Insularity, Empire and the ‘Spatial Turn’: Ottoman Cyprus and the Mediterranean World


On Wednesday 24th of February, we are extremely pleased to welcome friend, colleague and Birmingham alumnus Antonis Hadjikyriacou, who will give a lecture titled:

Insularity, Empire and the ‘Spatial Turn’: Ottoman Cyprus and the Mediterranean World

The presentation examines the correlations between insular space and the development of economic, social and political structures in Ottoman Cyprus. Insularity here is not taken literally, but rather as the condition of being, and being perceived as, an island. In other words, insularity is not just about islands: it is about connections, links, networks, and contexts. The presentation further enquires into the production of space á la Henri Lefebvre, and explores the triad of conceived, perceived and lived space with reference to insularity.

Envisioning the Cypriot insularity entails an understanding of the climatic, geographical, and environmental conditions conducive to a polycultural, water-demanding, labour-intensive, cash crop-oriented economy. Cyprus was large and productive enough to have a sizeable surplus; contained enough as an economic space to be controlled by particular networks; and distant enough from Istanbul to escape serious imperial attention.


Antonis Hadjikyriacou is a Marie Curie Intra-European fellow at the Institute for Mediterranean Studies/ Foundation for Research and Technology, Hellas

City of Empires Ottoman and British Famagusta (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing)


You may remember a while ago that I was happy to complete and send off a paper, intended as a chapter in a volume on Famagusta. the paper/chapter deals with the 1607 Tuscan/Spanish/English raid on Ottoman Famagusta. Thanks to Michael Walsh and his hard work, the book where the chapter sits is finally out. I am really pleased and thankful to Michael and of course all the colleagues and friends who took part in that Budapest conference all that time ago.

This is from the publisher’s website:

“Despite its undoubted importance, there has never been a volume dedicated entirely to studies of the historic city of Famagusta in the years which followed the siege of 1571. City of Empires: Ottoman and British Famagusta takes an important first step in redressing this imbalance. The four centuries which followed the conflict, as the contributions gathered here demonstrate, are rich research seams for scholars of history, urban design, photography, art history, literature, drama, military history and the post-war mandates. City of Empires also places emphasis on the tangible heritage of Famagusta – twice listed as endangered by World Monuments Fund and now the recipient of an increasing number of international efforts to protect it.”

So, go on, buy it!

Rebellion and legitimacy in Ottoman Cyprus: a new article in the Turkish Historical Review

It is my pleasure to announce the publication of my article in the Turkish Historical Review. The article is titled:

‘Crossing the line in the sand: regional officials, monopolisation of state power and ‘rebellion’. The case of Mehmed Ağa Boyacıoğlu in Cyprus, 1685-1690′.


The aim of this paper is to examine centre-periphery relations and issues of state control in Ottoman provinces in the seventeenth century, as these are reflected in the case of Mehmed Ağa Boyacıoğlu in Ottoman Cyprus. Mehmed Ağa Boyacıoğlu rose to prominence in the 1680s and dominated the island for a period of five to seven years, until 1690. His behaviour and actions, and the way the Sublime Porte dealt with them, represent a useful example of how power was negotiated between the centre and the periphery. Moreover, it demonstrates how rebellion terminology had a particular meaning for contemporary historians and officials, but must be used with caution by the analysts of today. This paper focuses on our handling of this phenomenon, and initiates a discussion on terminology and meaning.

Turkish Historical Review, Volume 2, Number 2, 2011 , pp. 155-176(22)
Publisher: BRILL

Click on the link above or here to go to the journal page. Contact me for further information.

Reading Ottoman court registers (sicils): #2 settlement of inheritance

The case we are looking at is from a court register from Nicosia in Cyprus, the 5th Sicil Defteri which covers the years 1676-79. The entry concerns a straight settlement of inheritance between a widow and the brother of her late husband (page 52 entry no. 2).

Click here to download an image of the entry (or click on the image above), and here to download the transliteration. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any queries or corrections.

