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Homily I, p. 29.
63 Symeon“Balfour, p. 47. It must be granted that in virtually all periods and provinces of the Byzantine
Empire examples can be found of abuses and oppression exercised by the archontes over the lower
classes. The problem assumed the aspect of a conventional and proverbial theme, ¬nding one of
its best expressions in the Byzantine saying, “Even the most miserable of the archontes will bully
the people under him,” transmitted by Eustathios of Thessalonike in the twelfth century: see M.
Angold, “Archons and dynasts: local aristocracies and the cities of the later Byzantine Empire,” in
The Byzantine Aristocracy, IX to XIII Centuries, ed. M. Angold (Oxford, 1984), p. 249 and n. 67.
Whether or not such conventional statements re¬‚ect existing practices can be questioned of course.
But given the fact that the problem is not only brought up in purely theoretical, moralistic, and
theological contexts, but is also con¬rmed in notarial documents as well as other legal sources, it
seems reasonable to accept its presence as a real issue in Byzantine society. It remains crucial, however,
to evaluate the existing references in the light of the particular historical and social conditions in
which they occurred. On this subject, see H. Saradi, “The twelfth-century canon law commentaries
on the ˆrcontikŸ dunaste©a: ecclesiastical theory vs. juridical practice,” in Byzantium in the 12th
Century; Canon Law, State and Society, ed. N. Oikonomid`s (Athens, 1991), pp. 375“404; H. Saradi,
e
“On the ˜archontike™ and ˜ekklesiastike dynasteia™ and ˜prostasia™ in Byzantium with particular
attention to the legal sources: a study in social history of Byzantium,” B 64 (1994), 69“117, 314“51.
64 Kydones“Loenertz, vol. i, no. 77, lines 27“31; cf. Dennis, Reign of Manuel II, pp. 55“6. For Demetrios
Phakrases, see PLP, no. 29576.
71
Byzantine Thessalonike (1382“1387 and 1403“1423)
Compared with the problems and hardships which the landowning
aristocrats, merchants, and bankers of Thessalonike faced, the city™s lower
classes seem to be the social group that suffered the most during both
1382“7 and 1403“23. Contemporary sources frequently mention the poor
and describe their deplorable state. One of the most striking examples of
the extreme poverty of the lower classes and their resulting unwillingness
to ¬ght against the Turks is found in a letter written by Manuel II in 1383:
They are almost all Iroses, and it is easy to count those who do not go to bed
hungry. Indeed, we need either the wealth of Croesus or an eloquence above
average to be able to persuade them to bear poverty in good repute rather than
desire a blameworthy wealth. They have to be convinced, moreover, that it is
nobler and far less shameful to suffer willingly the lot of slaves for the sake of their
own freedom than, after having become slaves in heart, to try to gain the rights of
free men.65

Later, Symeon also wrote about widespread poverty, misery, and suffering
in Thessalonike in an encyclical he composed in 1422, and he urged the
citizens living under such conditions to endure and not to deviate from
Orthodoxy.66 According to the testimony of Symeon, at this time there
was a strong opposition among the lower classes to the policy of resistance
pursued against the Ottomans by members of the city™s governing body.
This opposition was spurred by two interrelated considerations on the part
of the lower classes. First of all, the resistance policy which prolonged the
years of warfare had only helped to intensify their hardships; secondly, it
was supported and executed by the ruling elite who, in the opinion of the
lower classes, were merely considering their own interests and not those of
the masses:
Now on top of this the majority were shouting against and bitterly reproaching
those in authority and me myself, accusing us of not striving to serve the welfare of
the population as a whole. They actually declared that they were bent on handing
the latter over to the in¬del.67

The lower classes were further aggravated because the archontes and some
wealthy Thessalonians who supported the cause of war made no ¬nan-
cial contributions towards defense needs. Their reluctance could not have
resulted from their lack of means for in the early ¬fteenth century the
archontes of Thessalonike were criticized for living wantonly and hoarding
their wealth, while burying money was commonly practiced by wealthy
65 66
Dennis, Letters of Manuel II, no. 4, pp. 12“13. Symeon“Balfour, p. 74.
