100 Generations 2,500 Years of Migration
For 100 generations and for 2,500 years one particular family has played a pivotal rôle in the history of the Mediterranean and the birth of what we call Western civilisation. Their descendants exist to this day. While rulers and empires came and went, members of the Greek Vlasto family always found themselves at the centre of events. Cited in numerous historical documents as people who made history, their unique story one of constant migration has never been told.
[See below for a scripted 'sample' of how this subject might be introduced}
A study of identity, power and migration (the evolving and competing roles of family dynasties, trading empires, city states and nationalism).
This TV production and video part-work will be a broad-brush, location-based adventure through more than 2,000 years of Mediterranean history. It will explore the empires, personalities and key events that produced what we call Western civilisation. But it will explain these epic events through the eyes of succeeding generations of one family who not only witnessed them but were key players in them.
The production will be presented and co-scripted by the British broadcaster and journalist Christopher Long, a direct descendant of this family. He will seek to rediscover his roots in the expert company of historians, archaeologists, genealogists, etc., with Christopher getting answers to questions (representing the viewer) that will set the discoveries in context and explain the historical background. These enquiries will take is throughout the Black Sea and the Mediterranean in search of the key developments and influences that have helped to make us the people we are today.
The series will ideally consist of 4 x 50' episodes, intended for a world-wide audience with multiple language availability and adaptable for use in a stand-alone video/educational part-work.
Proposed scope of the four episodes:
1. OCEANS 500 BC 330 AD Ocean empires, the Greeks and their trading empires in the Black Sea (Varna) and Mediterranean, St Peter & the Bible, Rome (Vlasto monument).
2. CITIES 330 1822 Byzantium and its colonies (Crete and Chios), Arabs, Venetians, Genoese, Catalans, Normans, Ottomans, etc.
3. ISLANDS 1822 1823 Crete and Chios
4. NATIONS 1822 2000 Nationalism. Diaspora. London, Paris, Vienna, New York, World Wars l & ll, collapse of European empires, collapse of family dynasty, etc.
The Ionian Peninsula, Varna (Romania), Black Sea, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Rome, Constantinople, Crete, Chios, Smyrna, Genoa, Venice, Athens, Psara, Trieste, Livorno, Vienna, London, Liverpool, Marseille, Buchenvald, etc.
[Image: Narrator to camera as war correspondent, standing on a Balkan frontier]
It all began with a watch. This watch.
My Greek grandfather gave it to me when I was sixteen.
It was made by Breguet, the greatest watchmaker of the 18th Century, in about 1780. It's made of gold and studded with pearls.
I complained that it had strange numerals and that it was rather damaged.
He smiled and shrugged.
"My grandfather Dimitri Vlasto gave it me. His father Michael Vlasto gave it to him. But the man who originally owned it was a cousin, Loucas Vlasto and just before he was hanged he gave it to Michael. They were refugees you see."
When you're sixteen you don't know whether to take such things seriously. It was several years before I realised the dreadful truth behind the words my grandfather, another Michael Vlasto, appeared to have spoken so lightly.
We're standing on the border of Bosnia and Croatia [... or Macedonia/Kosovo].
[Image: Narrator in Dalmatia]
This is the Balkans and this is where I've been working for the last ten years as a reporter. It was at this very spot, at this frontier post in the Spring of 1992, that I became perhaps the first foreign reporter to witness the tragic first exodus of thousands of refugees from the war in the Balkans. For eight years I was to see it again and again throughout Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.
[Image: Archive: Trails of refugees at the frontier]
Over the years I've seen tens of thousands of refugees and come to know many hundreds of them. Behind those hills over there lay their burning farms, their slaughtered livestock, their shattered homes and apartment blocks and the destruction of everything that was familiar and loved.
[Image: Archive: Destroyed farms, shattered cities, corpses, etc]
I won't bore you with who did what to whom. Yes, it involved Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims. But they were all just people people like you and me. As for the refugees, all they had left in the world was what they carried with them. Sometimes I would wander up into the hills and meet the men who swigged another beer, checked their co-ordinates and fine-tuned their sights, before launching another artillery bombardment on villages in the valleys below.
[Image: Archive: Back to images of refugees]
To me they were all quite indistinguishable: these aggressors in one valley who became victims in the next. Why did they do it? Was anything worth the price in human misery?
[Image: Narrator at old, empty check-point]
Standing here I watched as the refugees humbly stood in line begging to be let across the frontier to safety.
