The Ottoman-Russian wars of the eighteenth century reshaped the map of Eurasia and the Middle East, but they also birthed a novel concept - the prisoner of war. For centuries, hundreds of thousands of captives, civilians and soldiers alike, crossed the legal and social boundaries of these empires, destined for either ransom or enslavement. But in the eighteenth century, the Ottoman state and its Russian rival, through conflict and diplomacy, worked out a new system
of regional international law. Ransom was abolished; soldiers became prisoners of war; and some slaves gained new paths to release, while others were left entirely unprotected. These rules delineated sovereignty, redefined individuals' relationships to states, and prioritized political identity over
economic value. In the process, the Ottomans marked out a parallel, non-Western path toward elements of modern international law. Yet this was not a story of European imposition or imitation-the Ottomans acted for their own reasons, maintaining their commitment to Islamic law. For a time even European empires played by these rules, until they were subsumed into the codified global law of war in the late nineteenth century. This story offers new perspectives on the histories of the Ottoman and
Russian Empires, of slavery, and of international law.
Will Smiley is a historian of the Middle East and of international and Islamic law, with a particular interest in the Ottoman Empire. He is Assistant Professor of History and Humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. He received his PhD from the University of Cambridge and his JD from Yale Law School, and previously held fellowships in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, and in Legal History at New York University.