Category Archives: Greece

Venice’s Imperial Stato da Mar

From: City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley (Random House, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1815-1866:

By the treaty of October 1204, the Partition of the Lands of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire, Venice became overnight the inheritor of a maritime empire. At a stroke, the city was changed from a merchant state into a colonial power, whose writ would run from the top of the Adriatic to the Black Sea, across the Aegean and the seas of Crete. In the process its self-descriptions would ascend from the Commune, the shared creation of its domestic lagoon, to the Signoria, the Serenissima, the Dominante—“the Dominant One”—a sovereign state whose power would be felt, in its own proud formulation, “wherever water runs.”

On paper, the Venetians were granted all of western Greece, Corfu, and the Ionian islands, a scattering of bases and islands in the Aegean Sea, critical control of Gallipoli and the Dardanelles, and, most precious of all, three-eighths of Constantinople, including its docks and arsenal, the cornerstone of their mercantile wealth. The Venetians had come to the negotiating table with an unrivaled knowledge of the eastern Mediterranean. They had been trading in the Byzantine Empire for hundreds of years, and they knew exactly what they wanted. While the feudal lords of France and Italy went to construct petty fiefdoms on the poor soil of continental Greece, the Venetians demanded ports, trading stations, and naval bases with strategic control of seaways. None of these were more than a few miles from the sea. Wealth lay not in exploiting an impoverished Greek peasantry, but in the control of sea-lanes along which the merchandise of the East could be channeled into the warehouses of the Grand Canal. Venice came in time to call its overseas empire the Stato da Mar, the “Territory of the Sea.” With two exceptions, it never comprised the occupation of substantial blocks of land—the population of Venice was far too small for that—rather it was a loose network of ports and bases, similar in structure to the way stations of the British Empire. Venice created its own Gibraltars, Maltas, and Adens, and like the British Empire it depended on sea power to hold these possessions together.

This empire was almost an accidental construct. It contained no program for exporting the values of the Republic to benighted peoples; it had little interest in the lives of these unwilling subjects; it certainly did not want them to have the rights of citizens. It was the creation of a city of merchants and its rationale was exclusively commercial. The other beneficiaries of the partition of 1204 concocted scattered kingdoms with outlandish feudal titles—the Latin Empire of Constantinople, the Kingdom of Salonika, the Despotate of Epirus, the Megaskyrate of Athens and Thebes, the Triarchy of Euboea, the Principality of Achaea, the Marquisates of Boudonitza and Salonae—the list was endless. The Venetians styled themselves quite differently. They were proud lords of a Quarter and Half a Quarter of the Empire of Romania. It was a merchant’s precise formulation, coming in total to three-eighths, like a quantity of merchandise weighed in a balance. The Venetians, shrewdly practical and unromantic, thought in fractions: They divided their city into sixths, the capital costs of their ships into twenty-fourths, and their trading ventures into thirds. The places where the flag of Saint Mark was raised and his lion carved on harbor walls and castle gates existed, in the repeated phrase, “for the honor and profit of Venice.” The emphasis was always on the profit.

The Stato da Mar allowed the Venetians to ensure the security of their merchant convoys, and it protected them from the whims of foreign potentates and the jealousy of maritime rivals. Crucially, the treaty afforded full control of trade within the center of the eastern Mediterranean. At a stroke it locked their competitors, the Genoese and the Pisans, out of a whole commercial zone.

Theoretically Byzantium had now been neatly divided into discrete blocks of ownership, but much of this existed only on paper, like the crude maps of Africa carved up by medieval popes. In practice the divisions were far messier. The implosion of the Greek empire shattered the world of the eastern Mediterranean into glittering fragments. It left a power vacuum, the consequences of which no one could foresee—the irony of the Fourth Crusade was that it would advance the spread of Islam, which it had set out to repel. The immediate aftermath was less an orderly distribution than a land grab.

The eastern Mediterranean became a magnet for adventurers and mercenaries, pirates and soldiers of fortune from Burgundy, Lombardy, and the Catalan ports. It was a last Christian frontier for the young and the bold. Tiny principalities sprang up on the islands and plains of Greece, each one guarded by its desolate castle, engaging in miniature wars with its neighbors, feuding and killing. The history of the Latin kingdoms of Greece is a tale of confused bloodshed and medieval war. Few of them lasted long. Dynasties conquered, ruled, and vanished again within a couple of generations, like light rain into the dry Greek earth. They were dogged by continuous, if uncoordinated, Byzantine resistance.

