"The Races and Religions of Macedonia"
by Luigi Villari

"National Geographic", 1912, 1118-1132


By Luigi Villari
Author of “Russia under the Great Shadow”

Had the population of Macedonia been homogeneous, the Macedonian problem would have been settled long ago, but the mixture of races has ever been a marked characteristic of the Balkan Peninsula, and of no part of it more so than of Macedonia.
It is necessary to begin by explaining what is meant by the term Macedonia. The country forms neither a racial, a linguistic, nor a political unit. Geographically it is a unit, being bounded by the Shar Dagh on the North, the Albanian mountains on the west, the river Bistritza and the Aegean Sea on the south, and the Rhodope mountains on the east, and at a remote period of its history it formed a kingdom. The country which we now call Macedonia consists three vilayets os Salonica, Monastir and Kosovo, and the Macedonian question refers to the condidtions of those provinces. The expression, however, is often extended to the Adrianople vilayet as well, where the conditions are somewhat similar. But, geographically, it is quite separate from Macedonia.
 It must be remembered that the Turk-

* From “The Balkan Question,” edited by Luigi Villari


A café in Macedonia

kish division of the empire into vilayets was not made with any regard to natural or ethnographic lines of demarcation, but rather with a view to including as many conflicting elements as possible in the same territory, so as to simplify the task of government. This confusion of tongues and creeds makes the problem of Macedonian reform or autonomy more difficult than it was in the case of Greece, Crete, Bulgaria, or Servia.
 But it is not only the Turkish government which is to blame for this for this mixture of races. Macedonia has for two thousand years been the “dumping ground” of different people and forms; indeed a perfect ethnographic museum. The mountainous nature of the interior made it a difficult country to conquer, and the various invaders were never able completely to absorb the different peoples whom they found in it.
 While the greater part of a district was occupied by the invader, the aboriginal inhabitants retired into the mountain fastnesses and there maintained their existence; one race established itself on the seacoast and another held the interior. At the same time, certain centers – large towns, seaports, fertile plains – attracted men of  all the races for purposes of business convenience. Thus in some parts of Macedonia we find one population predominant; in others another, and in others again two or more races exist side by side.
 The division of races in Macedonia is not based wholly on difference of origin or of anthropological type. We may find characteristically Greek types, Bulgarian types, or Turkish types, but among those who call themselves Greeks are many whose type and whose origin is not Greek; and so it is with the others. In certain districts we find members of three distinct races speaking their respective language but all very similar in type.
 Language is a more reliable means of  classification, as the bulk of the Greeks speak Greek, of the Bulgarians, Bulgarian. But religion makes another distinction, and the Turkish method of


An old market in Macedonia.


Selling lemonade in Adrianople.

classifying peoples according to their creeds cuts across the division according to race or language.
 We may say that, for the Mohammedans, religion is the line of division, as all Moslems (except the Albanians) may not inaccurately be described as Turks; for the Bulgarians it is the national church, as practically every member of the Bulgarian party is a member of the Exarchist Church, although, of course, propaganda is the basis of the division, as the church is primarily a political institution (see page 1111); for the Greeks it is more a question of party, based on adherence to the Greek idea of civilization, and the Greek party contains many members of the other races; for the Servians and Rumanians  it is chiefly nationality, for they have no separate church like the Bulgarians, and many who are Servians or Rumanians by race do not belong to the Servian or Rumanian parties.
 The original inhabitants of Macedonia probably belonged to the great race which we call Thracians, of whom very little is known, while the Western part of the peninsula was peopled by Illyrians.  Descendants of the former are said to be the Kutzo-Vlachs, or Rumans, while the latter are represented by the Albanians.
 The Greeks never succeeded in wholly Hellenizing Macedonia, their settlements being limited to the coast towns.
 Then came the Roman conquest. Roads were built, towns were founded in all parts of the country, and military colonies established. The Thracians soon adopted the manners and the language


Turkish women at Salonica, Turkey

of the Romans, who were the first civilized people with whom they had come in contact, and Greek influence survived on the coast alone. During the early days of the eastern Roman Empire, with its mixed Greco-Latin civilization, the two languages continued to coexist, as well as some of the local dialects.


