History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


XV. Stirrings of Greek freedom movements and activities within Macedonia at the beginning of the 19th century


3. Thasos at the beginning of the 19th century



At the end of the Russo-Turkish war of 1806-1812, an unforeseen event changed the political status of a part of the Macedonian lands — Thasos. On 30th March 1813, the Sultan, Mahmud II, ceded the island to Mehmed Ali of Egypt (see fig. 186) to repay him for his assistance in putting down a rebellion of the Wahhabis (1807 ff.) in the Hedjaz area [2].


Why did Mehmed Ali specifically request that Thasos, of all islands, should be given to him? No doubt, the most logical answer is that Thasos lies opposite Kavála — where, incidentally, he was born (see fig. 187) — and that the island was relatively fertile, so that the revenue from her taxes would maintain the poor-house (imaret) that he had founded in his native town. However, I believe that he had a more pressing reason for wanting to acquire this island; namely, in order to repay the kindness which had been shown to him by the islanders. For, according to an obscure tradition that still survives, Mehmed Ali spent his earliest years at Ágios Geórgios on Thasos, with the Greek family of Karapanayiotis, as foster-brother (sutkardeş) to the family's son, Theodoroudis. Later on, but before he had become famous, when he was wanted for murder, he took refuge with the same family. Many years after, when he had risen to the illustrious position of Pasha of Egypt, Mehmed sent a warship to Thasos to collect the Karapanayiotis family, only to discover that his benefactor had been betrayed to the Turks and hanged from the



2. See document no. 16 in Vacalopoulos, Thasos, pp. 103-106. Consequently, Perrot in his Memoires, pp. 64-65, M. Dimitsas in Ἡ Μακεδονία ἐν λίθοις ϕθεγγομένοις καὶ μνημείοις αῳζομένοις ἤτοι πνευματικὴ καὶ ἀρχαιολογικὴ παράστασις τῆς Μακεδονίας, Athens 1896, and J. Speidel in Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Geologie und Lagerstätten der Insel Thasos, Freiberg 1929, p. 11 (preface) are incorrect in stating that the island was ceded to Mehmet Ali in 1807. Incorrect also is the dating recorded by G. Fredrich in Vor den Dardanellen auf alrgriechischen Inseln und auf dem Athos, Berlin 1915, p. 112, and Fr. von Hiller in R.E. of Pauly-Wissowa. The same dating is accepted by Bart in his article «Θάσος» in the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Eleftheroudakis.





village plane-tree. Mehmet Ali had the betrayer hanged from the same tree.


This tradition is confirmed by a piece of information which I have come across in an unpublished manuscript: a diary of an unknown notable of Kazavíti. The writer notes that Theodoroudis Karapanayiotis, together with Hadji-Yiaxis, travelled to Egypt in 1835 in a ship from



Fig. 186. Mehmed Ali Pasha

Fig. 186. Mehmed Ali Pasha.



Psará; and after three months he returned in a ship belonging to Mehmed Ali Pasha. This would indicate that the two Thasiots were received in Egypt with much hospitality and with honours. Should we then discern in this fact a mark of gratitude on the part of Mehmed Ali towards the son of his benefactor?


At the time when Thasos was given to Mehmed Ali, the lessors of the





island properties were the Governor (Nazır) of Dráma, Mahmut Bey, and his partners. These men had, initially, put down a sum of 157.725 kuruş for the privilege of collecting the island rents, and thereafter paid annually 20.678 kuruş. In addition, they paid 925 kuruş for legal documents. But the Christian inhabitants paid the principal tax, which was the poll-tax, valued at 7.697 1/2 kuruş. These tax-payers were 1.236 in number, as we may conclude from the corresponding lists (evraks), in which they were grouped under three categories according to their ability to pay. Out of the above moneys, 6.475 kuruş went to the treasury of the naval-base, whilst the remainder was spent on the army.



Fig. 187. Stalue of Mehmed Ali Pasha at Kavala

Fig. 187. Stalue of Mehmed Ali Pasha at Kavala.



Besides the poll-tax, the inhabitants paid a second heavy tax yearly: the equivalent sum paid in lieu of providing a fixed quota of sailors for the Turkish navy [1]. They also paid many other lesser taxes of various description [2]; for example, a tax on bee-hives, the ispence (tax in cash payed to the sipahi by the peasants), and the zecriye (lax on wine and spirits) [3]. Additionally, they were subject to the obligation, if the need arose, of providing suitable timber for naval construction to the Imperial Navy.


In his ferman of cession, the Sultan ordered that the island's mint should allot annually to the charitable institutions of the Haremeyn (the



1. See document no. 16 in Bakalopoulos, Thasos, pp. 103-106.


2. See Cousinéry, Voyage, p. 104.


3. See documents nos. 12 and 15 in Bakalopoulos, ibid., pp. 99, 101-102.





sacred cities of Mecca and Medina) a sum equivalent to that which Thasos had been accustomed to contribute hitherto. He also granted to Mehmed Ali the right to the rents of the island and all the above-mentioned taxes, with the sole exception of the poll-tax. In the imperial land-register Thasos is described as "an estate whose complete jurisdiction is in the name of Mehmed Ali"; but the Turkish state reserved the right to receive the poll-tax, which was a symbol of the submission of the rayas [1]. The Sultan, therefore, did not divest himself entirely of his imperial rights over the rayas and their island.


Mebmet Ali, on receipt of the island, absolved the inhabitants from various taxes imposed by the Turks [2]. However, these tax-privileges, the importance of which was not to be appreciatéd by the Thasiots for a long while, had little or no effect upon the economic expansion and development of the island. Its relatively fertile soil provided adequately for the small population, so that the inhabitants felt no great inclination towards a sea-faring life. The people of such dry and infertile islands as Hydra, Spétses and Psará were forced to struggle on and risk their lives at sea; yet their efforts brought them periods of prosperity and, with it, a longing for political independence. The Thasiots, conversely, were much tied to their island and, shut off from the outer world, lived a continuous nightmare in the form of an ever-present danger from piratical raids. Such an existence engendered in the inhabitants a distinct lack of self-confidence, courage and initiative; defects so deeply embedded in their character that they were observed by travellers visiting the island in later years.


Thus, then, was the situation on Thasos when the Greek Revolution broke out in 1821, shattering the islander's relatively quiet and uneventful existence following the cession of the island to Mehmed Ali of Egypt.



1. See document no. 16 in Bakalopoulos, Thasos, pp. 103-106.


2. See document no. 41 in Bakalopoulos, ibid., pp. 128-129.


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