was an interpreter, translator
, and official guide between Turkish, Arabic, and Persian-speaking countries and polities of the Middle East and European embassies, consulates, vice-consulates and trading posts. A dragoman had to have a knowledge of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and European languages.
The position took particular prominence in the Ottoman Empire, where demand for the mediation provided by dragomans is said to have been created by the resistance on the part of the Muslim Ottomans to learn the languages of non-Muslim nations. The office incorporated diplomatic as well as linguistic duties—namely, in the Porte's relation with Christian countries—and some dragomans thus came to play crucial roles in Ottoman politics. The profession tended to be dominated by ethnic Greeks, including the first Ottoman Grand Dragoman Panayotis Nicosias, the official interpreter for the Divan
(Council) of the Sultan
, and Alexander Mavrocordatos. But this dominance changed in 1821 with the start of the Greek insurrection
and eventual independence; the last Greek grand dragoman, Stavraki Aristarchi, was charged with complicity
with the rebels and executed. With unanswered correspondence
accumulating, the chief naval instructor, one Ishak Efendi, took over the position and became a pioneer in translation
of Western scientific literature into Turkish, a task
for which he had to create an entirely new vocabulary. Following Ishak, the grand dragoman and his staff were Muslims, and the Translation Office (Tercüme Odası
, "Translation Room", in Turkish), with its familiarity with things European, became a new major ladder to influence and power in the Tanzimat era; this knowledge largely replaced the older ladders of the army, the bureaucracy
, and the religious establishment in the mid- and late-19th century.
It became customary that most hospodars of the Phanariote rule (roughly 1711–1821) over the Danubian Principalities (Moldavia and Wallachia) would previously have occupied this Ottoman office, a fact which did not prevent many of them from joining conspiracies that aimed to overthrow Turkish rule over the area.