Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7ccbd9845f-l8x48 Total loading time: 0.66 Render date: 2023-01-30T05:58:26.327Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

The Strange, Sad Case of the “Bosnian Christian Girl”: Slavery, Conversion, and Jurisdiction on the Habsburg-Ottoman Border

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 March 2020

Alison Frank Johnson*
History, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University


This article examines the case of a Bosnian brother and sister at the center of a diplomatic dispute between Austria and the Ottoman Empire in 1852. Mara Illić had to cross the border into Austria in order to board a ship that would take her to Anatolia with the household of a paşa who had been banished. Milan called upon Austrian authorities to “liberate” Mara, whom he claimed had been enslaved when she was “forced” to convert to Islam as a young child. Austria's defense of its seizure of the girl and the Ottomans' insistence that she be returned reflect tension over sovereignty, jurisdiction, and personhood. The border brings into stark relief the conflict between different ways of conceptualizing categories like freedom and slavery, contract and coercion, confession and nationality.

Article Commentary
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


The author gratefully acknowledges her indebtedness to: Emily Greble, Derek Beales, William Gervase Clarence-Smith, Robert Donia, Walter Johnson (always), Mark Mazower, Sabrina Perić (for research in and translation from Serbian), Dominique Reill, Tim Snyder, Aleksandar Shopov (for archival research in Istanbul as well as translation of documents in Ottoman Turkish), Maria Todorova, the two anonymous reviewers for the Austrian History Yearbook (one of whom was later revealed to be the erudite and generous Aimee Genell), the participants in the “Balkans as Europe” conference at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, Austria, and Gerhard Gonsa and his colleagues at the Haus-, Hof-, und Staatsarchiv in Vienna, Austria.


1 The results of this research were published in Frank, Alison, “The Children of the Desert and the Laws of the Sea: Austria, Great Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and the Mediterranean Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century,” American Historical Review 117, no. 2 (Apr. 2012): 410‒44CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Mara Illić's name appears in the Austrian archival sources in a variety of spellings: Maria, Mara, Marie; Illić, Ilić, Illich, Illic, Ilits, Ilic—always preceded by “das bosnische Christenmädchen,” the Bosnian Christian girl. In the only documents that bore her signature, Mara signed her own name with the simple consistency of the illiterate: “X.” Although the Austrian scribes preferred the Catholic form “Maria,” the clerk who transcribed the girl's testimony (while translating it into German) wrote her name “Mara”—perhaps because that was the form she used in her spoken testimony. It is for this reason that I use the version “Mara.”

3 One could argue that combining files about the slave trade with files about piracy reflected “the effort to draw an analogy of piracy to slave trading,” which Lauren Benton examines as “a cautionary tale about the ease with which the legal approach to piracy,” based on a putative universal jurisdiction, “was foundational for other prohibition regimes.” Benton, Lauren, “Toward a New Legal History of Piracy: Maritime Legalities and the Myth of Universal Jurisdiction,” International Journal of Maritime History 23, no. 1 (June 2011): 228CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 There is a large and excellent literature on slavery and the slave trade in the Ottoman Empire—too large to be cited in full here. Many works are cited throughout this article and I direct the curious reader to the collected footnotes. Important works that informed my earliest investigations but are not cited in this article include Erdem, Y. Hakan, Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and Its Demise, 1800–1909 (London, 1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Toledano, Ehud, Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East (Seattle, 1998)Google Scholar; Toledano, Ehud, The Ottoman Slave Trade and Its Suppression, 1840–1890 (Princeton, 1982)Google Scholar; Toledano, Ehud, As if Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East (New Haven, 2007)Google Scholar; and Karamursel, Ceyda, “Ottoman Slavery as a Tool for Historical Analysis: A Review of Recent Literature,” New Perspectives on Turkey 50 (2014): 193203CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Here I am inspired by Lauren Benton's invitation to pay more attention to jurisdictional conflicts, that is, to consider “the complex and contingent configuration of imperial law—not as a structure of command but as a set of fluid institutional and cultural practices.” Benton, Lauren and Ross, Richard J., “Empires and Legal Pluralism: Jurisdiction, Sovereignty, and Political Imagination in the Early Modern World,” in Legal Pluralism and Empires, 1500‒1850, eds. Benton, Lauren and Ross, Richard J. (New York, 2013), 2Google Scholar.

