May 2006


Mining history in Anatolia (Part 3)

By A. Akcil

Claude Alexandre, Comte de Bonneval (Humbaraji Ahmed Pahsa), 1675-1747

Ottoman Empire

The Humbaraji Corps

The humbarajis consisted of grenadiers who were used for throwing grenades into the besieged forts; their other duty was to manufacture humbaras (grenades) and mortars. The Humbaraji Corps was reformed by Comte de Bonneval, a French officer in the Ottoman service during Mahmud I’s reign. He was instrumental in bringing about several reforms in the army, including the establishment of schools for teaching modern mathematics and medicine for military use (Fig. 13). A conservative reaction led to a Janissary revolt and the fall of Sultan Ahmad and his modernizing grand vizier in 1730. He opened a military engineering school in 1733 and created a trained unit of bombardment. Janissary opposition to his reforms limited their effects, and after his death, his unit was broken up and the school closed (1750). He was made a pasha and appointed to organize and command the artillery. He rendered valuable services to the sultan in his war with Russia, and with the famous Nadir Shah (shah of Iran, 1688-1747). As a reward, he received the governorship of Chios, but he soon fell under the suspicion of the Porte and was banished for a time to the shores of the Black Sea. He was contemplating a return to Europe and Christianity when he died in Istanbul in 1747.

The armaments of humbarajis consisted of a humbara, a small mortar, and a melee weapon (usually a short sword or a dagger). Humbara was a grenade, its inner parts hollowed out and filled with gunpowder and some flammable materials. Another weapon the humbarajis used was the trench mortar, a giant weapon similar to both a musket and a mortar. It threw grenades and was used behind the trench in sieges.

The Ottoman Empire and the Italian Renaissance

The Ottoman Empire was constantly in a state of struggle with the cross-border Europeans. It adopted all the new techniques developed in Europe to close the technology gap as it strived to catch up with the contemporary era. The Ottomans adopted the Europeans’ war techniques and firearm technology, as well as their information on geography, medicine, mining, and watch making.

In addition to taking advantage of the technological information of their own culture and civilization, the Ottomans acquired the techniques they lacked from other civilizations. For example, in the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) wrote to Beyazit II (1481-1512) and referred to several technical projects. One of them was the Galata Bridge, of which a model was made from a very small drawing done by da Vinci (Fig. 14). The drawing shows a plan and an elevation view of the bridge, which has a single span approximately 240 metres in length, 23 metres in width, and a peak height of 40 metres above water level. A unique feature is the double support structure at the head of the bridge, shaped like the tail of a sparrow, for the purpose of better bearing transversal thrust.

A feature also worth mentioning is the sketch of a masted ship, smoothly sailing under the central span of the bridge. The drawing illustrates the construction project of a single-span bridge over the Bosporus. The idea may be traced back to when da Vinci was in Romagna, at the service of Cesare Borgia. The sketch was probably done in 1502, the year in which the ambassador of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Beyazid II, had come to Rome to hire a team of Italian engineers to replace the old boat bridge on the Golden Horn with a new one, with a more stable and long-lasting structure. In that period, da Vinci had come across a single-span bridge at Castel del Rio in Romagna, built by Andrea Ferrieri from Imola in 1499. The assumption that this could have been a project da Vinci planned to submit to the Sultan seems to be confirmed by a letter written in Turkish, which appears to be the translation of the letter in which Leonardo offered his services to the Ottoman sovereign.

The Ottoman Empire and the Industrial Revolution

At the beginning of the Middle Ages, water wheels, which provided power for the flour mills, were also used with machinery for pumping out underground water in mines, processing and crushing ores, running the bellows in metal melting stoves, lifting the iron forging hammer, installing wires, and operating pounding mills and the saws in the sawmill. The water power supplied the energy needed for coal and iron production and the locomotives of the British industry. It was also used in the textile sector for the automatic spinning wheels and weaving machines. A more serious effort began in 1773, with the opening of a new school of mathematics for the navy. In this and related projects, the Turks were helped by the Baron de Tott, an artillery officer of French nationality and Hungarian origin, who had come to Turkey some years earlier to study Turkish. He helped to form and train new corps of engineers and artillery, reorganized the gun-foundry, and for the first year or two, taught rectilinear trigonometry and other subjects at the school of mathematics. In these tasks he was assisted by other foreigners, notably a Scottish renegade called Campbell, who, after his conversion to Islam, was known by the doubly incongruous name of Ingiliz Mustafa. It was he who replaced de Tott as chief instructor after the latter’s return to France in 1775. The nucleus of the student body was provided by the surviving pupils of the earlier schools, who were transferred to the new centre, as well as by serving naval officers.

