Types - Guilds - Greece (under Ottoman / Venetian rule)



Most of the Greek territory of the dissolved Byzantine Empire gradually became and remained part of the Ottoman Empire from the fifteenth century until the declaration of independence in 1821: a historical period also known as “Tourkokratia”. The Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453 and advanced southwards into Greece, capturing Athens in 1458. The Greeks held out in the Peloponnese until 1460. By 1500 most of the plains of Greece were in Ottoman hands.


On the other hand, Crete – then known as the Duchy of Candia (Ducato di Candia) – was an overseas colony of the Republic of Venice from the initial Venetian conquest in 1205-1212 to its fall to the Ottoman Empire during the Cretan War (1645-1669). Moreover, the Ionian Islands were only briefly ruled by the Ottomans (Kefalonia from 1479 to 1481 and from 1485 to 1500), and remained primarily under the rule of Venice until their integration to Greece in 1864.


After the end of the Byzantine era, guilds (syntechnies) in the Greek territory re-emerged or continued their activity, obtaining new characteristics both under the Ottoman and Venetian rule. In each case, depending on their origins (Venetian or Ottoman), guilds were characterized by different functions sharing at the same time some common features.

Greek guilds under Ottoman / Venetian rule


Guilds (roufetia, isnafia) in the Ottoman colonies were reorganized during the sixteenth century, stabilized in the seventeenth century, and matured in the eighteenth century, while they gradually declined during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Efthimiou  2003, 326). According to some scholars, guilds were multiplied to such extent during the seventeenth century that it is justified to say that the whole population in Ottoman Empire was organized in an elaborated guild system (Baer 1979, 578). The main objectives of the guilds in Ottoman Empire, as well as elsewhere, were to control the producers and the production process, in order to achieve products’ stable price and quality, to avoid speculation and competition, to cover the needs of the local, mainly, market, and to assure the ethics of the community’s members (Efthimiou 2003, 325). 


From a more top-down point of view, in Ottoman Empire guilds and especially craft and merchant guilds were used:

  1. as means of administrative connection between the government and the urban population;
  2. as means of control on the quality of the products;
  3. as providers of necessary services and labor to the government;
  4. as providers of goods to the authorities and distribution of raw materials to the craftsmen;
  5. as bodies of arbitration in cases of disagreements between members in order  to forestall the interventions of the authorities;
  6. as bodies of charity for both members and non-members via a welfare fund.


Furthermore the pricing was done by the authorities and the guilds were to a large extent dependent on the government (Baer 1979,  580-8).


In relative contrast, the economic and fiscal functions of the guilds and especially of the craft and merchant guilds in the Greek territory under the Ottoman rule are emphasized by other scholars (Asdrachas 1983). The significant role of the guilds in the preservation of the economic equilibrium is expressed through various restrictive functions of the guilds, which aimed:

  1. to control the vertical mobility within each craft;
  2. to control the number and the identity (religious, ethnic) of the people who could practice a profession (Baer 1979, 599);
  3. to determine the cost of production in each phase of processing a manufactured product;
  4. to control the supply sources of raw materials;
  5. to determine, in cooperation with the representatives of the state and communal authorities, the maximum prices in local markets;
  6. to preserve the traditional methods in the production of goods (Asdrachas 1983, 98).


On the other hand, the guilds (scuolae, confraternitae, arti) in Venetian colonies were an amalgam of Byzantine and Western European characteristics. They emerged in the first Venetian period (starting from 1211) and were fully developed by the early decades of the seventeenth century. They were formed in parallel with the establishment of the Stato da Mar and the demographic increase of the cities (Panopoulou 2010, 155). In Crete they remained active until the island’s occupation by the Ottomans (in the middle of seventeenth century), while on the islands of Ionio they continued their action until 1797, when the Ionio islands became French colonies.


In contrast with their fellow institutions in the Ottoman Empire, guilds in territories under the Venetian rule are not considered as regulators of the economic life at that time (Panopoulou 2001, 444). Their main objective was to smoothen evolution of each profession and they were rather top-down institutions, controlled by the Venetian and local authorities. However, in some cases guilds had a representative role on city level, such as via the Consiglio del popolo that was established in Cyprus in the sixteenth century and included all the members of the guilds (Panopoulou 2001, 443).


In general, the common characteristics of the guilds in Venetian colonies and those in Ottoman colonies are their administrational organization and social role rather than their economic functions (Panopoulou 2001, 445).


The dissolution of the majority of the guilds in the Greek territory, both under the Ottoman and Venetian rule, took place mostly during the period from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. The causes of the guilds’ termination are not only internal but also external.  First of all, in contrast with the economic development of the most important Greek regions under the Ottoman Empire - such as Thessaloniki, Ioannina and Thessalia - during the eighteenth century (Papageorgiou 1988, 32), the nineteenth century is characterized by weak markets and low revenues for the guilds.


According to some scholars, the poor economic status of the members and the decline of the guild structures were caused both by the constant fiscal drain and most importantly by the high competition derived from the European industries (Papageorgiou 1988, 281-2). The fact that the guild system could not meet the needs of the capitalist development of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century was increasingly profound (Papageorgiou 1988, 283). The gradual deliberation of the Greek regions followed by socio-political instability during the same period simply “certified” the dissolution of the guilds and their replacement by professional associations with different characteristics and functions (Papageorgiou 1988, 285).



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