67 Ibid., pp. 55“6 (text), 157 (trans.).
72 Thessalonike
citizens during the blockade of 1383“7.68 According to Isidore Glabas,
one of the prerequisites for winning the struggle against the Ottomans in
the 1380s was to convince those with ¬nancial resources to contribute to
military expenditures.69 It is also evident that the aforementioned Con-
stantinopolitan general, who proposed in 1423 the setting up of a common
fund for defense purposes through contributions by Thessalonians out of
their personal assets, had as his main target the upper classes who could
afford to pay the necessary sums. But it was precisely these people who, in
apprehension of a forceful exaction of their money, opposed the general™s
proposal. The reaction of the lower classes to the conduct exhibited by the
rich was to protest and riot in favor of surrender to the Ottomans.70 Their
outrage, provoked in the ¬rst place by the unwillingness of the rich to con-
tribute to the war cause, may well have been accompanied and enhanced
by the fear that the civil authorities might turn to the populace to make
up for the resources that could not be procured from the well-to-do. Such
a policy seems to have been applied in 1383, when under comparable cir-
cumstances a new tax may have been imposed even on the poor citizens of
Thessalonike because of the inadequacy of other sources of revenue.71
Symeon reports that some of the inhabitants who objected to the Con-
stantinopolitan general™s proposal had recourse to ¬‚ight. There are other
indications pointing to the fact that the urge to escape ¬scal burdens asso-
ciated with war expenses was often a determining factor in the ¬‚ight of
many Thessalonians. In 1415 Manuel II requested from Venice the return
of Byzantine subjects from Thessalonike, Constantinople, and the Morea
who had ¬‚ed to Venetian territories. In the surviving reply of the Venetian
Senate to the Emperor, it is explicitly stated that the refugees from the
Morea had run away in order to circumvent the charges imposed on them
for ¬nancing the reconstruction of the Hexamilion, undertaken for pro-
tection against Ottoman attacks. As far as the refugees from Thessalonike
and Constantinople are concerned, we know only that they had ¬‚ed to the
Venetians at the time of the sieges of their respective cities by the Ottoman
prince Musa. But it seems reasonable to conjecture that the incentive to
avoid ¬scal burdens played a role in their ¬‚ight too.72 About a year and a
68 Ibid., p. 47; Isidore“Christophorides, vol. ii, Homily 19, p. 301 and Homily 21, p. 333; cf. Homily
4, p. 68.
69 Isidore“Christophorides, vol. i, Homily 33, p. 120 and Homily 37, p. 187.
70 Symeon“Balfour, p. 57. See above, ch. 3, pp. 47“8.
71 This is suggested by Isidore Glabas™ allusion to of¬cials laying hands on the belongings of the poor
in a homily that was probably delivered in September 1383: Isidore“Christophorides, vol. ii, Homily
19, p. 300, lines 1“2.
72 Iorga, “Notes et extraits,” ROL 4 (1896), 554“5 (Sept. 23, 1415); Thiriet, R´gestes, vol. ii, no. 1592.
e
73
Byzantine Thessalonike (1382“1387 and 1403“1423)
half after the Emperor™s call, there were still some Thessalonians in Negro-
ponte who had not returned to their native city despite the fact that almost
four years had elapsed since the termination of Musa™s siege.73 They prob-
ably remained on the Venetian island because shortly after Musa, in 1416,
Mehmed I started threatening the environs of Thessalonike.74 As long as
Ottoman pressures persisted, the fear of being forced to supply money
towards defense needs, coupled with anxiety over the unstable military sit-
uation, no doubt deterred these refugees from returning to Thessalonike.
At some time between 1417 and 1420 a group of Christian captives and
conscripts who deserted the Ottoman army and took refuge in Thessalonike
prompted another crisis. When Mehmed I demanded as compensation
either ransom money or the return of the fugitives, the inhabitants decided
to deliver them to the Ottoman ruler, against the protests of only a number
of religious people led by the archbishop Symeon.75 Besides the fear of
Mehmed I, a fundamental factor that led the Thessalonians to this decision
must have been the urge to escape paying the ransom fee. Given the
other cases which con¬rm the unwillingness of the rich to make ¬nancial
sacri¬ces, it is not dif¬cult to conceive why the community as a whole,
with the exception of a few religious persons, resigned itself to handing in
the captives.
