Ethnicity and the Use of Natural Resources in the Early Ottoman Peloponnese

By Georgios C. Liakopoulos

The first extant Ottoman taxation cadastre of the Morea TT10-1/14662, dated 1460-63, divides the recorded settlements into Greek and Albanian on the basis of different rates of taxation, which favoured the latter ethnic group.

The Albanians – also known as Arvanites in the Greek lands – were first mentioned in the Peloponnese during the rule of Manuel Cantacuzenus in Mystras (1348-80), in the Veligosti area of Arcadia; they were probably a mercenary garrison. By 1391 there was an influx of Albanians that could be hired as mercenaries. The Venetians were in need of colonists and soldiers in their depopulated areas and hence offered plots of arable land, pastures and tax exemptions to the wandering Albanians in southern Greece. A well attested more populous Albanian settlement took place during the rule of Theodore I Palaeologus (1384-1407), when ten thousand Albanians appeared before the Isthmus, and asked Theodore for permission to settle in the Peloponnese (1394-95). A second wave of immigrants descended on the Morea perhaps in 1418, most probably from Aetolia, Acarnania and Arta, where the Albanian rule was ended by Carlo Tocco. Other groups from Albania, after the Ottoman incursion in 1417, crossed western Greece and may have infiltrated into Achaia. The settlements of 1417-18 were significant for the invigoration of the Albanian demography in the peninsula that led to the Albanian rebellion in 1453. In the first stage of their arrival, in a space of ten to thirty years they were probably in search of appropriate land for animal husbandry. After mapping out the evidence contained in the TT10-1/14662 register, it becomes apparent that by the early 1460s the Albanians had established their settlements throughout the Peloponnese regardless of land morphology and elevation (Map 1).

Ethnic Distribution of Identified Localities of the Peloponnese in the 1460s
Map 1: Ethnic Distribution of Identified Localities of the Peloponnese (1460s) | © Georgios C. Liakopoulos

The main reason for occupying a different category in the cadastre is the 20% reduction on the ispence (per capita land tax on non-Muslims) encumbrance (20 akçes instead of the 25 the Greeks paid). This mirrors a late Byzantine and Venetian practice that the Ottomans adopted to control the intractable Albanians and should be examined within the context of the ‘continuity for stability’ policy. Within half a century, the favourable taxation terms granted to the Albanians had ceased to exist. The TT80 register of the Morea, compiled in the reign of Selim I (1514/15), recorded the same amount of ispence (25 akçes annually) levied on both Greeks and Albanians and, for this reason, did not earmark the Albanian villages. This shows that by the early sixteenth century Ottoman rule in the peninsula was consolidated. The TT10-1/14662, on the other hand, clearly noted the Albanian villages with the heading: ‘of the Albanian community’ (ez cemaat-i Arnavudan). Besides the villages marked as Albanian, there were inhabitants of Albanian origin in Greek villages and towns, as their names indicate (Liakopoulos 2019, 214-216). These, however, like the rest were due to pay a 25-akçe ispence.

The analysis of the quantitative financial data contained in the TT10-1/14662 cadastre (Table 1) showed that an Albanian family paid by average a little less than three fifths the amount of tax (58.85%) a Greek one did, which constitutes a first indication of the relative poverty of this ethnic group. It is plausible to suggest that such communities are mostly engaged in cultivations of life-sustaining crops, e.g. cereals, instead of agricultural activities that are geared towards securing a monetary surplus. An Albanian family appears to pay by average 4.7 akçes more wheat tithe and produce 238.6 kg more wheat than a Greek one. Barley follows with a similar analogy that is 0.8 akçes more tithe and 46.9 kg more produce than the Greek equivalent. On the other hand, the contribution of the Albanians in other agricultural taxable assets ranges a little over a tenth of the totals in the Peloponnese (11.9%).

Viticulture and wine production constitute two areas of agriculture and pre-industrial activity that require a certain knowhow and a closer connection to the earth, hence they are more often performed by established sedentary societies. The transhumant Albanians, who must have continued being employed as mercenaries in armies of various Italian states (stradioti), show a very constrained – almost non-existent – contribution to the cultivation of the vine. This holds true for the cultivation of both reaya and timariots’ personal demesne vineyards (bağat-ı hassa). The Albanians did not engage in cultivating the timariots’ fields to the same extent as their Greek neighbours did. This however should be examined in light of the main settlement pattern in the early Ottoman Peloponnese, which was the fortified large village or town dating back to the Franco-Byzantine era (thirteenth-fifteenth centuries). The largest timars were established around such a fortified centre, which functioned as the local administrative capital and market. The Albanian newcomers chose to inhabit a number of small satellite settlements in the periphery. This allowed them seclusion and loose relations with the local capitals, where the timariots had their mansions and fields.

