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Genoese in Constantinople

Author(s) : Rakova Snezhana (2/6/2008)
Translation : Rakova S. , Kaisheva Radmila , (proofread.) Lees Christopher

For citation: Rakova Snezhana, "Genoese in Constantinople",
Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Constantinople
URL: <http://www.ehw.gr/l.aspx?id=11933>

Генуезци в Константинопол (8/7/2009 v.1) Genoese in Constantinople (9/10/2009 v.1) Γενουάτες στην Κωνσταντινούπολη (8/7/2009 v.1) 

1. First Genoese quarter in Constantinople

The first agreement for comercial privileges to Genoa in the Byzantine era dates to 1155. By that time in Constantinople, the quarters of Venice and Pisa, whose merchants enjoyed similar privileges, had already emerged. Genoa was approached by Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180), whose activity was in agreement with his aspirations of reestabishing Byzantine rule over southern Italy. Such ambitions required allies against the German emperor Frederick I and the Normans. The Genoese were thus offered commercial privileges similar to those of the other italian cities in Constantinople (that is, a concession for a commercial quarter and a reduction of the kommerkion to 4 percent), in return for an alliance and the promise that Genoese merchants in the Empire would come to its defence in case of attack.1

However, only in 1160 would the Genoese establish a quarter in Constantinople.2 This first quarter was shortlived. In 1162, the Pisans attacked it and sacked it, and the Genoese merchants were expelled from the city.3

2. The second Genoese quarter

In 1164 Manuel I resumed negotiations with Genoa in order to reestablish the Genoese commercial quarter in Constantinople, which eventually happened in 1170. A chrysobull of Manuel I of the same year provides information for this new quarter. It was located next to the Pisan quarter – on the southern shore of the Golden Horn between the city gates of Veteris Rectoris (Sirkeci) and Eugenios, in the districts of Eugenios and the Neorion.4 It included one wharf in the Golden Horn and the palace of Botaneiates or Kalamanos,5 which was, up to then, in Venetian possession.

The Venetians, who were affected by these concessions, reacted immediately by attacking and destroying the Genoese quarter in 1171. After that, about 10,000 Venetians were banished from the Empire, and Genoa asked for compensations from the emperor. However, such claims seem to have caused the indignation of the local merchants, who were threatened by the competition of the Italian traders.6

In the following years the Genoese of Constantinople found themselves dragged into the conflicts for power between the members of the Komnenian dynasty. After the death of Manuel I, in September 1180, his widow relied upon the pro-latin party for the protection of her underage son, Alexios II's, dynastic rights. On the contrary, Andronikos I Komnenos (r. 1183-1185) rose to the throne leaning on the anti-latin sentiments of the populace of Constantinople: in April 1182 they launched attacks and plundering against the Latins of the city, with the aid of Andronikos's soldiers. A big part of the Genoese quarter was murdered and the survivors left the city on their ships.7

The Genoese, who had suffered the greatest blow from the events of 1182, asked for compensation up to 230,000 hyperpyra, which is an evidence of the considerable amount of commercial dealings. The negotiations between Genoa and the emperor lasted from 1186 until 1191; in 1192 the privileges of Genoa were finally reinstated by a chrusobul. However, the disaster of 1182 seems to have prompted, to an extent, Genoese piracy, which put a strain on the relations of the Genoese quarter with imperial administration. Alexios ІІІ Angelos (r. 1195-1203) even stripped the Genoese of their privileges and arrested many of them. However, in the competition with Venice, Genoa was the natural ally, so Alexios III soon had to lift the measures against the Genoese. In October 1201, just before the onset of the Fourth Crusade, the Genoese were granted a bigger concession for their quarter and a further reduce of the kommerkion to 2 percent.8

2.1. The quarter in the years of the Latin rule

In the years of the Latin empire (1204-1261) Venice achieved an exclusive trade monopoly in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The governor of the Venetians in Constantinople, called podestà, governed the conquest and exploitation of territories on the islands of the Aegean Sea, the Peloponnesian coastline and the Black Sea, as far as the distant Tanais on the estuary of the Don at the Azov Sea.