A portrait of Thessalonian society which likewise gives the impression
of the existence of an upper class that remained indifferent to the demands
brought on by the war with the Ottomans and continued to spend money
in pursuit of a wanton, carefree, and luxurious lifestyle can be found in a
¬fteenth-century text attributed to John Argyropoulos. The text in ques-
tion is an invective against a certain Katablattas, who was a native of Serres
but spent the years between about 1403 and 1430 in Thessalonike, having
¬‚ed there from Bursa after a period of service in the Ottoman army as a
foot soldier.76 Katablattas became a school instructor in Thessalonike and
also served as a scribe in the city™s tribunal. He had close ties with people
from the uppermost levels of Thessalonian society, including members of
73 Iorga, “Notes et extraits,” ROL 4 (1896), 573“4 (Jan. 12, 1417); Thiriet, R´gestes, vol. ii, no. 1635.
e
74 See B. Kreki´, Dubrovnik (Raguse) et le Levant au Moyen Age (Paris, 1961), no. 630 (Dec. 25, 1416).
c
On Mehmed I™s campaign, see also M. Balivet, “L™exp´dition de Mehmed Ier contre Thessalonique:
e
´
convergences et contradictions des sources byzantines et turques,” Comit´ International d™Etudes
e
Pr´-Ottomanes et Ottomanes: VIth Symposium, Cambridge, 1“4 July 1984 (Istanbul, Paris, and Leiden,
e
1987), pp. 31“7.
75 Symeon“Balfour, p. 51.
76 “La Com´die de Katablattas. Invective byzantine du XVe s.,” ed. P. Canivet and N. Oikonomid`s,
e e
D©ptuca 3 (1982“3), 5“97. For the identi¬cation of the author and the dates given above, see
ibid., 9, 15“21. The portion of the text that corresponds to Katablattas™ years in Thessalonike is on
pp. 35“51.
74 Thessalonike
the ruling class. He frequently visited the palace of the Despot Andronikos,
had contacts with the senators, gave public speeches, and seems to have
enjoyed a certain degree of in¬‚uence with Andronikos as suggested by
the request of a woman who asked him to write a letter to the Despot
on her behalf. The text™s depiction of the social gatherings (e.g. banquets,
weddings, hunting parties) attended by Katablattas, elaborately focusing
on all the singing, dancing, drinking, and eating that took place on these
occasions, corresponds closely with the wanton lifestyle attributed by other
contemporary sources to the milieu in which Katablattas was active. There-
fore, while it is important to keep in mind that the work at hand is an
invective and that some of the accusations found in it against Katablattas
may be false or exaggerated, there is no reason to reject the authenticity of
the general image of Thessalonian upper-class society it conveys.
Viewed all together, then, the evidence presented above suggests that in
spite of the hardships and unfavorable conditions that affected all social
groups within Thessalonike, there remained a small fraction of the popu-
lation consisting of people at the top who had in their possession a con-
siderable amount of money. A question worth asking is where this money
came from. Traditionally the Byzantine aristocracy, despite the fact that
it always constituted an essentially urban group, drew its wealth predom-
inantly from land. We have seen, however, that in Thessalonike and its
environs, as elsewhere in the empire, the landowning aristocracy suffered
major property losses and became impoverished in the course of the four-
teenth and ¬fteenth centuries as a result of civil wars and the successive
invasions of Serbians and Ottomans. Thus it is not in land, but else-
where, that we must seek the source of the money that accumulated in
the hands of those who refused to channel it towards the defense needs of
Thessalonike.
