We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Capitulations - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result


Linda T. Darling
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam


Commercial privileges called “capitulations” were granted by Muslim states, especially the Ottoman and Persian Empires, to Christian European states desiring to carry on trade in what was technically enemy territory. These capitulations set customs rates, established security of life, property, and religion, and set up channels for dealing with problems and legal disputes. As the balance of power shifted toward western Europe, the capitulations were used to obtain advantages and extraterritorial status for European citizens and protégés in Muslim lands, so that in the nineteenth century they became instruments of imperialist exploitation. They were not abolished until well into the twentieth century: in 1914 in the Ottoman Empire, 1928 in Iran, and 1937 in Egypt.

Called imtiyāzāt (privileges) in the Middle Eastern languages, the capitulations were based on the principle of amān, the safe-conduct granted by members of the dār al-Islām (abode of Islam) to citizens of non-Muslim countries, the dār al-ḥarb where unending war for the faith was legitimate and indeed required. When it would clearly benefit the Muslim community commercially or politically, the state of war could be suspended and truce or safe-conduct extended (for up to a year) to people giving assurances of friendship and good will. Grants of amān enabled pilgrims and merchants to travel in safety within the Islamic world. From the twelfth century, the principle of amān was joined with that of the treaty to create the new form of capitulations made between states and embodied in an ahdname (covenant). Still a unilateral concession by a Muslim ruler to a non-Muslim state pledging peace and friendship, the capitulations (the name derives from the headings of the document) extended protection to any citizen of the state and lengthened the period for which it could be obtained to ten years. Capitulations were granted, mainly to Italian city-states, by the Muslim rulers of Spain, the Mamlūks in Egypt, and the Seljuks in Anatolia during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The first Ottoman capitulations were granted in 1352 to Genoa, which was at war with Venice, an ally of the crumbling Byzantine Empire. As the Ottoman state expanded and places having trade relations with Europe came into Ottoman hands during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Ottomans maintained these relations (e.g., with Venice in Ayasoluk and Balat, with Genoa in Galata, and with Pisa and Florence). These early capitulations set the rates of customs dues for imports and exports and provided for exemption from other fees or dues, ship repairs, aid against pirates, compensation for damages, inheritance, protection of shipwreck victims and their goods, immunity from responsibility for the debts of fellow-countrymen, and just treatment in the courts. A group of foreign merchants in a particular city could constitute itself as a community headed by a consul who received official recognition via an imperial berat (decree) making him the representative of his “nation” and empowering him to settle disputes, supervise affairs, and collect a consulage fee from merchants sailing under his country 's flag. The berat granted personal immunity and exemption from taxes for the consul and his household and allowed him to call on the Ottoman authorities to enforce his decisions.

The period of Italian dominance of trade yielded in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the growing commercial power of the Atlantic economies. Western nations engaging in distant exploration and commerce sought capitulations of their own to enable them to sail under their own flags and cease paying dues to consuls of other nations. The French had been trading in the Ottoman Empire by virtue of agreements made with the Mamlūk rulers of Egypt that were renewed after the Ottoman conquest in 1517. In 1535, during an era of rapprochement between the French and the Ottomans against the Habsburgs, France attempted to obtain new, more extensive capitulations. Although these are often cited as their first capitulations, they were never ratified. In 1569, however, partly to assure French good will in preparation for an attack on Venetian-held Cyprus, the Ottomans granted the French new capitulations based on those of Venice. The English, not to be outdone, sent negotiators to the Ottoman capital in 1580 (secretly, via Poland, to avoid Habsburg-Venetian interference). They were favorably received, largely because of their country's opposition to Spain but also because they could supply crucial raw materials like tin and steel along with inexpensive woolen cloth; in return they took home silk, mohair, and cotton, along with dyestuffs, dried fruits, and spices. Capitulations were granted or regranted to England in 1580, 1583, 1601, 1616, 1624, 1643, 1666, and 1675; to France in 1569, 1581, 1597, 1604, 1673, and 1740. Capitulatory privileges were extended to Poland in 1553; to the Dutch, whom both the English and the French had tried to lure to their flags, in 1612; and to Genoa in 1665. Ragusa was recognized as an autonomous tributary state in 1572, ending its need for capitulations. Merchants of nations without capitulations of their own sailed under the flag of one of the capitulatory states.

