In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and Mistra in 1460 the Morea was thrown into confusion. Although Byzantine rule was over the initial Ottoman hold was fragile and the existence of a patchwork of Venetian coastal territories only added to the instability of the area. Each faction used local soldiery on a mercenary basis, paying them on a particularly sporadic basis with coin and grain. The mounted troops, usually Greeks or Albanians were called 'stratioti' and served under 'capi' or Captains. These were often clan or family leaders. Due to the tenuous nature of contracts and the elusiveness of pay these relatively small bands of soldiery switched sides and often turned to banditry starting a tradition which bedevilled the Greek countryside until the end of the nineteenth century.
The Kladas revolt
The Venetians continued to hold Korone and Methone and Nauplion in the Morea. They also appointed a series of 'rettori' or governors to Mani, especially during the exhausting Venetian-Ottoman War of 1463-1478, and assumed possession of the peninsula. When Mehmet the Conqueror invaded the Peloponnese in the late 1450s he had met some resistance but had pragmatically offered those who submitted to Ottoman rule a continuance of their local power and influence. The Kladas clan were important 'Capi' in the Outer Mani and they were described as 'Reis' or 'Capo' of Zygos - an area somewhat contiguous with the present day 'dimos' of Lefktron. The family had a long history of importance in southern Morea and also had a presemce on the Elos plain in Lakonia on the eastern side of the Taygetos. Although the Kladas family submitted to Mehmet, and in reward were given the castle of Vardounia and the territories it commanded, they soon switched sides to the Venetians and placed Vardounia and possibly parts of the Outer Mani under the rule of the Serenissima on the condition that they ran the area. They were highly praised by the contemporary Venetian commentator and Provveditor of the Morea, Jacomo Barbarigo along the following lines,
" The brave ser Manoli Kladas and Krokondilos his brother...are indeed the most loyal servants of Your Signoria. They have never made excuse of weariness or of any danger, and they continue to hold the castle of Vordounia, near Mistra, the key to the Mani. They have lost all their relatives in Your Signoria's service, and have sustained every labour and loss in your name."
The Kadas clan fought off a major attempt by the Ottomans to take Mani in 1477 and it was therefore more than slightly annoying to them when Venice, financially exhausted by the war with the Ottomans, sought a peace treaty with the Sublime Porte. Although Venice held on to Nauplion, Methone and Korone they had perforce to relinquish their claims to Mani and Vardounia thus putting Krokondilos Kladas' and other Greek Capi's noses strongly out of joint. Kladas and other bands of stratioti (at least four of which had the Palaiologos family name) took refuge at Korone where the Venetians attempted to placate their hurt pride and retain their services by means of pay and honours. This eventually came to nought.
On October 9 1480 Krokondilos Kladas and others rode out of Korone and had soon retaken large swathes of the Outer Mani from the Ottomans seizing the castles of Megalo Maini and Itilo. It was obvious that the Ottomans' had presumed that the conditions of the 'ahd-name' (truce or peace treaty) would be adhered to and had withdrawn many troops from the area leaving fortresses skimpily garrisoned. The Venetians tried to do a nifty piece of damage limitation by declaring Krokondilos an outlaw and putting a price of 10,000 ducats on his head. In their eyes he had not only committed treason but was jeopardising the entire peace treaty and the stabilty desperately needed in the area. The problem was that the Venetians had little in the way of troops themselves, save other bands of Stratioti who were of similar Greek or Albanian origin and therefore rarely enthusiastic in hunting down their own.
In the face of this blustering but inneffectual Venetian response and with a widening circle of districts of the Morea in open revolt Mehmet sent a Bey with a large force to quel the rebellion. They received a bloody defeat in February 1481 somewhere in the pass between Passavas and Itilo at the hands of Kladas' forces. A month later a much more impressive force under Ahmed Bey pushed Kladas further into deep Mani as far as Porto Quaglio (Porto Kaiyo) Here, and it is debatable whether it was fortuitous or planned, Kladas made rendevous with three galleys of Ferdinand, King of Naples and Sicily. There was an abortive rearguard attack on the Ottoman force before the galleys and Kladas escaped to Naples on 7 April 1481.
Some historians have seen fit to portray the Kladas episode as either the last gasp of Byzantine Greek resistance to the Ottomans or as the beginning of a glorious tradition of Mani and the Maniates as the constant thorn in the side of the Ottoman power in the Morea. In fact it was probably neither and modern constructs and ideas of nationalism and freedom fighters would have been incomprehensible to the 15th century protagonists. What we can observe is one waning Levantine power, Venice, and the crescent power in ascendant, the Ottoman Empire, disregarding local seigneurial sensibilities for the sake of diplomacy, economic stability and realpolitik. The aforementioned locals, not unsurprisingly taking advantage of the remoteness and harshness of the area, then reacted violently to get back their castles and fiefdoms. Indeed after serving various western masters as a mercenary Kladas returned from exile a few years later when things had quitened down and retook Vardounia castle. He was eventually killed in a battle at Monemvasia in 1490. His son continued to struggle to hold the area and seized Mani in the name of the Venetians - again, when Venice was forced to make peace with the Ottomans, Mani was handed back to the Sublime Porte in 1503.
(Much of the above detail about the Kladas revolt is taken from Diana Wright's excellent and exhaustive study of the despatches of the Venetian Governor of Nauplion at this time. See Wright, Diana Gilliland, Bartolomeo Minio: Venetian Administration in 15th century Nauplion. EJOS, III, No. 5. Available as a downloadable pdf document from the EJOS site i.e.click here)
A Venetian map showing an attack by Venetian galleys from Candia (Crete) on Turkish fortifications and forces in deep Mani. The map is from the 1570s and probably depicts a contemporay conflict. It is deeply inaccurate and the matter of speculation by historians of cartography and Mani.
