Dishonorable Ambassadors: Spies and Secret Diplomacy in Ottoman Istanbul

Dishonorable Ambassadors: Spies and Secret Diplomacy in Ottoman Istanbul

By Emrah Safa Gürkan

Archivum Ottomanicum, Vol. 35 (2018)

Introduction: In the sixteenth century, the Habsburgs and the Ottomans clashed for the dominance of Europe and the Mediterranean and engaged in a global rivalry that affected every polity along the shores of the Mediterranean. This essay concentrates on the diplomatic negotiations between two imperial capitals, Istanbul and Madrid, during the second half of the sixteenth century, at the height of the Ottoman-Habsburg Rivalry. It seeks to demonstrate how the lack of open diplomatic relations between two empires and the absence of resident ambassadors in each other’s capitals provided a special case for the study of espionage in the sixteenth century Europe and the Mediterranean.

Several studies have emphasized the role of diplomats in information gathering and demonstrated the intertwined nature of diplomacy and espionage. Enjoying the privileges granted by their diplomatic immunity, no matter how imperfectly states observed their status in the sixteenth century, early modem ambassadors operated as network leaders or spymasters; the best examples of which were the Venetian ambassadors in Istanbul and Rome or the Habsburg ambassadors in Venice and Genoa.

These honorable spies, honorable espions, recruited spies and informants, corrupted govemment officials, related rumors in the marketplace, eavesdropped in diplomatic and social circles and facilitated the transmission of gathered intelligence as well as payments to be made to information providers.

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You can follow Emrah Safa Gürkan on Twitter @jeandpardaillan

Top Image: Colored woodcut Depicting damage in Istanbul from the May 10 1556 earthquake. Printed by Herman Gall in Nuremberg, 1556



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