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Ideas for Ottoman Scroll Texts

While working on a scroll text for an Ottoman persona, I discovered a lack of resource materials available in English for Ottoman legal documents.  I ended up buying a copy of Imperial Ottoman Fermans, Exhibition Catalogue, an expensive and little known resource, half in Turkish and half in English.  I had originally wanted to borrow it from the library, but the only copies listed on were in Turkey and Germany, even though you can buy the book on Amazon.

As a resource for the art of Ottoman legal documents, this book is AMAZING, I highly recommend getting your own copy if that is what interests you.  However, if you are buying this book as a resource for the language used in the texts, let me save you the trouble.  The book does not translate the documents.  It gives each one a full page color photo, and then it has a short explanation of what it is, one paragraph in Turkish and one in English .  Half the translated description describes the image you are seeing, and then the other half describe briefly what the document is about, and some of the context of the document, without translating the document itself. So if you are looking for a Scroll Text resource, there is not much there.

However, there is some critical information contained in the Introduction, and I will summarize it here.

Ottoman documents  bearing the signature of the Sultan can be divided into two main classes:
Secular documents: concerning military and civil administration, land grants of a non religious nature, communication with foreign rulers and decrees from the Sultan.
Religious documents: mainly concerning deeds of “pious endowments”, registers of religious judge’s courts, opinions of those jurists and Ottoman society within the framework of Islam.

These two types can be split between two formats:
Berāts  (which had several sub forms)

Both fermāns and berāts have on them a special “signature” from the Sultan, as previously mentioned, called a tuğra.  Tuğras started as a stylized signature of the Sultan, though over time they became elaborate illuminated symbols of his power. The person making the tuğra was not the Sultan himself, but a special diplomat/artist/scribe called the Nişāni, who was appointed by the Sultan himself.  The tuğra was always at the head of the document and could take up to a third of the document itself.


Fermāns are a command of the sultan.  These would be a useful format for peerage scrolls. They have this format:

1. At the very top, there is a brief invocation, originally no longer than one or two words. This is usually a blessing of Allah.  In reviewing the documents themselves, they are very deemphasized. 
2. Then comes the tuğra itself, the stylized, as noted.  Visually, this is the focus of the page.  (Wikipedia reference so you can see what I am talking about  )
3. Then the titles, the office and the name of the person to whom the command is given.
4. A transition sentence to start to get to the point of the document.  The author translates the most common of these transition sentences to be “When the exalted Imperial cipher arrives, be it known that…”
5. A description of why the command was given.
6. A statement that the sultan has ordered that the action should be taken.
7. An explanation of the action to be taken, starting with “I have commanded that…”
8. An insistence that the command thus given in writing be put into effect.
9. The date of the fermān. 
10. The place from which it has been issued.  

As you can see, this has some of the same requirements and expectation as SCA scrolls, although in somewhat different order than we see in the East. 

The people who witnessed the giving of the fermān often signed their names in the margins or at the bottom,  literally where ever there was room on the page. These documents were issued from the Council of State, called the Dīvān-i Hümāyūn, so the people who witnessed were the Vezirs of the council, the judges, the Chief Registrar of the Treasury, and the Nişāni, so there could be six or seven signatures. The Sultan did not always attend the Council,  he didn’t need to, as the Nişāni was the person who signed for him. That said sometimes, if he took a special interest in the matter, the Sultan would write a few words on the document in his own hand. This was known as the hatt-i hümāyūn or “Imperial writing”.  If a governor of a province received a fermān with a hatt-i hümāyūn on it, he was duly warned: the Sultan was watching.


An Ottoman berāt is “a document authenticated by the tuğra which conferred upon a person appointed to a post the authority to carry out the duties entailed, or which granted to a person a privilege or the freehold ownership of land.”  It has basically the same format as the fermān, except it was not named to a specific person. IE step 3 above is missing  Instead the document addressed the world in general for the grantees rights and duties. The grantee was likely identified in step 7 but this is my assessment, and not identified as such in the book. A berāt started with the phrase “This is the command of the noble, exalted, lofty sultinic sign and the illustrious, world-conquering khakanic tuğra… may it be effective through the Divine aid and Eternal protection!”

There were several kinds of berāts:

1. Menşūrs: an appointment.  A menşūr detailed the name and the situation of the post, it’s stipend and income, the name of the grantee, their duties and the reason for the appointment.  If your Kingdom does scrolls for kingdom offices, this one could be fun.

2. Mülks: a land grant.  They bestowed on one (or more than one) person freehold property, consisting of one or more villages.  It specified the titles and the names of the grantee, the name of the property, it’s revenue, how the property became free such that the sultan could give it away, ie whether it was a first time grant or if the previous owner died without heir, or if the land had been confiscated by the crown.   Could be appropriate for household charters or for scrolls for baronies.
3. Sinirnāmes: A statement of boundaries. The statement of boundaries were sometimes incorporated within a mülk, and were sometimes a separate document.  When their own document, they modified the boundaries of a property given at a seperate date. 

Source Material: 

Nadir, Ayşegül, Osmanli Padişah Fermanlari/Imperial Ottoman Fermans, The Hand Press Limited, London 1986, ISBN: 0951168010


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