Venice knew better than most that Greece was no El Dorado. True gold was coined in the spice markets of Alexandria, Beirut, Acre, and Constantinople. They impassively watched the feudal knights and mercenary bands hack and hatchet each other and pursued a careful policy of consolidation. They hardly bothered with many of their terrestrial acquisitions. They never claimed western Greece, with the exception of its ports, and unaccountably failed to garrison Gallipoli, the key to the Dardanelles, at all. Adrianople was assigned elsewhere for lack of Venetian interest.

The Venetians’ eyes remained fixed on the sea but they had to fight for their inheritance, continuously dogged by Genoese adventurers and feudal lordlings. This would involve them in half a century of colonial war. Venice was granted the strategic island of Corfu, a crucial link in the chain of islands at the mouth of the Adriatic, but they had to oust a Genoese pirate to secure it and then lost it again five years later. In 1205, they bought Crete from the Crusader lord Boniface of Montferrat for five thousand gold ducats, then spent four years expelling another Genoese privateer, Henry the Fisherman, from the island. They took two strategic ports on the southwest tip of the Peloponnese, Modon and Coron, from pirates, and established a foothold on the long barrier island of Euboea, which the Venetians called Negroponte (the Black Bridge), on the east coast of Greece. And in between they occupied or sublet a string of islands around the south coast of the Peloponnese and across the wide Aegean. It was out of this scattering of ports, forts, and islands that they created their colonial system. Venice, following the Byzantines, referred to this whole geographic area as Romania—the “Kingdom of the Romans,” the word the Byzantines used for it—and divided it up into zones: Lower Romania, which constituted the Peloponnese, Crete, the Aegean islands, and Negroponte; and Upper Romania, the lands and seas beyond, up the Dardanelles to Constantinople itself. Farther still lay the Black Sea, a new zone of potential exploitation.


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Crusaders vs. Constantinople, 1204

From: City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley (Random House, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1547-1597:

The Crusaders repaired and re-armed the ships and prepared to launch a new assault the following day: Monday, April 12.

They adjusted their equipment for this second attempt. It was clear that a single ship throwing its flying bridge forward to attack a tower had not worked: The defenders could bring all the weight of numbers to bear on the one spot. It was now decided to link the high-sided sailing ships, the only vessels with the height to reach the towers, in pairs, so that the flying bridges could grapple with a tower from both sides like twin claws. Accordingly they were chained together. Again, the armada sailed out across the Horn to the din of battle. Murtzuphlus was plainly visible in front of his tent directing operations. Trumpets and drums sounded; men shouted; catapults were cranked up—the waterfront was quickly engulfed in a storm of noise, “so loud,” according to Villehardouin, “that the earth seemed to shake.” Arrows thocked across the water; gouts of Greek fire spurted up from the siphons on the Venetian ships; enormous boulders, “so enormous that one man couldn’t lift them,” were hurled through the air from the sixty catapults ranged on the walls; from the hill above, Murtzuphlus shouted directions to the men, “Go here! Go there!” as the angle of attack altered. The defensive arrangements of both sides worked well. The Greek fire fizzled out against the timber superstructures on the ramparts, which were protected by leather casings soaked in vinegar; the vine nets absorbed the force of the boulders which struck the ships. The contest was as inconclusive as the day before. And then, at some point, the wind shifted to the north, propelling the giant sailing ships closer to the shore. Two of these vessels which had been chained together, the Paradise and the Pilgrim, surged forward, their flying bridges converging on a tower from both sides. The Pilgrim struck first. A Venetian soldier clattered up the walkway, sixty feet above the ground, and leaped onto the tower. It was a gesture of doomed bravery; the Varangian Guard advanced and cut him to pieces.

The Pilgrim’s flying bridge, responding to the surge of the sea, disengaged and closed in on the tower for a second time. This time a French soldier, Andrew of Durboise, took his life in his hands and leaped the gap; scarcely grabbing the battlements, he managed to haul himself inside on his knees. While he was still on all fours, a group of men rushed forward with swords and axes and struck him. They thought that they had dealt him a deathblow. Durboise, however, had better armor than the Venetians. Somehow he survived. To the astonishment of his assailants, he climbed to his feet and drew his sword. Appalled and terrified by this supernatural resurrection, they turned and fled to the story below. When those on that level saw the flight, they in turn became infected with panic. The tower was evacuated. Durboise was followed onto the ramparts by others. They now had secure control of a tower and tied the flying bridge to it. The bridge however continued to dip and rear with the movement of the ship against the sea. It threatened to pull down the whole wooden superstructure. The bridge was untied, cutting off the small band of soldiers on their hard-won foothold. Farther down the line, another ship struck a tower and managed to take it, but the Crusaders on the two towers were effectively isolated, surrounded by a swarm of men on the towers on either side. The contest had reached a critical point.

