The Firman ... Again

I've posted great photos of the Firman, large enough to read clearly, which can be found under the tag Firman - the rest of the archive that I posted is under St Clair Archive. (And yes, I am fine with people lifting the photos to use).

But every once in a while we get this sort of story:

Legality of Earl of Elgin’s acquisition challenged by scholar - The Times.

But the British Museum’s ownership of the sculptures has been called into question by a challenge to the validity of a crucial 19th-century legal document. A specialist in Ottoman law says that without the signature and seal of the Sultan as supreme head of the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin had no legal right to remove the ancient sculptures from the Acropolis. Professor Vassilis Dimitriadis, of the University of Crete, says that the document of 1801 — an Italian translation of an Ottoman firman or licence which the British Museum acquired two years ago as the only legal evidence of ownership — is invalidated by vital missing elements.
Yes, but ... the Firman we have is a copy, not the original, so this is all nonsense and if Prof. Dimitriadis knows anything about the Ottomans, he knows it's nonsense. The original was not given to Lord Elgin but to the Governor of the city of Athens - it was an order from the sultan, ie the supreme authority, and he would have kept the order in Athens and obeyed it.

This is a photo of two firmans I took last year in Bursa - they show what an average firman looked like, though some were more elaborate if they dealt with something more important. I think that Elgin's would have taken this form - with the tugra signature of the Sultan. What we have is not the original but a translation in the British Museum made by Pisani that official translator to the Porte.

A few years back an American lawyer claimed that it was not a firman, because he couldn't find it in the state archive in Istanbul. Well yes - because it was sent to Athens, and who knows what became of it after 1831.

1 comment:

  1. I am no expert on Ottoman administrative law, but it is true that the firman (or better, the Italian translation of an original, the existence of which has never been proved) is signed by Sejid Abdullah, the "kaymakam pasha" (deputy grand vizier), not, as mistakenly reported above, by the Sultan himself. If it is true that an administrative act, in order to be valid, needed the signature of the Sultan, then the Cretan scholar has a point: this document would then be invalid (a vice of competence).


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