Today’s microreview is on an article which examines the complex role of violence in premodern conflicts. In a very captivating way, Tolga U. Esmer discusses in ‘Economies of violence, banditry and governance in the Ottoman empire around 1800’ how bandits were not marginals, but in fact quite central to the functioning of the empire in modern-day Balkans.
Their actions were ‘essential aspects of the Ottoman imperial model for upholding a ‘common good’ and achieving order’. Since they acted both in cooperation with officials and on their own behalf, the officials strove to control the narrative about bandits: they were extra-military forces in times of war, and bandits in peacetime. This echoes a phenomenon we encounter in our sources: namely ‘privateers’ and ‘pirates’, who pose challenges of classification because of the boundaries of their liability, of contemporary terminology with an agenda, and of modern day terms to be used in the analyses. Esmer points out there was an ‘economy of violence’ in the exchanges with the officials, with the local society, and within the groups of bandits. Apart from property or money, less tangible aspects like honour, loyalty, social capital played a fundamental role in the choice to take risks or position themselves in the society. These ‘surpluses of human behaviour’ as Esmer quotes after Georges Bataille, need to be taken into account when discussing state formation, land tenure, taxes or conflict management. Again, this evokes a parallel in our project, namely to the role of trust not only in mercantile exchanges, but also in conflict management.[....]