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History > General History > The Island of Kythera. A Social History. (1700-1863). Chapter 1: Introduction.

8592: History > General History

submitted by George N Leontsinis on 27.11.2005

The Island of Kythera. A Social History. (1700-1863). Chapter 1: Introduction.

National and Capostrian University of Athens
Faculty of Arts
S. Saripolos' Library

A thesis submitted for the degree of
in the School of Modern Languages and European History
at the University of East Anglia, Norfolk, England.
August, 1981.

Chapter 1: Introduction.

Kythera (Cerigo) belongs to a group of seven islands in western Greece known as the Ionian Islands. The remaining six are: Kerkyra (Corfu), Kefallinia (Cephalonia), Zakynthos (Zante), Lefkas (Santa Mau­ra), Ithaki (Ithaca) and Paxos together with their out-lying islets. These islands were acquired, piecemeal by Venice between 1363 and 1684. As a result of the fall of Crete (1669) and the Peloponnese (1715) to the Otto­man Turks the Venetians had to confine themselves to the Jonian Islands and their mainland appendages (the small towns of Butrinto, Parga, Preveza and Vonitsa) which are scattered along the Greek coast opposite the northern islands of the Ionian chain.
After the collapse of the Venetian Republic in 1797 the fortune of the Ionian Islands underwent a rapid succession of changes. By the Trea­ty of Campo-Formio (17th October, 1797) the islands were ceded to France by Venice, but the period of French rule was very brief. The Turks were so alarmed by the military campaigns of the French in the Mediterranean during the Napoleonic Wars that they formed an alliance with Alexander I of Russia on 3rd January, 1799 to prevent the further encroachment of Napoleon into Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Near East. The significance of this treaty lies in the fact that it led to a convention between the two countries which established the Septinsular Republic (Treaty of Constantinople, 21st March, 1800). This Republic constituted the first autonomous Greek state of modern times. The influ­ence of French political thought at the beginning of the nineteenth cen­tury is reflected in the constitutions of the Septinsular Republic, the pro­visions of which are full of French egalitarian sentiments and phraseol­ogy. As a consequence of this development the Western Powers became alarmed lest the establishment of the Republic open the way for the Rus­sians to expand into the Mediterranean. Thus, when the Napoleonic armies defeated the Russian forces in the battle of Friedland (14th June, 1807) the subsequent Treaties of Tilsit (7th-9th July, 1807) ceded the Islands to France. They remained under French rule only briefly, how­ever, for they later fell into the hands of the British. In the Second Peace of Paris (20th November, 1815) the Islands were placed officially under British “protection” and were declared to be a “united, free and inde­pendent state”, the United States of the Ionian Islands. Finally, under the terms of two agreements dated 2nd and 14th November, 1862 and 17th and 29th March, 1864, the Ionian Islands were united with the rest of Greece)
This brief historical résumé applies to the Ionian Islands as a whole, and there is no particular connection between the dates of the successive foreign occupations and the chronological sequence of events on Kythe­ra. Nevertheless, it is important for one to be aware of the significant diplomatic developments which allow events on Kythera to be viewed in their proper historical perspective.
Kythera lies off Cape Maleas, the south-eastern point of the Pelop­onnese. It is over 180 miles from Zakynthos and 35 miles from Crete. The smaller island of Antikythera, which has always been a Kytherean administrative dependency, lies midway between Kythera and Crete. Geographically, the two islands are not part of the Ionian chain, nor do they have strong historical connection with it. The geographical and pol­it4cal union of Kythera with the rest of the Ionian Islands came about by chance under the Venetian Republic, but the term “Ionian Islands” was first used in the proclamations of the Russian Admiral Theodore Ushak­ov after the islands were captured by the Russo-Turkish forces in 1798. Kythera was included in the Ionian possessions after the loss of Crete (1669) and the Peloponnese (1715). Until then it had been attached first to Crete and then to the Peloponnese for administrative purposes. Its subsequent dependence on the central government at Corfu (the seat of the Venetian Levant administration) was more a matter of belonging to a political community than an expression of political and economic sub­servience. Kythera’s position, vis-à-vis Corfu, simply meant that the island’s political and cultural links with the Ionian Islands were limited to the Ionian Sea, whereas the bulk of Kytherean trade was still with neighbouring areas under Turkish rule. This situation was made possible by the island’s geographical position which precluded close social and commercial intercourse with the remaining islands in the Ionian chain.
Kythera is a geographically isolated island with barren, stony soil for the most part but, nevertheless, strategically important during times of war and international instability. For this reason fortifications and other defence-works were systematically constructed on the island through­out the period of Venetian domination.
The long period of Venetian occupation saw the introduction and consolidation of an aristocratic régime on Kythera which gradually evolved into its settled form in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The establishment in 1363 of an unusual system of “co-partnership” between the Venetian Republic and the Venier, an aristocratic Venetian family to whom the island had been ceded by Venice immediately after the fall of Constantinople to the crusaders in 1204, was a major date in the era of Venetian domination. Under this system the Venier kept the revenue from thirteen of the twenty-four lots (carati) into which the island was divided, while the Venetian Republic retained suzerainty and administrative control over the whole island and received the revenue from the remaining eleven carati.2
Another decisive turning-point was the introduction in 1573, with official approval from the Government of Venice, of the “Libro d’ Oro”, the “Golden Book” containing the names of the elite who belonged to the “Council of the Community of Nobles”. The Book, similar to the other Ionian Islands, e.g. Corfu, Zante, embodied a socio-political sys­tem loosely modelled on that of Venice. Hitherto the local nobility had been a loosely-defined group with no charter or specific legislation to regulate the conditions of membership.

