Ottomania: The Crane Keepers (Janissaries)

Having spent some time building up the artillery arm of my Ottoman Turk army, I’ve been recently turning my attention to the infantry; namely the famous elite foot soldiers of the Sultan known as the Janissaries.

The Ottoman army of the 15th-17th centuries consisted of the Navy, the Eyalet Askerleri (provincial army) and the Kapikulu Askerleri (or sultan’s army). Within the Kapikulu was the Topcu (artillery) and also the entire Janissary Ocak or Corps. The Ocak consisted of three sections;

  • The Cemaat (assembly)
  • The Boluk (division)
  • The Segmen (dog handlers)

The three Janissary ocak themselves consisted of a total 196 orta regiments split between them with the Cemaat having the lion’s share of these. It is my intention to use the RedBox Janissary box to paint three of these ortas, representing one from each of the ocak divisions. My first group of ten are from the Cemaat ocak. Specifically, the 73rd Orta known as the Turnacis (Crane Keepers).

The Janissary ortas were known by peculiar names which indicated something of their origins or duties. The 73rd Orta got their name Turnacis from their origins based within the Sultan’s considerable hunting establishment (presumably Cranes being a popular game bird).

“The Janissaries were charged with looking after the training and the welfare of… dogs, which were greyhounds and mastiffs. There don’t seem to have been any hunts at Topkapı [palace] itself – miniatures show deer roaming around the palace grounds. And cranes were known to have been kept there. “ from Hunting, an imperial pastime in the Ottoman – Hürriyet Daily News.

Each orta had its own insignia which could even be tattooed onto the men. It’s possible that the Turnacis had an insignia related to Crane birds. Even their tents had a design specific to their orta (the 73rd having a white and yellow band at the top of theirs).

But what I really don’t know is exactly what they would have looked like.

Having done some research, including my Osprey ‘Elite Series’ on the Janissaries, I’m still none the wiser as to the colours of the clothing used by my troops. Some things were common, such as the distinctive bork white felt hat. The large woollen dolama coat was apparently very waterproof, surprisingly light, and was commonly tucked under the sash when in combat or activity to allow ease of movement.

But I’m not sure if colours were specific to individual units. It’s almost certain that the Janissaries as a whole did not have a single coloured uniform. As regards individual ortas, however, proud as they were of their regimental distinctiveness, I like to think they were much more likely to adopt a colour scheme unique to their unit. At any rate, it seems that Janissaries are regularly depicted by both artists and modellers alike as having colours specific to their orta.

On the wargaming table, some great looking Janissary ortas (battalions) with colour schemes unique to their individual regiments. Apologies to whoever painted these figures – I can’t find your blog to credit your lovely work!

So, for enjoyment’s sake, I’m happy to go along with that idea for my Janissaries and allow my creativity free reign to colour schemes for each orta. Even this clip of a film on YouTube shows the Ottoman Janissaries wearing a single uniform colour while in combat with Peter the Great’s Russian soldiers.

For the Crane Keepers, I’ve gone with dark blue coats and trousers with a light blue sash. The lining of the coat is white as are the famous bork hats.

I’m occasionally working on another orta which I hope to post at some point when they’re ready. In the meantime, I’m having great fun with a very entertaining little diversion featuring bearded clerics, a bald admiral and a wounded patient…