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Greek Migrations

Phanariot & Chiot Families: the Secrets of their Success

The London Hellenic Society at the Hellenic Centre in London, 19 May 2005

The following is a transcript of a talk given by Christopher Long to the London Hellenic Society at the Hellenic Centre in London on 19 May 2005. It was illustrated with about 130 images and was based on some 30 years of research into the histories and genealogies of approximately 20,000 Greeks, mostly of Phanariot or Chian origin. The author acknowledges a huge debt to his wife Sarah without whose help this talk would not have been possible.

By Christopher Long

See Family History Pages

See The Massacres of Chios

See The Houses of Chios

See Genealogies of Chios and Phanar Families

See Main Index

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I

t's sometimes said that Greeks are the most inveterate and successful migrants of modern times. They have a genius for making themselves at home wherever they happen to be; they cause minimum inconvenience to their hosts; and they're generally successful in their careers and businesses. They look after their families, their communities and themselves.

My talk may or may not confirm this simplistic caricature of 'the expatriate Greek' but what I would like to demonstrate is that if Greeks are talented migrants, they've learned the hard way from the harsh realities of a sometimes spectacular but often desperate history.

XMigration (voluntary or involuntary) is the great motor that drives human development. Societies that don't experience inward or outward migration evolve very little - the Bushmen of the Kalahari come to mind. And most great historical events trigger - or are the consequence of - migration. . . the invasions. . . the empire building. . . the technical developments that accompany war, occupation, colonisation and long distance trade.

We Greeks have lived alongside more migration than most. For 5,000 years our ancestors were the rulers or the ruled at the greatest crossroads mankind has ever known: the collision point between two tectonic plates, between the Occident and the Orient, between Christianity and Islam, between the two halves of the old Roman Empire - West and East - between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, between Europe and Asia. . . on the bridge-head of the great pan-Asian trade routes.

But Constantinople also stood on that hard-trod path which led untold millions of tribesmen out of Asia, around the coasts of the Black Sea and into the lush pastures of Europe. . . a process which began at the end of the last Ice Age and which continues to this day. Most of us here tonight - Greek or not - are the descendants of these Indo-European migrants - wave after wave of incomers over the millennia. Each new tribe from the east had to fight and jostle and compete for land, security and prosperity. And it goes on to this day. So, tonight we're going to look at the consequences of just two such incidents - quite insignificant in the great scheme of things but important to us because they happened relatively 'recently'. First we go to the Phanar in 1453 and then to Chios in 1822.

XSince I shall not be going into any detail about the Greek War of Independence - it's far better told by historians to whom I owe a great debt - we're visiting mediaeval Constantinople so that I can paint in some background which helps to explain the dramatic events in the Phanar and on Chios in 1822 and then the spectacular achievements of their C19th diaspora in Britain, France, Italy, Egypt, India, Russia and the USA.

Although 1453 was the year that Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, the Byzantine empire had been a dying giant for a couple of centuries. From 320 AD to 1000 AD it had grown ever more glorious. Then the rot set in. In 1204 crusaders wrecked the city and Catholic 'Latins' temporarily occupied it. The Byzantine Greeks won it back of course, but by 1453 the once-great empire consisted of little more than Constantinople itself.

XTo grasp the significance of the catastrophe you need to remember that at one time the Byzantine trading empire stretched from Gibraltar to Trebizond. Although founded on the former Eastern half of the old Roman empire, it had filled the vacuum left by the long defunct Western or 'Latin' half. So, Greek colonies had sprung up around much of the Mediterranean and in its ensemble Byzantium controlled directly or indirectly, the Aegean, the Black Sea, most of the Balkans, southern Italy, Asia Minor and was hugely influential in many port cities of the Mediterranean - often founded by ancient Phoenician/Greek seafarers.

I'm reminding you of all this because there was a paradox involved. If the wealth of the empire depended on a scattered network of Greek trading posts and ports, what would happen if Byzantium fell and was occupied? Suddenly there would be no Greek heartland, nowhere that was 'theirs', nowhere that might be 'Greece'. Before the year 1000 the idea would have seemed preposterous. Half a century later the wolves were circling.

XYou know, of course, how the Palaiologos dynasty lost its empire: the Serbs and Bulgarians threatened from the north; aggressively ambitious Venetians and Genoese merchant adventurers attacked by sea from the west, acquiring islands and ports as they went. But overwhelmingly the Ottoman Turks had advanced from the south and the east and by 1350 had almost encircled Constantinople. By 1400 they controlled four-fifths of the old Byzantine Empire.

XIn 1453 Mahomet the Conqueror took Constantinople - which then became Istanbul - and in 1461 Trebizond fell. The subjugation of the Greeks was complete. St Sophia became a mosque and non-muslims became second-class citizens.

XEventually the Ottomans expelled the Genoese and Venetians from anywhere that mattered to them and within a couple of centuries the Ottoman Empire was twice as large as it had been in Byzantine times. So how did the Greeks survive as a recognisable people? Why weren't they assimilated or subsumed during the 500 years of absolute Ottoman rule? Was there something special about them?

