“Marmara Denizi 2010” Sempozyumu, 25-26 Eylül 2010, İstanbul





İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi, Tarih Bölümü. Beyazıt

Bu e-Posta adresi istek dışı postalardan korunmaktadır, görüntülüyebilmek için JavaScript etkinleştirilmelidir

Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli is undoubtedly a prominent figure both in Ottoman history and historiography. He has composed and published a number of significant books during his lifetime pertaining to Ottoman geography, culture and military. Even a distracted glimpse would suffice to appreciate his voluminous works directly nourished by his professional presence in İstanbul and by his, sometimes compulsory, stay and journeys through Ottoman Balkans. In this regard, since he undertook a variety of military missions on Turkish front in Habsburg service during 1683-1699, he converted his everlasting appetite for mapping, surveying and inquiry into two books delineating the Danubian region (Danubialis Operis Prodromus, Nuremberg 1700; Danubius Pannonico-Mysicus, 6 vols, The Hague and Amsterdam 1726). Before this time, in 1681, he had already published the results of his scientific measurements he made in İstanbul in a book dedicated to the Queen Christina of Sweden (Osservazioni intorno al Bosforo Tracio ovvero Canale di Constantinopoli …, Rome). More interestingly, he commissioned the print of a treatise on coffee in Vienna, both in Turkish and Italian, which he had received from Hezarfen Hüseyin Efendi, a long-time friend he got to know in his first visit to İstanbul. Related to Ottoman history is also his memoires he put down on paper in leisure after he withdrew from active duty. Composed in four chapters, the second and third sections of Marsigli’s memoires, as they were written down, in which he narrated his military career under Habsburg service in 1683-1691 and the unsuccessful diplomatic negotiations with the Sublime Porte in 1691-92, are of great importance to the students of the period (Autobiografia di Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, ed. Emilio Lovarini, Bologna 1930). And to put it boldly, the reports and boundary maps he dispatched to Hofburg, as well as his correspondence with certain Ottoman officials are the most extensive piece of information produced during the border settlements in 1699-1701 between the Habsburg and Ottoman governments. Yet, his reputation in Ottoman historical research owes primarily to his indispensable contribution to Ottoman military history in the last decades of the 17th century, printed after his death in 1732, briefly known and frequently referred to as Stato Militare (Stato Militare dell’ Imperio Ottomanno, Incremento e Decremento del Medesimo …, Amsterdam 1732, reprinted in Graz 1972).

At this juncture, I regret to say that despite his undeniable importance for the Ottoman history, it is almost impossible to find a single monograph dedicated to Marsigli’s activities in or about the Ottoman Empire in Turkish. Nor do we have, as a matter of fact, an expert who excelled, at least, in Marsigli’s diplomatic relations to the Porte, his assessments on Ottoman military institutions or in his personal involvement into Ottoman intellectual circles, indeed, a very tempting subject by nature. Instead, in order to get a view of Marsigli in Ottoman lands, one has to collect the scattered data incidentally recorded in the studies of researchers of Ottoman history. Thus, this paper would hide the excuse of being a brief compilation of what had been written about Marsigli in Ottoman historiography so far.

In all these works two different patterns of intelligence gathering is apparent. Firstly, for example, as in his publication of the coffee treatise or as in the first book of Stato Militare, Marsigli rested mainly upon literary sources already available to him. To speak precisely, administrative regulations, income and expenditure figures and the list of the military groups within the Ottoman army and so forth outlined in the first chapter of Stato Militare was most probably derived from the kanunname of Hezarfen Hüseyin. However, what elevates Marsigli to a degree of such an immense value for Ottoman history is that he also penned first-hand knowledge and his personal observations on Ottoman social and military structure. And putting his euro-centric point of view aside, the accuracy in his statements pertaining to Ottoman military affairs deserves a closer look at his sources of information.

