Military exercises in Constantinople, 1582

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Military exercises in Constantinople, 1582

Postby admin » 16 Sep 2008 17:06

An official report of 1582 from an agent in Constantinople reporting back to Queen Elizabeth's court about some displays and exercises put on in the Hippodrome:

July 21. News from Constantinople.

I gave you an account of what happened in the square of the Hippodrome up to Saturday, the 9th ult. Now I will continue until today.

On Sunday, the 10th, the Venetian ambassador and Bailo went to the Pashas, who were in their box (palco) at the Hippodrome, and having paid them the due attentions and had some agreeable conversation, we went to our own box, whither was brought the ordinary meal, fowls, mutton, lamb, roast and boiled, rice dressed in various ways, some kinds of pastry with honey, and other condiments after their manner, and sherbet to drink. This went on till the 10th of this month, when the public feeding ceased. We saw many races of Barbs, much music after their manner, which to us is very ungraceful. One man who had climbed a high mast, in coming down fell when half way, and injured himself all over. Food as above was given to the people, and at the end was a hunt of boars, wolves, hares and foxes, which was most entertaining. At night were bonfires, and three great castles were burnt, with other fireworks.

On Monday morning (lune mattina) the 11th, food was given in the public square exactly as above, to all the spahis with their chiefs to the number of 4,000, to whom the same kinds of viands were served as I have described elsewhere, under the tents above-mentioned, and dispatched by them in the same manner. After midday appeared in the field 100 horsemen, part clad in haircloth (?), part with liveries, and part in the Rumelian style. These coursed after one another in this way. A very long mast with a golden ball at the top of it was planted in the middle of the Hippodrome, and on one side and the other in a straight line were planted two rows of trenchers (or clouts) with a little blank (bulls-eye) in the middle, on rods six quarte (?) high from the ground, and over against them was extended on the ground a log of wood representing a man. These marks were laid in order a good hand-cast apart. The horseman rode straight for them, and at the beginning of the course drew his sword, aimed a blow at the log, at once replaced his sword, shot an arrow at the ball on the mast, and at once taking another from his quiver shot it at the other mark, almost as the course was ending. This was done by all, always in one course. Then they ran with their arrows only, shooting the first at the first mark, and taking another smartly shot at the mast, and then did the same at the last mark, always at full speed, and returned to do the same feats with the left hand. Then some ran with shields, shooting the arrow with the right hand and holding the shield in the left, and then put the shield in the right and shot with the left, doing all this at unbroken speed. Others, with sword and arrow, shifting the sword to the right hand and the left, did marvellous things. Others after shooting their arrows, drew their swords, and rising from their horses touched the ground with one foot, struck a blow and remounted instantly with much dexterity, aimed a second arrow at the mark at the end of their course, doing it to right and left alike; and certainly very few shots went astray, some having in one course hit all the marks except the ball, but many were. . . . . Very good were those shots when riding one after another they turned, looking backwards, and shot the arrow behind them, hitting the mark to the great marvel of everyone. Then they went two on one horse, and in mid-career dismounted, one on one side, the other on the other, holding the pommel with their hand, and with one foot on the ground and the other in the stirrup, they remounted with such agility and precision that they seemed like one man. Two others in several courses did wonderful things. They threw darts standing upright on the saddle, and then with their head on the saddle and their feet in the air. Then they turned somersaults from the croup to the saddle and back. The courses were all at full speed; and those who bore themselves thus honourably had many presents from his Majesty, who was all the time intent upon all these things. Food was as usual given to the people, a great quantity of boxes (? cabinetti) of rice, with a loaf on the top, being placed on the ground, and afterwards mats, the whole length of the square, with beef in portions on them, and at the sound of trumpets and drums all the people fell upon the spoil (si dara all arm' et alla rapina) and in a moment cleared everything off. This continued to be done from the beginning of these festivities to the end in this manner. At night the same fireworks as above went on till the 5th hour of the night, his Majesty always being present, and the square and boxes always full of people.