XI don't think so. Their traders, merchants, fishermen and pirates were much like any others. So too were their colonial administrators, priests, landowners, peasants and serfs. They didn't have a special ethnicity: they were, after all, of all colours, all physiognomies and all ethnic backgrounds. They had no roots in any nation, as we know the term, because of course, there were no nations, nor defined borders, nor passports to tell them who they were.

Yet they were a recognisable 'Greek people' thanks to two assets which were essential to their shared identity: (1) a common language - even if it wasn't the language they used every day and (2) a common and visible form of religious practice - perhaps as much a badge of culture as of faith.

But a shared language and faith don't guarantee survival. They also needed a rallying point, a leader, and an administration capable of keeping the scattered populations united and the language and faith alive until. . . one day. . . who knew when. . . liberation might be possible. And they did indeed acquire a rallying point.

XAfter the Ottomans took possession of the ruins of Constantinople the Greek Patriarch, head of the Orthodox church, migrated. It was, I admit, one of the shortest migrations in history. He simply moved a few miles to the Phanar, taking the Greek community with him - the church being the only Greek institution left. And thousands more migrated to join him there, brought in from the provinces to revitalise Istanbul's desperate economy. And the significance of the Phanar is that here lay the dormant soul of what was one day to become the Greek nation.

Not only was the location new, so was the cast of characters. The star names of the Byzantine ruling dynasties almost vanish, turning up only occasionally as bit part players in the genealogies of a new élite. Gone are the Angelos, Argyros, Comnenos, Doucas and Palaiologos dynasties. Just a handful of the old aristocratic families survive to play a role in subsequent history, families such as the Cantacuzinos, Melissinos, Phocas, Ralli and Vlasto.

Bit by bit through the C15th and C16th migrants from all over the former Byzantine Empire settled in the Phanar to make their fortunes in trade and a new breed of self-made men emerged. Here we meet the Manos family who monopolised the fur trade, the Caradja who supplied livestock, the Mamona who made their money handling tax revenues in the Morea, and the Soutzo (an Epirot family who became milk suppliers to the Ottoman army). Other migrants to the Phanar were the Callimachis (Florentine), the Ghika (Albanian), the Mourousis (from Asia Minor), the Mavroyeni (from Mykonos), the Mavrogordato or Mavrocordato (from Chios) and the Rosetti (from Genoa). These families [see Genealogies] became the Phanar élite of the C17th and C18th and the torchbearers of Greek heritage.

Despite their subjugation, the community grew stronger. In a pale if sad reflection of the glories of Byzantium it also began to award itself the small trappings of grandeur. But most significantly the new élite progressively infiltrated the Ottoman administration, feeding on it from within and ultimately hastening its demise.

Whether or not the Turks foresaw the dangers, they tacitly assisted the process. Christ being a prophet recognised by Islam, the Ottomans granted all Christians - Catholic and Orthodox - the liberty to practice their faith, even going so far as to make the Greek Patriarch their own officially sponsored spiritual head of all Orthodox Christians. The Ottoman plan was not to suppress Greeks but to create a 'rum meleti' (a people of the old Roman empire) who would live a parallel but inferior existence alongside that of Sunni and Shi'ite muslims. The infidels would pay the 'haratch' tax of course and suffer numerous restrictions and indignities - but their souls would be their own.

X XBut keeping the Phanar Greeks in this inferior position was not easy. The Greeks knew the value of education and their newfound wealth could buy the best. Of the innumerable Greeks who achieved high office in the Ottoman administration, most had studied medicine, mathematics or astronomy at Italian universities such as Padua. These doctors with their scientific knowledge, their ability to treat the sick and good contacts in foreign parts became indispensable to the Sultan and his entourage. Dimitrios Rodocanachi of Chios (my 10 times great-grandfather) sent his son Constantine to Padua. In this case however, Constantine ended up as physician to Charles ll of England and died in Cambridge.

XAnd there was another reason why education came to the rescue: there was a taboo on muslims speaking infidel languages - i.e. non-Muslim languages. This meant Turks were forever dependent on Greeks to communicate with their non-Islamic subjects. So, during the C17th and C18th, Phanariot Greeks gradually came to occupy and monopolise some of the most powerful positions in the Ottoman Empire as ministers and diplomats. Some, as we'll see, were even to be appointed the ruling princes - Hospodars or Voïvodes - of Moldavia and Wallachia (which together form most of present day Romania). But for now it was quite enough that the Turks turned to their Grand Drogoman to the Sublime Porte - a Greek of course - not only to represent them but actually to formulate Turkey's foreign policy in its dealings with European powers.

XSome of these titles sound ridiculously grandiose now. But the Grand Logothete (effectively the intermediary between the Sultan and his Orthodox subjects) and the Grand Drogoman of the Sea (responsible for administering the Aegean islands) were two other key positions allowing Greeks to become indispensable to the Turks in the highest echelons of government. Not that the individuals themselves were indispensable: such men were beheaded on the mere hint of betrayal or the whim of a sultan.

There's something touchingly absurd in the thought that the menacing Ottoman Turks, feared and despised throughout Europe, had only the Greeks to turn to for advice. Surely the Turks suspected that the new Phanar nobility might one day become their own masters.