6 This didn't happen magically. It happened when Emily Greble read an earlier draft and asked me “is there something about slavery as an international/transnational phenomenon that allows Milan (and the Austrian officers) a way around the rigid confessional socio-religious legal systems in place in Ottoman Bosnia?”

7 Vocelka, Karl, “Das Osmanische Reich und die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918,” in Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, vol. 6, Die Habsburgermonarchie im System der internationalen Beziehungen, part 2 (Vienna, 1993), 249‒50Google Scholar. See also Tóth, Heléna, An Exiled Generation: German and Hungarian Refugees of Revolution, 1848–1871 (Cambridge, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Both empires had made promises to extradite one another's deserters immediately, before they would have any time for conversion. Gr v. Klezl in Constpl; ad 12360 u 12602/D, 27.7ber.1852, F39/2.

8 For this specific phrase and, more broadly, the argumentation of this entire paragraph, I thank Aimee Genell.

9 Genell, Aimee, “Autonomous Provinces and the Problem of ‘Semi-Sovereignty’ in European International Law,” Journal of Balkan and Near East Studies 18, no. 6 (2016): 538Google Scholar.

10 Aytekin, E. Attila, “The Production of Space during the Period of Autonomy: Notes on Belgrade Urban Space, 1817–67,” Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies 18, no. 6 (2016): 588‒89CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Aytekin explains the complex web of municipal authorities on pp. 592‒93.

12 “Unterthänigste Bitte des Milan Illich, um Befreiung seiner Schwester Mara Illic aus dem hier befindlichen Fazli Pascha Harem, Nr. 253,” Semlin, 20 Aug. 1852, Haus-, Hof-, und Staatsarchiv, Vienna, Austria (HHStA), Ministerium des Äußern (MdA), Administrative Registratur (AR) Fach 39/2, “Sklavenhandel, Piraterie, Baraterie, Kaperei, Generalia” (henceforth F39/2).

13 Skene, James Henry, The Frontier Lands of the Christian and the Turk: Comprising Travels in the Regions of the Lower Danube, in 1850 and 1851, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (London, 1853)Google Scholar.

14 Ed v. Klezl, Büyükdere, to MdA, Vienna re: “Beschwerde der Pforte aus Anlaß der gewaltsamen Befreiung der Maria Illic aus dem Harem des Pascha von Fusla in Semlin,” 11 Sept. 1852. LXIXA_C.

15 Pale now lies within the city limits of Sarajevo.

16 According to an Ottoman document written in Sept. 1850, long before Milan left Bosnia for Belgrade, Milan was the son of Andrija Illić. The document said that Milan was seventeen, which would make him nearly nineteen in Aug. 1852. Draft letter from Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the governor of Bosnia. Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi (Ottoman Archives of the Prime Minister's Office, BOA), Hariciye Nezareti Mektubi Kalemi (Ministry of Foreign Affairs. HR.MKT), 37/7 (2 Zilhice 1266/9 Sept. 1850). Aleksandar Shopov found this document in the state archives in Istanbul and provided the translation from Ottoman Turkish.

17 There was no legal requirement that the Christian wives of Muslims convert, although there were substantial legal (and, where relevant, custodial) benefits to so doing. Laiou, Sophia, “Christian Women in an Ottoman World: Interpersonal and Family Cases Brought before the Shari‘a Courts during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Cases Involving the Greek Community),” in Women in the Ottoman Balkans: Gender, Culture, and History, eds. Buturović, Amila and Schick, Irvin Cemil (London, 2007), 251‒53Google Scholar.

