History of Macedonia 1354-1833

A. Vacalopoulos


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


1. The political situation in Macedonia from the Treaty of Carlowitz (1699) to the Treaty of Passarowitz (1718)


 __1_   —   __2_


From the beginning of the 18th century onwards, we have more extensive and more reliable information about Macedonia. The most important items are those which are drawn from the Turkish archives and from the reports of the European consuls in Thessalonica. The consuls, of course, not only had the time and opportunity to amass information: it was also their duty to despatch it to their respective governments in a form as accurate and as detailed a possible, especially as regards questions of economic moment.



1. With the opening of the 18th century begins a period of peaceful relations between Turkey and the Central European powers, which lasts without interruption for 16 years, from the Treaty of Karlowitz (16 January 1699) up to the Turkish onslaught on the Venetian-held Peloponnese (1715). By the Treaty of Karlowitz the scope of the commercial relations between Austria and Turkey already initiated by the Treaties of Sitvartorok (1606) and of Vienna (1616) [1] was further extended.


However, this interruption of hostilities did not bring about the



1. For these treaties see G. Noradounghian, Recueil d'actes internationaux de l'Empire Ottoman (1300-1789), Paris 1897, vol. 1, pp. 113-120, 182-196. On the subject of Austria's trade with the Levant, see a general account in E. Turczynski, Die deutch-griechishen Kulturbeziehungen bis zur Berufung König Otto, Munich 1959, pp. 11 ff.





re-establishment of order within the confines of European Turkey. Unrest among the Christians (and the Greek subjects in particular) was continually being created by the excesses of the administrators and the severity of the tax-collectors; and this inflammed situation gave rise to periodic outbreaks of desperate retaliation. For example, when in 1702 the collector of the poll-tax — a certain Hasan — was distributing notifications of tax among the villagers of Ayvat (Letí), assessed according to their economic circumstances, the village notables, Stamatios, Soterios Kambouris, Soterios Filintsas, Apostolos Karatsikos, Kamaretsis son of Karantanis, and Antonios Tsomis, marched at the head of a hundred fellow-villagers shouting "We are not going to pay poll-tax" and halted in front of the tax-collector's house. They broke in and looted it, and burnt 52 notifications of poll-tax [1].


There was, not surprisingly, a steady increase in the number of despairing rayas who betook themselves to the mountains and embarked upon a career of outlawry. As a Sultan's firman of 1704 reports, 'robbers and criminals' were active from Adrianople to Belgrade, and from Thessalonica to Lárisa [2]. Such a state of lawlessness could not have come about without the cooperation of the 'armatoli'. And the fact that the Greek 'armatoli' were tending to range themselves on the side of the people is evident from the following episode, which took place in the districts of Véroia, and is typical of the times.


At the beginning of April 1705, the silâhdar (an officer of the Sultan's horse-guards), Ahmet Chelebi, appeared in Náousa with orders to enrol from that district 50 recruits for the Janissaries, "according to custom, as of old". But when he declared the purpose of his visit, the people of Náousa, headed by the local 'armatolos', Zisis Karadimos and his two sons Vasilis and Dimitris, turned on the silâhdar, shouting "we shall not surrender our sons to the Moslems". In the excitement of the moment, they killed the Turkish officer and his two escorts along with him. Then, forming a body of over 100 strong, they raised the flag of revolt and proceeded to overrun the mountains and plains of the kaza of Véroia, plundering and killing the Moslems of the countryside [3].


As soon as the revolt was reported to the Turkish authorities, a



1. Vasdravellis, Ἀρχεῖον Θεσσαλονίκης, pp. 41-42. See also pp. 159-160. The Greek names refute the statements of the traveller Leake, of a century later, to the effect that the inhabitants of the village were Bulgarians (Leake, Travels, 3, p. 324).


2. Vasdravellis, Ἀρχεῖον  Βέροιας - Ναούσης (1598-1886), pp. 111-112.


3. Vardravellis, ibid., pp. 112-113.





detachment was mustered to hunt down the offenders. It was composed of 800 chosen Moslem combatants under the leadership of Muharem Ağa, the voyvoda of Véroia, and Redjep Ağa, the bölükbaşı of that city. The detachment trailed the rebels, and in the middle of June succeeded in penning them up in the pass of Arápitsa outside Náousa. In the ensuing battle, Zisis Karadimos fell dead with four bullets in him, while his two sons and six other men were taken prisoner and conducted to Véroia. Here they were brought before the Islamic court, specially convened and composed of the kadıs and voyvodas of Véroia and Náousa, and the rest of the local notables and influential citizens. During the trial, the insurrectionists confessed to their deeds with no lack of courage, and sternly asserted "We are indeed 'armatoli' (the word apparently has the meaning here of 'klephts'), and we make no secret of our position". (Their statements are quoted in the relevant Turkish text). It is quite clear from the above that the terms 'armatolos' and 'klepht' were by this time flexible if not virtually synonymous.