XNowhere was this process more visible than in the Danubian provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia. By the C18th century some families from the new Phanariot élite we met a minute ago took it in turns to be the state-appointed ruling princes of this the richest and politically most sensitive of the Ottoman territories on European soil.

XThe Callimachi, Ghika, Caradja, Mourousis, Mavrocordato, Mavroyeni, Rosetti, Soutzo, Ypsilanti and Handjery became temporary but notorious despots and married among themselves. Along with their duty to collect the Sultan's taxes came outrageous privilege and the opportunity to amass vast personal fortunes.

XThe few who led constructive lives, such as Jean Caradja, did not outweigh the dozens who are remembered with distaste in Romania to this day. But if their lives were decadent and institutionally corrupt, they were not risk-free either. The Ottoman authorities were forever suspicious that their Greek princes were plotting their overthrow with foreigners such as the Russians.

XAnd there was never an iota of trust between any of the parties in this venal and predatory game. Ambition, greed and temporary alliances were swiftly followed by betrayals and sudden death. Of 41 high dignitaries of the Phanar between 1741 and 1821 almost half were assassinated in office - 7 executed, 6 decapitated, 2 strangled, 2 stabbed and 1 hanged...

But then again, as a Callimachi wife once said: "What do our deaths matter if our families acquire princely status!".

The Phanariot princes of Wallachia and Moldavia were spectacular but they were not among the most glorious of Greek achievements. Yet their migration north into the Balkans was to prove essential to Greek independence.

Picture the scene: a new breed of Greek nobility has infiltrated the most important offices of the Ottoman state in Istanbul. Their princely cousins have a fragile monopoly on power in the Balkans. Surrounding the Balkans are powers also seeking to strip the Ottoman Turks of their territories. Meanwhile, by the very early 1800s, Napoleon controls most of western Europe and has ambitions to take Istanbul. And all the while Russia too is set on overthrowing the Ottoman state and taking control of the Balkans and the Black Sea. Surely out of all this the Greeks might manage to back a winner and, in return, recover their lost heritage - or at least find somewhere to call their own.

XIf I'd been a Greek in around 1453 I would have migrated south and found myself a quiet island - not too big, not too small - far enough from the political machinations of Istanbul. . . but not too far.

XI picture it situated on an anciently prosperous trade route with a sheltered port richly filled with vessels carrying silks, alum, turpentine, linen, wines, grain and spices. Inland, beneath dramatic mountains would be lush valleys with groves of orange, lemon and mulberry trees. Near the centre of the island would be one of Christendom's oldest, holiest and most beautiful monasteries, built at the zenith of Byzantine artistry. Owing to its fabled wealth the island would have earned itself exceptional privileges and considerable autonomy from its Greek and Turkish rulers. And by god-given chance, it would produce a shrub - unique to twenty villages on the island - whose sap has a hundred potent uses - not least that of freshening the breath of a thousand damsels in the Sultan's harem in Istanbul. A couple of dozen of the island's grandest families would form a sort of aristocracy renowned throughout Europe and the Levant for its knowledge and sophistication.

XThey would be renowned too for their private libraries, their schools, the beauty and availability of their women, their elegant town houses in the Genoese style and their glorious country villas. One after another foreign visitors would write extolling the warmth and courtesy of their hosts in this earthly paradise...

I'm talking about Chios, an island in the Aegean just off the Turkish coast. And it really was a fabulous island until 1822...

XBy the mid-C14th two quite separate groups of people thought so too. The first were Greeks, members of the old Byzantine nobility, who had decided to leave decaying Constantinople to the encroaching Turks. The second were catholic Genoese. They were merchant traders who had first settled on Chios in 1304 and who became, on the basis of a sort of lease, its rulers from 1345 to 1566. Before long these two communities, catholic and orthodox, Genoese and Greek, intermarried and produced descendants who considered themselves 'Greek'. The famous Chian pragmatism was already visible.

It is at this point, in the mid-1500s, that I first encounter my migrant forebears as individuals with names and dates and wives and children. And those names reveal the process...

XNames in bold are purely Greek. Names in italics are purely Italian. Some are a marriage of the two such as Mavrogordato or Calvocoressi.

Indeed Chios was the only place in Greece where orthodox and catholic congregations shared churches - catholic masses were even said in the monastery of Nea Moni - and some Chians, ever pragmatic, even adjusted their religious allegiance to suit their circumstances, which shocked Greeks elsewhere. Remember that Luc Notaras of Constantinople had once famously said that he would prefer to see the cathedral of St Sophia wrapped in a turban than wearing a papal tiara.

Some of the children of these Greek-Genoese migrants on Chios became migrants in their turn, settling in ports around the Black Sea and Mediterranean. In the C15th and C16th, their trading network involved Pera (opposite Istanbul) and Kaffa (in the Crimea) as well as Genoa in the Mediterranean. Kaffa provided access to Russian and Chinese markets, while Genoa offered a Renaissance vision of the world which was reflected on Chios in its architecture and in an enduring obsession among Chians with education, literature, the arts and sciences.

XChios was the hub and refuge. It was where you grew up and where many later retired. Young men would be sent abroad to cousins to learn to be merchants and to make the contacts on which their futures would depend. They'd usually return to Chios to marry a girl - invariably a cousin - whose beauty would be exceeded only by her fortune and by the commercial and social caché of the bond to both families.

