History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


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


2. Southern or Lower Macedonia


(ii) The Jurisdiction of Ismail Bey of Sérres over Eastern Macedonia


 __1_   —   __2_   —   __3_


1. About the end of the 18th century, a rumour that Ali Pasha was planning a lightning advance upon Central and Eastern Macedonia had struck fear into the paşas of those regions. His powerful enemy, Ismail Bey of Sérres, having imposed his authority on the other beys of the region so as to rule thereafter as a dictator, was quick to fortify both the old and the new town with a second wall, and had the gates closed each evening [2]. Though the wall was not all that strong, it gave the soldiers guarding it time to sound the alarm [3].


The rumour of Ali's proposed attack had in fact some kernel of truth. As a reward for crushing the Souliotes, the Sublime Porte had created him Rumeli valisi. And a little later he had been entrusted with the task of eliminating the Moslem and Christian brigands (hayduts) who infested Macedonia and Thrace, operating usually on horseback. These brigands were supported by the local magnates, Kara Feïzi, Paşa of Skopje, and Halil, Paşa of Samokovo. So it was that at the end of the summer of 1804, Ali Pasha set out at the head of 5.000 Albanian soldiers, and succeeded in disbanding the brigands, restoring order to the areas in question. During this operation he got as far as Philippopolis (Plovdiv) and Sofia, everywhere oppressing the natives and extorting money from them on the pretext that he needed it for the successful execution of his operations [4].


During this expedition, Ali also passed through the district of Sérres and the Strymon; upon which he added to his forces the cavalry of Sérres and the fief-holders of Melnik [5]. Alarmed at Ali's rapidly growing power, the Porte commanded him to return to Epirus, and



2. Cousinéry, Voyage, 1, pp. 147-148, 160. See also a comparison of Ali Pasha and Ismail Bey in Leake, Travels, 3, pp. 202-203.


3. Cousinéry, ibid., 1, p. 161.


4. Aravantinos, Ἱστορία τοῦ Ἀλῆ πασᾶ pp. 176-177.


5. See Spandonides, Μελένικος, p. 30.





Map 13. The extent of Ali Pasha's paşalık in Macedonia, and the area under the jurisdiction of Ismail Bey of Sérres (at the beginning of the 19th century)

Map 13. The extent of Ali Pasha's paşalık in Macedonia, and the area under the jurisdiction of Ismail Bey of Sérres (at the beginning of the 19th century).





at the same time divested him of the office of Rumeli valisi [1].


At this period Ali Pasha of Yánnina, Ismail Bey of Sérres and Ibrahim Pasha of Skodra were the most powerful provincial governors of European Turkey. Around 1807 Ismail's authority extended northwards beyond the present-day Greek frontier and the frontier of Greater Macedonia as far as the districts of Sarkiena, Sofia and Philippopolis, southwards to the mountains that bound the plain of the Strymon, westwards to Istip, and eastwards to Gömulcina (Komotiní), including all the aforementioned cities (see map 13). His army does not seem to have normally exceeded 2.000 men, but in time of need he could put fifteen or twenty thousand in the field [2].



Fig. 166. Zincirli Camı at Sérres

Fig. 166. Zincirli Camı at Sérres.

(Photo G. Keroplastes)



According to Leake the population of the big provinces of Skodra, Thessalonica and Sérres was divided more or less equally between Christians and Moslems, with possibly some slight weighting in favour of the latter (see fig. 166), because many Greeks had emigrated, while others had embraced Islam in the hope of escaping the terrible oppressions of fanatical Moslems [3]. East of the Strymon and as far as the Aegean and inland as far as the Balkan Range, the proportion, writes Leake, was two Turks to one Greek; an estimate which, of course, takes into ac-



1. Aravantinos, Ἱστορία τοῦ Ἀλῆ πασᾶ, p. 177.


2. See Leake's account in Harold W. Temperley, History of Serbia, London 1919, p. 332. See also Leake, Travels, 3, 202.


3. Temperley, ibid., pp. 332-333.





count the populations of the large cities of Adrianople and Constantinople [1]. Especially dense was the Turcoman population of Yürüks, which lived in the triangle of land between Thessalonica, Sérres and Monastir, and in Sari Göl and the area north of Sérres. They were reckoned capable of putting 20.000 experienced fighting men into the field [2].


