Koumousta: The Second Period of Ottoman Conquest 1715-1821

During Ottoman occupation, the region known as Koumousta[1] administratively belonged in the kaza  of Mystras. In each community, male adults elected one or two elders who managed the financial functions of the community, maintained the roads, tried to ease Turkish authority, and assumed other responsibilities. The elders came once a year to the capital of the kaza and elected their representatives (provincial elders) known as kazavatzis. The most well known elder of Mystras was Panagiotis Krevvatas. His will of 1819 bequeaths money to individuals and villages, including Koumousta to which he gave 750 and 200 grosia.

During the period of Ottoman conquest, Koumousta was known as Kato Riza. Generally, this included the villages south of Mystras between the east side of theTaygetos mountains and the Evrotas River. This area included a large section of plains, perfect for farming.

Evrotas River

 

In the early 1700’s, a series of disasters afflicted the region. The plague of 1719 decimated the population. An uncontrolled rise in food prices, especially wheat and grains, caused massive starvation and death. Crops failed, due to a lack of rain. In 1729, a great earthquake caused the demolition of many houses and the destruction of the roof of St. Konstandinos. Homes in Kato Chora and Plataniou were destroyed by rocks that fell on the roofs. As a result, that part of the area was abandoned and rebuilt, and renamed Panou Chora.

Before the 1821 Revolution, Koumousta’s borders extended south to the area of Vardounia which is located just north of the Mani Peninsula on the eastern slopes of Mt. Taygetos and housed the medieval Vardounia castle. Its citizens were predominantly Albanian Muslim mercenaries, hired by Turks and relocated there by M. Veziri Damad Ali Pasha after the recapture of Morea in 1715. The Ottomans designated Vardounia as a buffer zone to stop Maniots who had been leading raids and looting Ottoman-controlled territory. Thus, Vardounia was like a war zone populated with towers, arms and strategic positions manned by the Albanians.

The Koumoustiates survived by avoiding interactions with the people of Vardounia. They refused to leave the Monastery of Gola unprotected, even though Vardounians visited the monastery and occasionally participated in celebrations. However, tensions would flare. For example, Stratigis Stoumbo faced grave danger when he won a target shooting contest during a post-Easter celebration at the monastery. His life was saved only after he fled the area as a fugitive. Incidentally, the target shooting contest was maintained until the 1950s.

Another example is an incident which occurred after the death of a Muslim in 1795 near the monastery. Retribution followed, and damages to the monastery were huge. Vardounians stole the monastery’s flocks and looted houses. The monks scattered. Some fled to Koumousta and continued their monasteristic life after  building koinovio [shelters].

Zabetina Stathakou of Koumousta remembered people who had lived during Ottoman rule. She related the story of a band of Kelphts who killed Turks at Red Rock (located under the top of Taygetos) and in Kakochioni, and the Turks had buried them in Tourkokivoura. Other Turks had been killed in Spiliakakia and in Avarvaniti.

To avoid potentially dangerous interactions, Greeks preferred to travel to Mystras by taking  switchback roads through mountainous villages. They had an intense sense of insecurity and needed protection whenever they left their village. Going from one area to another required permission from the Vardounians who controlled the passages, or from the authorities of Mystras.

Albanians in Greece, 1833-1875.2

The Russian-Turkish wars of 1767-1774 and 1787-1792 and the relevant Orlov Revolt  (Russian-backed Greek rebellion against Ottoman rule) created great difficulties in the Peloponnese. Serious food shortages ensued, as noted in a document at the National Library of Greece in Code 1378:

“as above written by chief bishop of Holy Lacedaimonos, Mr.  Daniel, 1793 February 10, went wheat to the Morea:  13 grosia plus 18 parades; and corn 12 grosia and 15 parades. This hunger continued approximately until July and the unhappiness that happened in the world is impossible for the hand of man to describe, where people for two months had to eat bread and many ate acorns and small fruit of olive trees. This was written by Kostadopoulo of Lacedaimonos when the abbot was Mr. Dionysios, abbot of Katafigiotissas monastery (near Mystra).”

