Minority groups in Ottoman Turkey before 1856: Different arrangements of the Jews and the Christians under Millet system

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One of the exceptionalities of the Middle East is the existence of sectarian identities along with late modern institutions, such as nation state. While modern states in the region struggle for coexistence, imperial authorities, especially Ottoman, was relatively successful to endure its rule over different identities as minority across region. It is recorded that the Ottomans' long history as imperium is supported by their ability to develop and implement system to incorporate different identities under their rule known as millet system. Historical exploration as used in this paper suggests that the concept was adopted from Islamic teologic tradition in respond to the reality of mixture society in newly conquered territories which resembles the character of the Ottomanism itself since Suleyman. The mundane aspect of the millet system can be seen from the way of the Ottomans' rulers handling the major minority groups such as Greeks and Jews based on their personal or social and economic capabilities. One of the obvious beneficial relations with the groups is the ability to do trading and fill positions in foreign services that lead particular group to enjoy better position in bureaucracy and society. The differences, in fact, have influenced the arrangement and treatment of the Ottoman rulers towards them over time which were also heavily affected by political changing in the case of the Greeks for example. Therefore, the arrangements of the minority groups are based on mutual benefit that suits both objectives which was able to last for centuries. However, it is also found that the Greeks and Jews' ability to survive is heavily based the character of Ottoman bureaucracy which is patrimonial. In that case, patronage relation is important and acknowledgement on merit and achievement is rarely found.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-30
Number of pages6
JournalIndonesian Journal of Islam and Muslim Societies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014


  • Greeks
  • Jews
  • Millet system
  • Minority groups
  • Ottoman
  • Patrimonialism


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