On the 12th, Tuesday, the same horsemen appeared in the afternoon, and being divided into two cornets, one with a red, one with a yellow banner, on the same ground performed many displays, caracoles (caraguoli) and other feats of horsemanship. They arranged themselves the whole length of the field in long lines on either side, and setting spurs to their horses passed in the same order in line one side through the other without disorder, holding wands on high, as though to strike. After spending much time on these feats, they fell to shooting with the bow, and doing the same things as the day before. The usual meal was given in the evening, and at night, models having been made of the seven towers that are at the western end of the city, they set them on fire one after another, with such a quantity of fireworks that the air seemed to burn on all sides. This was the festival of the Aga of the Janissaries.

The 13th and 14th nothing appeared in the square, so I will only say that on the latter day the meal was given in the morning under tents, in the same order as above, to all the bombardiers, gunners (topighi), and others of the army to the number of 3,000 persons with the same number of viands, and in the evening the ordinary meal was given to the people; but at night were many fireworks, among which a 'mountain' was burnt, which the High Admiral (capitanio del mare) had had made by the slaves. This was as high as a pike and more, and was brought uncovered into a corner of the square, and there covered up, and by degrees furnished with all the fireworks that went with it, which were in very great quantity; but they had not much success, compared with what was expected of them, because having been drawn into the middle of the square by slaves, who made believe it was drawn by two serpents, fire was put to it at the second hour of the night which set it all alight at once, and all the fireworks went off so furiously with no interval that they filled the square and the whole air with fire and it burnt up at once. Some of the other castles were burnt, which succeeded better; and some models of men on horseback, but full of fireworks, were thrust in among the people, and the rockets and other fireworks with which they were fitted took their way through them. Then a great tent was seen to appear in the middle of the square, all made of fire joined together in such wise that the shape was perfectly kept. This gave much pleasure to the eye, and after lasting a quarter of an hour, suddenly all went out.

On Saturday the 16th dinner was given in the square under the same tents, which were pitched both mornings (?) and then struck by the Signior's Christian slaves, to the High Admiral, . . . . to those receiving pay at sea and all their people, which was very fine to see, for the order which was kept in dispensing the viands, which was as above, and for the number of the guests, which exceeded 5,000. A great deal of food was given them, nor was there anything left over. After dinner till evening nothing was seen except many people playing practical jokes and other mountebank's mummeries.
Sunday the 17th passed without anything worth writing. The usual meals were given to the people and the usual fireworks at night, among which was seen a very pretty effect of two galleys as long as a gondola which fought together with fireworks for more than an hour so artfully that it gave the people the greatest pleasure, because having gradually approached each other one was seen to overcome the other in such wise that it was all burnt, and the victor then made great rejoicing with fireworks. This took place under the Signior's balcony (poggio), who was present every night at these fireworks, not missing any, which he found to give him very great pleasure.

On the 18, after dinner had been given under the tents to 4,000 persons, there appeared in the field 50 of the Beglerbeg of Greece's men, on horseback, part armed and part not; who after tilting at the ring, which was 'planted' on a road, six quarte (?) high from the ground, tilted one at another in the open field with buttons (grappelle) on their lances and heavy targets made in alia (?) after their fashion, under which they covered the whole body (vita) and received the lance-thrusts on them. They tilted thus to the number of 30, all without helmet and some bareheaded, one by one; but one saw no knightly stroke, and having ridden five 'hands,' in the last the horses met shoulder to shoulder, in such wise that they all fell down, and one remained hurt. After that the others struck no blow worth considering, for they hardly touched each other. At the end of these courses the usual meal was given, and the Signior standing in his balcony threw down money, when an infinite number of people crowded together. He threw silver cups to the number of 30, and as much as 4,000 ducats in aspri, and saini [qy. saie, serges] at 7½ each. His mother and his wife did the same in the other balcony, and there was great applause from the people.