18 According to Leslie Peirce, “[A] woman's right to custody was already tenuous under Islamic law, which awarded custody of fatherless boys at the age of seven and girls at the time of puberty to their paternal relatives.” This is further evidence that Milan's case would have been considerably more problematic to defend than Mara's; Milan should have been left with his grandfather. That said, a judge had the right to “exercise discretionary choice as to the appropriate guardian (vasi) for a particular orphan and, if he saw fit, could appoint someone outside the family.” Peirce, Leslie, Morality Tales: Law and Gender in the Ottoman Court of Aintab (Berkeley, 2003), 221CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 In Sept. 1850, the governor of Bosnia was instructed to release Milan “since involuntary conversion is incompatible with both religious laws and individual consent” (irtizâ-i şehinşahiye hilâf olacağından merkumun hal ve keyfiyeti muariz-i musiraneleriyle layikiyla bittahkik böyle ise sebinin tahliye ettirilmesine). At that time, Ottoman authorities reported that Milan had been imprisoned for two years, not four. Aleksandar Šopov found this document in the archives and provided the translation from Ottoman Turkish. BOA. HR.MKT 37/7 (Zilhice 2, 1266/9 Sept. 1850). Omer Paşa Latas was himself a convert to Islam, having been born in in present-day Croatia (at the time, Serbian Kraina Janja Gora) in 1806 and christened Mihailo Latas. Deringil, Selim, Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire (Cambridge, 2012), 157‒58CrossRefGoogle Scholar; see also Heléna Tóth, “Émigrés: The Experience of Political Exile for Germans and Hungarians, 1848–1871” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 2008), 162.

20 The German word is “Schlosser,” which can also be translated more generally as metalworker.

21 Deposition of Milan Illić, kk [?] Garnisons Auditoriat, Semlin, 21 Aug. 1852. Attached to Präs. No. 253 K.K. Grenz Truppen Divisions Commando to Coronini Cronberg, 21 Aug. 1852. F39/2. It is not entirely clear to me what kind of document this “Paß” was. In the words of John Torpey, “the emergence of passports and related controls on movement is an essential aspect of the ‘state-ness’ of states.” Serbia was not a fully sovereign state, but rather an autonomous region within the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire, and so the modern translation “passport” is unlikely to apply. Milan clearly, however, possessed some kind of document that allowed him to travel across the Sava River and thus the Ottoman/Habsburg border. Torpey, John, The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship, and the State, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 2018), 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Aytekin notes that Ottoman Christians from other parts of the empire resident in Belgrade for fewer than seven years would almost certainly not have had the rights of autonomy granted to Serb Christians within the city. Aytekin, “Production of Space,” 593.

22 The only document that makes any mention of the particular “Christian” church to which Milan and Mara belonged is the hastily scrawled translation made of Mara's 30 Sept. 1852 statement, taken and interpreted from Serbian to German as she spoke. The scribe wrote down, in German: “Ich heiße Mara Ilić, bin zu Sarajevo in Bosnien, von christlichen Eltern des g.n.u. Ritus geboren” (My name is Mara Ilić; I was born in Sarajevo in Bosnia, to Christian parents of the g.n.u. rite.”) My best guess is this means “Greek, not Uniate, rite.”

23 Petition of Milan Illić, “Unterthänigste Bitte des Milan Illich, um Befreiung seiner Schwester Mara Illic aus dem hier befindlichen Fazli Pascha Harem, Nr. 253,” Semlin, 20 Aug. 1852, HHStA MdA AR F39/2. “Neither slavery not the exercise of power pertaining to it is permitted in the Austrian Empire, and … every slave becomes free in the very moment when he sets foot on imperial Austrian soil or even only on board an Austrian ship.” Strafgesetz über Verbrechen, Vergehen und Uebertretungen (27 May 1852), Neuntes Hauptstück, Von öffentlichen Gewaltthätigkeit. §95, durch Behandlung eines Menschen als Sklaven. The 1811 allgemeines bürgerliches Gesetzbuch prohibited “slavery or serfdom” in the hereditary lands (significantly excluding Galicia). Amendments decreed in 1826 already stated that any slave became free in the instant he or she set foot on Austrian soil or an Austrian ship or was sold to a subject of the Austrian monarch. Allgemeines bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (1811), Erster Theil, Erstes Hauptstück, §16; 19ter Hofdecret vom 19. Aug. 1826, Beylage, §1.

