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!

Ottomania – Topçu Ocağı Corps Completed!

Campaigns consisted of invasions by great armies of the Ottomans, with heavy parks of artillery… The generals opposed to them, not being able to meet the Turks in the field, spread their forces in numerous fortresses, more or less strong, and the campaigns consisted in besieging these fortresses. With rare exceptions, these sieges were successful. The Turks brought overwhelming forces to bear on them. Their siege guns completely overmatched the guns of the defence. It was a question of a few days or a few weeks how long these fortresses could resist. From “The Turkish Empire, its Growth and Decay” by Baron G. Shaw-Lefevre Eversley (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46481)


I’ve been beavering away these past few weeks finishing off my collection of RedBox Ottoman Artillery (known as the Topçu Ocağı).

The pace of industrial development being slow during this period, the 16th Century Artillery box is broadly similar to their 17th Century set (but with different poses) so depicted wearing the same uniform colour, the sets will match well together.

As mentioned previously, I also had one stray broken cannon left over from the 16th Century Siege Artillery set. I’ve now put that right to make it a total of four of these siege gun teams, each with a mighty wall-smashing artillery piece. I confess to a macabre liking for these monsters of cannonry.

The 16th century artillery box includes some very pleasing poses, including these struggling ammunition carriers which, from their headdress, apppear to be janissaries which have been dragooned into the laborious task:

I also particularly like the ear-protecting character in a fez, seen here standing next to the officer in a large turban:

The plastic cannon pieces themselves are a trifle bendy but it is an effect that is not too noticeable. The carriages, however, I think look convincingly solid.

So, over the past year I’ve somehow managed to make myself a besieging Ottoman artillery corps (in Turkish; Topçu Ocağı) all being neatly entrenched behind earth-filled gabions,and consisting of 12 big guns, namely:

It all makes for a reasonably imposing sight when stretched out as a siege line across the lounge carpet. Even more imposing to a nervous population cowering behind it’s city walls, I should think! Not a bad start to my Ottomania project, all in all.

I’ve enjoyed branching out into a different era to the 18th / 19th centuries and you could say it’s expanded my horizons. I’ve already painted some Janissaries and there is plenty more in the RedBox range to expand my Ottomania project even further.

What’s more, I couldn’t resist purchasing some other 16th/17th Century troops from a rival nation state that I saw going very cheap on eBay recently, so there’s definitely some life in this project for some considerable time to come.

Ottoman Artillerymen

By way of a quick progress update while the cannon, gabions and basing are underway, I thought I’d share my Ottoman artillery figures of the Topçu Ocağı artillery corps.

Three gun crews have been painted; x2 teams of eight figures each and x1 siege artillery gun team of four figures. The 16th century crews come with two men carrying what appears to be large leather bag of cannon balls. I’m still painting the bag but when it’s finished should make for a nice scene.

More heavy lifting of ammunition:

Light my fire – Turkish portfire carriers:

Turbans indicate the officers in charge. The siege gun commander holds a brass quadrant, an instrument for calculating the required elevation of the gun.

Ramrod holders:

So, all these fellows are just patiently awaiting the development of their dioramas, which I’ll share when complete!

Ottomania – Last of the Topçu Ocağı

I began the year painting figures from what was both an unusual topic and an unusual era for me; 16th/17th century troops of the Ottoman Empire. Specifically, I focused on their artillery corps (the Topçu Ocağı). These are impressive sculpts from RedBox which was a key reason why I was drawn to them in the first place. Using resin-cast gabion gun emplacements, I created mini dioramas from their following sets:

That left just one more box untouched from RedBox’s Turkish artillery releases; the 16th Century field artillery set.

When I made my 16th Century Siege Artillery earlier this year, I only attempted 3 of the 4 guns in the box as I had a) inexplicably lost one of the gun crew and b) carelessly cut through the axle on the gun carriage! Happily, the missing Ottoman artilleryman finally turned up after a month hiding behind the sofa (thereby not demonstrating the kind of martial qualities required as a member of the Topçu Ocağı of the Kapikulu Corps). Turning my attention to the broken cannon, I had to get creative.

One of my finished siege gun crews from earlier in the year.

So I’ve embarked on a bit of scratch-building by cutting away the broken axle and drilling a hole through the carriage. Next, I used a scalpel to whittle away a cocktail stick to act as a replacement axle. I still had trouble getting it through the hole which I resolved by cutting deep into the carriage so that it sat convincingly on top the axle instead.

You’d have to know how hopeless I am at such practical construction to understand how ridiculously pleased I am with my handywork. I feel like an engineer! My engineer father will be impressed, I’m sure.

I’ve been painting 20 artillerymen figures and they’re approaching completion. So, I’m now working on the big guns…

…and also tackling the resin-cast gabions which have been a feature of these artillery teams.

My remaining gabions from Anyscale Models

I’ve said before that there is significant doubt that there was any real standardised uniform for the Turkish Topçu Ocağı, but I readily confess that I like the uniformity of miniature figures in my painting. Furthermore, I think it suggests something of the relatively advanced professionalism of the Ottoman artillery at a time when their corps were peerless in Europe.

My 16th Century artillery will deliberately look similar to these 17th Century Ottoman field artillery figures I painted.

Finally, I’m also thinking that these figures could also stand nicely as being the artillery of a wargaming imagi-nation; perhaps a fictitious Islamic nation, constantly at war with other neighbouring 17th century Balkan lands, Tsarist Russia or North African states. The Sultanate of Al-Suburbia, perhaps, or the Caliphate of Militaristan?