Sérres was a city of some considerable size, with 25-30.000 inhabitants. Of these, twelve to fifteen thousand were Turks, the rest Christians. There were also a small number of Jews [3]. The city was at the



Map 14. The position of Sérres as a commercial centre at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries

Map 14. The position of Sérres as a commercial centre at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries.



meeting-place of several roads, which connected it (1) with Zíchna, Dráma and Kavála; (2) with Nevrokop; and (3) with Siderókastro. The last route continued beyond Siderókastro, branching later right to Melnik and left to Strumica. The fourth and fifth roads out of Sérres



1. Temperley, History of Serhia, p. 333.


2. See Leake's in Temperley, ibid., p. 333.


3. Beaujour, Voyage, vol. 1, p. 217. See also Lascaris, Salonique, p. 27. On the population and appearance of the city at the beginning of the 19th century see Leake, Travels, 3, pp. 200-201.





led to Doïráni and to Thessalonica (see map 14) [1]. Sérres was under the jurisdiction of the paşa or the beylerbey of Rumeli, whose headquarters were at Monastir. The ağa of Sérres (according to the consul Arasy, he bore the title of voyvoda [2]) was reckoned amongst the most powerful in Macedonia [3]. Judicial authority at Sérres was represented by the kadı, whose term of office was limited to one year. So too was that of the yeniçeri ağası, the commander of the Janissaries; though later on we find this office replaced by that of the serdar (chief of the local constabulary, we might say) appointed by the bey [4]. There was continual friction between the body of Janissaries and the Sipahis [5].


By wise and firm administration Ismail Pasha had succeeded in establishing law and order throughout his paşalık, and the favourable conditions attracted a good number of merchants, who found themselves protected and indeed encouraged in their businesses [6]. In addition to cotton these merchants exported Morocco leather that was famed throughout Turkey for its fine workmanship, and they imported from the German lands various items of haberdashery, jewelry, brocades and, most of all, cotton and woollen textiles. Sérres had in fact become the chief centre for the importation of textiles, serving the whole of Macedonia and rivalling in importance the market of Thessalonica, which was stocked with French textiles [7]. In consequence, the population of Sérres had risen considerably within a short span of years, and Ismail Pasha came to be regarded as the city's new founder [8].


The city fell into two distinct parts. The old quarter, called varoş (suburbs) — a term used by the Turks to signify the district inhabited by Christians and Jews — was inhabited, according to Cousinéry [9] and Leake [10], by Greeks and Bulgarians. However, this fact has been disputed by the eminent Greek philologist, P. Papageorgiou, who at the end of the 19th century expressly stated that there were no Bulgarians



1. Leake, Travels, 3, pp. 207-208. See also Lascaris, Salonique, p. 26. For the importance of Sérres' trade see Mano, Resumé géographique, p. 524.


2. Lascaris, ibid., p. 26.


3. Beaujour, Tableau, 1, pp. 56-57.


4. Cousinéry, Voyage, 1, p. 165.


5. Lascaris, ibid., p. 27.


6. Cousinéry, ibid., 1, p. 149.


7. Cousinéry, ibid., pp. 163, 164.


8. Cousinéry, ibid., p. 149.


9. Cousinéry ibid., 1, p. 159.


10. Leake, ibid., 3, pp. 201, 206.





living in Sérres [1]. It is quite possible that the evidence of the two travellers is not altogether accurate, or that, by Papageorgiou's time, what few Bulgarians there had been in Sérres when Leake and Cousinéry visited the city had dispersed to other towns. There were also a number of Jewish families living in the varoş [2].


In the centre of the old quarter towered the metropolitan church. Tradition has it that this was constructed on the remains of an ancient pagarı temple and that the columns which support its interior had in



Fig. 167. Church of Saints Theodori at Sérres. South-west side

Fig. 167. Church of Saints Theodori at Sérres. South-west side.

(Photo G. Keroplastes)



fact belonged to that building (see fig. 167) [3]. In accordance with the tradition preserved everywhere throughout the last centuries of the Byzantine era and throughout the years of Turkish rule [4], the archbishop acted as judge in any disputes arising amongst the Christians under his jurisdiction; and in any controversy between members of his flock and the ağas he would act as intermediary [5].



1. See Papageorgiou, Αἱ Σέρραι καὶ τὰ προάστεια, ΒΖ 3 (1894) 246, note 1.


2. Cousinéry, Voyage, 1, p. 159.


3. Cousinéry, ibid., 1, p. 161.


4. See Vacalopoulos, Ἱστορία, vol. 1, pp. 200-201.


5. Cousinéry, ibid., 1, pp. 161-162. See other details in Leake, Travels, 3, p. 205.





The city of Sérres stands in the plain of the same name. Indeed, long famed for its fertility, the plain of Sérres was the prime source of the region's prosperity. Cereals constituted the most important item. Α tithe of each year's harvest was levied by the Porte towards provisioning the capital and collected at the port of Orfanós [1]. The production of tobacco [2] and of cotton moreso [3] was also considerable. The plain



Fig. 168. The covered market (Bezesten) at Sérres

Fig. 168. The covered market (Bezesten) at Sérres.

