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g
J. Tsaras, H teleuta©a †lwsh thv Qessalon©khv (1430) (Thessalonike, 1985).
chapter 3

Social organization, historical developments, and
political attitudes in Thessalonike: an overview
(1382“1430)


In the early fourteenth century the social structure of Thessalonike
incorporated, like most other Byzantine cities of the time, three distinct
layers. The top layer comprised the landed aristocracy, both lay and eccle-
siastical; below them were the mesoi, a “middle class” consisting of rich
merchants, small landholders, minor functionaries, the small clergy, and
those exercising independent professions; at the very bottom were the
poor, to whose ranks belonged small artisans, manual laborers, and small
cultivators.1 However, around the middle of the same century, following
the loss of their landed possessions in Macedonia and Thrace successively
to Serbian and Ottoman conquerors, members of the landholding aristo-
cracy, who by tradition had always disdained trade and commerce, began
to engage in commercial activities. When the fundamental distinction that
separated aristocrats from rich middle-class merchants was removed in
this manner, the term designating the middle class (o¬ m”soi) also disap-
peared from the sources. Consequently, in a society which became more
and more characterized by commercial interests, the principal distinction
that remained effective was that between the rich (including merchants,
bankers, landowners) and the poor, who suffered from deep economic and
social problems.2

1 On the social structure of late Byzantine cities and these three groups, see now K.-P. Matschke and
F. Tinnefeld, Die Gesellschaft im sp¨ ten Byzanz: Gruppen, Strukturen und Lebensformen (Cologne,
a
Weimar, and Vienna, 2001), with extensive bibliography. For Thessalonike in particular, though
considerably dated, see O. Tafrali, Thessalonique au quatorzi`me si`cle (Paris, 1913; repr. Thessalonike,
e e
1993), pp. 19“34; P. Charanis, “Internal strife in Byzantium during the fourteenth century,” B 15
(1941), 212“13.
2 Oikonomid`s, Hommes d™affaires, pp. 114“23; Matschke and Tinnefeld, Gesellschaft, pp. 154“7, 166“
e
72. In the fourteenth and ¬fteenth centuries the social structure of Thessalonike also incorporated
members of guild-like organizations or corporations such as those of the sailors, perfume producers,
builders, and salt miners: see Iviron, vol. iii, nos. 78, 84 (= Schatzkammer, nos. 111, 112); Chilandar
(P), nos. 84, 85; Zographou, no. 25; Docheiariou, no. 50; Dionysiou, no. 14; H. Hunger and K. Vogel,
Ein byzantinisches Rechenbuch des 15. Jahrhunderts (Vienna, 1963), no. 31. On the social structure of
Thessalonike around the beginning of the ¬fteenth century, see Matschke, Ankara, pp. 144“75.

41
42 Thessalonike
While the Ottoman invasions certainly played a decisive role in accel-
erating this sharp social and economic differentiation in Thessalonike, it
must be pointed out that an atmosphere of civil discord prevailed in the
city prior to and independently of the Ottoman threat, as demonstrated by
the developments of the ¬rst half of the fourteenth century which culmi-
nated in the so-called Zealot movement.3 The increased grievances of the
lower classes in connection with the oppressive practices of the rich were
already evident in the earlier part of the fourteenth century. Sources of this
period are ¬lled with references to the burdens imposed upon the poor by
speculators, moneylenders, storekeepers, and even by certain ecclesiastics
who practiced usury.4 The city™s governors, in their inability to force the
rich to pay taxes, often turned to the poor to make up for their declining
revenues. Soldiers who were dissatis¬ed with their pay also found in the
poor a suitable target for molestation. Because of the corruption of judges,
moreover, it was almost impossible for people belonging to the lower classes
to obtain justice at the law courts.5
Such wrongs and the resulting social tensions seem to have spread so fast
that the city™s archbishop Gregory Palamas, in a letter he sent to his ¬‚ock
from Asia Minor at the time of his captivity among the Ottomans (1354“5),
found it necessary to urge those “who love money and injustice” to prac-
tice temperance and equity.6 But the Thessalonians do not appear to have
taken heed of Palamas™ words, for his successors, the archbishops Isidore
Glabas and Symeon, continued in later years to complain about offenses
and injustices committed for the sake of material gain by both the rich and
the poor; the transgression of laws; malpractices of of¬cials; and con¬‚icts
between the rich and the poor, between the “powerful” and the “powerless,”
or between the rulers and their subjects.7 Despite the strong moral tone