[Image: Narrator pulling objects from pocket for camera]
Of course, if they had had one of these, a passport or even one of these, a plastic UN card with Press written on it they could have walked through with their heads held high. Instead, with blank expressions they allowed tractors, wagons and cars to be stolen from them in the dark. Silently they stood still as they were relieved of jewellery and wedding rings by the guards. With their eyes closed the younger women submitted to grubby fingers probing their vaginas for more hidden valuables behind that hut over there.
[Image: some sort of collage of: Ellis Island 1930s, Irish famine, Kurdistan, Highland clearances, emigrants boarding ships, Indo/Pakistan 1947, etc.]
What would become of these people who appeared to have no identity, no status, no belongings and who themselves belonged nowhere and had nowhere to go? Well, the truth is that nearly all of us come from refugee stock people who had to flee from famine, disease, oppression or the brutality of neighbours.
[Image: Narrator at old, empty check-point]
And over there in Bosnia from 1992 onwards, I even watched people handing over their watches in return for freedom, favours or food. I saw the same thing in Kosovo in 1999. Unlike this watch of mine, those were watches that would never tell a future great-great-great grandson anything at all. This one the one my grandfather gave me and which is five generations old does indeed have strange, foreign numerals. It comes from far away, from another culture. I too am the descendent of refugees. And so, for reasons I'm still puzzling over, I've been using my breaks from reporting wars and genocide to explore my own roots... to turn back the clock and see where it would lead me.
In the end the hands have wound their way back 100 generations and 2,500 years a long way from 'home', wherever that may be...
A CHRONOLOGY of events, with particular reference to the Vlasto family, from the time of ancient Greece to the C20th (with particular reference to Rome, Byzantium, the Ottomans, the Genoese, the Venetians and the emergence of Europe's nation states), demonstrating how the story of one family and their migrations are woven into the ebb and flow of historical events:
N.B. Any inconsistencies in dates given below during the period of the Massacres of Chios result from the fact that two different calendars were employed for this region. The 1582 Gregorian calendar, which replaced the Julian calendar in many European countries, was not adopted by Protestant England until 1752 accounting for a 'loss' of 11 days and was not adopted by Greece and Turkey until 1923 and 1926 respectively, resulting in the 'loss' of 12 or 13 days. It is not always clear which calendar is being used in some cases below. Ironically, it was partly in order to overcome related calendar problems that in c.180 AD, in Rome, the early Christian leader Vlasto tried but failed to 'fix' the date of Easter: see below. c. 2600 2000 BC (Proto-Helladic period) Emborios established on Chios
c. 1600 1100 BC (Mycenaean period) Phana established on Chios
c. 750 500 BC Kerofilas believes that the hellenic Vlasto family are among those to establish or conquer and then develop many of the region's great trading ports, such as Odessus (now Varna). These pioneers are crucial to all subsequent Mediterranean history since the emergence of its great civilisations depend upon this supply of Black Sea grain, fish and other foodstuffs to feed their growing populations. Such 'Greeks' are believed to have been active in establishing other Greek ports such as Alexandria and Marseilles.
Neal Ascherson: "The first Greeks reached the northern Black Sea coast and set up permanent trading posts there in the eighth century BC... [Eventually it was this encounter between steppe nomads and settled city-state 'citizens' that was to give 'Europeans' a definition of themselves and which allowed them to distinguish Westerners from the ever-threatening 'inferior infidel' the barbarian from the east] ... the colonists... were mostly Ionian Greeks from the islands and towns along the coast of Asia Minor. Anyway, they were obliged to be pragmatists if they were to survive out on the rim of the known world. It was not ideology which had brought them and their fathers through the Bosphorus and across the Black Sea, but fish. Even by the seventh century, the Aegean city-states were beginning to exhaust the limited arable land around their walls, and it was hunger that drove their ships to the north and east. [Eventually they persuaded the indigenous peoples around the mouths of the great rivers to plough the land and grow wheat. It was Black Sea steppe wheat that fed the world, as far away as Britain, until North American wheat arrived in the late nineteenth century] ... [It was from these beginnings that Pericles led his great naval expedition into the Black Sea in 447 BC a mission made easier by preparatory spade-work of Herodotus]493 BC Destruction of Chios in the Persian Wars by the Persians who, under the Achaemenid kings, invade the Aegean islands in 490-480 BC and are defeated at Marathon and Salamis.
[Two rich shipping dynasties, the Heroson and Protogenes families effectively ruled in Olbia. Were the Vlastos doing much the same in Odessus (Varna)?