However, the sight of flags flying from these towers put new courage into the attackers now landing on the foreshore in front of the seawalls. Another French knight, Peter of Amiens, decided to tackle the wall itself. Spotting a small bricked-up doorway, he led a charge of men to try to batter it open. The posse included Robert of Clari and his brother, Aleaumes, a warrior monk. They crouched at the foot of the wall with their shields over their heads. A storm of missiles pelted down on them from above; crossbow bolts, pots of pitch, stones, and Greek fire battered on the upturned shields while the men beneath desperately hacked away at the gate “with axes and good swords, pieces of wood, iron bars and pickaxes, until they made a sizable hole.” Through the aperture they could glimpse a swarm of people waiting on the other side. There was a moment of pause. To crawl through the gap was to risk certain death. None of the Crusaders dared advance.

Seeing this hesitation, Aleaumes the monk thrust his way forward and volunteered himself. Robert barred the way, certain his brother was offering to die. Aleaumes struggled past him, got down on his hands and knees and started to crawl through with Robert trying to grab his foot and haul him back. Somehow Aleaumes wriggled and kicked his way free to emerge on the far side—to a barrage of stones. He staggered to his feet, drew his sword—and advanced. And for a second time the sheer bravery of a single man, fueled by religious zeal, turned the tide. The defenders turned and ran. Aleaumes called back to those outside, “My lords, enter boldly! I can see them withdrawing in dismay. They’re starting to run away!” Seventy men scrambled inside. Panic rippled through the defense. The defenders started to retreat, vacating a large part of the wall and the ground behind. From above, Murtzuphlus saw this collapse with growing concern and tried to muster his troops with trumpets and drums.

Whatever the new emperor may have been, he was no coward. He spurred his horse and started down the slope, probably virtually unaccompanied. Peter of Amiens ordered his men to stand their ground: “Now, lords, here is the moment to prove yourselves. Here comes the emperor. See to it that no one dares to give way.” Murtzuphlus’s advance slowed to a halt. Unsupported, he drew back and returned to the tent to rally his forces farther back. The intruders demolished the next gate; men started to flood inside; horses were unloaded; mounted knights galloped through the gaping holes. The seawall was lost.

Meanwhile Peter of Amiens advanced up the hill. Murtzuphlus abandoned his command post and rode off through the city streets to the Bucoleon Palace, two miles away. Choniates bewailed the behavior of his fellow countrymen: “The cowardly thousands, who had the advantage of a high hill, were chased by one man from the fortifications they were meant to defend.” “And so it was,” wrote Robert of Clari from the other side, “that my lord Peter had Murtzuphlus’s tents, chests, and the treasures which he left there.” And the slaughter began: “There were so many wounded and dead that there seemed no end to them—the number was beyond computation.” All afternoon the Crusaders plundered the surrounding area; farther north, refugees started to stream out of the land gates.

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Venice and Constantinople, 1082

From: City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley (Random House, 2012), Kindle Loc. 335-379:

For four hundred years the Adriatic itself had been ruled from Rome; for another six hundred the sea, and Venice itself, had been subject to Rome’s Greek-speaking successor, the Byzantine emperors in Constantinople. By the year 1000, this power was starting to wane, and the Venetians were engaged in a stealthy act of substitution. In the small stone cathedrals of Zara, Spalato, Istria, and Traù, the Venetian doge was remembered in prayers only after the name of the emperor in Constantinople, but this practice was, simply, a ritual. The emperor was far away; his power no longer stretched much north of Corfu, at the gates of the Adriatic, and along the Italian shore. The lords of Dalmatia were in all fact the Venetians. The power vacuum created by weakening Byzantine control would allow Venice to move up the scale progressively from subjects to equal partners and finally, in tragic circumstances, to usurpers of the Byzantine sea. The lords of the Dalmatian coast were embarked on the ascent.