The Venetians sought from the outset to consolidate their authority. Accordingly, they adopted a tolerant attitude towards the Greek Ortho­dox Church and a patronizing benevolence towards the island’s nobility. In return, these two bodies were expected to control the populace. As a result an oppressive oligarchic rule developed characterized by social inequality, corruption, and venality. The exploitation of the people earn­ing their living from the land, a category commonly described as pea­sants, was a well-established practice.
For more than four centuries, noble rank was reserved exclusively for those who were recognised by the local Venetian authorities as citta­dm1 of Chora i.e. the local nobles of the island’s capital.4 The nobility was the second-highest class in terms of power and civil rights, the high­est consisting of the small number of resident Venetians who kept for themselves the title of “noble” (the local Provveditore, the Venier as partners” of the Republic, and a few settlers or senior officials).
The cittadini were characterized by the high incomes they received from their large holdings of land, and they were also the only persons eligible for the few public offices which the Venetians made available to the local inhabitants. In time the cittadini managed to broaden their civil authority and their social standing but the inferior standing of the citta­dinanza of Kythera compared with the cittadinanza veneta was clear. The former was the offspring of the latter.
Nobility, a social group enjoying some form of legally established hereditary superiority was considerably blurred, like all social categories with an infinite number of local variations. Therefore, it is not surprising that there are differences between the structure and the function of the Kytherean nobility and that of Crete and even more that of the other Ionian Islands; that is why the researcher should direct his attention to the specific characteristics of the local nobility, in order to specify the• particular reasons determining it. To this point, it is necessary to men­tion some ascertainments concerning the creation of this particular social reality and the function thereof, in order to become possible to investi­gate the political will of the foreign and local authorities that, at a cer­tain time, decided to allow to a social reality, harboured since a long time under the influences of the régime of the Venetian dominion, to be officially expressed in the greater area (Crete, Kythera, PeloponneSSe and the other Ionian Islands). This particular social class organized in the Ionian islands acquires its own characteristics within the frame of the function of the foreign régime.
The Venetian nobility of the Metropolis differs from that of Kythera and that of the other Ionian Islands because the latter is shaped, on the basis of the difference of the dominant, sovereign régime and that of the conquered areas of the East. Furthermore, the inherent reality is differ­ent from that of Venice or the other European cities, mainly to the base of the social and economical reality and discriminance, as this was pro­gressively formed in the area of the Metropolis. On the other hand, there are in Venice, during that period, two distinguished social classes, the “nobilità”, to which are destined the higher political and other dignities and a second one, the “cittadinanza veneta”, destined to lower rank positions.
It may be said that the nobility in Kythera, as well as that in the other Greek areas under the Venetian dominion, presents common points with the cittadinanza of Venice. As starting point for the determi­nation of the nobility in the Ionian Islands can be taken a body of nota­bles, formed like the cittadini class in Venice. It is from this lowest start­ingp oint in the organization of the first distinguished class in the Ionian Islands that will be progressively shaped the provincial gentry represent­ing a type of lesser nobility which inevitably expressed itself in terms of certain social distinctions —symbols, dress, diet, education— and often in terms of a certain attitude more or less similar to that of the higher class of the aristocratic régime in the Metropolis.
That is why, it should be stressed here that the establishement act of the Kytherean cittadinanza, or also that of the other Ionian Islands, pro­gressively overhauled its specifications and this means thai the notables (cittadini) of the islands progressively ended to the appropriation of the term of nobles, although the Venetian administration, concerning Kythe­ra and as this is proved by the Code, insists upon characteriSiflg the members of the council as cittadini, a term translated in the manuscript translation by the Greek term polites (iroXirec))

