History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


VII. Macedonia in the 16th and 17th centuries


2. Macedonia in the second half of the 17th century


e) Thasos


The situation was no better on the island of Thasos. From as early as the 17th century its coastal areas had become very dangerous. The island was often the scene of mutinies by the galley-slaves belonging to the successive beys of Kavála [1]. Pirates showed a particular preference for Thasos, not only by reason of the wealth of booty it promised them, but for the security in which they could carry out their operations in that quarter. For the dense woods which covered the island came right up to the houses on the very perimeter of the villages, thus concealing the pirates as they approached, as well as affording them an ideal refuge [2]. Indeed, they waxed so bold that they even landed on the mainland opposite, near Kavála, to attack the caravans that made their ponderous way from the Peloponnese and places in northern Greece to Constantinople [3].


In his account published in 1688, the traveller Francesco Piacenza gives us a good deal of information about the three castles on Thasos. These are also mentioned, though in briefer terms, in the books of Bordone and Porcacchi of the 16th century. Crowned with its castles, the island presented, even in Piacenza's day, a striking appearance, and the number of ships that put in there was ever on the increase. Of the three castles, one bore the additional name of 'Χώρα' [with the meaning here of 'town'], and preserves to this day the ancient name of Thasos (see fig. 98). The second, which lay to the south-west, is certainly the one which is called 'Κάστρο' (Castle) today, and whose harbour is named Limenária. The third seems to have been located on the site of present-day Halyké, for in the last century there were preserved here a large numher of remains from a settlement which was in existence up to the middle of the 17th century [4]. What, then, has been the fate of this castle? I



1. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 165, 172, 174.


2. See G. Perrot, Mémoires sur l'ile de Thasos, Paris 1864, pp. 60-61. Nik. Schinas, Ὁδοιπορικαὶ σημειώσεις Μακεδονίας, Ἠπείρου, νέας ὁροθετικῆς γραμμῆς καὶ Θεσσαλίας, Athens 1887, pp. 849-850. See also p. Μ. Kontoyiannis, Οἱ πειραταὶ καὶ ἡ Θάσος, Athens 1915, pp. 33-36.


3. See Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 168, 170. On the subject of piracy in the Archipelago at this period, see the same work passim. For some generally concentrated information on piracy along the coast of Macedonia, see I. K. Vasdravellis, Ἡ πειρατεία εἰς τὰ παράλια τῆς Μακεδονίας κατὰ τὴν τουρκοκρατίαν, «Μακεδονικὰ» 5 (1961-1963) 319-362.


4. Bakalopoulos, Thasos, pp. 27-28.





believe it may be revealed in some items of interesting historical information afforded us by the apostolic delegate, Braconnier, who visited the island at the beginning of the 18th century and reviews the remains of a small town on the south-east side of the island. This town, which was protected by a castle, had 50 years previously been the target of a concerted attack from pirates of Maltese origin, and its destruction dated from that time. According to a tradition current among the local inhabitants, the reason for the calamity was that the pirates had wanted to



Fig. 98. The ancient agora of Thasos

Fig. 98. The ancient agora of Thasos.



carry off a girl from this town. Their initial attack was repulsed, but in a short while they returned in greater numbers and managed to capture the town, whereupon they destroyed the castle. Braconnier checked this tradition against the accounts of some people of Provence, who knew the pirate-chief concerned, and found that it related to an actual occurrence [1].


Piacenza writes about the gold and silver which was derived from quarries of fine-quality marble. These mines, he says, excited the attention and appetite of the later Ottoman sultans. Selim I (1512-1520) to



1. Aimé-Martin, Lettres, vol. 1, p. 88.





begin with, and later his successor, Suleyman I (1520-1666) exploited the mines with success. Above all, the sultan Murad (he means most probably Murad III, who reigned from 1574-1595), within the space of only six months, derived from them a considerable profit, particularly from the mountain which lies in the northern part of the island, opposite the estuary of the Nestos. But later on, because the vein had been exhausted — or, more probably, because they had lost track of it — the undertaking was abandoned. Not all of this information of Piacenza's appears to be accurate, for Belon, who visited the island in the middle of the 16th century, makes specific mention of the Thasos mines as having been left unworked. Moreover, local oral tradition has not preserved to our own day any recollection whatever of the mining of gold in later (i.e. post-medieval) times.


Piacenza's information has generally a measure of exaggeration, with a decided tendency to paint Thasos in glowing colours. The purpose of his attractive write-up becomes more evident if one takes into account the fact that his book was published in 1688: at a time, that is, when the war between the Christian alliance of Venice, Germany, etc. and Turkey (1684-1699) was still in progress. The purpose of the work was not so much informative as political and propagandist, as its title 'L'Egeo redivivo' bears out. In other words, the author wished to stimulate the attention and interest of Christendom and to predispose her to embarking upon fresh maritime schemes for the occupation of the Aegean Is-lands; and it is to this end that Piacenza extols their rich assets [1].



1. Bakalopoulos, Thasos, pp. 27-28, where the relevant bibliography may be found.


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