3 On the Zealot movement, see most recently K.-P. Matschke, “Thessalonike und die Zeloten.
Bemerkungen zu einem Schl¨ sselereignis der sp¨tbyzantinischen Stadt- und Reichsgeschichte,” BS
u a
55 (1994), 19“43. For a survey of the extensive literature on the subject, see also J. W. Barker,
“Late Byzantine Thessalonike: a second city™s challenges and responses,” DOP 57 (2003), 29“33
(Appendix 2).
4 These can be found in the writings of Nicholas Kabasilas, Alexios Makrembolites, Nikephoros
Choumnos, Thomas Magistros, Gregory Palamas, et alii. See Tafrali, Thessalonique, pp. 104“6,
111“16. For a recent discussion of these authors™ negative attitudes towards usury as responses to
contemporary realities in fourteenth-century Thessalonike, see A. E. Laiou, “Economic concerns
and attitudes of the intellectuals of Thessalonike,” DOP 57 (2003), 210“23.
5 Tafrali, Thessalonique, pp. 63“5, 105, 108“9.
6 A. Philippidis-Braat, “La captivit´ de Palamas chez les Turcs, dossier et commentaire,” TM 7 (1979),
e
164.
7 See, for example, Isidore“Christophorides, vol. ii, Homilies 19, 21, 22, esp. pp. 299“300, 329“
30, 344“7; Isidore“Christophorides, vol. i, Homily 28, pp. 45“9 (= “SumbolŸ e«v tŸn ¬stor©an
t¦v Qessalon©khv. D…o ˆn”kdotoi ¾mil©ai ¬IsidÛrou ˆrciepisk»pou Qessalon©khv,” ed. C. N.
43
Thessalonike: an overview (1382“1430)
and rhetorical character of these pronouncements which typically embody
literary topoi and exaggeration, the marked increase in their frequency
throughout the second half of the fourteenth and the beginning of the
¬fteenth century suggests, nonetheless, that the new conditions and hard-
ships brought about by Ottoman attacks intensi¬ed the already existing
socioeconomic tensions within Thessalonike and produced opportunities
for certain groups of people who took advantage of the circumstances. On
the other hand, the lack of unity and social cohesion among the inhabi-
tants weakened their resistance to the Ottomans. Contemporary observers
such as Demetrios Kydones, Isidore Glabas, Symeon of Thessalonike, and
John Anagnostes all present the internal divisions of Thessalonian society
as the major cause for the city™s failure before the enemy.8 Making a biblical
allusion, Symeon of Thessalonike notes, “ ˜Every kingdom divided against
itself is brought to desolation™; and this is what happened.”9
The political orientation of Thessalonike in relation to Constantinople
also played a role in determining the outcome of military con¬‚icts with
the Ottomans. In 1382, when Manuel II established himself in Thessalonike
and waged war against the Ottomans, he stood in open violation of the
imperial policy of peace and reconciliation that was being pursued then
by John V™s government at Constantinople. Consequently, rather than
receiving approval and assistance from the capital, Manuel™s anti-Ottoman
campaign aroused tensions between the two cities, as indicated by John V™s
punitive measures against the Constantinopolitans who were suspected of
intending to join Manuel in Thessalonike.10
But if the frictions in this particular case were due to the exceptional
circumstances provoked by Manuel II, who had seized the government of
Thessalonike by force, generally speaking the opposition between the two
cities and their con¬‚icting foreign policies stemmed from the actions of
Thessalonike™s local governors (Šrcontev), who displayed a ¬rm desire to
dissociate themselves from central authority. This incentive for indepen-
dence from Constantinople had already been expressed in the course of
the civil war between John VI and John V, and by the movement of the


