Accepted paper:

Sarmatyzm, Republicanism, and the "Ottomanization" of Polish-Lithuanian sartorial culture in the 16th c.


Michael Polczynski (Georgetown University)

Paper short abstract:

THIS PAPER tracks diplomatic networks and the exchange of goods between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, and how an “Ottomanized” national dress became a tool for Europe's largest republican citizenry in their struggle against monarchical power.

Paper long abstract:

AT ITS height during the 17th century, the frontier shared by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire stretched 1,200 kilometers from the Pontic Steppe region of eastern Ukraine to the heart of Central Europe. A complex diplomatic exchange between Warsaw, Bahçesaray, and the Porte facilitated the largely peaceful relationship of neighboring states whose power structures drew paradoxically from similar narratives based on real and imagined conflicts in their mutual frontier. Concomitantly, the multi-ethnic, multi-confessional szlachta {nobility/citizenry} of the forma-mixta republic of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth developed a national myth claiming common decent as an estate from Sarmatian horse lords of antiquity. By the early 16th century, diplomacy, trade and direct contact in the vast frontier shard with the Ottoman Empire and their clients effected heavily the sartorial culture of the szlachta. This new style became a symbolic tool in the ongoing struggle of republicanism, championed by the "Sarmatian" szlachta, in the face of monarchical power, though it prompted European observers and artists such as Rembrandt to depict Poles in an "oriental" style along with Turks and Arabs. My research seeks to interrogate diplomatic and trade encounters that fed the "Ottomanization" of republican Polish-Lithuanian sartorial style. Using Polish and Ottoman documents, I recreate social networks within the diplomatic cadres of both polities that facilitated the appropriation and assimilation of Ottoman dress, and ultimately the creation of a new, local mode of self-representation in the Eurasian borderlands.

panel P12
Global gifts: material culture and diplomatic exchange in the Early Modern world