The Turks sentenced all the prisoners to be hanged, and the voyvoda, Muharem, was delegated to carry out the punishment. Afterwards, Redjep Ağa was instructed to cut off the heads of Karadimos and his sons, and have them paraded round the streets of the city before being sent to the Divan at Thessalonica [1]. Both Muharem and Redjep Ağa were rewarded with substantial sums of money, the former with 10.000 piastres and the latter with 5.000, while the Divan of Thessalonica distributed 30.000 piastres among the men who had made up the detachment which had been succeessful in tracking down the rebels. The Turks apparently seized and sold as slaves a number of inhabitants of Náousa (40 men and 29 women) [2], the Naousans no doubt being considered the prime-movers in the popular rebellion against the Turkish tax-officials and responsible for their deaths.


It is not known whether subsequent to these events the Sultan insisted on the enrolment of the 50 recruits for the Janissaries from Náousa, in as much as there is no mention in the Turkish minutes of the Véroia court of such an order emanating either from the Sultan or the beylerbeyi of Rumeli. It would appear that the dramatic events which happened in Náousa in 1705 represented the epilogue of the long



1. Vasdravellis, Ἀρχεῖον Βέροιας - Ναούσης, pp. 113-114. The number of men composing the detachment was in actual fact 800 and not 1000 (see p. 115).


2. Ibid., p. 115.





and bitter story of the 'youth-tribute' (devşirme) in the Ottoman empire [1].


The revolutionary mood of the Christian rayas was doubtless wide-spread, and the appearance of Peter the Great upon the historical scene was to make it even more explosive. Certainly, this upsurge of popular unrest was the chief reason for the journey made to Moscow in 1704 by that restless agitator, Methodius, the deposed Metropolitan of Thessalonica, with the object of imploring Peter the Great to effect the liberation of the Greek people. The same year, or the following one, Methodius returned to Greece with nothing accomplished, though he managed to get himself re-installed as metropolitan [2].


In addition to a number of public disturbances great and small, attributable to the disintegration and bad government of the empire, there was one in particular whose origin may be traced to the worsening of Russo-Turkish relations which came to a head with the war of 1711. The Greeks were in such a state of unrest that, according to a report of the Venetian consul in Durazzo, dated 28 January 1711, the beylerbeyi of Rumeli was obliged to make a tour of all the lands under his jurisdiction. Setting off from Sofia, he collected on the course of his tour all the arms of the Greek inhabitants, paying for them at half their value. He had all the Christian notables arrested and took them along with him, bound in chains. Reaching Monastir, he began forcibly recruiting for the army, though he soon left Monastir for Thessalonica [3].


Α few months later, the same consul informed his govemment that in various parts of Rumeli and Macedonia there were bands of brigands, 400-500 strong, made up of both Christians and Turks, who plundered and killed, their victims being mainly Turks. The most important of these brigands was a certain Bitula, who had attacked the beylerbeyi and his escort near Monastir and driven them to flight. Thereupon, the beylerbeyi had granted an amnesty to another bandit-chief, on condition that he wipe out Bitula. However, the High Porte granted an amnesty to Bitula himself, on condition that he undertake with 800 of his men to guard the island of Euboea. Bitula did not accept the terms, since he was afraid of treachery. The beylerbeyi thereupon commanded the other brigand-chief to destroy the monastery of the



1. See on the subject Vacalopoulos, Προβλήματα τοῦ παιδομαζώματος, «Ἑλληνικὰ» 13 (1954) 291-293, where the relevant bibliography may be found.


2. See Gedeon, Θεσσαλονικέων διενέξεις, «Μακεδονικὰ» 2 (1941-1952) 7.


3. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, p. 270.





Prophet Naoum near Moschopolis, under the pretext that the Christians had been using it as a fortified base of operations [1].


I do not believe one would be far wrong in attributing this commotion on the part of the Christians to the propaganda which Peter the Great had latterly been spreading among the Balkan peoples, and to the repercussions of the first Russo-Turkish war of 1711. We have the contemporary evidence of the Jesuits of Thessalonica, who record that the Greeks of that city — and a number of them had spent some time in Moscow — were convinced that the Tsar would one day free them from the Turkish yoke. The Jesuits were at a loss to explain the basis for such convictions and knew only that their hopes for liberation had brought the Greeks closer to their Russian Orthodox brethren. As a result, considerable difficulties had been put in the way of the Jesuits' prosyletizing endeavours [2].