There ensued a century of English–French competition in the Levant, each nation attempting to entice other nations to sail under its flag (and pay its consulage fees). In 1604 France obtained a clause in its capitulations requiring other nations to sail under its flag; however, the English made themselves so superior as providers of safety on the seas that others preferred their protection. As part of the rivalry, each nation tried to negotiate additional favorable clauses. Detailed regulations on the fair treatment of foreigners in Muslim courts were negotiated by the French in 1569 and included in the English capitulations of 1580. In 1601 the English obtained an article prohibiting exactions by provincial governors that was duplicated by the French in 1604. The English negotiation in 1601 of a 3 percent customs rate in place of the normal 5 percent made other nations rush to the English flag. The French were unable to obtain this rate until 1673, but their capitulations provided for the protection of Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land and gave guarantees against the Barbary pirates.

One important set of clauses established extraterritoriality for capitulatory merchants. Foreigners, except in cases involving Ottoman subjects, were not governed by Ottoman jurisdiction but by their own laws and the regulations established by the trading companies, administered by the consuls. Europeans could make and consume alcoholic beverages within their own quarters and could practice their own religion; importantly, they were not subject to the Muslim laws of inheritance. The consuls’ interpreters and servants received freedom from taxation and the right to be judged in the consular court by the English capitulations of 1675.

During this period the English, French, and Dutch were also in competition for the trade of Persia. There, protection was provided by farmans (orders) promulgated by the Ṣafavid shahs. Early Ṣafavid farmans provided exemption from taxation, freedom of religion and travel, inheritance rights, recovery of debts, and freedom from interference. It is probable that relations with the Ottoman Empire formed the model for interactions with Persia, and later with China and the Far East. The English in 1600, the Dutch in 1623, and the French in 1665 gained commercial privileges in Persia, and in 1631 Persian merchants were granted comparable privileges in the Netherlands, though none took advantage of them. Treaties of 1708 and 1715 between Persia and France established French trading centers throughout Persia and granted reciprocal privileges to Persian merchants in France.

With the outbreak of the Ottoman-Habsburg war in 1683, relations between the Ottomans and Europeans underwent a change; the capitulations, no longer the gracious gift of a powerful ruler, became bargaining chips in Ottoman negotiations for aid against the Habsburgs. Generous concessions to France (reduction of the Egyptian customs rate from 10 percent to 3 percent, and return to the Catholic Church of sacred sites in Jerusalem) failed to prevent France 's joining the Austrian alliance in 1697, and it became the turn of the English to receive more generous terms (a consulate in Egypt and a monopoly of the carrying trade between Egypt and Istanbul). The French privileges of 1740 reflected warming relations with that country; the most extensive to date, they were also binding on subsequent sultans. The increase in French influence permitted by that clause was offset by the extension of separate capitulations to Sweden (1737), Austria (1699 and 1718), Sicily (1740), Denmark (1756), Prussia (1761), Spain (1783), and Russia (1774—not a unilateral capitulation but part of the treaty of Küçük Kaynarja). The Italian cities of Venice and Livorno (Leghorn) also continued to trade in the Ottoman Empire.

By now, the countries of central and eastern Europe were participating in the commercial expansion of the Atlantic states. An exchange of cloth and meat between Ottoman and Germanic territories expanded to other commodities with the Habsburg establishment of consulates, navigation on the Danube, and trade with Persia across the Black Sea. Russians began trading furs for silk in the fifteenth century, and the fur trade grew after the Russian conquest of Kazan in 1552. In Persia fish, caviar, and minerals were important commercial items.

In the eighteenth century trade rivalry among European nations turned into a rush for empire. Imperialism in the Middle East took the form not of outright colonial possession but of economic dominance. By 1781 the Ottoman Empire could be labeled a colony of France; in the second half of the century there was some pressure for a French occupation of Egypt. By the 1774 treaty of Küçük Kaynarja, after a war in which Russia occupied Ottoman Crimea, the Russians gained the right of navigation in the Black Sea and the straits, a right also granted ten years later to the Habsburgs. The treaty of Küçük Kaynarja significantly altered trade relations between Europe and the Middle East. First, as a bilateral treaty, its provisions could not be unilaterally revoked or altered, nor did it have to be renewed by successive sultans. Second, two of its provisions were interpreted to permit a new level of foreign interference with internal conditions in the Ottoman Empire.