The Arkadi Monastery, Crete. Inscriptions within the building identify members of the Vlasto family among those who founded and built it.
1092-1669 The Vlastos in Crete (translated from Noblesse Européenne)A great deal of important information on the Vlasto family in Crete is yet to be gathered from Les Vlasto, Une Famille Patricienne Crétoise. This includes the story of Syphis Vlasto, the terrorist leader of an independence movement (against the occupying Venetians) who, with a daughter, was eventually betrayed, tortured and killed (see below).
"... the historical record of this family starts on Crete in 1092 when, to suppress an insurrection, Byzantium sends them there (among twelve Greek aristocrats and their families), giving them the fertile Messara Plain and with orders to pacify the island.
As feudal leaders the Vlasto take command of several rebellions against Venice in 1207, 1283, 1341, 1363 and finally in 1454 when Syphis (Xyphilinos) Vlasto and his family are tortured to death by the [Venetian] authorities.
When, in 1669, following the Turkish victory in the War of Candia, the Venetian general Francesco Morosini organised a retreat of the Cretan nobles to what remained of the Venetian territories in the Levant, the Vlastos re-established themselves in the Ionian Islands and in Istria.
However, feudal Vlastos are found in Zante in 1509, included in the Livre d'Or in 1574 and as merchants and feudal landowners in Chios, married to the Calerghi family, where their armorials are displayed above the porticoes of their houses in the Vlastoudika quarter.
In Cephalonia, in 1592, an Antonio Vlasto was created a knight by a Palatine count of Lalran and a Knight of Saint Mark by the Doge, Pasquale Cigogna..."
The Vlasto 'double-eagle'.
The Giustiniani medical chest, now at the Science Museum, London, which once belonged to the family of the Genoese Giustiniani family who governed Chios from 1346 to 1566.
One of the many towers around the vast Chios Kastro, built in Byzantine times and subsequently much altered by succeeding invaders such as the Genoese, the Venetians and the Ottoman Turks. It was to play a key role in 1821-22, being the home of the Turkish governor, the pasha, and the last defence of his Ottoman troops when Logothetis and his rabble army of 'liberators' from neighbouring Samos invaded and ransacked the island.
A view of The Chora, the town of Chios
A C16th view of The Kastro, Chios.
"... The branch of the Vlasto family established in Istria quickly recovered its former pre-eminent position. According to charters granted to them, they sacrificed their blood and their lives in gallant public service (i.e. in the Turkish Wars), recovered their fortunes, converted to Catholicism and made marriages with Venetian patriarchal families such as the Balbi, Harozvi, Premarin, Priuli and Corner. Such excellent alliances meant that these Vlastos were granted the rank of ??? Originaria (if not included in the Libro d'Oro of Venice) and, according to a charter of 31-08-1774, invested as Counts with 'hereditary noble territories', having conducted themselves 'with merit and decorum and having fulfilled with honour the degree of nobility uniquely necessary in the concession of such a title'.
One member of this [Cephalonia] branch, Gregory Vlasto, related to the Borisi and Mamuca della Torre and son-in-law of Prince of Wallachia Serban Cantacuzene, put himself at the service of Austria as imperial counsellor after the annexation by the Habsburgs of Wallachia following the Treaty of Passarovitz (1718). Emperor Leopold l gave him the hereditary title of Baron du Saint-Empire by a charter of 10-01-1733. On this occasion the charter specifies, among much else, that the 'generous, magnificent and well-born' Gregory Vlasto is entitled to bear arms everywhere: 'on foot, on horseback, on military exercises, in battle, in all authorised duels or jousts, on standards, flags, tents, sepulchres, monuments, jewellery, rings, chains, buckets, buildings, windows, doors, tapestries, silverware' etc..."
[No descendants of these particular Vlastos are known to exist.]
The earliest known image of a Vlasto above left may be that of Zannis Vlasto (1) (b. 1695) of Chios. If so, his wife above centre is Maria Argenti (b. 1696) and one of their three children is the only daughter above right, Vierou Vlasto (1722-1748).
Adamantios Koraïs & The Koraïs Library, Chios.
Go next to:
Events in 1814-1822
The Greek War of Indpendence
events immediately prior to the 1822 Massacres of Chios
Scenes from The Massacres At Chios by Eugène Delacroix captured the public's imagination and sympathy in 1824 when it was bought by King Charles X of France for the Louvre. It also captured the imagination of the author who was introduced to it quite suddenly, in 1961, at the age of twelve.
© (1998) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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