History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


VII. Macedonia in the 16th and 17th centuries


3. The activities of the klephts in Macedonia during the second half of the 17th century



During the Turco-Venetian war of 1684 to 1699, the Venetian fleet was active throughout the Aegean, and its theatre of operations embraced the shores of Thrace and Macedonia. The Captain-General of the Venetian navy, Francesco Morosini, writes from Préveza on 8 December 1684 that he had landed on Thasos, seized men 36 to serve at the oars, along with 40 women and 74 other people young and old, and had enforced on the islanders a payment of 1000 reals. Later on, he approached Kavála, since he had learnt that the Turkish were panic-stricken and





intended to pay him tribute; so he bombarded the castle with three salvos and then sent the captain, Biano, with his pirate vessels to effect a landing and take possession of it. The operation, however, was unsuccessful, because the Turks had set an ambush behind a hill and repulsed the landing-party. It was Morosini's aim to cut communications between Thessalonica and Adrianople. Sailing later to Cassandra, he seized 1400 bushels [1] of corn, drove an ağa with 60 Turks out of the village of Válta, and burnt down two of their castles [2].


The Venetians imposed taxes on the Aegean Islands, which in spite of this were obliged to continue their payment of taxes due to the Sultan. Thus a tax register of 1694 records Thasos as paying 8.000 reals, though the sum was cut by half, since the islanders, like the inhabitants of the other islands, found it impossible to pay it [3].



1. During this period, discorder and anarchy was rife throughout the rural areas of Macedonia — and in the mountain regions most of all. Thus, in September 1667, an organised band of 70 bandits overran the village of Ay-Yiánnis, of the kaza of Véroia, where they attacked merchants both Greek and Jewish, and after seizing their provisions, killed a number of them [4]. The 'armatoli' of the various districts were unable to put an end to the brigandage: there were continual outbreaks of it all over the region. The extant documents bear eloquent testimony to the situation. In vain the chief of 'armatoli', Theodosius, brought before the Islamic judge of Véroia, in May 1670, one Constantine, inhabitant of the village of Bikovo (Bilovo?), on a charge that he had been roaming the mountains, plundering and killing wayfarers [5]. The next month, he produced Panayiotis Graphas (?) or Garaphas (?), an inhabitant of Koustochóri, near Véroia, who confessed to wandering in the mountains, plundering and killing together with the other brigand-chiefs, Perdikaris and Kaloyieros [6].



1. Α bushel at Cassandra was equivalent to about 30 kilograms.


2. K. D. Mertzios, Ὁ Φραγκίσκος Μοροζίνι, ἡ Κασσάνδρα, ἡ Καβάλλα καὶ ἡ Θάσος. Αἱ διενεργηθεῖσαι κατ᾽ αὐτῶν ἐπιδρομαί, «Μακεδονικὰ» 3 (1953-1955) 6-7.


3. Mertzios, ibid., pp. 1-4.


4. Vasdravellis, Ἀρματολοὶ καὶ κλέϕτες, p. 51-52.


5. Vasdravellis, ibid., pp. 52-53. In the same way, the 'armatoli' of the village of Brod, at the end of December 1633, handed over to their zâbit a certain Miho Trpko for having associated with the hayduks (Turski Documenti, 1st series, 2, p. 29).


6. Vasdravellis, ibid., pp. 53-54.





Particular mention should be made of the activities of Andreas Serbetis, an inhabitant of the Náousa district, who is branded as 'chief insurgent' by the chief-armatole, Theodosius, and accused of raising the standard of revolt from some time past, along with the other Naousan brigands, Perdikaris and Polyzos, and of murdering many people. Hence, Theodosius, with a certain pride, hands him over in chains to the kadı of Véroia, who sentences him to death by hanging (26 November 1671) [1]. Α certain Moschos Kyriakos is sentenced to the same punishment in April 1673: he is reported by the chief-armatole, Theodosius, to have belonged to the band of the brigand-chief Kaloyieros, who had now been killed, and to have been an accomplice in the latter's crimes [2]. Α few years later, in July 1681, Apostolos Georgiou of Náousa is also hanged, on the charge of having been a member of the band of the brigand-chief Balabanis, and of being guilty of numerous acts of violence [3].