The treaty itself allowed Russia to build a church of the Orthodox rite in Beyoğlu, the foreigners’ quarter, and to protect it and make representations on its behalf. The Ottoman government promised to take such representations into consideration and to protect the Christian religion generally. Russia construed this limited concession as a right to protect all Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire, to interfere when it deemed their welfare to be at risk, and to be consulted about measures concerning them. France, too, wished to exercise similarly broad prerogatives regarding the Catholics of the empire (Maronites and Uniates of Lebanon, where French priests had been at work since Crusader times) on the basis of clauses in the 1673 capitulations regarding Ottoman protection of its monks. Not to be left out, the English claimed the right to “protect” the Druze of Lebanon and the Jews of Palestine, making these groups their excuse for intervention in Ottoman internal affairs. The natural sympathy of the Europeans for their coreligionists thus became the entering wedge for domination.

Another problem arose out of the clauses protecting the subjects of capitulatory nations from harassment, exempting them from local jurisdiction and taxation, and granting them a lower customs rate than that paid by Ottoman subjects. These privileges, guaranteed by official berats, were extended to the consuls’ interpreters and a limited number of local employees. However, consuls began requesting more berats for non-Muslim Ottoman subjects, mainly merchants rather than translators. The rights granted to these beratlıs, of whom there were many thousands by the nineteenth century, were considered to amount to a change of nationality. The control of the Ottoman state over its own subjects was eroding; in addition, the non-Muslims of the empire gained privileges greater than those of Muslims.

Local governors struggled against the effects of these abuses, imposing monopolies on the sale of commodities, fixing prices, and forbidding access to internal areas of the country. Meanwhile, the state mounted legal barriers to changes of citizenship and collected taxes from property owners regardless of nationality. Throughout the nineteenth century the Ottomans made efforts to abolish the capitulations, but were not successful. The treaty of Balta Limanı in 1838 between England and the Ottoman Empire confirmed forever all existing capitulatory privileges and eliminated the monopolies that protected Ottoman manufactures against Western industrial competition.

Two provisions further lessened the Ottoman government's internal control. The first, in the 1838 treaty, abolished the limitations on internal movement by foreigners that had kept part of the trade in Ottoman hands. The opening of Ottoman internal markets to European industrial wares led rapidly to the collapse of Ottoman manufacturing and trade, reducing customs revenues. The second provision, in an imperial firman of 1867, permitted foreigners to own property in the Ottoman Empire if they paid Ottoman taxes and obeyed Ottoman law. This opened the door for exploitation by foreign concessionaires. The second half of the century saw the establishment of banks, railroads, port facilities, canals, urban utilities, and mines, all operated by foreign capital. The profits flowed out of the country to enrich the concessionaires.

In Persia, the right to own property had been granted to foreigners from the beginning. The decisive date for the change of the capitulations from benevolent grants to extorted privileges was 1828 in the Treaty of Turkmanchay, after a disastrous defeat by Russia. The important clauses made foreign property immune to Persian inspection and consuls exempt from Persian legal jurisdiction. Special tribunals were set up, as in the Ottoman Empire, to judge cases between foreigners and local subjects. Trials could only take place in the presence of the consul or ambassador, who had final control over the verdict. Similar rights were extended to the British in 1836. Concessions were granted for communications and transportation facilities, mining, banking, fishing, tobacco, and oil.

Trade in Egypt in the nineteenth century was no longer governed by the Mamlūk-Ottoman agreements. Muḥammad ʿAlī and his successors made independent arrangements with the Europeans that expanded their privileges greatly. The right of foreigners to own land was granted well before 1867. Customs dues were reduced in 1902. Freedom from the poll tax became a complete tax exemption, sometimes even from the land tax. Not only foreigners’ homes but also their ships and places of business were inviolate, and foreigners were completely immune from Egyptian law. Attempts to establish a unified court system for cases involving people of different nationalities began in the 1820s, and jurisdiction became a contentious issue.

