Ottoman Uniforms
Ottoman Uniforms

1574 TILL 1855 TUNISIAN ARMY AND NAVY

Tunis Janissary Corps (1574)

The first Ottoman garrisoned to occupy Tunis, was 4,000 Janissaries, who came from the Algiers garrison [1]. Up till 1591, the Tunis Janissary Corps, were under the command of their own Agha; However, after 1591, an Ottoman Pasha for Tunisia was apointed, as well, the local Janissary officers replaced the Sultan's appointment, with one of their own called Deys. The Janissary Corps in Tunis, was actually one of the Boluk Ortas [2]. It was divided into a number of small units (Oda) of 50 men each (some 20-25 active soldiers, and 30 or more pensioners. There was one further division of the Tunis Boluk Orta into a mounted regiment of Mamlukes (the first 40 Oda(s), of the Orta.

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[1] Ira M. Lapidus. A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge University Press, 2014: 318.

[2] Asma Moalla. The Regency of Tunis and the Ottoman Porte, 1777-1814: Army and Government of a North-African Eyâlet at the End of the Eighteenth Century. Routledge, 2005.

Tunisian Navy Squadron (Naval Battle of Navarino, 1827)

Often discribed as having been 'destroyed at the Greek naval battle of Navarino in 1827', this was a Tunisian Navy Squadron of four ships [3],  whereas the Admiral of this fleet, was likely an Algerian officer.

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[3] H. J. Kissling, Bertold Spuler, N. Barbour, J. S. Trimingham, H. Braun, H. Hartel. The Last Great Muslim Empires. BRILL, 1997: 134.

1840-1850 Tunisian Army

Right - Tunisian army officers from the 1840s.

The Tunisian beys were the commanders of the Tunisian troops and were invested with high Ottoman military ranks. At the end of the 18th century the bey’s held the rank of Amir al Umara (Major General). The 9th and 10th Bey’s were promoted to the rank of Ferik (Lieutenant Generals in the Ottoman army). In 1840 the 11th bey was promoted to the rank of Musir-i-Mufakham (Fieldmarshal) which was the highest rank in the Ottoman Army. The same rank was held by his successors until 1882. In 1864 an Amir Oumar (General of Division was appointed).

Each Tunisian Army brigade (see organisation below), was under the command of an Amir Liwa (Brigadier-General).

Various fez badges, were used as part of the rank system, as well as the system of awards from the 1840s (till the French annexation in 1881). The officers wore a plain crescent gorget, as a mark of office.

Right - A pre-1881 Tunisian Army buckle. This type of oval buckle was used in the 1840, as well through-out the Crimean War period.

The Modern Tunisian Army was formed in 1831 by Al-Husayn II ibn Mahmud, with a new infantry battalion based on the 1826 reform of the Ottoman army, and after the French conquest of Algeria in 1830.

Tunisian Army Zouave

The Tunisian army also had several Tunisian irregular regiments made up of Berber tribal levies (or Zouaoua mkhaznia) spread across the country [1] [2].

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[1] The 'Zouaoua' Tribe, are actually, the origins of the Zouaves of the French Army, that were first raised in Algeria in 1831 with one and later two battalions, initially recruited solely from the Zouaoua (or Zwawa), a tribe of Berbers located in the mountains of the Jurjura Range. The Zouaoua had formerly provided soldiers for the Deys of Algiers and in August 1830 the commander of the French expeditionary force which had occupied the city recommended their continued employment in this role.

[2] Right - This illustration titled: "Soldat der regulären infanterie abdel-kaders aus Algier. 1845-1847", is likely to be the original 'Zouaoua' Tribe soldiers, showing the origin of the French Army's 'Uniform of the Orient', mainly worn by the the Zouaves of the French Army. Even though this is from Algeria in the mid-1840s the costume world be identical to that used by the Tunisian irregular regiments, coming from the same tribal group.

