05 November 2011


Tugra of Mehmed II on the cahd-name establishing
peace with Venice, 25 January 1478 m.v.

The cahd-name was a statement of terms for peace, not a peace agreement, and it was a more generous agreement than Venice could have hoped for.  You can read it and read about it here, but I want to write about its dating.

The document is in Greek -- communications from Istanbul to Venice were normally in Greek -- and so is the date: ,ςϠπζ.  There is a line over each character in the manuscript which I cannot duplicate here but you can see it at the end of the second line in the image below. 

The date on the cahd-name (click to enlarge).  The text reads:
σύνορα τὸν καστρῶν αὐτον. ὁπου γητοναίβουσην μαι τοὺς τόπους της
αὐθ(εν)τη(ας) μου πάνταιχώθ(εν). δηα βαιβαίὁσην κ(αὶ) ἐπη |
κήρωσην τὼν ἄνωθ(εν) γεγραμένων καὶφάλαιων καὶ ορκωμοτηκῶν.
ἔγην(εν) δαι ἡ παρουσα γραφὴ εν τὼ ἐτους
͵ϛ̅ϡ̅π̅ζ̅   ι(νδ) ι̅β̅ μ(ηνι) οἱἀνουαριω κ̅ε̅ ἐν κωσταντηνουπολι
 . . . of their fortresses which neighbor with the lands of my Lordship on all sides.  
The above-written provisions are confirmed and ratified and sworn. 
The present writing was done in the year 6987, 
the 12th indiction, the 25th of the month of January, in Constantinople.

That number ,ςϠπζ translates to 6987 because Greek dating starts with the creation of the world. Lets not go there.

Now for the problems with 6987.  The Greek year starts with September, ours with January, the Venetian with March.  Normally, in conforming Greek dating with ours, one subtracts 5509 if the date is between September and December, and 5508 if the date is between January and August.  But if it is a Venetian date -- more Veneto or m.v., 5509 is used for September through February.  This assumes that we know the month.

So the Venetians understood that the cahd-name was issued in January 1478.

But if you follow the tradition of authority among historians, that date becomes 1479 because, apparently, the m.v. date, coming as it does from a culture without electricity and flush toilets, is not worth respecting.  Kenneth Setton and Franz Babinger are the authorities most often cited for the use of 1479 for the cahd-name, and since they opted for 1479, that is apparently definitive.  Had this been a document written for Romans instead of Venetians, the Romans would also have agreed with 1479. (Setton also pronounced a date other than 1470 for the fall of Negroponte which I will not repeat here, compounding the error. Mind you, I could not live without Setton, but I still check his sources.)

(An anecdote:  When I was in graduate school, in 1996, I compiled a list of sources Setton had cited that I wanted to see for myself, sources I could not find in DC libraries.  I took the train up from DC to Philadelphia, and went to his University of Pennsylvania library.  Not one of those sources was on the shelves.  It took some time and the efforts of several librarians, but it was determined that Setton had never returned the books on my list to the library, and that after his death in 1995, no one else had, either.)

The subject of dates comes up because a recent correspondent took me to task for using 1478 in my article on the document, condescendingly explaining, "Hence we convert any dates falling in Jan and Feb to the following year."

Well, that depends on who "we" are, and the problem with authority-based work is that "we" have to choose an authority.

I would like to say that I have opted for the document as my authority, but I chose instead to use 1478 instead of the 6987 chosen by the scribe whose employer, Mehmed, would himself have been using hijri dates.  I have used my authority to interpret the date for readers, and I have opted for the date the Venetians would have known since they were the people most involved.

Also, I think it is more interesting.  

 * * * * *

A correspondent (Comments, below) questions scribal choice.  I think this is an important issue so I want to put my response here, rather than in the Comments.

 I have looked at my copies of all the surviving Greek copies of Ottoman  cahd-names and correspondence with Venice for the 15th C.  More than half have no year dates at all, only the day and month.  One cahd-name, written in Greek, has the Venetian date written in Greek numerals.  The evidence indicates considerable leeway for the scribe.

Also, in the copies made in Greek by Greek scribes for the Venetian records, the dates are also in Greek -- this reflects the Venetian characteristic of copying as exactly as possible: I suggested this in the entry on The Argos Petition though I did not give the Italianate text.


  1. Stand firm, my friend. YOU are the authority now!


  2. The scribe did not "choose" the 6987. This was his dating system and he was following it. So the document's date is the 25th of January of the year 6987, during the 12th indiction. The same day would be 25 January 1478 for Venetians, 20 Shawwal 882 for muslims and 25 January 1479 for the Pope in Rome. Historians should give the above information to their readers, but they should also (for the sake of the readers and in an attempt for a common understanding) convert all the different dating systems to ours, which happens to be the papal one.
    And something last. How can Venetians be the people most involved in a war that took place in lands inhabited perdominantly by greek-speaking orthodox christians?

  3. It is difficult to respond to someone who chooses to remain Anonymous.

    The Venetians were the most involved because they had the most to loose. They were at war -- not the Greeks. The survival of the city of Venice depended primarily on the survival of its stato da mar. It was after this that Venice started seriously trying to acquire land in the terraferma.

    The Greeks, without the Venetians, would at least have had lower taxes, and those who fought with the Venetians were granted amnesty in the ahd-name.

    I have written a number of previous entries here about issues of Venetian administration, and issues related to the war, and I am writing a book on the Kladas affair.

  4. I will not argue about interpretations.
    But what about the methodological issue I mentioned?

  5. You are still Anonymous and do not deserve the courtesy of a response. However, I will try:

    I don't know what you mean by methodology, unless you are referring to your insistence that I use your preferred kind of dating. In my personal methodology, I use both forms of dating when there might be confusion.

  6. My methodology is the same with yours, that is to follow the dating system of the given document, and when there might be a confusion to use both forms. But in the article you mention in your post you use the venetian calendar, without reference and commenting on the actual dating system of the document. The date 1479 appears only on pages 262 and 269, without any explanation.
    Apart from this, though, I like your article, and your work in general.


I will not publish Anonymous comments.