Throughout the nineteenth century the Ottomans attempted to abolish the capitulations, now embodied in bilateral treaties, but they were unable to obtain the consent of the European powers. The outbreak of World War I finally provided the occasion for their abolition, on September 8, 1914, confirmed by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. In the newly independent Arab countries, however, capitulatory provisions were included in the mandates and were only gradually eliminated. The Ottoman abolition of the capitulations inspired the Persians to attempt the same; their first attempts were abortive, but treaties signed with China and Russia in the 1920s lacked extraterritorial provisions. New commercial and judicial codes abolishing capitulatory privileges went into effect on May 10, 1928. The process in Egypt was more difficult, as a British protectorate was declared in 1914 and the Ottoman abolition did not apply; however, the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 recommended the speedy abolition of the capitulations, finally achieved in 1937.



  • Abbott, George F.Under the Turk in Constantinople. London, 1920. Account of a seventeenth-century English embassy to Turkey, including the negotiation of the 1675 capitulations.
  • Bosscha Erdbrink, G. R.At the Threshold of Felicity: Ottoman–Dutch Relations during the Embassy of Cornelis Calkoen at the Sublime Porte, 1726–1744. Ankara, 1975. Opens with a short history of Ottoman–Dutch relations prior to 1726.
  • Charrière, Ernest. Négociations de la France dans le Levant. 4 vols.Paris, 1848–1860. Covers the French capitulations.
  • Grenville, Henry. Observations sur l’état actuel de l’Empire Ottoman, 1765. Edited by A. S. Ehrenkreutz. Ann Arbor, 1965. Discusses eighteenth-century commerce and foreign relations.
  • Hershlag, Zvi Y.Introduction to the Modern Economic History of the Middle East. 2d rev. ed.Leiden, 1980. Discusses the economic effect of the capitulations in the nineteenth century.
  • Hurewitz, J. C.Diplomacy in the Near and Middle East: A Documentary Record, 1535–1914. 2 vols.Toronto, London, and New York: Van Nostrand, 1972. See for Ottoman and Persian capitulations and treaties with England, France, and Russia.
  • Inalcik, Halil. An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Khadduri, Majid. War and Peace in the Law of Islam. 2d rev. ed.Baltimore, 1955. Explains the concepts of dār al-ḥarb and amān.
  • Kurat, Akdes N.Türk-İngiliz Münasebetlerin Başlangıcı ve Gelişmesi, 1553–1610 (Inception and Growth of Turkish-English Relations, 1553–1610). Ankara, 1953. Includes the text of the English capitulations of 1580 and 1610, together with other correspondence between the English and the Ottomans.
  • Kurdakul, Necdet. Osmanlı Devleti ’nde Ticaret Antlaşmaları ve Kapitülasyonlar (Commercial Agreements and Capitulations in the Ottoman State). Istanbul, 1981. The most useful of the recent works; contains Turkish texts of all the French capitulations.
  • Noradounghian, Gabriel. Recueil d’actes internationaux de l’Empire Ottoman. 4 vols.Paris, 1897–1903. Includes capitulations and treaties with all the European nations.
  • Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700–1922. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • Skilliter, S. A.William Harborne and the Trade with Turkey, 1578–1582: A Documentary Study of the First Anglo-Ottoman Relations. London: Oxford University Press, 1977. Detailed account of the negotiation of the first English capitulations, with correspondence between the English and the Ottomans.
  • Steensgaard, Niels. “Consuls and Nations in the Levant.”Scandinavian Economic History Review15 (1967): 13–55. Compares Venetian, English, and Dutch consular systems.
  • Susa, Nasim. The Capitulatory Régime of Turkey: Its History, Origin, and Nature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1933. Fulfills its title.
  • Wansbrough, John, Halil İnalçik, Ann K. S. Lambton, and Gabriel Baer. “Imtiyāzāt.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 3, pp. 1178–1195. Leiden, 1979. The most extensive account and the main source for this article; includes a comprehensive bibliography.
  • Wood, Alfred Cecil. A History of the Levant Company. London: Routledge, 1935. Trade practices and negotiations.
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2020. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice