Travellers and the Administration of Ottoman Justice in Cyprus: New Insights Facilitated by the Zefyros Research Programme

Richard Wittmann - Deputy Director, Orient-Institut Istanbul



Legal history is generally written on the basis of normative precepts that suggest the existence of a consistent and uniform state- or empire-wide application of the law, with little or no room for local specificities or deviations in actual court practice. Even the extant records of the proceedings of courts of law, irrespective of how thoroughly these records may have been kept and preserved (fortunately, a great number of these records for the Ottoman realm exist), are far from an adequate representation of the legal practice at a specific tribunal, as Natalie Zemon Davies (Fiction in the Archives) and others have demonstrated.

The accounts of travellers to Cyprus, access to which has been facilitated by the Zefyros research programme, on the other hand, offer first-hand descriptions of the administration of justice on the island in the Ottoman period. They reveal aspects of local legal practices. The narrative sources provide invaluable information on individual judges and other court officials and the specific legal concerns and social realities characteristic of different court districts in Cyprus under Ottoman rule.

This paper will show to what degree the travellers’ texts shed light on the relationship and interplay among Ottoman, Venetian and customary law in Ottoman Cyprus.



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