The first barbarians to settle permanently in the Balkan Peninsula coming from the northeast were the Bulgars, a Finnish people whose home was the middle Volga districts; they now occupied the southern banks of the Danube. The Slavs are said to have begun to pour into this region as early as the third century, but they were not established until after the Bulgarian invasion.
 Their position in the east of Europe bears certain analogies to that of the Teutons in the west. They soon amalgamated with the Bulgars and gave them their language; the result of that union is the modern Bulgarian people, who may be described as slavicized Finns.
 No trace of the original Bulgars remain, although some of the Macedonian have Finnish features, and the Bulgarians of today speak a purely Slavonic language. The Slavs and Bulgarians drove other races of the interior before them, and Slavonic displaced all the others, save the Latin spoken by isolated settlements of Vlachs who retired into the mountains, and the dialect of the Illyrians, who were confined in the west region known as Albania.
 Thus, as early as the ninth century we have in Macedonia most of the elements which now make up the population of this country – Greeks on the coast and in the large towns; Slavs in the interior, Illyrians or Albanians in the west, and isolated settlements of Latinized Thracians or Vlachs in the mountains; the Slavs themselves soon divide into two groups – the Slavicized Bulgars and the Serbs.
 These various elements were partly under the dominion of the Eastern Empire, which was not, however, strong enough to Hellenize them, and partly


A Muslim village
In the villages the people are all of one faith and their costumes are in accord.

under that of Slavonic princes. In time they might have amalgamated, although, owing to the peculiar conditions of the Balkan Peninsula, the process was bound to be slow. But the Turkish conquest supervened, and crystallized the different races, so that each preserved its nationality and its individuality. The Turks were never numerous enough to absorb the subject peoples, but they were strong enough to prevent any one of them from becoming predominant.
 Unlike other conquerors, they did not attempt to impose their language or customs on the conquered, but they did try to convert them to Islam by maintaining those who refused to be converted in a position of inferiority. A number of Greeks, Slavs, Albanians. And Vlachs did become Moslems, but those who did not, and were prepared to face persecution and occasional outbursts of savage fanaticism, were able to preserve their nationality. Thus these conflicting elements survived until the present day.
 This rivalry between Christian races has made the task of ruling Macedonia a fairly easy one. The Turks availed themselves of those differences to the full; but the constant oppression and persecution has ended by making all the Christians discontented, and the anarchy of the maladministration and civil war has reached such a pitch that some change of regime is felt by all to be an absolute necessity.


 Macedonia was the first country in Europe to be subjected to Ottoman rule, and long before the capture of Constantinople the Turks subjugated it and studded it with numerous Turkish colonies.
 All travelers who know Turkey bear witness to the many good qualities of the individual Mohammedan, especially of the genuine Osmanli Turk – he is sober, patient, religious, cleanly in his habits, dignified in bearing.
 But there is also no doubt as to his utter inability to make a good ruler, es-


One family of Christians, Macedonia

pecialy when he has to rule over Christians; the Turkish peasant, when  living among Christians, whom he is taught to despise, who are unarmed while he is armed, who can obtain no justice for any violence committed by him against them, naturally becomes arrogant and cruel. In a mainly agricultural community quarrels as to the ownership of land are bound to arise, and in these cases it is always the Turk who obtains the advantage (see pages 1132 and 11344).
 The Mohammedans suffer from the utter chaos and corruption of the Turkish government, and while in theory they are privileged class, their privileges are given them in the form of license to pillage, and on occasion to murder, their Christian neighbors.
 The Turks are essentially nomads, and, at all events in Europe, they are little more than an army of occupation holding the country by a military tenure. The idea of abandoning Rumelia (by Rumelia the Turks mean European Turkey generally) is regarded by them as a possibility to be contemplated, although, naturally enough, they do not wish to see it realized. If the country were to be placed under a Christian government the majority of them would probably return to Asia Minor in a short time.
 Before the independence of Bulgaria and Servia both these countries contained a numerous Turkish population, which has slowly but steadily decreased since they were separated from Turkey. Another characteristic is their tendency to congregate in the towns.
 More important is the decline of their numbers. The Turkish race shows a steady tendency to decrease, and it is said by some competent authorities that syphilitic disease are largely responsible for this. In Macedonia, however, their numbers are kept up by artificial means. In the first place, the civil and military establishments maintain a quantity of officials and soldiers in the country; but the most numerous contingent is furnished by the mohajirs, or emigrant from the emancipated provinces. From Thessaly, Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Crete there has been a constant stream of Mohammedans, to the dominions still under the rule of the Padishah, and the majority of them have been given lands in Macedonia, partly because there were more estates available and partly because it is now a frontier province once more. During the


