History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


III. The repercussions of the Battle of Ankara (1403) on affairs in Northern Greece


3. Thessalonica under the Venetians and the hostilities between Venetians and Turks in Macedonia (1423-1430)



The Venetian occupation of Thessalonica (1423-1430) was brief but oppressive. Upon the signing of the agreement between Venice and Thessalonica, six Venetian galleys, one Byzantine galley, and numerous other smaller craft sailed into Thessalonica. On the 14th September (the 'Day of the Elevation of the Cross') the two Venetian governors (Provveditori), Sancto Venier and Niccolò Georgi — the former bearing the title of 'duke' and the latter of 'captain' — disembarked triumphantly in a festive atmosphere. Amidst the applause of the populace, they hoisted the flag of St. Mark in the central square, perhaps the place of the old Roman market-place, where the Πλατεία Δικαστηρίων is today. This was followed by a 'Te Deum', and a new standard was raised upon the city walls.





The jubilation, however, of both Venetians and Thessalonians was short-lived. Murad was soon to display his hostile disposition towards the Venetians. He spurned their proposals for peace and instructed them to quit the city forthwith, since it belonged to him. He could not, after all, be expected to tolerate a wedge of foreign sea - power in the flanks of his empire. He applied pressure to Thessalonica from every quarter, cutting the city off from its rich and productive hinterland, so that it wasted away from poverty and decay. Α large number of its inhabitants were driven to selling their very weapons and forsaking their homes to find safety elsewhere. The city became more desolate and moribund as each day passed.


The attitude of the Venetians brought bitter disappointment to the Thessalonians, for their new masters disregarded the terms of the agreement and trod underfoot the citizens' ancient prerogatives. In fact, the behaviour of the Venetians towards the populace was high-handed and tyrannical: they proved themselves, one may truly say, despotic rulers.


Not unnaturally, many of the Thessalonians began to have serious misgivings over the surrender of the city, amongst them Andronicus himself, who together with other city notables began to nourish conspiratorial designs. The ranks of those inclined to favour submission to the Turks began to swell. The Venetians, however, were keeping a watchful eye on these suspicious activities and responded with vigour by straightway arresting the ringleaders, Andronicus and four other Thessalonians, amongst whom was Platyskalites, probably a former military governor of the city.


Andronicus was taken to Nauplia, and from there he was left free to cross over to the dominion of his brother, Theodore II, despot of the Morea. Suffering from elephantiasis, he withdrew to the monastery of the Pantokrator at Mantinea, where he died on 4th March 1429 as the monk Acacius. His four companions were incarcerated in Cretan prisons, where one died. In May 1429 the other conspirators were taken to Venice and from there to Padua, where they were left free under surveillance. Α second died there in that year; the remaining two were set free in early May 1430, that is to say as soon as the Venetians learnt of the capture of Thessalonica by the Turks. It is not known if one of these surviving Greek patriots was Platyskalites, and if they finally returned to their enslaved homeland.


After the arrest of the ringleaders of the conspiracy, the Venetians





no doubt became more mistrustful and tyrannical. Such an attitude on their part coupled with the almost continual presence of the Turks outside the walls created a stifling atmosphere within Thessalonica that drove the inhabitants to abandoning the city [1].


The successors of the first two governors, Bernardo Loredan and Jacopo Dandolo, exceeded the terms of the treaty to such a degree and provoked so many complaints on the part of the citizens that at the end of June 1425 (hardly two years after the city's surrender) the Greek community of Thessalonica was compelled to send a threeman delegation to Venice. This body, composed of Kaloyannis Radinos, Thomas Chrysoloras and John Gialkas, submitted to the Doge, Francisco Foscari, certain demands from their fellow-citizens, to which he gave his assent. These proposals were listed as follows: That Cassandria should be fortified; that the defenders should receive financial aid, and that fixed rations of corn should be distributed amongst the poorer inhabitants once a month. The Venetian governors were instructed to come to an understanding with the 'Council of Twelve' at Thessalonica about its business matters; the treasurers were not to keep back a proportion of the officials' salaries; and the duke's and captain's guard of cavalry were not to be allowed to overstep the mark in their irregular behaviour to the detriment of the inhabitants. Citizens should not be condemned and imprisoned for debt when the city was under siege and the gates closed. The governors, in accordance with ancient custom, were to contribute each year for the festivities upon the feast of St. Demetrius the sum of 200 hyperpera in time of peace and 100 in time of war. As their vineyards had been ruined by the almost continuous presence of the Turks outside the city, the vineyard workers were to be exempt from any debts for five years. The few impoverished Jews who lived in the city were to pay 800 hyperpera a year when the gates were closed and 1.000 when they were open. Legal verdicts were to be arrived at in accordance with the usages obtaining in the time of the despot Andronicus. There were various other items besides.


