History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos





I ought, perhaps, to make it clear from the beginning that by the term 'Macedonia' it is not merely Greek (Southern) Macedonia or Yugoslav [1] (Northern) Macedonia which is meant, but that greater area which constituted the country in ancient times; an area which coincides more or less with the corresponding territory during the last years of the Turkish occupation. The reason for specifying this late period is that during the Middle Ages the geographical definition 'Macedonia' is somewhat vague; and with all but a few of the Byzantine writers the term comes to include the larger portion of Albania, Northern Thrace (the Eastern Rumeli of Turkish times) or what is today South Bulgaria, and often presentday Thrace [2] as well.


With this in mind, we can take this 'greater' Macedonia as extending southwards to the mountains of Hásia, Kamvoúnia and Olympus, and across to the seaboard of the Aegean. Northwards the region extends as far as Ohrid and Prespa, including Kruševo, Prilep and Veles, and further east the regions of Strumica and Melnik. Of this broad northern portion the western boundary is formed by the Pindus range and the eastern by the river Nestos (Mesta). These portions of Macedonia today constitute parts of Greece, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria (see map 1). This is more or less the region described as Macedonia in the books of European travellers of the last few centuries. The regions around Skopje and Tetovo do not really constitute parts of Macedonia but belong



1. From early on many Slavs have used the term 'Macedonia' to refer particularly to Northern Macedonia, that is to say the region beyond present-day Greek Macedonia, from which it is separated by high mountain massifs. (See for example G. Jireček, Geschichte der Bulgaren, Prague 1876, pp. 510 and 577, where the term 'Macedonia' is used to mean Northern Macedonia).


2. See K. Amantos, Παρατηρήσεις τινὲς εἰς τὴν μεσαιωνικὴν γεωγραϕίαν, ΕΕΒΣ 1 (1924) 44-45, and the relevant bibliography therein.





Map 1. "Greater" Macedonia

Map 1. "Greater" Macedonia.





to old Serbia, a fact already observed in 1907 by the celebrated Serbian ethnologist J. Cvijić [1].


Throughout its long history, and especially during the countless uprisings of the Middle Ages, Macedonia has been a bulwark of Hellenism, assailed by successive waves of invaders from the north. As far back as the start of the Roman invasion the role of Macedonia had been well established, as the historian Polybius affirms: "how highly should we esteem the Macedonians, who for the greater part of their lives never cease from fighting the barbarians for the sake of Greece's security? For Greece would have constantly been in the greatest danger, had she not this protecting fence of Macedonians ..." [2]. The last invaders of Macedonia in medieval times were the Serbs of Stephen Dušan, and the Turks (in the last quarter of the 14th century). Thessalonica proved to be the very soul of Greek resistance; and the Macedonian capital, with its protector St. Demetrius, became a symbol of victorious Hellenism.


If the history of Macedonia during ancient and medieval times, together with the role of hellenism, constitute subjects of world-wide historical import and influence, its history in more modern times is also of considerable interest. This is not merely because strong recollections of the ancient and medieval world still survive in those parts. In the dark centuries of Turkish occupation new and varied conditions came into being, the study of which may assist our understanding of many of the problems which have beset south-east Europe in the present era.


It is, moreover, true to say that up to this moment there has not been written in any language an objective and — as far as is humanly possible — unbiased history of the Macedonia of this period, even though hundreds, if not thousands of books and papers have been published, especially at the beginning of this century, on various subjects connected with the region. Some of these are very general in their scope; others deal with particular aspects, especially ethnographic. Hardly any, however, would convince the reader of their sincerity, and we cannot set much store by them. In such researches one would look in vain for a truly historical basis. The majority of these works, often written to order, are haphazard and vague in their conception and content, so that they are devoid of historical character; they are rather of a political



