OTTOMAN INHERITANCE INVENTORY: WHERE ‘BORING’ FACTS AND FIGURES UNVEIL JUICY SECRETS OF EVERYDAY LIFE AND MATERIAL CULTUREPınar Ceylan
Terekes (inheritance inventories), are lists of assets, possessions and debts of a deceased individual recorded by a judge to distribute the inheritance among the heirs according to the Islamic law. Inheritance inventories are included in the şer’iye (judicial court) registers, which were compiled in all major kadi-ships 1 of the Empire, and they usually exist in thousands in urban basis. Ordinariness and repetitiveness would be perhaps the first impressions of anyone looking at these sources which draw the picture of a universe consisting of a limited group of items. We should remember that most of the documents and objects, and of all other traces of the past that historical narrative relies upon, were often ordinary and insignificant; at the moment they were produced and fulfilled their function. What is “evidence” for the historian today was often a routine part of human life, then.
These very ordinariness and 'boringness' of inheritance inventories are in fact what makes them ‘interesting’ in the eyes of a student of social history. They provide valuable insights into the daily lives of common people. They tell us how these people made their living, what they possessed and consumed, where they sheltered and worked, and how they used their spare time. In this regard, inheritance inventories are unique sources for 'history from below' which concentrates on experiences of ordinary people, and which contrasts itself with the state-centered approaches and their focus on the actions of the political elite.
Terekes include a wide range of information on the Ottoman material, consumption, and food cultures, and everyday life, among many other fields. To begin with, we will look at what these documents include. Ottoman inheritance inventories consist of four main parts: (1) the identification of the deceased and heirs, (2) the listing of the assets, (3) the enumeration and the deduction of debits, and (4) the apportioning of the shares. In the initial section, “introductory protocol”, the deceased is identified by given name and father’s name and the place of residence (by neighborhood or village and the city). In the following lines, the names and degree of affinity of the legatees, the title of the treasury agent (emin-i beytülmal) and the date of portioning are recorded. Occupation and cause of death are occasionally mentioned. (Matthews 2000, 56) The second section, “inventory” describes the deceased's patrimony in detail: buildings (houses, shops, watermills), vineyards, trees and crops, livestock, personal and household goods, stores, commercial goods as well as outstanding loans (der zimmet) and the name of the borrower. All items are recorded with their worth. (Establet and Pascual 1992, 375) The values assigned may reflect a price estimate or the actual amount for which the item was sold at auction. The third section, “personal liabilities”, constitutes the claims against the inheritance: debts incurred by the deceased (Düyun), outstanding bride price to the wife, claims on the estate, bequests and sundry expenses (medical expenses, funeral costs, the cost of the inheritance registry process and taxes). In the fourth section, the net amount of the assets is divided among the heirs (Matthews 2001, 57).
At the first sight, the most important advantage Ottoman inheritance inventory have over its European and American counterparts is the inclusion of real estate. If the question of omissions is put aside, they seem to present a more complete picture of estate owner's wealth. However, the houses or other buildings were never described in details in the Ottoman inventories. They contain no information about the numbers of the rooms or how they were used. On this later point, European and American inventories are more generous. In the process of probation, English appraisers often listed items room by room, even though they were not required to do so (Dean et al. 2004, 15).
Nevertheless, the bequeathed houses are described with terms such as oda, beyt konak, which refer to their size and in most cases the location of a house in the city is given in a very precise manner. Information in the inventories can be employed to shed light on the differentiation of house prices in different quarters, and thus, on whether an urban organization based on economic status is observable in Ottoman cities.
In what follows, I would like to share some impressions on a typical early modern Ottoman inner house relying on a sample of Ottoman inheritance inventories belonging to the Ottoman town of Manisa over the period 1740-1760. The samples consist of 142 middle-class estates selected on the basis of wealth brackets established by Todorov (1983) A veil of privacy which the Ottomans were keen at protecting, shadows our knowledge of the Ottoman family life and hence, of the inner spaces of the Ottoman house. We have only very rare and indirect primary sources which can shed light on how this inner space was arranged and decorated, or on the objects and textiles used for home decoration. In this sense, Ottoman inheritance inventories represent a unique opportunity “to lift up the roofs” and “to peek into the most intimate corners of a household” (Braudel 1967, 217).