Christian peasants at a Pasha’s court, in the interior of Turkey

Recent rising the Ottoman authorities placed these mohajirs on the lands whose Christian owners had been murdered or had fled. This added a new disturbing element to the situation, as the emigrants are particularly against their Christian neighbors.


 With regard to the actual number of the Turks of the three vilayets of Macedonia, it is impossible to get reliable statistics. According to the most reliable calculations, the Mohammedan population does not amount to more than 700,000, of whom, perhaps one-third are Osmanli Turks. The Christians are about 1,300,000 to 1,500,000, so that it is clear that the country cannot be regarded as a Mohammedan land, much less as a Turkish land.
 The Christians of Macedonia are not united by language, by racial ties, nor by political aspirations. It is this which has hitherto impeded the emancipation of the country. There are in Macedonia four Christian communities – Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, and Rumans, or Kutzo-Vlachs; each of those nationalities is connected by ties of language and political aspirations with one or other of the free Balkan states.
 The Christians of Macedonia all belong to the Eastern or Orthodox Church, with the exception of some Catholic Albanians in the north and a few converts of the various foreign missions. But ecclesiastically they are divided into two main churches, the Greek or Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Bulgarian Exarchate (see page 1112). To the former belong all Greeks, Serbs, Vlachs, Orthodox Albanians, and a portion of the Bulgarians; to the latter the majority of the Bulgarians. This division is one of the chief causes of hatred between Greek and Bulgar.


After the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, the Greeks, although subject to periodical persecutions and massacres,


Scene in Macedonian village; all women of a town dress alike

and frequent pillaging by their masters, were granted certain privileges, and eventually obtained a position of considerable influence in the Turkish Empire. By the term Greeks were meant not the Hellenes only, but all the ex-subject of the East Roman Empire who adhered to the Orthodox Church. They were constituted into a millet or a community, consisting of a lay and an ecclesiastical council, which dealt with the internal affairs of the people, and many important offices were habitually conferred on Greeks.
 The Greeks came to be the brain of Turkey and the representatives of civilization in the Levant. The Greek language was the language of culture, even among non-Hellenic Christians, and the Greek Church a powerful agency for the promotion of Greek ideas. In the 18th century Greek influence declined, and the insurrectionary movements in what is now the Kingdom of Greece made the Turks look upon the Hellenes with suspicion and hatred. When Greece became free, the inhabitants of that country considered that the work of emancipation was but half competed, and aspired to the annexation of much larger portion of Turkish territory. Some even dreamt of the revival of the Greek empire, with the capital at Constantinople, but the majority limited their aspiration to Thessaly, Macedonia, and some of the islands.
 In most of the towns of Macedonia the Greek element is the most conspicuous, and in some the wealthiest; trade and banking are to a great extent in their hands – although the Rumans and the Jews are keen competitors – and the shops and the inns all bear Greek inscriptions. In the cafes and public places one hears much Greek spoken, and most of the people with whom the traveler comes into contact are Greeks or Greeks speaking; but in point of actual numbers they are far inferior to the Slavs, and in places like Kastoria, where the town is thoroughly Greek, the surrounding country is inhabited by an almost wholly Bulgarian population. But the Greek pa-


Christian peasants at a butcher-shop; Salonica

Meat is sold already cooked as well as raw. Note the distaff on the left hold by a Bulgarian woman, who is busily spinning as she walks to market (see page 1130).

