Although Turkish armies always contained bashi-bazouk adventurers as well as regular soldiers, the strain on Ottoman feudal system caused mainly by the Empire's wide expanse required heavier reliance on irregular soldiers. They were armed and maintained by the government, but did not receive pay and did not wear uniforms or distinctive badges. They could fight either mounted or dismounted, chiefly the latter, but were incapable of undertaking major military operations, because of their lack of discipline. Their uncertain temper occasionally made it necessary for the Turkish regular troops to disarm them by force, but they were often useful in the work of reconnaissance and in outpost duty. Ottoman army consisted of :
Under the best conditions, an Ottoman Commander-in-Chief would be able muster hundreds of thousands of soldiers and lead an excursion into Austria or Iran, whichever posed the greatest threat, capturing or extorting sufficient lands or monies to cover the expenses of the next campaign in the process. Frequently, the actual number of soldiers deployed to the battle field were one order of magnitude less. On the eve of battle an Ottoman commander would tap any source of manpower he saw fit: Hiring mercenaries was one of them. The hiring process occurred in an open market, with prices determined by negotiation between the mercenary troop leader and an Ottoman commander. Prices were affected by the quality and quantity of mercenary troop available as well as commander's requirements. Oral negotiations usually led to a written contract. Some of these documents survive today, often showing small mercenary leaders contracting for very high amounts.
The bashi-bazouk were notorious for being brutal and undisciplined, thus giving the term its second, colloquial meaning of "undisciplined bandit" in many languages. A notable example of this use is in the French and English translation of the comic series Tintin, where the word is often used as an expletive by Captain Haddock.
Their usage was abandoned by the end of the 18th century. However, self-organized bashi-bozouk troops still appeared later, as for example crushing the Bulgarians' April uprising in 1876 where they brutally slaughtered (in larger estimates) thousands of people.
The term "bashibozouk" has also been used for a mounted force, existing in peacetime in various provinces of the Ottoman empire, which performed the duties of gendarmerie.