What is more, we find that the contemporary 'memoires' prove that the Greeks of Thessalonica were following with great interest the military operations of the Russians. The feelings of the Christian rural populations were equally involved, and it was perhaps for this reason — over and above their material insufficiencies — that the people of Náousa, led by their city fathers, were not disposed to handing over any stocks of grain to the Turks (destined as it was for the supply of the Turkish troops on campaign against the Russians). They declared that they themselves had been obliged to buy grain elsewhere. "They were thus responsible for wrecking the provisioning operations", as the relevant Sultan's edict puts it, "and promoting insurrection" [3]. There can be no doubt that, as we may observe from information gleaned from a contemporary 'memoire', the inhabitants of Véroia and the other fortress-cities were saddled with demands for supplies of corn and burdened with a lot of other taxes [4].


At the same time, anarchy continued to reign throughout the rural districts, particularly in Western Macedonia from the kazas of Anaselítsa as far as Monastir and Prilep, where Moslem 'armatoli' and bandits preyed on the inhabitants, without distinction as to whether they were Christian or Moslem [5].



1. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, p. 271.


2. See these interesting details in Aimé - Martin, Lettres, vol. 1, pp. 89, 91-92.


3. Vasdravellis, Ἀρχεῖον Θεσσαλονίκης, pp. 97-98.


4. N.B.X., Χρονικὰ σημειώματα, ΔΙΕΕ 4 (1892-1895) 693.


5. Vasdravellis, ibid., pp. 98-101.





In the autumn of 1714, the Turks concentrated large quantities of provisions at Lárisa, Thessalonica, Naupactus and on Euboea, with a view, it would seem, to a campaign against the Peloponnese. Quantities of ammunition were also concentrated in Thessalonica and Naupactus. Furthermore, the Sultan issued orders for the repair of the roads and bridges leading to the above mentioned centres, and detailed certain ağas to supervise the works involved [1].



2. The outbreak of the Venetian-Turkish war in 1715 brought a serious decline in safety upon the roads of European Turkey, for the robbers and klephts saw in the hostilities a grand opportunity for extending their theatre of operations. One result was the considerable diminution of the attendances at the trade-fairs throughout Macedonia (Thessalonica included). With Austria's involvement in the conflict and the spread of hostilities to the northern frontiers of Turkey's Balkan possessions, the situation deteriorated still further. Here again Austria was to play a significant role; and after fresh victories at Peterwardein in 1716 and Belgrade in 1717, her commander-in-chief, Prince Eugen von Savoyen, was acclaimed as the foremost champion of Christendom.


During these years, the oppression and terrorization suffered by the Greeks became still more wide-spread. The Turks were, of course, greatly incensed by the fact that the Christians were firmly on the side of their opponents and giving them as much assistance as they could. The Turks thus rounded upon their Christian subjects, and upon the Greeks in particular. For their part, the Greeks were afraid that the Turks would butcher them inside their very churches.


All Macedonia was suffering acutely. Whole areas were left depopulated and uncultivated. In order to escape ill-treatment and hardship, a great number of the inhabitants of the Thessalonica and Ohrid districts went over to Islam [2], while others won the martyr's crown [3]. This state of affairs was repeated whenever there was trouble brewing along the borders of the Ottoman empire [4]. Forced recruitment



1. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 188-189.


2. N. Svoronos, Le commerce de Salonique au XVIIIe siècle, Paris 1956, pp. 26-27.


3. See Snegarov, History of the archbishopric of Ohrid (in Bulgarian), p. 107.


4. Thus, in 1738, a large proportion of the farmland of Macedonia, and of Bulgaria and Serbia too, went unsown, because the Turks had slaughtered its Christian population after the capture of Niš (Svoronos, ibid., p. 122).





into the auxiliary services of the Turkish forces and a variety of irregular taxes [1] (covered by the term avarız) brought, time and again, enormous affliction to the inhabitants of Macedonia.


Throughout the duration of the Austro-Turkish war, and even after the Treaty of Passarowitz (1718), a large number of Ottoman deserters took to robbing and killing, thus adding to the chaos which reigned throughout the empire [2]. Also, many Albanian 'armatoli' in the neighbourhood of Monastir and Flórina, as in other parts of Greece, embarked upon paths of crime and extortion at the expense of travellers passing through the defiles [3].


The disorderly behaviour of 'armatoli' was in fact becoming common all over Greece, and it is not surprising that the institution was abolished by Ahmed III in a firman of 1721. In this year we find mention for the last time of 'armatoli' in the following kazas of Macedonia: Avret Hisar, Petritsi, Nevrokop, Yenidje-Vardar, Vodená (Édessa), Véroia, Dráma, Sérres, Melnik, Zíchna, Právista and Kavála [4]. There were also 'armatoli' guarding the important road from Durazzo to Thessalonica [5].


