History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


IV. The troubled state of Macedonia in the 15th century


1. The flight of Macedonians to the mountains and natural refuges and the establishment of new settlements



With the capture of Thessalonica in 1430 the Turkish occupation of Macedonia was complete. The inhabitants continued to disperse in ever greater numbers to safer parts of the country in their efforts to find some escape from the hardships of slavery, the misrule, the tribute of children, the heavy taxes — indeed, all the asperity and arbitrariness which characterized Turkish occupation.


Generally speaking, the Greeks made their escape in two directions: either towards the Greek territories which were still free or under Frankish rule, and to Italy; or into the mountains and remote parts of the interior where the conqueror's yoke was not as yet felt [1]. And it was the retreat into the interior that accounted for the more serious drain on the population. This is emphasized by an observation made by Evliya Çelebi in the middle of the 17th century to the effect that there was nothing to be found north of the Lake of Langadá except, here and there, a few villages in ruins, the walls of their houses tumbled down. These had belonged, he tells us, to communities of 'brigands' (hayduks) — Greeks, Bulgariahs and Vlachs — who had fled to the mountains because of persecution by the Ottomans [2].


With the exception of those towns which provided some comparative safety thanks to their vital commercial and strategic sites (e.g.



1. See Vacalopoulos, Ἱστορία, vol. 1, passim.


2. Moschopoulos, Ἡ Ἐλλάς κατὰ τὸν Ἐβλιὰ Τσελεμπῆ, ΕΕΒΣ 14 (1938) 503.





Thessalonica), it would be no exaggeration to say that a veritable uprooting of Christian populations took place throughout the Balkan Peninsula no less than in Asia Minor. This is no doubt the explanation of the predominance of the Moslem element in the majority of the towns between 1520 and 1530. Skopje, for example, had 630 Moslem families as against 200 Christians; Thessalonica 1.229 as against 989 Christian and 2.645 Jewish; Sérres 671 as against 357 Christian [1].


The forested massifs of Macedonia thus offered protection to the neighbouring populations: the Pindus (with its many spurs stretching into Western Greece), Grámmos [2], Vérmion, Piéria, Olympus [3], Hásia, etc. The case of the village called Katafýgi (Refuge) in Mt. Piéria is typical as regards both its name and its story. (There are, in fact, quite a number of villages of that name throughout Greece). As tradition relates, its inhabitants used to live in a fertile village called Podári, on the banks of the River Aliákmon; but because of Turkish oppression they took themselves off — it is not known when — to the precipitous and wooded slopes of Mt. Flámbouro. Here, high up, there was a stretch of plateau where they used to have their sheep-folds. They cut down the great forest of oak and pine that covered the plateau, and founded their new village, which was literally buried beneath the snow every winter. In this way they managed to shake off the presence of the Turkish authorities and become the most independent of all the villages in the region [4].


According to local tradition, the villages of Galatiní, Blátsi, Kleisoúra, Bogatsikó, Kostarázi, Sélitsa, and others in Western Macedonia were founded under similar circumstances [5]. It also appears that the inhabitants of the Byzantine Sisánion, after the destruction of their village by the Turks and the hanging of their Metropolitan (as the tradition goes), fled to remote Siátista, at that time little more than a place-name or a tiny hamlet. They also transferred thither the metropolitan



1. Omer Lútfi Barkan, Essai sur les données statistiques des régistres de recencement dans l’empire ottoman au XV et XIV siècle, «Journal and Social History of the Orient» 1 (Aug. 1957) 35.


2. See the tradition about the flight of populations to Grámmos in the newspaper «Μακεδονία» of Thessalonica, 23.9.1955.


3. In Voyage, vol. 1, p. 68, Cousinéry expresses the opinion that Vérmion, Piéria and Olympus also gave shelter to Greek populations at the time of the Bulgarian incursions in the Middle Ages.


