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Translators of Turkish, Persian, and Arabic into European languages.

When the Ottoman Empire began commercial dealings with the Europeans, translators were employed by European agents and diplomats in the capital, Istanbul. As no business could be conducted without these translators, they fulfilled a vital intermediary role in EuropeanOttoman relations, both political and commercial. Known as dragomans, these translators were usually Christians and often Greeks from the Phanar district of Istanbul. By the nineteenth century, they occupied a position of power and influence in Istanbul.

The Ottoman ministry for foreign affairs employed an official dragoman, and many European diplomats dealt with him or his deputies rather than directly with Ottoman administrators. Ottoman embassies in Europe also employed drago-mans. After the Greek revolt in 1821, part of the Greek War of Independence, Muslims and Turks began to act as dragomans, and some became important figures during the Tanzimat reform period of the mid-1800s. One of the many Tanzimat reforms was the creation of a bureau of translation in the Ottoman Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which centralized and incorporated the dragomans.

See also Greek War of Independence; Tanzimat.


Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey, 3d edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Shaw, Stanford, and Shaw, Ezel Kural. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. 2 vols. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 19761977.

zachary karabell