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A defter (plural: defterler) was a type of tax register and land cadastre in the Ottoman Empire.

The information collected could vary, but tahrir defterleri typically included details of villages, dwellings, household heads (adult males and widows), ethnicity/religion (because these could affect tax liabilities/exemptions), and land use.[1] The defter-i hakâni was a land registry, also used for tax purposes.[2] Each town had a defter and typically an officiator or someone in an administrative role to determine if the information should be recorded. The officiator was usually some kind of learned man who had knowledge of state regulations. The defter was used to record family interactions such as marriage and inheritance.[3] These records are useful for historians because such information allows for a more in-depth understanding of land ownership among Ottomans. This is particularly helpful when attempting to study the daily affairs of Ottoman citizens.

Some Ottoman officials responsible for these tax registries were known as defterdars.

The term is derived from Greek diphthera διφθέρα meaning book (having pages of goat parchment, used along with papyrus as paper in Ancient Greece) borrowed into Arabic دفتر: daftar meaning book.

The term 'diphtheria' or 'diphtheritis', acute contagious disease caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae (Klebs-Loffler bacillus) has the same origin.[4]


  1. Cosgel (2004). "Ottoman Tax Registers (Tahrir Defterleri)". Historical Methods. 37 (2): 87–100. Retrieved 1 November 2011.
  2. Barnes (1987). An introduction to religious foundations in the Ottoman Empire. Brill. p. 151. ISBN 978-90-04-08652-4.
  3. Cleveland, W. L. (2004). A history of the modern Middle East. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press.

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