The persistance of the foreign administration in preserving the local cittadinanza as the prevailing class did not mean that the scope of devel­opment of this particular class could remain unchanged. The title of “politls” (iro~~irjç) obtained, within the social system, the most distin­guished position and is opposed to the class of the populani of the quar­ters of the Borgo and the country. On the contrary with Venice, where the new admissions to the nobility were made from the class of the citta­dm1, in Kythera, in Corfu and the other Ionian islands, the admissions of new members in the councils of the “nobles” were made from the class of the populanl.6 But the appropriation of the term of nobles and the formation, in the meantime, of the character of this class as the class of the local nobilità, are elements determining the new social reality. On the other hand, there is not yet any relative petition of this particular class for the redetermination of this specified social starting point. On the contrary, a social self-determination is born, satisfying the members of the community as the distinguished class in their place of residence.
On the other hand, the “bourgeoisie” will progressively emerge from the middle class, as the symptom and the generative cause of the new social and economic facts that are taking a more complete figure in the modern times (18th century). This class did never side with what the Venetian and the local government had specified for the local cittadinan­za from the year (1572) of its official recognition as the first class. Its determination to the social hierarchy had been determined by the term of “cittadinanza
In the course of the time, the Kytherean cittadinanza progresses into a nobilità which forms its own characteristics. The character of the local nobility is formed within a scope of interactions and efforts of self-ad­ministration and acquirement of its proper identity. The word cittadi­nanza has no more its original meaning in the official administration terminology. Now, its content is inherent with a reality establishing it as the first in the social hierarchy. Actually, the term nobllltà, substitutes the term cittadinanza and is combined with the development of a legal status protecting it and progressively differentiating it from the uprising class of the burgesses.