With a number of agreements and peace treaties (1218, 1228, 1232, 1238, 1251) with the Venetian podestà in Constantinople, Genoa tried to retain its position as a trade power in the region of the Black Sea, as well as the autonomy of its quarter in Constantinople. But eventhough they were not subjected to any further fighting, the competition with the dominant power Venice severely restricted their economic activity, to a point that Genoese newcomers were not keen to settle in the quarter.9 In any case, in the treaty documents some dignitaries are mentioned, who governed the colony in Constantinople – consuls, counts and magistrates (consules et vicecomites atque rectores) –, which shows a more advanced stage of administration organisation compared to the Venetians.10

3. Genoese settlement in Galata-Pera

Genoa took advantage of the Byzantine hostility against Venice after the fall of Constantinople in 1204, and they managed to establish close relations with the Empire of Nicaea. So, after the recapture of Constantinople and came with the reinstatement of the Empire in 1261, Genoa had the upper hand. Just before the collapse of the Latin empire, Genoa managed to conclude the treaty of Nymphaion with Michael VІІІ Palaiologos (r. 1259-1282). Its clauses provided for exclusive trade privileges for the Genoese within the boundaries of soon-to-be restored Byzantium (at the expense of the Venetians), as well as for their commercial quarter in Constantinople, which would include the church of Santa Maria de Embulo, until then in Venetian possession.11 Also devolved to the Genoese the palace of Botaneiates, which had been used as the palazzo of the Venetian podestà. After the success of their venture the Genoese not only destroyed the old Venetian quarter, but also transferred in Genoa material from the palace of the Venetian podestà and used it to erect the building of the Banco di San Giorgio (the Bank of St. George).

After 1264, Emperor Michael VІІІ Palaiologos allotted to the Genoese a new quarter on the northern shore of the Golden Horn, in Galata. Galata is actually the name of the hill, and the foot of the hill is known by the name Pera, (mean. “on the other side” in Greek). Initially the Genoese did not have the right to fortify their district by means of walls, but only with a moat. Galata became the trade centre, and the privileges granted to it attracted a lot of Venetians who went to install themselves there. Many churches of Catholic orders such as the Franciscans and the Dominicans, which at the time of the Latin empire were under the jurisdiction of the Venetian patriarch in Constantinople passed under Genoese guardianship and under the authority of the archbishop of Genoa (this remained unchanged in the next centuries during the time of the Ottoman empire). With the chrysobull of 1302 the Genoese in Pera were allowed to erect fortress walls. Later on the round tower was built (1348), as well as the palace of the Genoese podestà (a title adopted by influence from the Venetians). By the time of the capture of the Byzantine capital by sultan Mehmed II in 1453, the Genoese colony in Pera was booming.

4. Organization of Genoese colony in Pera

It was headed by a podestà (from 1275), elected by the metropolis and accredited to the palace of the Byzantine emperor as an ambassador. He governed the trade affairs of the colony and was assisted by a 24 member council, administrative office and notary publics. The functions of the Genoese podesta included also the exercise of control on the activity of the consuls who resided locally – Varna, Chilia, Lycostomo, Mоncastro (Maurocastrum), Caffa, etc. In Pera the treaties with the rulers of the coastal states on the Black Sea were signed – such is the example with the treaty signed between Genoa and despot Ivanko Terter son of Dobrotitsa in 1387.12 Numerous notary public offices, banks, warehouses and trading agents were located in Pera.

Big entrepreneurial families from Genoa settled in Pera and opened their banks, trade and notary public offices with their numerous agents and intermediaries who worked with the colonies in the region of the Black Sea. Documents of notary publics have been preserved which show the extremely large turnover amounting to 200 000 ducats per year. Examples of such documents are the notary deeds of big merchants and the accounting books of Genoese galleys.13 Ships from various Genoese colonies on the Northern Black Sea coast and from the estuary of the Danube but mostly from Trebizond arrived at the port of Pera. From Pera to Genoa goods arriving from the Black Sea region were re-exported: wheat, tallow, wax, raw and processed silk, fine textiles and luxury goods from the East, alum for dying textiles; fur, salt and slaves from Tatar lands.

The attempts of the Byzantine emperors to restrict the transformation of the Genoese quarter into an independent and self-governing entity were unsuccessful. There were constant rivalry wars for dominance over the Black Sea during the ХІV and ХV century.

5. Genoese-Ottoman relations

As early as 1352, long before the capture of Constantinople, dated the first agreement between the Genoese and the Ottomans under which the Genoese were granted the monopolistic right to trade in alum from Manisa. In response to that in 1421 and 1444 Genoese ships transported Ottoman military forces to fight against Christians. The sultans started numerous wars with Venice 1463-79, 1499-1502, 1537-1540 etc., trying to counterbalance its strong influence by giving privileges to Florence, Dubrovnik and other commercial cities. The new masters of the Bosporus imposed a restrictive regime on the ships which depended on the willingness of the high officials in the Ottoman Empire. In the middle of the ХVІ c. the Black Sea was no longer accessible for trading for Western merchants.14

After the final victory over Constantinople in 1453 the Ottoman Turks lead by Mehmed ІІ the Conqueror beheaded the Venetian bailo and punished severely the Genoese merchants from Pera. Soon after however, the activity of the Genoese colony was renewed albeit under less favourable conditions.