Tsirpanlis, Qeolog©a 42 [1971], 567“70), Homily 31, pp. 85“95; Isidore“Laourdas; Symeon“Balfour;
Symeon“Phountoules, nos. 16 and 22.
8 Kydones“Loenertz, vol. ii, nos. 273, 299; Isidore“Christophorides, vol. i, Homily 30, pp. 77“8,
79“80, 82; Isidore“Laourdas, pp. 32, 56“7; Isidore“Lampros, pp. 349“50, 385; Symeon“Balfour,
pp. 47, 53, 55“6; Anagnostes“Tsaras, pp. 8“12.
9 Symeon“Balfour, p. 53, lines 32“3.
10 Kydones“Loenertz, vol. ii, nos. 247 and 264. On John V™s policy of peace and reconciliation with
the Ottomans, see above, ch. 2, pp. 29“30.
44 Thessalonike
Zealots.11 Its persistence through the ¬fteenth century is suggested by the
archbishop Symeon, who alludes to the opposition of the Thessalonian
archontes against the palace courtiers at Constantinople, adding that the
latter in turn were opposed to the burghers (o¬ ˆsto©) of Thessalonike.12
Moreover, on the occasion of Thessalonike™s restoration to the Byzantine
Empire in 1403, it is reported that Demetrios Laskaris Leontares, who went
there as Emperor John VII™s envoy to receive the city from the Ottomans,
met with resistance and intrigues (–piboula©) on the part of the citizens.13
Likewise, in 1408, when Emperor Manuel II traveled to Thessalonike
to install his young son Andronikos as Despot and Demetrios Laskaris
Leontares as the latter™s regent, there was another disturbance (taracž)
in the city.14 The disorders of 1403 and 1408 are most likely to have been
expressions of Thessalonike™s insubordination to Constantinople since they
both coincide with the appointment to the city of people closely linked to
the imperial government.15 Symeon, who has described these events, was
strongly against the separatism that existed between the two cities, which
he found to be detrimental to the security of Thessalonike. In his account
of an Ottoman siege that took place in 1422“3, he wrote:
[A]mbassadors had wrongly been sent out from Thessalonike to the Emir without
consulting the Basileus; I myself was averse to this and kept advising that nothing
be done without consulting the Basileus, but they would not listen at all to my
words; and this became one of the principal reasons why the Thessalonians™ city
landed in grave danger. The result was that certain imperial agreements with the
barbarians, which were ready to be implemented, were left in abeyance.16
In addition, the city of Thessalonike possessed special privileges which
further distanced it from Constantinople.17 Although the precise nature
and content of these privileges are not all that clear to us, Manuel II
certainly recognized their importance in a public speech he delivered in
11 Separatism seems to have been a consistent feature in Thessalonike™s history since earlier times,
¬nding expression from the seventh century onwards in the cult of St. Demetrios, the city™s patron
saint whom local tradition transformed into a symbol of Thessalonian independence from Con-
stantinople: see R. J. Macrides, “Subversion and loyalty in the cult of St. Demetrios,” BS 51 (1990),
189“97. On the Thessalonian tendencies of separatism from the capital during the Palaiologan
period, see now Barker, “Late Byzantine Thessalonike,” 14“23.
12 Symeon“Balfour, p. 53, lines 30“1: “kaª kat‡ t¤n –n to±v basile©oiv m•n o¬ pro”contev to“ koino“,
kat¬ ˆst¤n d• p†lin –ke±noi.”
13 Ibid., p. 44. 14 Ibid., p. 48. 15 See ibid., pp. 115 (n. 59), 122“3.
16 Ibid., pp. 57 (text), 161 (trans.). It is not clear what the “imperial agreements” with the Ottomans
mentioned at the end of this passage were. As Balfour notes (p. 161, n. 162), the unsuccessful
Byzantine embassy of September 1422 that sought peace with Murad II (D¨ lger, Reg., vol. v,
o
no. 3393) seems too early to be identi¬ed with this incident.
17 See Tafrali, Thessalonique, pp. 24, 49, 66“71, 150, 157; G. I. Br˜tianu, Privil`ges et franchises munic-
e
a
ipales dans l™Empire byzantin (Bucharest and Paris, 1936), pp. 108“9, 115“22; Lj. Maksimovi´, The c
45
Thessalonike: an overview (1382“1430)
1383 before the citizens of Thessalonike. Addressing the Thessalonians as
the descendants of Philip and Alexander, Manuel emphasized the fact that
they were accustomed to greater freedom compared with the inhabitants
of other Macedonian and Anatolian cities, and that they were exempt even
from the tribute that all free Byzantines had to pay to the emperor.18 It is
noteworthy, moreover, that in 1423 the agreement concerning the transfer
of Thessalonike to Venetian rule was concluded with the condition that
the privileges and customs of the city™s inhabitants were to be respected.19
The partial autonomy which the Thessalonians enjoyed, or sought at any
rate, constituted part of an empire-wide phenomenon whereby through-
out the fourteenth century, with the progressive decline of the power and
authority of the Palaiologan state, Byzantine cities steadily achieved a con-
siderable degree of independence.20 In the course of this process particular
urban groups or institutions started taking over the traditional functions
of the Byzantine state. The Church, for instance, assumed judicial func-
tions, while the aristocracy took over administrative functions along with
the management of the ¬nances and defense of certain towns and cities.
Within the context of the struggle against the Ottomans, parallel develop-
ments in Thessalonike meant that its inhabitants, as they were alienated
from Constantinople, had to manage the war by their own efforts and
means. And when they could no longer sustain the military undertaking
by themselves, their only remaining alternative was to seek foreign alliances
which contributed to the splintering of the population since opinions var-
ied over the question of which foreign power(s) to approach.
The sequence of events during Manuel II™s independent regime illus-
trates well the impact of Thessalonike™s isolation from Constantinople on
the emergence of a range of policies and corresponding attitudes in the