The remaining days till July 7, since nothing happened at all equal to the preceding, I must pass over briefly, except what was done by the Turk of whom I wrote in my last, who gave an exhibition of licking redhot iron. He being stripped and stretched naked on the ground, belly upwards, a great stone was brought by eight men with handspikes and placed on his belly, which he bore while three or four men went over it from one side to the other. It is judged that he had something between his legs which supported it, and that it was seen while the men were going over it to sway to the side where they got on and off. But all the same, it was placed and taken away so quickly that no one could affirm he saw anything. There was placed on his belly a great rock and broken to pieces with axes by two Turks. Besides this, on all these days and likewise the preceding, there appeared in the Hippodrome all the trades (arti) of this city of Constantinople and Pera, dressed with the utmost pomp in gold and silver; especially the goldsmiths, the jewellers, the dealers in amber (berestcno) and other like artists were adorned with much gold and jewels, and especially the boys; because each of these trades had from 500 to 1,500 or 2,000 boys, all very finely clad and adorned with pearls and jewels, exactly as ours are seen on Corpus Domini Day. In those in which Greeks take part, as the goldsmiths, the tailors, the wine-sellers, the tavern-keepers, the crafts (maestranze) of the builders and carpenters, fishermen and the like, to the number of 3, 4, or 5 thousand men to a trade, they were clad in tunics of russet, with caps, etc., in the Kumelian style, with harquebuss and scimitar; whence they were greeted by the Janissaries as people specially dear to them, saying they were of their blood. These trades . . . . carrying two or three platforms (? soleri) for each, on which their trade was carried on, went round the square, then halted in front of the Signior's palace—who was always present on his balcony to see them, and sang his praises. Then they offered him the most beautiful and most carefully-wrought thing that came from their hands, each trade its own work, to whom 2,000 and 3,000 aspri were then sent by the Signior as a present. The balcony of which I speak is covered above with lead, in a half-pyramid, and has glass windows in front and at the sides (bande), so that his Majesty cannot be much seen when sitting down. It projects so much that four persons can stand in it comfortably. Among those above-mentioned appeared in the first days the people of Pera, more gorgeously clad than any others, because there were on the ground all the nobles and most principal men of Pera, who vied with each other in contriving to go clad in gold and adorned with jewels all they could, to the number of 200. These, wishing to enact a newly-married bride at the Hippodrome, selected 13 of the most beautiful youths in Pera, one of whom, gorgeously clad as a bride, was seated under a canopy, borne by four of these nobles in front, after whom were the other 12 in women's dress, and taken for such by all the people. Each of these had a partner beside him, and coming before the Signior they danced beautifully in the Greek manner, which greatly pleased his Majesty and the people. There were with them 200 Greeks, clad in short russet coats, who danced finely before his Majesty, very orderly, and did some Labours of Hercules very prettily. The other trades followed, till the evening, when the Signior threw coins in great plenty, a large crowd having gathered under the balcony. He threw also silver cups, and sultanini to the amount, it is said, of 5,000 ducats. There appeared also these days, in scattered groups, many who became Turks. These are they who have been taken year after year by this Signior, and kept till now for show, and many others, stragglers, or vagabonds, and broken men (malandati), who know not to whom to attach themselves. They were all clad in white homespun (grisi) in Hungarian style, but they are people from Bosnia, Albania, and Rumelia. These after being circumcised within the Signior's palace, and many others in the public Hippodrome before the king [sic], were sent with a capeghi, that is, porter, to have their clothes and their zaluca [?] gives them. They were to the number of about 10,000 that I saw, and they were presented in this manner. They came in a crowd, like sheep, before the palace, always holding up the forefinger, and stood still until a capeghi of the Signior's came to take them away and bring them to be circumcised, as I said above. In these days there presented themselves likewise those who wished to give roceà or petitions to his Majesty, for the great commodity they had to give them, and for the certainty they had that they would be read. Wherefore, presenting themselves before the palace, and holding a roceà in their hand, came a porter (capeghi), who took it and carried it to the Signior, who read it at once, and sent it by the same capeghi to the Pasha, that it might be carried out; and of these the number increased daily. The 'Magli' (?) Pashas and other lords have presented to his Majesty, besides other secret things of great importance, very beautiful horses, guided by hand to the Hippodrome in the sight of everyone. The relict of Gio. Micher has regularly sent in, every other day, 25 and 30 men each bearing a chest of sweetmeats, condiments, fruits and other delicacies to eat.
On Saturday the 7th there were few fine doings in the Hippodrome, as festivities were going on within, the son [sic] as I had it on a trustworthy report, having to be circumcised. Mehemet Pasha, formerly Beglerbeg of Greece, was summoned, who being a favourite with the prince, came to him and brought him into a chamber, entertaining him with pleasant words. Then he asked his leave to perform a duty necessary for the performance of the laws, and for the satisfaction of their Majesties his parents; and making him say the Alla Illa la, uncovered him before, and it is said with a knife that he had ready for the purpose dexterously and promptly circumcised him, three persons only being present to testify to the circumcision. He shed a few tears, though they say it was without pain; but he was placed on a superb bed under the care of his confidential people, and the Pasha went to kiss the Signior's hand, and give him the good news of the success. The Signior immediately gave him 20,000 sequins, his own robe which he was then wearing, and 20 other robes, very superb. The Pasha then sent the bloody knife to the Sultana Mother on a golden cup, who sent him back the cup with 10,000 sequins. In like manner the Sultana Consort presented him with 4,000 sequins and 10 most honourable robes, and the sultanas [sic] of the mag . . . isir . . . likewise presented him with money and jewels; and this evening the Signior has thrown to the people 4 loads of aspri and many silver cups. The four waxlights which I mentioned in my former letter were lighted and burnt all night, and fireworks without end were let off, with a great uproar of drums, trumpets, and similar instruments, and this lasted all night.