The Sultan of Al-Suburbia? A Red Box commander from my Jannisaries set.

Siege Guns of the Kapikulu Corps

The third instalment of my Ottomania project is yet another group of artillery. After recently painting two boxes from the 17th century, I’ve been making use of one of RedBox’s 16th century guns instead. Cannon technology changed little between the 16th and 17th centuries, so the gun crews can be placed together with no problem at all.

The siege cannons in the set come in a four but as I appear to have, err, lost part of a crew somehow, I’ve only attempted three of them (this at least makes things a quicker to do).

Redbox’s 16th Century siege artillery guns are certainly of the kind of large calibre which suggest they’re capable of hurling wall-breaking cannonballs. Plastic Soldier Review suggests the barrels might be a little short, a notion which is supported by the guns looking somewhat stubby. I think they’re pretty convincing siege guns nonetheless.

The figures are of the usual high quality and this time I’ve gone for a grey uniform, blue trousers and a red sash. My Serbian friend from Bennos Figures Forum found some interesting information about the Turks.

“I spoke with one man from the history museum, he said the Ottomans never had regulation about the uniform colour…In fact, in XIX century we cannot speak about any standardisation of uniform except for Nizams…”

No regulation there may have been, but I like to think that perhaps wealthy leaders might choose to equip their artillery troops in some distinctive manner. Anyway, as I always say, ‘my figs – my rules!’

This group of siege gunners belong to the Kapikulu Corps, the Sultans’ elite of the Ottoman army which contained its own infantry, cavalry and artillery, much like Napoleon’s Imperial Guard. Begun in the early 14th century, the Kapikulu grew in size and Süleyman I increased them to 48,000 strong, half of which were Janissaries (elite infantry). Most of the artillerymen in the Ottoman army belonged to the Topcu Ogaki Regiment of the Kapikulu Corps. By the time of Bayezid II (1481-1512), up to 5,000 topcular (artillerymen) were serving in the corps.

The Topcu Okagi specialised in all forms of siege warfare including the manufacture of ordnance and guns, mining, sapping, transport, labouring and siege works. Such was their sophistication that my Osprey guide suggests that their sapping and mining activities (trenches, saps, artillery emplacements) had more in common with WWI than the 16th/17th centuries.

The figures contain an officer holding a quadrant, by which means he could (with some decent grasp of mathematics) calculate the desired angle of elevation on the gun barrel. For a good overview of its use, see this post by the “To the Sound of the Guns” blog dedicated the American Civil War. It seems that such a device was still very much in use in the mid-19th century and, indeed, has not entirely disappeared from gunnery even today!

Once more, I’ve made use of the very convenient and effective gabions by Anyscale Models, used in my two other sets (the 17th Century field gun crews and the Humbaraci Corps Mortars). I’ve even enough left over for the remaining box of Turkish 16th Century artillery… but that will probably be left now for another day, as that’s quite enough for now!

Next up on my painting table is a return to more familiar territory and finishing off those Mars Austrians for the good old Nappy Cavalry Project!

The Humbaracı Corps

Continuing with my new 17th Century Ottomania project, I’ve been further developing the Sultan’s artillery. The two guns of the Ottoman field artillery that I painted are now joined by four siege mortars of the Humbaracı Corps.

Once more, I’ve made use of more gabions from Anyscale Models, a slightly different type to those used in the last group of artillery, however.
Four mortars in total are crewed by a total of 16 men of the Humbaracı Corps.

Siege warfare was developed to a highly sophisticated art by the Ottomans and their artillery was amongst the first professional, standing force in Europe. Mortars were an effective means of hurling missiles over city walls in order to degrade the target by indirect fire. I have set my mortars at a high angle as if they are close in on an invested town’s walls, terrorising inhabitants and defenders alike with their bombardment.

Established in 1481, the Humbaracı Corps included mortar, bombardier, grenadier, mining and incendiary regiments. These were all part of the elite Kapikulu Corps and my Osprey guide has this to say of their ordnance;

The Humbaracılar used havayi mortars, humbara bombs of glass or iron, and humbarasi grenades of glass or bronze.

You will note that the Mortars are sited on a kind of raft of wood to provide a stable base. Interestingly, Osprey also state that “…when not cast-on-site, Ottoman gun barrels were normally transported separately from their cumbersome carriages”.

In my eagerness to finish these off, I realise now that I’ve neglected a couple of final touches including those portfires with their glowing ends which I so enjoyed producing for the last set.

As with the last group of Ottoman Artillery field guns, and entirely for my own satisfaction, I’ve imagined the corps to be wearing a consistent dress uniform in a kind of light blue with mid-blue trousers and red sash.

The reality might have been far more diverse and less uniform, but I can’t find a definitive statement on their dress. I also rather fancied keeping the artillery in a uniform manner because the infantry and cavalry will be far more individualised when I get around to painting them too.

It seems that I’m not the only one to take this approach as other hobbyists have painted their Ottoman artillery in uniform colour schemes too, one of which inspired my own design for the Humbaraci Corps.

Excellent Old Glory figures of Ottoman artillery crews – as seen on Lonely Gamers blog.
…and these beautifully painted uniforms of the sipahis and a gun grew from the now sadly dormant Kaiser Bill’s blog.

If that’s not enough Turkish artillery for you (and surely it is), there’s a third set that I’m busy working on too, so I should have a sizeable Ottoman artillery contingent when I’m done. But more on that in due course!