Hoca Ali Rıza - Köy Meydanı

The Comparison Of Feudalism And Timar System

Land caused a lot of contests through the history. Reasons of these contests are to have lands, operate and grave them, to support security of lands, to give lands to the next generations as a heritage and social and political status of people who live on these lands.

In different geographies and at different times, operating systems of lands were different. However, land systems had similarities at some points, because of the interaction between nations and also because of political, cultural and geographical similarities between states. At this point, there are little similarities between feudalism and timar, but the fact that, there are more differences than similarities between them.

Mainly, we can say that feudalism is relationship between feudal lords and their men which mean protected people and in return to be as manservant. Lord should support security for protected people and in return, people have to service to their lord. .” (Marriott,1935:283) On the other hand, Ottomans lands were shared 3 parts. First one is “öşri” lands which mean belong to Muslims. Second one is “ haraci” lands which mean belonged to non Muslims. The most part of lands were known as “miri” (demesne) lands. These lands belonged to state. Ottoman Empire gave these lands to government officials, especially to soldiers as salary. These officials could collect taxes to state name and take some amount of taxes for themselves. In return, they had to breed soldiers. This system is timar system. (Ihsanoglu,1999: 239)

When we think feudalism which is a land system, military and cultural order in the middle ages in Europe and timar system which is the basic land system of Ottoman Empire, the characteristics of feudal lands and timar lands were different. Also, feudal lords and timar spahis who held a grant of land from the sultan in return for military service were different. Reaya(citizens or public of Ottoman Empire) and serf ( people who are half slave and belong to a lord) were different.

Altough, the aims which were to make easier to collect taxes because of lack of cash, poor transportation and insufficiency of technology and also, to support general security were similar, the shapes and natures of these two systems were totally different.


The Roman Empire disappeared in 476 because of migration of peoples (especially from central Asia to Europe), internal disorders and economic crisis. Central authority and regular army collapsed. Roads and infrastructure were destroyed badly. Owners of castle near trade roads began to take surcharge from merchants. The control of money worth had problems because of absence of a central authority. Trade almost stopped. (Dicleli,1966: 75-83)

In the following years, there were Muslim conquests, Hungarian and Viking invasions Also, barbarians (known as Germanic people) were a huge problem. Europe was totally in a caos and anarchy. At this point, feudalism began as a security system (Guran, 1997: 29), but there was the second reason which is internal to appear feudal system. In the time of Roman Empire, king gave some privileges to some people in order to make collecting taxes easier. Also, church had this privilege in some lands. In time, central authority became weak and people who have privileges became more powerful than king in somewhere. In the following years, kings, aristocracy (people have privilege and nobility) and clergy (people who are religious men) had a deal. Kings gave them the right of possession on lands. In return, people who belong to aristocracy and clergy should swear as vassal ( swear of loyalty) (Guran,1997: 30).  In reality, this was not important, because the lords of lands were very powerful and the king could not do anything to them. This situation helped to beginning of feudalism.

The basic unit of feudalism was manor or domain. Manor contains some territory, villagers who live on this territory and in an estate. This system was known as manorialism. At the center of a manor, there were a village and estate and around these, there were fields and in outermost places, there were rangelands, pastures and timberlands. There were three social classes: nobles (aristocrats, lords and knights), clergy and serfs (Huberman, 1974: 9). Nobles were the owners of lands and they were attending to war with his knights in war times. Serfs were graving lands and doing some other works. Clergy means religious men. Lords were not only owner of lands but they also were law-makers and judges on their own lands. Also, they can interfere to villagers’ private lives. Serfs constituted the larger part of feudal society. They were workers and producers. In addition to be a serf they could have their own lands, but these lands were very little when compared to lords’ lands. Thus, lords’ lands and lords’ works had priorities. Firstly, lords’ land had to be planted. In harvest time, people worked firstly in lords’ lands. Lords’ products had to be sold firstly. In addition to these works, serfs were working on whatever they could do. On the other hand, a serf doesn’t mean totally a slave. They could have their own home. They could give heritage to their inheritor with condition of giving tax. Serfs could not be sold or purchased. Nevertheless, serfs were not free. Most parts of their incomes and labor were taken by lords. Serfs could not leave a land and move to another place. Otherwise, they were punished very badly. A lord could not sell serfs, but he could sell his manor. At this situation, serfs became to belong to new lord. In conclusion, serfs can be seen as half slaves.

Serfs were not only group which were managed by lords. Also, there were free villagers and free peoples. These free people were giving taxes and they had exact jobs. They didn’t do anything different from their own work. In time, free people moved to cities and became large groups. Then, these became a factor of fall of feudalism which will be mentioned later.

Lords had relationship with their “süzeren” (dagger) who is sometimes king, sometimes a bigger aristocrat. The king could give land to a lord, but this lord could give some parts of his lands to another lord who is smaller one. Sometimes, a vassal became as powerful as his süzeren. In this situation, a vassal’s swear was only a formality. (Guran,1997: 30).

The year 1096 was a turning point in Europe. Crusaders were organized against Muslims. To attend to these wars, lords sold their worthy things. Lords and knights died in these wars. Europe could not be successful, but crusaders brought together very positive results. Kings became more powerful because of deaths of lords. Europe became familiar with eastern science, technology and products. Trade between Europe and eastern countries was developed. Money gained vital importance for labor and situation of bound to lands was collapsed. European kings became familiar with new weapons (gun powder) and they used it to destroy the estates of lords. Because of all these reasons, feudalism fell.