The relationship between Byzantium and Venice was one of intense complexity and longevity, chafed by mutually contradictory views of the world and subject to wild mood swings, yet Venice always looked to Constantinople. This was the great city of the world, the gateway to the East. Through its warehouses on the Golden Horn flowed the wealth of the wider world: Russian furs, wax, slaves, and caviar; spices from India and China; ivory, silk, precious stones, and gold. Out of these materials, Byzantine craftsmen fashioned extraordinary objects, both sacred and profane—reliquaries, mosaics, chalices chased with emeralds, costumes of shot silk—that formed the taste of Venice. The astonishing Basilica of Saint Mark, reconsecrated in 1094, was designed by Greek architects on the pattern of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople; its artisans recounted the story of Saint Mark, stone by stone, in imitation of the mosaic styles of Saint Sophia (Hagia Sophia); its goldsmiths and enamelers created the Pala d’Oro, the golden altarpiece, a miraculous expression of Byzantine devotion and art. The whiff of spices on the quays of Venice had been carried a thousand miles from the godowns of the Golden Horn. Constantinople was Venice’s souk, where its merchants gathered to make (and lose) fortunes. As loyal subjects of the emperor, the right to trade in his lands was always their most precious possession. He, in turn, used this privilege as the bargaining chip to rein in his uppity vassals. In 991 Orseolo gained valuable trading rights for Venetian support in the Adriatic; twenty-five years later they were tetchily withdrawn again in a spat.

Differing attitudes to commerce marked a sharp dividing line. From early on, the amoral trading mentality of the Venetians—the assumed right to buy and sell anything to anyone—shocked the pious Byzantines. Around 820 the emperor complained bitterly about Venetian cargoes of war materials—timber, metal, and slaves—to his enemy, the sultan in Cairo. But in the last quarter of the eleventh century the Byzantine Empire, such a durable presence in the Mediterranean basin, started to decline, and the balance of power began tilting in Venice’s favor. In the 1080s the Venetians defended the empire in the Adriatic against powerful Norman war bands, intent on taking Constantinople itself. Their reward was sumptuous. With all the imperial pomp of Byzantine ritual, the emperor affixed his golden seal (the bulla aurea) to a document that would change the sea forever. He granted the city’s merchants the rights to trade freely, exempt from tax, throughout his realms. A large number of cities and ports were specified by name: Athens and Salonika, Thebes and Antioch and Ephesus, the islands of Chios and Euboea, key harbors along the coasts of southern Greece such as Modon and Coron—invaluable staging posts for Venetian galleys—but above all, Constantinople itself.

Here, Venice was given a prize site down by the Golden Horn. It included three quays, a church and bakery, shops and warehouses for storing goods. Though nominal subjects of the emperor, the Venetians had effectively acquired their own colony, with all the necessary infrastructure, in the heart of the richest city on earth, under extremely favorable conditions. Only the Black Sea, Constantinople’s grain basket, was barred to the avid traders. Quietly echoing among the solemn, convoluted lines of the Byzantine decree was the sweetest Greek word a Venetian might ever want to hear: monopoly. Venice’s jostling rivals in maritime trade—Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi—were now put at such disadvantage that their presence in Constantinople was almost futile.

The Golden Bull of 1082 was the golden key that opened up the treasure-house of eastern trade for Venice. Its merchants flocked to Constantinople. Others started to permeate the small ports and harbors of the eastern seaboard. By the second half of the twelfth century, Venetian merchants were visible everywhere in the eastern Mediterranean. Their colony in Constantinople grew to around twelve thousand and, decade by decade, the trade of Byzantium imperceptibly passed into their hands. They not only funneled goods back to an avid market in continental Europe, they acted as intermediaries, restlessly shuttling back and forth across the ports of the Levant, buying and selling. Their ships triangulated the eastern seas, shipping olive oil from Greece to Constantinople, buying linen in Alexandria and selling it to the Crusader states via Acre; touching Crete and Cyprus, Smyrna and Salonika. At the mouth of the Nile, in the ancient city of Alexandria, they bought spices in exchange for slaves, endeavoring at the same time to perform a nimble balancing act between the Byzantines and the Crusaders on one hand and their enemy, the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt, on the other. With each passing decade, Venice was sinking its tentacles deeper into the trading posts of the East; its wealth saw the rise of a new class of rich merchants. Many of the great families of Venetian history began their ascent to prominence during the boom years of the twelfth century. The period heralded the start of commercial dominance.

With this wealth came arrogance—and resentment.

