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Bread and Empire: The Workings of Grain Provisioning in Istanbul During the Eighteenth Century

Onur Yıldırım


Provisioning of the Imperial capital İstanbul had been one of the major concerns of the Ottoman rulers from the classical age to the dawn of the modern era. Grain occupied a particularly important place in the provisioning policies of the Ottoman state due to the fact that the Ottoman sultans considered the steady supply of "people's bread" in the capital city as one of the ways to promote and reproduce their image of sovereignty in the general public opinion. This consideration remained unchanged throughout the eighteenth century during which time the Ottoman economy faltered vis-à-vis the European centered world-economy and the Ottoman polity began to gradually withdraw from the economic realm. In the face of mounting fiscal burdens, the Ottoman state limited its provisioning policies to the raw materials needed by the military industries and to the basic foods consumed by the populace. In this context, the traditional protectionist attitude of the state towards the craft guilds of the imperial capital was abandoned, leaving these organizations at the mercy of circumstances not to say the market principle. The only institutions that were insulated from the changing policy of the state were the grain-related crafts, i.e. bakers' guild. This paper argues with reference to a series of published documents that the Ottoman state continued, if not hardened, its provisioning policies of grain to the imperial capital during the eighteenth century and thereafter.

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