Leaving out his participation in Ottoman-Habsburg border settlements in 1699-1701, Marsigli made two visits to Ottoman lands, apparently with two highly different aims and expectations. In 1677, he met an English merchant in Naples who travelled occasionally to İstanbul and İzmir. What he had listened from him instigated Marsigli to plan a journey to İstanbul which he eventually realized two years later in the retinue of Pietro Cirvani, the newly appointed Venetian envoy to the Ottoman capital. At his first stay in İstanbul, Marsigli was only at the age of twenty one, a young and brilliant mind sparkling with intellectual enthusiasm. He was very lucky though. He was an acknowledged member of the Venetian embassy in İstanbul and therefore was accredited with free access to certain parts of the Ottoman palace. Yet, soon after his arrival to the Ottoman capital, the political tension between the Venetian and Ottoman governments had reached such a peak that the Venetian delegation, of which he was a part, became actually impractical. Now practically in leisure, Marsigli began to learn Turkish from a Levantine Jew called Abraham Gabai, whom he hired as interpreter and assistant. More importantly, especially when considered that he has never commanded the Turkish language and depended on translators at his diplomatic activities, through Gabai’s mediation, Marsigli made his first contacts with Ottoman intellectual circles in the capital. At the same time, he started to collect as many Turkish maps, manuscripts, and documents as possible, a preliminary step in the path of putting a collection of oriental manuscripts together. The group of learned men he got into touch with in 1679-80 included astronomers, geographers, doctors and historians who were by all means very authoritative personages in their respective fields. In doing this, one should admit, he achieved to get through to most valuable and reliable sources of information in every aspect of Ottoman existence from the very beginning, a quality always manifested itself in Marsigli’s studies about the Ottoman Empire.

His acquaintance with historian Hezarfen Hüseyin Efendi seems to have left a profound impression on young Marsigli. Thanks to his permanent contact to Hezarfen, he got hold of almost every aspect of Ottoman culture, social structure, and more importantly, of Ottoman military institutions. Hezarfen Hüseyin Efendi displayed the courtesy of sharing his notes and latest findings on Ottoman military apparatus. In fact, this was a gift accepted by Marsigli with all heart and gratitude, and he duly copied and modified the Telhîsü’l-Beyân of Hezarfen, to which he later referred to as Kānûnnâme, to form the first book of his famous Stato Militare. Given the circumstances that Hezarfen should have appeared as a fatherly figure in his eyes at that time, there is a possibility that Marsigli was driven into a military career, or at least backed up in his decision, in his future life, precisely because of his continuous desire to gather information on Ottoman military. Marsigli also maintained contact with Müneccimbaşı Ahmed, Ottoman astrologist and herbalist, and received a copy of the horoscopes of the sultan Mehmed IV and his son Mustafa. Marsigli and Müneccimbaşı were once driven into a heated discussion about the latitude of İstanbul in which they submitted their contradictory results of measurement. On the other hand, Marsigli’s relation to Ebubekir Dımışkî, the great Ottoman geographer, had a relatively more professional tone. At the time he met with Ebubekir, the Ottoman scholar was working on the translation of the Atlas Maior of Willem Janszoon Baleuw. The eleven-volume edition of this monumental work had been submitted to the Ottoman palace by the Dutch ambassador in 1668. Eventually, in 1675, the energetic grand vizier Fazıl Ahmed Paşa commissioned Ebubekir Dımışkî with a translation of the work, most probably to be used for military purposes. Ebubekir accomplished his mission in 1685; and the outcome was a splendid translation with a considerable amount of supplements and corrections. In 1679, still struggling with the inconsistencies in Baleuw’s maps pertaining to Ottoman lands, Ebubekir said, presumably with some pride, to Marsigli that he had found a number of mistakes in the famous atlas on the pages depicting the territories under Ottoman rule. In return, the young Bolognese nobleman bought from him some maps to be printed later in Stato Militare.

Unfortunately, his first visit to İstanbul lasted only eleven months, and he had to leave with the Venetian bailo who was compelled to return his homeland due to unsolved political problems with the Porte. Marsigli, contrary to the sea route he had used to come to the Ottoman capital, chose an alternative course overland passing through the Balkans. Accompanied by two friends, by taking a road inland, he seemingly wanted to take as much as possible with him from the Ottoman lands back with him. In the course of his journey back, he contacted with some Christian churchmen and heard from them the social conditions under which the Christian folks lived in the Ottoman Empire. In fact, this could be a sort of undercover mission Marsigli had embarked on before his departure from Italy. In exchange for the help of Pope Innocenzo XI, his benefactor, in finding a spare post in the Venetian delegation headed by Pietro Cirvani, he could have agreed on to bring in practical information about the Christian population inhabiting within the Ottoman borders. In fact, following his return to country, he advised Innocenzo XI on Turkish matters.