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Bulgarian Macedo-Adrianopolitan Revolutionary Terrorism

From Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower (Vintage, 2006), pp. 247-252:

Once an autonomous Bulgarian state emerged in 1878, Macedonia became a battle-ground for insurgent bands. Secret guerrilla units, supported from Sofia, were formed by intellectuals aiming to restore the greater Bulgaria of the San Stefano Treaty. Kidnapping rich foreigners now provided a way of bringing much-needed cash into revolutionary coffers while simultaneously shining the unwelcome spotlight of international attention on the deficiencies of Ottoman administration.

In 1901 the new political brigandage made international headlines in the so-called Miss Stone affair when a redoubtable American missionary was kidnapped in a narrow valley north of Salonica. Ellen Stone was, in fact, the first American victim of twentieth-century terrorism. Her kidnappers had spoken Turkish when seizing her in order to throw the weight of suspicion on the Ottoman authorities, and to encourage Western opinion to believe that the latter could no longer guarantee law and order in their European provinces. But the ring-leader was a young Bulgarian-Macedonian activist, Yane Sandanski, and his profile in no way fitted that of the typical brigand of yesteryear: literate, a socialist, and a schoolteacher, he was a leading figure in an underground political grouping called the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization. Violence was no longer merely a means to a livelihood; in the hands of activists, it was becoming an instrument of nationalist politics in what the world came to know as the Macedonian Question.

IN SALONICA A SMALL NUMBER of Bulgarians broke away from the Greek community and joined the Exarchate in 1871; by 1912 they numbered about six thousand. They were stonemasons, traders, shopkeepers and teachers—practical men drawn from the Macedonian hills—with no one of any great wealth to lead them and little influence in municipal affairs. They were supported, however, by the Russian consul, and once a Bulgarian state was founded, by its representatives as well. They were greatly heartened by the remarkable outcome of the 1876 uprising against Ottoman rule, and encouraged further by the territorial provisions of the Treaty of San Stefano which would—had it been allowed to stand—have handed over most of Salonica’s hinterland to Bulgaria. Schooling was one of their priorities, and in 1880 they founded a gymnasium—many of whose pupils soon found their way into the ranks of new pro-Slav political movements.

To be “Bulgarian” initially meant to support the Exarchate: it was a linguistic-religious rather than a national category. But after the creation of an autonomous Bulgarian principality in 1878, irredentist politicians in its capital, Sofia, started demanding autonomy for “the Macedonians” as well. Meanwhile, in Salonica itself, a militant new organization was incubating: in November 1893 the “Bulgarian Macedo-Adrianopolitan Revolutionary Committee” was founded by a group of men reared on the ideas of Russian anarchism, and proclaimed open to any who wished to fight for liberation from the Turks and autonomy for Macedonia. Sofia-based activists regarded it with suspicion and did not trust its commitment to Bulgarian interests. Eventually the committee dropped any reference to Bulgaria from its name, and it became known simply as the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) with the slogan “Macedonia for the Macedonians.”

Most of IMRO’s youthful members were not much bothered about the old disputes over dead sacred languages. What was the difference between the Greek of the liturgy and Old Church Slavonic? After all, hardly anyone understood either of them. Between these youthful secularists—whose motto was “Neither God nor Master”—and the devout supporters of the Bulgarian Exarchate a gulf emerged. Even within its own ranks, IMRO was deeply factionalized…. It might be going too far to say that IMRO was a more coherent and efficient force in the minds of its enemies than it was in reality but it certainly made little impact on the Ottoman state.

Politically IMRO was no more successful. Autonomy for Macedonia—which was the name Balkan Christians (and Europe) gave to the Ottoman vilayets of Salonica, Monastir and Uskub (Skopje)—was the goal: a “Bulgarian” governor would rule the province from Salonica, all officials would be “Bulgarian” Slavs, and Bulgarian would be an official language on an equal footing with Turkish. But faced with such a prospect, Greeks lent the support of their intelligence networks to the Ottoman authorities, and in Salonica itself Greek agents in the Hamidian police helped track IMRO sympathizers. Even more important an obstacle was the opposition of the Great Powers. Russia was now focused on central and east Asia—the conflict with Japan was only a few years away—and Britain and Austria saw the Balkans as one area where they could all work in harmony to support the status quo. They pushed—as Great Powers often will—for incremental reform rather than revolutionary change, and merely urged the Porte to take steps to improve the administration of the province.

