Ottoman census

As good historians, we do not at all wipe the slate clean of the past. In Greece, more particularly in Thessaly for our “local” case, we hardly forget, for example, the very long and trying period of Ottoman occupation, generally between 1420 and 1881, the year in which Thessaly was attached to the contemporary Hellenic State. Just as we do not omit in this regard to mention, or even to directly question, if possible, the direct Ottoman sources.

Théodoros Nimás. Trikala 2019

This is exactly what Theodoros Nimás has just successfully accomplished by publishing in June 2024, his work as a historian and scholar under the title: “The Ottoman census of 1454/55 in Sanjak, Trikala (Thessaly – Pieria – Evritania – Nafpaktia – West Fokida and other neigh boring areas)”. Note that the author, a professor of Greek literature, both classical and modern, as well as literature and history, is also the president of “FILOS”, the very active “Philological, Historical and Literary Association” of Trikala, in Western Thessaly.

This book deals with the Ottoman census of 1454/55 in Sanjak of Trikala, which included a very large area, namely the whole of Thessaly, Pieria up to Aliakmonas to the north, the villages of Western Macedonia adjacent to Thessaly, Metsovo and the villages of Epirus, Evritania, Nafpaktia and some villages of Western Fokida.

“The Ottoman census of 1454/55 in Sanjak,
Trikala” by Théodoros Nimás

This census is documented with the old Turkish script in Register No. 859, which is kept in Ankara and has been published photomechanically but also transcribed in the new Turkish script1 without the names of the Christian residents that existed in it, by Melek Delilbaşi and Muzaffer Arikan in 2001.2

Daily life of the Turks in the city. Trikala 1884 [Local press]

The book consists of three main parts:
1) The Introduction, which provides the necessary information for the con-quest of Greece and especially Thessaly during the Turkish occupation, i.e. the administrative divisions, the creation and organization of the Sanjak of Trikala, the institution of the “armatoliki”,3 the ownership regime, the everyday life of the inhabitants, the brief history of the city of Trikala, the population censuses, the Ottoman censuses and especially the census of 1454/55, which is considered to be the most important of all, because it is systematic and the first that gives us very useful demographic and financial data about the Sanjak of Trikala, which included a very large area of central Greece.

Under the Fortress. Trikala 2024

This Ottoman Register, consisting of 466 sheets measuring 29×11 cm, is untitled. The introductory part and the imperial signature with the legal code “kãnünãme” are missing, but obviously also several sheets, because the towns and villages of today’s Magnesia do not appear in it.

The binding and numbering of the pages of the Catalogue was later done by the staff of the Archives of Constantinople.

Daily life in the city. Trikala 1884 [Local press]

This publication proved valuable in the study of the period of the first years of the Ottoman rule, because it gives the opportunity to Greek historians and researchers to translate and publish various excerpts, resulting in the knowledge of several historical facts about the settlements of Thessaly from this period, such as older evidence of the existence of settlements, names of inhabitants, livestock animals, agricultural produce, etc. It is impressive that even the small or uninhabited settlements have been recorded, located in the most inaccessible parts of Pindos, such as the areas of Aspropotamos, Agrafa and Kravara.4

Lake Plastiras in the Pindus Mountains. Thessaly, 2024

2) In Part One of this document, the entire Register is translated with all the data, except for the names of the heads of families, with the exception of some village’s representative of all areas of the Sanjak. In other words, they are listed, in the order in which they are written in the Register, according to the villages/settlements included in it (their names, in Greek and Turkish, with their parallel identification with their contemporary counterparts, apart from some that have been dissolved centuries ago.

It also includes livestock (sheep, goats, pigs), beehives, agricultural products (e.g. wheat, barley, flax, vines with must, etc.), some special taxes, the total taxed residents by categories (full house-holds/homes, widows, singles) and the total amount of income / tax that each village/settlement was obliged to pay.

Lake Plastiras in the Pindus Mountains. Thessaly, 2024

3) The Second Part examines in detail, classified into twelve geographical units, all the villages/settlements of the Prefecture of Trikala with a record of all the data mentioned in the Register for them, i.e. all the names of the taxpayer heads of families, the livestock and taxed animals and agricultural products, as well as the income from other sources. In other words, all the elements of the Register are processed and studied extensively.