Even though Marsigli used a somewhat obsolete categorization of Ottoman military institutions, his personal knowledge about the Ottoman army operating in his time was immense. After all, he was an insider. After he had been shot and captured by Tatar horsemen in 1683, he was held prisoner in the Ottoman camp. He witnessed the Ottoman siege of Vienna just across the Schottentor. He feared for his life, thinking that he would be a dispensable burden for his masters in the great confusion of Ottoman retreat from the city. But to his relief, he was purchased by two Bosnian cavalry who were planning to procure a good amount of ransom out of him. However, although he had promised to find funds for his redemption, Marsigli failed to establish the necessary contacts and had to stay with his Bosnian masters until the day, nine months after his capture, he was rescued by the agency of a Franciscan monastery around.

How harsh these days may have been on Marsigli, he turned back to active duty under Habsburg service without delay. In 1684, he met with Leopold I to take instructions to be followed on the Hungarian front. In the long Habsburg-Ottoman wars of 1683-99, Marsigli appeared in numerous places with a set of assignments related to military engineering. At Visegrád, Esztergom, Vác, Buda, Eger, Belgrade, as well as at some other minor towns, he proved his proficiency in the art of constructing pontoon bridges over waterways, laying out siege works, digging trenches, and organizing lines of approach around besieged Ottoman towns, or even developed detailed siege plans for the allied forces. At the same time, he was consulted for his extensive knowledge in military engineering in a more professional manner. And thus, he prepared expert reports for the high command on the efficiency of subordinate engineers functioning within the Habsburg army. On several occasions, he was sent out for reconnaissance missions to examine the strength of Ottoman fortifications from a safe distance, or on the contrary, he inspected the Habsburg strongholds in those areas where the military operations were likely to reach a high level. Yet, he was remunerated for his services quite well, at least in terms of spiritual satisfaction. For instance, in 1686, when the town of Buda finally fell to Habsburg forces, he entered the city among those who recklessly plundered the Ottoman settlement, albeit with a distinctively different purpose in mind. That day, Marsigli rushed to the main mosque in the upper town, formerly the St. Stephen church, and as he should have anticipated, found here many valuable manuscripts about Islamic law and theology. A noteworthy incident, he was thrilled by the ancient books he had detected in the old Hungarian palace, mistakenly identified, at the beginning, as the remnants of the renowned library of Matthias Corvinus. Similarly, in the aftermath of the disastrous defeat of the Ottoman army at Berg Harsány in 1687, Marsigli was able to acquire a number of Turkish manuscripts, even though, this time, the Ottomans achieved to move a considerable amount of these out of the field, before their line of battle had collapsed. The manuscripts and rarities Marsigli took possession of in the wars against the Ottoman Empire, of course in addition to what he had purchased in İstanbul, would lay foundation for the library of the institute he established in his hometown, Bologna.

In 1691, Marsigli made his second visit to the Ottoman capital. Interestingly enough, for the first time in British history, an English envoy, William Hussey, had chosen an inland route to Edirne and İstanbul passing through Vienna. On 23 April 1691, Marsigli joined the English delegation in disguise of the ambassador’s secretary who had been entrusted with the authority of discussing peace terms with the Porte on behalf of the emperor. In his twelve-month assignment within the English embassy, Marsigli travelled back and forth between Adrianople, İstanbul, Belgrade, Bucharest, and Vienna, traversing the Balkans at least four times. Leopold I expected from him to keep the Habsburg palace informed at all times about the proceedings held with the Ottoman officials, and to pass a copy of the documents produced at the English embassy related to peace talks. However, according to his own statements, there were instances in which Marsigli bypassed the English ambassador and directly negotiated with the grand vizier, as his allegedly confidential dialogue for nearly three hours with Kara Mustafa Pasha in his personal tent, just before the battle of Slankamen. In the end, Marsigli failed in his undercover mission and the diplomatic negotiations of 1691-92 proved fruitless; but still, he expended his knowledge on the Ottoman administration, as one can derive from his formal visit to imperial stables in İstanbul at the time he played his role among his temporary English colleagues.

