History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


III. The repercussions of the Battle of Ankara (1403) on affairs in Northern Greece


2. The institutions of Thessalonica in the first half of 15th century



The city of Thessalonica had been for many centuries an important centre of hellenism, which could boast an unbroken tradition from ancient times right up to the Turkish conquest, projecting its civilizing influences in all directions. Its fundamental institution was the Senate, also known as the Gerousia or Boulê, or The Twelve' (δωδεκάδα) as it was referred to in popular parlance. This was, in other words, identical with the body mentioned in the Byzantine documents of the 14th century. Its composition was essentially aristocratic, being made up of nobles and burghers, who were required to be fully acquainted with the 'customs and practices' of the land and to concern themselves not only with social matters but with the measures to be taken against hostile threats, in as much as the central authority (i.e. Constantinople) was somewhat remote.


Once the Venetians had taken over the city, the Senate was able to hold but a minimum of sessions before its activities were curtailed by the Venetians for a year or more. This was contrary to the written agreements made with Thessalonica and in the face of all the citizens'





protestations. Nevertheless this administrative body survived in the form of a council of notables, composed of twelve members, which continued to function under the Turkish occupation with quite a wide range of judicial and administrative powers, right up to the final years of Turkish rule [1]. It is interesting to note that according to a metropolitan contract of sale of 1502, which bore the signatures of twelve officials, clerics and 'lords of the community' (in other words, the civic committee of twelve), seven of the signatories were churchmen. This was not unusual, for at the close of the previous century there is mention of 'ministers of God' as being members of the civic council [2]. To use Aristotle's phrase, the composition of the council at this period was conceived undeniably 'ἀριστίνδην καὶ πλουτίνδην' (according to excellence and wealth). The clerics and the nobles together constituted the backbone of social government, an organization which was bequeathed to later generations.


In addition to the council of twelve, the Venetians had recognised the Thessalonians' prerogative to have lawsuits heard by the archbishop, as had been the custom. The surviving information makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of the vital elements of Greek judicature during the period of Venetian and Turkish occupation. The judicial powers of the archbishop, referred to as 'παλαι,αί του συνήθειαι', were outlined as follows: ". . . he may try any man who desires to appeal to his justice; and when a man is in the course of going to him for trial and verdict, the litigant is under obligation to accompany him to the proceedings, offering no hindrance; . . . the decisions and arbitrations of the archbishop must hold legal authority, without any objection; and he (the archbishop) may collect whatever payments are due upon his verdicts, according to customary practice". It is obvious that the legal ruling of the archbishop was binding upon the litigants concerned.


These powers, however, were not the prerogative of the archbishop of Thessalonica alone, but extended to bishop in general. Following the legal reforms of Andronicus III Palaeologus (1328-1341), that is to say after the creation of the institution of 'General Justices' (καθολικοὶ κριταὶ) in 1329, the higher clergy had acquired quite considerable



1. See A. Vacalopoulos, Συμβολὴ στὴν ἱστορία τῆς Θεσσαλονίκης ἐπὶ Βενετοκρατίας, «Τόμος Ἀρμενοπούλου», Thessalonica 1952, pp. 137-141. We find mention of 'ἄρχοντες τῆς συγκλήτου' in a document of the Bishop of Campania, Meletius, dated 14 April 1421 (see F. Dölger, Aus den Schatzkammern des Heiligen Berges, Munich 1948, p. 266).


2. See Vacalopoulos, Ἱστορία, vol. 1, p. 124. See also Oikonomides, Actes de Dionysiou, Texte, pp. 190-193.





judicial powers; and from this standpoint the reforms of Andronicus III exercised a great deal of influence over the development of episcopal jurisdiction during the Turkish occupation, a factor which was to exert a favourable influence in preserving the organization of communal life and the cohesion of the Greek nation during the centuries of bondage.


The judicial powers exercised by the archbishop as well as by the 'archons' in their role of assessors, constituted an inseparable part of civic self-government, at least during the period of Venetian and Turkish occupation. It is very probable that Thessalonica had a lower tribunal and a jury presided over by the archbishop. At all events, in 1666 the traveller Robert de Dreux mentions that in Thessalonica the Christians had their own separate law-court ("y avaient aussi leur justice"), as did the Jews and the Turks. These judicial institutions persisted throughout Turkish times not only in Thessalonica, but also in the other Greek cities of Macedonia. In fact, throughout all the Greek lands it was customary for the local notables and aldermen, the representatives of the higher clergy, or the bishops to dispense justice along the traditional lines handed down throughout the centuries; and this they did in a spirit of moderation, having as their main written source in matters of law the Procheiron or the Hexabiblos of the 'venerable nomophylax and judge of Thessalonica', Constantine Armenopoulos [1].



1. See Vacalopoulos, Συμβολὴ στὴν ἱστορία τῆς Θεσσαλονίκης, «Τόμος Ἀρμενοπούλου», pp. 143-146, where the relevant bibliography is to be found.


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