The word Ferman is derived from a Persian infinitive meaning to command, to order and denotes a degree, edict or a sovereign’s sign. As a term, Ferman is a written command bearing a sultanictuğra (cipher) issued in connection with the awarding by the ruler of an appointment or position and an indication of the accompanying duties and responsibilities. Fermans are generally written a characteristic style of handwriting, called Divani and ordinarily display a sign peculiar to the ruling sultan and the sovereignty. It may be gilded and displays a diversity of colors and motifs or it may be left plain and ungilded. An examination of the text of a ferman discloses the following main characteristics:
a) A formulaic invocation. The phrase “in God’s name”, uttered as a preliminary to the inscribing of the ferman, typically appears in the form “Hu” or “Huve” (“He” i.e., God). This formula is also employed on documents other than fermans. This formula may be inscribed plainly or as part of an ornamental device.
b) The occurrence of the word ferman in the body of the text.
c) The name of the person to whom the ferman is awarded or dispatched, the social rank and position, addressed in phraseology conforming to the rank and position of the address.
d) The reason for the issuance of the ferman and what is required in accordance with same.
e) Phrases indicating the wishes and requests or blessing extended to the imperial servant in complying with the command and its successful execution.
f) The place name and date where the inscribing of the ferman occurred.
Ferman written and dispatched bearing to sultan’s tuğra were designated “emr-i şerif” (noble order) or “ferman-i humayun” (august command). Other Fermans, which contain in the upper right hand corner, generally in a decorative frame, the expression “Mucibince amel olunca (i.e., “Let it be thus executed) inscribed in the sultan’s own hand, were classed as such (viz., hatt-ı hümayunla müveşşah). Fermans are the most important documents in the fields of diplomacy, law, charitable donations and foundations, history and economics from the Ottoman period.
Of Arabic origin, the word berât signifies an inscribed piece of paper or letter. As a historical term, berât, or patent, indicates records bestowing appointments in the Ottoman Empire and which specify the responsibilities and alternately called biti, berât-ı şerif, and nişân-ı şerif. The contents of the patent indicates the kind of appointment, the place, the amount of the revenue or salary, the appointee’s name, the reason for the appointment, and what is required of the appointee; in the case of a conferral as military commander or other important position, the sphere of the authority of the awardees are specified. Patents are classified according to the type of appointment, such as a service or land grant, tax farm of public revenues, tax exemption, the usufruct of public lands, a special privilege; administrative positions, like that of a military-administrative provincial governorship, the officer who drew the sultanic cipher, the minister of finance, and viziership; qualification for a specialized position or function, for instance, prayer leader, preacher, titular custodian of sacred tombs, or physician.
Patents for a minor, or grade three, service and tîmar (land grant) indicate, after specifying the identity of the appointee, the name of the provincial district, judicial district, and village, the kind of service or land grant, whether the appointment is being made for the first time, a renewal, or a transfer from another holder, the amount of the annual revenue, and the service to be executed by the holder are explicitly stated. Patents for tax exemption state the name of the person awarded the exemption and to which taxes and duties it applies. On the accession of a new sultan, all diplomas and patents were subject to renewal and the renewed diploma and patent bore the tuğra of the newly acceded sultan. In this circumstance, the diploma or patent included the phrase tecdid-i nberat, in reference to its renewal.
Both diplomas and fermans were comprised of certain parts. The very first phrase consisted in a formulaic invocation. Variations include “Hu” or “Huve” as well as Hüve’l-mü’in; Huve’l-ganiyyu’l-mugni’l-mu’in; “Huve’llauhu’l-mu’l-fettah”; and “Zikru’llahi te’ala a’la”.
Once the document bore the sultan’s tuğra, reference was made in the text to the existence of this sign, which was not found on other records issued in the name of the sultan. Formulae included “Nişan-i humayun oldur ki”; “Nisan-i serif-i alisan-i sultani” and “Tugra-yi garra-yi cihan-sian-i hakani hukmu oldur ki”. Other basic elements of the diploma or patent were the cognomen, narration, stipulations, corroboration, date and name of the locale wherein inscribed.