23 March 2011

The Argos Petition

Greeks, by Erhard Reuwich, 1455-1490.
This picture has been overused in blogs, but there are 

so few contemporary pictures available.  These men are consulting
together, which is indirectly what this blog is about.

On 26 July 1451, the signoria of Venice responded to a petition from the citizens of Argos that had been sent to them in late 1449.  The signoria was not often swift to respond.  It is informative on many levels, but it particularly illustrates that the citizens of Argos -- which had a population of fewer than 500 -- were having a very difficult time of it.  Longtime readers of this blog will recognize the incident of Section 6.

I am giving here my paraphrase of parts of the petition.  I have tried to keep the tone of the language, but my spelling and grammar are much better.  Each section has the signoria's response to the issue.

* * * * *

1. The commune of Argos asks that you recall that the Turks took Argos in 1397, 3 June, and took 14,000 souls, and burned the land and the castle and left. Nauplion was much harmed by the Albanians who raided. Your Signoria wanted residents in Argos and directed Nauplion to announce that anyone who wanted to come their with their families would be free persons, and free from payment of any dacio.* Each would get 40 stremmata of public land and 4 stremmata of vines, and a burnt-out house. There were 18 families from the Morea who took this privilege, then 7 more families, and these increased to 115. The houses were rebuilt and the vineyards are growing. These privileges misser Piero da Canal, the chamberlain, recorded, as did misser Zorzi Corner, the chamberlain who was captured by the Turks. The records were sent to Venice to the Corner house. So we ask that you please direct the relatives to give back the records to the Signoria, because Nauplion will not allow us to copy the ones they have. Please do right and not wrong, because we have expended our labor and money on these properties.

Response: We direct the podestà of Nauplion to read this petition carefully and to have a copy of the land records made.

2. Also, we who have lands and have worked them have to pay one half of the produce to the lord of the land and the person who planted has the other half for the work and expense he has made. If he wants to give a dowry to his daughter or a gift to his son, or sell the land, he needs a paper. Please let us have our share according to tradition.

Response: We want to preserve custom, and the rettor of Argos is to make descriptions of all the said lands, so that we do nothing against custom.
. . . .

4. Also, a band of Albanians attacks the place and does robberies and murders at the fair, and they waste the fields and vines and rob the gardens. There are no armed men here except the men they call the Greek stratioti and the rettori have given 15 of them land and paid 2 gold ducats apiece for a man and his horse, for the good of the communità.

Response: We don’t want to make any changes about this, as they get the land for service.

5. When the Greek despots come through Argos, we have to give presents.** Would you please pay for them?

Response: This is a small expense and we want to continue the usual practice.

6.  About the Albanians who live in the territory: He [Demetrios Laskaris Asan of Mouchli] orders them about and says they are his, not the Signoria’s. The chief of the catuna has to pay from 1 to 3 ducats a hearth, and if he does not pay immediately he is imprisoned. The Albanians want to be under Your Signoria, not under the Greeks. Asan came to trade at the fair of San Francesco at Kiveri. The Sunday of the fair we were going between Argos and Kiveri. He dashed past the toll post & we were seized and our horses taken. We were taken to Mouchli and imprisoned, and two people were executed. When the rettor of Argos sent a messenger to inquire he had the messenger’s horse taken. He also took the pigs of the brother of the Albanian he had in prison.***

Response: We are writing the Despot Demetrios in the usual form that he should see that similar incidents do not occur.

7. Every two years the rettor makes an announcement that anyone who holds land from the commune should show his papers, under penalty, and the landholders from Nauplion never come here to show theirs.

Response: We order the podestà of Nauplion that the landholders from Nauplion should immediately go to Argos with their papers so that they can be seen and the lands known.

8. Also, we ask that you will please send us 2000 ('duga migiara') arrows for defense, and since we are poor in cash we will pay you in grain.

Response: We will send 3000 arrows, and another 2000 from Crete, and you will give the storehouse in Nauplion grain for their value.

9. Also, we complain about misser Zan Contarini who was vice-rettor in Argos, when he assigned land he asked for cash gifts. We ask that the money please be returned.

Response: We want the rettor of Argos to diligently inform himself about the money acceppted by ser Giovanni Contarini for land concessions, and arrange that our loyal subjects have their money back.

* * * * *
* Dacio: annual payments to the lord for the house, and for each piece of land. 
** We don't know anything about presents for the despots, but when the Ottoman governors of the Morea visited Nauplion around 1480, Bartolomeo Minio's gifts usually included a silver cup, cloth, sugar, fresh fish, bread, and wine.  Most of these were given by landholders and merchants who had an interest in the prospective negotiations.
*** This is told more fully in Archons: Demetrios Laskaris Asan of Mouchli.


  1. I think these presents to the despots were what peasants gave the archons when visiting their estates, the 'kaniskia'. If the despots demanded the same, and Laskaris demanded money and took animals, I suspect it may be linked to the 'ghost territories' of Byzantium we once talked about. In the eyes of the despots the people of Venetian areas were their subjects, and presents were a show of loyalty as much as they were a kind of tax. If residents did not comply then the despot could send his Alvanites to take twenty times as much I suppose.

    Best regards,


  2. I can see why you would like that explanation, but I have no evidence that lets me go beyond and explanation of the extremely ancient tradition of "diplomatic" gifts. This, and one from Nauplion, is the only statement we have of such an event. There are a number of unpleasant occurrences while Demetrios was despot that are not recorded for an earlier time and I have a great deal of speculation about that. But speculation, not evidence.

  3. I should change the last lines to say: I have evidence for speculation, about gifts and about Demetrios, but inadequate evidence for a conclusion.

  4. I can not argue about the inability to conclude. I certainly do not have much to offer. However, gifts were not only diplomatic. or rather they could be at the same time a symbol of subordination. The Duke of Santa Maura had to give kaniskia to every new sancakbey of Ioannina in addition to his annual tribute. Sending only fruit in 1479 was one of the excuses for the Turkish attack against the duchy. The word kaniski also had the meaning of a tax according to Kriaras' dictionary

    Best regards,


  5. I warrant you sall find, in the comparisons
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    look you, is both alike. There is a river in
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    Monmouth: it is called Wye at Monmouth; but it is
    out of my prains what is the name of the other
    river; but 'tis all one, 'tis alike as my fingers is
    to my fingers, and there is salmons in both.


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