History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


XIV. Macedonia in the time of Ali Pasha (end of 18th century to the beginning of 19th)



Widespread disorder continued throughout Macedonia as the 18th century came to a close. The Albanian, Deli Ahmet, who periodically ravaged Sterea Hellas (and Thessalomagnesia in particular), on 29th June 1785 sailed along the coast off Zagorá with eight vessels to Kassandra, plundering Valta and killing a good number of Turks before returning to Pelion [1]. The following year, in company with Andritsos (the father of Odysseus Androutsos), he set fire to houses in Livadeiá and Almyrós. When troops from Lárisa took the field against him, he retired to Olympus, where he joined up with the klepht Lazos. Andritsos in the meanwhile made a tour of the Aegean, plundering merchant ships [2].


The outbreak of a fresh Russo-Turkish war (1787-1792) brought a renewal of revolutionary activity throughout Greece. On this occasion Luigi Sotiris made contact with the bishops Meletius of Vodená, Daniel of Véroia, Theophilus of Sérvia and Kozáni, as well as with the bishops Theophilus of Kampanía, Dionysius of Platamón, Athanasius of Pétra and Ignatius of Kítros. Two secret conventions took place, the one at Náousa and the other at Kozáni (August 1789). However, the movement failed to reach any practical conclusion [3]. Only the armatoloi of Olympus engaged in 1790 in any action. With the co-operation of the famous Greek captain Lampros Katsonis, they set upon the Moslem Albanians of the district under the pretext that they had been oppressing the inha-



1. B. Skouvaras, Τὸ παλιότερο ἀρματολίκι τοῦ Πηλίου κι οἱ Ἀρβανίτες στὴ Θεσσαλομαγνησία, 1750-1790, Volos 1960, p. 89.


2. Ibid., p. 107.


3. Protopsaltis, Ἡ ἐπαναστατικὴ κίνηαις τῶν Ἑλλήνων κατὰ τοῦ τουρκικὸν πόλεμον, ΔΙΕΕ 14 (1960) 73-76.





bitants. But when Katsonis was isolated after the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish war, the klephts of Olympus thought it prudent not to involve themselves with Ali Pasha's troops under his son Muhtar, and they withdrew with their men to the islands of the Aegean to devote themselves to piracy instead [1].


By the end of the 18th century almost half of Macedonia had gone out of cultivation. Nevertheless, the region produced 3.200.000 kilos (60.000 cwts.) of wheat, 100.000 bales of tobacco, 80.000 bales of cotton, and was exporting more than half of her remaining agricultural produce [2]. But these enormous quantities of exports deprived the peasants of their means of support and they suffered greatly from hunger [3]. After a long period of drought their situation could become grave indeed and the threat of famine very real. On such occasions the inhabitants, whatever their race, with prayer and fasting entreated the mercy of the Almighty [4]. At times like these there was a noticeable increase in robbery. Thus on 7 June 1794 the Venetian consul writes: "...in addition to a shortage of foodstuffs we now have a further scourge... We are surrounded with numerous bands of robbers who plunder everybody without distinction and lay waste the rural areas... No more provisions are being brought into the district as a result of this veritable reign of terror provoked by the robbers... There is a singular absence of provisions... the populace is troubled..." [5].


Amongst the brigands of the day the Albanians Biko, Bekir Tzogador and Numan were particularly troublesome. In league with other outlaws they overran the kazas of Ostrovo, Flórina, Édessa and Sari Göl; and basing themselves mainly on Karatás they plundered travellers passing through the region [6]. Nor was this by any means the limit of their mischief. In the end the Sultan issued orders for troops to be employed to exterminate them.


At this period too, the klephts of those regions of Thessaly and Macedonia which ajoin the Thermaïc Gulf were following Andritsos' example in pursuing an amphibious existence. More and more, after 1793, they would descend to the coast to embark in fishing-boats and plunder



1. Kasomoulis, Ἐνθυμήματα, Ι, p. 67.


2. Beaujour, Tableau, 1, p. 131.


3. Ibid., 1, p. 132.


4. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 458-459.


5. Ibid., p. 459.


6. Vasdravellis, Ἀρματολοὶ καὶ κλέϕτες, pp. 108-109.





trading vessels. The klepht-pirate Gekas, armatolos of Kateríni, who "controlled his armatolık more by his sword than anything else" [1], did not hesitate to board and take possession of a large merchantman [2].


It is more than likely that some of the villagers of Litóchoro collaborated with the pirates from time to time, if they did not actually indulge in raids themselves. They had ships at their disposal, and seem to have been fairly affluent. For one thing, they were able to build the church of St. Demetrius and the chapel of St. Dionysius in 1762. On the



Fig. 148. Inscription on the lintel of the church of St. Demetrius, Litóchoro (Chapel of St. Dionysius)

Fig. 148. Inscription on the lintel of the church of St. Demetrius, Litóchoro (Chapel of St. Dionysius).

