History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


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


6. The influx of Jews into Macedonia



Towards the close of the 15th century, successive waves of Jews arrived at the harbour of Thessalonica, the victims of intolerance and persecution in the various countries of Western Europe. They swelled the small and ancient nucleus of indigenous Jews, and brought about a profound change in the ethnic composition of the population of Thessalonica and other Macedonian cities.


Indeed, the important position of Thessalonica attracted large numbers of Jews from Hungary and Germany — the so-called Ashkenazim. This colony was formed specifically after the expulsion of Jews from Bavaria in 1470. However, the largest contingent — and that which lent the colour to the 'Jewish City' in Thessalonica in Turkish times — was the one which was settled there by Bayezid II (1481-1512). These Jews from Spain were fugitives from the persecutions of Ferdinand and Isabella (1492). Α large number of Jews from Sicily and Southern Italy (1493), Portugal (1497) and Provence, also sought refuge here. These were all known by the collective name of Sephardim that signified Spanish Jews. Those Jews of mainly Spanish provenance kept themselves aloof from other immigrants, even the order Jewish element, considering themselves more cultured and refined. They were, in truth, well-mannered and well-dressed, and expressed themselves with a certain elegance and purity of accent. They had in their make-up that certain intangible quality that derived from their backgroung of Spanish culture and from their contacts with the Spanish court and nobility.


Thus, new Jewish communities were formed and new synagogues built, which preserved the manners and customs and the forms of worship characteristic of their homelands. This inevitably disturbed the homogeneity of the older Jewish element, which stemmed from ancient and Byzantine Thessalonica: the 'Romaniotes'. The latter, now forming a minority, spoke Greek amonst themselves, bore Greek names (or Hellenized Jewish names) and had their own special form of worship, the so-called Machsor Romania. But far from being able to exert any





influence over the new comers, they were soon assimilated by intercourse and intermarriage; they lost their Greek speech and even their distinctive form of worship. This, then, is how Spanish-Hebrew became, probably from the end of the 16th century, the language of the Thessalonian Jews, with which we were till recently acquainted. Simultaneously, every trace was lost of the Jewish community derived from ancient and Byzantine times [1].


The Jews from Spain and Sicily were the introducers of weaving to Thessalonica and the other Turkish cities, where they also set up their factories. Their products soon won the appreciation of the public not only in Turkey but in many other countries as well. These Jews proved themselves skilful craftsmen in metalwork too [2]. Besides woollen textiles, they made carpets — the famous 'mantas'. The carpet-makers were called by the Spanish name of 'manteros', while the weavers were called 'draperos' [3]. Weaving soon took on at Thessalonica and the other cities of the Ottoman empire, rapidly developing into a vital factor of its economic life. J. S. Emmanuel has given us some interesting information about the techniques of woollen manufacture, including the dyeing (especially with the blue dyes) and the subsequent weaving [4]. As was the case throughout Europe at the time, this original branch of industry created the pre-conditions necessary for the emergence of capitalism. Α class of capital-owning middlemen appeared who bought the crude wool from the peasants, then sold it to the weavers. At the same time there arose wholesale merchants who lent money at from 6 to 20 % interest [5]. Basing himself on Jewish sources, Emmanuel states that the Jewish weavers of Thessalonica introduced their skill into certain other districts, such as Rhodes and Veroia [6].



1. Vacalopoulos, History of Thessaloniki, pp. 78-79. For a great deal of interesting information about the new Jewish colonists of Thessalonica, see Jos. Nehama, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique, Thessalonica 1935, vol. 1, pp. 118 ff., and also the whole of the second volume (1935) and of the third (1936). On the subject of the manners and customs of the Spanish Jews of Thessalonica, see Michael Molho, Usos y costumbres de los Judios de Salonica, «Sefarad» 7 (1947) 93-121.


2. See details in J. S. Emmanuel, Histoire de l'industrie des tissus des Israélites de Salonique, Lausanne 1935, pp. 13-14.


3. Emmanuel, ibid., p. 18. See also Nehama, ibid., vol. 3, part 2, pp. 28 ff.


4. Emmanuel, ibid., pp. 14 ff., 25 ff. See for greater detail Nehama, ibid., vol. 2, pp. 139-169, vol. 4, pp. 154-221, vol. 5, 203-246.