24 Minister of Foreign Affairs to Hr v. Klezl in Constpl; ad 13555/D, 1 Nov. 1852, F39/2. Emphasis in original.

25 Neval Berber, “Unveiling Bosnia-Herzegovina in British Travel Literature (1844‒1912),” Spirit of Bosnia/Duh Bosne 5, no. 4 (Oct. 2010), accessed 28 Aug. 2019, For a longer discussion of Austrian and Ottoman views on slavery, see Frank, “Children of the Desert.”

26 Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy, 24; Kırlı, Cengiz, “Tyranny Illustrated: From Petition to Rebellion in Ottoman Vranje,” New Perspectives on Turkey 53 (Fall 2015): 4CrossRefGoogle Scholar. According to Frederick Anscombe, with the 1839 decree, the Ottoman reformers furthermore “hoped to show Christian powers that it was sufficiently ‘civilized’ to be accorded the protections of international law.” Anscombe, Frederick, State, Faith, and Nation in Ottoman and Post-Ottoman Lands (Cambridge, 2014), 99CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For an extended discussion of the Tanzimat and international law beginning with 1856, see Haider-Wilson, Barbara, “Tanzimat Revisited: Über den Einfluss des Verhältnisses von Orient und Okzident auf die völkerrechtliche Stellung des Osmanischen Reiches im 19. Jahrhundert,” in Orient und Okzident: Begegnungen und Wahrnehmungen aus fünf Jahrhunderten, eds. Haider-Wilson, Barbara and Graf, Maximilian (Vienna, 2016), 405‒47Google Scholar.

27 Karamursel, “Transplanted Slavery.”

28 Most famously, Lajos Kossuth and the “remnants of the Hungarian army” fled to the Ottoman Empire and requested political asylum in Aug. 1849. The Austrians pressured the Ottomans to extradite the Hungarian rebels in negotiations that quickly became “heated.” Tóth, Heléna, “The Historian's Scales: Families in Exile in the Aftermath of the Revolutions of 1848,” The Hungarian Historical Review 1, nos. 3‒4 (2012): 297, 299Google Scholar. As many as five thousand Hungarians crossed over to Ottoman territory. Tóth, “Émigrés,” 42. To claim protection from extradition, Hungarian revolutionaries had to convert. Most, unlike Kossuth, had returned by October. See also Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy, 156‒96. For an analysis of similar conversion practices among Russian exiles, see Smiley, , “The Burdens of Subjecthood: The Ottoman State, Russian Fugitives, and Interimperial Law, 1774–1869,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 46, no. 1 (2014): 81CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 The strength of these protections should not be overstated. On the contrary, there may be some correlation between laxity regarding how sincerely a convert embraced conversion when force was in play and laxity regarding sincerity when occupational opportunism likely stood behind conversion. Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy, 13‒15.

30 Joshua White challenges the dichotomy between “Christians” and “Muslims” in a book that details how, for example, Dutch privateers operated out of Algiers under a Muslim flag to continue to prey on Spanish ships after a Dutch-Spanish truce. White, Joshua M., Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean (Stanford, 2017)Google Scholar. See also Fichtner, Paula Sutter, Terror and Toleration: The Habsburg Empire Confronts Islam, 1526–1850 (London, 2008), 42Google Scholar; Davis, Robert, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, The Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500–1800 (New York, 2003), 140Google Scholar; Greene, Molly, Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants: A Maritime History of the Mediterranean (Princeton, 2010), 24Google Scholar.

31 Ménage, V. L., “Devshirme,” Encyclopaedia of Islam (hereafter EI) 2nd ed., vol. 2 (Leiden, 1960), 210Google Scholar. See also Cl. Cahen, “DHimma,” EI, 2nd ed., vol. 2, 227 for a description of the rights of the tolerated minorities, and Halil İnalcık, “GHulām,” part 4, “Ottoman Empire,” EI, 2nd ed., vol. 2, 1085, for a description of the duties of young slaves who received special training to be eligible to serve the sultan.