The sector of animal husbandry, on the other hand, appears more thriving. The Albanians, as determined by their semi-nomadic nature, contributed to the taxes levied on swine and sheep breeding with 84.65% and 60.68% respectively.

From the above it is inferred that, even if we employ the rather optimistic family coefficient of 5, in most cases the cereal harvest presumably produced by both ethnic groups surpassed the level of domestic consumption. The yearly subsistence minimum per individual is estimated at 200 kg of cereals plus 59 kg for seed and 36 kg for tax, a total of 295 kg. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to note that the first register of the Morea does not record taxes on other cereals, e.g. oats, millet and rye, which appear half a century later, in the TT80; these may have been counted in the wheat and barley values (Alexander 1999, 58, 63). The grain tax figures of the TT10-1/14662 cadastre are closely related to the population of each settlement (cereals in kg to families, R2: 0.88; p-value: <0.001). The commercialisation of the most profitable cultivations’ surplus, in our case the cereals and the vines, was obligatory for the sustainability of the household that was encumbered with the ispence and the capitation. The complementarity of agrarian production constitutes a key characteristic of pre-industrial economies (Asdrachas 1999, 221-222; Asdrachas 1988, 15-17). However, the Albanians had less of a need to obtain the same surplus as the Greeks, since they enjoyed a 20% reduction on the ispence. Whereas they seem to have mainly focused on cereals cultivation (cereals: 91.72%; viticulture: 3.98%; other cultivations: 4.3%), the Greeks present a more balanced ratio (cereals: 45.34%; viticulture: 46.03%; other cultivations: 8.63%). These findings tally with the image of destitute stockmen living in the countryside that the historical sources give about the Albanians (Chalcocondyles 1923, 170; Lambros 1926, 194; Lambros 1900, 647).

Taxable assetGreeksAlbanians
WheatTotal tithe201049161481
Average tithe per family28.333
Average production per family (in kg)1452.41691
BarleyTotal tithe3089425190
Average tithe per family4.35.1
Average production per family (in kg)258.1305
FlaxTithe89866431
Olive oilTithe214436
FruitsTithe235184
CottonTithe5732463
HoneyTithe644299
SilkTithe26920628
ResinTithe101
MulberriesTithe13
Kitchen gardensTithe299
ViticultureTithe on vineyards1555737554
Tax on vineyards in timariots’ personal demesne (hassa)79807552
VinificationTax on wine15939344
Orchards & gardensTax on cultivation in timariots’ personal demesne (hassa)245941740
Animal husbandryTax on swine806.54448.5
Sheep (heads)25173885
Average taxTotal111.3965.55
Excl. ispence85.9644.66

Table 1. Taxes (in akçes p.a.).


References and Further Reading

Alexander, John C. (October 1999). ‘Counting the Grains: Conceptual and Methodological Issues in Reading the Ottoman Mufassal Tahrir Defters’. Arab Historical Review for Ottoman Studies 19-20, pp. 55-70.

Asdrachas, Spyros. (1988). Οικονομία και νοοτροπίες. Athens: Ερμής.

Asdrachas, Spyros. (1999). Μηχανισμοί της αγροτικής οικονομίας στην τουρκοκρατία (ΙΕ΄-ΙΣΤ΄ αιώνας). Athens: Θεμέλιο.

Asdrachas, Spyros. (2003). ‘Η αγροτική οικονομία’, in Spyros I. Asdrachas, N.E. Karapidakis, Olga Katsiardi-Hering, Eftyhia D. Liata, Anna Matthaiou, Michel Sivignon, Traian Stoianovich (eds). Ελληνική οικονομική ιστορία. ΙΕ΄-ΙΘ΄ αιώνας. vol. 1. Athens: Πολιτιστικό Ίδρυμα Ομίλου Πειραιώς, pp. 389-350.

Biris, Kostas. (1998). Ἀρβανῖτες, οἱ Δωριεῖς τοῦ νεώτερου ἑλληνισμοῦ. Ἱστορία τῶν Ἑλλήνων Ἀρβανιτῶν. Athens: Μέλισσα.