In the Pindus Mountains. Thessaly, 2024

Four tables are also listed in each section with the numerical data of all villages/settlements of each unit: a) the number of taxpayers per settlement, b) the amounts of taxes from sheep, goats, pigs and beehives, c) the amounts of taxes from all produced and taxed agricultural products, and d) a list of the total amount of taxes per village/settlement and species. In the Appendix there are two Tables, one with the towns and villages that had the largest taxed population (over 100 heads of families) and another with the towns and villages that paid the highest tax (over 5,000 aspre).5 Finally, there are detailed Indexes of the Places and Names that exist in the book for the convenience of its researchers. A whole era !

I recently met Theodoros Nimás in Trikala and it was with great pleasure that we discussed, first his work from this summer, then the historical situation of our beautiful region… but which is emptying. Our villages for example of Ágrafa have largely lost their inhabitants and thus their… armatoles.

In the Pindus Mountains. Thessaly, Trikala, 2024

We talked about the terrible decade of the 1940s, between the Second World War and the Civil War, and I finally entrusted him with my recent manuscript in Greek, which is to be published this year under the patronage of FILOS, of my historical research on the daily life of Greek soldiers and officers, those of the period from 1917 on the Balkan front of the Great War and subsequently covering essentially the Greco-Turkish War in Asia Minor, from 1919 to 1922.

Moreover, our soldiers “encountered” in this way were as much those of Thessaly, as of the very small or uninhabited villages, located precisely in the most inaccessible parts of the Pindus massif.

Such a beautiful region, still somewhat inhabited… bears and cats included, and also an essential route as part of my suggestion to discover Thessaly via “Greece Otherwise”, really far from the beaten track of mass tourism and again, without ever wiping the slate clean of the past.

Such a beautiful region, still somewhat inhabited. Trikala, 2024

* Cover photo: Osman Shah Mosque, 1567-1568. Trikala, 2023

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  1. The Turkish alphabet reform is the general term used to refer to the process of adopting and applying a new alphabet in Turkey, which occurred with the enactment of Law No. 1353 on “Acceptance and Application of Turkish Letters” on 1 November 1928. The law was published in the Official Gazette on 3 November 1928, and came into effect on that day. With the approval of this law, the validity of the Ottoman Turkish alphabet, which was based on Arabic script, came to an end, and the modern Turkish alphabet based on Latin script was introduced”. See also, Mehmet-Ali Akinci Dyalang, “La réforme de l’écriture turque”, CNRS 6065 Université de Rouen, 2005. 
  2. Melek Delilbaşi, 1947-2022, was a Turkish historian specializing in Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire. She considered that the succession of one empire to another – in this case the collapse of the Byzantine Empire and its replacement by the Ottoman Empire – is a phenomenon that cannot be properly examined if it is examined from one side only. Mehmet Muzaffer Arikan, 1928-2019, was a Turkish historian who continued his research at the University of Madrid in Spain. He founded and directed the Department of Spanish Language and Literature at Ankara University between 1974 and 1982, and he was the director of the Institute of History between 1976 and 1980. Arikan had also worked at the General Directorate of Land Registry in Turkey and was a member of the Turkish Historical Society. 
  3. Armatole, any of the Greeks who discharged certain military and police duties under Ottoman authority in districts known as armatoliks. This police organization had its origins in Byzantine times, when armatolismos was a form of feudalism under which military and police duties were rendered in return for a title to land. When the Ottoman Turks conquered Greece in the 15th century, they made treaties with the local armatoles, allowing them to continue in their police functions. Other Greeks, taking to the mountains, became unofficial, self-appointed armatoles and were known as klephts (from the Greek kleptes, “brigand”). These klephts might sometimes be recognized by the Turkish authorities as armatoles, while the armatoles who were out of favour continued as klephts. The two terms came to be used indiscriminately. Both armatoles and klephts played important roles in the War of Greek Independence (1821-32)”.See also, Claudia Antonetti, “Agraíoi et ágrioi. Montagnards et bergers : un prototype diachronique de sauvagerie”. 
  4. Which partly contradicts the version of events generally accepted in Greece, making Ágrafa and according to the etymology of the toponym, “unregistered localities” in the administrative registers under the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Which does not however take away anything from the essence, as they say, of the places, of the inhabitants who were for a long time practically independent on the narrow highlands of the Agrafa chain in southern Pindus, naturally irregular fighters, bandits of passages and on occasion, tenacious resisters against invaders. 
  5. The akçe or akça, in Europe known as asper or aspre, was a silver coin which was the chief monetary unit of the Ottoman Empire. The basic meaning of the word is “silver” or “silver money”, deriving from the Turkish word ak (’white’) and the diminutive suffix.