The answer to our question seems to lie in long-distance commercial
activity and banking. While the military, political, and economic circum-
stances that posed considerable obstacles to trade have been outlined above,
it has also been demonstrated that some Thessalonian merchants were
able to create conditions favorable to themselves and to perpetuate their
commercial enterprises. Sources every now and then give glimpses of the
trade connections of certain Thessalonians with foreign markets during
this period. For instance, Andreas Argyropoulos, who bears the name of
the distinguished Thessalonian family already mentioned in connection
with a dispute over a group of gardens belonging to the monastery of
Iveron, was involved in the fur trade of Wallachia in the early ¬fteenth
75
Byzantine Thessalonike (1382“1387 and 1403“1423)
century.77 Secondly, a moneychanger (katallaktes) called Platyskalites,
whose sister was married to another moneychanger by the family name
of Chalazas (an archontic family of Thessalonike), had a stepbrother,
Michael Metriotes, who made a journey to Tana at the end of the four-
teenth century.78 In view of the commercial importance of Tana, Michael
Metriotes™ trip there is quite likely to have been for trading purposes. We
have more conclusive evidence, on the other hand, concerning the interna-
tional enterprises of two other Thessalonians, John Rhosotas and Theodore
Katharos, whose realm of activity encompassed Venice, Dubrovnik, and
Novo Brdo. In 1424“5 Theodore Katharos can be traced in Dubrovnik,
where he was acting as John Rhosotas™ business agent. At an earlier date
Theodore had made a deal in Venice with a Ragusan merchant, to whom he
entrusted a certain amount of money and merchandise. The Ragusan was
then arrested and died in prison at Venice. Hence in Dubrovnik Theodore
was mainly occupied with trying to recover the money the deceased mer-
chant owed him which, as he claimed, amounted to slightly over 3,875
ducats. It seems that Theodore did not possess suf¬cient proof, and in the
end he lost about one-third of this money.79 During his visit to Dubrovnik,
he may have been involved in other enterprises too, as suggested by a doc-
ument of 1424 which mentions a Teodorus Grecus who exported cloth from
there to Serbia.80
It is not clear whether Theodore acted alone or once again as John Rhoso-
tas™ agent in the last-mentioned enterprise. Yet several sources demonstrate
that a certain Caloiani Rusota, who may be identi¬ed with John Rhosotas of
Thessalonike, held a prominent place at the Serbian court in the 1420s and
1430s, where he actively engaged in business and banking, providing loans
particularly to Ragusan merchants who were dealing in Serbia. He served

77 MM, vol. ii, no. 564, pp. 374“5. The Polos Argyros, mentioned in the ¬fteenth-century satire
of Mazaris, who returned rich from Wallachia, has been identi¬ed with Andreas Argyropoulos:
Laiou-Thomadakis, “Byzantine economy,” 201“2, n. 97; cf. PLP, no. 1255. Yet it is by no means
certain whether Andreas belonged to the Thessalonian branch of the Argyropouloi; we possess
no evidence concerning his place of origin or residence. Several other members of the family “
Argyropoulos Mamoli; John Melachrinos, son of George Argyropoulos; Constantine and Demetrios
Argyropoulos “ are mentioned among the “nobles and small nobles” of Thessalonike who were in
the pay of Venice and received salary raises during the period of the Venetian domination (in 1425),
but nothing is known of their occupations: see below, Appendix II, nos. 24, 30, 31, 58.
78 Kug´as, “Notizbuch,” 153 (§ 86); cf. Laskaris, “Qessalon©kh kaª T†na,” pp. 331“40. For archontes
e
among the Chalazas family of Thessalonike in the fourteenth century, see Iviron, vol. iii, no. 78
(= Schatzkammer, no. 111); Docheiariou, no. 50; cf. Appendix I below.
79 Kreki´, Dubrovnik, nos. 686, 688, 690, 691, 697, 699, 702, 708, 709, 718, 721.
c
80 Ibid., no. 695.
76 Thessalonike
furthermore as customs of¬cer at Novo Brdo until his death in 1438.81 If
these two men are identical as suggested, this raises of course the question of
when John Rhosotas left Thessalonike, to which a precise answer cannot be
given. It is possible, though not so signi¬cant from our point of view, that
Rhosotas may have already established himself in Serbia while Theodore
Katharos was acting on his behalf in Dubrovnik.82 Supposing this were
the case, it is of far greater signi¬cance for present purposes that Rhosotas
did not totally disengage himself from his native city and delegated the
management of part of his affairs to a fellow Thessalonian. In any event,
without his prior international enterprises and foreign contacts, his rise to
prominence at the Serbian court would have been quite unlikely. It is also
noteworthy that the aforementioned ¬fteenth-century invective attributed
to John Argyropoulos has brought to light a certain Rhosotas who gave
a big party in Thessalonike on the occasion of his daughter™s wedding,
sometime between 1403 and 1430.83 Whether this last piece of evidence
concerns our John Rhosotas or, as seems more likely, one of his kinsmen in
Thessalonike, it lends in either case further support to my hypothesis that
links the ¬nancial resources and sumptuous lifestyle of the city™s social elite
in these critical times to pro¬ts from long-distance trade and banking.
Since the civil discords in Thessalonike and the lack of unity among the
citizens constituted according to Kydones, Isidore, Symeon, and Anagnos-
tes the major cause for the failure of the city before the Ottomans, it is
essential at this point to return to the hostilities between the lower classes
and the archontes which were brie¬‚y mentioned earlier and to subject them
to a careful analysis. Symeon is our best source of information on this

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