(Photo G. Keroplastes)



of Sérres supported a large population, which was wholly Greek, a fact noted by the French consul at Thessalonica, J. V. Arasy, in a report dated 24 April 1777 [4]. According to the English traveller Clarke there were as many as 300 villages situated on the plain in close proximity to each other [5], and divided into units termed ağalıks (30-40 villages com-



1. Lascaris, Salonique, p. 26.


2. Clarke, Travels, vol. 2, p. 404.


3. Lascaris, ibid., p. 26. See also Beaujour, Tableau, vol. 1, p. 217.


4. Lascaris, ibid., p. 27. See also the study of Ivan Katardziev, The District of Serres (1780-1879), (Skopje dialect), Skopje 1961, pp. 11 ff.; though there is herein an attempt to diminish the extent of the Greek population. On the Greek dialect spoken at Sérres and the surrounding villages, particularly in the Darnaeochória, see Papageorgiou, Αἱ Σέρραι καὶ τὰ προάστεια, ΒΖ 3 (1894) 284-285.


5. Clarke, ibid., 2, p. 404.





posing one ağalık). The most important agalıks were those of Dráma, Zíchna, and Sérres. Each ağa collected a tenth of the cotton produced. In time of war he was under the obligation to put a fixed number of men into the field [1].


Relations between the various ağas were far from amicable; yet the endless friction which existed between them appears to have been viewed with complete indifference by the Porte. As we have noted, the ağa of Sérres was one of the most powerful in Macedonia and could count on 5.000 men for his service [2]. By the beginning of the 19th century, the ağa, in the person of Ismail Bey, had gained complete supremacy in that region.


The trade fair held at Sérres (see fig. 168) was not only frequented by the peasants of the rural areas, who came from a considerable distance around to exchange their agricultural products for foreign or local manufactured articles: it was also attended by merchants from a large portion of European Turkey, who came to purchase raw cotton both for resale at home and abroad and for the manufacture of thread which was dispatched to Hungary and Poland. In years when the harvest was good, Greek and French merchants used to send more than 30-40.000 bales of cotton to Austria and Germany, importing in return textiles, including brocades, and other manufactured goods. Thus, the two items that formed the basis of exchange were raw cotton and manufactured cloth [3], Austria and Germany importing from Macedonia the raw material and returning the manufactured products in exchange.



2. In the mountainous region of Central Macedonia there were a large number of small villages, comprising from between 5 and 100 houses. These were known by the general term Yürük Mahalle, and were inhabited, as the name suggests, by the celebrated Yürüks. The Greeks called them Koniari, an appellation that recalls their descent from those first Turkish peoples who were transferred from Asia Minor to Macedonia, following its conquest, with a view to keeping the Christian population firmly in subjection. They enjoyed a fair number of privileges, and were administered by the Yürük bey, who was appointed by the



1. Beaujour, Tableau, vol. 1, pp. 55-56. See complimentary information in Leake, Travels, vol. 3, p. 203. On the merchants of Sérres see pp. 203-204.


2. Beaujour, Tableau, vol. 1, pp. 55-57.


3. Leake, ibid., vol. 3, p. 207. See also Cousinéry, Voyage, pp. 49, 163. On the covered market of Sérres see Pennas, Σερραϊκὰ Χρονικά, Ι (1953), pp. 111-113.





dignitaries of the Porte. To him and him only did they owe allegiance. The bey was assisted in his administration by a number of subordinate officers termed çeri başıs, chosen by him from the body of Yürüks. Α certain number of Yürük families were, however, obliged to contribute a fixed number of men towards the formation of the so-called Yürük army (Yürük askeri or miri askeri) [1]. The chief concentration of Yürük settlements were to be found in the regions of Gömulcina, Dráma, Nevrokop, Sérres, Strumica, Radović, Tikves and Kara Dag [2].


Though herdsmen by tradition, the Yürüks were applying themselves, by the 18th century, to the manufacture of a coarse woollen cloth called aba, which was widely used in their attire. In fact, quantities of this material were distributed not only throughout the other parts of the Ottoman empire, but via the trading companies of Thessalonica were also exported abroad (to Marseilles, Venice and Leghorn) [3].


The two villages of Sochós and Nigríta came under the jurisdiction of Ismail Bey of Sérres, even though, geographically speaking, they belong to Central Macedonia. They lie north of the Chalcidic Peninsula, between the Strymon and the lakes of Ayíou Vasileíou and Vólvi. Sochós is reported to have maintained a school [4]. Cousinéry believes that the village had been built on the ruins of an older city, Letí, which had been the seat of the Archbishop of Letí and Rendína (he was to learn later from the Metropolitan of Thessalonica that this archbishopric had ceased to exist). In Cousinéry's day, Sochós belonged to the archbishopric of Sérres, and Rendína to that of Thessalonica [5]. When he visited the village, he found it in a desperate condition as a result of a recent epidemic. Most of the victims had been Turks. As if the catastrophe was not enough, the unfortunate villages had been subjected to the persecutions of an ağa, tributary to the bey of Sérres; and in consequence of these two misfortunes the population had been reduced by half [6].