Frustrated with the impasse which faced them, and believing that targeting the symbols of European capitalism might force the Powers to intervene, some young anarchists in Salonica took matters into their own hands, and decided to blow up the Ottoman Bank, in the European quarter. Under the influence of their beloved Russians, they called themselves the “Troublemakers,” and later adopted the term “the Boatmen”—by which they identified themselves with those “who abandon the daily routine and the limits of legal order and sail towards freedom and the wild seas beyond them.”…

The two surviving members of the plot, Shatev and Bogdanov, returned to Macedonia in the amnesty of 1908: Bogdanov died a few years later, but Pavel Shatev lived until 1952, becoming a lawyer in interwar Bulgaria and then minister of justice in the postwar Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

IMRO sputtered on, although the bombers had dealt a near-fatal blow to the organization in the city. The better-known Ilinden uprising which took place on St. Elias’s Day a few months later was the IMRO leadership’s own anxious attempt to arouse a peasant revolt against Turkish rule. But its chief consequence was that several thousand more Christian peasants were killed by Ottoman troops in reprisal. The only success IMRO could claim after this series of bloody failures was a further diplomatic intervention by the Great Powers—their last significant involvement in the tangled Macedonia question before the Balkan Wars. The Ottoman authorities were forced to swallow the appointment of European officials to supervise the policing of the province. Among the younger army officers stationed there, resentment and a sense of humiliation led to the first stirrings of conspiracy against the Porte. On the other hand, Macedonia remained part of the empire and Hilmi Pasha continued as inspector-general. The one conclusion to be drawn from the rise and fall of IMRO was that ending Ottoman power in Europe would not come that way: the use of terrorism to embroil and involve the Great Powers was futile when the Powers upheld the status quo.

There is nothing new under the sun! This will have to be the last of my many excerpts from this fascinating book. I have too much else to do over the coming weeks (and months).

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Salonica, 1800s: Religion vs. Nation

From Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower (Vintage, 2006), pp. 242-243:

TO THE OTTOMAN AUTHORITIES what had always mattered were religious rather than national or linguistic differences: Balkan Christians were either under the authority of the Patriarch in Constantinople or they were—more rarely—Catholic or Protestant. The Patriarchate shared the same outlook; it was indifferent to whether its flock spoke Greek, Vlach, Bulgarian or any other language or dialect. As for the illiterate Slav-speaking peasants tilling the fields, they rarely felt strongly about either Greece or Bulgaria and when asked which they were, many insisted on being known simply, as they had been for centuries, as “Christians.”

In Salonica itself, the growth of the Christian population had come from continual immigration over centuries from outlying villages, often as distant as the far side of the Pindos mountains, where many of the inhabitants spoke not Greek but Vlach (a Romance language akin to Romanian), Albanian or indeed various forms of Slavic. The city’s life, schools and priests gave these villagers, or their children, a new tongue, and turned them into Greeks. In fact many famous Greek figures of the past were really Vlachs by origin, including the savant Mosiodax, the revolutionary Rhigas Velestinlis, as well as the city’s first “Greek” printers, the Garbolas family, and the Manakis brothers, pioneers of Balkan cinema. “Twenty years ago there was nothing in Balkan politics so inevitable, so nearly axiomatic, as the connection of the Vlachs with the Greek cause,” wrote Brailsford in 1905. “They had no national consciousness and no national ambition … With some of them Hellenism was a passion and an enthusiasm. They believed themselves to be Greek. They baptized their children ‘Themistocles’ and ‘Penelope.’ They studied in Athens and they left their fortunes to Greek schools and Greek hospitals.” So many Vlachs settled in Salonica that in 1880 a Romanian paper claimed, to the fury of the Greek community, that there were no genuine Greeks there at all. Changing—or rather, acquiring—nationality was often simply a matter of upward mobility and a French consul once notoriously boasted that with a million pounds he could make Macedonians into Frenchmen.

Money affected nationality in other ways as well. In the Ottoman system, the Orthodox Church was not merely a focus of spiritual life; it was also a gatherer of taxes. Peasants in the countryside, just like wealthy magnates in Salonica itself, chafed at the power and corruption that accompanied these privileges. But while most bishops and the higher ecclesiastical hierarchy spoke Greek—the traditional language of the church and religious learning—and looked down on the use of Slavic, most Christian peasants around Salonica spoke Bulgarian—or if not Bulgarian then a Slavic tongue close to it. This started to matter to the peasants themselves once they identified Greek with the language not merely of holy scripture but of excessive taxation and corruption. In 1860, the Bishop of Cassandra’s extortions actually drove some villagers under his jurisdiction to threaten to convert to Catholicism—French priests from Salonica contacted the families concerned, promising them complete freedom of worship and a “Bishop of your own creed who will not take a single piastre from you.” Other villagers from near Kilkis demanded a bishop who would provide the liturgy in Old Church Slavonic and got one after they too started to declare themselves for Rome.