One can readily discern from the above that the arbitrary behaviour of the Venetian governors and soldiers of all ranks, high and low, had become a serious matter in Thessalonica. Moreover, it should not be



1. Vacalopoulos, Α History of Thessaloniki, pp. 65-66. Other opinions on the people involved and the nature of the conspiracy are to be found in J. Tsaras, La fin d'Andronic Paléologue dernier déspote de Thessalonique, «Revue des Etudes Sud-Est Européennes» 3 (1965) 419-432.





imagined that the Venetians in the city conformed strictly to the orders of Doge Francisco Foscari: many of his injunctions were to remain on paper only [1].


In the meanwhile, hostilities between the Venetians and the Turks continued on land and sea. In July 1425, in particular, the Venetian admiral, Michiel, captured Cassandria and the castle of Platamón (see fig. 19) opposite, which he burnt [2]. These castles occupied a vital position



Fig. 19. The cenlral tower (donjon) of the castle of Platamón

Fig. 19. The cenlral tower (donjon) of the castle of Platamón.


Fig. 20. Tower at Ouranoúpolis

Fig. 20. Tower at Ouranoúpolis.



in respect of Thessalonica, for they served to guard the Thermaïc Gulf. After this, the admiral sailed into Thessalonica, where he was received with full honours [3].


Some interesting details about the entreprise against the castle of Platamón are afforded by an extract from a letter written by a captain of one of the galleys, Pietro Zeno, to his brother. It reads as follows:


"Then our admiral organized the defence of that first part (Cassandria). He strengthened it, turning it into a fortress for the support of Thessalonica; and after



1. Vacalopoulos, History of Thessaloniki, pp. 65-67.


2. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα Μακεδονικῆς Ἱστορίας, Thessalonica 1947, p. 62.


3. Ibid., p. 62. Manfroni, La marina veneziana, pp. 30-31.





he had provisioned itwith all that was indispensable, he retired with all the ships, making for another castle of the Turks called Platamena (i.e. Platamón). The Turks refused to surrender, and accordingly our admiral sent against them the noble Piero Zen, son of the late Carlo, with two ships, while in the remainder were, as they say, Marco Bembo, son of the late Zane, as well as Francisco Cocho. These men took up a good position and bombarded and attacked the castle. The besieged still refused to surrender, making use of large quantities of pitch (for their defence). When our men had captured the first entrance gate of this castle, our soldiers rushed inside and into the second bailey (seraio), and when the Turks still refused to surrender, our men lit a fire down below, in such a way that all the passage-ways were burnt together with the upper works, while more than 100 Turks were suffocated and burnt. Many more threw themselves down from the castle and many were drowned. In this way our men took the castle with all the place safe and sound. After that they repaired the castle and made it better than it was before. Thus God wished to grant us victory against our enemies the Turks. Know too that these two places (Cassandria and Platamón) hold great military importance for the territory of Thessalonica, and could prevent our men from being able to move out. Such then is my news in reply to your letter which you sent me here two months ago, covering the period from the 5th June to the 5th August 1425" [1].


The castle of Platamón belonged, it would appear, to the provincial governor and conqueror of Thessaly, Turahan, for we find that in a Venetian decree of the 3rd September 1425, in which the admiral was given full credit for his successful operations, there is also mention of his preliminary negotiations with Turahan and Balarino (?) about the conclusion of a peace [2]. Perhaps at that time, or a little later, the Venetians abandoned the castle of Platamón, because there is no further mention of its being in their hands.