As to the question whether the above ordinance of Ahmed III was to be of general application, the answer lies in a report of the Islamic court of Véroia dated 1730, which affirms that the abolition of the 'armatoli' was actually effected in 1721; and what is more, the ordinance anticipated that the inhabitants themselves would take over the duty of guarding the important parts of the kazas without demanding any money or produce from the travellers and merchants. However, these injuctions seem often to have gone unheeded and the Sultan to have been correspondingly much annoyed [6]. The plundering and robbing continued, and the Sultan was forced to resuscitate the old law, whereby reliable and able Moslems were appointed as guards of the passes and defiles. Suchxmen had to be approved, no doubt, by the local ayâns (Turkish notables) "and vouched for by their own muhtars (village headmen), as likewise were the men under their command" [7].



1. Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 270 ff. See also Svoronos, Le commerce, pp. 43-44. Also see pp. 38-40.


2. Vasdravellis, Ἀρχεῖον Θεσσαλονίκης, pp. 139-141.


3. Vasdravellis, Ἀρματολοὶ καὶ Κλέϕτες, pp. 78 ff.


4. See Anhegger, Martoloslar hakkında, pp. 291-292. See also p. 300.


5. Anhegger, ibid., p. 297.


6. Vasdravellis, Ἀρχεῖον Βέροιας - Ναούσης, p. 146. See also pp. 156-157.


7. Vasdravellis, ibid., pp. 159-160.





It seems certain that from 1748 right up to about 1800 there were no Christian, officially recognised 'armatoli' operating in Macedonia, but only klephts, who succeeded in striking fear into the Turkish authorities and sometimes even securing their tolerance. This is the conclusion I reach after studying a verdict pronounced in the Islamic court of Thessalonica on 11 June 1726, from which we learn that the robber Nikolaos Mavroudis from the village of Tserpísta near Sérres, together with his companions, Stamatis Varsamis and Stoyannis Zachariou of the kaza of Yenidje on the Nestos, were arrested by Turkish 'timariots' (i.e. sipahis) of these districts [1]. There is no mention at all of 'armatoli'.


To the many trials which beset the unhappy inhabitants were added the epidemics of plague which swept the area with great frequency. One of the most serious outbreaks was that of 1712-1714, when the majority of Greeks and Jews in Thessalonica were forced to quit the city. Indeed, even the Turks left for the countryside. According to the information which the Turkish authorities gave the French consul, the mortality in the city was very high. In the summer of 1713 alone, some 8.000 souls had perished. All in all, the frequent visitations of the plague throughout the 18th century perceptibly reduced the city's population. The largest number of victims were amongst the Jews, since their districts were thickly inhabited and they omitted to take the necessary precautions.


The great plague that raged throughout the years 1757 to 1761 deserves special mention. It brought immense destruction to the city and the neighbouring villages [2]. We find some interesting details about the plague of the year 1761, and about the earhquakes that occurred about the same time, in a report from what appears to by a German business-man, addressed to the newspaper 'Magdeburgische Zeitung' and dated 1 April 1761. My friend and colleague, Herr Dr G. Mühlpford, was kind enough to copy it out of the 'Stadtarchiv' of Magdeburg. It reads as follows:


"The plague has caused great damage here and its victims are many; but now it has passed. Coming on top of the terrible earthquake which struck the country about



1. Vasdravellis, Ἀρχεῖον Θεσσαλονίκης, ρρ.181-182.


2. Svoronos, Le Commerce, pp. 135-137. See also Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 273, 303, 304, 307, 308, 310, ff passim. Of the same author, Συμπλήρωμα εἰς τὰ Μνημεῖα Μακεδονικὴς Ἱστορίας, «Εἰς μνήμην Κ. Ἀμάντου», Athens 1960, p. 65. It is however, an exaggeration that during the plague of 1781, 25-30 thousand persons died, which is to say, almost a half of Thessalonica's population (Mertzios, Μνημεῖα, pp. 426 ff).





a year ago, this visitation has turned the greater part of the province into a desert. We still have a few tremors every day. The larger portion of this fine city is a heap of ruins. The splendid mansions and the wonderful houses that have collapsed, together with the large number of people they have buried beneath them and the stench of the corpses that lie rotting (and this is what caused the epidemic), have brought horror and repugnance to what was once such a delightful region. Nevertheless, the inhabitants who had fled the city are now reappearing and have begun to clear away the ruins, or rather to search for their precious possessions and other items that have been buried by the earthquake. The Pasha and the eminent citizens are doing all they can to restore order. Yesterday we were greatly alarmed by a great sheet of flame which leapt from out of the ground in the south-east sector of the city. The flame proceeded in a westerly direction, to envelop itself in a dark cloud and then explode with a loud bang just like a bomb. There followed terrible flashes of lightning and claps of thunder, and such a heavy downpour of rain that we thought that a second Deluge was imminent...".


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