Sultan’s Flunkies Taught Infidel Envoys to Grovel: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of "Pashas: Traders and Travellers in the Islamic World" by James Mather. Source: Yale University Press via Bloomberg

In 1660, the British ambassador to Constantinople, Heneage Finch, arrived for an audience with the sultan at the grand Topkapi Palace, where his entourage was fed sweetmeats. Gifts were exchanged with the Grand Vizier, and finally everyone went through the Gates of Felicity to enter the Inner Court.

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Forty eunuchs dressed in satin and gold surrounded the great man on his throne. Two porters locked onto the ambassador’s arms, propelled him to the middle of the room, and forced him into a bow so low his forehead hit the ground.

Nothing less was expected. One recalcitrant Dutch official, who gave a “rash” answer to the Grand Vizier, received 184 blows on his feet, which nearly crippled him for life.

And when the French ambassador protested the court’s lack of respect for him, he was beaten up and imprisoned. The vizier described him contemptuously as an infidel: “A hogge, a dogge, a turde eater.”

I spoke with James Mather, author of “Pashas: Traders and Travellers in the Islamic World,” on the following topics:

1. Spices and Silks

2. The Levant Company

3. Souks and Khans

4. Christians Vs. Muslims

5. Aspirational Luxuries

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)


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