32 Zilfi, Madeline C., Women and Slavery in the Late Ottoman Empire: The Design of Difference (Cambridge, 2010), 98Google Scholar.

33 Deringil, Selim, The Well-Protected Domains: Ideology and the Legitimation of Power in the Ottoman Empire, 1876–1909 (London, 1998), 84Google Scholar. See also Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy.

34 Deringil, Well-Protected Domains, 86.

35 Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy, 30.

36 Mehmed Hurşid Paşa was an Ottoman official, apparently of Albanian ancestry, who served as military general of the Kalemegdan fortress in Belgrade in Apr. 1852 and then became general of Bosnia in July. Kuneralp, Sinan, Son Dönem Osmanli Erkân ve Ricali (1839–1922): Proopografik Rehber (Istanbul, 1999), 96Google Scholar. Thanks to Aimee Genell and Emily Greble for translation assistance from the Turkish.

37 “Abschrift,” From Mehmed Hurşid Pascha to the KK General Consulate, Belgrade (German translation from the Serbian), undated, sent to Ministry of War, Vienna, as an attachment on 29 Aug. 1852. F39/2.

39 Es “verbreitete sich in der Stadt die Runde.” Interim Chargé d'affaires Soretic, Belgrade, to MdA, Vienna, 20 Aug. 1852. F39/2.

40 Saturday, 4 Sept. 1852, “Journal Revue,” Die Presse vol. 5, no. 209, p. 4. Leslie Peirce has shown that, although abduction had been one method of publicly asserting “honor, power and valor,” the sultanate had begun a crackdown on abduction as early as 1540 and by the modern period, only those already branded criminals or rebels would consider such a practice. Peirce, Leslie, “Abduction with (Dis)honor: Sovereigns, Brigands, and Heroes in the Ottoman World,” Journal of Early Modern History 15 (2011): 311‒29CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

41 Bloch, Marc, “Réflexions d'un historien sur les fausses nouvelles de la guerre,” Revue de synthèse historique 33 (1921)Google Scholar, as quoted by Schick, İrvin Cemil, “Christian Maidens, Turkish Ravishers: The Sexualization of National Conflict in the Late Ottoman Period,” Women in the Ottoman Balkans: Gender, Culture, and History, eds. Buturović, Amila and Schick, İrvin Cemil (London, 2007), 277Google Scholar.

42 Todorova, Maria, Imagining the Balkans (New York, 1997), 67Google Scholar.

43 Marchand, German Orientalism, 98, 100.

44 Koller to MdA Buol-Schauenstein, Bujukdere, 21 June 1855. Fuad Paşa would be appointed foreign minister no fewer than five separate times; his first term began only a few weeks before Milan showed up in Krautenberg's office (9 Aug. 1852). Along with Aali Paşa (Mehmed Emin Âli Paşa), he was one of the leaders of the Tanzimat movement in the mid-nineteenth century and was considered by contemporaries to be the most “Europeanized” of Ottoman statesmen. Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy, 77‒78n44. R. H. Davison, “Fuʾād Pasha,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., eds. P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs, accessed 16 Dec. 2019,; see also Findley, Carter, Bureaucratic Reform in the Ottoman Empire: The Sublime Porte 1789–1922 (Princeton, 1988), 138, 155‒56Google Scholar.

45 His “Francophilia” was admittedly not always well received. See Philliou, Christine, Biography of an Empire: Governing Ottomans in an Age of Revolution (Berkeley, 2011), 159‒63Google Scholar.

46 On debates about the similarities and differences between Ottoman and Western slavery, see Frank, “Children of the Desert.”

47 Drescher, Seymour, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Anti-Slavery (Cambridge, 2009), 146‒47CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Drescher, Seymour, Capitalism and Antislavery (Oxford, 1987), 170n24Google Scholar.