1. J. Cvijić, Remarques sur l’éthnographie de la Macédoine, 2nd edit., Paris 1907, p. 6, note 1.


2. Polybius, Historiae, Leipzig 1893, v. 3, bk. 9, 35.





nature, and significant only in such a context. This is not, of course, surprising, for most of the territory concerned had become, from the beginning of the last century, the target of various claims from Greece; while first Serbia, then Bulgaria at the turn of the century, brimming with national aspirations, began to dream of the re-establishment of their erstwhile and short - lived dominions, those of the Bulgarian tsars Symeon (893-927) and Samuel (976-1014), and of the Serbian kral Stephen Dušan (1331-1355). Certainly, the Greeks who sought to free their ancestral land had fought many stubborn battles there against the Turks during the great insurrection of 1821, just as they had in the insurrections of 1854 and 1878. Moreover, in the discussions between the Greek ambassador at Constantinople, Mark Renieris, and the Serbian prime-minister, Elias Garašanin, in the summer of 1861 concerning the co-operation of the two powers against the Ottoman Empire, it was agreed that Greece would raise no objection to the Serbian annexation of Bosnia, Herzegovina, and northern Albania as far as Durazzo; while Serbia for her part would not object to Greece's annexation of Epirus, Macedonia, and the islands of the Aegean [1]. In 1867, however, the Serbs had become more demanding and asked for the whole of Northern Macedonia [2], that is to say present-day Yugoslav and Bulgarian Macedonia.


After the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 and the partition of Macedonia by Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, the repeated Balkan and European disturbances did not favour the creation of a suitable climate for the assuaging of feelings in south-east Europe; an indispensable prerequisite for the composition of an objective history of Macedonia. These disturbed conditions continued on and off until the end of the last Great War (1939-45), or rather up to 1950, when a new period of peaceful co-existence dawned among the Balkan states. And it is precisely from this date that the urgent need has been felt for the co-ordination of those essential elements which had survived the passage of centuries, and the composition of a systematic history of Macedonia, particularly of the last centuries of the Byzantine period and of the Turkish occupation.


For many years friends and acquaintances, and in particular men of letters both Greek and foreign, have been urging me to write the history of Macedonia during the period outlined above. Some had encountered



1. See in this connection Μ. Τ. Laskaris, Τὸ ἀνατολικὸν ζήτημα, Thessalonika 1948, pp. 216-219.


2. Ibid. p. 224,





difficulties in connection with their historical researches on the subject of Macedonia; others wanted to locate certain of its monuments in their historical framework, and find out what they could about them in Turkish times. Perhaps they turned to me because they knew that I myself had touched upon many of these subjects in my researches, or that I had reviewed many of them in the relevant chapters of Ἱστορία τοῦ Νέου Ἑλληνισμοῦ. Until now several considerations have made me hesitate to embark upon an undertaking of this kind. Not only have I been occupied with other professional work, but — and this is no doubt the chief reason — I have been conscious of the pressing need for further material to be brought to light and for a much more systematic study of particular questions relating to Macedonian history, before such a work could be attempted. For there is no doubt that certain periods of its history have remained obscure — and perhaps will always remain so—through the lack of sources or adequate research work.


The absence of historical data was particularly apparent in respect of Northern or Upper Macedonia, principally because of its sparse population and the barren nature of its physical make-up; not to mention the lack, or remoteness of large cultural centres [1]. This is in contrast with Southern Macedonia, where from the most ancient times, densely populated Greek centres have had continuous existence. In Upper Macedonia it is only in the region of Skopje and Monastir (Bitolj) —that area which constitutes Yugoslav Macedonia today — that we have at our disposal a fuller measure of interesting material from the Turkish period, derived from the Turkish archives of Constantinople, which the 'Institute of National History' of Skopje has with great diligence compiled and published. But while this material relates to this particular area, scholars commit the unconscious or intentional error of giving to their works on the subject titles of a very general nature, so that they appear to relate to Macedonia as a whole. Among the local archives of Northern Macedonia there were some Greek ones preserved at small but active centres such as Melnik, Strumica and the neighbouring monasteries. These might have shed a great deal of light on the history of those regions, had they not been, alas, destroyed during the various disturbances [2].



1. For the situation in the 16th c. see the essay of the eye-witness Constantino Garzoni: " . . . paesi assai fertili, ma però disabitati" (E. Albéri, Le relazioni degli ambasciatori veneti al Senato, 3rd ser., Florence, vol. 1 (1840) p. 373). See also F. Beaujour, Tableau du commerce de la Grèce, Paris 1800, vol. 1, p. 128.


2. The archives of Melnik which were kept by the Σύνδεσμος Μελενικιωτῶν at Sidherokastro, were destroyed by the Bulgarians on their invasion of Greece in 1941 on the heels of the German armies. (P. Pennas, Τὸ κοινὸν Μελενίκου καὶ τὸ σύστμα διοικήσεώς του, Athens 1946, p. 12).





