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An extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 2
by Ian Heath

[Based on Turks in Breydenbach’s ‘Peregrinationes in Terram Sanctam’ of 1486, p.38]

From its very beginning the Ottoman state had a military band, called the Mehteran-i tabl ü alem (usually translated simply as ‘The Military Band’), allegedly established late in the 13th century when Othman was sent a drum, rug and sancak by the Seljuk sultan Giyaseddin Masud II (1283-96) in recognition of his authority as a bey. In the 15th century Konstantin Mihailovic records its principal constituent as ‘4 great drums, one camel carrying 2, and another the other 2; these drums are called in their language kös [Persian kus], and they beat them only if there is a great battle. And there is also a multitude of other drums, great and small.’ This predominance of drums is confirmed by other contemporaries too, one recording how at the Battle of Tercan in 1473 Murad Palaeologus’ attack was led by ‘kettle-drummers and other martial instruments’, while at Otluk Beli ‘both sides sounded a countless number of nakers, drums and other warlike instruments, the noise and din being so great that one had to hear it to believe it.’

In 1453 Tetaldi wrote that the Ottomans ‘have hardly any trumpets’, using instead mainly drums and other instruments. Other sources, however, do mention trumpets - Chalkokondyles, for instance, records trumpets, pipes and cymbals. Barbaro, on the other hand, constantly refers to just ‘castanets and tambourines’. The particular drummer and trumpeter depicted here come from Breydenbach’s ‘Peregrinationes’ of 1486.

Next: 13. OTTOMAN GUNNER in Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 2 by Ian Heath

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