The Ottoman Centuries
The Ottoman domination of the Balkans lasted for over 350 years and is still perceived by many Greeks as a time of shame and woe - to the extent that it is only in the last few decades that serious academic studies of the time have been undertaken. Indeed the study of the period has recently preferred the term Ottoman period in an attempt to exclude the ethnic association with the Turks. Although run by Turkish rulers the Ottoman Empire was remarkably polyglot. It is true that the Ottomans were capricious, cruel and more often than not arbitrarily brutish in their attitudes to their subjects and that cultural life was, certainly in the earlier centuries, stifled. Greece, apart from the Ionian islands, Crete and some other far flung locations missed out on the High Renaissance (although it can be claimed that much of that which invigorated the Renaissance stemmed from Ancient Hellenic philosophy) and her isolation as part of the Ottoman Empire ensured that for the most part she was untouched by the Enlightenment as well.
That said there was an indifference in the Ottoman gaze which meant that as long as taxes and levies kept on coming in and various irksome formal divisions between Christian and Muslim were adhered to there was little fundamental interference in the day to day life of the ordinary people. If anything the Ottomans were eventually disliked most for the day to day tax, bureaucratic and over officious administrative burdens they imposed upon their polyglot empire. One has, however, to avoid the temptation of succumbing to 'orientalism' which portrays the Ottoman Empire in lurid and exotic detail concentrating on decadence and cruelty - as if the contemporary western states had not equally appalling features and ignoring the Ottomans' complex infrastructure which sustained the Empire for nearly four centuries.
Although some Turks did settle in Greece, a proportion of Greeks converted to Islam - it made life that much more convenient - and mosques dotted the landscape, the Orthodox Church maintained an uneasy truce with the Sublime Porte. The Patriarch of Constantinople was still the spiritual leader of the Greek people. In fact the power invested by the Turks on the Greek Patriarch in Constantinople under the system of the 'Rum Millet' was such that the Patriarchs were often vehemently opposed to any insurrections against the Ottomans. The Rum Millet ('Millet' was derived from the Persian word for 'nation' and was the term used by the Turks to describe a religious group within their empire - Rum referred to the Greek term for themselves 'Romaio') ensured that the Orthodox church held its grip on the Balkans far more strongly than under the Byzantines. Although a number of Turkish words have entered the Greek language Greece's educational system, its ethos and beliefs remained the purlieu of the local orthodox Papas.
Turkish military and officials
In large parts of mountainous Greece a continuous grumbling level of violence persisted. Brigandage and guerrilla warfare was endemic and the forays of foreign powers into the Peloponnese (mainly the Venetians but later on the Russians) tended to exacerbate the already volatile situation. Klephts - literally 'Thieves' - the descendants of the medieval 'stratioti', haunted the hills and mountains in irregular bands . To call them freedom fighters is an anachronistic misnomer for - at least in the earlier centuries - most were out and out bandits without even the vague excuse of fighting for the greater cause of Greek independence or irredentism.
To control these gangs the Turks raised local troops called Armatoli, although the use of this term would seem to have a looser meaning in the Morea than in Roumeli (northern Greece). More often than not the same individuals or groups would switch seamlessly from Klephtic Band to Armatoli and back again dependent on the local conditions and the whims of the local Pasha - many of whom were of Greek stock even though they had Turkish names. A background in Klephtic pursuits seems to have been no obstacle to later legitimate power (or vice versa). The very first Bey of Mani in the 1680s, was the 'former' pirate Lemperaki and many of the later "heroes" of the Greek War of Independence began their careers as cattle thieves. Unsurprisingly, with this level of incipient violence, not only were the Balkans an area of cultural stagnation but also of relative economic inefficiency and torpor.
Mani - a separate society?
In Mani things were subtly different. Although it is difficult to assess the Turkish presence in large parts of Greece due to the obliteration of all physical signs of them in the fury of the 1821 uprising, in Mani it would seem the Ottomans only ever managed to effect temporary military occupation and rarely seem to have been able to sustain a viable civilian infrastructure. The skills of the Melingi and Maniates in resisting Byzantine and Frankish domination was passed down through the generations and, with the Taygetus and Sangias mountains to defend and isolate them from the mass of the Peloponnese, Mani developed a distinct identity. It is important not to over-stress these differences. The Maniates were Greek and the external differences between them and a Greek under Turkish rule was small. As John Galt observed in the early 1800s the , " dress of the men was pretty much like that of the common Greeks, but closer fitted and better calculated for efforts of activity".
It is during the Ottoman period that the distinctive Maniate urban landscape appeared. The towers (pyrgi, pyrgos is the singular) that rise like small Manhattan skylines above the villages of Mani and which punctuate the air with their bleak, often unwindowed starkness are relatively unique in Greek secular architecture though it is clear that such fortified dwellings were found in other parts of the Peloponnese dependent on the prevaling levels of violence in society. What is certain is that the proliferation of the towers and the vendetta based society which created and lived in them in Mani has few parallels in Mediterranean societies. The origins of the towers is still debated. We have little hard evidence of them and the societal structures which accompanied them from before the 17th century. Certainly by the 1670s when Evliya Celebi, the Turkish traveller and official visited Mani the Exo Mani was full of villages with houses which Evliya describes as, "like castles with loop-holes for windows." Interestingly although he mentions these in nearly every village he visited in Outer Mani he fails to record the same architectural forms in Deep Mani where, today, their remains are far more prevalent.