4. L. Heuzey, Le mont Olympe et l'Acarnanie, Paris 1860, pp. 205-206.


5. Vacalopoulos, Οἱ Δυτικομακεδόνες ἀπόδημοι, pp. 4, 35, where the relevant bibliography is to be found.





see of Sisánion [1]. It is very probable that the villages of Palaiochóri, Pekreviníko and Soúrpovo, which lay east of Sélitsa, were then abandoned by their inhabitants and left in ruins, their people fleeing to Siátista, Sélitsa, Kontsikó and elsewhere [2]. The vital situations of these new settlements (from the point of view of safety, that is) and the new conditions of life obtaining therein, exercised a benign influence upon their development, so that they grew into new and important centres of community life, as for instance Siátista and Kozáni. Indeed, the latter provides a particularly interesting example of how a simple village of the year 1534 could gradually expand into a small country-town and finally into a city of some standing [3]. However, the distribution of population throughout the mountains was irregular and not according to any principles of human geography. It was the economic conditions, particularly soil and climate, that defined their terms of livelihood. The barrenness of the ground imposed grave deficiencies on them, almost to the point of malnutrition, and they were forced to turn to herding. They had to spend months, if not years on end, up on the mountains; for the danger which threatened them was not one of the hour, but was ever present for them. Thus, what was initially a place of refuge became their regular domicile.


Life must have been indescribably hard for these people in the winter time when all growth had died down and they found themselves completely cut off by snow from the outside world. Ample stores of wood and food would be imperative for survival; and in an endless struggle with the elements only the hardiest amongst them could have won through.


In such circumstances, the Western Macedonians who had taken to the mountains were driven to exploiting whatever form of livelihood the surroundings permitted. The two chief occupations were herding and the manufacture of wool and woollen goods — particularly those articles of thick woollen clothing associated with the shepherd life.


Unfortunately, flight to the mountain massifs brought to the refugees no more than temporary relief from the Turkish yoke. Once they had consolidated their conquests and had firmly established themselves throughout Greek lands, the Turks made life increasingly difficult for



1. Photopoulos, Σέλιτσα, p. 15. The destruction of Sisánion raises many questions (see Z. G. Tsiros, Ἡ Βλάστη (τ. Μπλάται), pp. 18-20).


2. Photopoulos, ibid., p. 71.


3. M. Kalinderis, Αἱ συντεχνίαι τῆς Κοζάνης ἑπὶ Τουρκοκρατίας, Thessalonica 1958, p. 7.





the mountain dwellers too; and it was not long before they had finished off the half-completed work of their forefathers, depriving the desperate rayas of their last corners of refuge and putting an end to their hard-won privileges [1].


The situation grew steadily worse with the decline of the Ottoman empire. Signs of its decay were already to be perceived from the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th [2]. Bands of Albanian and Greek brigands made ceaseless raids upon the area; while the oppression of the Turkish detachments sent to track them down was equally intolerable [3]. Such trials were to continue for the wretched inhabitants right up to the 20th century [4]. Added to all this were the rebellions of various pashas and other petty tyrants, the lawlessness and plundering on the part of Turkish soldiers who had deserted [5] or who were returning from the various fronts, after victory or defeat as the case may be. Not surprisingly, many of the inhabitants endeavoured to escape their afflictions by turning Moslem or by leaving the country altogether.


Α typical phenomenon is the concentration of Vlach communities on the great mountain-chain of the Pindus and the creation of numerous settlements at various points, made up of the great patriarchal families (fares, ϕάρες), which were finally unified into a village. An example of this is the founding of Samarína, which makes its appearance on a map of 1560 under the name Santa Maria de Praetoria [6]. In these Vlach communities the headman had absolute authority. Indeed, these fares, presented a most individual form of organization and community life, which survives to this day in certain localities. With the increasing insecurity of the times, the fares felt it necessary to coalesce and form larger and stronger villages that could make some effective stand against the manifold dangers which beset them [7]. The solution to the problem of over-



1. See C. Fauriel, Chants populaires de la Grèce moderne, Paris 1824, vol. 1, p. xiii.


2. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 155-156, 167, 169, 170, 174, 272, 274, 277.


3. See I. K. Vasdravellis, Ἀρματολοὶ καὶ κλέϕτες εἰς τὴν Μακεδονίαν, Thessalonica 1948, passim; Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, p. 271.


4. See Α. Ε. Vacalopoulos, Ἀπὸ τὴν ἱστορία ἑνὸς μακεδονικοῦ χωριοῦ, τοῦ Λιμποχόβου, στὶς ἀρχὲς τοῦ 19ου αἰ., «Φάρος τῆς Βορείου Ἑλλάδος» 1940, p. 115.