In his memoirs, de Tott speaks of his white-bearded captains and 60-year-old pupils. In the following years, the naval school of mathematics was expanded and developed, and provided the model for the military, engineering, medical, and other schools set up by Selim III and his successors. A Venetian priest, Toderini, who was in Istanbul between 1781 and 1786, found it well equipped with European maps and appliances, with a library of European books, some with Turkish translations. There were over 50 pupils—sons of captains and Turkish gentlemen. It is to be noted that in this period, numerous experts and technicians entered the service of the Ottomans, to benefit from tracking the latest developments in Europe concerning the transfer of information and technology. In the l8th century, artillery batteries were built according to the then extremely modern system of French architect Vauban (1633-1707), who specialized in fortifications. These were at the upper end of the Bosporus to counter any possible danger coming from the direction of the Black Sea.

The first generation of Ottoman scientists trained by Europeans, who later taught at engineering schools, had an impact on the transfer of European technologies to the country. They were assigned to buy and use the first steam engines. Two of the first teachers of the Imperial Naval Engineering School, scientists Hüseyin Rifki Tamani (d.1816) and Yahya Naci Efendi, introduced the Industrial Revolution to the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 18th century. During the same time period, engineer Selim Ag?a, who was of English origin, was sent to England on the orders of the Navy Commander in Chief, Gazi Hüseyin Pasha, to buy pumps that run on steam power to be used in the construction of the “big pool” of the Ottoman shipyard and other projects. This incident, which took place in 1803, was the first known attempt in Ottoman history to transfer technology from the European Industrial Revolution.

Not long after, steam engines directly imported from Europe were being produced in Istanbul by command of the Sultan, who was looking for ways to manufacture everything that was manufactured in Europe. The dean of the Imperial Naval Engineering School, Hafiz Ishak Efendi (of Jewish origin, who had converted to Islam, d.1836), was one of the most important characters who took part in the introduction and implementation of modern western sciences in the Ottoman Empire and in Ottoman educational institutions. With his industriousness and talent in translating, he wrote seven works comprised of 11 volumes between 1824 and 1836. The most important of these was the Mecmu-i Ulum-i Riyaziye (on the mathematical sciences), made up of four volumes, written in Turkish, on natural sciences such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, botany, zoology, and mineralogy. It derives its significance in being the first book of its kind.

Ishak Efendi also wrote books on a wide range of military techniques such as the fabrication of cannon balls, geodesic devices, and fortification. His article on mechanics and hydraulics has not been examined until now. The State had set up large industrial enterprises, such as the Zeytinburnu iron factory, the Beykoz leather factory, specifically bearing in mind the necessities of the military, whereas there was almost no Industrial Revolution in Turkey during the Ottoman era.

Modern Turkey

Education and training in mechanical engineering started at the Imperial Naval Engineering School, which formed the base of today’s Istanbul Technical University (ITU). After the re-arrangement of the Naval School, the period of education became eight years, four of which were high school, two the Military Academy, and another two training at sea. After completion of the Military Academy, students graduated with the rank of lieutenant engineers. Starting in 1866, the steam (machine) class was opened in addition to the existing deck and construction classes, which were classified as war classes. Those that graduated from the Naval School’s steam (machine) class in 1870 became deck, construction, and mechanical engineers. Those who attended the Military Academy were not actually mechanical engineers but ship machine operating engineers.