There are similar towers in the remote Svaneti district of the Caucusus - generally dated to the middle ages, but there are no known links with Mani. One theory is that the idea for the towers was imported by returning Greek mercenaries from the 15th/16th century Italian wars where they would have come into contact with such similar architectural and societal structures as those at San Gimignano in Tuscany where some of the towers are still extant. What is certain is that such an unlawful and squabbling population would not have been tolerated by any strong central government and the Ottomans' sway over Mani was at best insecure and often completely absent. Therefore one can conceive of the Mani's war-tower society as being less a reaction to or defense against Turkish oppression and more as a consequence of the slack nature of the Ottoman power in the peninsula.
At various points in the next centuries the Turks would send forces into Mani in punitive raids and would attempt to levy taxes with mixed results. There are those who, rather romantically, think that Mani never paid any taxes and can point to Leake's report that before the Orlov rebellion of 1770 the Maniates were taxed, " a nominal tribute of 15 purses, which they never paid.". But it is clear that both Turkish and Venetian rulers drew up regular tax assessment registers and as Prof. Malcolm Wagstaff points out one doesn't keep on tax assessing if one's got little chance of collecting. Indeed Bernard Randolph writing in the 1680s reported that the Maniates agreed to pay a, 'small Tribute' after the Turkish incursion of 1669. How draconian these tax demands were is more doubtful. Sir William Gell wrote of his visit to Kitries in 1804 when Antonbey Grigorakis was paying his taxes the following. "It seems that the Greek Bey is acknowledged by the Turks, under the name Andun or Andunah Bey " (the Turkish version of Antonis) " on condition that he should pay the annual tribute of thirty-five purses to the Porte." Gell calculated that this amounted to the equivalent of 500 English Pounds. Even allowing for changes in the real value of sterling in the intervening two hundred years one cannot help but agree with Gell when he wrote, "This sum, divided among the hundred and seventeen towns and villages of Maina, could not be considered as any great burthen on the community."
The Turks also settled large numbers of (mainly) Muslim Albanians in the area known as Vardounia (or Bardounia) just north of Passavas on the south eastern flanks of the Taygetus as a sort of 'cordon sanitaire' around Mani. The raids, both from Turks and pirates, and the general decline in economic conditions meant that in the late 17th century many Maniates migrated to other parts of the Mediterranean or further afield. Italy was a favoured destination as was Corsica, where the Itriani and Stephanopoli families from Itilo settled repectively. From these came the unverifiable claims that Mani families had links to the Medici and, even more unlikely, Napoleon Buonaparte could trace his lineage back to Maniate predecessors. The first Greek Orthodox church in Britain (in Soho Fields, London ) was founded by Maniate emigrants, led by the priest Daniel Voulgaris in 1677 and a century later Maniates are recorded as being settled in Florida, in 1767 by a certain Dr. Andrew Turnbull, where there is still a large Greek community.
The two parts of the Mani developed slightly different styles of 'self government'. In the North west Mani certain families began to dominate and the pattern of the Kapetani (or 'Captains' - a Venetian term) took root. For example during the seventeenth century the Mourtzinos-Troupakis clan (who had some claim to being heirs of the Byzantine Imperial Paleaologi family) began to dominate the area stretching inland from Kardamili, then called Androuvitsa. Other centres for the kapetani grew up around Kitries/Doli, Kastania, Platsa and Milia. Their fortified centres of power still exist although the evidence of incidence of pyrgi (towers) is nowadays less prevalent than in the Deep Mani - probably because in the nineteenth century they were more relaxed in complying with Greek government edicts to dismantle these warlike structures. Another reason was that clans and families in this area were endogamous. That is they intermarried with other families in the clan and rather like aristocracy everywhere made connections which ensured the longevity of their hegemony. The visible signs of this were the almost baronial castles the kapetani constructed for themselves. These would often incorporate a pyrgos but were large complexes rather than the individual towers of Kitta, Vathia and Lagia in Deep Mani. Probably the best remaining example is Pano Kardamili. Although there was inter village fighting in the Exo Mani there is little evidence of inter family fighting and therefore not every family needed its own fortress.
In the Mesa Mani there was a subtly different social order. Families still struggled for power but here they were exogamous, wives being chosen from other clans. Incest within the family was banned to the the level of seventh cousins. Villages were divided into quarters or 'mahales' each dominated by a family or clan. Although there were no chieftains, as in the Outer Mani, there was a council of elders who would rule on feuds, or more often the truces called between warring families. The feuding between these was unremitting and vicious. The reasons for this are probably due to the overpopulation of an impoverished environment. It is noticeable that unlike most of the rest of Greece (there are other exeptions) there was no dowry system - land was too scarce to leave to the vagaries of marriage arrangements. Vendettas, ambushes, assassinations and on occasion a form of open warfare bedevilled Mani and especially the Deep Mani. As each family's war towers were often in extremely close proximity this took on a savagery best likened to the worst forms of trench raiding in the First World War.
So deeply rooted was the cult of the vendetta in Deep Mani that there was a constant grumbling level of violence. In the Maniate version of vengeance (oidikiomos) it was not necessary to kill the one who had offended one's family but instead it was quite common to choose another victim in order to better 'hurt' the opposing clan. The only exception to this 'collective' form of vengeance was in the case of slander where vengeance had to be meted out on the perpetrator. This open nature of the vendetta meant that it was rarely closed and could rumble on for years and indeed decades. There were ways of ending or mitigating the slaughter. 'Sinevgarma' was a truce brought about whilst the appointed victim was in the company of a stranger. The 'Fichiko' - or Truce of Forgiveness where a third party would get the injured party to forgive the offenders and The 'Agapi' where an outsider would intervene even if this was not requested by the warring parties. Part of the problem was the deep superstitions regarding the dead - the Maniates believed that, if not revenged, the spirit of the dead would return to haunt their own family. The only ones seemingly immune from this constant bloodshedding were priests and doctors - both of whom were too useful to eliminate. Male children were dubbed 'guns' - the women toiled in the fields and raised more 'guns' - they were not immune from the violence and were sometimes killed, if not deliberately then in the crossfire.