Much of their prosperity depended on two interwoven Chian traditions concerning business and family structure. The first was the use of sophisticated variations on the principal of the joint-stock venture in which a number of stakeholders agree to share risks and profits pro rata. Indeed, the Genoese had used such a method in the early C14th to finance the acquisition of Chios in the first place and then used a joint stock trading company - the maona - to manage the island thereafter.

Chians developed this business principle - sometimes known as the 'Chian Method' - into an art form which enabled partners to collaborate in regular or ad hoc ventures capable of handling the entire trading process among themselves: the financing, purchasing, lading and shipping, as well as the processing and marketing of goods or commodities and the settlement of accounts.

Ventures involving partners thousands of miles apart seldom involved anyone outside the Chian clan. And individuals were normally involved in numerous ventures and partnership permutations at any one time. Sometimes they acted as principals, sometimes as partners with only limited liability, and in this way they ensured that no one was ever over-exposed to risk. It was expected that members of this exclusive Chian club would always have cash reserves - or their equivalent in bonds - so they could invest in each other's ventures. The club demanded scrupulous honesty and agreements were invariably verbal - so it helped if your partners were married to your daughters, for example.

It shouldn't surprise us to find that, later in the C19th, Chians effortlessly became major players in the City of London where 'one's word is one's bond'. And eventually Chian families such as the Chryssoveloni, Ralli, Rodocanachi, Mavrogordato and Vlasto were to become some of Europe's foremost merchant bankers.

X X X X The second very Chian tradition was based on the Genoese concept of the albergho. An albergho consisted of many separate households of the same family, organized into a self-contained clan, presided over by an elder, and usually occupying a particular quarter of the city. Of course the fortunes, wealth and prestige of these families would wax and wane over time, but because the alberghi clans were each led by elders (demogeronts) who together formed an over-arching grand-clan or super-albergho it was always possible for member families to make private agreements with the others to get back into the game. For this reason, and for almost 400 years, members of this aristocracy of about 20 families almost invariably married among themselves and quite commonly married a second cousin from within their own clan. It took the First World War to break the chain. . .

Anyway. . . by the end of the C18th the Chian clans were trading in the Mediterranean ports of Trieste, Livorno, Marseilles, Smyrna and Pera's port at Galata as well as in the Black Sea ports of Trebizond, Taganrog and Odessa where they dominated the Danube and Ukraine grain trade on which Europe's growing populations now depended.

X X X X X Since I don't have time to talk in any detail about all the other Mediterranean and Black Sea colonies, Trieste provides a representative example of the genre. Here Chian Greeks used profits from the grain trade to build huge palazzos. These houses typically combined warehouses and offices on the ground floor and large opulent private apartments on the floors above - a few of which have survived - as has the Greek hospital (though its roof line has now been slightly altered).

X X X X X X The very large neo-classical Greek church was opened in 1782 and dominates the quay. It was sponsored by 63 heads of household and was intended for a large congregation. Both the houses and the church are evidence of a Chian community that was sure of its place. Outside Trieste, on a hill top, the community established a beautiful Orthodox cemetery with views across to Istria. And following the example of their cousins in Wallachia and Moldavia they founded schools to preserve the Greek language in preparation for eventual independence.

X And by the early 1800s Chians had good reason to believe that independence was not far off. By now they had access at the highest political levels in capitals such as St Petersburg and Istanbul. Other Greeks from the islands and the mainland (especially from Macedonia) were firmly established in Vienna.

X The intelligence circulating in these capitals was promising if confusing because, by 1800, Europe was in unprecedented turmoil. After 500 years the Ottoman Empire was in the early stages of terminal decline. Meanwhile the emerging Russian Empire wanted control of the Black Sea and was counting on the support of her fellow-Orthodox 'princely' friends in Moldavia and Wallachia. More significant still, as we've seen, Napoleon held much of Europe and had ambitions to take Istanbul and even Russia herself. How would it all end? The intelligence gathered by the Chian trading networks was probably as good, if not better, than that gathered by Europe's great powers.

X One man who read the runes correctly was Stephanos Ralli of Chios who, by 1800, was the father of five sons and four daughters. Alarm bells must have rung when, in 1798, Nelson destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of The Nile, thus ending Napoleon's chances of taking Istanbul by the back door. British ships now patrolled the Mediterranean uncontested and orthodox Russia replaced catholic France as chief claimant to Istanbul.

The message was clearer still when Nelson defeated Napoleon's fleet at Trafalgar in 1805. Stephanos Ralli realised immediately that Europe's centre of gravity had dramatically shifted towards London. Istanbul was no longer first prize. He reacted immediately. He ceased trading through Chios and concentrated all his Russian grain business in Trieste and Livorno, so avoiding French trade sanctions.

XAnd when Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, three of Stephanos' sons were immediately dispatched to London to establish a new branch. Another son formed a head office in Marseilles while the fifth, Ioannis, ran the Odessa branch. And ten years later, by 1827, London became the headquarters of Ralli Brothers. It's worth noting now that within the next one hundred years Ralli Brothers was to operate on five continents as the largest merchant trading company in the world.