Later on, the nobilità of Kythera will also receive its relative influ­ences from the respective social reality of Crete to which Kythera is sub­ject from 1206 until 1669. The “nobiità cretense” as it exists from the end of the fifteenth century, is influencing Kythera due to the political, social and economic relations of the two areas, while Cretan immigrants are also admitted to the Council of the Nobles, mainly after the subjugation of Crete to the Turks.
During that period, the members of the nobility are trying to find out elements to be imposed and established as the first class in the area, given that the members of the foreign leadership and the Venetian offi­cials are recognized as the governing body. That is why the administra­tion form that is shaped during that stage included the meaning of the self-administration of the foreign and local authorities.
The middle class was numerically small and existed only in Chora. This group consisted of large landowners and what few merchants, tra­desmen and professionals there were there. The remainder of Chora’ s population, together with the villagers in the rural areas, constituted the popolo, the poorest and most humble class of all, while the clergy were included in one of these three classes according to their social back­ground and financial circumstances. Those landowners and other mem­bers of the middle class who were able to support themselves on the income derived from their own property sought the opportunity to be enrolled in the “Libro d’ Oro” as members of the Community whenever a vacancy occurred in the ranks of the nobility.7
At about the beginning of the eighteenth century the middle class started to acquire the characteristics of a European-type bourgeoisie. This development was made possible by the decline of the Venetian Republic, starting about 1700. This decline diminished the size of the island’s nobility so that the subsequent social vacuum enabled the middle class to assert itself politically and economically.
Kytherean society, which had already begun to change by the early eighteenth century as a symptom and a generative cause of the economic revival of the Greeks, generally consisted of the following leading classes; the foreign governing nobility, the governing local nobility, the bour­geoisie, and the class of Notables (Proesti, Protogeri and Commessi), who viewed their presence in public affairs as a necessary part of the institutions of local self- government.
After the middle of the eighteenth century the bourgeoisie was gradually divided into an upper middle class, consisting of the wealthiest burgesses, and into a much lower middle class. Owing to the steady and accelerating pace of the island’s economic development and to the lack of natural resources for productive investment, this class division tended to foster an alliance between the nobility and the upper middle class. This tendency, however, did not always man absolute identity of ideolog­ical aims. Fundamental differences between the two classes continued to exist.
In the early years of the eighteenth century a petit bourgeois class emerged in the small town of Potamos, near the north-easternmost point of the island. From then on the middle class as a whole gradually grew in number both at Chora and at Potamos. Besides those commoners who had substantial holdings of land, the middle class now included people engaged in commerce, shipping and manufacturing, all of which had previously been so underdeveloped as to be almost negligible.8
Because of their privileged social position, the nobility tended to take the Venetian aristocracy as a model for their own code of conduct. Consequently, noble families of the Libro d’ Oro, “who dominated the rest of the people,... habitually mimicked the braggadocio and arrogance of the great aristocrats of the West in their own small circle.. .“.~ The local nobles, therefore, made every effort to think, speak, and live like their Venetian overlords. The Italian language, in fact, remained the offi­cial language of politics and government. It was replaced by Greek only after the last decade of the British Protectorate.
In this scheme of things the lower classes had virtually no vehicle for the expression of their cultural identity. Only the Church remained as a vehicle for the social and political expression of the peasants. The histor­ical animosities between the Latin West and the Byzantine East did much to promote the role of the Greek Orthodox Church as an instru­ment in the awakening of latent Greek nationalism. Then, too, the Catholics on the island were greatly outnumbered by Orthodox Greeks, so that most Venetians preferred the larger Ionian Islands. The few who did live on Kythera were gradually assimilated into the local population by intermarriage. Many even managed to gain admission into the ranks of the local nobility.
In the course of the eighteenth century, open conflict broke out between the middle class and the nobles. From 1780 to 1818, when the British-devised constitution came into force, there occurred a series of overtly rebellious acts which reflected the overall pattern of the decline of the Venetian Republic and the political and social changes sweeping across Europe at that time. By the last years of the eighteenth century, it had become obvious that the Venetian régime was crumbling socially and politically. This was apparent in the inefficiency of the local admini­stration and in the anachronistic policies of the Community of Nobles. The latter appeared oblivious to the need for the inclusion of dynamic, progressive middle-class elements into its ranks. By mid-eighteenth century, however, the local administration had begun to allow members of the middle class to be appointed to certain government posts in a bid to pacify their strong feelings, but so far from abating the class conflict this action served only to intensify it, because the Council of Nobles had begun to be ineffectual; firstly, because active dissension had broken out among its members; and secondly, because they continued to refuse to admit new members to the Community to keep it at full strength.
