All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated


VIZIER. Vizier, 'helper' or 'deputy', a term first employed in the Koran, evolved to mean 'chief minister' in early Islamic history, possibly becoming an office of Arab administration with the Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi (775785). The title vizier was applied widely as an honorific for representatives of the caliph or sultan. The term "grand vizier" denoted those chief, or prime, ministers who served the Ottoman sultans from 1300 to 1923.


The Perso-Turkish word vizier (also "vezir," or "vizier") originates in the Arabic wazīr, and appears in the Koranic verse "We gave Moses the book and made his brother Aaron his wazīr," (Koran, chapter XXV: 35), denoting a helper. Viziers quickly assumed the role of second-in-command in early Islamic history, the most famous among the Abbasids being the Barmakid family of advisers and secretaries under Caliph Harun al-Rashid (786809). By the eleventh century, the power and obligations of the vizier were delineated in Muslim administrative manuals, which frequently described the office as subordinate only to the caliph or sultan. Vizierial households, in imitation of those of caliph or sultan, became centers of tremendous wealth, ostentation, and intellectual and artistic patronage. The tension between the two most powerful figures of Muslim courts, the ruler and his vizier, is one of the most common struggles represented in early histories and transmitted into western literature, as Shakespeare's Othello attests.

The title of vizier could be differentiated, as it was under the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt (9691171), and was sometimes carried by military officials, who developed an independence of action in the latter years of that dynasty. In Muslim Spain (Andalusia), where the term hājib was the equivalent of vizier, multiple viziers abounded, with as few as ten or as many as twenty-nine in place at one time

In Persia, viziers were perceived as servants of the ruler rather than the state, and often they were charged with overseeing financial affairs. Mahmud, founder of the Ghaznavids (9981030), had six viziers, of whom three were dismissed and died violently, two were dismissed and stripped of their wealth, and the sixth executed; such treatment was testimony to the hazards of the position. Inheritors of Ghaznavid court practices, both the Seljuk and the Ottoman dynasties maintained the office as a well-defined and extremely powerful position. Of special note is Nizam al-Mulk (vizier 10631092), who served two Seljuk sultans and exercised the greatest of powers of any vizier up to that time. Beyond tending to the general affairs of the sultan, Nizam al-Mulk was also responsible for religious affairs and for diplomatic relations with foreign rulers. He also on occasion led the army on campaign. Nizam al-Mulk amassed legendary wealth and armies of slaves, founded an educational system known as the Nizamiya, and compiled one of the best-known pre-Ottoman manuals on administrative practice, Siyasetname (The Book of government).


Historians have made much of the Seljuk and Ottoman practice of staffing the administration from non-Turkish stock, as was the case with Nizam al-Mulk. The Ottomans, especially after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, were also inclined to choose the grand vizier from its officials who had been conscripted and converted from the Christian populations of the Balkans (called kul kapikulu, 'slaves of the court'); these were mainly Albanian or Serbian peoples. After the 1550s, when the Ottomans colonized Hungary, Croatians and Hungarians populated the kul ranks. Similarly, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, sultans Selim III (ruled 17891807) and Mahmud II (ruled 18081839) preferred Georgians or Circassians for their grand viziers, since the trans-Caucasus region was then a ready source of slaves. Ethnic preferences may have influenced the sultans' choice of servants, but at least in the early days of the empire, the administrative experience of the non-Turkic populations was especially valued. In any case, unquestioning loyalty was seen as more forthcoming from slave converts than from freeborn Muslims.

Under the Ottomans, as elsewhere, the title of vizier distinguished lesser officers of the empire, often in hierarchical order (as part of the erkân-i devlet, 'pillars of the state', of the divan-i hümayun, 'imperial council'), but grand vizier or sadrazam (also vizier-i azam ) was the most powerful officer after the sultan. Before 1453, the grand vizier was appointed from among the religious class and was often a judge (kadi or kazi). Between 1385 and 1453, the Candarli family held the office, and all were judges. After 1453, the kul, military rather than religious men with expertise in financial and chancery affairs, dominated the office (Inalcik, p. 195). Palace factions of new sultans tended to influence the appointments of the grand vizier, and there was frequently a complete restaffing of the bureaucracy after a new accession. In the second half of the seventeenth century, a severe crisis led the sultan to grant Grand Vizier Mehmed Köprülü extraordinary powers, and a separate administrative office, the Babiali (the Sublime Porte), was created to restore the stability of the empire. For half a century, the Köprülü family dominated the office, reorganized the economy, restored order throughout Ottoman territories, and dealt increasingly with foreign affairs. Grand viziers in the eighteenth century were often appointed after serving as reisülküttab (head of the chancery, later foreign affairs minister). Especially notable was Koca Ragib Pasha (ruled 17571763), who served two sultans after negotiating earlier treaties with Nadir Shah of Persia and the Habsburgs at Belgrade in 1739. Koca Ragib associated with a large circle of intellectuals and built his personal library, which was opened to the public and still operates in Istanbul.