Tunisian Army Navy 'Sea-Infantry' (1840)

There was a brigade of Navy Infantry, in groups of 50-200 men detailed for port fortresses garrisons. These soldiers were recognisable by the large anchor badge hanging from a neck cord.

Tunisian Army Pioneers and Engeneering Corps

Tunisian Army Flags

Right - The Tunisian flag (originally an navy ensign), was adopted between 1831 and 1835. One of these flags was carried by Tunisian Army regiments till 1881.

The Tunisian Army also carried plain flags with various horizontal stripes identical to early  1800s Janissary Corps ‘Orta’, and Sipahi Cavalry Regiment Flags [1].

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[1] The Army Museum in Paris displays four flags taken from the Tunisian Army in Sfax in 1881. All of them are mainly made of three plain horizontal stripes. Their dimensions are (110-115 cm) x (175-187 cm), given an approximate proportion of 3:5. The hoist, of 255 cm height, is painted with white, grey, green and red spirals. The finial is made of a brass socket topped with a crescent pointing upwards. According to the Army Museum, the use of these flags is unknown.

Tunisian Army Artillery

Right - The 1835-1860 artillery officers' and soldiers' fez badges. The Tunisian army maintained artillery brigades between 1835 to 1860. There were four artillery brigades (topjiya) of 1000 men each:

  • 1st Brigade in Tunis and Bardo since 1831 (the officers' fez badge pictured -Right).
  • 2nd Brigade at La Goulette;
  • 3rd Brigade distributed in the forts of the country (mainly Bizerte, Monastir, Sfax, Sousse Tabarka);
  • 4th Brigade distributed in the high country.

In the Crimean war period, C.A. Norman notes that General Vanson left a description of a Tunisian Artilleryman ... 'blue hooked veste without piping, scarlet collar and pointed cuffs, nothing on the shoulders.' [1] He noted - blue trousers, white cravat. Pouch and belt of an officer of artillery, except that the lion's head is replaced by a brass disc with two-cannon in relief. Old waistbelt of an artillery officer, almost invisible under the veste, with black straps but no sabre'... (C.A. Norman also notes, "I suspect these belts were all black, leading Vanson to compare them to French artillery officer's models?"). He also states that, other ranks seem to have generally worn a dark blue jacket cut similarly to that of the Egyptians but with red collar and pointed cuffs, loose 'peg-top' trousers tightening toward the ankle, native slippers or short boots, and the tall stiffened 'Tunisian Tarbash' as headgear.

In the Crimean War period C.A. Norman notes: "I searched in vain for any further description or sketch of a Tunisian artilleryman with cap plate (he adds "some of Vanson's notes are virtually indecipherable") [2]. Roubicek quotes an 1849 source describing - "an artilleryman wearing a 'tarboosh' with chinstrap and a large brass flaming grenade badge on the front”.

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[1] [2] C.A. Norman. Turkish Uniforms of the Crimean Era (Soldiers of the Queen: Issue 85).

Tunisian Army Infantry

Right - 1840s Tunisian infantry.

The Tunisian army was founded in January 1831, with an infantry battalion established in Tunis, created following reforms of the Ottoman army and after the French conquest of Algeria in 1830. In 1832, another battalion was raised. The soldiers and officers were trained, equipped and dressed in European fashion, like the first regiments of the Ottoman army after the reforms of Sultan Mahmud II which followed the removal of the Janissary Corps.

In 1855, the Tunisian army was divided into seven infantry brigades (each brigade varies from 1,000 to 2,000 men at different times). These were stationed throughout Tunisia:

  • 1st Brigade (permanently stationed in Tunis, since 1831), and this unit appears to have worn large red wool French Grenadier Epaulets;
  • 2nd Brigade (based in Sousse, since 1832);
  • 3rd Brigade (based in Monastir);
  • 4th Brigade (based in Kairouan);
  • 5th Brigade (formed part of the mhalla - a bi-annual mobile military column that was deployed through the back country of Tunisia);
  • 6th Brigade (formed part of the mhalla);
  • 7th Brigade (based in El Ghar Melh, or Porto Farina).