The most common items we encounter in an early modern middle-class Ottoman house can be categorized as follows:
Household linen: Sheet, pillowcase, duvet cover, cushion case, table cloth, towel, hand towel, table, furnace veil, furnace curtain, door curtain, alcove curtain, face pillow, duvet, side cushion, wrapping cloth, seat cushion (çarşeb, yasdık kılıfı/yüzü, yorgan kılıfı, minder yüzü, sofra örtüsü/simat peşkiri, mikrame/peşkir, el peşkiri/havlu, ocak yaşmağı, ocak perdesi, kapu perdesi, yük perdesi, yüz yasdığı, yorgan, yan minderi, boğça, mak’ad)
Mattress: Mattress, side mattress (döşek/şilte, yan şilte)
Interior lighting implements: Candlestick, lampion, candle (Şam’edan, fener, çirağ)
Floor coverings: Flooring, small carpet, rug, felt, carpet, side felt, rush mat (döşeme, kaliçe, kilim, keçe, zili, halı, yan keçesi, hasır)
Sanitation utensils: Bath towel, loincloth, bath felt, bath flooring, washbowl, mirror, clog, soap, pitcher, shaver equipment, comb (futa, peştemal, hamam keçesi, hamam döşemesi, hamam leğeni, ayna, nalın, sabun, el ibriği, berber takımı, tarak)
Kitchenware, cutlers and serviettes: Cooking pot, kier, tray, baking tray, shallow plate with and without lid, frier, hand frier, molasse frier, paste bowl, large plate, syrup pitcher, plate, vessel, knife, round metal tray, stoup, bowl, bucket, mortar, cup, cup box, jug, mug, compote bowl, soup bowl, colander (tencere, kazgan, tebsi, börek tebsisi, kapaklı/ kapaksız sahan, tabe, el tabesi, pekmez tabesi, hamur leğeni, lengeri, şerbet ibriği, tabak, tas, pıçak, sini, maşraba, kase, bakraç, havan, fincan, fincan kutusu, güğüm, bardak, hoşab tası, çorba tası, kevgir)
Heating implements: Brassier (mangal)
Storageware: Chest, basket, drawer, earthenware jar, sac, large sac (sanduk, sebet, çekmece, küp, çuval, harar)
Coffee and tobacco utensils: Coffee pitcher, coffee pot, coffee cup, metal cup holder, pipe set, tobacco sac, shisha (kahve ibriği, cezbe, kahve fincanı, zarf, kahve takımı, çubuk takımı, dühan kisesi, nargile)
The simplicity of the inner house, as depicted in the inheritance inventories suggests that the early modern middle-class Ottoman house was arranged to satisfy the basic needs. The household usually included goods limited both in kind and in quantity, and the home decoration aimed subsistence and comfort more than a quest for social distinction. Differences in wealth and status of the estate owners manifest themselves not in the composition but in the quality, the degree of wornness, the ornamentation and the raw material of the household goods.
Braudel, Ferdinand B., 1967. Civilization matérielle et Capitalisme: XV-XVIIeme siecles Tome:1, (Paris).
Dean, Daron, Andrew Hann, Overton, Mark,Whittle, Jane, 2004. Production and Consumption in English Households, 1600-1750, (Routledge, Oxfordshire).
Establet Colette, Pascual, Jean-Paul, 1992. Damascene Probate Inventories of the 17th and 18th Centuries: Some Preliminary Approaches and Results. International Journal of Middle East Studies 24(3), 373-393.
Matthews, Joyce Hedda, 2000. "Toward an Isolario of the Otoman Inheritance Inventory with Special Reference to Manisa (ca. 1600-1700)." In: Quataert, Donald (Ed.), Consumption Studies and the History of the Otoman Empire 1550-1922, An Introduction (New York).
Todorov, Nikolai, 1983. The Balkan City, 1400-1900 (Seattle and London).
Image 1-An Ottoman inheritance inventory dating 1741
Manisa Şeriyye Sicili, No. 197, 1153-4
Image 2-18th century engraving from Ignatius Mouradgea d'Ohsson's book Tableau general
de l'Empire othoman
Image 3- An 18th century Ottoman copper ewer
Image 4- An Ottoman wrapping cloth, 18th Century Courtesy of The Textile Museum, Washington