Between 1818 and 1821, in the run-up to the Greek War of Independence, these Ralli brothers, along with many other Chian traders, played a vital role providing a secure means of communication across Europe for partners of the largely Russian-backed and very secret Philiki Eteria which was busy plotting the 1821 insurrection. It seems likely that the ciphers they used as code in their commercial communications served the Greek cause too.

XHere is just a random example of how this worked. In around 1818, Theodoris Ralli - described as one of the three most prominent men of Chios - included among his many activities a business with a fellow Chian Ioannis Argenti exporting cloth from Manchester to Argenti's father-in-law Constantine Ionides in Istanbul.

X X X This Ioannis Argenti meanwhile had strong family connections in Vienna and cousins with businesses in Marseilles. Meanwhile, Theodoris Ralli's principal business was the Russian grain trade managed, as we've seen, by his cousin Ioannis Ralli in Odessa. Thus there was almost seamless communication between London, Marseilles, Vienna, Chios, the Phanar and Odessa.

XWhat's more, George Rodocanachi of Livorno was banker not only to many of the Greek community there - including the Ralli brothers - but also to Lord Byron. And who was among the first to recruit Byron to the Greek cause? Why none other than the Phanariot Prince Alexander Mavrocordato, whose despotic forebears we met in the Danubian provinces a few minutes ago.

X X And he was a close cousin too of the Mavrogordato and Ralli families from Chios. . . And, as you know, it was this Prince Alexander Mavrocordato who was destined to become the first president of Greece. . .

X As a footnote, would you be surprised to hear that the governess to Byron's grandchildren, Mary Ann Chadwell, found her next employment with Pandia Ralli, the senior of the Ralli brothers in London? Anyway, it was through many such arcane networks that the Greek cause was promoted so successfully in Britain. Turkish intelligence could never compete. Indeed their Greek advisers were quite likely to have been members of the secret Philiki Eteria.

X Sad to say, when the 1821 war of independence broke out with rebellions and reprisals on the mainland, one of its first prominent victims was the Theodoris Ralli we've just met. Chios being among the richest of the Ottoman possessions - a sort of Hong Kong - the Sultan was determined not to lose it, and was surely aware that he had been betrayed both by the Phanar Greeks and by his specially favoured Chian subjects. In January 1822 he summoned to Istanbul the three most prominent men of Chios. The three - Theodoris Ralli, Pandely Rodocanachi and Michael Schilizzi - duly set sail. On arrival they were immediately imprisoned in the notorious Bostandgi Bashi prison amid a blaze of publicity. Eventually they were executed along with about seventy other prominent Greeks from the Phanar - including the Greek Patriarch, which was tantamount to murdering a head of state - and in due course most leading Chians in Istanbul were arrested and killed. But this was only the start. . .

X X My first encounter with the Massacres of Chios was in the early 1960s when I was about 14. My grandfather, Michel E. T. D. Vlasto, handed me this watch, made in the late 1790s by the great Paris watchmaker Breguet. Typically diffident, my grandfather said it probably wasn't worth keeping. It had belonged, he said, to a forebear who had been hanged. "Why hanged?" I asked. "Oh my dear child, I hate to think," he replied. Within my family no one of his generation had ever referred to the massacres of Chios. Nor it seemed had his father's generation - which takes us back to the 1860s. I suspect the subject of the massacres had become a taboo by the mid- 1850s when the last of the survivors simply decided not to burden their children and grandchildren with so much tragedy.

X Historians wrote of the massacres, Delacroix painted them and all of Europe had been profoundly shocked by them. But for the survivors the subject was too painful. And yet four generations of my Vlasto grandfathers had kept Loucas Vlasto's watch and passed it on in silence. . .

X On Chios, by 1822, the message from Istanbul was clear: if they took up arms their island lay only a couple of miles off the Turkish coast and could be easily overwhelmed. Furthermore their remaining relations in Istanbul would be killed. So the Chians played for time.

X X X X But when a squadron of Greek vessels from Hydra was seen on the horizon the Turkish governor reacted by demanding that hostages from the principal families be held in a dungeon in the Kastro. The governor then called in Turkish troops from the mainland. But the fabled riches of Chios were too tempting. The troops immediately started looting and harassing the population. The governor, holed up in the Kastro, now demanded more and more hostages until he had 75 heads of household from 30 of the principal families. (The dungeon survives, with a plaque recording the event.)

Then disaster struck. Chios was invaded by about five hundred Greeks from the neighbouring island of Samos. They interpreted the Chian inactivity as a sign of treachery and thus an excuse to rob, loot and terrorise the Chians. Prince Alexander Mavrocordato, now head of the provisional Greek government in Corinth, was well aware of the dilemma facing his Chian cousins but the help he sent was too little and too late.

X X X X The presence of the Samians on the island now provoked the Sultan to extreme measures. First - on the, 8th May 1822 - some 47 of the hostages held in the Kastro were led out of their dungeon, semi-naked, Archbishop Plato Franghiadi at their head, and they were hanged in the main square. (A memorial in Vounaki Square records the names of most of them.)

