Ottoman Uniforms
Ottoman Uniforms

1750 TILL 1837 JANISSARY POLICE AND BEKCI: KAVASS: WATCHMAN (1827-1837)

Salmatchoukadare: Commissaire de Police

Right - A figure of a Janissary period "SALMATCHOUKADARE: Commissaire de Police" from an illustration extracted from the Plates in the book by Mahmud Sevket Pasha ‘L'Organisation et les Uniformes de l'Armee Ottomanne (1907)’.

The 19th Orta

Right - The 19th  Janissary Orta badge. Known as the Bekci, or sentinels forming army guards on campaign.

In the imperial capital of Constantinople, security and public order duties were performed by Janissaries, called: Karakullukcu, who carried out the police and security duties.

Right - Two illustrations of the Bekci: night watchman responsible for maintaining local public order, from 1618 - Right [1], and 1809 (Far Right).

Each block‟s association would pay its own bekci (these were the security guards, night watchman, lookout, guardsman, safekeeper and security men). 

  • These men patrolled the neighborhood at night who would inform the bekci on the next block of his presence by periodic blowing of his whistle.
  • Whistle exchanges between the Bekcis notified the burglars and criminals as well.
  • Armed with clubs formed patrols to give the alert when fire broke out. They gave warning by striking their metal-tipped clubs on the pavement.

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[1] Ottoman Turkish Illustrations from Peter Mundy's Album, "A briefe relation of the Turckes, their kings, Emperors, or Grandsigneurs, their conquests, religion, customes, habbits, etc" - Istanbul 1618.

Bekci: Kavass: Watchman (1827-1837)

Between 1827 and 1837, the state employed local militia, retinues, irregulars, old bandits and vagabonds as security forces, these were distiguised:

  • With collar plates, reading 'Bekci'.
  • Or were part of the Turkish Army Ferahi Medalysi.

Edmund Spencer’s ‘Travels in European Turkey, 1850’, mentioned the dress of an ‘Arnout pandour, or kavass’, whom had joined his tour party in Bulgaria, noting that his dress was ‘peculiar to that arm of service’ of the bekci, but also, whose employment it was to act as couriers, and protect the caravans and travellers in European Turkey.

  • ‘His costume consisted of a pale-yellow hussar jacket, thrown over the shoulder, braided with sundry devices of stars and crescents, the ample shalwar, a singular looking pair of long, wide cloth boots, of the same colour as the jacket, and braided, with the usual red fez.
  • The long Arnoutka (Arnout gun) slung across his shoulder, a sabre, a pair of pistols in the holsters of his saddle, another pair, together with a hanjar [khanjar – small dagger traditionally associated with Oman], stuck in his shawl girdle, completed his preparations for offensive and defensive warfare'. 

An earlier description of various Bekci, appears in ‘The Present State of the Turkish Empire’ (Auguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de Marmont) (duc de Raguse) London, 1839;

  • On the occasion of the Sultan’s daughter’s wedding, in which he describes in his footnotes the uniform of kavasses attached to some embassies as: ‘…resembling the picturesque costume of that abolished corps [the Janissaries].
  • But, generally speaking, they wear the hideous uniform of the frock coat, in various colours, according to the taste of the Ambassador they serve.
  • They all carry swords.
  • Bear a long white staff of office’. This white staff, was traditionally used in the Selamlik (Sultan's Palace Reception), by the Janissary.

Two known illustrations of the post-1826 Bekci show them carrying a long baton as a mark of office (pictured above).

  • This black and white illustration shows him wearing a Janissary Wide Brass Girdle Belt.
  • New European styled uniform.

Right - Dated 1840 (Brown University Library collection), and is titled ‘Kavass’. This figures is -

  • Dressed in a green frockcoat, with brass buttons, and cuff with black piping to its edge, and this should be buttoned-up the back seam.
  • Loose green trousers are worn with boots or shoes.
  • About the waist  is worn a black waist belt, with yellow borders along the top and bottom edges, and the belt supports a black cartridge pouch decorated with a brass multi-point star. The pouch is also decorated with a brass-edge/gold wire embroidery, as it the belt and pistol holsters. The Ottoman pistols have brass furniture fittings.
  • The illustrated figure also wears a mid-brown shoulder coat, with upright collar, simply fastened by a single brass fixing (button) at the throat.
  • The capote reaches down to the knee and appears devoid of any other decoration.

On each breast there is a row of fabric loops, to take a set of five black-powder charge metal bottles. These are likely cloth breast cartridge pouches, of the type classically seen as a Cossack item of dress.

Right - This Bekci buckle reads: "Neighborhood Watchman 13".

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