48 On comparisons between serfdom and slavery in the Austrian context, see Frank, “The Children of the Desert,” 427‒28. On the tradition of slavery within Austria more broadly, see especially pp. 416‒17 and 427‒31.

49 MdA to Hr F.M.L. Gfen v Grünne, 7 May 1855.

50 On the Mediterranean's exclusion from antislavery treaties, see Frank, “Children of the Desert.”

51 According to Hamdija Kreševljaković, Fadil was the name he used for publishing poetry and Muhamed was his “real” birth name. Kreševljaković also refers to him as Fadilbeg Šerifija. Kreševljaković, Hamdija, Izabrana djela [Selected Works], 3 vols., ed. Popović, Milosav (Sarajevo, 1991), 1:290Google Scholar. On his wealth, see p. 1:182.

52 “imao punu vlast: on je vedrio i oblaćio.” Hamdija Kreševljaković, Izabrana djela, 3:58. Translation by Sabrina Perić.

53 Hamdija Kreševljaković, Izabrana djela, 2:201. Translation by Sabrina Perić. On corruption in the Tanzimat era, see Kırlı, Cengiz, Yolsuzluğun İcadı: 1840 Ceza Kanunu, İktidar ve Bürokrasi [The invention of corruption: The penal code of 1840, power and bureaucracy] (Istanbul, 2015)Google Scholar. Thanks to Aimee Grenell for the reference and translation of the title.

54 Hamdija Kreševljaković, “Rogatica,” Izabrana djela, 2:680‒81.

55 Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy, 17. Children and women were exempted from the cizye, but widows “possessing the land of their deceased husbands were liable” for the tax. Hali˙l İnalcik, “Djizya,” part 2, “Ottoman,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., eds. P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs, accessed 18 Dec. 2019,

56 Kırlı, “Tyranny Illustrated,” 4 (emphasis added).

57 Ibid., 5. For an analysis of the role of local notables in the eighteenth century, that is, the period preceding the Tanzimat era, see Yaycıoğu, Ali, Partners of the Empire: The Crisis of the Ottoman Order in the Age of Revolutions (Stanford, 2016)Google Scholar.

58 Skene, The Frontier Lands of the Christian and the Turk, 2:220. Bosnia has traditionally been described as one of the most “traditional” regions of the Balkans, hence staunchly opposed to Tanzimat reforms. See, e.g., Hauptmann, Ferdinand, “Die Mohammedaner in Bosnien-Hercegovina,” Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, vol. 4, Die Konfessionen, eds. Wandruszka, Adam and Urbanitsch, Peter (Vienna, 1995), 671Google Scholar.

59 Skene, The Frontier Lands of the Christian and the Turk, 2:340. Given that the Konak became briefly Omer Paşa Latas's residence and subsequently the residence of Bosnian governors, it cannot have been “forlorn” for long. Thanks to the anonymous reader of this article for this observation. The Old Konak was demolished in 1880. Hamdija Kreševljaković, Sarajevo u Doba Okupacije in Izabrana Djela, 4:216n12. Translation by Sabrina Perić.

60 Robert Donia notes that “Despite being exiled from Sarajevo for several years in the 1850s, Šerifović consistently sought accommodation with Ottoman central authorities.” I was not able to discover exactly how long he remained in exile, but he was certainly back in Sarajevo in a position of authority by the 1870s; an anonymous reviewer of this essay knows he was back by 1853. Šerifović and his two sons “became the most politically influential Sarajevans until the end of the nineteenth century, spanning the transition from Ottoman to Habsburg control.” Donia, Robert, Sarajevo: A Biography (Ann Arbor, 2006), 31CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Hamdija Kreševljaković, Sarajevo u Doba Okupacije in Izabrana djela, 1:216.

61 Skene, The Frontier Lands of the Christian and the Turk, 1:121.

62 On the ways Austrian law expected the enslaved to act as proper liberal subjects and advocate for their own liberation, see Frank, “Children of the Desert.”

63 Von Kräutner, K.k. Grenz Truppen Divisions Kommando in Semlin Copia Div. Praes. No. 257 an das löbl. KK General Konsulat für Serbien in Belgrad, 25 Aug. 1852.

