Ottomania: The Harbaci Palace Gate Guard (Jannisaries)

Continuing with my steadily expanding Ottoman Turkish army, I’m turning my attention back to the elite Janissaries. The Janissaries were organised into three separate sections.

  • the cemaat (frontier troops); consisting of 101 ortas (battalions)
  • the bölük (the Sultan’s own bodyguard); 61 ortas
  • the sekban; 34 ortas

My previous orta represented a battalion from the largest corps, the cemaat; the 73rd orta were known as the Crane Keepers (Tenercis), a reference to their origins as part of the Sultan’s vast hunting retinue.

Man of the 73rd orta (the Crane Keepers)

The Yeniçeri Ocaği, or Janissary Corps, aside from being an elite military force also acted as the Sultan’s personal bodyguard, protecting their ruler and his senior officials and property. Specifically, the security of the Sultan was the responsibility of the Bostanci Bashi, the head of the what were known as Bostanci guards. The Bostanci corps of ‘gardeners’ palace guards were a separate, specialised part of the Janissary corps. Their role involved the policing and maintenance of the many palaces and estates in Istanbul.

Painting of Sultan Selim III holding audience at Topkapi Palace
by Konstantin Kapıdağlı – Badisches Landesmuseum, Public Domain.

And it’s with the Bostanci in mind that I’ve painted the next Janissary battalion in the Ottomania project. It is from the Sultan’s bodyguard or bölük division – specifically, the 56th orta – and this battalion supplied troops for the 60-strong Harbaci Palace Gate Guard. They were also known as the Çardak orta after the district on the Golden Horn in Istanbul where they were pemanently stationed.

The Harbaci Palace Guard were detailed for the protection of both the Grand Vizier and the Janissary Agha (senior commander of the Janissaries, taking orders only from the Sultan himself). The 56th’s unit insignia curiously appears to have been a sea-going galley.

Bostanci guard by an anonymous Greek artist, ca. 1809 – Public Domain

Having no evidence of what my selected orta looked like, I took a little inspiration from the above depiction of an 1809 guard of the Bostanci, wearing predominantly red clothing.

There are still some figures remaining in the box, which I intend to use at some point for the final corps; the Sekban. I’m not sure when that will be, as a number of other figures are now calling for my attention!