Ahmed (Besim) Efendi Pasha (1828-1850) was chief engineer at the Imperial Shipyard in 1873, and served in this position until 1909. During this period, he designed steam machines that were mounted on various ships. Until 1926, there was no school other than the Naval School that provided training and education in mechanical and electrical engineering. During this period, there were a few mechanical and electrical engineers who were educated in various European countries. After the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, students were sent to European countries for education in engineering and, at the same time, schools in the required engineering branches (mechanical, electrical, and mining) were opened. The Ottomans who worked with the hope of closing the gap in technology with Europe during the Industrial Revolution and regaining their leading position could never catch up.

Istanbul Technical University was established in 1773 during Sultan Mustafa III’s reign. With its original name “Muhendishane-i Bahr-i Humayun,” the Royal School of Naval Engineering’s responsibility was to educate chart masters and ship builders. In 1795, the “Muhendishane-i Berr-i Humayun,” otherwise known as the Royal School of Military Engineering, was established to educate the army’s technical staff. In 1847, education in the field of architecture was also introduced. Established in 1883, the School of Civil Engineering assumed the name Engineering Academy, with the aim of teaching essential skills needed in planning and implementing the country’s new infrastructure projects. Gaining university status in 1928, the Engineering Academy continued to provide education in the fields of engineering and architecture until it was incorporated into ITU in 1944.

Since its inception and foundation under Ottoman rule and in the latter era of the Republic of Turkey, ITU has constantly led the way in reform movements. The efforts and expertise of ITU graduates have been major contributors to the planning and construction of Turkey’s roads, bridges, dams, factories, buildings, energy plants, communication networks, villages, and cities. The Mining Engineering Department was founded in 1953 and teaching began, with cooperation from various German and Austrian universities. Professors Fritzsche, F. Schumacher, H. Wöhbler, R. Engel, E. Bierbrauer, F. Mohr, and C. Orel were the first academic staff appointed as part-time lecturers from foreign universities. From Turkey, Professor C. Biron, T.C. Bayraktar, S. Saltoglu, N. Bilgin, and G. Onal have been heads of the mining engineering department. As of 2005, there are about 18 mining engineering departments in Turkey.

Under the nationalization policy, the Institute of Mineral Research and Exploration joined with Etibank in 1935. The mining sector was encouraged and heavy industries were set; for example, the Karabük iron and steel factories. Many operational mines had been nationalized after 1933. In parallel to the country’s encouraging political, as well as socio-cultural, development between the 1960s and the 1970s, a set of industrialization policies were established. In line with these, Ískenderun and Erdemir iron and steel, Seyds¸ehir aluminium, Bandirma borax and acid boric, Antalya ferro-chrome, Black Sea copper plants, Samsun blister copper, Çinkur zinc and lead, and Kümas¸ magnesite factories were all founded. Despite the operational difficulties that public mining had following the 1980s, some significant advances were made in areas like ceramics, glass, cement, and industrial raw materials, where the private sector companies had been operating.

Gold mining continued in many regions. During the first years of the Republic, Atatürk granted the first official mining authority to the Directorate of Turkish Gold Exploration and Operation in 1933. In 1985, following the issue of the law concerning the encouragement of foreign investment in Turkey, some multi-national mining companies were attracted to the rich mineral reserves. Apart from investments in copper, lead, zinc, and industrial minerals, there had also been some positive developments in mining as a result of the encouraging findings gold in Anatolia.


The author would like to thank Fathi Habashi and Salim Ayduz for their contributions and collaborations. The author also thanks Uluc Gencer for photographing of the Ottoman cannons.

Suggested readings

AKCIL, A., 2002. First application of cyanidation process in Turkish gold mining and its environmental protection. Minerals Engineering, 15, p. 695-699.

BAYCIN, N., 2003. In war and peace “The Urartians.” Skylife Magazine, 245, p. 106-116.

BIR, A. and KACAR, M., 2003. Ottomans in search of machinery., August-September issue (3).

LEWIS, B., 1961. The Impact of the West. Oxford University Press, England, p. 40-72.


YENER, K.A., GECKINLI, E., and OZBAL, H., 1994. A brief survey of Anatolian metallurgy prior to 500 BC. Archaeometry, p. 375-391.

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