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Janissaries – the Sword of Allah
Balkan-born Christian Boys Forced to Become 
Islam’s Most Elite Soldiers

By Anthony C. LoBaido

    Today in the Sudan Christian black African boys are being forcibly converted to Islam by the Arab fighters currently ruling in Khartoum. This may seem like a new phenomenon, but in reality it has been practiced by Muslims against Christians for many centuries.

    The story of the Janissaries is a sweeping epic that both inspires and defies imagination.

    During the 15th Century, Constantinople – which had been named after the famous Christian convert and Roman General Constantine – was a Western island in Muslim Sea. For many years the city in Northwest Turkey had repelled the attacks of Muslim invaders.

    By then, less than two generations before Columbus sailed to the new world, an Islamic Sultan came along with a new breed of soldier. Other enlightened Muslim rulers, such as Mahmud of Ghazna (971-1030 AD) and Saladin (born in Takrit, Kurdistan) had shown, on occasion, mercy to those they met on the battlefield.

    Islam expanded into Russia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, to the borders of of France, where Charles Martel pushed them back. Gold was mined in Sudan by African, Asian and European slaves. Between modern day Barcelona and Pakistan the Islamic world used a common currency.

    While A.D. 2001 may be the Pax Electronica and 1900 the Pax Britannica, the 14th Century was Pax Islamica – while the Holy Roman Empire held on for dear life. Gold, Silk, Spices, Ivory and Porcelain were valued items in the field of international trade. Yet those of the Islamic faith peddled slaves.

    “Yes, it is the Muslims, not the white Europeans who were the first and greatest slave traders – and it was the Janissaries – Christian boys sold into Islamic slavery, who forged the expansion of the Islamic Empire in the 14th Century,” said, Micah Azzir, a Turkish doctoral candidate from Istanbul, Turkey, who is working on his Ph.D. thesis on the Janissaries.

Bringing Order to the Balkans


    Slavic invasions also came – hence Russia’s historical kinship with the Serbians. Yet the most important invasions as far as Christian civilization was concerned came from the 
expanding Ottoman Empire.

    The Christians in the Balkans were weak and disorganized in the middle of the 14th Century. Race wars, religious schisms and petty feuds split the peoples of the region into warring tribes. Yet the fall of the Balkans to the Muslims didn’t have to happen.

    The finest and most powerful Tzar of the region, Stefan Dushan, by the mid 14th Century had expanded the Serbian Empire into Albania, Bosnia and Macedonia. Ironically Dushan could have kept the Muslims out of Turkey. But he was poisoned before he could add Byzantium to his Empire and check the Ottomans' advance into Europe.

    In 1380 the Sultan Murad’s army made its way into Macedonia. By 1389 the Serbs fell when their leader Lazar was betrayed by a relative on the battlefield., thus splitting the ranks. It was a huge blow to Christendom -- one which threatens world peace even to this very day.

    It was in Kosovo that the Serbs made their last stand. But Ottoman victory was inevitable. The Sultan ordered a tax to be paid by every Christian family – a son. The sons that would go on to form the elite unit known as the Janissaries.

    The idea to raise a corps of Christian soldiers (those who had manned the elite units of the Roman army) was the brainchild of Sultan Murad I. The name Janissaries comes from an expression used by a Muslim Holy Man of that era, who called the converted Christian boys “Yeni Ceri” or the “New Troops.”

    Azziz explained that the Sultan set careful guidelines in choosing recruits for the Janissaries. He said that the Islamic Empire was expanding faster than the capability of the Muslim troops to hold the ground they had taken.

    “Every five years the Sultan sent in his representatives to take a slave tax. Only one Christian boy could be taken from any one family in the Balkans. The boys would be between the ages of 8 and 18. An only son could not be taken. There is also some evidence that if the parents were ill, that the Sultan would not take a son from that particular family.”

    The Imperial scribe would record the names of the families and the boys taken. He then gave each boy 5 gold pieces which would help them survive a march hundreds of miles long back to Turkey.


    Into the Islamic World

    The new Christian boys were turned over to the new Sultan. He was to be their King. They were his property – destined to form the Sultan’s elite infantry units. “Islamic law forbids that other Muslims be sold into slavery,” Azziz noted.