At last, the protracted wars between Ottoman and allied forces had come to an end in 1699. The Habsburg government was already worried about the rising tension in the west and wanted to settle a peace agreement as soon as possible. This state of affairs granted Marsigli a new opportunity in his career; among all those under the emperor’s service, he was maybe the best-informed person on Ottoman policy and had thoroughly surveyed the western part of the empire. Thus, he was elected to Habsburg delegation seemingly unchallenged, albeit with a rather representative title as a counselor. The Ottoman administration had announced that it was not acceptable for them to sign a peace treaty in Vienna or Debrecen, as had been proposed before, or anywhere lying within enemy territory across the northern part of the Danube. So the members of the Habsburg delegation, Count of Öttingen, Count of Schlick, and the translators Til and Talman, as well as Marsigli, moved to Carlowitz, lying in no man’s land, to meet with other diplomatic parties. Already by that time, an indecent dispute over priority rights between the Polish and Russian envoys broke out which was eventually solved by Marsigli who offered a square-like settlement plan for the camps of all Christian delegations invited to peace talks.

At the Carlowitz conference, on the advice of the English ambassador William Paget, all sides had agreed on the main principle of uti possidetis/alâ hâlihi, holding firmly on the ground occupied during the military clashes of the past years. But after the treaty had been signed on 26 January 1699, the Habsburg government still had to contemplate on some minor shifts on the boundary, including the demolishment of certain strongholds and handing over of some territories to Ottomans. Finally, Habsburg and Ottoman administrations delegated commissioners to deal in detail with the practical intricacies of the new frontier. According to Venetian sources, a large group of translators and draftsmen from both sides took part in the boundary negotiations that followed the peace treaty. Marsigli now possessed a much prestigious post and was heading his staff as plenipotentiary. On 22 March 1699, the respective boundary commissions met for the first time, and both Marsigli and Kapıcıbaşı İbrahim Efendi, appointed by the Porte to represent Ottoman claims in the process, had set themselves a rather naïve schedule. They hoped that the work could be accomplished swiftly and without debate in two months or even less. However, after the first landmark was erected at Slankamen on 25 April, Marsigli would have been compelled to struggle with unexpected problems caused by difficult terrain until the new frontier was ultimately drawn in March 1701. In these two years Marsigli cooperated and, at times, contested with his Turkish counterparts, he used the most advanced instruments of the period to establish a pattern which would be adopted by the Ottomans in similar activities in future and composed at least forty-two reports on the issue to be sent to the Vienna palace. And pleasantly enough, thanks to intimate and warm relationship he established with Kapıcıbaşı İbrahim Efendi, he ended up the days he had spent with Ottomans with gratification and good feelings, as he had started in 1679, perhaps erasing partially the sad memories of his captive days in Ottoman hands.


HAGEN, G., 2006.  “Ottoman Understandings of the World in the Seventeenth Century”, Afterword, Robert Dankoff, An Ottoman Mentality: The World of Evliya Çelebi, Brill: Leiden-Boston, s. 215-256.

HAMMER, J. VON, 1830. Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches, VI: Von der Grosswesirschaft Mohammed Köprili’s bis zum Carlowiczer Frieden, 1656-1699, Pest: C. A. Hartleben’s Verlage, Marsigli, Luigi Ferdinando, Stato Militare dell’ Imperio Ottomanno, Incremento e Decremento del Medesimo …, AMSTERDAM 1732 (reprinted, Einführüng: Manfred Kramer, Register: Richard F. Kreutel, Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1972).

MOLNÁR, M. F., 2008. Az Oszmán és a Habsburg Birodalom közti határ kijelölése a karlócai békét követően (1699-1701), unpublished Ph.D dissertation, University of Eötvös Loránd, Budapest.

MOLNÀR, M. F., “Karlofça Antlaşması’ndan Sonra Osmanlı-Habsburg Sınırı (1699–1701)”, Osmanlı, I, ed. Eren Güler, s. 472-479.

MOLNÁR, M. F., “Venedik Kaynaklarında Karlofça Antlaşması: Diplomasi ve Tören”, Türkler, ed. Hasan Celal Güzel, IX, s. 783-791.

MOLNÁR, M. F., “Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli e gli Ottomani. La frontiera asburgico-ottomana dopo la pace di Carlowitz”, (in print).

SARICAOĞLU, F., in press. “Boundary Surveying in the Ottoman Empire”, History of Cartography, volume IV, Cartography in the European Enlightenment, (ed. Matthew H. Edney and Mary S. Pedley), University of Chicago Press.

STOYE, J., 1994. Marsigli’s Europe 1680–1730: The Life and Times of Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, Soldier and Virtuoso, New Haven & London: Yale University Pres.