The grand vizier led all military campaigns after 1700 and served as head of the imperial council, where he and the other viziers, as the primary representatives of the sultan's authority, discussed state affairs. Many viziers married daughters and sisters of the sultan and were subsequently called damad, 'bridegroom', acquired rights to revenues of vast estates, and were granted stature matched only by that of the royal house. Some, such as the famous Damad Ibrahim Pasha, who was grand vizier to Suleiman the Magnificent (ruled 15201566) from 1523 to 1536, lost their lives when they over-stepped their bounds in emulating the sultan. The office was always precariously secured and held and very often ended with confiscation of wealth, exile, and/or death. By the mid-nineteenth century, the power and prestige of the vizier had declined; the office had assumed the proportions of a modern-day minister.

See also Ottoman Empire ; Sultan .


Dankoff, Robert. The Intimate Life of an Ottoman Statesman: Melek Ahmed Pasha (15881662), as Portrayed in Evliya Çelebi's Book of Travels (Seyahat-name). Albany, N.Y., 1991. A wonderfully evocative view of the trials and tribulations of Grand Vizier Melek Ahmed.

Imber, Colin. "Khalil Pasha, Djandarli," in Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. CD-ROM edition. One of numerous individual entries for well-known Ottoman grand viziers.

Inalcik, Halil. The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300 1600. London, 1973.

Sourdel, Dominique. Le vizierat abbaside de 749 à 936. 2 vols. Damascus, 1960.

Stavrides, Theoharis. The Sultan of Vezirs: The Life and Times of the Ottoman Grand Vezir Mahmud Pasha Angelović (14531474). Leiden, 2001. Includes a comprehensive introduction to the history of the office.

"Wazīr," in Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. Vol. 11. Leiden, 2001. Articles for several dynasties with individual authors, including Halil Inalcik on the Ottomans.

Virginia H. Aksan

views updated

vizieradhere, Agadir, appear, arrear, auctioneer, austere, balladeer, bandolier, Bashkir, beer, besmear, bier, blear, bombardier, brigadier, buccaneer, cameleer, career, cashier, cavalier, chandelier, charioteer, cheer, chevalier, chiffonier, clavier, clear, Coetzee, cohere, commandeer, conventioneer, Cordelier, corsetière, Crimea, dear, deer, diarrhoea (US diarrhea), domineer, Dorothea, drear, ear, electioneer, emir, endear, engineer, fear, fleer, Freer, fusilier, gadgeteer, Galatea, gazetteer, gear, gondolier, gonorrhoea (US gonorrhea), Greer, grenadier, hear, here, Hosea, idea, interfere, Izmir, jeer, Judaea, Kashmir, Keir, kir, Korea, Lear, leer, Maria, marketeer, Medea, Meir, Melilla, mere, Mia, Mir, mishear, mountaineer, muleteer, musketeer, mutineer, near, orienteer, pamphleteer, panacea, paneer, peer, persevere, pier, Pierre, pioneer, pistoleer, privateer, profiteer, puppeteer, queer, racketeer, ratafia, rear, revere, rhea, rocketeer, Sapir, scrutineer, sear, seer, sere, severe, Shamir, shear, sheer, sincere, smear, sneer, sonneteer, souvenir, spear, sphere, steer, stere, summiteer, Tangier, tear, tier, Trier, Tyr, veer, veneer, Vere, Vermeer, vizier, volunteer, Wear, weir, we're, year, Zaïre

views updated

vi·zier / vəˈzi(ə)r/ • n. hist. a high official in some Muslim countries, esp. in Turkey under Ottoman rule. DERIVATIVES: vi·zier·ate / -ˈzi(ə)rit; -ˈzi(ə)rˌāt/·zier·i·al / -ˈzi(ə)rēəl/·zier·ship / ship/ n.

views updated

vizier a high official in some Muslim countries, especially in Turkey under Ottoman rule. The word is recorded from the mid 16th century and comes via Turkish from Arabic wazīr ‘caliph's chief counsellor’.

views updated

vizier in Muslim countries, high official, viceroy, etc. XVI. Early forms vezir, vizir — F. visir, vizir or Sp. visir — Turk. vezir — Arab. wazīr.
Hence vizierate dignity of a vizier. XVII.

views updated

Vizier (Muslim government minister): see WAZĪR.