Setting out from Thessalonica with 10 galleys, the admiral Michiel sailed along the coast of Chalcidice, and rounding the cape of Athos made for the castle of Hierissos, which had been abandoned by its Turkish garrison. Here he found a large store of provisions, which he distributed among his galleys. Before leaving, Michiel set fire to the castle and another five towers in the vicinity (see fig. 20). Coasting the whole way he continued his voyage as far as Christopolis and put ashore a landing-party under Alvise Loredan, which assaulted the castle defended by 400 Turkish sipahis. However, the Venetian attack was repulsed with heavy losses, and Michiel was obliged to disembark fresh detachments together with all the captains and make a second attack. The fighting lasted four whole hours, until the Venetians finally succeeded in gaining control of a small wooden tower, putting to flight its defenders. From



1. Manfroni, La marina veneziana, p. 31, note 1.


2. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα Μακεδονικῆς Ἱστορίας, p. 62.





this point they were able to make a concerted attack on the Turkish stronghold, killing forty-one of the enemy (among whom was their leader Ismaël Bey) and taking another 30 Turks prisoner. Michiel decided to hold on to this strong position and strengthen it with a stone wall and earthworks. He left behind a garrison of eighty men under a captain named Dolfin, but it was unable to hold out against a subsequent attack made upon the castle by 10.000 Turks, when half the Venetian garrison



Fig. 21. Manuel II Palaeologus

Fig. 21. Manuel II Palaeologus.

(Sp. Lampros, Λεύκωμα βυζαντινῶν αὐτοκρατόρων, Athens 1930, fig. 86)



were killed and the other half taken prisoner. Many of these men would have been saved if the Venetian admiral had left a galley moored on the coast at Christopolis [1]. From that time on, Christopolis seems to have stagnated and gradually to have become depopulated.


It was in this month that Manuel II (see fig. 21) died (21 July 1425), whereupon Murad II, harbouring feelings of hostility towards Manuel's successor, John VIII, mobilised his forces against Thessalonica and Lamia, and ravaged the surrounding regions [2]. The situation in Thessalonica and Cassandria worsened from day to day. By the beginning of winter



1. See Manfroni, La marina veneziana, pp. 32-34.


2. Bakalopoulos, Les limites de l’empire byzantin, BZ 55 (1962) 62.





the two cities were once more under close siege and the garrison were so famished that they were driven to eating bread made from linseed [1]. In 1426, the Turks had 30.000 men engaged in the siege of Thessalonica, against whom were ranged 700 balistarii supported by the townsfolk. In addition, the Venetian infantry were supported by the five galleys which were anchored in the harbour of Thessalonica. On the Venetian flank, and with his own body of troops, fought Mustafa, one of Bayezid's five sons and a claimant to the Turkish throne. The enemy's attacks were repulsed; in fact, after losing 2.000 men the Turks' hopes were dashed and they were forced to withdraw for a time [2]. It would appear that Murad agreed to halt his campaign on condition that John VIII ceded him Varna and the coastal regions of the Strymon and Lamía [3]. How far Murad had penetrated into these two regions is not known; it may have been at this point that the fortress of Sérvia was taken once and for all by the Turks; the problem remains as yet unsolved.


We do know, however, that the extent of the Greek territory in Macedonia still free was restricted essentially to Thessalonica with its environs, and Cassandria. The Turkish noose was steadily tightening around the Macedonian capital so that the problems of provisioning the city and feeding its population became acute. We find the Venetian Senate after 1425 voting again and again the purchase and dispatch of corn for the soldiers dying of hunger in Thessalonica.


Venice's efforts to persuade the Turks to make peace and recognise her new possession came to nought. Despite the initial promise from repeated diplomatic missions headed by Fantin Michiel in 1426, Andrea Mocenigo in 1427 and Jacopo Dandolo in 1428, no positive result was to emerge. Meanwhile the situation in Thessalonica remained desperate [4]. The lack of success on the part of the Venetians to come to terms with the Turks could only undermine the morale of the citizens and predispose them to treating with the enemy. In fact, a philo-Turkish party made an appearance in the city, supporting the policy that since Thessalonica was bound sooner or later to fall into Turkish hands, it would be preferable to surrender peacefully there and then, and so avoid the sufferings which would ensue if the Turks had to take the city by force.


The Venetians were thus faced with enemies within the city in



1. Manfroni, La marina veneziana, p. 35.


2. Vacalopoulos, Α History of Thessaloniki, p. 67.


3. Bakalopoulos, Les limites de l’empire byzantin, BZ 55 (1962) 62.


4. K. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 65-72.





addition to those witbout; and from fear of a revolt or betrayal, they became progressively more mistrustful and oppressive in their dealings with the citizens. They blatantly overruled the privileges of the inhabitants and prevented them from leaving, while some they banished and others they tortured and executed. Their rule proved to be a veritable reign of terror.