(Photo N. Kakkalos)



builders' inscription on the lintel of the church (see fig. 148) are recorded the names of Hadji Michael, Nicholas Reïzis and 'the other skippers'.


The Sultan was obliged to seek the intervention of the Patriarch Neophytus, in the hope that he could bring his authority to bear in dissolving the klephto-piratical bands. The Patriarch sent a synodic encyclical to the Metropolitan of Thessalonica and the bishops under his jurisdiction — i.e. those of Kítros, Kampanía, Platamón, Sérvia, Polyaní (in the province of Kilkís), Pétra (Piéria), Ardaméri, and Hierissós. They were enjoined to recommend to the rayas that they co-operate with the Turkish military authorities. They need have no fear, they were



1. Kasomoulis, Ἐνθυμήματα, 1, p. 65. On the same man see also Skouvaras, Τὸ παλιότερο ἀρματολίκι, pp. 130-131.


2. Svoronos, Le commerce, p. 135. See also the song in Vasdravellis, Οἱ πολεμικοὶ ἄνδρες τῆς Μακεδονίας, «Μακεδονικὰ» 7 (1966-1967) 51-52.





assured, of reprisals nor should they entertain any conscientious scruples about killing the pirates. They must neither afford them asylum nor provide them with food and money; and they are to co-operate in running them to earth, so that not a single one should be left alive [1]. In 1795 some hundred or so pirates made a descent upon the coastal area of Vólos, and the Sultan was induced to order his admiral, Hussein, to hunt them down and exterminate them [2].


We have, too, the testimony of the Venetian consul at Thessalonica, dated 14 July 1795: "...the pirates operating in the waters of this gulf are without number. They do not employ small craft as hitherto, but possess large, well-armed vessels, and harass shipping throughout the area. I fear there might occur some incident to the detriment of the Venetian flag ... The authorities in this city are taking no measures whatever against the pirates; they are completely apathetic and incapable..." [3].


Amongst these pirates must surely be numbered the legendary Nikotsaras. When, in April 1801, he made his appearance on the Holy Mountain, Turkish troops were dispatched against him. The notorious pirate-klepht went into hiding until June, when he re-emerged to annihilate the Turkish forces at a place called Kallítsa, near the monastery of Hilandariou. The Turks stayed on his trail, and there were a number of skirmishes at various points on the Holy Mountain, before Nikotsaras was forced finally to retire to Skiathos [4].


It is interesting to recall that Carlyle was visiting the Holy Mountain at this very time. He describes a scene at Vatopédi, where a number of men (he does not, unfortunately, give their names but refers to them by the general term of 'Albanians') were drinking, dancing, singing klephtic songs, and firing shots into the air. It is very tempting to identify these men with Nikotsaras and his band who, as we know, were on Athos in April 1801. After all, the term 'Albanian' or Ἀρβανίτης at this period often signified a man in arms. Moreover, the British traveller explicitly mentions them as being for the most part klephts, adding that their appearance was ferocious and that from their behaviour it was clear that they were capable of the most dreadful deeds. Only when they



1. Alexander Lavriotis, Τὸ  Ἅγιον Ὄρος, ΕΕΒΣ 32 (1963) 164.


2. Vasdravellis, Ἀρματολοὶ καὶ κλέϕτες, pp. 109-110.


3. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, p. 462.


4. Alexander Lavriotis, ibid., pp. 164-167.





entered a church did their manner change to one of humility and contrition [1].


Another klepht to extend his operations to Athos was Vergos. It appears that from 1804 onwards, supported by the solitaries, he was causing the Turkish authorities considerable anxiety, attacking Turks and evading all attempts to capture him. The monasteries managed to escape the fury of the Turkish authorities by bribing the officials sent to enquire into the various incidents and the possibility of implication on the part of the monks [2].


To form an exact estimate of the non-Moslem population of Greater Macedonia at this period is far from easy. It is difficult, too, to determine the proportions of the various racial elements from district to district. In the sparsely populated Northern Macedonia it was the Slavs, on the whole, who were in the majority, while in the more densely populated Southern Macedonia it was the Greeks. The Christian populations were concentrated around their churches and village communities, which were in essence governed by the higher clergy. According to a contemporary, though none too reliable source, there were two arch-bishoprics, the one of Kassándria and the other of Ohrid; and there were metropolitan sees of the following districts: Thessalonica, Kastoriá, Pelagonía and Prilep, Monastir, Édessa, Karisía (no doubt Korytsá) and Selasphóros, Tiberiopolis and Strumica, Velégrada and Kónitsa (Kanína), Grevená, Sérres, Philippi and Dráma, and Melnik. Episcopal sees were Kítros, Kampanía and Pánion, Platamón-Lykostómion, Sérvia and Kozáni, Polyaní, Vardarítai, Pétra, Ardaméri, Hierissós and the Holy Mountain, Sisánion and Siátista, Moglená, Molossía, Préspa, Dévra, Záva, Chóra (no doubt Góra) and Mákri (Mókra) [3].


