The manuscript in French language is a translation of an unpublished Turkish hand-written text on Janissaries in the 16th century, under the rule of Selim II (1524 –1574).
The Janissaries were a special elite infantry units that formed the Ottoman Sultan’s household troops, bodyguards and the first modern standing army in Europe. The members of the Janissaries were mostly kidnapped Christian boys and slaves (the Muslims were not allowed to enslave other Muslims), who had to convert to Islam and undergo a strict military training. As soldiers they received a high salary and were enjoying a special social status, but were not allow to marry nor grow beards.
By the 18th century they lost their military character. The corps was abolished by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826, when the Janissaries revolted against the Sultan.
This text includes valuable information on the rules by Sultan Selim II about the odgiaks (regiments) and barracks of the Janissaries after the wars on the Balkans against the Holy Roman Empire, which lead to a treaty of 1568 with Maximilian II. The Janissaries first revolted against Selim II, who eventually left his Balkan affairs to his Grand Vizier, Mehmed Sokollu, a native of what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina and a Janitssary himself.
The text was translated from Turkish by a French orientalist and translator Jean-Baptiste Adanson, and was probably made during his stay in Constantinople in the early 1750s, when he was perfecting his language and was studying to become an official translator to the French diplomats.
Jean-Baptiste Adanson – Orientalist, Egyptologist, Artist
Jean-Baptiste Adanson was born in Paris in 1732 to a family of Scottish descent. He was a younger brother of a famous botanist and naturalist Michel Adanson (1727 – 1806).
After a study of oriental languages in Paris, he live in Constantinople in the early 1750, where he perfectioned his Turkish.
After that Jean-Baptiste Adanson travelled to the Middle East and North Africa as a official translator, or dragoman, to the French diplomats. Adanson was in Aleppo in 1754, in Thessaloniki in 1758, in Tripoli in 1774, an in Tunis in 1785, where he became a dragoman and chancellor of the consulate. Six years later he became a dragoman and a consul in Alexandria, Egypt. He died in Tunis on November 5, 1803.
Jean-Baptist Adanson was a superb dragoman and an excellent amateur artist, who commemorated his travels with drawings, most famous being those of flora, fauna, and Egyptian ruins. Some of his illustrations were published in Charles Fonton’s work Essai sur la musique orientale comparée à la musique européenne (Essays on Oriental Music in comparison to European Music), which was issued in Constantinople, in 1751.
The first article on Adanson and his attribution to Egyptology as well as on his artistic skills was written in 1899 by Ernest-Théodore Hamy.
Provenience: From the collection of Şefik Atabey, one of the most prominent collectors of Ottoman books. The collection was sold at Sotheby’s in London in 2002.
References: Ernest-Théodore Hamy, Un égyptologue oublié, Jean-Baptiste Adanson (1732-1804), Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 1899, Vol. 43 No. 6, pp. 738-746; Jason Thompson, Wonderful Things: A History of Egyptology: 1: From Antiquity to 1881, 2015, p. 85.