Sanjak and Sandjak (other variants: sinjaq, sanjaq) are the most common English transcriptions of the Turkish word sancak, which literally means "a banner, flag". In Arabic the sanjaks were also called liwas.


Sanjaks originally were the first level subdivisions of the Ottoman Empire. They arose in the mid-14th century as military districts that were part of a military-feudal system. In addition to the paid professional army, the Ottoman army had corps of cavalry soldiers (called spahis or sipahi) who performed military service in return for estates granted by the Sultan (larger estates were called zaim or zeamet, smaller ones timar). Spahis gathered for war according to the Sanjak in which they lived, and were led by an official called a Sanjak-beg or Sanjakbey (roughly equivalent to "district governor").

With the formation of new first-level divisions, the beylerbeyliks (later eyalets and vilayets), in the late 14th century, sanjaks were mostly second level divisions.

The number of Sanjaks in the Empire varied greatly. The Tanzimat reforms of the 19th century saw the number climb to over 400, but more usually it was around 150.

Not all sanjaks were part of a province; some were in newly conquered areas that had yet to be assigned to a province and others such as Benghazi and Çatalca remained independent of the province system with their leaders reporting directly to the Porte.

The contemporary name of the Balkan region of Sandžak derives from its former status as the Ottoman Sanjak of Novi Pazar.


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