It is interesting that evidence from Morritt and Leake tends to point to a more pro-active role for women in the conflicts. Morritt mentions that in the late 18th century in the Exo Mani women were often active in inter-clan raids and were enthusiastic users of the fields set aside for target practise. Leake wrote, "The women carry ammunition for their husbands, and it is a point of honour not to shoot at them." He was also amused to find that the women could be as useful with a musket as their men. At Skutari he was challenged by the local chieftan Katzano's wife to put his hat at a spot some 150 yards distant and watch her hit it with a musket ball. As Leake only had the one hat and the lady sported two wounds from battle the English agent sensibly took her at her word."
The whole role of women in such a seemingly male dominated society has not been explored from an historical perspective but Nadia Seremitakis' book "The Last Word" - on the social and psychological role of women in recent Deep Maniate society is recommended as a guide to this complex area of study.
Many of the western commentators on Mani in the early nineteeth century point to the fact that whereas the Maniates would work together at the time of external threat they were inclined to civil strife if left to their own devices. As John Galt commented in 1812, "They make war, continually, with each other, chief against chief, but whenever the Turks threaten with subjugation they firmly unite." Leake had a slightly different slant on this. He talked at length with the Turkish Kapitan Pasha, Hassan Pasha, in 1805 at his base in Monemvasia - as Leake reported "It seldom happened, he says, that when he wished to destroy a village, he could not find some neighbouring village to assist him in the work, and generally under the guidance of a priest, on condition of his having the stones of the ruins as a perquisite." Indeed the main purpose of the internicine warfare appears to have been to destroy the others' towers and raise them to the ground. Like other vendetta dominated societies, such as Corsica, the conflict was run on unwritten but rigid rules which soon lost any original significance and became self perpetuating ritual.
The society in the major Mesa Mani settlements were also divided between the Nikliani and the Ahamnomeri. The Nikliani were the rulers could build tower houses and made the running. The derivation of their name is unsure but there is a contested theory that it is derived from the town of Nikli (near present day Tripoli in the central Peloponnese). Nikli was mostly destroyed by the Turks in the 1400s and the inhabitants could have taken refuge in the Deep Mani. They would have brought with them their overtones of feudalism from the Frankish period and replicated this in Mani with divisive and violent results. The Ahamnomeri were, if not exactly in strict feudalistic terms - they paid no rent for example - the serfs of the Nikliani. They were forbidden to build dwellings over two stories high and were subservient to the Nikliani. But there was no inherent rigidity in the system and families and individuals could rise and fall between the two strata.
Wagstaff and many others are sceptical of the Nikli refugees explanation believing that the development of the clan based-tower dominated Mani settlement patterns was more organic and really only took strong hold in the 17th and 18th centuries when there was a natural rise in the population. There is in fact little evidence of large influxes of population into Mani and any slight shift in population may have been as localised as people leaving the Malevri district (between Kelefa and Githeon) for the Mesa Mani. Indeed the main use of Mani as a 'refuge' was by the Klephtic bands who would temporarily use the area as a safe haven and then return to the central Morea.
These societal patterns were not exclusively divided along the Exo/Mesa Mani border. This has only been a loose delineation changing throughout the centuries and Langada in exo Mani had distinct family areas within the same village rather like Kitta in the deep south. Areopolis (or as it was called until the 1830s, Tsimova) was gradually dominated by the Mavromichalis clan from their base at Limeni and when Leake visited it in 1805 he found the locals made a clear distinction between themselves and the inhabitants further south in the Mesa Mani. Part of the problem, certainly in Deep Mani, was the overpopulation of the area. Foreign observers wondered at the number of villages in Mani which was in direct contradiction of the surrounding paucity of natural resources and Wagstaff has pointed out that there was, slightly surprisingly, a far lower rate of settlement desertion in Mani than for the Peloponnese as a whole.
A map of Mani in the late 17th century from Bernard Randolph's The Present State of the Morea 1689
We have few documents concerning the economy of Mani in the early Ottoman centuries and even what we know of the economy of Mani in the 17th and 18th centuries is based mainly on foreign observers. The economy was, unsurprisingly, primarily agricultural or exploited local resources. Although the Exo Mani was rich in olive trees it was not until the 19th century that these were introduced in any numbers into the Mesa Mani and they have hardly made an enormous impact even to this day. The stock plants in that district were grains, mainly sorghum or kolomabakia, a form of millet, lupins - mainly used as animal feed but in extremis as human sustinence (and described as the 'grapes of Mani'). Animals are difficult to number as most contemporary observers failed to note the number of goats and other beasts - although Evliya Celebi comments on the profusion of goats. Exports were relatively common in the more prosperous Exo Mani, turpentine, hides and pine for masts are listed by Leake and the small oak trees which grow in the area produced both vallonea - a tanning agent and a bright crimson dye called prinokoki which came from a small growth caused by a coccus insect (Kermoccocus vermilio). The north west was also rich in silk - the mulberry trees are still evident and Lord Carnarvon writes of sleeping uncomfortably in Kardamili being bitten by countless fleas and bugs, " and above me on a hanging mat, a very world of silk-worms."