Moreover, we know extremely little about the monuments of Macedonia dating from the last centuries of the Byzantine period or from the Turkish occupation. In fact, in various parts of the region, both on the coast and in the interior, there are preserved numerous castles, citadels, and isolated towers (πύργοι), buildings of the Byzantine period, fortifications and houses of Turkish times, etc. These, unfortunately, are usually in a state of delapidation, because the appropriate authorities are rarely interested in their preservation and maintenance. The historical background of most of these monuments was unknown even to specialists in that field; and it would not have been possible for anyone to ascertain any more than what the monuments could tell us of themselves. However, the data which has been published in the last few years, and the research work of numerous scholars has shed a good deal of light on the events that took place at the time of the Turkish advance into Macedonia and upon its capital Thessalonica; events which, it would seem, have a bearing on some of these monuments, particularly the castles. Thus, those tacit and untenanted fortifications have taken on new life, and can tell us something of their rôle in a hitherto obscure past. Indeed, they represent pillars of Greek resistance in the face of the manifold invaders that descended from the north: Bulgars, Serbs, and finally Turks. They were, one might say, the last bastions of Greek freedom on the soil of Alexander the Great.


It seemed, therefore, my duty to undertake the composition of this large and basic portion of the history of Macedonia; and in this I have based myself on my previous work in this field, and on relevant publications, large and small, of other scholars particularly of the last few years. This history covers the period from 1354 (the Ottoman invasion of Europe) to 1833, when the bodies of Greek 'Klephts' and 'armatoli' in Macedonia were disbanded. These had been active since the suppression of the institution of 'armatoli' by the Sultan Ahmed III in 1721. The presence of these bands in Macedonia, where the Turks had suppressed with immense effort the insurrections of 1821 and 1822, continued to be a danger even after the foundation of the Greek state of the Balkan Peninsula.


The starting point of the history of Macedonia, and indeed of the





whole Balkan Peninsula of modern times, must be the invasion by the Ottoman Turks, although a short review may be desirable of the hostilities of Stephen Dušan against the Greeks of Macedonia, and the creation of the Serbian state of Sérres. Certainly, this would be indispensable if we wish to understand fully the problems of these regions; problems of a historical, ethnological, and political nature, which have exercised both scholars and diplomats during the 19th and early 20th century. The scanty remnants of Serbs in Southern Macedonia were assimilated during the first centuries of this period by Bulgars and Greeks. But up to the middle of the 17th century, when the Turkish traveller Evliya Çelebi passed through those parts, there were still, as we shall see, small pockets of Serbs to be found. After a careful examination of the various sources, I believe I can discern the correct solution to the problem relating to the origin and the fortunes of the first Slavs in Macedonia; a problem which is closely connected with the successive ethnic layers of the following centuries [1].


In fact after the Turkish conquest (the period of those ruined walls) the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula and of Asia Minor, Moslem and Christian alike, found that they could move about freely in all directions. Thus throughout Macedonia they crossed and mingled with each other. New settlements, new conditions, new problems were created. From one direction Turks arrived and established themselves; while in another, Greeks from Macedonia and Epirus in particular (as well as some from Thrace) began to migrate peacefully northwards to Serbia, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Rumania, to form Greek colonies in the larger towns and cities, and to found many small Greek towns and villages besides. Sometimes they were reinforcing concentrations of Greek population of great antiquity, such as those along the litoral of the Black Sea, in the ancient cities of Sozopolis, Pyrgos, Anchialos, Mesembria, etc., or in the interior like Philippopolis, Stenimachos, etc. On the other hand, Southern Slavs (particularly Bulgarians) began to trickle southwards in search of work, giving a new lease of life to the remnants of the old Slav colonies of the Middle Ages still surviving in various parts of Macedonia, or creating new settlements.


This situation continued until the First World War and, in particular, the treaties of Neuilly (1919) and Lausanne (1923), when Greeks



1. This subject is treated correctly and soberly in a single page by Bogo Grafenauer, Die ethnische Gliederung und geschichtliche Rolle der westlichen Südslawen im Mittelalter, Ljubljana 1966, p. 4.





from Bulgaria, Eastern Rumeli, Thrace, and Asia Minor began to drift into Southern Macedonia, taking the place of the Bulgars and Turks who in their turn were settled in former Greek areas of Bulgaria and Turkey. The Slav-speaking inhabitants who abandoned Southern Macedonia at this time had acquired a distinct consciousness of Bulgarian rather than Serbian nationality. That this is actually so is supported by the fact that they preferred to make their way as Bulgars to a defeated Bulgaria, and not as Serbs to a victorious and much enlarged Serbia. What few Serbs there were in Southern Macedonia — especially the refugees from the first World War — returned to Yugoslavia; while Greeks who had been settled in Yugoslav Macedonia (Skopje, Kruševo, Prilep, Monastir, Ohrid, etc.) began to trickle into Greek Macedonia to settle in the towns and villages, and most of all the capital Thessalonica, where with their clubs and societies they preserve to this day their individuality, their reminiscences, and the manners and customs of their distant homelands. Those who chose to remain in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia were gradually absorbed by their foreign environment (see map 2).