Sunday morning, the 8th, was spent by many performing various buffooneries; but after dinner appeared horsemen to the number of 40, who having first ridden with bows, and tried to hit the ball on the mast, fell to tilting one against another in the open field just as I have described above, with the targets covering their whole body as they ran, and on them they caught the lance-strokes. But when ten of them had run, the two following met with such force that they broke their lances, and the horses dashing head to head fell dead and one of the riders was grievously injured, the other saving himself very smartly. With this the festival ended, but at night the waxlights were lighted in the same way, and there were fireworks without end, and very delightful.
On Monday the 9th, after dinner, appeared in the square the king's falconer, son to that Mehemet Pasha, and many lords of importance, who skirmished together, throwing darts at each other, coming out by one, two, three, four in turn. These appeared with very fine horses very well trained, and they changed them every other course; all showing themselves nimble and ready in throwing their darts and avoiding the enemy's, so that they were accounted brave cavaliers. This they did in the presence of both the king and the Sultana. The Sultana Mother's pet son (?figlio di anima) tilted, much loved and favoured by her. At night they again lit up the waxlights, and let off other fireworks, with burning animals, castles, and things of various sorts, his Majesty delighting greatly therein. And seeing that on this day the 40 days appointed for the festival were completed, the Signior for certain reasons, and also to quiet the Janissaries who have risen, demanding as their present for these festivities 1,000 aspri per head or an increase of two aspri per day, has prolonged them for ten days more; but the public meals wont to be ordered, as I have said above, ceased today, and the princes' ambassadors ceased to go to the festivities.

In these days, certain troublesome news, displeasing to those here, having come from Persia, they kept the Persian ambassador and his suite under restraint, and to express contempt destroyed his box at the Hippodrome, erected exactly opposite the royal palace, and they are still keeping him in restraint, their design not succeeding.

On Tuesday the 10th nothing was seen but 80 horses excellently trained, who skirmished from midday till evening, throwing darts in the Moorish fashion, like those yesterday, but with more show to strike; those yesterday having checked themselves, for the quality of the persons they were meeting. At night there were the usual fireworks in the presence of the Signior, his mother, wife, and son, and the sultanas.

Wednesday there passed all round the Hippodrome near 1,000 persons, with cymbals, lutes, flutes, and other instruments. After their manner they made a very great uproar, braying, for so I may certainly say, rather than singing, with the greatest dissonance; and after going round the Hippodrome two and two, they departed. Next came the Signior's wrestlers, naked, who gave fine exhibitions of dexterity and strength, trying to put each other down on his back, in order to remain victorious. They had a present from the B . . . . of 1,000 aspri, and departed. Then appeared some mounted spahis, to skirmish with darts, who took up the rest of the time. Food was given to the people, and at night were the usual fireworks, endless people looking on.