But the harshness of life in an over-populated and generally arid and unproductive area meant that not surprisingly the Maniates turned to piracy which was pretty endemic in the Mediterranean. There are claims that, rather like the Cornish in Britain, the Maniates perfected the art of "wrecking" innocent ships on their rocky shores. This may be doubted, for, prevalent as these stories are, there is actually no historical proof that "wrecking" (the art of luring ships onto rocks by lighting false fires) ever occured in Cornwall and by inference one can surmise that the practice was equally mythical in Mani. That said poor people living on rocky shores have always been swift and often unmerciless in their taking advantage of any shipwrecks that may present themselves to them. They were other tricks and tropes in which the Maniates became adept, Bernard Randolph, an English trader in the Levant, related in his Present State of the Morea (1689) a Maniat ploy of gaining foreigners' trust
'Some will be in Priests Habits, walking by the Sea side, with their Wallets, in which they will have some Wine and Bread. Their Companions lye hid behind the Bushes at some convenient Post. When any strangers come ashore, who do not understand their language, the feigned Priests make signs to them, shewing them their Bread and Wine, which they offer them for money, by which the strangers being enticed from the Sea side (and it may be to sit down and tast their Wine) the hidden Maniotts come and make their Prey. The Priests will seem sorry and endeavour to make the strangers believe they were altogether ignorant of any such design. So a white Flagg is put out, and a Treaty held with the Ship for their Ransome. The Priests endeavour to moderate the Price, shewing a great deal of respect for their Companions who are clothed in Turkish Habits. Many Ships have been thus served'.
One suspects that the Priests were not 'feigned'. Sir Paul Reyaut's party were thus conned and '… paid dear for visiting the Maniotts'. The English Ambassador in Constantinople, The Earl of Winchelsea, complained bitterly to the Ottoman officials but it was, unsurprisingly, to no avail.
Itilo became famed as a slave trade centre gaining itself the appellation of "Great Algiers" and Skoutari on the eastern coast gained itself a lesser if similar reputation. How much seaborne piracy ever became the dominant occupation in Mani is difficult to assess as, rather naturally, few records exist and the locals often blamed others in their defense. In fact it suited the Maniates to have the reputation of being pirates and brigands and it was a belief they often promulgated to their own benefit. John Morritt reported in 1795 that his party had come across a number of small Maniate craft reputedly trading along the shores of the Morea, as he commented on these traders they were
" not without the imputation of piracy: and we learnt from them that it was their policy to keep up as much as possible the alarming reputation which the fears and hatred of the Turks had conferred upon them".
Regardless of this most evidence points to piracy being a mainstay of the Maniate economy - the peninsula is well suited to this pursuit - its shores are rocky, its ports few and then mostly unsafe, except to small craft sailed by experienced locals. Morritt again described the craft used by the Maniates.
" Boats called here Trattas, abounded in every creek: they are long and narrow like canoes; ten, twenty and even thirty men, each armed with rifle and pistols, row them with great celerity, and small masts with Latine sails are also used when the winds are favourable."
Finally from a defensive point of view the Maniates' own settlements are mainly inland on the small plateau that hugs the western flanks of the Taygetus and Sangias mountains and therefore they were relatively immune from others unwise enough to attack them.
The influence of foreign powers
The Venetians were extremely active in the area and appear to have been, at times, equal rivals to the Turks for Mani. They supported and encouraged rebellions and resistance in Mani. A number of wars between the Ottomans and Venice occurred after the fall of Constantinople Between 1463 and 1479 they asked for and, as reported above, got help from the local Greek leader Korkodilos Kladas and appointed "rettori" to rule Mani whilst the Turks were otherwise engaged - but this Venetian period was short lived. This was repeated in the 1480s and for a time the Venetians nominally held Mani as a protectorate but their constant meddling usually ended up with the Maniates coming out the losers and as the Turks similarly failed to keep a permanent grip on the area, Mani became an eternal buffer zone. In the 1570s the vast religious war between the western powers and the Ottomans enticed the Maniates back into the fray and although the victory of Don John of Austria at Lepanto seemed to auger well the Maniate rebels under the Mellisini brothers were crushed by Turkish forces.
The western powers continued to take an interest in Mani and vice versa. Groups from Mani went in search of possible rich and powerful western protectors. One curious interlude in 1618 was the claim to the Mani by Charles de Gonzagues, Duc de Nevers, a member of the French aristocracy. This was initiated and encouraged by the Maniates and was based on his lineage which, it was claimed, he could trace back to the Paleaologi, the family who supplied the last rulers of the Byzantine Empire and the Despots of the Morea based at Mistra. The Duc de Nevers sent various agents into Mani, both to elicit support from the locals and to take notes on the area. They completed a survey of the Mani but whether the reports of the desiccated nature of his distant appanage put him off isn't recorded but nothing came of it. Certainly the Turks took the intelligence that a westerner was taking interest in Mani seriously and made a number of raids into Mani.
In the 1670 the Turks made a concerted efforts to dominate Mani and swept through the Exo Mani with a large force of troops retaking the key castle of Zarnata and rebuilding it and the site at Kelefa opposite Itilo. Evliya Celebi, Turkish travel writer and court official accompanied this expedition and was obviously delighted that Mani had rejoined the Ottoman Empire. Many Maniates were less pleased with the sight of Turkish garrisons and the imposition of Ottoman taxes and left for safer shores such as large parts of the populations of Itilo and Proastio who moved to Corsica and Italy respectively. But the Venetians were waiting in the wings.
For a some while after the fall of Byzantine Mistra the Serene Republic tenaciously held on to their twin fortresses of Modon (Methoni) and Coron (Koroni) on the tips of the Messenian peninsular to the west of Mani - "the Eyes of the Republic". Although ousted by the Turks in 1500 from Methoni and losing their final toeholds in the Turko-Venetian War of 1537-40, the Venetians always hankered after their lost Peloponnesian territories and in 1685, taking advantage of Ottoman attention to their northern Danubian borders, they invaded and seized the Peloponnese under the command of Morosini. They ruled the area for the next thirty years but were sensible enough to leave the Maniates much to their own devices but did hold a census and set up number of administrative districts; these were Zarnata - which consisted of the Exo Mani, Bardugna - the lands of Vardounia bordering to the north of the deep Mani and Chielefa & Passava which included all the southern Mani.