The situation brought fearful economic and social repercussions. The majority of the inhabitants of the kaza of Véroia, ruined and impoverished as they now were, dispersed to various towns and villages belonging to the other kazas of Yenitsá, Édessa, Ostrovo, Náousa, Platamón, Tríkkala, Sérvia, Elassón, Domokós, etc; but all who had not completed ten years absence from their home-towns and -villages, were commanded in 1687 to return thither for the census which was to be taken of them [4].


These throubled conditions persisted up to the end of the 17th century. Α large number of the inhabitants of the mountain villages of Piéria had become klephts, or at any rate co-operated with the klephts, and such disctricts fell into a state of anarchy. This fact becomes evident from a firman of January 1691, which speaks of a revolt staged by the villagers of Meliá, and which provoked the Turks to destroy the village and keep the women and children as hostages [5]. We have here, it would seem, an instance of an entire village participating in a revolt.


Beyond the present Greek frontier, on the other hand, in the districts of Monastir, Prilep, Veles, and Skopje, it was mainly Moslem and Slav brigands who were operating [6]. The relevant documents have been



1. Vasdravellis, Ἀρματωλοὶ καὶ κλέϕτες, p. 58.


2. Vasdravellis, ibid., p. 59.


3. Vasdravellis, ibid., p. 54.


4. Vasdravellis, Ἀρχεῖον Βέροιας -Ναούσης, p. 98-99.


5. Vasdravellis, ibid., pp. 62-63.


6. See a description of the life of these klephts written in the dialect of Skopje and based on the above-mentioned material, by A. Matkovski, Information about some hayduks of southern (!) Macedonia, «Glasnik» 5 (1961), part 1, pp. 99-125. See of the same author, Haidukenaktionen in Mazedonien in der ersten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts, SOF 21 (1962) 394-402.





published in the collection 'Turski Izvori za ajdutsvoto i aramistvoto vo Makedonija', Skopje 1961, vol. 1 (1620-1700). With the exception of a few general directives addressed to the Turkish authorities of the towns and cities in the Greek inhabited parts, mainly in Western Macedonia (Kastoriá, Flórina, Sari Göl, etc), these documents relate to districts which are today part of Yugoslavia, and to Monastir in particular.


We find repeated injunctions to the kadıs and other officers of the sancaks to take measures against the hayduks and klephts [1]. The appearances of brigandage in these parts coincided with a similar phenomenon (though on a lesser scale) to be observed throughout the other countries bordering the Mediterranean [2], though in the latter case, the form which the brigandage took is not quite the same as that in the Turkish occupied lands of the Balkan peninsula. For in these Ottoman lands, in addition to acts of pure and simple pillaging, there is manifested, to a greater or lesser degree depending upon circumstances, the further element of revenge. Indeed, the struggle waged by the Greek klephts bears clearly the stamp of retaliation against the conqueror and of active resistance to his arbitrary conduct. For example, in 1669, the traveller Brown, discussing the Thessalians (and doubtless meaning also the Macedonians, since the great massifs of Olympus, Hásia and Pindus belong to the two territories) says that they wore small caps which resembled those in fashion in the France of his day, that they were brave, daring and desperate, and that if the Turks did them the slightest injury, they never failed to find an opportunity to pay them out. Α large number of Turks had been captured and had lost their lives; and for this reason their fellow-Turks complained [3]. The same traveller writes that the number of klephts was very great, despite the fact that they were punished severely when caught. In the dangerous passes, the local communities used to station men with drums up on the heights, who by means of drumming communicated that all was safe and thus reassured the



1. Vasdravellis, Ἀρχεῖον Βέροιας - Ναούσης, pp. 59-60 (for the year 1682), p. 61 (1683), pp. 61-62 (1684). See the relevant documentsin the collection Turski Izvori, vol. 2, pp. 45 ff. passim.


2. Braudel, La Mediterranée, p. 643 ff., 658. See also p. 660.


3. Brown, Relation, p. 91.





travellers who passed with uneasy minds through the defiles [1].


Although the 'armatoli', as we observed earlier, sometimes managed to capture a few klephts [2], they were apparently unable to deal effectively and decisively with the situation. Perhaps this was because they did not carry out their duties conscientiously. They did not forget so easily their old comrades, and would often be in league with them. And it was doubtless for this very reason that in 1637 Murad IV decided to abolish the institution of 'armatoli'. In this year he took away from them their function of guarding the passes and defiles, and enjoined the Turkish regional governors to instal Turkish garrisons in their place. But the 'armatoli' turned on these and drove them out of the districts, so that the Sultan's efforts came to nothing [3].