triots do not count only the real Greeks as members of their party. They claim the Vlachs, the Orthodox Albanians, and the Bulgarians who do not adhere to the Bulgarians church as Greeks, and call them “Vlachophone”, “Albanophone”, and “Bulgarophone” Greeks, in a word, they consider that all Macedonians who have not joined the “Schismatic” Bulgarian Church, except the Servians in the extreme north, are adherents of the Greek party and of the “Grand idea”. So that, apart from all thought of conquest, they wish to prove that the great part of Macedonia is a Greek land.
 As for the actual numbers of the Greeks, the statistics vary considerably – from 50, 000 to 700,000 in fact; but it is only the coastline and the southwestern districts that can be regarded as purely or even prevalently Hellenic. Their numbers probably amount to about 300,000.


The Bulgarians are a curious people in many ways, and different from all the other Balkan races. They are very hard working, very energetic, and of great staying power. They are not brilliant, certainly less clever than either the Greeks or the Vlachs, and not gifted with a keen commercial instinct. But as farmers and peasants they are admirable, and they are found all over the Balkan Peninsula, from Bucharest to Athens, and from Constantinople to Belgrade, employed in all kinds of work (see pages 1106 and 1117).
They are not yet highly civilized , but they have shown that under favorable conditions they are capable of astonishing progress. They are silent, unexpansive, some people might say sullen.; but they have one great merit, rare, unfortunately among the people of South-eastern Europe – they are truthful.
The appreciate the value of education most highly, but they are thoroughly practical, they do not talk about their glorious ancestors like the Greeks or the Serbs; they think of the present and the future. If they have not great historic traditions, they are endowed with solid


Cheese booths on grand bazaar; Salonica

equalities, which will make them play a large part in the destinies of the Peninsula.*


It is not always easy to distinguish the Serbs from the Bulgarians in Macedonia, as the two races are often intermingled in the same districts, and their languages, though different in Servia and Bulgaria, become less so in Macedonia (see page 1131).


The Kutzo-Vlachs ot Rumans of Macedonia, present an interesting ethnographic and linguistic problem. They are usually admitted to be the descendants of the aboriginal Thracians, who amalgamated with the Latin colonists and adopted their language and civilization, and maintained their national characteristics by retiring to the mountain fastnesses of Macedonia. Latin influence also survived in the region north of the Danube, where large military colonies were formed. There is a strong resemblance between the language of the Macedonians Vlachs and that of the inhabitants of Roumania, although there is no political, and not much racial, kinship between the two, and they are separated from each other by a wide belt of purely Slavonic country.
The Vlachs of Macedonia are very much scattered, their chief settlements being on the Pindus Range and in the neighborhood of Monastir, Metsovo, Koritza, Krushevo, Vodena, etc. they descend in winter as far as the Gulf of Corinth, Avlona, and Durazzo, where the word Vlach has come to almost synonymous with shepherd.
They are an extremely intelligent, fine-looking people, of considerable business ability. Their towns and villages, which are usually found on the summit of hills, are more solidly built than those of any other Balkan race. Krushevo, which suffered so heavily during a recent rising, was a notable instance.

*The Slavonic population of Macedonia is estimated at about 1,200,000, of whom the Bulgarians form much the largest proportion.


Turkish troops; Salonica

But in spite of their love of well-built stone-houses, the Vlachs have strongly ingrained nomadic habits, and in summer-time their towns are for the most part abandoned by all the able-bodied males, who wander about the country as itinerant merchants or kiradjis (dealers in and hirers of horses). Many of them are men of substance, and have business connections with all the important centers of the Balkans and Austria-Hungary.
As regards numbers, statistics vary, as usual, very considerably. According to some authorities, they are not more than 50,00; whereas Rumanian patriots affirm them to be at least half a million; probably they amount to about 100,000.
But, politically their importance is very small. They have usually kept on good terms with the Turks, who, until the last rising, treated them less badly than their other Christian subjects. They attend to their trade and take little part in political movements. For a long time they were undistinguishable from the Greeks, whose language they spoke as well as their own, and the Greek party still count them as Greeks in their statistics of Macedonia.