5. Mertzios, ibid., pp. 271, 272, 274.


6. Th. Κ. Sarantis, Ἡ Δυτικὴ Μακεδονία εἰς τοὺς χάρτας ἀπὸ τοῦ ΙΕ'-ΙΗ' αἰῶνος, «Ἡμερολόγιον Δυτ. Μακεδονίας», Kozani 1961, II, p. 29 (see also, G. P. Symeonides, Σαμαρίνα, «Μακεδονικὰ» 7 (1966) 200. See also p. 207, for the etymology of the word Σαμαρίνα from Sta Maria > Sta Marina > Σταμαρίνα > Σαμαρίνα).


7. See Α. Ε. Vacalopoulos, Ἱστορικαὶ ἔρευναι ἐν Σαμαρίνῃ τῆς Δυτικῆς Μακεδονίας, reprinted from the periodical «Γρηγόριος ὁ Παλαμᾶς» 21 (1937) 10-13. See also J. B. Wace - M. S. Thompson, The Nomads of the Balkans, London 1914, pp. 144-147.





population in any region was evacuation to one of the other mountain massifs; and it was not long before the Vlachs spread to Olympus. Actually, the Vlach communities of the villages of Neochóri, Ftéri, Meliá, Vlacholívado, and Kokkinopló preserved the tradition that they had come from the mountains (almost certainly the Pindus) hundreds of years before, and had first founded Livádi [1]. The likelihood of this tradition is reinforced by the similarities in names, language, pronunciation, manners and customs, etc. of the Vlachs of Olympus with those of the Pindus (from Samarína, etc.) [2].


Besides the great mountain chains of the interior, the numerous elevated and wooded peninsulas, great and small, of the Greek littoral, far from the main lines of communication, provided wonderful natural retreats for the persecuted inhabitants. Chalcidice is an obvious example, cut off from the rest of Macedonia by the rugged and forested massif of Cholomón. In a description of this mountain region the traveller Cousinéry, writing at the beginning of the 19th century, says that in times of insurrection and invasion it was the forests more than the diminutive forts scattered here and there, which became the refuge of the inhabitants. At the same time, these forests impeded immigration or dispersal, so that the old families who had fled thither for shelter remained unmixed with outside elements, thus preserving the purity of their stock. Consequently, the people of those parts remained proud of their Greek descent, of the privileges which they still held, of their churches, bishops and schools [3]. The mountainous regions of Mt. Cholomón tapers off into the three peninsulas of Cassandra, Sithonia and Athos, which provide additional and even safer refuges, and appear to have afforded asylum for the surrounding population when it was harassed by hostile incursions. The last occasion when these parts received a considerable number of fugitives was in 1821; and that was the first time that enemy forces had ever occupied Cassandra, as the folk-song relates:


No one had ῾ere now set foot on our renowned Cassandra:

Lopout alone set foot on her, Lopout alone did take her [4].



1. Heuzey, Le mont Olympe, pp. 45-48.


2. See K. Krystalles, Ἅπαντα, edit. G. Valetas, Athens 1959, vol. 1, p. 504.


3. Cousinéry, Voyage, vol. 2, p. 143.


4. See historical note in the newspaper «Μακεδονία» of Thessalonica 29.6.1951. See also the folk-song «Ἡ Ἀναστασία» in A. Manolis, Δημοτικὰ τραγούδια τῆς Κασσάνδρας, «Χρον. Χαλκιδικῆς», no. 4 (1962) 227-228.





Α communal system of government existed among the villages of Cassandra, as for example at Portariá [1].


Further withdrawal to other regions offering some degree of safety was dictated by the fact that during the 16th and 17th cerıturies, the population of the mountain regions appears to have been increased not only by the normal procreation of the indigenous inhabitants but also by the influx of Greeks from other parts. This infertile region just could not support more than a small number of farming and herding families, and so there was naturally a pronounced tendency for continuous and large-scale emigration on the part of its inhabitants to other lands in the Ottoman empire, even to Constantinople itself, and to foreign countries where the social and economic conditions were incomparably superior, as we shall see in the appropriate context.


Certain Sultans and eminent military men endeavoured, once the conquest was complete, to put an end to the flight and dispersal of the indigenous population. They were now anxious to resettle the scattered inhabitants and impose order, and to mobilize the resources and productive capacity of the country on a worth-while basis. The Ottoman policy of checking the flight of the inhabitants — if not of actually enforcing their return and resettlement — can be seen in application in two Macedonian centres, Thessalonica and Náousa.



1. Oikonomides, Actes de Dionysiou, Texte, p. 166.


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