Α fresh attempt to solve the problem — though it applied to only a few districts — was the replacement of the Christian 'armatoli' by Moslems in 1699 (i.e. in the reign of Mustafa II (1695-1703)), in the districts of Yánnina, Lárisa, Sérvia, Grevená, Yenitsá, Doïráni, Thessalonica, Véroia, Strumica, Monastir, Prilep and Köprülü; but this measure does not appear to have any more success than that of Murad IV. In an ordinance issued by the Sultan on the subject, the reason given for the change is that the 'armatoli' of these regions, who are under the orders of the Moslem notables (ayans) of the vilayet, do not confine themselves to taking the pay which they receive from the inhabitants, but levy tolls from travellers and merchants using the defiles and bridges; and they indulge in many other forms of arbitrary behaviour [4].



1. Hans Dernschwam's, Tagebuch, p. 246. Brown, ibid., pp. 103, 104. See also Yannis Arg. Tozis, Πῶς εἷδε τὴν σκλαβωμένη Θράκη στὰ 1634 ὁ ἅγγλος περιηγητὴς Sir Henry Blount, ΑΘΓΛΘ 19 (1954) 216. At each of the entrances of another defile (at the village of Avdîmi in Thrace), there was in Turkish times a guard-post with a bell: Maravelakis - Vacalopoulos, Αἱ προσϕυγικαὶ ἐγκαταστάσεις, p. 450. As regards the punishment of klephts, see the execution of two Greeks in 1576 at Constantinople, who with a number of their comrades had plundered and murdered people not far from Constantinople (Gerlach, Tagebuch, p. 169).


2. See Vasdravellis, Ἀρματολοὶ καὶ κλέϕτες, pp. 49 ff. passim. See also unpublished documents 29 of 1639-1640 and 429, 493 of 1640 of the Islamic court of Véroia in a condensed translation (type-written) of Ch. Arapidis.


3. Aravantinos, Χρονογραϕία τῆς Ἠπείρου, 1, pp. 224-225. See Moslem 'armatoli' at Sofia around the middle of the 17th cent. in R. Anhegger, Martoloslar hakkında, «Türkiyat Mecmuasi», cilt. VII-VIII (1940-1942) 292.


4. See Vasdravellis, Ἀρχεῖον Βέροιας - Ναούσης, pp. 108-111, 115-116.






2. The klephts may justly be said to have embodied the soul of Greek resistance to the Turks, for it was they who translated into action their determination not to be crushed. To them the poverty of the Greek inhabitants was an ally, and the luxury of their enemies a challenge. Just as the Bulgarian 'hayduk' could freely traverse his land from the Black Sea to Serbia, by moving in safety along the snow-clad ridges of the Balkan Range, so the Macedonian klepht could escape southwards, particularly into western 'Stereá Hellás', by following a whole line of lofty peaks which joins in with the rest of northern Greece.


Many examples could be given of such adventures, but to illustrate the point, we shall select just one: the life and exploits of Meïdanis of Kozáni, who operated, according to Kasomoulis, between 1660 and 1690 throughout Macedonia and Thessaly, making appearances in the districts of Kastoriá, Édessa, Sérvia, Elassón, and Tríkkala. In the numerous battles he had with the Turks, it was they who came off worst and he had made himself their terror for many years. Eventually, the Paşa of Tríkkala was forced to offer him the armatolık of the district, which had been in recent times the scene of his activities, and Meïdanis accepted the post. He entered Tríkkala in triumph to present himself to the kadı and make his official submission (itaat) [1]. He then received the mürasele, the document which recognised his captaincy over certain defined areas (probably the district of Tríkkala); and he returned laden with honours to his well-known haunts, charged with the protection of the district against the klephts. The date of this event is unknown. Meïdanis occupied his post for several years, notwithstanding the conspiracies of many Turkish officials and of the notables of Tríkkala in particular, who were jealous of his power and influence throughout that region [2].


In 1695, the Turkish authorities deprived Meïdanis of his armatohk and gave it to Alimani (most probably a Moslem-Albanian named Aliman). We are left in ignorance of the reasons for this loss of confidence towards Meïdanis, which resulted in his deposition. Possibly this was to do with the prolonged Turko-Venetian war (1684-1699) and the cooperation of the Greek 'armatoli' in Venetian attacks upon mainland Greece. It is, however, quite certain that by 8 September 1695 Meïdanis



1. For details about the demonstration of submission by klephts, see L. Koutsonikas, Γενικὴ Ἱστορία τῆς ἑλληνικῆς ἐπαναστάσεως, Athens 1864, vol. 2, pp. ix-x.