    Once the Janissaries had recovered from their long trek from the Balkans, they were put under both mental and physical tests by the Turks. They were trained for eight years in archery, swordsmanship, horsemanship, wrestling and weightlifting. Some would go on to work on the estates of Turkish nobles as farmhands. Others learned skills like blacksmithing, masonry and carpentry. The very best Janissaries were sent on to the Sultan’s palace, where they would form his elite bodyguard. Presiding over 
this entire training process was the chief Eunich who served the Sultan with 
unwavering loyalty.

    In time, some of these European Christian coverts to Islam became leaders in 
the government and the military of the Ottoman Empire.

    How was this possible? It seems unbelievable.

    Says Azziz, “Constantine the Great and Diocletian were from Illyria in the Balkans and became great leaders in Roman times. As such, it is not surprising that the Janissaries carried on that same military tradition.

    Another peripheral point is that historically the Crusaders were considered enemies of the Eastern Church in the Balkans – a rift the Pope apologized for only in the spring of 2001. The ancestors of the families of the Janissaries hated the Roman Catholics and directed that historical hate at the Pope, the Crusaders and even the Roman alphabet.


    The forces of Christendom were to v have their first showdown with the Janissaries at Varna. It was here that the Sultan’s Janissaries faced off with the King of Hungary, French Knights, a collection of European mercenaries and Vlad II – the father of the infamous Count Dracula.

    Riding and shooting on their camels and horses, the Janissaries won the battle of Varna. The King of Hungary was killed. Yet the victory came at great cost in blood and treasure to the Turks. “May Allah never again grant me such a victory!” exclaimed the Sultan.

    About nine years after their victory at Varna, Memet II set his sites on Constantinople – the jewel of all Christian outpost. Memet II fortified himself in a special castle six miles outside of Constantinople to prepare for the siege. The Crusaders had set an iron chain across the “Golden Horn” which protected the harbor around Constantinople.

    On April 2nd 1453 the Islamic troops began their attack on the Crusaders, the Turks attacked walls around Constantinople. By Sea, Christian galleys burned Turk ships and killed 12,000 Men. The Islamic Admiral who presided over this debacle was whipped in pubic and all his money given to the Janissaries.

    The Sultan then ordered the rest of the Islamic naval vessels to be carried over land past the aforementioned chain around the Golden Horn. Over 10,000 Turks attacked the city the next day. The Janissaries took the city and Memet II made Constantinople the new capitol of Islam. 

    The Janissaries continued to train for war. They were, as slaves, forbidden to drink any alcohol, gamble or even get married.

    “They lived like monks, trapped – albeit willingly – in a monestary,” said Azziz.

    To ensure the loyalty of the Janissaries, the Sultan paid them bonuses, gave them a salary paid every three months and new clothing once per year. The Janissaries also were able to purchase almost any military weapons they wished for. They traveled into battle on horse and camel. They had their own treasury and commissary. As they marched into Belgrade and Budapest to the beat of symbols and drums in unison, all of Christendom trembled before them. (Under the direction of Suleyman the Magnificent the Janissaries made it all the way into Austria).

    The End of the Janissaries

    By the year 1600 the ruling Sultan needed more soldiers and mercenaries and slaves than ever. Unable to keep up with this growing need given the ongoing quota from the Balkans, he allowed for the first time Turks and native born Muslims to enter the ranks of the Janissaries.

    “This immediately destroyed the esprit de corps that had forged the fighting ethos of this elite unit,” said Azziz.

    “The Janissaries then became involved in sexual relations with the Sultan’s harem and also planned and carried out assassinations against the Sultans.”

    In the early 1800’s Sultan Selim III tried to bring European style military reforms to the Janissaries. In fact, Selim III wanted to bring Turkey into modern times by imitating all things European. The Janissaries rebelled and killed Selim III. In 1826 the Janissaries attempted a coup. The ruling Sultan, Mahmud II was outraged. As was the case of the Old Testament story of prophets hidden in a furnace, Mahmud II survived the coup against his brother by hiding in the furnace of a public bath.

    Mahmud II turned his cannons on the Janissaries when they were trapped in their barracks at the Hippodrome near the Topkapi Palace.

    “Over 4,000 Janissaries perished, yet they were a far cry from the loyal Christian converts who had served the Ottoman Empire so well through the centuries,” concluded Azziz. “It was a sad ending to a romantic and mysterious group of men. Yet the Janissaries were even tougher. Desertion and cowardice and disobedience were punishable by death. The closest thing to the Janissaries in modern times in my opinion is the French Foreign Legion or perhaps the Ghurkas. We may never see their kind again.”