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İlm-i Nücum: The Science of The Stars - II

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Part 2

Chief müneccims as state officials

The chief müneccims were the members of the ulema and thus a part of the ilmiyye class. Some of them were professors, judges and physicians. They received a tough medrese education and took courses from the well-educated professors in order to be a müneccim. In other words, they were chosen among the educated people and with such good background of necessary knowledge and skills, hey taught mathematics, astrology and astronomy.

For the calendars, horoscopes, Ramadan timetables, the chief müneccims received a certain amount of money. Like other members of the palace bureaucracy, in addition to receiving daily or monthly allocations, they had ulufe salary given once within three months, grants like arpalık, benefaction and tips. They worked in the Imperial Palace’ Birun section but did not have to live in the palace.

The chief müneccims’ appointments were needed to be approved by four important authority figures: Chief Physician (Hekimbaşı), the Grand Müfti (Şeyhü’lislam), Grand Vizier and Sultan. When they were appointed to their offices, they wore an honorific garment called hil’at and were granted their seals in the presence of the Grand Vizier at the Bab-ı Ali. However, according to his biography, the last chief müneccim, Hüseyin Efendi (?) was appointed through a ‘commission decree’ but there is no information on the members of the commission to explain who really made this decision (İstanbul Müftülüğü, Şer’iyye Sicilleri Arşivi, dosya no 309).

Some chief müneccims were recommended by the influential statesmen. As an example, it was the Şeyhülislam Minkari-Zade Yahya Efendi’s who recommended Dervish Ahmed Dede Efendi to Sultan Mehmed IV (1642-1687) (T. Gökbilgin, “Müneccimbaşı”, İ.A. VIII, p. 802).

Chief müneccims could be dismissed for political and personal reasons. This generally happened if they interfered in the state affairs or they were found scholarly inadequate. To give an example: The chief müneccim from the 17th century Hüseyin Efendi (d. August 26th, 1650) was the one who gained a good reputation for his successful horoscope predictions made for some statesmen. By this means, he saved a good amount of money, made a circle of friends from the ruling class and accordingly he more and more involved in the state affairs. Indeed, he impressed many others in the palace, particularly the present sultan. His influence continued until when Murad Pasha became the Grand Vizier. From then on a significant number of people did not conceal their hostility towards Hüseyin Efendi. Their number grew day by day. He fell into disfavor after he miscalculated the moon eclipse in the first of years of Sultan Mehmed IV and he misreported the Sultan’s death rather than his enthronement. Accordingly, he was dismissed and imprisoned. After a couple of days, he was released on the condition that he would go to Egypt, but he stayed in Istanbul and continued his intrigues, which led to his execution on 6th of August in 1650 (Aydüz, 51-52). According to Salim Aydüz, the following müneccims who heard about his end stayed away from interfering in the state affairs (Aydüz, p. 27). 

Although it is not clear if he was really dismissed, Takîyüddin el-Rasıd faced some hostilities. He was known as the founder of the first and last observatory in Istanbul. The observatory was burnt down since some member of men of religion (ulema) including primarily Şeyhülislam Kadı-Zade Ahmet Şemsettin Efendi and some statesmen did not approve his scholarly works for a variety of reasons. They convinced the sultan that they had to get rid of the observatory. After it was burnt down, Takiyüddin isolated himself and continued to do his works in his house.

Another important figure was a chief müneccim, Dervish Ahmet Dede, who was known for his company of Sultan Mehmed IV. Due to his close relationship with Sultan Mehmed IV, Dervish Ahmet Dede was dismissed and exiled to Egypt when the Sultan was dethroned (Salim, Salim Tezkiresi, İstanbul 1897, p. 12). 

The chief müneccim from Mustafa Asım Bey, who was the father of a well-known scholar and poet of the 19th century, Namık Kemal, was another important figure. Mustafa Asım Bey served as the chief müneccim between the years 1898 and 1901 and taught astronomy and astrology. Minute by minute he recorded everything he had done and had experienced. Mustafa Asım Bey followed astrology for his daily routines and prepared horoscopes based on people’ questions (Aydüz, pp. 236-239). 

Predictions on the enthronement and death of the sultans

As it has been mentioned above, müneccims chose favorable times for important occasions. They wrote epistles to show what should be avoided during the coming year and specified the auspicious and the inauspicious hours on their calendars, which they prepared at the beginning of each year (on 21st of March when Sun entered Aries). On their calendars, they particularly wrote their general predictions on the reigning sultan, the viziers and other high statesmen.

Some müneccims’ calendars included the predictions on the hour of sultans’ enthronement and death. For example, a chief müneccim Mehmed Çelebi predicted the death of Sultan Ahmed I (1590-1617) and the tragic end of his successor, Sultan Osman II (1604-1622). In 17th century, Hüseyin Çelebi, who was a student of Mehmed Çelebi and later replaced him as the chief müneccim, foretold the death of Sultan Murad IV. He also prepared the horoscope for the Crete Expedition in 1645 together with a few other müneccims. His reputation grew more after he had predicted the death of Sultan İbrahim, which he had recorded in his calendar (Katip Çelebi, Fezleke, II, p. 366).

The Science of the Stars from the socio-cultural perspective

Astrology was a part of the daily life in Ottoman culture, just as it was in many other cultures. Gülçin (Tunalı) Koç explains the importance attributed to astrology from this perspective: “The contribution made by those who were interested in astrology to the socio-cultural history is considerable and the greatest factor behind this contribution was the fact that the issues astrology dealt with were so much related to daily life. Astrological studies lead the way in the field of history of thought as well”(Gülçin (Tunalı) Koç, "Osmanlı Siyaset Kültürünü Anlamada Kaynak Olarak İlm-i Nücum: Sadullah el-Ankaravi," Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Boğaziçi University, 2002, p. 50).

Astrology, which was described as the Science of the Stars during the Ottoman period, were divided into two: natural (tabii) and predictive (ahkam). Predictive astrology, the part which was called as ‘the Astrology of Judgements,’ was divided into three fields: Mevalid (Natal Astrology), Mesail (Astrology of Questions) and İhtiyariyat (Astrology of Choices). Mesail, which is Horary, referred to the questions that people asked müneccims about their daily lives (Aydüz, p. 50). This type dealt with preparing instant charts and making predictions on simple daily issues, such as providing information on certain people and things or helping to find the lost people or objects.

Ottoman müneccims used İhtiyarat (The Astrology of Choices, orElectional) in order to choose the most favorable time to start something new. They also prepared Mevalid or birth horoscopes (Natal Chart,Genethlialogie) to specify one’s characteristic feature and personality or to tell about his/her destiny (Aydüz, p. 105).

Practicing these three main methods in daily life allowed müneccims to form social networks and environment. In this way, a müneccim, Sadullah Efendi (Müderriszade Sadullah el-Ankaravi) from Ankara, who lived in the first-half of the 19th century, developed close relationship with some high ranking officials from Ankara and thus he found an opportunity to go to Istanbul. Indeed, he was invited to where the residences of İzzet Pasha and Nafiz Pasha(Tunalı) Koç, "Osmanlı Siyaset Kültürünü Anlamada Kaynak Olarak İlm-i Nücum: Sadullah el-Ankaravi," pp.45-46).

To give more information about Sadullah Efendi is important to understand the role of the astrology and of the astrologers in the Ottoman time. Sadullah Efendi was a naib (kadı-regent), mufti (a religious authority who is in charge of Islamic law) minister of census, and nakib’ül eşraf (the chief of the descendants of Prophet Muhammad) as well as a poet. He was also a müneccim just as his grandfather Şeyhi Mustafa Efendi and his father Abdülkerim Efendi (Tunalı) Koç, p. 49).

As müneccims passed astrological knowledge from one generation to another, Sadullah Efendi too tried to teach his son Pertev how to prepare astrological calendars (Tunalı) Koç, p. 41). There are similar examples to show that müneccims passed such ancient knowledge to their children.

to be continue...


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