Beyond the Basics: 1831 Shepherds’ Tax Registration

In Spartan villages of the 1800’s, the predominant occupations were shepherds, landowners and farmers. A quick look at the Voter Lists of 1872corroborate that the majority of men spent their days planting and harvesting fields, and tending sheep and goats. This is certainly true for my great-grandparents.

One of my favorite genealogy treasures is a contract between my 2nd great grandfather, Ioannis Eftaxias of Mystras, and Panagiotis Sampatis. Dated December 23, 1863, it documents this transaction:

Panagiotis Sampatis declared that from this day he gives Ioannis Eftaxias 30 valued and already given to him sheep worth of 240 drachmas. They all have the following age: a sheep, two sheep 10 months old, four sheep 8 months old, four sheep 6 months old, three sheep 4 months old, four sheep, seven female sheep,  and a big ram: in total thirty (30). Ioannis Eftaxias will have them and will be taking care of them and will be protecting and using them as of his own from today until three years later, when the agreement will be annulled.  Ioannis Eftaxias has to give Panagiotis Sampatis fifty (50) okas from the cheese producted, ten (10) okas of wool and two (2) sheep from his pasture until year 1864. In the other two following years, 1865 and 1866, [Ioannis Eftaxias has to give Panagiotis] sixty (60) okas of cheese, ten (10) okas of wool and three (3) sheep per year. Also, if Ioannis Eftaxias fails to give Panagiotis the above mentioned in time, he will have to reimburse Panagiotis for the current pasture at the marketplace of Sparta. At the end of the agreement, in December 1866, he (Ioannis) has to return the mentioned sheep in the same quality and at the same age he was given them unless a great godsend catastrophe happens. And if Ioannis Eftaxias fails to return all the sheep he was given, he’ll have to pay eight (8) drachmas for each one of them, in total 240 drachmas; also, at the same time, he’ll pay Panagiotis for the deficit created by the sheep’s delayed return. Ioannis Eftaxias stated that he accepts the agreement above, after getting the mentioned sheep today, and promises to give Panagiotis Sampatis his share[ in time and to fully satisfy his obligations without any excuses.2

Contract, page one:  Panagiotis Sampatis and Ioannis Eftaxias of Mystras, 12/23/1863. Source: General State Archives of Greece, Sparta Office, accessed and translated by Gregory Kontos, July 2014.

(The full contract and translation can be accessed here.)

Knowing that my ancestors were shepherds, I was especially interested in exploring the Shepherd’s Registration dated 1831. I learned of this collection through researcher Konstandinos Koutsodontis, Greek Genealogist, who described the purpose of this census:
Shepherds’ registrations were conducted by the Kapodistrian government for tax purposes and for the boundary delimitation of animal grazing lands. After liberation from Ottoman rule, one of the major concerns of the new government was the reconstruction of finance (Greece had taken huge loans to conduct the War of Independence and had to repay Britain, France and Russia). Taxes were a great source especially when the majority (~80%) of the Greek citizens were farmers and shepherds. Similar shepherd tax censuses were conducted some years later (1834-1840) by the king Othon.
Konstandinos conducted a search for me in 1831 Shepherd’s Registration. Although not all of my villages had these records, they did exist for three, and my ancestral family owned:
  • Theologos:  Georgakis, Nikolis and Giannis Zaharakis each owned one horse
  • Sklavohori:  Lambros Zarafonitis owned three cows
  • Machmoutbei:  Dimitrios Zarafonitis owned five cows

Zaharakis in 1831 Shepherd’s Registration: Georgakis, Nikolis, Giannis. Source: General State Archives of Greece, Archive of the Financial Committee; accessed and translated by Konstandinos Koutsodontis, March 2020

Konstandinos explained that having a horse or a large number of goats or sheep was an indication of relative financial status. This helps me further understand and respect the standing of my family within their communities.

Because I had assembled the Zaharakis family tree (see post here), I knew exactly who these three men were in 1831. Understanding that most 1800’s villages were small in size, it is not difficult to construct family trees if you have the basic resources:  Voter Lists, Male Registers (Mitroon Arrenon), Town Registers (Dimotologion), Church birth, marriage, death records, school records.

Finding additional “beyond the basics” records entails hiring a professional who can locate and translate the documents. (Even if I knew where to find these documents, there’s no way I could have ever read the Zaharakis names above!) To me, it is well worth the small expense. These additional records add more details to my people and make these long-ago ancestors more “real” to me.

1My sincere gratitude to Georgia Stryker Keilman for translating many 1872 voter lists and posting them on her blog, Hellenic Genealogy Geek.  Lists for Sparta and other villages of Lakedaimona can be found by scrolling to File #25 here.

2My deepest appreciation to Gregory Kontos of for finding this document at the Sparta GAK in 2014, and translating it for me.