Although Christian, and therefore slightly preferable to the Turks, the Venetians were never popular and when the Turks re-conquered the area the local Greeks were apathetic to the point of inactivity when called upon to resist the advance of the Ottoman Vezir Ali Pasha and his army. There were, in fact, contemporary Venetian complaints of Maniat treachery.
Indeed in his contemporary account of the campaign of Ali Pasha's inexorable advance through the Morea in 1715, the Frenchman Benjamin Brue noted on the 5th of August. " the same day there arrived in the camp two bishops and several Greeks, all Maniots, a deputation from Upper and Lower Mani which forms together a sort of Republic, to submit to the Porte and ask for its protection ". Part of the deal was that the Maniates would ensure that the forts of Zarnata and Kelefa would be handed over to the Turks in return for recognition of Maniate privileges. This happened on the 18th August 1715 when the Venetian garrisons were allowed to withdraw in boats supplied by the Kapitan Pasha or Turkish Admiral. Which points to the Maniates actually conniving in the Venetian demise. This local 'indifference' combined with the Venetians' own reluctance and financial inability to strengthen the fortresses of the Morea including the Mani forts of Zarnata and Kelefa meant that their defeat in 1715 was ignominious and final. The period of Venetian rule left little trace in Mani (though they gave Napflion, further north, its delightful architecture) save some place names such as Malta near Zarnata and the prevalence of Venetian style campanile or belltowers on many churches. The Maniates were again under the titular rule of the Ottomans though appear to have come to some sort of accommodation with them which left the Mani relatively independent of the Porte.
The relative peace of the Venetian occupation was combined with a tightly colonial outlook to trade. In fact once the Venetians had left there was an increase in economic activity (and one suspects, piracy and brigandry) meaning that in the 18th century there was a good deal of wealth especially in the kapetani dominated north western Mani. This was a time when there was an upsurge in church building, often of small scale family chapels and monasteries and the practice of repainting churches appears to have flourished in the middle part of the 18th century in Exo Mani. There is a boast, which can still be heard today, that the Turks "Never silenced the bells of Mani".
The Vardia (watchtower) above the settlement of Pano Kardamili - centre of power of the Mourtzinos-Troupakis clan during the 18th century - and a folkloric dragon - embellishing the walls of their fortress
In Ottoman dominated Greece it was illegal to ring church bells or construct bell towers. These strictures were probably never as draconian as the letter of the law might suggest and rather like the rule against non-Muslims riding horses often ignored as there was always room for bribery. However there are a large number of late 18th/early 19th century bell towers, or campaniles, in Mani and very few in the rest of the Peloponnese. These telescopic structures are particularly prevalent in the Outer or Exo Mani, more often than not additions to previous church buildings. The kapetani dominated areas of Mani were generally religiously corporate and it is usual that the central church in each location was graced by these extremely visual expressions of Maniate independence.
In the Mesa Mani there is a relative dearth of campanile, the only examples I can recall being in Areopoli, the area around Githeon and at Ochia in the southern Cavo Grosso. The reason for this is presumably due to the division of communities into warring families and the concomitant concentration on small family chapels. Building large central churches needs wealthy patronage and a willing and large congregation. It is rumoured that the present day construction of a very large church in the centre of Kitta is to bring together the communities of Upper and Lower Kitta who still aren't speaking to one another over a century after the last recorded open warfare in that village.
The Orlov Rebellion
The Turks kept a wary eye over Mani - which was probably sensible. In the late eighteenth century the major power grappling with the Turks was Tsarist Russia under the expansionist policies of Catherine the Great. Although the Russians were making heavy weather of expanding into the Crimea and other territories north of the Black Sea they had imperialist ambitions way beyond their abilities. They cast their eye to Greece and realised that with the steep decline in Venetian power in the area and the resulting power vacuum that they could encourage rebellion which could seriously distract Ottoman attention from the Danubian frontiers.
In 1766 a Russian envoy, Papazolis, was sent by Catherine to foment revolt. The Maniates, after so many disappointments over the years, sensibly asked for physical Russian support and two of Catherine's favourites (she had quite a few…), the Orlov brothers Alexei and Grigori were sent to Mani in 1770 with five ships and a thousand men. Hardly a large force, a fact which wasn't missed by the Maniates. The Mavromichalis family of Limeni and other local leaders met the Orlov's at the monastery of Dekoulou near Itilo and cooked up a plan to advance northwards and for a joint attack on Koroni at the end of the Messenian peninsula. The details are exciting but unimportant - the result was as ever. The Russians, who had hardly put many resources into the affair pulled out as soon as the cause appeared lost and the Maniates appear to have squabbled with everyone. Leake writing thirty five yars after the event, but doubtless having done his research, that the rebellion failed, " in consequence of their disorderly, or cowardly, conduct".
To the east of the Taygetus the Maniates advanced via Vardounia on Mistra which fell after a nine day siege and was sacked never to fully recover. The insurgents got as far as the approaches of Tripolitza in central Morea before being repulsed by local forces and a hastily recruited army of Albanians. The retreat was all the way back to Mani. The Turks introduced another group of Albanians into the Vardounia area who promptly turned on their masters and threatened the local populations. It was only after another Turkish army crushed the Albanians in 1779 and after much destruction and bloodletting that something close to the status quo was reasserted.
