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The Jewish community, in particular, was able to prosper under Ottoman rule and its ranks were swelled with the arrival of Jews who were expelled from Spain.At the same time, non-Muslims were subject to several forms of discrimination and excluded from the Ottoman ruling elite.Nevertheless, ethnonyms never disappeared and some form of ethnic identity was preserved as evident from a Sultan's Firman from 1680, that lists the ethnic groups on the Balkan lands as follows: Greeks (Rum), Albanians (Arnaut), Serbs (Sirf), Vlachs (Eflak) and Bulgarians (Bulgar).
The systematic use of millet as designation for non-Muslim Ottoman communities dates from the reign of Sultan Mahmut II in the early 19th century, when official documentation comes to reiterate that non-Muslim subjects were organized into three officially sanctioned millets: Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Jewish.
Although Ottoman administration of non-Muslim subjects was not uniform until the 19th century and varied according to region and group, it is possible to identify some common patterns for earlier epochs.
Christian and Jewish communities were granted a large degree of autonomy.
In the Ottoman Empire, a millet was a separate court of law pertaining to "personal law" under which a confessional community (a group abiding by the laws of Muslim Sharia, Christian Canon law, or Jewish Halakha) was allowed to rule itself under its own laws.
Despite frequently being referred to as a "system", before the nineteenth century the organization of what are now retrospectively called millets in the Ottoman Empire was far from systematic.