Timar System

Timar system was a governmental, economic and military system. Spahis collected taxes, but amount of this was determined by the sultan and spahis could not take all taxes for himself, the part of his was also determined by the sultan. In return, spahis have to breed soldiers. As timar lands were rural areas, soldiers had a vital role to support security. However, Spahis were not owner of lands. They could not interfere to the villagers. They were officers of state and there was a control system for them .If a spahi did not perform properly his duty, the sultan could take land from him.

As it is mentioned before, Ottoman lands were shaped as three parts. Öşri lands belonged to Muslims and they could do everything in their own lands, but they were giving tax of tithe (öşür). In same way, non Muslims had same rights and they were giving tax of “haraç” for their lands. The larger parts of lands belonged to the state. These lands were called as “miri” demesne lands. “Miri” demesne lands were formed as three parts: has, zeamet and timar. Has lands had income higher than 100.000 small silver coins. Has lands were given to the padishahs  and the grand viziers. Zeamet lands had income which was between 20.000 and 100.000 small silver coins and these lands were given to very successful generals. Finally, timar lands had income which was lower than 20.000 small silver coins and they were given to the normal generals and officials, in other words, spahis.

Timar system started with the foundation of the state. Osman Gazi gave some lands to his generals. Aşıkpaşazade who is a contemporary historian of Ottomans mentions about Osman Gazi’s words about timar. Osman Gazi said that, “ I gave timar land to my officials. If a tenant of timar died, the land will be given to his son. ” . (Sevinc,1978: 53). As it is seen, Ottoman Empire  started to timar at the beginning of the state and at the first step of timar is that, Ottomans make powerful loyalties of officials with giving timar lands to their sons. But it was not valid fort he following years.

In period of Fatih ( Mehmet II) timar system was totally improved. (Akgunduz, Ozturk;1990: 151).  When a people who is a tenant of timar land died, his sons could take their father’s place, but there was a contiditon: the state was looking for efficiency, ability and loyalty, in other words, merit. (Inalcik, 2000: 158-159).

Timar system depended on conquests. From foundation to the end of the 16. century, Ottomans constantly gained lands and timar system was broaden and the number of soldiers increased time to time. In 1514, in the time of Yavuz Sultan Selim, the number of spahis and soldiers reached to 140.000. In Kanuni’s period, this number reached 200.000. This means a huge military power, and the key of  Ottomans’ success.

After 16. Century, conditions of states became bad. Conquests lost speed. Then, economic conditions became worse and worse. Timar system was corrupted because it depended on conquests. Also, there was a vital reason for corruption of timar, too. This reason is that sultans were not successful as before. They were voluptuous and they spent money unnecessarily. They were unpractised to govern a state, because of cage system which mean heir apparent were not going to a district to gain experience because if they go, there are possible throne struggle. In time, sultans did not attend  to wars. Because of all these reasons, the central authority was weaken, the wars could not be won and economy of state was destroyed. As a result, taxes were increased. In addition to this, Sultans started to give miri lands to wrong people such as their women, some rich men and soldiers were not breed anymore in timar lands.

To supply the need of money, the state started to rent lands as a trade product which is called iltizam. According to iltizam, a man gave cash to state and he could do everything to collect taxes on his land for a while. sisteminde (Cin,1978: 107),  In time this system changed into the manor system. Soldiers were not breed anymore. In 18.th Century, the number of spahis soldiers decreased to 20.000. After, Tanzimat, timar system was removed and real officers was ordered to collect taxes.


Feudalism was founded after the collapse of Rome Empire. There was absence of central authority, instability and anarchy. Trade was the point of stop. People were bound on land and people needed security. In these circumstances, it can be said that feudalism started unconsciously. On the other hand, timar system was founded consciously and there was a central authority. That’s why, features of them, status of lands are different.

As it can be seen, there are several differences between feudalism and timar system. For feudalism, we can say that it is almost a shape of state rather than land system. However, timar system is totally a land management system. Rules are determined by the central authority.

In feudalism, rules and their applications could be different from region to region, because every lord had his own rules. (Akgunduz, Ozturk;1999: 503)  That’s why, there is no a determined system in feudalism and there is no unity. In timar system, there were some exceptions for some provinces like Egypt. In provinces which are far from center of empire, timar was not applied. These provinces were giving taxes directly, but in generally, in timar areas the same rules and the same applications, as well as the same managements which were determined by the government were seen.

Trade was very improved in the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire had native market place and some big market places in important cities like İstanbul, Bursa, Edirne and Samsun. Using money was widespread in Ottoman markets. However, in the feudal system trade conditions were very bad.

Apparently, kings were real owners of lands in feudal system, but practically this was not in this way, lords could sell lands and deliver serfs to another lord. In Ottoman Empire, lands totally belonged to sultan. In fact, timar system was corrupted in time and sometimes it had features like feudalism in perform of iltizam but there was a main difference and this never changed. Spahis or mültezims who had iltizam lands had not rights of legislation, execution and judgment. Because of this, while lords were seen as the leader of states, in timar system, spahis were seen as officials.

Feudalism was fallen with some events. These are: kings became more powerful and central authority was built again. Cities were improved, trade was developed and dependency on lands collapsed. Kings used gun powder to destroy estates of lords. At the end feudalism was fallen. However, in timar system, corruptions started to be seen with the loss of the central authority of the state and economic crisis. After a while, to gain cash money, the state rented lands and timar system changed into a different form like feudal manor system. With movements of reform, this unfair type of timar system was removed. Officers were sent directly from capital to collect taxes.


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Ferdi Uzun