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An illustration of a janissary (sense 1) from Ioannina, Greece, by Otto Magnus von Stackelberg

From Italian giannizzaro, possibly via French janissaire or Spanish jenízaro, from Ottoman Turkish یڭیچری(yeniçeri), from یڭی(yeni, new) + چری(çeri, soldier). Compare Dutch janitsaar, German Janitschar. The word is attested from the early 16th century in English; the janissaries themselves date from the 14th century.



janissary (plural janissaries)

  1. (historical) An infantry soldier, often of European Christian background from the Balkans as well as Eastern Europe and forcibly converted to Islam, in a former elite Turkish (Ottoman) guard (disbanded in 1826); (by extension) any Turkish soldier, particularly one escorting a traveller.
    • c. 1587–1588, [Christopher Marlowe], Tamburlaine the Great. [] The First Part [], 2nd edition, part 1, London: [] [R. Robinson for] Richard Iones, [], published 1592, →OCLC; reprinted as Tamburlaine the Great (A Scolar Press Facsimile), Menston, Yorkshire, London: Scolar Press, 1973, →ISBN, Act III, scene iii:
      My Lord the great Commander of the worlde,
      Besides fifteene contributory kings,
      Hath now in armes ten thouſand Ianiſaries,
      Mounted on luſty Mauritanian Steeds, []
    • 1737, J. A. Purves, “Vision II”, in The Law and Lawyers Laid Open, in Twelve Visions. To which is Added, Plain Truth, in Three Dialogues, between Truma, Skinall, Dryboots, Three Attorneys, and Season a Bencher, London: Printed for T. Woodman; and J. Chrichley, →OCLC; republished Clark, N.J.: The Lawbook Exchange, 2006, →ISBN, page 38:
      Tom has his Eyes ſtill near a Cloſe, and was going on, when an unlucky horn'd Janizary, obſerving the Court ſomewhat uneaſy under their Indulgence, ran a Needle up to the Head in his moſt fleſhy Part, and made Tom wince, if not like a Mule, yet very much like his graver Sire that gave him his original Name.
    • 1743, Charles Perry, “Of the Spahees, and Their Officers”, in A View of the Levant: Particularly of Constantinople, Syria, Egypt, and Greece. In which Their Antiquities, Government, Politics, Maxims, Manners, and Customs, (with Many Other Circumstances and Contingencies) are Attempted to be Described and Treated on. In Four Parts, London: Printed for T. Woodward, between the Temple Gates in Fleet-street, and C. Davis, near Middle-Row, in Holborn, printers to the Royal Society; and J. Shuckburgh, at the Sun, near the Temple Gate, in Fleet-street, →OCLC, part I (Contains Observations and Remarks on the Advantageous Situation, Extent, Strength and Government, of the Othoman Empire; which are Preceded with a Brief Account of the Origin, Progress, and Present State of It, &c.), page 44:
      When a new Prince accedes to the Throne, it is cuſtomary to give each Janiſary 25 Dollars Gratification-money; and Six Deniers per Day Augmentation of Pay: Provided what he actually has do not exceed Six Solds. If a Janiſary marries, he muſt expect no Promotion; but after he has already reached the Rank of a Captain, he may then marry, and it will be no Obſtacle to his future Advancement. If a Janiſary is detected of any Fault, they carry him before the Aga, who chaſtiſes him, or orders him to be chaſtiſed by his Odo Bachi. Sometimes, according to the Offence, they baniſh them; but if a Janiſary’s Crime merits Death, they ſtrangle him in the Night-time, and caſt his Body into the Sea.
    • 1788 March 11, Publius [pseudonym; Alexander Hamilton], The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, as Agreed upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. In Two Volumes, New York, N.Y.: Printed and sold by J. and A. M'Lean, No. 41, Hanover-Square, →OCLC; republished as “Number LXVII. By Mr. Hamilton. Concerning the Constitution of the President; a Gross Attempt to Misrepresent this Part of the Plan Detected.”, in The Federalist, on the New Constitution; Written in 1788, new (2nd) edition, Philadelphia, Pa.: Published by Benjamin Warner, No. 147, Market Street; William Greer, printer, Harrisburg, 1817, →OCLC, page 363:
      [T]he writers against the constitution, seem to have taken pains to signalize their talent at misrepresentation. [] The authorities of a magistrate, in few instances greater, in some instances less, than those of a governor of New York, have been magnified into more than royal prerogatives. [] We have been taught to tremble at the terrific visages of murdering janisaries; and to blush at the unveiled mysteries of a future seraglio.
    • 1829, James Emerson, “Letter IV. Ephesus.”, in Letters from the Ægean, New York, N.Y.: Printed by J. & J. Harper, 82 Cliff St.; sold by Collins and Hannay, [et al.], →OCLC, page 71:
      After remaining a few days at Smyrna, we set out to pay a visit to the ruins of Ephesus, which are situated on the shore of the Gulf of Skalanova, about thirty-five miles south of Smyrna. Our equipage consisted of a Greek servant, Spiridon, or, as he was usually called, Spiro; Achmet, a janissary; and an old Smyrniot, proprietor of the horses which we rode.
    • 1995, Nasser O. Rabbat, “The Citadel Today”, in The Citadel of Cairo: A New Interpretation of Royal Mamluk Architecture (Islamic History and Civilization, Studies and Texts; 14), Leiden, New York, N.Y.: E. J. Brill, →ISBN, →ISSN, page 18:
      Under the Ottomans (1517–1798), it [the Cairo Citadel] was divided into three semi-independent parts: the northern enclosure contained the barracks of the Janissaries (the main corps in the Ottoman army); the lower areas in the west became the residence of the al-‘Azab (the locally recruited troops); and the southern section of the southern enclosure was occupied by the pasha sent from Istanbul and his troops.
  2. (figuratively) An elite, highly loyal supporter.
    • 1744, Alexander Shiels [i.e., Alexander Shields], “Period VI. Containing the Testimony through the Continued Tract of the Present Deformation, from the Year 1660 to this Day.”, in A Hind Let Loose: Or, An Historical Representation of the Testimonies of the Church of Scotland, for the Interest of Christ; with the True State thereof in All Its Periods: [...], Edinburgh: Reprinted by R. Drummond and Company, and sold by William Gray bookbinder in the Grassmarket, and several others, &c., →OCLC, pages 167–168:
      Here is a Proclamation for a Prince: that proclaims him in whoſe name it is emitted [James II of England], to be the greateſt Tyrant that ever lived in the world, and their Revolt who have diſowned him to be the juſteſt that ever was. For herein that Monſter of Prerogative is [] advanced [] to claim abſolute obedience, without reſerve of Conſcience, Religion, Honour, or Reaſon; not only that which ignorantly is called Paſſive, never to reſiſt him, not only on any Pretence, but for any Cauſe, even tho' he ſhould command his Popiſh Janizaries to murder and maſſacre all Proteſtants, which is the tender mercy and burning fervent charity of Papiſts; []
    • 1905, Benjamin Disraeli, chapter XV, in Lord George Bentinck: A Political Biography, London: Archibald Constable and Co., →OCLC; republished as Lord George Bentinck: A Political Biography (The Library of Conservative Thought), New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1997, →ISBN, page 170:
      The debate must be maintained until the third reading of the corn bill had been agreed to by the house of lords. What a situation! [] Power, place, patronage might reward those who upheld the minister; they might even at this conjuncture become ‘janissaries’ without ever having been ‘renegades’.

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