History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


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


4. The capture of Thasos by the Turks (September - October 1455 and October 1459)



Lying opposite Kavála and extending almost to the estuary of the Nestus River, Thasos was the 'μεγάλο νησί' par excellence of Macedonia. Even from the days of antiquity there a considerable degree of social intercourse had existed between the island and the mainland, and its economic dependence upon the adjacent coastlands of Macedonia was such that Thasos constituted an inseparable part of the region.


However, the influence of these geographical factors diminished from medieval times onwards for a number of reasons, the chief of which was the growth of piracy; and the island became cut off from the opposite shore. In the final decades of the Byzantine empire Manuel II (1391-1425) and John VIII (1425-1448) had ceded Thasos and the other islands of the north-east Aegean (Samothrace, Imbros and Lemnos) as fiefs to the family of the Gattilusi, although retaining some degree of suzerainty over them. As a result of various historical factors —the domination of the ruling family of the Gattilusi over the islands as a whole, the necessity of a single government, and the common fortune they shared — these islands became closely associated with each other and their history was woven upon a common warp.


Such, then, was the situation in the north-east Aegean when Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453. The fear that the Turkish fleet would thereupon be directed against them overwhelmed the islanders, and they could think of only one thing — flight. In these painful moments of confusion and anarchy, Critoboulos, the 'magnate of Imbros' (later to become the well-known historian of the final years of the Byzantine empire) succeeded in persuading Mehmed II to agree to a compromise whereby the islands should remain under the same political and social regime as before, i.e. Lemnos and Thasos under Dorino I, the ruler of Lesbos, and Imbros under his brother Palamedes, the ruler of Aenos and Samothrace. It was stipulated that they should pay a fixed annual tribute.


However, when the Sultan found himself threatened by a crusade planned in the West by Calixtus III, two years later, his attitude towards the islands of the Gattilusi changed. As they lay opposite the mouth of the Hellespont, he was afraid they might be employed as naval bases against him. Mehmed therefore requested Domenico Gattilusi, who had succeeded his father Dorino I, to cede him Thasos as a gift; and its Frankish ruler was left no choice but to succumb to his wishes (September - October 1455). True, the island was recaptured by the crusaders





at the beginning of 1457, when they smashed the garrisons's resistance with a furious assault; but two years later (October 1459) the Kaptan Paşa, Zaganos, with a fleet of a hundred ships, regained possession of the island. Mehmet subsequently ceded all the islands of the north-east Aegean as a fief to his father-in-law and former despot of the Peloponnese, Demetrius Palaeologus (1460).


The information we have about the administrative organization of Thasos from time when the island was taken over by the Turks is derived from a much later, though nonetheless reliable source: a firman of Mahmud II (1808-1839) dated 1813, by which the island was ceded to Mehmed Ali, Paşa of Egypt. It is stated in this document that "Thasos together with its appendages (i.e. the smaller islands) is recorded as having been originally a fief of the Lord High Admiral (Kaptan Paşa) with a rent (mal) of 450.000 akçe", and that at a later date the Sultan Mahmud I Gazi (1730-1754) devoted the revenue he received from Thasos to his library, his imaret (poor-house) and his other charitable institutions dedicated to the service of the pious foundation of Haremeyn - Muhteremeyn (i.e. the two sacred cities of Mecca and Medina). At the beginning of the Turkish occupation it appears that Turkish colonists were also settled on the island [1].



1. See A. Vacalopoulos, Thasos. Son histoire, son administration de 1453 à 1912, Paris 1953, pp. 35-36.


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