What the Primary Sources Tell Us?

Merve Uçar
Prof. Cemal Kafadar
15 July 2014

Primary sources like geoponika and typika registrations in Byzantine and tahrir defters, waqf records in Ottoman Empire shed light into the certain parts of the social life. Population, residence type and location, religious affiliation of people, variety of property, sources of income and models of production and consumption are some of findings which can be gained from the primary sources of the period.
For instance, the survey of Istanbul made by the order of Mehmed II in the year 1455 gave us most detailed and reliable datas about the conditions of the buildings, churches, monasteries in Istanbul right after the conquest. Furthermore, the survey also addresses the two waves of migration to the city. While first settlers came immediately after the conquest, the rest joined them after Mehmed II’s commitment that whoever come the city and select whatever abandoned house, it would belong him. But soon after, this group of people quitted the region due to the hardships of living in a ruined city. The number of the dead, wounded and captives during the conquest is among the issues are touched on the survey. Moreover, Conqueror ordered the construction of a mosque and a sultanic complex in his own name at Istanbul’s Fatih area. The complex included a mosque, a hospital, an imaret, a primary school and a library. According to waqf records of the complex the annual income reached around 32.000 gold prices and 383 employees received their salaries from the waqf fund. As it is understood from the Byzantine typika, monastic foundation documents from 12th century, wine dressers, groom, baker, gardener and gatekeeper were a part of monastery that they were taking meal along with other monks. They all act in a sense of brotherhood. We learned from the twelfth century typika even every day the gardeners, the vine-dressers and other employees were coming together at the refectory. Like Ottoman sultanic complex, monasteries were close the garden, bakery and vineyard which are all essential for human nutrition. Lip’s monastery also includes a hospital within. It was a common point between Byzantine and Ottoman society that institutional philanthropy goes over the foundations especially hospitals. Thirteenth century typika cites the existence of foundation hospital capable of bedding 20 patients at the same time and salaries of doctors and other servants and other expenditures of the hospital satisfied by revenues of certain property donated by someone. Plus, from this source we can gain some sort of information about the habits of diet of nuns. It appears that they were aware of the organic needs of human being hence they have specific dietary guideline: three dishes of fish, cheese and legumes on non-fast days and legumes, vegetables and seasonal shellfish for fast days. It means that there were regular vegetable productions around which satisfy monastery’s need.
To large extent similarly, Geoponika records, a Byzantine Greek farming manual in 10th century gave us information about the agricultural traditions of Roman Empire. We can gain sort of impression about the belief systems of the period. Because, there were some details about the astrological forecasting. Indeed, there is an assertion that gardeners finds the stars more reliable guides than calendars but Geoponika Book refuted this claim by showing the proofs that Julian calendar were using everywhere. Also, set of information about the weights and measures system could be found in the Geoponika which could means that magnitude of production or size of the arable lands were beyond our estimates. In my opinion, the magnitude of the agricultural production should be too much that people had to advance such kind of rational calendar and measure systems.
Dioskorides’s Materi medica is a pharmacology book includes lists of plants along with their medicinal uses. There are 383 botanical pictures and under them their features were written. It is mentioned that some herbs carry the magical properties. On the other hand, the supplementary text has set of animal pictures such as snakes, lizard, birds and fishes. I think, all these animals are sacred in the society and have a symbolic meaning therefore they found a place in this book. Animals are used in healing many years as well as plants. They are also part of medical treatment. In the late antique and early Byzantine period medical care was a job of women. So we can make some interpretations about women’s place in the society. Probably preserving lives is sacred job and this increases the status of women in the community.
On the other hand, tahrir registrations and typika records gave us detailed and reliable information about the size and number of the arable lands or gardens. For instance, thirteen century typika states that convent of the miracle-working saints Kosmas and Damian had a piece of arable land inside the city of 640 modioi, a garden at Blanga with the pasturage there…etc. Besides, from the estates of Achilleion and Barys which were inherited by a man he had gained cattle, a vineyard of 32 modioi, a garden of 20 modioi, a smaller garden of 10 modioi and arable land of 390 modioi. Shortly, we are able to obtain such detailed informations about the sizes and varieties of the gardens from the foundation records.
In sum, agricultural production and size and number of arable lands are always important for rulers that’s because they all tried to register them. Although the land taken by force in a way, the continuity of authority depends on the happiness and to what extend satisfy people’s natural needs at least. Hence, all rulers want to know how much is produced. The primary sources arranged by central government or pious foundations today grant the scholars a bunch of research field. Habits of diet, size and number of lands, variety of the vegetables which all is a significant part of social life could be found inside of these primary sources.


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