Mahmud II: The Great Reformer

Often called “Peter the Great of Turkey,” Mahmud II was the 30th sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He reigned from 1808 until his death in 1839. Mahmud II oversaw extensive military, administrative, and monetary reforms which were capped by the Decree of Tanzimat in 1839.

Tanzimat was an overarching modernizing effort which, among other things, ended tax farming, created military conscription from districts based on size (instead of the hereditary Janissaries), and created legal and social equality before the law for all citizen (instead of different religious systems operating autonomously, often with special privileges for favored sects). One aspect of Tanzimat greatly limited the sultan’s power: it guaranteed citizens the rights of life and property. This meant sultans could no longer execute or confiscate the property of anyone at whim.

Unfortunately, Mahmud II died in 1839, so Tanzimat had to be implemented by his sons and successors.