Friday, February 6, 2015

Sipahi: Heavy Weight of the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Army became the most feared army in Europe. In 1453, it dealt a blow that shocked Christian Europe to its core.  The mighty citadel of Constantinople fell to the hands of the Ottoman Turks, who turned it into their magnificent capital and renamed it Istanbul. The Ottoman army credited for victory became even more well-known. It had a lot of elite units within its ranks. It had the famous Janissaries. But to the belief of many, the through strength and fierce warriors within the Ottoman army was its horsemen known as the Sipahis.

Sipahis were a social class and a military unit in the Ottoman Empire. They served as heavy cavalry forces in complementary to the light cavalry force known as the Akinci. But they also served as landowners within the Ottoman Society. They were very much similar to the Companion Cavalry of the Ancient Greek Army of Alexander the Great.

Recruitment of the Sipahis developed as the Ottoman Empire also progressed. In the 14th century, like the Janissaries, Sipahis were recruited from the child levies from the provinces of the empire. The Ottomans did not placed importance whether they were Muslims or not. Later on, the recruitment changed from child levies to owners of land grants from the Sultan known as Timar. Hence, Sipahis were sometimes known as Timariots. Every province of the Ottoman Empire had to provide a number of Sipahis to the Ottoman army. A single Sipahi had to fight in military campaign seasons of March to October. If a Sipahi failed to fight for seven years, he was stripped of the position as a Sipahi. He was also to be demoted to the position of lower echelon of Ottoman society known as reaya.

Because Sipahis were land-onwers they were very much self-reliant when it comes to their equipment. Sipahis were expected to collect taxes and help in maintaining the lands. Taxes collected from their Timars were used to purchase armor and weapons. Also, part of the collected taxes were paid to the personal servants of the Sipahis, known as cebelu. Cebelus joined their masters during the time of military campaign. They aid them in wearing their suit of armor as well as taking care of the horses.

A Sipahi’s equipment were no cheap. The rider wore mail and plate armor. Also, iron helmets were worn. But the spectacular part of the Sipahis as being known as heavy cavalry was the armor that they provided for their horses. The horses were covered with armor made of iron, giving it an appearance of a tank in the modern age. A Sipahi was armed with typical weapons: sword, lance, bow, and maces. They served as flank guards of Ottoman Armies in battle. And during attacks, they broke down enemy formation. Their appearance caused demoralization within enemy ranks. Hence, Europeans perceived Sipahis as credible threat, a strong force, and the most superior cavalry force in the continent.

Sipahis served the Ottoman Empire for a long time. Most especially during its glory days from the 15th to 17th century.  However, during the 16th century, Sipahis began to decrease in number. Lose of land and lose of interest in battle of Sipahis led to the decrease in number and effectiveness. Sipahis began to pay substitutes to fight in their behalf. By the 18th century, the Sipahis began to disappear as a military unit. As social class, it continued until 1847.

The Sipahis was a unit feared more by the Europeans than the acclaimed Janissaries. Their sophisticated appearances brought fear to the enemy and they matched it with their ferocity and effectiveness in battle. They contributed to the rise of the Ottomans and brought glory in its name.

See also:

Jelavich, B. History of the Balkans, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Mikaberidze, A. (ed.). Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia. California: ABC-CLIO,LLC, 2011.

Smithsonian. Military History: The Definitive Visual Guide to the Objects of Warfare. New York: DK Publishing, 2012.

Somel, S. A. Historical Dictionary of the Ottoman Empire. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2003.

1 comment:

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