64 Franz Soretic, “Politischer Gegenstand” No. 41, Belgrade, 20 Aug. 1852 to Minister of Foreign Affairs Buol-Schauenstein, F39/2.

66 MdA to Klezl, 1 Nov. 1852, Z 13899, F39/2; “dans un age où sa raison était trop peu développée pour comprendre la portée d'un pareil acte,” Abschrift einer Note des kais. Geschäftsträgers an den osmanischen Minister des Außern ddto Bujukdere, 4 Oct. 1852, F39/2.

67 MdA to Klezl, 18 Oct. 1852, Z. 13555, F39/2. It is interesting to note the threat inherent in this statement, namely that the Ottoman Empire that strives toward civilization is not yet civilized. At the time this document was written, the Treaty of Paris, which welcomed the Ottoman Empire into the “Concert of Nations,” had not yet been signed. For more on opposition to the idea that the Ottoman Empire could possibly meet the expectations of civilization that underwrote Europeans’ understanding of the basis of international law, see Genell, “Autononous Provinces,” especially pp. 533‒37.

68 Kräutner, Semlin, 25 Aug. 1852 to General Consulate in Belgrade.

69 Klezl's account of his conversation with Fuad Paşa on 10 Sept. 1852; reported 11 Sept. 1852 to MdA. F 39/3. Geschäfte No. LXIX A_C Bujukdere, 11 Sept. 1852. To compare with similar questions between the Ottoman and Russian empires, see Smiley, Will, From Slaves to Prisoners of War: The Ottoman Empire, Russia, and International Law (Oxford, 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Smiley, “The Burdens of Subjecthood,” 73‒93. William Clarence-Smith mentions an eighteenth-century “convention that Muslim converts should never be given up, even if they had embraced Islam as children or under duress.” Interestingly, he notes it was the 1791 Treaty of Sistova that first abrogated this expectation through its requirement that all Austrian slaves in Ottoman hands should be freed and returned.Clarence-Smith, William Gervase, Islam and the Abolition of Slavery (Oxford, 2006), 92Google Scholar.

70 Übersetzung einer Note Fuad Efendi's osman. Ministers des Äußern an den kais. Geschäftsträger dd 18 Silhidsche 1268 (1 Oct. 1852). The original from which H. von Haymerle (presumably Heinrich, Baron von Haymerle, who would later have a distinguished career in the Austro-Hungarian foreign service) produced this translation is not included in the file.

71 Ibid. Clarence-Smith enumerates the many different ways a person could be enslaved under Islamic law in Islam and the Abolition of Slavery.

72 As Selim Deringil has pointed out, the religious faith of illiterate peasants like Mara and her family was generally “practice oriented,” focused around “a series of prohibitions” as well as “demands for concrete objects of worship, especially graves and relics” rather than theological doctrine. Thanks to Deringil, I found H. T. Norris's work on women's “superficial conversion” to Islam; Mara might have fallen into the category of women and girls who received little indoctrination after their ceremonial conversion. Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy, 17; Norris, H. T., Islam in the Balkans: Religion and Society between Europe and the Arab World (Columbia, 1993), 264Google Scholar.

73 Klezl's account of his conversation with Fuad Paşa on 10 Sept. 1852; reported 11 Sept. 1852 to MdA. F 39/3. Administrative Geschäfte No. LXIX A_C Bujukdere, 11 Sept. 1852.

74 The phrase “Turkish girl” appears in the German translation of the note from Hurşid Paşa to the General Consulate in Belgrade. It is worth noting that Ottomans would not be likely to use this word in internal documents because “until the late nineteenth century, the Ottoman elites did not identify themselves as Turks, which to them had the ring of uncultivated peasants and tribal people.” Zilfi, Women and Slavery in the Late Ottoman Empire, 136.

75 Stanziani, Alessandro, “Serfs, Slaves, or Wage Earners? The Legal Status of Labour in Russia from a Comparative Perspective,” Journal of Global History 3 (2008): 202Google Scholar, as cited in Smiley, “The Burdens of Subjecthood,” 74.