Chalcocondyles, Laonicus. (1923). Historiarum demonstrationes. Eugenius Darkó (ed.). Editiones Criticæ Scriptorum Græcorum et Romanorum. vol 2. Budapest: Academia Litterarum Hungarica.

Chrysostomides, Julian. (1995). Monumenta Peloponnesiaca. Documents for the History of the Peloponnese in the 14th and 15th Centuries. Camberley: Porphyrogenitus.

Ducellier, Alain. (1968). ‘Les Albanais dans les colonies vénitiennes au XVe siècle’, Studi Veneziani 10, pp. 47-64.

Ducellier, Alain. (1979). ‘Les Albanais du XIè au XIIIè siècle : nomades ou sédentaires ?’, Byzantinische Forschungen 7, pp. 23-36.

Ducellier, Alain. (1994). Οι Αλβανοί στην Ελλάδα (13ος-15ος αι.). Η μετανάστευση μιας κοινότητας. Athens: Ίδρυμα Γουλανδρή-Χορν.

Lambros, Spyridon P. (1900). ‘Ἐκθέσεις τῶν Βενετῶν προνοητῶν τῆς Πελοποννήσου ἐκ τῶν ἐν Βενετίᾳ ἀρχείων ἐκδιδόμεναι’, Δελτίον τῆς Ἱστορικῆς καὶ Ἐθνολογικῆς Ἑταιρείας τῆς Ἑλλάδος 5, pp. 605-823.

Lambros, Spyridon P. (1926). ‘Ἀνωνύμου Πανηγυρικὸς εἰς Μανουὴλ καὶ Ἰωάννην Η΄ τοὺς Παλαιολόγους’, in Παλαιολόγεια καὶ Πελοποννησιακά. vol. 3. Athens, pp. 132-199.

Liakopoulos, Georgios C. (2009). ‘Η αμπελοκαλλιέργεια και η οινοπαραγωγή στην πρώιμη οθωμανική Πελοπόννησο, βάσει του κατάστιχου ΤΤ10-1/14662’, in Yanis A. Pikoulas (ed.). Οἶνον ἱστορῶ ΙΧ Πολυστάφυλος Πελοπόννησος. Athens: ΕΝΟΑΠ Νεμέα, pp. 197-222.

Liakopoulos, Georgios C. (2019). The Early Ottoman Peloponnese. A Study in the Light of an Annotated editio princeps of the TT10-1/14662 Ottoman Taxation Cadastre (ca. 1460-1463). Royal Asiatic Society, Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt Fund Series. London: Gingko Library.

Panagiotopoulos, Vasilis. (1987). Πληθυσμός και οικισμοί της Πελοποννήσου, 13ος-18ος αιώνας. Athens: Ιστορικό Αρχείο, Εμπορική Τράπεζα της Ελλάδος.

Thiriet, Freddy. (1959). La Romanie vénitienne au moyen âge. Le développement et l’exploitation du domaine colonial vénitien (XIIe-XVe siècles). Paris: De Boccard.

Topping, Peter. (1980). ‘Albanian Settlements in Medieval Greece: Some Venetian Testimonies’, in Angeliki E. Laiou-Thomadakis (ed.). Charanis Studies. Essays in Honor of Peter Charanis. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, pp. 261-271.

Zakythinos, Denis A. (January-February 1949). ‘La population de la Morée byzantine’, L’Hellénisme contemporain 3/1, pp. 7-25.

Zakythinos, Denis A. (March-April 1949). ‘La population de la Morée byzantine’, L’Hellénisme contemporain 3/2, pp. 107-132.


Georgios Liakopoulos obtained a doctorate in Ottoman History from Royal Holloway, University of London (2009). He taught Modern Turkish Language (2010-13) and Ottoman History and Palaeography (2016-18) at the University of Athens and Freie Universität Berlin (2019-20). His publications are mainly focused on Ottoman epigraphy, the edition of Ottoman archival material, the historical geography/demography and economic and environmental history of the Greek Lands under Ottoman rule. He is currently employed as Senior Postdoctoral Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, ‘Palaeo-Science and History’ Independent Research Group. 


Citation: Georgios C. Liakopoulos, Ethnicity and the Use of Natural Resources in the Early Ottoman Peloponnese, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 27.07.2021, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/29503


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