2. Ν. Kasomoulis, Ἐνθυμήματα στρατιωτικὰ τῆς ἐπαναστάσεως τῶν Ἑλλήνων (1821-1833), Athens 1939, vol. 1, p. 5.





had reverted to being a klepht. But in March 1700 the Turks, with the cooperation of the local notables and the treachery of a few peasants, managed to take him alive at Gardíki on the Aspropotamos. They later transferred him to Thessalonica (i.e. capital of Macedonia, where he had been operating) and there executed him [1].


Meïdanis was, of course, just one of countless warriors of this type (their names now long forgotten), who during those dark centuries of Macedonian history, devoted themselves to a ferocious conflict with their Turkish overlords and exacted a bitter revenge for their harsh and relentless oppression.


Nicholas Kasomoulis of Kozáni (himself a warrior of 1821) has compiled a history entitled 'Στρατιωτικὰ Ἐνθυμήματα', the first volume of which makes it abundantly plain how much the inhabitants of Macedonia have contributed to the struggles of the Greek people against the invader. One may single out that part of his description which deals with the 'military conditions in northern Greece previous to 1821'. Therein he lifts the veil from over a whole world of heroic figures, those freedom-fighters amongst whom the Greeks of Macedonia occupy a brilliant place. From such people were recruited the bands of klephts who roamed threateningly throughout the massifs of Pindus, Grammos, Vérmion, Piéria and Olympus. Their presence gave courage to the youth and inspired them proudly to take their stand against the conqueror and those of their compatriots who gave him willing service. The threat 'I shall become a klepht' was ever on their lips, nor did they hesitate to carry it out.


When a young man, raging against injustices or eon the run' from the Turks, presented himself at the klephts' hide-out, he was subjected to some kind of ordeal, to ascertain whether he was worthy of acceptance into these mountain bands of resistance-fighters. This ordeal was essentially a sort of practical joke, of the kind that are still common in military academies of our day at the expense of the new recruits. The klephts would present the candidate to their captain, who after looking him critically up and down, would pass him on to his 'tsaousis' (sergeant). The latter imposed upon the recruit a number of labours, the first of which was the hardest and most humiliating. The 'tsaousis' would load him with a sack weighing 50-80 okas (137-220 lbs.) and make him



1. See the account in Lampros, Ἐνθυμήσεων, NE 7 (1910) 205-206. For a more detailed account of Meïdanis see A. Vacalopoulos, Ὁ ἀρματολὸς Μεϊντάνης, «Ἑλληνικὰ» 13 (1954) 160-164.





carry it to some officers of his band. The latter sent him on to another, and so on, until the young man, by now completely exhausted, arrived back at the 'tsaousis' or some other group of young braves, whom he begged to confirm the fact that he had willingly carried out the allotted task. Thereupon, shouts of "worthy! worthy!" were the sign of the new klepht's admittance into the ranks of the freedom-fighters [1].


Facing danger at every turn, the klepht (and for that matter the mountain dweller in general) not unnaturally put his trust in no one but himself, in nothing but his trusty weapon. His sword or musket became for him a living and inseparable companion: he came to regard it as something sacred, which inspired in him feelings of real devotion.


The warrior's arms should ne᾽ er be sold,

But to some church be taken,

And there in holy liturgy be blessed.

High in some cobwebbed tower should they hang,

For rust to devour the iron, as doth the earth the man [2].


The klephts swept away the degradation of the raya and made an undeniable contribution to the spiritual re-awakening of the Greek race. The stand which these fighters adopted, inspired in their fellow-Greeks qualities of valour and determination: they demonstrated for all to see the path of honour and of duty. Here, then, was created the figure of the heroic youth—that legendary 'pallikari' —, who enshrined all those qualities of manly pride and of unflinching resistance to the conqueror with his train of collaborators.



1. Kasomoulis, Ἐνθυμήματα, vol. 3, p. 625.


2. Polites, Ἐκλογαὶ ἀπὸ τὰ τραγούδια τοῦ Ἑλλψιχοῦ λαοῦ, 1932, p. 49.


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