The unofficial gift in cantemir's history of the ottoman empire: Forms and functions

Sözen Z.

Cogito, vol.11, no.2, pp.39-51, 2019 (Scopus) identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 11 Issue: 2
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Journal Name: Cogito
  • Journal Indexes: Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.39-51
  • Keywords: Bahsis, Dimitrie cantemir, Gifts, Peskes, Principalities
  • Istanbul Medipol University Affiliated: Yes


The gift has been a subject of interest in sociology and anthropology especially since the seminal work of Marcel Mauss, who argued that gift giving is never free. The present paper shall focus on unofficial gifts Dimitrie Cantemir observed and reported in his History of the Ottoman Empire. Cantemir mentions two forms of unofficial gifts that gave rise to reciprocal exchange: Peskes and bahsis. The first one of these was a diplomatic gift of great value, a gift of investiture, which was offered to the Sultan and his high ranking officials by the tributary states, Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania and exchanged for insignia. The second one, in Cantemir's words was' a gift not bestowed out of mere kindness but a customary gift', given by the Sultan to the Janissaries, in return for which the Sultan received loyalty and solidarity. Cantemir, as a keen and objective observer, was able to distinguish between official and unofficial gift exchanges in the Ottoman Empire, to diagnose the functions of peskes and bahsis and to decipher the cycle.