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Abduction with (Dis)honor: Sovereigns, Brigands, and Heroes in the Ottoman World

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This essay is interested in the ways in which acts of abduction, their significations, and the identities of abductors changed over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At the start of this period, abduction was a positive force for the honor and reputation of the Ottoman sultanate, but it gradually turned into an act that threatened the state’s authority. Powerful abductors—those whose deeds aroused public admiration or alarm, or perhaps both—are our principal subject. If at the start of the sixteenth century abduction was an act that could enhance a monarch’s renown, it was losing its force as emblematic conduct of the royal victor. By the mid-century, the ideal sultan was less a warrior of legendary prowess than a prudent statesman more interested in treaties with his enemies than personal violence against them. Moreover, he was now the prosecutor of abduction. Around 1540, imperial law began to crack down on abduction by prescribing the dire punishment of castration. As if in response, the uses of abduction as a public assertion of honor, power and valor began to be appropriated by opponents of the government’s vision of order—rebels and disaffected servants of the state.

Affiliations: 1: New York University

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