History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


VIII. Macedonia from the beginning of the 18th century to the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-1774


6. Thasos in the 18th century up till the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-1774



In view of so much lawlessness and disorganization—an increasing feature of the Ottoman empire in its decline—it is perhaps surprising that some degree of economic growth was in fact registered in Macedonia, especially in the urban centres. In Thasos, on the other hand, the economic situation was far less propitious: commerce was stagnant, if not actually on the decline. The main cause of this recession was the piracy which was rife throughout the Aegean and causing sea-borne trade to dwindle.


Mention has already been made of the dense forests which covered





the island and greatly favoured the approach of pirates towards its villages. But these forests concealed yet other dangers: they provided a splendid asylum for deserters from the Venetian fleet [1] and numerous hiding-places where criminals of every type could with impunity lie in wait for their prey [2].


Thasos constituted a timar of the kapudan paşa, and the revenue derived from it amounted to more 30 pounds per annum; that is to say, more than was collected from any other island of the Cyclades or Sporades.



Fig. 107. The harbour of Thasos with the ancient port in the foreground

Fig. 107. The harbour of Thasos with the ancient port in the foreground.



Yet despite the adverse conditions, the island had, upto the beginning of the 18th century, from seven to eight thousand inhabitants living in 12 to 15 villages (a number of them on the coast). It enjoyed a reasonable amount of revenue and carried on a relatively large amount of trade, as Braconnier records upori his visit to the island in 1707. But there is no longer much reference to the island's wines, which used formerly to meet with such appreciation at Constantinople. Other products



1. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, p. 331.


2. Mertzios, ibid., pp. 396-397.





now take pride of place: olive-oil, wax, timber, are all exported in large quantities. The islanders also gathered and sold the galls of the kermes oak (Quercus coccifera), used at Venice for making a brilliant scarlet dye for cloth.


Braconnier was enthralled by the remains of the island's ancient civilization, and speaks with admiration of the capital's fine harbour (see fig. 107), its marble-paved quay (of which a portion still survived), the sarcophagi and ruins of ancient buildings scattered throughout the plain, and about the defence-works of the Genoese and the ruined tower in the castle which bore some inscriptions [1].



Fig. 108. Embroidered apron from Panayiá. Thasos

Fig. 108. Embroidered apron from Panayiá. Thasos.

(Museum of Folk-Art of the University of Thessalonica)



Fear of piratical attacks had caused the inhabitants gradually to abandon the coastal areas to move for safety to the central part of the island; and here, in remote spots shielded by dense vegetation or by precipitous and inaccessible cliffs, they founded their settlements. Such, indeed, is the picture which Thasos presents right up to the middle of the 19th century [2].


Even in our day numerous stories and traditions about consairs



1. Omont, Missions, part 2, pp. 1035-1037. See almost the same details in Aime-Martin, Lettres, vol. 1, pp. 86-88.


2. See A. Conze, Reise auf den Inseln des Thrakischen Meeres, Hannover 1860, p. 4. See also Kontoyiannis, Οἱ πειραταὶ καὶ ἡ Θάσος, p. 14.





and pirate raids are still to be found on Thasos, where they circulate from mouth to mouth [1].


During the closing centuries of Turkish rule, the two villages most distant from the coast — and in fact the largest on the island — were Theológos (or Tholós, as the Turks called it) and Panayiá. The former was the island's capital up till about the beginning of the 19th century, and even today possesses the largest extent of farm-land [2]. It seems probable that the site which Theológos occupies was originally settled by fugitives from Constantinople in 1453, who were joined by inhabitants of hamlets and villages of south-east Thasos, who wanted to retire towards the interior.


Panayiá likewise appears to have been founded in post-Byzantine times. If we are to believe the oral tradition, the village was founded in its remote location 300 years ago [3]. As a matter of fact, the oldest quarter of the village is built on the side of a hill called Pyrgí, which faces the interior of the island and is not visible from the seaward side. The other side, which faces the sea, was not inhabited till later in the 19th century, and is called to this day Kolitzídes (Turk. kolcu, custom-house guard), a name it took from the customs-guards that were based in the guard-post there to keep a watch on the sea in case some caïque should put in. Α good number of the inhabitants of Panayiá will have come from Liménas (Harbour), which began to be rapidly depopulated during the 18th century. From fear of pirates, these people descended en masse to their farms in the Liménas region only when it was time to cut the hay, gather the olives, cultivate the soil and sow the cereals and other summer crops, or else at harvest-time. At sunset they would retire up the hillside to spend the night in their village. The various defence-towers which survived from ancient times at different points of the western,



1. See also Conze, Reise, pp. 4-6, 32, 38, 39. L. de Launay, Chez les Grecs de Turquie, Autour de la mer Egée, Paris 1897, p. 137. Franz von Löher Griechische Kustenfahrten, Biesefeld und Leipzig 1876, pp. 71-72. The relevant stories and traditions can be found all together in Kontoyiannis, Οἱ πειραταὶ καὶ ἡ Θάσος, passim.


2. See Perrot, Mémoires, p. 70. See also Kontoyiannis, ibid., pp. 15-16. See inscription of 1708 over a dried-up spring at Theológos. Sal. Reinach, Chroniques d'Orient. Documents sur les fouilles et découvertes dans l'Orient hellénique de 1883-1890, vol. 1, Paris, p. 255.


3. See also Perrot, Mémoires, p. 69: «Le village, fuyant, il y a deux ou trois cent ans, selon la tradition du pays, le rivage infesté et cherchant une position et facile à défendre, s'est arreté dans un large ravin, sur le flanc de la montagne».





eastern and, most of all, southern coasts of the island [1], do not appear to have been in use during the latter centuries of Turkish rule. The village-communities maintained on the coast a number of buildings termed βιγλαριὰ (look-out posts), that were manned by a paid body of βιγλάρηδες, who kept watch for the appearance of any suspicious craft in those waters and, when danger threatened, would give the alarm signal to the village. When this happened, all the women and children, loaded with whatever valuables they possessed, would run and hide themselves in the dense woods, while the men, aided by the few soldiers that constituted the Turkish garrison, would set ambushes for the pirates [2].


This endemic state of insecurity, which was to persist up till the middle of the 19th century, contributed to the growing isolation of Thasos from the outside world and undoubtedly brought about the island's decline. The effect of this isolation upon the life and outlook of the inhabitants was profound: the authentic character which Thasos' folk-tradition has preserved (see fig. 108) is certainly to be attributed to it.



Byzantine decoration

Byzantine decoration



1. For enumeration of the towers see Kontoyiannis, Οἱ πειραταὶ καὶ ἡ Θάσος, pp. 24-27. See also the special study of A. Bon, Les ruines antiques dans I'lle de Thasos et en particulier les tours helléniques, BCH 59 (1930) 147-194. On Thasos as a nest of pirates around the middle of the 18th century, see W. Heyd, Histoire du commerce du Levanl au moyen âge, Leipzig 1923, vol. 1, p. 443.


2. See Cousinéry, Voyage, vol. 2, pp. 104-105. Conze, Reise, p. 25.


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