During the rule of the Turkish sultans the Genoese from Pera retained their trading rights to some extent. But the colonies were no longer governed by a podestà. After 1453 Magnifica Communità di Pera was created – the only example of self-governing minority in the Ottoman Empire.15 It expanded, attracting a lot of merchants from other cities. After the capture of Caffa in 1475, one part of its residents also settled in Pera. It existed until 1682. The remnants of the Genoese buildings, streets and fortress walls could be seen nowadays in the neighbourhood of Beyoglu in Istanbul.

1. Day, G.W., «Manuel II and the Genoese: A reappraisal of Byzantine commercial policy in the late 12th century», Journal of Economic History 37.2 (Jun. 1977), pp. 291-2; Balard, M., « Une marché à prendre: l'invasion occidentale», in Ducellier, A. - Balard, M. (ed.), Constantinople 1054-1261. Tête de la chretienité, proie des Latins, capitale grecque (Collection Mémoires 40, Paris 1996), p. 189.

2. According to M. Balard, « Une marché à prendre: l'invasion occidentale», in Ducellier, A. - Balard, M. (ed.), Constantinople 1054-1261. Tête de la chretienité, proie des Latins, capitale grecque (Collection Mémoires 40, Paris 1996), p. 189, this first quarter was on the north shore of the Golden Horn, thus putting the Genoese at disanvantage against their rival italian commercial quarters.

3. Annali genovesi de Caffaro e de' suoi continuatori dal 1099 al 1293, 1, 67. Day, G.W., «Manuel II and the Genoese: A reappraisal of Byzantine commercial policy in the late 12th century», Journal of Economic History 37.2 (Jun. 1977), pp. 292-3.

4. Janin, R., Constantinople byzantine. Développement urbain et répertoire topographique (Paris 1964), pp. 250-251.

5. See the map of Constantinople in Magdalino, P. “Medieval Constantinople: Built environment and Urban development” in Laiou, A. (ed.), The Economic history of Byzantium : from the seventh through the fifteenth century, 2 (Dumbarton Oaks Studies 39 - Washington D.C. 2002), p. 535.

6. Balard, M., « Une marché à prendre: l'invasion occidentale», in Ducellier, A. - Balard, M. (ed.), Constantinople 1054-1261. Tête de la chretienité, proie des Latins, capitale grecque (Collection Mémoires 40, Paris 1996), p. 190.

7. Balard, M., « Une marché à prendre: l'invasion occidentale», στο Ducellier, A. - Balard, M. (ed.), Constantinople 1054-1261. Tête de la chretienité, proie des Latins, capitale grecque (Collection Mémoires 40, Paris 1996), p. 192.

8. Balard, M., « Une marché à prendre: l'invasion occidentale», in Ducellier, A. - Balard, M. (ed.), Constantinople 1054-1261. Tête de la chretienité, proie des Latins, capitale grecque (Collection Mémoires 40, Paris 1996), p. 192; Schreiner, P., «Genua, Byzanz und 4. Kreuzzug: ein Neues Dokument im Staatsarchiv Genua», Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken 63 (1983), pp. 292-7.

9. Jacoby, D., «The urban evolution of Latin Constantinople (1204-1261)», in Necipoğlu, N. (ed.), Byzantine Constantinople: Monuments, topography and everyday life (Leiden-Boston-Köln 2001), p. 283.

10. On the text of the treaty of 1251 see Liber jurium reipublicae Genuensis, M. Ercole Ricotti (ed.), vol. 1, col. 1093.

11. It seems however that the clause regarding this particular church was never put actually into practice, and the church probably remained to the Venetians, see Janin, R., La géographie ecclésiastique de l'Empire byzantin I: Le siège de Constantinople et le Patriarcat Oecumenique, iii: Les Églises et les monastères (Paris 21969), p. 571.

12. Гюзелев, В., Очерци за историята на българския североизток и Черноморието кр.ХІІ- нач. на ХV в. (София 1995), pp. 127-139.

13. Archivio di Stato di Genova (Archivio segreto): Diversorum Comunis Janue. Regisri 1-21 (1380-1435); Litterarum Comunis Janue. Registri 1-21 (1411-1464); Roccatagliata, A., Notai genovesi in Oltremare. Atti rogati a Pera e a Mitilene. T. 1 Pera (1408-1490) (Genova 1982).

14. Popescu, A., “La Mer Noire ottomane: mare clausum? mare apertum ? ” in F. Bilici, I. Candea, A. Popescu (eds.), Enjeux politiques, économiues et militaires en Mer Noire (XIVe-XXIe siècle). Etudes à la mémoire de M. Guboglu (Braila 2007), pp. 141-170.

15. Mitler, L., “The Genoese in Galata: 1453-1682”, International Journal of Middle East Studies 10: 1 (1979), pp. 71-91.


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