Yet what these peasants were talking was about shifting their religious not their national allegiance and it took decades for the discontent of the village tax-payer to be further transformed into nationalism. Greek continued to be the language of upward mobility through the nineteenth century. As for Bulgarian self-consciousness, this was slow to develop. Sir Henry Layard visited Salonica in 1842 to enquire into the movement which was alleged to be in progress amongst the Bulgarians but he did not find very much. “The Bulgarians, being of the Greek faith” he wrote later, “were then included by the Porte in classifying the Christian subjects of the Sultan, among the Greeks. It was not until many years afterwards that the Christians to the south of the Balkans speaking the Bulgarian language, were recognized as a distinct nation. At the time of my visit to Salonica no part of its Christian population, which was considerable, was known as Bulgarian.”

What led Slavic speakers to see their mother tongue in a new light was the influence of political ideologies coming from central and eastern Europe. German-inspired romantic nationalism glorified and ennobled the language of the peasantry and insisted it was as worthy of study and propagation as any other. Pan-Slavism—helped along perhaps by Russian agents—gave them pride in their unwritten family tongue and identified the enemy, for the first time, as Greek cultural arrogance. “I feel a great sorrow,” wrote Kiryak/Kyriakos Durzhiovich/Darlovitsi, the printer, “that although I am a Bulgarian I do not know how to write in the Bulgarian language.”

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Secularizing Religious Education in Salonica

From Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower (Vintage, 2006), pp. 220-221:

The struggle for communal authority was fought out over many areas—care for the poor and sick, the upkeep of cemeteries, the administration of religious foundations themselves—but the key battleground was education. For religious learning alone was no longer enough. Ties with the West meant also that local merchants needed employees to be familiar with modern languages, mathematics and geography. The notable Jewish families pushed hard for the use of Italian and French books in the old Talmud Torah in the 1840s. When they got nowhere, they obtained a firman to found their own pilot school, run by a German rabbi whom the local rabbis regarded as an impious foreigner. But the real educational revolution among Salonican Jewry only came in 1873 when the same notables opened a branch of the Paris-based Alliance Israélite Universelle—the very embodiment of French Enlightenment liberalism—in the teeth of fierce opposition from the elderly chief rabbi. It was an extraordinary success: by 1912 the Alliance was responsible for educating more than four thousand pupils, over half the total number of children in Jewish schools. “I was once invited to an annual gathering of the Israelite Alliance,” wrote a British journalist during the First World War. “There were many hundreds of Jews there, male and female, and a great many of them were once removed only from the street porter class. But they rattled off French as if they had been born to it.” Not only were the majority of the city’s Jewish children receiving an education outside the control of the religious authorities, but they were receiving it on the basis of the principles of contemporary French republicanism. Such a trend had a corrosive effect on the authority of the chief rabbi, and helped turn him slowly into more and more of a purely religious and spiritual figurehead.

Within the Greek community similar shifts were taking place. In the old days, children learned reading and writing from the occasional literate priest or from the so-called didaskaloi who gave lessons as they passed through the city. But in 1828 the junior high school was reestablished, and a girls’ school was set up in 1845. The primary school population climbed from 1500 in 1874 to nearly 2000 in 1900 and 3900 by the time the Greek army arrived in 1912. An Educational Society was set up in 1872 with its own private library and a commitment to “useful knowledge,” and in 1876 a teacher-training college followed. Salonica’s Greek high school was recognized by the University of Athens, a development of huge significance for the rise of Greek nationalism, and the control of school standards and appointments was also handled by representatives of the Greek state. Through education in other words, the Greeks of Salonica gradually reoriented themselves towards the new national centre in Athens. The Patriarchate in Istanbul, which had once enjoyed unchallenged authority over the empire’s Orthodox believers, found itself losing ground.

Within the city’s Muslim community, pedagogical arguments were also raging. All Riza, a minor customs official, quarrelled with his wife Zübeyde, over how to educate their son, Mustafa. Zübeyde, a devout woman who was nicknamed the mollah, followed the older conception or education and wanted him to attend the neighbourhood Qur’anic school. His father, on the other hand, favoured the new style of schooling pioneered by a renowned local teacher, Shemsi Effendi, who ran the first private primary school in the empire. In the end, the young Mustafa started at the first and finished at the second, before moving to the military preparatory college. Helped by his education and by Salonica’s new beer-gardens and nightlife, he became a pronounced secularist, thereby foreshadowing in his own upbringing the trajectory through which—by then better known to the world as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk—he would later lead post-Ottoman Turkey.