Then a Turkish fleet arrived and unleashed its fury, its troops producing one of the most appalling massacres in modern history. Twenty-five thousand men, women and children were butchered wholesale. Scores were hanged from the spars of the Turkish admiral's flagship. Corpses rotted in piles all over the island and eventually blocked the harbour. Towns and villages were destroyed. Women and children clustering for shelter in the monastery at Nea Moni were slaughtered. Others deliberately jumped to their deaths from the cliffs at Anavatos to avoid rape or worse.

Altogether about three quarters of the population were either killed, taken as slaves or forced into flight. And the atrocities were deliberately obscene. My distant cousin, the distinguished historian Peter Calvocoressi concludes: ". . . a terrible truth comes through: the aim was the virtual annihilation of the population and their homes. . ."

I calculate that 1,000 or so of the Chian élite survived the massacres. Some happened to be abroad at the time, others got away early on merchant boats. The majority however were overtaken by events and had to run the gauntlet of the marauding Turks and Samians. These people trekked across the island by night with what they could carry and the lucky ones were plucked from the western beaches by seamen from the neighbouring island of Psara where they were offered temporary sanctuary.

X I don't want to dwell on the Chios massacres - they form a subject in themselves. But I do think there have been serious misconceptions concerning them. First, the people who suffered most were the overwhelming majority who were poor - the servants, serfs and peasants - who had no means of buying their escape and whose security depended on a very small élite who were now being forced to abandon them. We know almost nothing of their fate apart from the mute piles of skulls and bones such as those conserved at Nea Moni. Few enough records survived the 1822 devastation but the appalling earthquake in 1881 destroyed nearly everything that remained and incidentally killed another 5,600 people.

And while the élite could have read some sort of crazed rationale in the mind of an enraged Sultan, no one could have persuaded the poor that butchering them would help either the Greek or Turkish causes. Later, when the Chian diaspora poured colossal sums into Greece to found schools and hospitals - many of which still exist - I suspect that it was not jingoism that motivated them but a collective unease that the poor of Chios - and of Greece generally - had paid too high a price.

The other misconception concerns the survivors. From all the evidence in the thousands of records of individuals Sarah and I have studied, nothing suggests that the Chian élite regarded themselves as victims. Some of their stories are harrowing but nowhere does one detect self-pity or any anger against the Turks or Samians.

Twenty year-old Oriettou Rodocanachi (née Vlasto) reached Trieste with her husband and three children but died almost immediately of exhaustion. Her death is accepted with grief.

Children were separated from their parents in the dark and confusion but were adopted by other Chians without hesitation. Thousands of women and children were taken to the brothels and slave markets of Asia Minor - but no one swears vengeance against the Turks.

Peter Calvocoressi asserts that two of his great-grandfathers were taken into slavery and that it took their relatives ten years in each case to find them and buy them back, in one instance, for the price of a ring. And in fact there were now so many slaves in Asia Minor that slave market prices collapsed.

X X Costi Ralli of Liverpool simply implores his children, in his Will, to marry Greeks of the Orthodox faith, to help their mother country, not to forget that their relatives perished unjustly at the hands of the Turks and that 'I myself was sold as a slave'. There's not a hint of bitterness.

X X X John Schilizzi describes in a matter-of-fact way that, although his father Stephanis was already dead, his brother Zannis, his mother and his sister were captured by the Turks at Mosta. Zannis was taken to Smyrna but ransomed by a family friend, while the women were able to escape to Livorno. John himself spent almost a year as a prisoner on a Turkish ship before his relations discovered his whereabouts and paid his ransom.

X X X What John does not mention, however, is that his sister had earlier been forced at knifepoint to watch her husband, Petros Paul Rodocanachi being beheaded in their own garden while she stood on their once-peaceful balcony with her baby son in her arms.

X The only jaundiced testimony comes in the memoirs of Emmanuel Scaramanga who was undoubtedly influenced by several sad events in his subsequent life on Syros.

X X Very few of the Chians we'll meet from now on did not lose close relatives, but the survivors appear to have kept their grief to themselves even if their expressions betray them as in these portraits of Zenni Vlasto and her husband Pandely Mavrogordato.

X X X The Chian massacres produced refugees unlike any others we come across in modern history. They were a small island community with a strong sense of identity and were more often than not related by blood or by marriage. They knew each other well and were accustomed to cooperating. They all had substantial assets - and many were extremely rich by any standards. They were highly educated and multi-lingual. They had a sophisticated knowledge of the world and of the causes and effects of the events they were living through. Owing to their trading activities they were usually well travelled, with good connections in ports all around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Some even had close relatives or business partners in London where the whole of the growing British Empire awaited their entrepreneurial skills. I suspect that the massacres only hastened a migration that would have occurred quite naturally during the remainder of the century - which was precisely what happened in the case of the Phanar Greeks.

X X X Returning to the Phanar Greeks for a moment. . . When the Turks realised they had killed their golden geese on Chios, the Sultans offered reform and liberalism particularly aimed at persuading the Phanar Greeks to remain. But throughout the middle and latter years of the C19th, Phanariot families left for Marseilles and London while others regarded Romania as their birthright. The Chryssoveloni family, for example, established banks in Bucharest and in London. (I've included this Rolls Royce because it was bought by Jean when he was establishing his London bank and it became famous in Bucharest. What's more, it has survived and is now being restored. . .)