Nicosia No. 5 sicil defteri, page 52, entry 2

1. Ṭûzla ḳażâsına tâb‘i Alâmîno nâm ḳarye sâkinlerinden îken bûndan âḳdem fevt olân Elḥâcc Aḥmed nam müteveffânıñ

2. saġîr ḳızî Emîneye savb-ı şer‘–i enverden1 menṣûbe vaṣîye olân zevce-yi metrûkesî Emincâni nam ḫâtûn

Emincani, the widow of the previously deceased Elhacc Ahmed of Alamino in the kaza of Tuzla, and according to the most luminous sharia the appointed guardian of his underage daughter Emine,

3. meclis-i şer‘-i ḫaṭîr-i lâzimü’t-tevkîrde işbû ba‘isü’l-vesiḳa müteveffa-yı mezbûruñ ḳarındâşı Meḥmed beşe nâm kimesne maḥżarında

in the presence of the bearer of the document Mehmed beşe, the brother of the above-mentioned deceased, and at the esteemed sharia court which must be honoured,

4. bi’lvekâle ve bi’lveṣâye taḳrîr-i kelâm ve ta‘bîr ‘ane’l-meram edüb müteveffa-yı mezbûruñ muḥallefâtında merḳûm Meḥmed beṣe

5. vaż‘iye’l-yed olmuşdur[.]2

by way of representation and right of executorship made an oral statement and a voluntary expression [and stated that:] “the above mentioned Mehmed beşe became holder of the aforesaid deceased [person’s] inheritance.

ḥâlâ saġîre-yi merḳûme ve kendîme iṣâbet ve intiḳâl eden3 gerek emlâk ve gerek erzâḳdan

6. ḥaṣṣamızî merḳûm Meḥmed beşe yedinden tamâmen âḫẕ ve ḳabż edüb4

Yet, I have received from Mehmed beşe our entire rightful share in the properties and provisions left to myself and the above-mentioned underage girl [.]

irs-i mezbûre-yi mute‘alliḳe-yi ‘âmme-yi ‘âdîden

7. merḳûmuñ ẕimmetinî ibrâ-yı ‘âmm-ı ḳâṭ‘ıl’nizâ‘yla ibrâ ve isḳâṭ eyledim

I have absolved and discharged the above mentioned [Mehmed beşe] from any debt relating to the above shared and customary inheritance by way of a public acquittance and cease of litigation[.]”

dedikde muḳire-yi mezbûreniñ minvâl-ı muḥarrer

8. üzere cârı ve ṣâdr olân iḳrârınî âl muḳirrünlehü’l-mezbûr ġibe’t-taṣdîḳ 20 Receb sene [10]88

the above speaker will confirm the current and factual statement recorded[.] 20 Receb 1088 [17 September 1677]

şuhûdu’l-ḥâl [witnesses]
Ḥasan Aġa ser piyâde
Es-seyyid Baṭṭâl oṭâ bâşı
Ramażân beşe
Receb beşe


  1. savb-ı şer‘ = the way of the sharia
  2. vaż‘iye’l-yed = this phrase means the person in possession of an inheritance, the one placed by the law as holder, if only temporarily
  3. iṣâbet ve intiḳâl etmek = isabet etmek means to do the right thing, to be rightful; intikal etmek means to pass on
  4. tamâmen âhz ve ḳabż edüb = a key phrase in any settlement, this means “I have received in its entirety”, often encountered in inheritance or debt settlements, or other occasions where sums or goods exchange hands.

Reading Ottoman court registers (sicils): #1 the property sale

Reading Ottoman sicils, islamic court registers, may appear daunting at first, especially if one is used to reading other types of documents. The problem with Ottoman is that the language tends to be very formulaic and very specific to the type of document you are reading. Add to that the possibility of different Ottoman scripts and you may lose heart. Don’t. In this series I will try to decode different types of sicil entries, starting from a very common one-the property sale.

The case we are looking at is from a court register from Nicosia in Cyprus, the 5th Sicil Defteri which covers the years 1676-79. The entry concerns a straight property sale with no complications (page 44 entry no. 1).

Click here to download an image of the entry (or click on the image above), and here to download the transliteration. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any queries or corrections.

Part 1: where and who
Most sicil entries of this type start with the location and names of the people involved. First we have the location and name of the person who sells (if it’s a property sale), or the litigant if it’s a case of litigation (dava):

[1] maḥmiye-yi Lefḳoşa maḥallatından Ayâ Sava maḥallesî sâkinlerinden Adâmo veled-i Solomo nâm zimmî

The Christian1 by the name of Adamo son of Solomo, from the inhabitants of the Ayios Savvas quarter of the protected city of Nicosia

This is followed by a formula which is fairly standard with very minor variations, depending on the time and place (and scribe):

meclis-i şer‘-i haṭîr-i lâzimü’t-tevkîrde

at the esteemed sharia court which must be honoured

This is followed by the details of the person purchasing (or defendant if it’s a dava):