5. Emmanuel, ibid., pp. 19 ff., where much interesting detail can be found.


6. Emmanuel, ibid., pp. 23-24.





The ethnological and economic results of this wave of Jewish immigrants were soon to be felt in Thessalonica. They can be noted, for example, in the report of the Venetian ambassador, Jacobo Contarini, who on his return from Constantinople in 1507 made the following observations: " At Thessalonica they make a great quantity of woollen goods . . . 10.000 Jewish houses are to be found there; so I was told when I passed through that place. These Jews are engaged in the manufacture of woollens and make an astonishing quantity of woollen goods. They also make 'artillery' [1] and many other things that the human mind can invent. . ." [2]. At that period, therefore, the manufacture of woollen goods was the only industry of note at Thessalonica, and it continued to flourish up to the beginning of the 19th century [3].


The Spanish and German Jews were undoubtedly the chief agents in promoting the striking economic progress which Thessalonica enjoyed. In contrast to the Jewish workers and manufacturers of the Byzantine community, these newcomers showed themselves enterprising and hard-working, travelling widely and maintaining close contact with Venice, Genoa, Amsterdam, and all the cities of the Hanseatic League. It was, in fact, by bringing Thessalonica nearer to the rest of Europe and transforming it once again into a big commercial city, that they made their greatest contribution to the city's development and prosperity. Thanks largely to them, Thessalonica regained the importance it had held in the Roman and Byzantine periods of its history.


Around the middle of the 16th century, the thriving city had some very wealthy Jewish merchants and no less that 80 synagogues [4]. Nu-merically the Jews were also clearly predominant: in 1519, according to information derived from Turkish archives, Thessalonica had 1.375 Moslem families, 1.087 Christian, and 3.143 Jewish. It constituted a hass of the Sultan, yielding a revenue of 3.506.762 akçes [5]. Towards the close of the century, the city's population showed a staggering increase,



1. He presumably means the manufacture of gunpowder.


2. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, p. 113.


3. Regarding the textile manufacture of the Thessalonian Jews, see the specialised study of Emmanuel, Histoire de l'industrie etc.


4. Nic. Nicolay, Les navigations, peregrinations, etc., Anvers 1577, p. 279.


5. Tayyib M. Gökbilgin, Kanunî sultan Süleyman devri başlarında Rumeli eyaleti, livaları, şehir ve kasabaları, «Belleten TürkTarih Kurumu» 20 (1956) 266. See also the details in N. Todorov, Concerning some questions about the Balkan city in the 15th-16th century, (in Bulgarian), «Ist. Pregled» 18 (1962) part 1, 50.





even if the numbers of inhabitants stated might be considered exaggerated [1].


The Spanish Jews produced some outstanding men of letters and of science, especially doctors, such as Salomon ben Habib (d. 1504), Isaac Busalo (d. 1525), Salomon Caballero (d. 1530), Salomon Abodiente (d. 1541). Particular mention must be made of Salomon Lebeth Halévy, who because of his wisdom was honoured with the title of 'maestro' [2]. Such men as these enhanced the spiritual heritage and the exemplary organization of the Jewish community which made it the true 'state within a state'. They had synagogues, good schools, rabbinic seminars, libraries, institutions for public assistance, etc. This period was the 'golden age' of the Spanish-Jewish civilization at Thessalonica. Such was the numerical superiority of the Jewish community and the cultural influence that it exercised, that the Jews used to speak of this Greek city as 'our Thessalonica' [3]. The Jews of the Dispersion had found here a warm-hearted asylum. In Thessalonica they were able to form a racial entity. As time went by the new Jewish community augmented the older stratum of Byzantine Jews and went on to enjoy days of great economic prosperity and brilliant cultural development.



1. Β. Α. Mystakides, Μ. Κρούσιος καὶ Θεοδ. Ζυγομαλᾶς καὶ τὰ ὀϕϕίκια τοῦ πρωτεκδίκου καὶ δικαιοϕύλακος τοῦ ἱστορικοῦ Παχυμέρους, Constantinople 1931. Reprint from the 6th part of «Ὀρθοδοξία», p. 5, note 3. The numbers given by P. G. Zerlentes in Σημειώματα περὶ Ἑλλήνων ἐκ τῶν Μαρτίνου Κρουσίου Σουηκικῶν Χρονικῶν, Athens 1922, p. 13, are erroneous. See also regarding Thessalonica G. Ranzo, Relazione etc., Turin 1616, p. 57.


2. See Nehama, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique, 2, pp. 141 ff.


3. Moschopoulos, Ἡ Ἑλλὰς κατὰ τὸν Ἐβλιὰ Τσελεμπῆ, ΕΕΒΣ 16 (1940) 353.


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