Making his way northwards, Cousinéry visited Nigríta, which was inhabited entirely by Greeks. Here he had been the guest of the ecclesiastical steward (ἐκκλησιαστικὸς οἰκονόμος) who was also one of the



1. Anonymous, Descrizione della Macedonia, «Fundgruben des Orients» 5 (Viennal816), p. 447.


2. Leake, Travels, vol. 3, p. 175.


3. Lascaris, Salonique, p. 22.


4. Evangelides, Ἡ παιδεία ἑπὶ τουρκοκρατίας, 1, p. 151.


5. Cousinéry, Voyage, 2, p. 59. See also Anonymous, Descrizione della Macedonia, ibid., 5, p. 444.


6. Cousinéry, ibid., p. 55. See also Leake, ibid., 3, pp. 230-231.





village notables. The Frenchman is prompted at this point in his account to praise Greek hospitality. He affirms that there were no Turks in the township. The inhabitants were chiefly engaged in farming, but dye-works, gold-smiths' and coppersmiths' shops, etc., contributed to a lively trade. That Nigríta was a commercial centre of some standing is testified by the bazaar which was held there. This served not only the little township itself but also the numerous villages of the surrounding plain, which found themselves at some considerable distance from



Fig. 169. Dráma in Turkish times

Fig. 169. Dráma in Turkish times.

(Archives οf Ι.Μ.Χ.Α.)



the larger centre of Sérres. In the fertile Nigríta district cotton was grown and vineyards were plentiful. Not far from Nigrïta was the village of Sírpa, also inhabited wholly by Greeks and administered by local dignitaries, elected by the villagers themselves, without any interference from the bey of Sérres [1].



3. At Dráma (see fig. 169), situated at the foot of a hill, the chief administrator was Mehmed Bey, who owned a large portion of the surrounding plain. Mehmed Bey is much better known in Greek history as Dramali Pasha, the man assigned (together with Paso Bey) by the Sultan to the two-fold task of doing away with Ali Pasha and of exterminating the Greek insurgents. The second endeavour ended in tragedy for Dramali, when in 1822 the Turkish army he was commanding was



1. Cousinéry, Voyage, pp. 52-54. See also Leake, Travels, 3, pp. 225-226.





annihilated in an engagement with Greek revolutionaries at Dervenáki, in the Peloponnese.


The abundant supplies of water in the Dráma region greatly favoured rice-culture as well as dyeing and tanning [1].


Among the other towns of Eastern Macedonia must be mentioned Kavála (see fig. 170), a small fortress town lying on a peninsula [2]. It had about 3.000 inhabitants, [3] Greek and Turk (the latter being in the



Fig. 170. Kavála

Fig. 170. Kavála.

(Photo G. Lykides)



majority) [4]. It was administered by a mütesellim (paşa's representative), who was attached to the paşa of Thessalonica. Besides the kadı, the other important office was that of the dizdar or garrison commander [5], who was appointed by the Porte and held the additional title of voyvoda. To him were entrusted the state prisoners, who were held in custody within the castle.



1. Cousinéry, Voyage, vol. 2, pp. 6-7.


2. Lascaris, Salonique, p. 28.


3. Beaujour, Tableau, 1, p. 118.


4. Clarke, Travels, 2, p. 414. On the connection between Neapolis and Kavála see ibid., 2, pp. 417 ff.


5. Cousinéry, ibid., 2, pp. 61, 71.





Kavála was a trading post of considerable importance. Goods camé in from Egypt, Smyrna and Thasos, destined for the interior; and from out of the port went vessels loaded with cast-iron canon-balls produced at the small neighbouring town of Právista for the naval station at Constantinople. The French had set up a trading company at Kavála, which handled imports from France and her colonies for the markets of Yenitsá, Dráma, Komotiní and other places. To Marseilles was shipped wool from the above-mentioned districts, cotton from the plain of Sérres, rice from Dráma, oil and honey from Thasos, and tobacco from the plain of Yenice Kara Su [1]. Tobacco of the Kavála region was famous then as now, especially that grown at Yenice Kara Su, which was sent to Constantinople for the palace dignitaries [2]. The port of Kavála had but limited facilities and was not suitable for warships either as an anchorage or for their protection [3].



1. Lascaris, Salonique, pp. 28-29. See also Cousinéry, Voyage, vol. 2, p. 62. On Právista, a smelly little town at this period, and its caravanserai, see Clarke, Travels, 2, pp. 407-408.


2. Beaujour, Tableau, pp. 91-92. See also Clarke, ibid., 2, p. 411. On Yenice Kara Su and its products see pp. 423-425.


3. Lascaris, ibid., p. 29.


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