in recording vital events?

See the part dealing with the censuses above.


Q. What historical taxation records exist for your area?

 Tahrir defters (15th and 16th centuries):  There are about 1,500 of these registers covering large areas from Central Europe to Caucasus.  These were compiled at intervals varying from 10 to 30 years. They basically contain three kinds of information: a) the names of settlements, urban and rural, in given province with tax paying population of these settlements, as well as tax-exempt people, in two categories households, and unmaried adult males; b) the kind and amount of taxes to be collected from agricultural production, estimated on the basis of an average production of the previous three years, and other kinds of economic production, market and custom dues, fines from crimes, and personal taxes imposed on all adult males; and c) the names of the persons or institutions to which these tax revenues were allocated.

Yoklama: censuses of  fiefs taken in 1596, 1606, 1672, 1691, 1694, 1698 and 1715.

Avarız (extraordinary tax) registers: (first half of the 17th century) exact numbers are not known. Initially they were used to record occasional taxes. They later become regular and widespread.

Cizye (head tax) registers (1700-1815): They concern the non-Muslim population.

Temettüat (income) registers : (1844 and 1845). They have similar contents with *Tahrir defter*s but they are more precise in the sense that the properties owned by each head of the household and ensuing  taxes  are  indicated. Not available for all the provinces.

Q. What geographical units do these use?

The unit of recording was household or hearts by villages and town quarters. The hierarchy of administrative divisions are indicated.


Q. What other major sources exist, and what geographical units do they use?

State yearbooks (salname) published regularly between 1847 and 1914. They use main administrative units.

There are also numerous provincial yearbooks. But their publication was not regular for each province.


Q. When was the first computerised map of administrative units created?


Q. What does it show?

It shows villages, districts and provinces.

Q. How easily is it to obtain a copy?

It is available on CD from General Directory of Mapping (


NB any HISTORICAL record of boundaries must include records of boundary CHANGES.

Q. Who was responsible for changing boundaries?  (Was it a government department, and if so which one?  Was it the church?)  How has this changed over time?

Ministry of Internal Affairs (Dahiliye Nezareti )

Q. Who was responsible for creating a legal record of boundary changes?

Ministry of Internal Affairs, General Directorate of Provincial Administration.

Q. What records have been preserved of boundary changes?  Are they published or unpublished?  How do they describe the old and new boundaries? How accurately do they give the dates of changes?

Boundary changes were not recorded separately in the Ottoman Empire. But they can be obtained from the census records and state yearbooks (salname). In modern Turkey, several publications by the General Directorate of Provincial Administration are available. These do not give dates of the changes but  they show boundaries at the time of publication.

Q. Who was responsible for mapping your area?  When was this organisation created?.

General Directorate of Mapping, established in 1895.

Q. When did systematic mapping of boundaries begin?


Q. What maps are available showing boundaries? (Answers will need to cover what type of boundaries, i.e. down to parish or commune;  what scales of maps;  whether they are published;  what dates of publication)

General Directorate of Mapping was able to produce only small sections of the country until 1930. Mapping of the whole country was finished only in 1930 (scale: 1:200,000).

There were maps produced by others during19th century. The most important of these were produced by Heinrich Kippert and Richard Kippert (scale: 1:500, 1:400, 1:250). These were published between 1901-1908.

Q. For periods before maps are available, are there descriptions of boundaries in words?  Where are they preserved?  How easy are they to interpret? 

Katip Çelebi, Cihanüma. (begun 1648, unfinished at his death in 1657). Katip Çelebi was 17th Century geographer. His work Cihanuma exist in two recensions: the unfinished fragments in a series of MSS; and b) the version printed in 1732. This does not include the Balkans.

Evliya Çelebi, Seyahatname (1st part only translated into English by von Hammer, London 1834). Evliya Çelebi was a famous 7th century Turkish Traveller. He covered the whole area of the Empire in such a detail that his travels give us an almost exhaustive geographical account of the Empire as it existed in the middle of the 17th century.

The interpretation of these works require some level of expertise in Ottoman Turkish.

There are also accounts of a number of European travelers from the 17th century onwards.

See: D. E. Pitcher, An historical Geography of the Ottoman Empire from earliest times to the end of the sixteenth century. With detailed maps to illustrate the expansion of the Sultanate. Leiden E. J. Brill 1972.


Q. What research projects have gathered information on HISTORICAL boundaries for your area?

Our own project described among the project reports.

(J) ASSOCIATED METADATA (Gazetteers, etc)

Q. What historical gazetteers are available for your area, in published or unpublished form?  How do they indicate the location of the places listed? Do they cover variant forms of names?

To my knowledge, there is no comprehensive place name gazetteers published or unpublished.

Q. Are more specialised geographical thesauri available? 


© Ramazan Acun (Hacettepe, May 2000)

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