76 Karamursel, Ceyda, “Transplanted Slavery, Contested Freedom, and Vernacularization of Rights in the Reform Era Ottoman Empire,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 59, no. 3 (July 2017): 691CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

77 Karamursel, Ceyda, “The Uncertainties of Freedom: The Second Constitutional Era and the End of Slavery in the Late Ottoman Empire,” Journal of Women's History 28, no. 3 (2016): 139CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Karamursel cites Cooper, Frederick, Holt, Thomas C., and Scott, Rebecca, Beyond Slavery: Explorations of Race, Labor, and Citizenship in Postemancipation Societies (Chapel Hill, 2000), 3Google Scholar.

78 “One cannot, after all, lend credence to everything these people say.” Klezl's account of his conversation with Fuad Paşa on 10 Sept. 1852; reported 11 Sept. 1852 to MdA. F 39/3. Administrative Geschäfte No. LXIX A_C Bujukdere, 11 Sept. 1852.

79 Ed. v. Klezl (Büyükdere) to MdA (Vienna), 28 Oct. 1852, No. LXXXB.

80 As cited in Deringil, The Well-Protected Domains, 92; see also Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy.

81 Makdisi, Ussama, The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon (Berkeley, 2000), 148Google Scholar.

82 Palotás, Emil, “Die Aussenwirtschaftlichen Beziehungen zum Balkan und zu Russland,” Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, vol. 4, Die Habsburgermonarchie im System der internationalen Beziehungen, part 1 (Vienna, 1989), 588‒92Google Scholar.

83 Benton, Lauren, Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400–1900 (Cambridge, 2002), 81Google Scholar.

84 It is interesting to note that Deringil cites a report written by the Porte's legal advisers in Oct. 1903 in which they assert that in the case where parents convert to Islam, “children would be free to choose which religion they were to belong to after the age of fifteen, ‘according to the usage of the past forty years,’” which leaves open the question of what the usage before 1863 had been. Deringil, Well-Protected Domains, 86.

85 Ibid., 85.

86 “Meinerseits wies ich dagegen einfach auf die von Milan Illic u. seiner Schwester auf unserem Boden gemachten Auslagen.”

87 MdA to Klezl, 18 Oct. 1852.

88 Vice Consul Soretic, Belgrade, to MdA, 24 Aug. 1852.

89 Of course, in those cases, the people in question were generally African, whereas European antislavery outrage was at its highest when the victims were, as Hiram Powers's Greek Slave, white. The statue, according to Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous poem, would “strike and shame the strong, / By thunders of white silence.”

90 G. Schreiner (Kais. General-Consul für Egypten), Alexandra, 5 Sept. 1859, to MdA Rechberg-Rothenlöwen in Vienna, no. LVIII/2163

91 G. Schreiner, To MdA [Buol-Schauenstein] in Vienna, from Alexandria, 31 Mar. 1859, No. XVII/716. After conducting this archival research, I learned that the case in question has been thoroughly discussed by Katja Knaus in her Magister's thesis, “Afrika missioniert Afrika? Sklavenkinder in österreichischen Klöstern,” submitted to the University of Vienna in May 2010, pp. 75‒89.

92 I base my presumption that both youths were coached on the specific nature of Milan's reference to Austrian law, and on the fact that the formal interview of Mara was not conducted until she had spent three weeks in Austrian custody—before which time, she was “in too wild a condition” to give coherent answers, they explained. F39/2.

93 On capitulations in comparative context, see Benton, Law and Colonial Cultures, 108.

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The Strange, Sad Case of the “Bosnian Christian Girl”: Slavery, Conversion, and Jurisdiction on the Habsburg-Ottoman Border
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

The Strange, Sad Case of the “Bosnian Christian Girl”: Slavery, Conversion, and Jurisdiction on the Habsburg-Ottoman Border
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

The Strange, Sad Case of the “Bosnian Christian Girl”: Slavery, Conversion, and Jurisdiction on the Habsburg-Ottoman Border
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *