The Fall of Ottoman Authority in Yemen, 968 -1560
The Ottoman Empire was able to gain their first footing into Yemen when the army, under the command of vizier (and subsequently grand vizier) Hadim Suleyman Pasa, occupied the port of Aden and the southern sector of the country’s coastal plain in Rabi’ I and Shawwal in 945, 1538 and 1539 respectfully. They became separate states of the Empire until they were assimilated into a larger administration and ruled under a governor.
Over the following centuries, the Empire grew; however, Yemen under the rule of the Ottomans has received little attention. This article focuses on the decline of the Ottomans’ rule in this region, leading to the collapse of the provincial government.
The start of the decline of Ottoman power in Yemen can be identified after the treaty of 959/1552 began to ebb with the appointment of Mahmud Pasa as beylerbeyi in 967/1560. “By nature grasping, ambitious and unscrupulous, his only apparent interest in the province lay in treating it as a source of personal wealth for self-promotion. Mahmud’s deleterious influence on the affairs of Yemen endured some seven years, at first directly as its governor and subsequently indirectly as governor of Egypt, from where, for geographic and administrative reasons, he was able to manipulate the flow of information from Yemen to Istanbul. But the favour which he curried among the empire’s ruling authorities-including a famous grand vizier-masked his harmful behaviour from detection”.
One action in Yemen was to put to death the intendant (amin) of the provincial mint (dar al-darb) at Zabid, along with his kethudd (assistant), on the false accusation that he was accountable for having debased the smaller, ordinary component of currency through a severe disproportion of copper over silver. Of course, this was false and he did it in order to further his own agenda. He did this with forms of currencies here, including with the money owing to the army.
The soldiers’ morale, receiving these debased wages, was severely damaged and tensions started to mount between them and the pasa. They started to sell off their weapons, their clothing and finally their kits; once there was nothing left to sell, they deserted, some taking service with Imam al-Mutahhar in the highlands.
The pasa then set his sights on richer sources – new territory. He tried to possess Zabid and dispatched forces to the region. A siege was laid and the pasa was victorious, despite the Ottoman soldiers’ grumblings.
Authority does not collapse in another country for just one reason; it takes several causes for the fall, but the “ensuing military confrontation, in which the Ottoman forces were worsted, initiated a lengthy series of hostilities” under the command of the pasa seriously damaged Ottoman rule, leading to the fall of their authority in Yemen.
Blackburn, J. Richard (1979) The Collapse of Ottoman Authority in Yemen, 968/1560-976/1568, Die Welt des Islams, BRILL.