Wednesday [sic] the morning passed quietly till 12 o'clock; but after dinner appeared some 100 horses, who ran many courses in different modes, also playing with darts. Then was set up in the middle of the square the fortress of Kars in Persia, exactly as it stands, full of fireworks. This having been assaulted by the Turks was finally captured and burnt; but whereas some Persians in effigy were standing in the ramparts to defend it, all fitted with fireworks, these could not be got to burn, although fire was put to them by the Turks; and as the Turks took this accident for an omen of importance, they called the master of the work and enquired the cause. The answer was, that they had been soaked by the rain which fell that day, though it was not much, and that the powder could not take its course. This structure (fattionc) was shown by Assa Pasha, son that was [sic] of Mehemet Pasha, high in favour with this Porte. Afterwards at night the Turk gave a wonderful exhibition on the rope, with which the Signior was much pleased, staying till past midnight, with very great gusto, and the man for carrying himself so many times so well, had a present of many aspri from his Majesty, and robes from the Pashas.
On the following day, the 18th, nothing happened, save that from the 20th hour onwards the same horsemen appeared, to skirmish and strike each with their darts till evening, when the usual fireworks went on for 5 or 6 hours.

On Wednesday the 19th there was not much to be seen in the Hippodrome, but at the 23rd hour an incident occurred of much importance. The Subassi of Constantinople passing along the road saw a Greek tavern keeper with some spahis; and on their wishing to have him beaten, a spahi, one of the 500 recently come from the serraglio, prayed the Subassi not to allow this. He, not caring anything for the spahi, ordered the Janissaries of his guard to beat him too, which was immediately done, and the spahi, being struck on the head, was killed. Then the Subassi retired, and the Janissaries, owing to the crowd that assembled, took to flight. But being pursued by the other spahis and many people, they were taken and bound, and brought by the spahis, with the dead body into the Hippodrome before the king. But no sooner were they come than the Janissaries rose against them, and the spahis on the other side being reinforced, they came to fighting. Wherefore the Grand Vizier and the other Pashas, with the Beglerbeg of Greece, came down from their boxes, and went among them, shouting and doing all that was possible to allay the uproar. And seeing that those of the scaffie (?), who are the youths that wait on the king's person, were gone down to the aid of the spahis, the Pasha hastening to the gate, persuaded them to go up again, saying that the tumult had by now ceased; and had the door locked. Then the Vizier, seeing that the new Aga of the Janissaries was in a manner encouraging (fomentava) the Janissaries on this occasion, giving cause for disorder rather than otherwise, said very . . . words to him, and that he was ill performing his duty; and returning to the men, he managed to separate them, albeit 15 were left dead, for the most part spahis, and many wounded; and if these personages had not intervened, the greatest slaughter (tagliata) between the Janissaries and spahis that was ever heard of would certainly have followed, and some troublesome result that would never have been forgotten. But night, and the courage of the Pashas extinguished all this fire, and the subassi was imprisoned, and they say he will come off badly.

On the 20th, by his Majesty's order, the Aga of the Janissaries was dismissed, and his place given to the Emir Alem, who is the one that carries the royal standard, and gives his standard to every Pasha, sandjak, and other official of the Empire when appointed. He immediately used words of authority, yet very friendly, to all the Janissaries in the public Hippodrome; always calling them brothers, which won them all to him. His place has been taken by Mahmoud Aga, pet (?) son to the Sultana Mother, and beloved by her. At night there were plenty of fireworks, and finally a scuffle to carry off the planking and supports. All yesterday and today, they have been working furiously to take the Signior's things to his new serraglio; these unsurpassable festivities being completed, which to people who have always been shut up and have never seen a mummery of mountebanks have appeared most superb. Tomorrow his Majesty, by what they say, will move from the Hippodrome to the new serraglio, but early, so as not to make a state-entry. His family has been sent there.—Le Vigne di Pera, 21 July 1582.


From: 'Elizabeth: July 1582, 21-25', Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth: May-December 1582, Volume 16 (1909), pp. 170-188. [/quote]
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