History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


IX. The Russo-Turkish war of 1768-1774 and its repercussions upon Macedonia


4. Thasos after the Russo-Turkish war


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1. Regarding the relations which prevailed between the inhabitants of Thasos and the Turks following the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-1774, two firmans of this period help us to fill in the picture. It is clear, for





one thing, that the poor rayas had not only to endure the evils of forced labour and high-handed treatment at the hands of the Turks, but were frequently exploited by their own Christian authorities.


The Turkish government had by this time begun to take a great interest in the island's potential as a source of timber for ship-building [1], and according to a firman of 23 March 1791 the rayas were often compelled to work in the forests felling large trees of dimensions suitable for the construction of vessels designed for the Turkish fleet. The rayas would then have to convey the timber with tremendous effort down to the shore, where it was to be collected by the Turks themselves.


What is more, the mubassırs (superintendents) and çavuşes (guards and attendants) that were continually coming and going through the islands victimised the inhabitants in a variety of ways, extorting money and enforcing exorbitant contributions, lodging at their houses, etc. The patience and forbearance of the islanders was eventually exhausted, and they sought the intervention of the Sultan. Selim III acknowledged their rights in the matter and issued his orders as follows: "This island will pay the taxes and contributions imposed by My sublime commands, according to what has been customary in that locality, and as the inbabitants have paid aforetime; they are not to be exposed to other kinds of vexation or tyranny. On this island there is no fixed system of contributions. Therefore, whereas in the official documents of My imperial treasury there are mentioned dispositions 'by stages', in these places where such stages are not recognised, I decree as follows: When in such places there arrives a special commissioner (ulak) engaged on urgent business of state, he must be supplied with food and horses, for which the hire shall be fixed at 10 sound akçes per hour. This payment will be received in coin from the hands of the commissioner, who shall be provided with a strong horse; but officials who are going backwards and forwards on private business are no longer to be provided with horses" [2]. But in spite of all this, the exactions did not cease.


Α great deal of the islanders' tribulations stemmed from the cupidity of some well-to-do compatriots, who were appointed as their headmen. For instance, the inhabitants of the settlement called Potamiá, in 1789, complained to the Porte that the wealthy citizens of Theológos, in order to make it easier for themselves to meet their own tax obligations, were



1. Hypsilantis, Τὰ μετὰ τὴν ἅλωσιν, pp. 571-572.


2. See document no. 3 in Vacalopoulos, Thasos, pp. 88-89.





burdening the inhabitants with taxes quite out of proportion to their circumstances, and molesting them without cease [1].


Besides the various local headmen, there existed at this period on Thasos a supreme headman, the ἀρχικοτζάμπασης (Turk. koca = elder, haş = head) or Baş Çorbacı (Head Christian notable), as he was later termed. This man resided at the capital, Theológos. The hereditary office of Baş Çorbacı was usually in the hands of the oldest and strongest Greek family in the town.


We have some interesting information about the situation on the island at the end of the 18th century from the pen of Cousinéry, French consul at Thessalonica at that time. The inhabitants, he tells us, who numbered no more than 2.500, lived in seven villages, built on precipitous slopes. Cousinéry does not give the names of these villages; no doubt he is referring to the most important ones, and in all probability they were the following: Theológos, Kástro, Mariés, Kakiráchi, Kazavíti, Áyios Geórgios, and Panayiá. The island's governor was a voyvoda, who was changed each year and was assisted by seven or eight men. Although this complement gave him the power to oppress the inhabitants, it was insufficient to protect them from the forays of pirates or of the mountaineers who descended upon them from the adjacent mainland. Never free from danger and fear, they hid the greater part of their produce in underground store-rooms, in places where the robbers would not venture to go [2]. The only time the islanders could relax with quiet minds was on days of religious feasts, when the pirates, being nearly all Greeks themselves, would also be attending to their religious duties. On such feast-days the inhabitants would throw themselves heart and soul into merrymaking, purchasing the indulgence of the ağa with suitable gifts. His guards would only intervene to check the younger men when they over-stepped the mark after imbibing too much wine.


Cousinéry observes that piracy had created such miserable conditions on the island that only custom and dire necessity kept the inhabitants attached to their farms, which afforded them but a haphazard kind of satisfaction. Only in the mountains could any real safety be found.


Yet despite it all, these unfortunate people found time and inclination to revere the remnants of their island's former greatness. The glory of its ancient civilization was a frequent topic of discussion, and the



1. See document no. 2 in Vacalopoulos, Thasos, pp. 86-87.


2. Α number of these underground store-rooms were preserved until recent years (see Kontoyiannis, Οἱ πειραταὶ καὶ ἡ Θάσος, p. 37).





island priests, who were generally more educated than the rest, sometimes made attempts at identifying the ancient monuments.


