History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


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


7. The infiltration of Jewish immigrants into the interior of Macedonia



The Turkish Sultans adopted a hospitable attitude towards the new Jewish immigrants, since the resettlement of the devastated areas was of special interest to them. Α large number of Jews, in fact, penetrated into the interior of the country to settle at Mademochória (famous for its silver mines), Monastir, and Skopje (hass of the Sultan Suleyman I), and also at Véroia, Adrianople, Sofia and Constantinople [4]. Out of the



4. See Vacalopoulos, Ἱστορία, 2, p. 36, where the relevant bibliography may be found.





40.000 Spanish-Jewish immigrants who settled in the chief cities of Turkey, it is very probable that the majority found refuge in the Macedonian capital and towns like Mademochória, Véroia and Monastir.


In these towns the Jews formed colonies large and small, imparting to them their individual colour. In addition to Thessalonica, they inundated Skopje, which had become by 1566 a ' Jewish town', as a Venetian described it. "Skopje is a large city, one part of which is level ground, while the other is on a picturesque eminence. It has a circumference of about 28 miles. The houses are constructed of dried mud, as is the custom in those parts, but quite good nonetheless. It has four most beautiful mosques with a good number of domes roofed with lead. Through the centre of the city flows the River Vardar, which, from its source in the neighbouring mountains, courses through a narrow valley bordered by tracts of dense forest.


Down in the valley the river is spanned by two handsome, solidly-built stone bridges, constructed at the instance of some great persons for the convenience of travellers and for the weal of their souls. The benefactors' graves lie near these two bridges. The city has a large leather industry, hides forming Skopje's chief product. There is also bees-wax, which is sent off to Alessio and thence to Ancona and Venice. There are more Jews than Christians to be found here. Of the latter the largest group are the Ragusans, who have purchased quite large areas of land at a cheap price, planted lots of vines, and now sell the wine. The plain is cultivated by slaves, which the Turks have bought and which they now clothe and feed and put to work there. There is an abundance of food in these parts, and at a very low price too. Outside the city is the aquaduct of forty arches, which was built so that water could be brought to the city's baths. The city is governed by a 'sanjak', a man armed with absolute authority. The city has no walls; just an old, small castle, the walls and ditches of which still remain intact" [1].


Α few years later, in 1573, the traveller Philippe du Fresne-Canaye questions the opinion of some people who put Skopje in Bulgaria, placing it himself in Macedonia, if one applies, as he says, its ancient boundaries; [2] but, as we observed in the Preface, these passed to the south of the city. It was at Skopje that the Rumeli Valisi (the Vali, or gover-nor, of Rumeli) had his residence at this time [3]. From here du Fresne-



1. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 144-145.


2. Ph. du Fresne-Canaye, Le voyage du Levant (1573), Paris 1897, p. 33.


3. Ph. du Fresne-Canaye, ibid., p. 34.





Canaye reached Dobritza (Dobrissan) and from there he continued to Seritsa. The distance, he says, is not great, but the road passes through a mountainous district ('a high mountain'), which is inhabited by Greeks and has no caravanserai. This place is a great market for eggs and is in Bulgaria [1]. One wonders what this place could have been, and who were the Greeks that inhabited it. They may possibly have been the people of Melnik, or some now unknown remnants of Byzantine Hellenism.


Another important Jewish community was in existence in Monastir at the end of the 16th century. We are told that out of 1.500 houses in that city, 200 were Jewish. Monastir was situated at a great meeting of routes, where caravans crossed on their way to Central Europe and the Adriatic. It occupied, too, a point of vital strategic significance, and as such was the base for large military units, so that it provided security and trade for the inhabitants. The Venetian ambassador, Lorenzo Bernardo, gives us the following description of the city in 1591: "It has no walls, nor a sancak beyi, since it is a timar of the Grand Vizir, who in all probability has a yearly revenue of 20 loads of akçes. It has a kadı, produces abundant corn and carries on a great trade in wax, wool and hides. The Turks are benevolent here, because the locality is a place of study, producing able men, well fitted for the dispensation of justice, who are sent as cadıs to various parts of the Turkish empire" [2]. Living in Monastir obviously had its advantages, and the inhabitants will not have been so disposed to emigration as they were in other towns and villages.


Other cities in Eastern Macedonia which Belon mentions as having considerable Jewish populations are Kavala (with more than 500 Jews by the middle of the 16th century), Sérres and Tríkala (by which he means Dráma). Many of these Jews had been brought over by Suleyman I (1520-1566) at the beginning of his reign, from Buda, Pest and Alba Real (Stuhweissenburg), and spoke German and Spanish [3].