Mustafa Kemal’s experiences were not unusual, for the spirit of Western education was transforming local Muslim cultures of learning. The Ma’min were setting up private schools like Shemsi’s, and state officials like Mustafa Kemal’s father shared their vision of a modernizing Islam. Investment in education had been a priority of the reformers in Istanbul, and m 1869 a new imperial Ordinance of General Education outlined a school system, based partly on the French lycée model that would promote knowledge of science, technology and commerce among both boys and girls. Reaction from the long-established medreses was fierce but under Sultan Abdul Hamid this was overcome, in part by emphasizing the Islamic character of the new schools. A state schooling sector emerged in Salonica and the city’s first vocational college the Ecole des Arts et Métiers, trained orphans in typography, lithography, tailoring and music. Later came a teacher-training college, a junior high school, a commercial school and a preparatory school for civil servants—the Idadié—housed in an imposing neo-classical building standing just beyond the eastern walls. (Today it contains the chief administrative offices of the University of Thessaloniki.)

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Belated Ottoman Religious Reform

From Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower (Vintage, 2006), pp. 152-153:

In 1851 Christian testimony was admitted in a local criminal court for the first time, but it was not for another decade that it was given decisive weight when contradicted by Muslim witnesses. “Are we the masters of this empire or not?” demanded some of the beys, protesting on the “part of Islamism” against the constant infringement by foreign powers of the “rights of the Turkish nation.” A visiting dervish preached that Europe was “devoted to the extermination of Muslims,” and claimed that the sultan, by giving in to their demands, had shown himself to be no more than a gavur. “Let us massacre the infidels whom the Prophet and our first Sultans conquered,” he went on, “And then we will go throughout Frenghistan [the land of the Franks] sword in hand, and all will be well with us.” When Abdul Mecid died in 1861, the view in the local coffeehouses was that he had been “too favourably disposed to Christians,” and many of Salonica’s Muslims, including highly placed functionaries, openly hoped that his successor would bring back the janissaries and revoke the reforms.

This did not happen. Instead the number of non-Muslims in the civil service rose, and in 1868 a Council of State with non-Muslim members was created. In the provinces progress was slower: as late as 1867, justice in Salonica was still loaded against non-Muslims, taxes remained inequitable and the clause relating to Christians being appointed to official positions remained a “dead letter.” Ibrahim Bey, the mufti, resisted reform of the local courts, and as he was very popular among the poorer Muslims of the city, Salonica’s governors hesitated to take him on. But the lead from the top was clear: the Porte instructed Salonica’s mollah to speak respectfully when he addressed the Greek metropolitan, and to refer politely to the “Christian” religion. “Looking at things reasonably,” wrote the British ambassador, Sir Henry Bulwer in 1864, “it is but just to observe that this government is about the most tolerant in Europe.”

The old ideology of the sultan as Defender of the Faith was now no longer appropriate for the new-look empire. It was supplanted by a new creed of Ottomanism, an allegiance to the dynasty itself that supposedly crossed religious boundaries. As the government gazette for the province declared in May 1876:

Even though for centuries among us there has not existed something we might call public opinion, on account of our different religions, nonetheless Ottomans, Christians, Jews and in a word all those bearing the name of Osmanli and living under the sceptre of His Imperial Excellency have lived as faithful subjects of all ranks, as patriots and as a single unit of nationalities, each lending a helping hand to the other as brothers, none ever daring to attack the honour, property, life or religious customs of the other, and everyone enjoying complete freedom in the exercise of his social privileges.

The new policy was underlined in religious holidays and official ceremonies. After the Ottoman fleet arrived in port, Greek priests from the city performed mass for its Christian sailors in the Beshchinar gardens, and Turkish naval officers complimented the archbishop on a “very appropriate sermon.” When the chief rabbi Raphael Ascher Covo died at the end of 1874 after twenty-six years in office, his funeral was attended by the staff of the governor, the president of the town council, the Greek archbishop, consuls and other notables: the procession was “one of the largest ever witnessed in European Turkey.” All shops were closed, Jewish firemen in the service of the North British and Mercantile Insurance companies provided the guard of honour lining the streets, and bells were rung as the bier passed the Orthodox cathedral.” A century earlier, such an occasion would have been inconceivable.

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