X X X X Tselebis Ianko Zarifi provides another good example of a Phanariot in the C19th. Born in 1770 he lived in the Phanar and traded wine between Constantinople and Odessa. In 1821, having been a secret financial supporter of the Philiki Eteria, he fled to Odessa, with family and friends in a chartered ship, where he was welcomed by Tsar Alexander l. But so desperate were the Turks for Greek skills that Ianko's son George Zarifi returned to Istanbul to set up the Ottoman state bank and to become banker to the Sultan himself. Unlike the desperate flight of the Chian refugees in 1822, the Phanar Greeks simply melted away from Istanbul when it suited them - even if they kept their beautiful sea-front houses in Therapia where families would gather from all over Europe for holidays.

Anyway. . . back to Chios. . . Immediately after the massacres nearly every Chian refugee passed through Syros in the Cyclades. For some it was merely a transit stop on the way to Trieste, Livorno or Marseilles. But the majority who had no obvious destination elsewhere settled on Syros and created a sort of new Chios - even renaming the town Ermoupolis (after Hermes the god of commerce).

Syros lay on a good sea-lane and Chians continued to live there until well into the C20th. But it was always a backwater. The trading capitals of the future were not in the Aegean and the great days of the Black Sea trade were numbered. The Crimean War was looming.

A better destination for those with ambition but more modest means was Alexandria where, it has to be said, their fortunes did not stay modest for long. In Egypt they spotted the next great speciality: cotton. Some of the largest Greek fortunes ever made involved Chians in Alexandria exporting cotton to Chians in Liverpool for manufacture into cloth in Manchester from where it was re-exported around the world by Chians in London. Families such as the Benachi, Rodocanachi, Sinadino, Zervoudachi, Zizinia and Choremi came to dominate this extremely lucrative trade which lasted about 100 years, only ceasing when President Nasser nationalised most of Egypt in the 1950s. (But by then of course a whole new breed of Chian was cornering sectors of a new shipping market.)

Apart from Alexandria and Trieste the other favoured destination in the Mediterranean in the aftermath of 1822 was Marseilles. Fortunately the massacres had occurred seven years after Napoleon had left the scene and France was desperate to rebuild her economy. Families such as the Argenti, Petrocochino, Ralli, Rodocanachi and Sechiari had had a presence there before the massacres but their numbers now grew.

X X X Following the Trieste pattern they built the inevitable church, a cemetery and a school. They quickly dominated commerce in the port though their fortunes really took off when the Zarifi and Zafiropoulo families abandoned Istanbul in the mid C19th, intermarried with Chians and established merchant banks as an even more profitable adjunct to trade. Some, such as the Argenti and Sechiari families later established their headquarters in London but most acquired land in the 'Prado' quarter of Marseilles and a few of their houses still exist - as does the Zarifi bank.

X But England was the preferred destination for the majority of the Chian diaspora in the first half of the C19th, followed later by another large contingent from Smyrna - families such as the Kessisoglu, Balli and Demetriadi. Britain was not just a bigger island than Chios. Its solid Victorian values based on family, self-determination and free enterprise appealed to Chians and Phanariots who found themselves at the centre of the world's largest empire - much as Constantinople had been.

X X X X Scores of these families established businesses in and around Finsbury Circus where Ralli Brothers was already well known and where Alexander Ionides, another early arrival, provided a room in his offices for the community to use as a chapel. By 1849 they had built themselves a church - the Church of Our Saviour - in nearby London Wall.

X Broadly speaking they specialised in three activities. First there was the cotton trade (which linked London, Liverpool and Manchester with merchants in Egypt, the American South and increasingly India).

Second was merchant banking which linked London with Greek communities throughout the Mediterranean and in European capital cities. In fact so strong were these international links that young men in London would very frequently choose a bride from among their cousins overseas.

X X Finally there was Ralli Brothers which eventually dwarfed all the others and was involved not only in cotton and banking but came to dominate world trade in commodities of all sorts, notably in India. In fact, between 1830 and the 1890s most of England's Chian families provided young men who worked for Ralli Brothers in Britain or abroad at some stage in their lives. On the whole they adopted the British pattern of working abroad and returning home to Britain to retire.

X But in the case of the USA, there are still Agelasto, Ralli, Negroponte and Rodocanachi families living there - descendants of merchants who followed Nicholas Benachi to New Orleans in search of cotton. In fact this painting by Dégas in 1872 shows Alexander M. Agelasto in the New Orleans cotton office. . .

Back to London. . . We calculate that the heart of the Chian and Phanariot community in England never numbered much more than about 600-700 at any one time with perhaps another 500 or so throughout the rest of Europe.

X X X In Liverpool families such as the Vlastos and Pallis built huge houses in places like Sefton Park and had a church to match. The church in Manchester was no less grand.

X In London so many of the community settled into the large, newly built villas in the then very fashionable area of Bayswater that a new church, St Sophia's, was established there in Moscow Road in 1877. Gazettes of the period show Greek families owned whole stretches of Westbourne Terrace, Inverness Terrace, Porchester Terrace and Pembridge Gardens.