Albanian mercenaries remained in the Peloponnese for a decade (1770-1780) after the end of the revolt. Charged with restoring order, their governance was one of terror and repression. Slaughtering and persecution of Christians began and many villages were abandoned, such as Kourtsouna, Arna, Gorani, Bolovitsa, Palaiochori, Potamia. Tradition says that Koumousta was burned as a payback for the participation of its citizens in the Orlov Revolt.

At the end of this movement, the Ottoman administration settled Turks in Koumousta, and their presence is verified by documentation that was written after the destruction of the monastery of Gola. The Koumoustiotes expressed anguish at the fate of the monastery and by consensus, entrusted persons to manage its affairs, as noted in this document:

1796 April 25, Trinitza [a very small village in the borders of Mani]

With this document, we express for the Koumoustiotis all the village the acceptance of our bey, Belou bey and Tervisi bey and we beg the Masters Captain Dimitraki and Mr. Andoni and Mr. Theodoro and Mr. Andonako Ligorianos to take responsibility and become home makers of the monastery of Gola. In the monastery and in the fortune of the monasteries in Karydiotika and Vromolygia and the nobility made them to accept it for the mother of Christ and from today they are responsible and we give them this document in their hands in order to remember their honest and decent names in the monastery and help them wherever they like.
We guarantee with our own hands.
Papa-Vasilis, guarantee [elder of Koumousta]
Papa-Dimitrios, guarantee
Belos  bey and Tervis bey, we agree
Giorgakis Komanis, guarantee
Giorgis Konidis, guarantee
Dimitris Xathos, agree
Kiriakos Christakis, guarantee

To address this matter, Chrisantho, the bishop of Lacedaimonos, visited Koumousta in 1805. He appointed the abbot, Dionysios, to take responsibility to resolve this issue and Dimitris Mathaio and George Konidis to take charge of income and expenses. The monks returned to the monastery and began to rebuild it.

Ottoman authorities erected financial barriers to keep the Greek population in financial slavery. One such practice was to establish a minimal repayment time for term loans, which caused Greeks to lose their property. Such a loan was signed by the monks of the Monastery of Gola in Koumousta as found in the following document:

Koumousta of Lacedaimon, page 35.

Translation: 1777 October 26. I, Stratigis Kyrkilas with other monks of Gola, borrowed from Giannaki Vlachaki, Albanian, 44 grosia, to be repaid in 6 months on the 23 of April, with no reason and excuse / and without differentiation. And with truth, we make this document and we give it in the hands of Mr. Giannaki and we sign, Stratigis Kirkilas with all the monks of Gola. I ensure with my hand, Papa Vasili wrote and agreed. [Papa Vasili was a well known priest of Koumousta.]

Many people of Koumousta were in similar circumstances. In 1775, Zenelagas, a captain of Albanian mercenaries, demanded that the citizens of Paleochori give him 300 grosia as payment for the protection that he offered to them. People signed this document but they could not repay the money. Zenelagas forced many citizens to abandon the village; some went to Mani; some to the islands of the Aegean and others scattered throughout the world. Dimitrakis Skiadas and his mother, Konstandina, left Koumousta and went to Kythera. In 1780, the year that the monk of Zerbitsa, Gerasmimos Markakis of Paleochori, wrote his will, the situation had not changed.

Through the years, the Koumoustiotes kept alive a vivid recollection of the Vardounians. Even today, they give their dogs Vardounian names to indicate a ferocious wildness and, hopefully, to cause terror to thieves.

NOTE: This post is part of a series of translations and extractions of the book, Koumousta of Lacedaimon, authors: Theodore Katsoulakos, Pan. X. Stoumbos, with translation by Giannis Mihalakakos. Previous posts are Economics and Occupations of the Citizens; Christakos Family, Part 1 & Part 2; and The Rizos Clan of Koumousta, Laconia:  Christakos, Koumoustiotis, Kyriakakos.  I am grateful to Dimitris Katsoulakos for permission to cite passages from this book.

__________________________________

[1] Today, Koumousta is known as the village of Pentavli. The region formerly encompassed a wider area which includes  today’s villages of Xirokambi, Faris, Paleochori, Kaminia (Dafni), Kidonitsa, Anthochori, Paleopanagia, Trapezanti, Dipotama, and others.

[2] Attribution:  original uploader was Stupidus Maximus at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Sreejithk2000 using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10525371

 

 

Advertisements