Driven to despair, the Thessalonians sent a fresh embassy to Venice in 1429 (this time composed of four citizens) to request the observation of the terms agreed upon in 1423 and more supplies for the inhabitants, who, they affirmed, were now condemned to a frightful death from malnutrition and famine.


The Venetian Senate now showed itself more parsimonious in its concessions. Its reply to the Thessalonican demands ran chiefly as follows: The inhabitants should not be permitted to leave the city. It was regretted that the two governors were not distributing the specified quantities of corn once a month to the poorer inhabitants, and promised to instruct them to begin distribution obligatorily. It also regretted that the chancellors (cancellarii) were continuing their extortions from the city officials by keeping back a proportion of their salaries — especially of salaries already overdue — and ordered the application of stern measures against those responsible. It did not sanction fresh increases in the pay of the soldiers at Thessalonica whether nobles or otherwise. It promised that it would order the fortification of Cassandria and the repair of the walls of Thessalonica (for up to then nothing had been done about this). The necessary supplies of corn, it announced, were being arranged daily, so that the city might be well provisioned in times of difficulty; and artillerymen and infantry would be dispatched for manning the walls, as well as the necessary military stores — ballistae, bombards, gunpowder, and stout arrows (veretoni). The Senate said it would consider the question of granting wider jurisdiction to the governors and take steps accordingly. It deemed it right that the archbishop of Thessalonica would retain all his customary powers and ecclesiastical rights, but regarding the question of the archbishop's traditional prerogative of jurisdiction over laymen, which the Thessalonians were asking to be allowed to continue, the Senate considered that he ought not judge laymen side by side with clerics, but confine himself to ecclesiastical cases; laymen should come under the secular courts. It agreed, however, that the Greeks ought to be tried in accordance with their own customs, and that woraen should not be imprisoned along with raen. It would authorise





Fig. 22. Symeon, Archbishop of Thessalonica

Fig. 22. Symeon, Archbishop of Thessalonica.

From paper Code nr. 47, fol. 82 (dated 1763; belonging to Vatopedi Monastery of Athos). (Microfilm Archive of the Institute for Patristic Studies in Thessalonica)





the government at Thessalonica to appoint two citizens as market-inspectors, who would be changed every three months so as to eliminate bribery. It consented to the churches' and monasteries' retention of all their revenues and emoluments from sources both terrestrial and maritime [1]. Such, then, were the main points of the Venetian Senate's reply.


The gradual abandonment, depopulation and dilapidation of the city of Thessalonica continued. Many of the inhabitants who had nothing to eat, sold their belongings, and when their realiseable assets were



Fig. 23. Remains of a Byzanline wall in the village of Chortiátis

Fig. 23. Remains of a Byzanline wall in the village of Chortiátis.



exhausted, tearfully made their escape to Turkish soil [2], to Constantinople [3], or to other Greek territories (under the Venetians, that is), "until it please the Lord God to change matters". It was their intention one day to return; but upon their departure their houses were seized upon by all and sundry, and pulled down; their trees and other pieces of property were likewise destroyed. The Venetian Senate promised to take appro-



1. Vacalopoulos, A History of Thessaloniki, pp. 68-69.


2. See Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 49-53.


3. Kugeas, Notizbuch eines Beamten, BZ 23 (1914-1920) 152.





priate measures to put an end to this wanton destruction, and on 4 June 1429 appointed as new governors for the following two years Paulo Contarini, as duke, and Andrea Donato, as captain. The minutes of the election also mention the names of other nobles who were proposed but who declined the appoirıtments. Thessalonica was clearly no longer the place for a happy sojourn but an exile of daily tribulation.


As the months passed, the inhabitants became more and more distraught, awaiting with anguish what each new day might bring. Their distress was increased by the sudden death in September 1429 of their archbishop, Symeon (see fig. 22), whose goodness had become a byword. This was six months before the fall of the city; and his death was taken as a divine omen, portending the city's capture and the punishment of the inhabitants for their sins; such interpretations of historical events were very common in the Middle Ages [1].



1. See Vacalopoulos, Α History of Thessaloniki, pp. 69-70.


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