X As a broad generalisation, the Chian families tended to congregate between Hyde Park Corner and Notting Hill Gate while the Phanar families were more often found around Holland Park. For example, Constantine Ionides lived at 1 Holland Park.

X X X This is a picture from the interior of the original house which was destroyed by incendiary bombs in World War ll and is now the site of the Greek embassy. Pandia Ralli, head of the Greek community until his death in 1865, lived in Connaught Square. But wherever they had lived they nearly all ended up together in the Greek cemetery at West Norwood in South London. . .

X X X Those who were particularly successful sought a refuge in the country - reminiscent of those country villas on Chios. Eustratius S. Ralli had a villa on Clapham Common (then a rural area) that he called 'Scio House'. And Peter P. Rodocanachi retired to a house in Sussex that he called 'Chios'.

X Contrary to some accounts, I find these immigrants integrated into English society extremely quickly. Sons were immediately sent to conventional schools such as Eton, Harrow, Winchester and Charterhouse. Most of them became merchants and bankers like their fathers although an increasingly large proportion became surgeons, academics, writers, artists and philanthropists. This took them into the heart of English society at many levels. As early as 1854 the very conservative City of London happily accepted Stephen Ralli and Michael Rodocanachi as founders of the Baltic Exchange in which they had the largest shareholdings.

X And a few of the first generation of their daughters rejected marriage with an inevitable Chian cousin, and leapt effortlessly into the British establishment. Julia Ralli, daughter of the head of the Greek community in London, married Charles Monk who became an MP and was the son of the bishop of Gloucester & Bristol. Julia's cousin Janie married the Hon. Richard Moreton, son of the Earl of Ducie and became lady in waiting to the Duchess of Albany.

X Janie's brother Pandely Ralli became a J.P., Deputy Lieutenant for Dorset, a Liberal MP for two constituencies and the life-long intimate friend of Lord Kitchener who stayed with him whenever he was in England. In the next generation Fay Zarifi married Claude Yorke, son of the Earl of Hardwicke.

X At the other extreme were men such as Petros Vlasto and his father-in-law Alexander Pallis who remained deeply attached to a Greece they had never really known. Together, from their homes in Liverpool, they campaigned relentlessly for a Demotic Greek language, writing and publishing furiously for the new Greek nation. Pallis' works even provoked the famous Gospel Riots in Athens in 1901.

X X X But, not surprisingly, younger generations found the community increasingly claustrophobic. Most did as they were told, marrying cousins and joining the family firm. But cracks were appearing. For example, by 1869, the great art patron and collector Alexander Ionides was proudly commissioning works by pre-Raphaelite painters and was even prepared to let his daughter, Aglaïa model for Burne-Jones's The Mill in which her cousins Marie Spartali and Mary Cassavetti also appear - the famous Three Graces. But Alexander was not so happy to hear that Mary Cassavetti had become Burne-Jones's mistress and still less happy when Mary tried to drown herself and Burne-Jones in Regent's Canal when he refused to leave his wife.

X X In the end Ionides left his extraordinary collection to the Victoria & Albert Museum where it has recently been re-hung. These photographs show part of the collection as he had it arranged at home.

Like nearly all immigrant communities, the first generation was more than willing to adapt itself to the new surroundings but didn't like to see their children and grandchildren rejecting the traditions and norms of an old culture these younger generations had never really known. Some were willing to comply while others rebelled.

X X George Eumorfopoulos, whose colossal collection of Chinese artworks is now at the British Museum, dutifully followed the demands of the community - choosing a wife to whom he was related in seven different ways and a career with Ralli Brothers. Two of his brothers, however, married working-class girls (probably servants). The evidence is clear: the community excluded them and their progeny.

X X Mostly however, the Greeks of London slowly became more English. By Derby Day in 1901 they almost looked the part as here when members of the Ralli, Demetriadi, Schilizzi, Ionides and Mavrojani families gathered at Pandia Ralli's home at Ashstead Park.

X X X X Yet in their private lives some of the flavour of Chios and the Phanar remained as in the furnishings of these Ralli and Vlasto Liverpool houses. From the evidence of hundreds of pictures from the years just before the First World War, the gap between the generations is clear.

X X X On the one hand the older generation is intensely proud of its achievements and of the luxuries their success has brought them. But others show rich, spoilt young men and idle, bored young women who must have been longing for something to happen, something challenging and unexpected. . . and 1914 brought them that.

X I'm going to end my talk here, at the First World War. When a community can send off its young men to die for their country (whether for Britain, France, Austria or Russia) it's a sign - if a tragic sign - that the community has come of age in its new home. The old Ottoman empire was dead. A vigorous new Greek nation was emerging. The old torchbearers of the Phanar and of Chios had done their job.

X Over the next 50 years or so most of their descendants slowly lost contact with their origins. . . And yet. . . that said. . . I too will pass on Loucas Vlasto's pocket watch. . .

See Family History Pages

See The Massacres of Chios

See The Houses of Chios

See Genealogies of Chios and Phanar Families

See Main Index

Unfortunately there is room on this page for only small versions of approximately 130 images that illustrated the original talk. For this reason some of the references in the above piece may not be as clear as I would like - C.A.L.


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