What ultimately happened was a combined uprising of the burgesses and peasants in 1780. The islanders’ rebellious spirit was strengthened during the brief period of French occupation (1797- 1798) and events came to a climax during the Russo-Turkish occupation, when a second revolt of the burgesses and peasants broke out (1798- 1800). This revolt enabled the peasants to gain control of the Government for the next two years. During this short period the revolutionaries administered the island in accordance with a charter of their own, drawn up by a revol­utionary committee. Russia’s protectorate over the Septinsular Republic provided Kytherean liberals (including émigrés and local residents) with an opportunity to take active steps to change the existing social stratifi­cation. During this period the Ionian islanders made three attempts at constitutional government but a series of local rebellions proved abor­tive. ~
The two-year French occupation promised an immediate end to Venetian oppression, so the Ionians began to view the French revolutio­naries as liberators.1 i Consequently, an undercurrent of opposition deve­loped, encouraged by the ideas of the Enlightenment in Western Europe and by the subsequent rise of nationalism within the Greek-speaking world.i2
The rebellions on Kythera might also be explained partly as the result of the degree of liberalism which Admiral Ushakov displayed in the Ionian Islands and partly as a concomitant of Russian political thou­ght at the beginning of the nineteenth century, which is reflected in the constitutions of the Septinsular Republic. These foreign influences and the concurrent collapse of the Ottoman Empire were viewed with appre­hension by the Powers of Europe for fear that Russia would exploit the situation to make important inroads in Southeastern Europe. i3
The unsettled political situation in the Ionian Islands during the period of their occupation (1807- 1809) by the forces of the French Empire and the provisional British occupation (1809- 1815), coupled with the imposition of a new constitution by the British Protectorate, helped to perpetuate class conflict on the island, leading to another rising, this time of the peasants only (1812). During the provisional Briti­sh occupation the lower classes were able to resist the conservatives’ at­tempts to reintroduce features of the ancien régime,’4 and thus they succeeded in consolidating certain gains they had made during the succession of previous foreign occupations. Under the British Protectora­te (1817- 1863) these gains formed a solid foundation for the new régime, which had come about as a result of the rivalry between the Great Powers.’5 The Charter of 1817 was given the political aims of the British presence and the military background of Sir Thomas Maitland, the first Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands, and many elements which may appear novel on the programme of the Commission had their root in the earlier three Russian Constitutional Charters. In fact, the period of the British Protectorate (1817- 1863) and the long period of Venetian domination are the two salient features in the historical framew­ork of the period covered by this study.
Between 1780 and 1817 the Kythereans who travelled outside Greece and lived in émigré communities abroad made their influence felt by means of remittances to their relatives and friends in the island. Indeed, many self- made businessmen and even scholars displayed political aspi­rations as soon as they returned to Kythera. They often tried to obtain posts in the government and exercise political influence. But even before the French Revolution, conservatives and liberals had already begun to clash over the questions of social awakening, national aims and the modernisation of education.
From the last decades of the eighteenth century onwards, the bourgeoisie were engaged in a concerted campaign with the twofold objective of improving their own social and political standing and resuscitating the Greek nation. As long as social conditions kept them confined within a circumscribed social milieu they directed their efforts at undermining the nobility. Then, as those conditions altered and the supporters of social change started to gain a foothold, they broke down the barriers around them and embarked on an active class struggle against two adversaries, who joined forces to form a united front: the local land-owning oligarchy and the foreign rulers. The fierce opposition of the adherents of the ancien régime and the introduction of a constit­utional charter eventually proved too much for the unity of the bourge­oisie, which lasted only until 1799. The upper middle class then went over to the alliance of landowners and foreign overlords, while the lower middle class made common cause with the lower class. Their alliance lasted for the duration of the struggle, one of their aims now being the reintegration of the islands with the Greek state, which came about in 1863 as a byproduct of the Radical European movements from 1848 onwards.
The middle class was never recognised as a separate class by the government except during the brief revolutionary period (1797- 1802), when first the French and then the Russo - Turkish administration al­lowed representatives of all three classes to participate in the government.’6 Even so, the activation of the bourgeoisie of Chora and Potamos from the eighteenth century onwards was a factor to be reckoned with. It was because of the gradual emergence of the middle class that the opposition to the nobility was pushed into devising a form of “constitutional nobili­ty” as mentioned above, and that the voting for delegates was in the hands of an electoral college which accounted for three per cent of the local population. Obviously the new status quo could not neutralise poli­tical and social conflict, which by now had spread to the rural popula­tion, which was divided under the constitution into “constitutional nobles” (a high-sounding title which, in effect, simply meant those with the right to vote) and ordinary peasants. And so in 1850, after thirty years of precarious stability, a radical movement for the union with mainland Greece, already in existence in the order Ionian Islands, emer­ged on Kythera. This political development delivered the coup de grace to the nobility with the result that the middle class finally emerged victo­rious, as it had in mainland Greece and other European countries.


