A Spatial Approach to Ottoman Defter Studies
This study is based on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Ottoman tax records, tahrir defterleri, called defters for short, that have been compiled in a single volume covering the area of the present-day Republic of Macedonia. The use of defters for historical research has a substantial literature that includes critiques of different approaches because defters were designed merely as working documents for the administration of the empire. These are utilitarian sources reveal what people did and only occasionally hint at why they did it.
This research, “Patterns of Settlement Abandonment in Macedonia as Revealed in Ottoman Tax Records, from the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,” will appear in: Flight and Emigration in Medieval Space and Mind, ed. Gerhard Jaritz (Budapest: CEU Press, forthcoming).
Statement and aims of the research
The research goal was to identify patterns of settlement abandonment in the defters and suggest reasons for them.
Is the impact of Ottoman annexation on settlement apparent? Was the Ottoman annexation of this area disruptive? What reasons can be suggested for settlement abandonment and/or foundation?
In order to tackle the goal the following objectives were identified:
- Creating a database of settlements listed in the defters. The data were organized according to administrative subdistricts (nahiyes) of the Ottoman Empire from 1445 to 1583. The sample used in this research was limited to districts completely within the boundaries of the modern Republic of Macedonia.
- Calculating the density of settlements based on a map of the nahiyes.
- Exploring any correlation between settlement density and abandonment of settlements.
- Identifying patterns of stability and change in settlement occupation.
For each district, new and abandoned settlements were identified. Macedonian researchers have already compiled the information, therefore the published data have been used for this purpose.
Defining the density of settlements was the critical first step of spatial analysis.
First, the map provided in the History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Volume 1 (S. Shaw 1976) was digitized using Open Source GIS software Quantum GIS 1.8.0. The relevant projection was defined and applied in order to ensure a proper mapping result.
The next step was to identify the nahiyes within the administrative boundaries of the modern Republic of Macedonia. The analysis tool in ArcGIS was used to extract a nahiye dataset with modern administrative borders.
Then, layers with rivers and elevations have been added to represent some of the geographical features of the study area (Fig.1).
Figure 1. Nahiyes within the borders of the modern Republic of Macedonia
Finally, the areas of the nahiyes were calculated using the spatial statistics tools provided in the ArcGIS package.
The settlement densities were calculated based on the mapping results combined with the dataset derived from: Aleksandar Stojanovski and Dragi G’eorgiev, Naselbi i Naselenie vo Makedonija – XV i XVI Vek, Del 1 [Settlements and Settling in Macedonia – Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Part 1] (Skopje: Institut za Nacionalna Istorija, Državni Arhiv na Republika Makedonija, 2001).
Patterns of abandonment were not consistent and varied from nahiye to nahiye.
Sometimes a village decreased in size over time until only one or two families were left, but sometimes the families in a settlement more than doubled in number, which was followed by abandonment.
Some villages moved as a whole to another location and merged with another settlement, often keeping the same name. This suggests some agreement and planning among the inhabitants.
Large numbers of unmarried men at some villages suggest that some economic activity such as mining or road maintenance was being undertaken.
It appears that the least village abandonment occurred where there were substantial tracts of arable land and the least social mingling of different confessions and ethnic groups.
The spread of Islam was from the east to the west and in cities. One of the factors revealed was that Turkish-speaking people (Yörüks), followers of Islam and often nomads, moved into the eastern part of the region. The settlement of these groups only occasionally led to confrontations with local residents.
The settlement density measurement was not as predictive as was expected. Different factors, both cultural and geographical, might affected abandonment.
The following tasks have been defined for further research and analysis:
- Extending the sample of settlements into the Byzantine period.
- Refining the dataset by increasing the sample of settlements in areas outside the modern republic.
- Refining the dataset by increasing chronological controls.
- Supplementing this study with social, political, and economic history from narrative and other sources.
- Investigating further the correlation between settlement pattern and geographical variables such as elevation and arable land and resources such as metal ores.