[2] işbu ba‘isü’l-vesiḳa zümre-yi çorbâcîyândan Muṣṭafa Aġa nâm kimesne maḥżarında

presently in the presence of the bearer of the document2 Mustafa Ağa from the janissary class

Part 2: what?
This is followed by a description of the seller’s (or litigant’s) action:

taḳrîr-i kelâm ve ta‘bîr ane’l-meram edüb3

made an oral statement and a voluntary expression [and stated that]

This is followed by a description of the item sold (in this case a property), what it’s bordered by and what is included in it:

[3] maḥalle-yi mezbûrede vâḳ‘i ikî ṭarafdan mezbûr Muṣṭafa Aġâ mülkü ve bir ṭarafdan Haḳûmî mülkü ve ṭaraf-ı rab‘i ṭarîḳ-i ‘âmm [4] ile maḥdûd mumtâz üç bâb taḥtânî ḥâne ve bir miḳdâr ḥavlu ve ḳuyû ve escâr-ı müsmire ve ġayrî müsmireyi müştemil [5] mülk menzilimî4

[I sold] my owned property at the above-mentioned quarter, which is autonomous and surrounded on two sides by the above-mentioned Mustafa Ağa’s property on two sides, Kakulli’s property on one side and the common thoroughfare on the fourth side5, with three single-storey rooms, a yard, a well, fruit trees and other fruitful [plants]

Then we find out exactly what the seller did with his property. He sold it!

mezbûr Muṣṭafa Aġâya üç biñ naḳd râîc fi’l vaḳt fıḍḍı âḳçeye be‘y-i bât-ı [6] ḳaṭ‘î birle be‘y edüb

I sold it to the above-mention Mustafa Ağa for [the sum] in cash of 3,000 silver akçe which is current, with a final sale.6

Then the seller confirms payment and delivery:

ḳabż-u semen-i ma‘dûd ve teslîm-i mebî‘-i maḥdûd eyledim

I have received the specified amount and delivered the sold [item] stipulated [above]

…followed by further confirmation:

ba‘de’l yevm mâru’z-ẕikr menzil [7] mezbûr Muṣṭafa Aġânıñ mülk-ü müşterâsîdır[.] Keyf ma-yeşâ ḥasbemân baḥtyâr mutaṣarrıf olsûn dedikde

after this day the above described property is Mustafa Ağa’s purchased property. May he use it as he wills and be a fortunate owner

Part 3
This is were the direct statement ends. If we were writing it in English, it would have been within quotation marks up to the word ‘olsun’. It is followed by confirmation of the statement, a longer formula written in Arabic.

[8] muḳir-i merḳûmuñ minvâl-ı muḥarrer üzere cârı ve ṣâdr olân iḳrârınî âl muḳirrünleh al mezbûr vicâhla [9] taṣdîḳ ve şifâhla taḥḳîḳ edecek

The speaker will confirm and verify the current and factual statement as recorded in writing

mâhüye’l-vaḳ‘i bi’t-ṭaleb ketb olundu

that which took place was recorded in writing upon request

cemâziu’l-âḥir sene [10]88

in the month Cemaziu’l-ahir of the year 10887

şuhûdu’l-ḥâl [witnesses]
Maḥmûd Aġâ ser bölük
Yûsuf oṭa bâşı
Aḥmed beşe terzî
Aḥmed Aġâ çavuş
‘Alî beşe


  1. zimmi in the case of Cyprus means almost exclusively Orthodox Christian. Other denominations are indicated as Ermeni for Armenian, Nasrani for Catholic (or Efrence for foreigner/Catholic) and Yahudi for Jewish.
  2. ba‘isü’l-vesiḳa or ba‘isü’l-kitâb is the person who will be receiving a certificate from the court after the procedure, the ‘bearer of the document’, the ’cause’ of the procedure.
  3. the word taḳrîr is a very important one. It’s an indication of the nature of the case. As soon as you identify the word taḳrîr, you know that the entry does not concern a litigation, but a settlement/statement of some sort.
  4. I made the words mülk menzilimî bold because this being Turkish, they give you an indication of what the seller says: the accusative at the end of the word menzil denotes that the seller has done something with his owned property. It’s a nice way to start, because you are aware of what is being described in the lines above.
  5. The words ṭarîḳ-i ‘âmm are almost always included, as most properties, and especially in cities, have the road on one side.
  6. This is again very formulaic
  7. During August 1677