All the islanders entertained the traditional belief that they would one day be liberated. It was a "feeling", writes Cousinéry, "almost an indefinable presentiment, which one generation passed on to the next, and which made them look upon their bondage as but a temporary affliction; they would often assert 'One day we shall be free again' " [1].



2. From this point onwards we have much more extensive and detailed information about commercial activity on Thasos and the tapping of the island's resources. Its chief products are recorded as olive-oil, honey and wax. The Russian captain, Stefan Petrovitch Khmetiovskij, and the prolific Kaisarios Dapontes in the mid-eighteenth century [2], both speak with admiration of the boundless stretches of olive-groves which extended up to the foot of the mountains [3]. The islanders' olive-oil, which the inhabitants extracted in large quantities in December, constituted the most significant item of the island's revenue [4]. When the olive-harvest was good, it produced 3.000 milleroles [5]. The islanders also engaged in apiculture; with time their hives had become very numerous and gave an annual yield of 23-30 thousand francs [6].


Cultivation, on the other hand, was much neglected [7]. The islanders did not sow cereals and were thus obliged to import corn from the coastal areas of the adjacent mainland, as Khmetiovskij observed [8]. Cousinéry, however, reports that the inhabitants of a few collectivities sowed so much wheat and barley that they had more than enough for their needs. He also writes that the islanders engaged in the cultivation of vines and produced extremely good wine [9] (though the German traveller Murhard,



1. Cousinéry, Voyage, vol. 2, pp. 103-105. Regarding the review of Thasos' ancient monuments by the inhabitants in the middle of the 19th cent. and the birth of certain traditions, see Conze, Reise, p. 4.


2. Legrand, Bibliothèque grecque vulgaire, vol. 3, Paris 1880, «Κῆπος Χαρίτων», p. 66, lines 20-25, p. 162, lines 109-110.


3. Khmetiovskij, Ἡμερολόγιον, «Παρνασσὸς» 8 (1884) 239.


4. Cousinéry, ibid., vol. 2, p. 104.


5. Lascaris, Salonique à la fin du XVIII siècle, p. 57. Α millerole = 64,33 litres, or 42,450 British gallons (51.000 American).


6. Cousinéry, ibid., p. 104.


7. F. Murhard, Gemälde des griechischen Archipelagus, Berlin 1807, vol. 1, p. 241.


8. Khmetiovskij, ibid., p. 239.


9. Cousinéry, ibid., vol. 2, p. 104.





at the beginning of the 19th century, does not seem to agree [1]).


The forests of Thasos constituted for the island a great source of wealth. The inhabitants were free to cut wood from them and export considerable quantities of firewood. The income so derived went into the community treasuries and was used as capital to pay for a number of miscellaneous taxes. The islanders were not, however, allowed to cut down the large trees which yielded timber for constructional purposes or for ship-building. Ownership of such trees was the Sultan's, a fact which had unpleasant consequences for the inhabitants, for, as we have seen, the Turkish authorities imposed a great deal of forced labour upon them — and often to no purpose —, inasmuch as the islanders were forced to cut down trees and take them down to the coast (a back-breaking job), where as often as not the timber would lie rotting, without anyone bothering to collect it [2]. The suitability of the timber on Thasos for ship-building is also noted by Murhard. "Thasos", he underlines, "possesses in its trees a rich store of exceptional importance for a commercial and sea-faring nation, and could prove a great source of wealth for it". The flanks and summits of the mountains were covered with fine forests [3] of pines, oaks, plane-trees, fig-frees and hazels, such as Khmetiovskij had admired 35 years earlier [4]. But there was no system in the exploitation of the forests [5].


Murhard, in his turn, observed that there was no trace of the ancient gold-mines, though this did not mean to say that they had been exhausted. He attributed the absence of mining to the ignorance, fear and tyranny which prevailed on the island. The Greeks did not wish to attract the attention of the Turks, because they feared that they would be loaded with yet further burdens. Speaking of minerals, Murhard notes that the quarrying of marble was of particular importance. Most of the island's mountains are formed of marble and in many places it protrudes beyond the surface [6].



1. Murhard, Gemälde, vol. 1, p. 241.


2. Cousinéry, Voyage, vol. 2, p. 104.


3. Murhard, ibid., vol. 1, pp. 243-244.


4. Khmetiovski, Ἡμερολόγιον, p. 239.


5. Murhard, ibid., vol. 1, p. 244.


6. Murhard, ibid., vol. 1, p. 243.


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