The savagery of the Orlov uprising left visible scars on the landscape and presumably on the souls of the survivors. John Morritt of Rokesby who visited Mani 25 years later reported,
"In the war conducted with Russian money, the Mainiots were found so troublesome to the Turks, that a combined attack was made on their country by the fleet under the Capoudan Pasha, which landed troops upon their coast and the forces of Morea, which marched at the same time from Misitra [Mistra] The result of the attack by sea was pointed out to me near Cadamyle; a heap of whitening bones in a dell near the town, the remains of the Turks, who after suffering the severest privations were not so fortunate as the rest in finding a refuge in their fleet "
The period of the Beys
Thus it was that the Turks decided to reintroduce, or interestingly as some historians put it 're-impose', the office of Bey of Mani and let the area have a form of self government. This, it must be pointed out, was not uncommon within the Ottoman empire. Other frontier provinces such as Wallachia, Transylvania and Dubrovnik all had some form of self rule and paid a tribute to the Sublime Porte. Some observers' claim that Mani was completely independent but in reality the Ottomans' merely passed responsibility for Mani from the Pasha in Tripolitza to the Admiral of the Turkish fleet - The Kapitan Pasha. The post of Bey was was given to one of the local Kapetani, both terms and 'offices' that had held over from before the Venetian occupation. There were eight Beys between 1776 and 1821 - mostly from the north western kapetani, sometimes from those around Githeon and only once from the Mesa Mani and then from the dominant Mavromichalis family of Limeni.
The Beys were expected to organise the collection of taxes and to keep order in Mani and if they displeased the Sublime Porte then the Turks were quick to send a frigate or two to enforce their will. When Sir William Gell visited the Bey Antoni Grigorakis at Kitries in 1804 he remarked on the presence of a Turkish flotilla in the harbour which was there in order to pressurize the handing over of taxes and during the period raids by Turkish frigates on coastal locations were not uncommon.
Indeed the Turks were quick to depose Beys who could not maintain the required order and became so annoyed with some of their Maniate Beys that on not one but two occasions they lured a Bey on board a ship for 'friendly' discussions only to behead or imprison them in the time honoured Ottoman method of rewarding recalcitrant minions (you might have thought the Mani Beys would have got wise to this trope!). Some Beys were active against the Turks but most had to tread the thin line between appeasing their rulers and allowing their rumbustious fellow Maniates to continue their lawless activities. Leake who observed the system from both sides commented that he thought the system had the ability to work well if pressure was maintained on the Beys. While he was there in 1805 the local Pasha was extremely active and the area was orderly, the Turks happy to rake in the tribute and the Mani enjoyed a modicum of independence. However he felt that this was unlikely to work in a wider Greek context commenting" but I fear that Turkish anarchy, bigotry, greediness of gain, and cruelty, render it impracticable."
Despite the odd beheading, deposition or imprisonment (and not to mention the approbation of their Maniate brethren) there was no shortage of candidates for the post of Bey as it wielded much power - and naturally - tax collecting abilities with all the peculatory advantages these brought with them. The Beys also controlled the monopolies of trade in such lucrative exports as olive oil and vallonea.
The period coincided with a rise in klephtic power in the Morea. These bands became ever more bold and caused enormous problems for trade and travel in the area - not just for the Turks but for the local kapoi or Greek landowners and businessmen. The tales told of such men as Zacharias (described by Leake as a robber and the "terror of the Morea") and Kolokotrones are now imbued with a rosy romantic hue. This is because those who wrote of them and created the songs which celebrated their exploits did so at a distance of some years and in the light of their elevation to the pantheon of Greek heroes or precursors of the War of Independence. In the case of Theodore Kolokotrones he wrote his own self aggrandising memoirs after the War of Independence - which - though they follow the bare course of events relatively accurately the expressed motives and rationale for his marauding he provides are dubious and obfuscatory. In fact the Klephts' savagery was rarely confined to their Turkish overseers and was often aimed at one another and other Greeks. Sober academic modern research such as that by John C. Alexander (Brigandage and public order in the Morea, 1685-1806. Athens. 1985) has delineated a far more complex picture of those lawless days than that celebrated in 'Robin Hood' style klephtic ballads of the early 19th century.
Piracy also continued relatively unabated. Leake reported seeing a number of beached Maniate trattas (which he described as being smaller versions of Turkish galleys) at Monemvasia in 1805 which had been captured by the Turks and had to avoid Pyrgos in Deep Mani as the locals were rather anti-British since a pirate tratta with a crew from that village had been seized by a British naval ship. Nearly all the western powers tried to supress the Maniates piratical exploits. In 1795 John Sibthorp, the botanist, on his way back to England called in at Koroni where apart from being hansomely entertained by the local bey he observed the Venetian brig Merope which had just come from, " an unsuccessful cruise against the pirates on the coast of Maina". John Morritt who was in Mani at exactly the same time reported the Kapetani of Platsa, Christea, quite openly boasting of seizing a French merchantman.
Towards the end of the Turkokratia there were increasing links between the Maniates and the nascent movement for Greek Independence. The 1770 Orlov Rebellion in the Morea had started things rolling and the example of the French Revolution came hard on its heels. The political landscape was full of both revolutionary zeal and nascent Greek nationalism and the area seems to have swarmed with foreign agents. The revolutionary French sent the Stephanopoli Uncle and Nephew, Dimo and Nicolo, descended from the refugees from Itilo, to report on conditions in Mani with a stiring letter calling them to arms from the pen of Napoleon Buonaparte. There was the possibility for a while, when Buonaparte harboured Levantine ambitions, that this revolutionary fervour would translate to the Morea.