The western districts of the vilayet of Monastir and a large part of that of Kossovo are inhabited by a race wilder and more primitive than any to be found in Europe – the Albanians (see pages 1090-1103). Very little is know of this strange and interesting people, save that they speak an Indo-European tongue, but do not belong to any of the recognized groups of the Aryan family. It is probable that they are descended from the ancient Illyrians, who were driven westwards by the advancing waves of Slavs. Their language, like the people themselves, is wild and lawless, and has practically no literature. Even the popular songs are very few.
The Turkish government has deliberately kept them in a state of barbarism and ignorance, and makes use of them to overawe the neighboring peoples.
They are divided by religion into Mohammedans, who form two-thirds of the whole number – Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics. But religion sits lightly on their shoulders, and they are by no means fanatical. In every tribe, save the Mirdits, who are all Catholics,


Christian (Bulgarian) maiden; Macedonia
The Bulgarian women are always busy. This girls spins as she walks.

Street types; Salonica


Types of Servian herders

The progress of Servia has been disappointing. The other newly constituted States of the peninsula have escaped the misfortune of a native dynasty, but Servia has been afflicted with two, and the feud between the houses of Karageorgevich and Obrenovich has distracted the country throughout the whole period of its revived national existence. The perpetual conflict between Austrian and Russian influence, the deadly animosities of political groups, and the unfortunate domestic history of the Obrenovichs have been other factors of confusion, while the absence of seaboard, the fiscal tyranny of Austria-Hungary, and thriftless financial management, have hindered economic and commercial development. The wars of 1876 and 1877 with Turkey, and of 1885 with Bulgaria, also tended to the exhaustion of the country. Constitutional changes have been frequent, and three Servian rulers – Karageorge, prince Michael, and king Alexander – have been assassinated. Amid all these drawbacks Servia has lagged in the race of civilization with her neighbors, Romania and Bulgaria.
The most favorable feature in the condition of Servia is the prosperous condition of the peasentry; almost all are small land-owners, and well to do, if not rich, and poverty is almost unknown.

and even in many families, there are both Mohammedans and Christians, and, although constantly fighting among themselves, religion is hardly ever the cause of the quarrel. They have but little agriculture, no trade or industries, and indeed few occupations, save fighting. The Turks have used them in Europe much in the same way as they have used the Kurds in Asia, giving license to the plunder and practical autonomy in exchange for fidelity to the Sultan and persecution of the other races. They also furnish a useful argument against reforms in Macedonia: for when the powers demand that the Sultan fulfill his promises, a rising of the Albanians is at once threatened, and often actually takes places.
 With all their barbarism the Albanians have many good qualities. They are brave, hospitable, and, if you succeed in winning their confidence and attaching them to your person, absolutely reliable. The foreign embassies and consulates in Turkey preferably employ Albanians as kavasses (orderlies) on account of their trustworthiness. They are by no means unintelligent, and have furnished the Turkish empire with some of its ablest


generals and civil servants. But their best qualities only develop when they are out of their own country. In Albania they are always more or less savages.
 Among the Catholic Albanians of the north, both Austria and Italy have done something in the way of education; the Franciscans and the Jesuits have opened schools in various towns, and the Italian government maintains colleges at Scutari and elsewhere. For the Orthodox Albanians the Greek Syllogos has established some schools. But for the Mohammedans nothing has been done, the Turkish government will not allow them to be taught in the Albanian language, and, indeed refuses to recognize its existence, although most of them speak no other.


 At Salonica, and in a few other towns of Macedonia, there are large Jewish settlements. Like nearly all Jews in Turkey, they are descended from those driven out of Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella, and they speak a Spanish dialect to this day, but they usually know many other languages as well. At Salonica they form the majority of the population. Their favorite occupations are, of course, banking and trade, but the poorer Jews are boatmen, porters, servants, small shop-keepers, and in one or two districts even peasants.
 They are the one subject race whom the Turk has never persecuted, and they are in consequence loyal subjects of his Imperial Majesty. They thoroughly know how to make a “good thing” out of the Turkish government, and in exchange for being left alone, they are its chief financial support. They are industrious, honest and intelligent. A great many of them are the subjects or the protégés of the different foreign powers.