New Books Network

Will Smiley

From Slaves to Prisoners of War

The Ottoman Empire, Russia, and International Law

Oxford University Press 2018

New Books in Eastern European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Middle Eastern StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books Network August 18, 2020 Vladislav Lilić

In his book From Slaves to Prisoners of War: The Ottoman Empire, Russia, and International Law (Oxford University Press, 2018), Will Smiley examines the...

In his book From Slaves to Prisoners of War: The Ottoman Empire, Russia, and International Law (Oxford University Press, 2018), Will Smiley examines the emergence of rules of warfare surrounding captivity and slavery in the context of Ottoman-Russian military rivalry between 1700 and 1878. This remarkably well-researched and carefully argued monograph uncovers a vibrant inter-imperial legal regime, challenging many conventional narratives about the expansion of modern international law and the European states system. Its pages provide ample material with which we can rethink the supposed linear decline of Ottoman state power and the nature of pre-modern diplomacy, sovereignty, and governance in Eurasian empires.

While traditional accounts of modern international law mainly focus on intellectual and political developments in the Western world, Smiley shows how two states on the European periphery worked out their own rules – their own international law governing the movement of captives, slaves, and prisoners of war across imperial frontiers. The story that emerges is not one of the Ottoman state’s joining an outside system of law. On the contrary, both in the eighteenth century and the even more challenging nineteenth, the Sublime Porte actively shaped the rules by which it was bound.

Will Smiley is an Assistant Professor in the Humanities Program at the University of New Hampshire and a historian of Eurasia, the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire, and international law.


Vladislav Lilić  is a doctoral candidate in Modern European History at Vanderbilt University. His research focuses on the place and persistence of quasi-sovereignty in late Ottoman and post-Ottoman Southeastern Europe. Vladislav’s other fields of interest include the socio-legal history of empire, global history of statehood, and the history of international thought. You can reach him at vladislav.lilic@vanderbilt.edu.