Byzantine Provincial Administration under the Palaiologoi (Amsterdam, 1988), pp. 248“57; E. Pat-
lagean, “L™immunit´ des Thessaloniciens,” in EUYUCIA. M´langes offerts a H´l`ne Ahrweiler (Paris,
` ee
e
e
1998), vol. ii, pp. 591“601.
18 “Sumbouleutik»v,” ed. Laourdas, 296“8. For some practical applications of the ¬scal privilege to
which Manuel II refers, all dating from the ¬rst half of the fourteenth century, see Patlagean,
“L™immunit´,” p. 592. On the interest in Philip and Alexander in Palaiologan Byzantium, see
e
A. Karathanassis, “Philip and Alexander of Macedon in the literature of the Palaiologan era,” in
Byzantine Macedonia: Identity, Image and History, ed. J. Burke and R. Scott (Melbourne, 2000),
pp. 111“15.
19 Sathas, Documents, vol. i, no. 86, pp. 133, 135“8. See also K. D. Mertzios, Mnhme±a makedonik¦v
¬stor©av (Thessalonike, 1947), p. 72.
20 Zachariadou, “ ¬Efžmerev ˆp»peirev gi‡ aÉtodio©khsh,” 345“51; Oikonomid`s, “Pour une typolo-
e
gie des villes ˜s´par´es™,” pp. 169“75. For earlier signs of the trend towards urban autonomy, see
ee
A. P. Kazhdan and A. W. Epstein, Change in Byzantine Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Cen-
turies (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1985), pp. 52“3; P. Magdalino, The Empire of Manuel I
Komnenos, 1143“1180 (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 150“60.
46 Thessalonike
city. When his initial successes against the enemy troops came to a halt,
Manuel, who had openly violated the of¬cial imperial policy of peace by his
anti-Ottoman campaign, could not seek help from Constantinople. Thus,
in 1384 he entered an alliance with Nerio Acciaiuoli, the Florentine Lord of
Corinth, and his own brother Theodore I Palaiologos, the Despot of the
Morea. Acquiring no concrete bene¬t from this alliance, he then initiated
negotiations with Pope Urban VI and also sought military and ¬nancial
assistance from Venice. But these subsequent attempts at obtaining west-
ern help failed as well.21 Interestingly, the Senate of Venice turned down
Manuel™s requests so as to endanger neither its political relations with the
Byzantine imperial government, nor the commercial privileges Venetian
merchants enjoyed in Ottoman territories.22 Inside the city, on the other
hand, Manuel™s negotiations with the papacy had the effect of alienating
certain groups, particularly the clergy and the hesychast monks, who were
opposed to the union of their Church with the Church of Rome.23 At the
same time, a number of people who advocated the capitulation of the city
to the Ottomans began to raise their voices. As early as 1383, in his “Dis-
course of Counsel to the Thessalonians,” Manuel had already reproached
certain citizens who did not want to ¬ght against the Ottomans, but pre-
ferred instead to submit to them and pay them tribute.24 In 1383 or 1384
Demetrios Kydones also wrote with great concern that he had heard about
some Thessalonians who “do not hesitate to proclaim freely that to try to
free our native land from the Turks is clearly to war against God.”25 By
1387 the segment of the population in favor of an accommodation with the
Ottomans, which presumably expanded in the meantime, forced Manuel
out of the city and then surrendered to the enemy. In his “Epistolary Dis-
course” to Nicholas Kabasilas written shortly afterwards, Manuel bitterly
complained that the Thessalonians, on whose behalf he risked his life, had

21 For Manuel II™s dealings with western powers, see Kydones“Loenertz, vol. ii, nos. 302“6, 308“11,
313“16, 318, 322, 327, 334, 335; MP, no. 28, pp. 60“1. Cf. Dennis, Reign of Manuel II, pp. 114“26,
136“50; Barker, Manuel II, pp. 54“6.

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