Dr Tobias P. Graf

  • entangled history of Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire
  • religious conversion, particularly in the context of the social and political integration of migrants
  • intelligence and decision making

My doctoral research into so-called renegades was undertaken as part of the interdisciplinary research project Dynamic Asymmetries in Transcultural Flows at the Intersection of Asia and Europe: The Case of the Ottoman Empire at the Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe in a Global Context, Heidelberg University. During this time, my colleagues and I came to conceptualize the Ottoman Empire as ‘well-connected domains’, both internally and with regard to the rest of the world, especially Christian Europe. My work in Oxford will build on this interest, as I continue undertaking research into the social infrastructure which enabled, facilitated, and sustained flows of information and people between the two entities with special reference to Eastern Christians from the Arab-speaking provinces of the Empire. Amongst other things, I am a member of the Working Group Ottoman Europe (Arbeitskreis Das osmanische Europa).

My previous work has investigated Christian-European converts to Islam in the late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Ottoman Empire and their place in the Ottoman imperial enterprise as well as Euro-Ottoman relations. I was particularly struck by the extent of continuity between converts’ lives before and after conversion which clearly contradict older postulations that the value of such aliens in the sultan’s service consisted in the severance of all ties except those to the ruler. Embedding Christian-European converts to Islam into the socio-cultural context of the Ottoman elite in this period shows that such ideas are highly misleading and that, instead, continuing ties were not only tolerated, but constituted an important resource in building a career in the sultan’s service. ‘Renegades’ thus are quintessential examples of what Natalie Rothman has called trans-imperial subjects.

In 2015, I was awarded a two-year grant by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation to investigate Austrian-Habsburg intelligence during the late sixteenth century. In this endeavour, the Ottoman Empire of course played a key role as the Habsburgs’ ‘archenemy’ (Erbfeind) and chief imperial rivalry in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. The project has been envisioned not merely as a contribution to the history of diplomacy and ‘international’ relations, but also to Austrian-Habsburg administrative history and the cultural history of political decision-making in the spirit of Wesley K. Wark’s enjoinder that the task of intelligence history is to explain ‘how governments think and act’. Publications drawing on this research are currently in preparation and the grant has already permitted me to publish an edition of an exceptional series of ambassadorial expenditure accounts of relevance to those interested in studying the cultural and material history of diplomacy (Der Preis der Diplomatie: Die Abrechnungen der kaiserlichen Gesandten an der Hohen Pforte, 15801583 [The price of diplomacy: Expenditure accounts of the Imperial ambassadors to the Sublime Porte, 1580–3] (Heidelberg: heiBOOKS, 2016), doi: 10.11588/heibooks.70.60).

The Sultan’s Renegades: Christian-European Converts to Islam and the Making of the Ottoman Elite, 1575–1610

The Sultan’s Renegades: Christian-European Converts to Islam and the Making of the Ottoman Elite, 1575–1610 (Oxford University Press, 2017)

The figure of the renegade—a European Christian or Jew who had converted to Islam and was now serving the Ottoman sultan—is omnipresent in all genres produced by those early modern Christian Europeans who wrote about the Ottoman Empire. As few contemporaries failed to remark, converts were disproportionately represented among those who governed, administered, and fought for the sultan. Unsurprisingly, therefore, renegades have attracted considerable attention from historians of Europe as well as students of European literature. Until very recently, however, Ottomanists have been surprisingly silent on the presence of Christian-European converts in the Ottoman military-administrative elite.

The Sultan's Renegades inserts these 'foreign' converts into the context of Ottoman elite life to reorient the discussion of these individuals away from the present focus on their exceptionality, towards a qualified appreciation of their place in the Ottoman imperial enterprise and the Empire's relations with its neighbours in Christian Europe. Drawing heavily on Central European sources, this study highlights the deep political, religious, and cultural entanglements between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe beyond the Mediterranean Basin as the 'shared world' par excellence. The existence of such trans-imperial subjects is not only symptomatic of the Empire's ability to attract and integrate people of a great diversity of backgrounds, it also illustrates the extent to which the Ottomans participated in processes of religious polarization usually considered typical of Christian Europe in this period. Nevertheless, Christian Europeans remained ambivalent about those they dismissed as apostates and traitors, frequently relying on them for support in the pursuit of familial and political interests.


  • Exploring the Contact Zone: A Critical Assessment from the Perspective of Early Modern Euro-Ottoman History

  • Best of Enemies: Europeans in the Ottoman Elite

  • Keeping Secrets in Sixteenth-Century Istanbul

  • The Sultan's Renegades

  • Trans-Imperial Nobility: The Case of Carlo Cigala (1556–1631)

  • More

‘Keeping Secrets in Sixteenth-Century Istanbul’, OUPblog, 22 August 2017, https://blog.oup.com/2017/08/sixteenth-century-spies-istanbul/.



List of site pages