In the Crimean War period, C.A.Norman (General Vanson) did a few sketches and notes on men of both Tunisian contingents [1]. The Tunisian infantry officer from a black and white sketch titled 'Tunisian Officer, Constantinople, 1854' [2]:

  • This figure wears a somewhat more elaborate form of the men's dress, showing distinct French influence.
  • His jacket is buttoned rather than hooked, with there-point collar patches and round cuffs with three-point flaps, probably all in red (were the cuff flaps really without buttons, or is the sketch simply unfinished?), gold lace 'passants' on the shoulders, and lace circling the cuff (conceivably indicating rank?).
  • His red trousers appear to be of a more Western cut than the men's, but still loose and baggy.
  • The Tunisian cravat, in all these depictions, appears to be a length of soft white material simply wound around the throat, rather than a stiff stock.
  • The tall Tarbash was stiffened inside with cardboard, and could become quite unsightly after a good rain or two.

The Tunisian Infantryman, from a sketch titled Tunisian, 20 September 1854, Teras Kierat' [3]: He is described as wearing:

  • Red 'tarbash' with dark blue tassel; there appear to be two lines of stitching around the base, possibly attaching the cardboard lining.
  • Dark blue hooked jacket with red collar and pointed cuffs, and what appears to be a shoulderstrap on the left (not mentioned in the text).
  • Loose red trousers, white cravat and bandolier over the left shoulder. C.A. Norman, hypothesise the pouch belt was of the old French Napoleonic model, with bayonet scabbard attached just in front of the pouch; the musket might be of the same provenance, as it appears to be a flintlock.
  • General Vanson noted, in relation to a 'Tunisian Post at the Court of Teras Quier’, that the uniforms were whole badly-fitting and rumpled, and white cravats for all. Old white belts with large pouches. Sabres on white belts for NCOs, the sabre a 'briquet' without knot or ornament'.

C.A. Norman notes: This individual is further described as wearing 'a Tarbash like the other, but without plate (which appears to be a lion - the Tunisian Barbary Lion). In one of two forms [4]:

  • Laying down over a peltast crescent-shaped shield (illustrated for the 1st Lancers - discussed below).
  • Rearing-up (much like the modem Tunisian coat of arms - Right).

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[1] In the Crimean War, a Tunisian force eventually numbering some 10,000 men raised by the Bey Ahmad (supposedly from the proceeds of selling his wife's jewellery) which were sent to the war zone piecemeal during 1854-55. However, details of their service records are scanty but both appear to have initially served in the Balkans, after which at least some elements of both corps are supposed to have served in the Crimea. The Tunisians are often held responsible for the loss of the guns at Balaclava which led to the charge of the Light Brigade.

[2] [3] [4] C.A. Norman. Turkish Uniforms of the Crimean Era (Soldiers of the Queen: Issue 85).

Tunisian Army Lancers

The Tunisian cavalry in 1850, consisted of a regular cavalry regiment of lancers, and was created based in Manouba. A pre-Crimean War illustration of the regular cavalry regiment of lancers shows the officer's tall Tarbash, which was stiffened inside with cardboard, displaying a fez badge of rank/award, which appears to be a lion badge - the Tunisian Barbary Lion laying down over a peltast crescent-shaped shield, with a Ottoman one-numeral, for the 1st Lancers. As well, the shako-like Tarbash is fitted with gilt chin scales. This headgear was as large, and heavy as European shako at the same period, and the gilt chin scales were necessary to help the wearer from losing his hat when ridding.

Tunisian Army Irregular Cavalry

Tunisian Army irregular cavalry units based were mainly in barracks at Kef, Nefza and Tunis, and were commanded by Turkish Mamluks.

Tunisian Army Band Corps (1840-1855)

Right - Fez badge of the army Band Corps. The corps wore red uniforms.

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