Captivity and Ransom in Ottoman Law

Episode 420

hosted by Zoe Griffith

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How did an Irish-born Russian nobleman serving in the Russian army end up an Ottoman slave and valet to an Ottoman-Albanian officer? And what possibilities existed for his eventual release? In this episode, Will Smiley traces the history of Ottoman laws of captivity and ransom in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, showing how older practices of enslavement and ransom transformed into a new legal category of "prisoner of war" and shedding light on a path to modern international law that lies outside of Europe.

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Contributor Bios
Will Smiley is an Assistant Professor of Humanities at the University of New Hampshire. He received his PhD from the University of Cambridge and his JD from Yale Law School. His book, From Slaves to Prisoners of War: The Ottoman Empire, Russia, and International Law, came out with Oxford University Press in 2018.
Zoe Griffith is Assistant Professor of History at Baruch College, CUNY and completed her Ph.D. at Brown University in 2017. Her research focuses on political economy, law, and governance in the Ottoman Arab provinces from the 17th to the 19th centuries. She records mainly in New York City.


Episode No. 420
Release Date: 31 July 2019
Recording Location: New York City
Audio editing by Chris Gratien
Music: Sombra by Zé Trigueiros
Images and bibliography courtesy of Will Smiley


The Russian Storm of the Ottoman Fortress of Ochakov, 6 December 1788 (O.S.), by January Suchodolski (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Select Bibliography

Virginia H. Aksan, Ottoman Wars 1700-1870 (London: Longman, 2007).

Candan Badem, The Ottoman Crimean War, 1853-1856 (Boston: Brill, 2010).

Brian J. Boeck, Imperial Boundaries: Cossack Communities and Empire-Building in the Age of Peter the Great (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Andrew Robarts, Migration and Disease in the Black Sea Region (London: Bloomsbury, 2017).

James H. Meyer, Turks Across Empires: Marketing Muslim Identity in the Russian-Ottoman Borderlands, 1856-1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Y. Hakan Erdem, Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and Its Demise, 1800-1909 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996).

Aimee M. Genell, "The Well-Defended Domains: Eurocentric International Law and the Making of the Ottoman Office of Legal Counsel," Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association3, no. 2 (2016): 255–75.

Peter Holquist, "The Russian Empire as a 'Civilized State': International Law as Principle and Practice in Imperial Russia, 1874-1878" (Washington, D.C.: The National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, 2004).

Martti Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870-1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

Géza Pálffy, "Ransom Slavery along the Ottoman-Hungarian Frontier in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," in Ransom Slavery Along the Ottoman Borders: Early Fifteenth-Early Eighteenth Centuries, ed. Géza Dávid and Pál Fodor (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 41–84.

Jennifer Pitts, "Empire and Legal Universalisms in the Eighteenth Century," American Historical Review 117, no. 1 (2012): 92–121.

Youval Rotman, Byzantine Slavery and the Mediterranean World, trans. Jane Marie Todd (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2009).

Kahraman Şakul, "What Happened to Pouqueville's Frenchmen? Ottoman Treatment of the French Prisoners during the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1802)," Turkish Historical Review 3 (2012): 168–95.

John Fabian Witt, Lincoln's Code: The Laws of War in American History (New York: Free Press, 2012).


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