A comparative study of sharecropping system throughout the ages in the ottoman empire

Karaosmanoğlu, Ali
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Bilkent University
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In the Ottoman Empire, the status of sharecroppers has changed throughout the ages. In the classical age, the war captives acquired in the conquered lands were settled as sharecropper slaves on the lands belonged directly to the Sultan or the higher members of military class. Both the status of sharecropper slaves and the lands they were settled had a specific character. Moreover, this practice of settlement of slaves as sharecroppers was confined to imperial estates which were unpopulated and empty lands to feed the Palace. Since labor was scarce, these unused lands were cultivated by sharecropper slaves who provided a continuous revenue. Sharecropping was also used on the hassa ciftliks or prebendal farms assigned to the timar-holder for the direct use in the classical age. The sharecroppers on these lands were either registered or unregistered peasants. The use of sharecropping was closely related with the extension of unused lands into cultivation in the Ottoman Empire in the classical age as well as in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. In other words, most of the big estates came into being with the opening of marginal lands and they were cultivated by the sharecropping system, because there was a strict control over the state lands and the cultivators. The main sources used for the analysis of sharecropper slaves and sharecropping in the classical age are the tahrir defterleh (revenue and population registers in Ottoman agriculture) and the kanunnames or laws. The use of sharecropping in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Ottoman Empire was related with several factors: commercialization of agriculture or production for the market as in the western Anatolian and Balkan parts of the Empire, the extension of cultivated areas, the settlement of tribes and migrants on the marginal lands, the 1858 Land Code, the historical patterns of landholding patterns, and the land-labor ratio. Sharecropping was used in large landholdings as well as in the small landholding pattern. Therefore, sharecropping can not be attributed to semi-feudal agrarian relations because it existed under simple commodity production. The reports written by the British Consulars published in Parliamentary Papers, Accounts and Papers are an important sources for the study of sharecroppers in the nineteenth century Ottoman Empire.

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