For the British, uneasily allied to the Porte, J.P.Morier was active in the Peloponnese and there were British complaints of French gun running into Maniat ports. It is sometimes overlooked that that thoroughly exact travel writer, topographer and classicist William Martin Leake, who travelled extensively in Greece in the first decades of the 19th century, was sent there primarily as a British military observer and advisor to the Turks in their defence against the French and ended up a Lt. Colonel. John Galt, the writer, who visited the area around Marathonisi (modern Githeon) in 1809 was quite splenetic in his ignorant complaint that the French seemed to have upper hand and that there had been no British Agents in the area. There were also contacts between the Maniates and the Philiki Etairia, the secret society which plotted (often rather ineptly) to create a Greek uprising.
This late 18th century - early nineteenth century period saw a number of western observers penetrating into Mani. The strategic importance of Mani with regard to the trade and military/naval routes which skirted Cape Matapan had already brought some visitors. The earliest recorded is Cyriaco of Ancona - an Italian merchant who showed a humanist interest in the remains of the ancient Greeks. In the 1440s he recorded an number of ancient ruins in Mani which he must have circumnavigated a number of times. Unfortunately most of his notebooks were accidentally burned but some of his Mani drawings have survived including one of a grave stele used in the facia of Ag. Iannis at Keria - now sadly stolen by art thieves in 1998.
In the late 18th century many young gentlemen indulged in 'The Grand Tour' which whisked callow but rich youths around the major cultural sights of southern Europe visiting the art galleries and doubtless the bordellos of the Mediterranean. Greece and the Ottoman Empire were not often visited both from a reason of access and more likely lack of comfort. With the Napoleonic Wars closing off most of continental Europe to young footloose Englishmen some strayed further into the Balkans. Byron is the most famous example. He never visited Mani, but others did. The recollections of Morritt of Rokeby, John Sibthorp the great botanist, William Gell, John Galt, Charles Cockerell and the Earl of Carnarvon give a picture of Mani during this turbulent period. Most are readable and some entertaining and in the way of travellers of all ages they bring along their own cultural baggage and prejudices.
Mostly they were impressed by the Maniates and the general state of the area. Both Morritt and Cockerell comment on the general air of order and wealth in the Exo Mani. As Charles Cockerell observed in 1812 near Doli, "Instead of the deserted languid air of other parts of Greece, here was a vigorous prosperity. Not an inch of available ground but was tilled and planted with a careful husbandry. Poor and rocky as the soil was. The villages were neater and less poverty stricken and the population evidently much thicker than in the rest of Greece. The faces of the men were cheerful and open; the women handsomer, and their costume more becoming". Equally impressive was the almost feudal nature of the society, with the kapetani having power of life and death over their populations. Cockerell again, "In no part of Europe at any rate, if indeed in the world, could one find such singular scenes or come upon a state of society so exactly like that of our ancient barons".
There was also a tendency to make tendentious links and parallels between the contemporary Maniates and their ancient predecessors. Most of the travellers had some interest in the ancients and had expectations that they would see the ancient Greek in the modern. If the Greeks in Ottoman dominated Greece generally disappointed the western travellers they were quick to make allusions between the ancient Spartan Lacedemonians and the Maniates. The martial spirit was one link, the other rather more dubious and tendentious was the long tresses sported by the Mani warriors which had Charles Cockerell reporting that the Maniates," dressed their hair trailing down their backs like the descendants of the Spartans who combed their hair before going into battle," and John Galt echoing him with "They all wear their hear long and flowing a peculiarity of the Spartans ". The fact that this hair style was prevalent in many parts of Greece and Albania at the time seems to have been conveniently overlooked by our western travellers.
These foreign travellers ('Franks' to the Greeks) moved across Mani by permission of the local kapetani. Even when (the then) Captain William Leake visited Mani in April 1805 there were certain parts of the exo Mani he dared not traverse on foot as most the kapetani were in dispute with Antoni Grigoraki, the present Bey of Mani. Leake was a precise man who kept pedantically exact timings of his perambulations. This can be explained by his primary need to provide military information but one suspects that winding his watch was his first and favourite act on rising. Leake travelled with a small retinue and the vast amounts of baggage our ancestors felt it necessary to hump around with them in vain attempts to recreate the appurtenances of Hampstead study and drawing room in their rude foreign surroundings. Such sights of conspicuous consumerism were bound to excite the rapacity of the Maniates. As Leake was told by Tubaki (Polikos Tubakis), a Deep Mani chieftain, "If the Bey had not given such precise orders concerning you, how nicely we should have stripped you of all your baggage."
In fact Leake was there at a time when both the Turks and the local Greek kapoi were about to finally lose their temper with the Klephtic bands. After a number of outrages and much scurrying diplomacy the Klephts were hounded out of their centres of power in the mountains of central Morea. Zacharias was assassinated at Tseria in Mani in 1805 where he was playing one Kapetani off against another. A Greek by the name of Koukeas was the assassin and the the Turks lopped off his limbs for his pains as they had wanted to capture Zacharias alive - such Ottoman whimsicality was so common a practise that one wonders how they ever persuaded anyone to do their dirty work for them. Kolokotrones was forced into Mani after a number of skirmishes in Messenia and Arcadia. He took refuge at Kastania with the Douraki clan and helped them in their squabbles with the Kitrinaris tribe just to the north. Throughout this period Mani was the safe haven for Klephts who would hole up there until the pursuit had gone cold. In this instance such had been Kolokotrones' annoyance to the Turks and kapoi that they arranged for him to be assassinated. He was forewarned and slipped away to the coast and took a boat off to the Ionian Islands.
Two portraits of Petrobey Mavromichalis
The extirpation of the Klephts in 1805-6 made little difference to the eventual result. 15 years later the general malaise of the Turkish hold on their empire lead to a general uprising against the Turks with the Mavromichalis clan leading the pallikares (warriors) of Mani out into the wider Morea.
On to Independence to modern day