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Ottoman Tax Registers

The Ottoman government obtained information on the empire's sources of revenue through periodical tax registers called tahrir defterleri. These registers include information about the taxpaying subjects and taxable resources, making it possible to study the economic and social history of the Middle East and eastern Europe in the fifteenth century. They are available to researchers in various archives in Turkey and other countries once under Ottoman domination. Few historical records are as rich, extensive, well-preserved, and widely available as these tax registers are.

The tahrir defters were vital to the financial administration of the lands governed by the Ottoman Empire and were used for a variety of purposes; they served as official registers to establish legal claims to land, to access the empire's expected tax revenues, and to appropriate some of the revenues to the military and administrative officials as remuneration for their service. Because of their value to the empire, the Ottoman government took great care to preserve the defters; over 1,500 of them have survived to the present.

The detailed tax registers in the series, called mufassal defters, recorded for each fiscal unit the names, numbers, and legal status of adult males, approximate amounts of land in use, and estimates of tax revenues from all productive resources and activities. In short, the registers contain detailed information about taxpayers and economic activities in Ottoman towns and villages. The Ottoman government was concerned primarily with taxation, so enumerators typically recorded only taxpaying adult males, omitting women, children, and tax-exempt groups.

To learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of using Ottoman tax registers, see: Coşgel, Metin M. "Ottoman Tax Registers (Tahrir Defterleri) Historical Methods 37 no. 2 (Spring 2004): 87-99.[1]

Temettuât Defterleri (Tax Registers)

How to Find the Records

Historical Background

These records cover the Balkan States and Turkey from approximately 1844 to 1914.

Coverage and Compliance

Information Recorded in the Registers

  • Name of Individual
  • Location of Residence
  • Possessions

Ottoman Detailed Cadastral Surveys

How to Find the Records

These and other cadastral surveys have been published by Turkish archives (Basvekâlet Arsivi and Tapu ve Kadastro umum müdürlügünün in Ankara), including the surveys of 1485, 1497, 1534, 1536, 1571, 1582, and 1591.

It is not possible at this time to determine the extent to which this record exists and has been preserved. Some are kept at the Cadastral Department archives [Tapu ve Kadastro Umum Mudurlugu arsivi] in Ankara and Istanbul. Others may be kept at local and provincial archives. None of these records have been acquired by the Family History Library. Access to these records is pretty much limited to those who can visit archives in Turkey.

Historical Background

The Cadastral Surveys (1431 to the 20th century) were a land taxation record, census-like in research usage. The Ottoman Turks conducted an extensive survey of land and population in 1431-1432 for taxation purposes. The resulting records are of two types, detailed [mufassal] and abridged [icmal]. These surveys show a continuing preoccupation with the size of cultivable land and with their revenue. The purpose of these early Ottoman population counts was not to produce an accurate record of the total number of people in the realm. Rather, they were carried out for tax purposes, and their results were recorded in land deed registers (tapu defteri).

After 1715 the regular practice of compiling these statistics collapsed. Nevertheless there must have been some records made becaus e the collection of taxes could not have been carried out without population data of some sort, probably incomplete information supplied by communal leaders.
In the nineteenth century new considerations dictated a new type of survey and something much more like a true census was introduced in 1830, Census and Population Registers.

After the Crimean war a cadastral (land) survey was conducted to reestablish the tax base of the empire. This survey was conducted in 1858-1859 in the provinces [sancaks] of Bursa and Janina, then empire wide in 1860.

Coverage and Compliance

Census-like land surveys (termed yoklamas) were conducted in 1596, 1606, 1672, 1691, 1694, 1698, and 1715.

Some sources indicate that the early cadastral surveys generally do not contain names and they are likely not of significant genealogical value. Other sources indicate that the fifteenth and sixteenth century tahrirs involved the registration of adult males—chiefly household heads as taxpayers but also bachelors and others. In either case, these early surveys are of great value to demographers to estimate the size and character of the population in various regions of the Ottoman empire.

Land surveys, then known as emlak tahriri, continued to be conducted in the 1800s but they were taken separately from the population count.

After the Crimean war a cadastral (land) survey was conducted to reestablish the tax base of the empire. This survey was conducted in 1858-1859 in the provinces [sancaks] of Bursa and Janina, then empire wide in 1860. These and later surveys definitely included names of head of households. Nevertheless, these surveys included, at best, less than 30% of the population. Women and children were rarely listed and remote localities may not have been surveyed.

Information Recorded in the Registers

Specific information is not available. Early surveys may list names of landholders. Surveys of the 1600s through 1800 provide considerable information about land and revenues but likely contain little information about the inhabitants. After 1800 the surveys provide names of heads of households and of any other taxpayers living in the same household; occupation and income; some from the 1800s may include names of females and children.

After the Crimean war a cadastral (land) survey was conducted to reestablish the tax base of the empire. This survey was conducted in 1858-1859 in the provinces [sancaks] of Bursa and Janina, then empire wide in 1860. These and later surveys definitely included names of head of households. Neverthelss, these surveys included, at best, less than 30% of the population. Women and children were rarely listed and remote localities may not have been surveyed.

  1. Coşgel, Metin M. "Ottoman Tax Registers (Tahrir Defterleri) Historical Methods 37 no. 2 (Spring 2004): 87-99.