As was the universal custom in Greece, the metropolitans and other bishops were elected by the Synod of the Oecumenical Patriarchate, though their appointment had to be confirmed by a berat or ferman defining their privileges. One of these fermans, dated 1822 and relating to the Metropolitan of Véroia, gives us some idea of the jurisdiction exercised by these higher clerics. According to this document, the rayas,



1. Angelou, Carlyle's Journal, «Ὁ Ἐρανιστὴς» 3 (1965) 39. See also p. 58. Also see Hunt's information in Walpole, Memoires, 1, p. 199.


2. Lavriotis, Τὸ  Ἅγιον Ὄρος, pp. 167-168.


3. Anonymous, Descrizione della Macedonia, «Fundgruben des Orients» 5, Vienna (1816) 446. For the names of numerous bishops see Gelzer, Der Patriarchat von Achrida, pp. 29-31. Leake, Travels, 3, p. 270, mentions the title 'Of Moglená and Moléscha'. See mention of other sees of Westem Macedonia on p. 273, n. 2.





bishops, priests, monks and nuns had to conform to the instructions of their metropolitan. He had the right to punish disobedience and the power to appoint and dismiss bishops of his district [1]. Should the metropolitan choose to punish a Christian subject with excommunication, no one had the right to intervene [2]. Moreover, the metropolitan was the only authority competent to appoint a board to deal with questions of matrimony and divorce amongst rayas, and to impose penalties on priests and church-wardens in cases where wedlock had been illegally consecrated [3].


The metropolitan was to be left unimpeded in the exercise of his duties, whether these involved religious or financial matters, and he was not to be subjected to pressure from other sources [4]. Complaints and accusations on the part of the paşas or kadıs, concerning offences by the metropolitan and his bishops, were not be entertained or receive any official confirmation, unless they were ascertained to be genuine [5]. In addition, priests and monks were to suffer no hindrance when, with the metropolitan's permission, they visited the homes of the rayas to perform their religious duties, provided they did not "cause annoyance to or abuse others" (of the Moslem faith, understood) [6].


In travelling about his diocese the metropolitan was free to wear his robes, and gendarmes were forbidden no put obstacles in his way with a view to extracting money [7]. The metropolitan undertook the custody of any bishops, priests or monks who were apprehended in accordance with Islamic law, and he was not obliged to have a guard of janissaries against his will [8]. As to the conversion of rayas, it was emphasized that such conversions to Islam must be voluntary and must never be imposed by force [9].


Notwithstanding, the situation for the ordinary people, as far as religion was concerned, had changed very little. Even for the repair of



1. Pan. Zepos, Ἀνέκδοτα τουρκικὰ ἔγγραϕα ἐκ τῶν Ἀρχείων Βέροιας καὶ Θεσσαλονίκης, ΑΙΚ11 (1944) 75.


2. Ibid., p. 78.      3. Ibid., p. 75.      4. Ibid., p. 76.      5. Ibid., p. 77.      6. Ibid., p. 76.


7. Ibid., p. 76. See also p. 78.


8. Ibid., p. 78.


9. Ibid., p. 76. See also pp. 79-82, where there is a ferman of 1856 with general religious and other injunctions.





a church special permission had to be obtained from the Sublime Porte or the local Turkish authorities [1].


In Western Macedonia conditions were particularly wretched. Hordes of Albanians were overrunning the rural areas and subjecting the inhabitants to various forms of persecutions. Even after Ali Pasha had finally imposed his domination upon the powerful beys and brigands, there was no appreciable change in the situation. From 1800 onwards events enacted on the wider international stage began to have serious repercussions within the Ottoman empire. The Porte feared French expansion, and, with Napoleon busily engaged on his Egyptian campaign-landings on the coast of Epirus and the Peloponnese seemed not improbable. During the period when the Napoleonic Wars were ravaging the whole of Europe, the enslaved populations of the Balkans could hardly go unaffected. Α number of Turkish paşas (e. g. Pasvantoglu Pasha of Vidin and Ali Pasha of Yannina) seized the oppurtunity to consolidate their position and achieve and increasing measure of independence [2].


This state of affairs, coupled with the war with France, brought Turkey to a state of economic exhaustion. The constant increase in the price of gold was accompanied by speculation and a rise in the cost of living. In consequence, the Sultan was compelled to fix by decree the value of the various gold coins, and to take measures to prevent the outflow of gold to foreign countries (this forming at that time the chief basis of foreign exchange) [3].



1. Turkish Documents, 5 (1827-1839), Skopje 1958, pp. 49-50 (in the Skopje dialect).


2. Turkish Documents, 1 (1800-1803), Skopje 1951, pp. 56 ff.


3. Turkish Documents, 1, pp. 75-78.


[Previous] [Next]

[Back to Index]