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Istanbul: A City of Migrants, 1453–1800

Migration made Istanbul an imperial capital and one of the most diverse cities in the early modern world. After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, the sultans repopulated the city by bringing in people from the provinces, prisoners of war from the Balkans to Iran, and slaves from Eastern Europe. Istanbul then became a safe haven for Spanish Jews and Moriscos. From the late sixteenth century, it took in a large number of refugees from Anatolia. As the capital of a world empire, the city also drew in students, career-seekers, merchants, and a growing number of labor workers from the Balkans, Anatolia, and other distant places. The migrants not only formed a significant part of the population but also held key positions in the city’s imperial institutions and dominated important sectors of urban life.

This book project aims to tell the story of Istanbul as a city of migrants, exploring the connection between migration and belonging in the Ottoman world between 1453 and 1800. While underscoring Istanbul’s diachronic role as a destination of migration, it focuses on the changes in migration patterns and the challenges that migration presented not only for the state but also for urban society and the migrants who had to build a new life in a foreign place. It examines how people of different backgrounds experienced migration and set root in the city, and how they navigated their regional and religious affiliations to establish a new sense of home and identity. The project is funded by the DFG priority program “Transottomanica,” 2019-2023.