It would be wrong to assume, however, that the material furnished in this book relates only to the political history of Macedonia. The consideration of the region's economic development is of equal significance, and the influence that it has exerted on the spiritual and cultural expression of the Macedonians must be emphasised. In particular, the abundant information given about farming, industry and trade may prove to be of no small advantage to the appropriate authorities today in their formulation of plans for the intensive programming of the region's economy.


Engaged as I have been for many years on this subject, I have made use of an enormous and varied bibliography; and in doing this I have sifted as carefully as possible the information that has come my way, from whatever source, whether Greek, Bulgarian, Yugoslav, Turkish, or extra-Balkan. I cannot, of course, claim to have exhausted every item that has been written in connection with the subject; and it is for other historians to make good whatever omissions might occur in this book, and to complete my efforts with what new material they may uncover [1].



1. Α few months after the publication of the Greek edition of this work, a three-volume History of the Macedonian Race was published in Skopje. Pages 207-327 of the first volume deal with the period covered by my own History of Macedonia. The section is principally concerned with the culture and interchange of ideas within the area which corresponds to modernYugoslav Macedonia.The limitation thus imposed perpetuates that erroneous approach on the part of the Skopje historians which I have indicated earlier in this book. The «Macedonian» history from Skopje is sadly deficient in material relating to Greek Macedonia during the period of Turkish occupation. Forexample, there is no mention of the role played by the large urban centres of Greek Macedonia — whether of older foundation, like Thessalonika and Sérres, or of more modern development, like Kozáni and Kavála. Nor is there any mention of the movement of populations and the settlement of Macedonian Greeks in areas further north, particularly in towns which are to be today in Yugoslavia. Furthermore, there is a total lack of information drawn from travellers' accounts upon the political, economic and social state of the country, or upon the wholesale conversion to Islam of the inhabitants of Western Macedonia (viz. the Vallahades). Similarly, whilst the resistance of Marco Kralj and Constantine Dejanović towards the Ottoman conquerors receives full recognition, the part played by that most valient defender of Greek Macedonia, Manuel II Paleologus, is completely ignored. Yet perhaps the most serious defect of all in the Skopje history is its abundance of vague generalities, its lack of positive evidence, and its glaring absence of references.





Map. 2. Exchange of Greek, Bulgarian and Turkish populatıons between 1919 and 1923

Map. 2. Exchange of Greek, Bulgarian and Turkish populatıons between 1919 and 1923.





New sources and fresh material have accrued from the study of various archives: the Archives of the Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece [1]; the Haus-, Hof-, and Staatsarchiv of Vienna; the Archives of the French Foreign Office, to mention the most important. This research, together with the use of all the new material that came to light, would have been impossible without the kind co-operation of Mr. John Meletopoulos, curator of the Museum of the Society of Historical and Ethnological Society (Athens); of Mr. B. Sphyroeras, contributer to the Centre For the Research on Medieval and Modern Hellenism and of Mrs. A. Phenerli - Panayotopoulou, who dealt with the microphotography of the manuscripts in the Archives of the French Foreign Office. I should, therefore, like to express here my warmest thanks to all these kind people for their help in this work. Also, I should like to thank my assistants A. Xanthopoulou - Kyriakou, G. Kioutoutskas and A. Archontidis, who with the most commendable enthusiasm were of great assistance with various practical aspects of the work, such as the organisation of the bibliography, the supervision of the compilation of maps, and the successive typing-out of the manuscripts. All this saved me a great deal of precious time, enabling me to proceed uninterruptedly with the completion of the work.


Finally, I should like to express my gratitude to the many friends who so kindly put at my disposal many interesting photographs and sketches of Macedonia.



1. I intend to publish at a later date in extenso the documents from the Archives of the Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece (Documents of Em. Papas).


[Previous] [Next]

[Back to Index]