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This chapter shows how the loosely regulated night of the eighteenth century, that had accommodated orthodox and antinomian ritual, order, and its transgression, gradually turned into a battleground between the palace elite and the janissaries, the unofficial rulers of the night. When at conflict with the palace, the janissaries used the night not only for licentious pleasures and business, but also for conspiracy and sabotage, as a crucial facet in their “protocols of rebellion.” Once activated, the janissaries’ networks would organize quickly under the cover of darkness and march out of the shadows to confront the sultan in broad daylight. Ottoman sultans, on their part, occasionally tried to dislodge these networks, significantly in this context, by eradicating the nightlife scene which they considered the breeding ground of janissary revolts. These efforts, however, were thwarted by the dependency of the authorities on, and the ambivalence toward these very networks and activities. The drama is narrated below in three acts of major upheavals: the 1730 rebellion, the nizam-i cedid reforms and the 1807 uprising that undid them, and the destruction of the janissaries in 1826, which opened the way to significant changes in Ottoman nocturnal realities.
In a world that is constantly awake, illuminated and exposed, there is much to gain from looking into the darkness of times past. This fascinating and vivid picture of nocturnal life in Middle Eastern cities shows that the night in the eighteenth-century Ottoman Empire created unique conditions for economic, criminal, political, devotional and leisurely pursuits that were hardly possible during the day. Offering the possibility of livelihood and brotherhood, pleasure and refuge; the darkness allowed confiding, hiding and conspiring - activities which had far-reaching consequences on Ottoman state and society in the early modern period. Instead of dismissing the night as merely a dark corridor between days, As Night Falls demonstrates how fundamental these nocturnal hours have been in shaping the major social, cultural and political processes in the early modern Middle East.
Darkness offered economically underprivileged and socially marginal groups livelihood and leisure opportunities that were hardly available during the day. These populations therefore figured prominently in the city’s nocturnal life. But the night offered cover also to the “respectable” residents of the city, and to its rulers. Darkness indeed had a blinding effect, but it also made it easier to turn a blind eye. Whereas infringements in broad daylight were a direct challenge to established order, it was often comfortable for all parties to pretend nighttime violations never happened. Both order and its alleged enemies, could more easily transgress their bounds at night, assuming that what happened in the dark remained in the dark. Throughout most of the eighteenth century, a huge nightlife scene was allowed to exist, as long as it remained out of sight and did not openly undermine diurnal order.
The Ottoman empire is named after Osman(d.1324), the eponymous founder of the dynasty, whose name came to be rendered in English as Ottoman. Osman was a Turkish frontier lord – beg in Turkish – who commanded a band of semi-nomadic fighters at the beginning of the fourteenth century in northwestern Asia Minor (Anatolia), known at the time to Turks, Persians, and Arabs as the land of Rum (Rome); that is, the land of the Eastern Roman Empire. Osman Beg was but one of many Turkish lords who carved out their respective principalities in western and central Asia Minor, profiting from the power vacuum caused by the Mongols’ destruction of the Seljuq sultanate of Rum in 1243.
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