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):
 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):
 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:
 maḥalle-yi mezbûrede vâḳ‘i ikî ṭarafdan mezbûr Muṣṭafa Aġâ mülkü ve bir ṭarafdan Haḳûmî mülkü ve ṭaraf-ı rab‘i ṭarîḳ-i ‘âmm  ile maḥdûd mumtâz üç bâb taḥtânî ḥâne ve bir miḳdâr ḥavlu ve ḳuyû ve escâr-ı müsmire ve ġayrî müsmireyi müştemil  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  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:
yevm mâru’z-ẕikr menzil  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
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.
 muḳir-i merḳûmuñ minvâl-ı muḥarrer üzere cârı ve ṣâdr olân iḳrârınî âl muḳirrünleh al mezbûr vicâhla  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 88
in the month Cemaziu’l-ahir of the year 10887
Maḥmûd Aġâ ser bölük
Yûsuf oṭa bâşı
Aḥmed beşe terzî
Aḥmed Aġâ çavuş
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The words ṭarîḳ-i ‘âmm are almost always included, as most properties, and especially in cities, have the road on one side.
- This is again very formulaic
- During August 1677