The Royal Cannon Foundry (Tophane-i Amire) in Istanbul
From the 13th to the 20th centuries, the Ottoman Empire was among the world’s most powerful. Centred in the region of modern Turkey, it covered the area from Hungary in the north to Aden in the south, and from Algeria in the west to the Iranian border in the east. Through the vassal state, Khanate of the Crimea, the empire’s power also extended into the Ukraine and southern Russia.
One of the most important businesses of the Ottoman Empire was warfare, and its central institution was its army. The early Ottoman forces consisted of Turkish cavalry who were given land grants, or timars, from government revenues. The more land conquered meant more income for Turkish Muslim ghazis. However, there were not enough ghazi light horsemen for regular warfare, so as of the mid-14th century, the Ottomans began recruiting separate salaried troops from mercenaries, slaves, and prisoners of war; and from the mid-15th century, by a levy of Balkan Christian youths. From these new forces emerged the celebrated, and highly disciplined Ottoman infantry known as the Janissaries, who were the main power in the Ottoman military successes from the later 15th century onwards.
Mining activities during the Ottoman rule continued to focus primarily on the arms manufacturing industry. Mines were operated mainly as sources to supply arms and ammunition to the army as well as coins for the treasury. It seemed amazing at the time, in 1453 AD, that this previously obscure clan breached the walls and conquered the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. Under Mehmed the Conqueror (1432-1481), the Ottomans rebuilt the devastated city and renamed it Istanbul.
Mehmed II, referred to as Fatih, or “the Conqueror,” was responsible for the Ottoman Empire’s development into a true imperial power after having accomplished the great feat of conquering Constantinople. He had received a rigorous education in Istanbul, not only in the Islamic arts and sciences but also in the western tradition, and thus was well trained as the future ruler of the Ottoman Empire. As a military commander, he possessed extraordinary talent, managing an exceedingly disciplined and well-organized army. He was renowned for his ability to keep all military tactics and campaigns secret. He was the first Ottoman sultan to pay substantive attention to artillery. Before him, cannons were deployed solely as a means to frighten the enemy by virtue of their thunderous booms; in other words, their destructive power and the critical role they would assume in warfare went entirely unacknowledged. Realizing their perspective power, the sultan ordered his engineers to produce larger cannons, in quantities which were, at that point, far unsurpassed. He is reported to have computed the ballistic and resistance calculations on his own. During his 30-year reign, he conquered 17 states, including two empires. It is known that copper mines excavated in the Küre region were used in casting the artillery pieces used during the conquest of Constantinople.
It was Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (1494-1566) who brought the Ottoman Empire to its zenith. During Mehmed II’s reign, the larger cannons were used mainly against wellbuilt fortifications. The impact was demonstrated by the Ottoman Turks, who used giant guns cast on the battlefield to breach the walls of Constantinople and capture it in 1453. Preparations for the conquest of the city started only one year ahead with the moulding of huge cannons. In 1452, Rumeli Castle was constructed to control the Bosphorus (Fig. 6). A mighty fleet of 16 galleys was formed, and the number of soldiers was doubled. The supply routes to Byzantine were taken under control. An agreement was made with the Genoese to keep Galata impartial during the war. In April 1453, the first Ottoman border forces were seen in front of Istanbul. The siege started on April 6, 1453, when the underground tunnel dug in the direction of Eg?rikapi intersected the Byzantinian underground tunnel and an underground skirmish erupted. The same day, an attempt to cut the sturdy chain blocking the entrance of the bay failed.
Modern army and modern metallurgy
The Ottomans created specialist corps of artillery and engineers. Mahmud II (1785-1839) sought to abolish the old army and replace it with a new European-style force. In 1826 he abolished the Janissaries; the sipahi (cavalrymen) army slowly became ineffective and the timars were all taken back by the state by 1831. In their place, Mahmud raised a paid, disciplined, conscripted force which became the main instrument of political centralization during the last century of the Ottoman Empire, and also the main inspiration for the modernization of other Ottoman institutions. A modern army was expensive; taxes were needed to pay for it and a larger, more efficient bureaucracy was required to collect the
taxes. Furthermore, a modern educational system was needed to supply the army officers and state officials. There were also important law reforms and significant development of communications (telegraph and railways) (Bir and Kacar, 2003).
A lot of copper slags have been disposed of without using modern metallurgical processes. Mining in Küre continued by the Greeks until 1845 during the Ottoman period; from 1895 to 1925, foreign companies mined copper. Today, there are significant numbers of iron, copper, lead, gold, and silver mines scattered across Anatolia that were once used by the Ottomans. The millions of tons of slags are proof of mining and metallurgy works during the Ottoman era. Astyra gold mine in Kartaldag?i-Çanakkale, which was shut down at the beginning of First World War in 1914, was the last gold mine that had been operational in Anatolia. Silver mining that began in the antique ages had also continued during the Ottoman period. Silver mining had been intensely practiced in the Gümü?shaciköy, Amasya, and Bolkardag, Nigde regions. The first gold coin of the Ottoman Empire had been coined during the reign of Sultan Mehmet (Fig. 8). The last gold coin of the Ottoman Empire issued during Sultan Mehmed Vahideddin VI’s reign can be seen in Figure 9.
Tophane-i Amire (now one of the main venues of the biennial) is the most important historical monument in Istanbul (Fig. 10). The Royal Cannon Foundry (Tophane-iAmire) in Istanbul was used for centuries to produce cannons and associated equipment, and was considered as a
high priority place by the sultans. In addition to bronzecopper and tin cast in this foundry, a symbolic amount of gold, requested from the cannon producers by the sultan, was also cast in huge moulds during each cannon casting operation.
The voluminous cannons representing the greatness of the Ottoman Empire were honoured by many scientists and government officials of that time. For the first time in history, the powerful structure of the cannon was understood internationally through the conquest of Istanbul by means of large calibre cannons. Firearms came into use in the beginning of the 14th century with the introduction of gunpowder in the West. The short squat mortars had changed little from the time when they were first used in 1453 by the Ottomans. They were well adapted, however, to hurling shells over the walls of a fort where other cannons could not (Agoston, 1994).
The author would like to thank Fathi Habashi and Salim Ayduz for their contributions and collaborations. The author also thanks Uluc Gencer for photographing the Ottoman cannons.
AGOSTON, G., 1994. Ottoman Artillery and European Technology in the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaria, XLII/1-2, Budapest, p. 25-35.
AYDUZ, S., 1998. Tophane-i Amire and Casting Technology of Cannons during Ottoman Empire, Ph.D Dissertation (Turkish), University of Istanbul.
BIR, A., and KACAR, M., 2003. Ottomans in Search of Machinery. http://www.turkishtime.org, August-September issue (3).
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