1. D.A. Zakythinos, ~Ai iotoptKai tüxat t~ç ‘E7rtav1~oou)) (“The Historical For­tunes of the Heptanese”) in rlpaKrtKd F’ Hctvioviou 2vv&5piov (Proceedings of the third Panionion Congress), vol. 2, (1965) Athens, 1969, pp. 359-80.
2. G. Pojaco, Le Leggi Municipali delle Jsole Ionie, Corfu, 1848, vol. 3, pp. 1-64; Kytherean Code, a collection of the Laws, Decrees and Privileges in force in the Com­munity of Kythera, in A.H.E.S., No. 91, hereafter referred to as Codex.
3. G. Pojaco, op. cit., pp. 34 ff.; E. Lunzi, FIepi Tfic HoRüri,aic Karauráuecoç ri~ç ‘E7rrav4oov ~zri ‘Evcui3v (Political Conditions in the Heptanese under the Venetians), Greek translation by A. Lunzi-Nikokavoura, Athens, 1956.
4. The Greek word Chora, which means “a country”, is also applied by common usage to the chief town of most of the Greek islands including Kythera.
5. Codex, op. cit., p. 8.
6. Ch. N. Karapidakis, UH KapKupaiK~ Ei’)y~VCtQ Tü)V ~PX~V tot) IZ ato)Vco, (The Corfu nobility at the beginning of 17th Century) in ‘IatoptKci, 3 (l98S),pp. 95 ff.
7. For a further discussion on these matters see below, chapt. two, pp. 48 ff.
8. K.H.A., Revolutionary papers of the period 1797- 1800 (unclassified); G. Pojaco, op. cit.; Codex, op. cit.
9. P. Chiotis, ‘IcnoplKd ‘Aropvi~~uovetipata Za~iivOou (Historical Memoirs of Zakynthos), Corfu, 1863, vol. 3, p. 427.
10. K.H.A., Proclamations of G. Levouni, French Vice-Consul on Kythera, dated
8th August, 1797; K.H.A., Revolutionary papers..., op. cit.; D. Saradopoulo, Constituzi­one della Republica Settinsulare, Corfu, 1803, 71 pp.
11. Ibid.; J. McKnight, Admiral Ushakov and the Ionian Republic: The Genesis of Russia’s first Balkan Satellite, Ph.D. thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1965, pp. 250 ff.
12. Ibid.; A.H.E.S., No. 7150, A panegyric delivered in Greek by Theodore Stathi of Kythera in the first year of the French Republic, Kythera, 1797. Cf. A. Tsitsas, (~At13EX-
Xot ti~iv KCpKt)pahov ‘Aot~v iutd ti)v tc)~eutaia pdoi~ tf~ç 8txi~tdxiic touç ~ toéc eO~veiç (I 786- I 792)~, (“Tracts published by the Burghers of Corfu in the Final Phase of their Conflict with the Nobles”) in AcRriov Inc ‘AVaVVUKrTIKnc ‘Eraipcictg KrpK~Spaç. 16 (1980), pp. 99 ff.
13. 1. McKnight, op. cit.; K.H.A., Revolutionary papers..., op. cit.
14. The term Ancien Régime is most commonly applied to the way of life and government in France before the Revolution but it is now often held that the Ancien Régime was rather a European than merely a French phenomenon and in this sense the term is used in this work (Ch. C.B.A. Behrens, The Ancien Régime, Thames and Hud­son, 1974, p. 9; G. Dupeux, French Society, 1789-1970, London: Methuen, New York: Barnes and Noble, 6th edition, 1972, pp. 46 ff.).
15. J.J. Tumelty, The British Administration of the Ionian Islands, 1815-1864,
Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1953; W.F. Lord, Sir Thomas Maitland, London, 1897; G.W. Dixon, The Colonial Administrations of Sir Thomas Maitland, London, 1939.
16. K.H.A., Proclamations of G. Levouni..., op. cit.; K.H.A., Revolutionary pap­ers..., op. cit.; J. McKnight, op. cit., pp. 48 ff.
17. K.H.A., Revolutionary papers dating from the period of the Radical movement on Kythera, 1850 onwards (unclassified).

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