In addition to these Eastern Macedonian cities and small townships where Jews lived and carried on their trade, there were others in the north-west, which are mentioned at the end of the 16th century in travelogues and other texts. Struga is the first to be mentioned, being described in 1591 by the Venetian Gabriele Cavazza as "the first place in Bulgaria



1. Ph. du Fresne-Canaye, Le voyage du Levant, pp. 34-35.


2. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 128-129.


3. Belon, Observations, pp. 57a, 59a.





that one comes to after leaving Albania". The inhabitants, he tells us, spoke Slav and were Orthodox [1].


But by far the most important city was Ohrid, the seat of the well-known bishopric of the same name. It is very likely that after the fall of Bosnia in 1463, its ambitious archbishops annexed the archbishopric of Peć, since the Serbian state had been dissolved and the last Serbian despot had fled to Southern Hungary [2]. The archbishopric of Ohrid, at its apogee at the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century, embraced 32 bishoprics, 12 of which were in Macedonia — i.e. Grevená, Kastoriá, Stromnica, Moglená, Monastir, Kicevo, Debar, Polozka, Skopje, Kratovo, Kiustendil, and Prespa [3]. Later, in 1538, the archbishop of Ohrid annexed the eparchy of Véroia [4], but lost it again shortly after, in the second half of the 16th century [5].


Like all the other bishoprics, that of Ohrid experienced the hardships of Turkish bondage: the continual increases in taxes on account of the wars that were being waged along the northern frontiers of the Ottoman empire [6]. This period saw the commencement of the quarrels which the archbishop of Ohrid engaged in with the Oecumenical Patriarch and with the Pope over questions of ecclesiastical jurisdiction [7]. At the close of the 16th century Ohrid was the seat of a sancak beyi, but its population was small. Travellers admired its castle which dominated the lake of Ohrid [8].


It goes without saying that during the period of the Ohrid bishopric Greek learning exerted a significant and benign influence in that sphere, since the majority of the higher clergy were Greeks. Based on the bishopric, and by virtue of its able and cultural ecclesiastics, theological interest was widely stimulated and this manifested itself in the monasteries as well. This was a period when a great number of older theolog-



1. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 127-128. Regarding Struga at that period, see I. Snegarov, The church register of St. George at Struga (in Bulgarian), Sofia 1964.


2. See Ant. - Aim. N. Tachiaos, Περὶ καταργήσεως τῶν ἀρχιεπισκοπῶν Ἀχρίδος καὶ Πεκίου ἑπὶ Γενναδίου τοῦ Σχολαρίου, «Γρηγόριος ὁ Παλαμᾶς» 46 (1963) 202-211.


3. Snegarov, The archbishopric of Ohrid, p. 160. See also the list of archbishops during Turkish rule in H. Gelzer, Das Patriarchat von Achrida, Leipzig 1902, pp. 21-28, 30 ff., 134, 153 ff.


4. Snegarov, ibid., p. 10.


5. Snegarov, ibid., p. 68.     6. Snegarov, ibid., pp. 60 ff.     7. Snegarov, ibid., pp. 65, 67.


8. Mertzios, ibid., p. 128.





ical works were re-copied and new works, both in Greek and Slav, were composed by clerical authors [1]. Snegarov distinguishes three cultural zones in the Ohrid region: (1) that of Greek learning (Albania and the dioceses of Grevená and Sisánion); (2) that of Slavic (Northern Macedonia, Western Bulgaria, and the diocese of Serbia); and (3) that of mixed Greek and Slav (the remaining Macedonian dioceses that came under the archbishopric of Ohrid). In this third zone Greek was employed in the cities and Slav in the monasteries and villages [2]. This last statement of Snegarov seems somewhat vague and arbitrary.


The economic state of the archbishopric declined around the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th, when its monasteries and bishoprics were forced to mortgage estates, furniture and vestments [3], or incurred debts which they found difficulty in paying off [4]. This economic decline was to continue throughout the years that followed [5].



Byzantine decoration

Byzantine decoration



1. Snegarov, The archbishopric of Ohrid, p. 309. See details on pp. 310 ff.


2. Snegarov, ibid., pp. 306-307.


3. Ibid., p. 87.


4. Ibid., pp. 87-88.


5. Ibid., pp. 88 ff.


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