Subtypes - Guilds - Craft Guilds - Greece (under Ottoman / Venetian rule)

After the end of the Byzantine era, craft guilds, as all the other types of guilds, re-emerged or continued their activity all over the Greek territory, both under the Ottoman and Venetian rule. In the Ottoman Empire the periods of re-establishment, development and decline were the same for craft guilds as for the other types of guilds (click here for information on guilds in general in Greece under Ottoman / Venetian rule).


In contrast, for Venetian colonies it is known that first the nobles established religious fraternities, then the merchants and the bourgeois started to form professional associations and lastly the craftsmen and the lower social strata established craft guilds within the sixteenth century (Panopoulou 2001, 442). The first professional groups that, after being encouraged by the authorities, were organized as guilds were the craftsmen of the shipyard of Handaka in Crete (Panopoulou 2001, 443). 


In any case, there were a lot of similarities between the craft guilds in Ottoman colonies and those in Venetian ones. One of the major characteristics that craft guilds of both origins had in common, was the subdivision and fragmentation of craft guilds into guilds that were highly specialized and small in size (Baer 1979, 579). The fact that the number of craft guilds’ members was usually low (10-100) facilitated the institutions’ internal cohesion and control. Certainly, there were also multi-member craft guilds, such as the guild of watchmakers (12,000 members!) and the guild of candle makers (5,500 members) in Istanbul (Baer 1979, 579).


Another similarity is that both in the Ottoman Empire and the Venetian colonies the workshops of fellow craftsmen were concentrated in the same area, street or market, named as “tsarsi” or “bezesteni” for Ottoman guilds (Efthimiou 2003, 328-9). This aimed at a decrease of professional competition and a better control of the manufacture products by the authorities (Panopoulou 2010, 155).


Furthermore, in contrast with other types of guilds - such as the guild of money changers (sarafidhes) in Constantinople, which included Greeks, Armenians, and Jews - the internal operations of the craft guilds were facilitated by the fact that in the vast majority of cases their members shared the same religious beliefs and ethnic identity (Baer 1979, 604). Both in the Ottoman Empire and in the Venetian colonies the heterogeneous - in terms of religious affiliation and ethnicity - craft guilds were the exception, rather than the rule. Women’s participation depended on the region and the profession. For example, in the case of weavers (abatzidhes), who could work at home, women often participated (Efthimiou 2003, 329).


Moreover, the hierarchy inside the workshops (master - apprentice - servant), the apprenticeship contracts, the internal structure and the leadership of the craft guilds, the guilds’ charters as well as their relation to the church, their social role and charitable work are all common aspects of the craft guilds in Ottoman colonies and those in Venetian ones.


In the Ottoman Empire the head of a workshop (master) was called “baskalis” or “oustabasis”, and was responsible for the control of the production and the promotion of the products, as well as for the remuneration of the craftsmen. The masters were the only ones who were members of the craft guilds and had the right to participate in decision-making and voting (Efthimiou 2003, 329). Similarly, in Venetian colonies the master was called “maistro” and had the right to practice a profession, own a workshop, and supervise the work of the apprentices and servants (Panopoulou 2010, 160). In both cases an apprentice (named as “kalfas” in the Ottoman colonies and “lavorante” in the Venetian ones) used to become a master when his knowledge and performance was certified and he paid a certain amount of money (mastoria) to the guild (Efthimiou 2003, 330). However, in the Ottoman Empire the duration of the apprenticeship had no limits, while in the Venetian colonies the average time spent for an apprenticeship was five years (Panopoulou 2010, p.159).


The management of the guilds was done by governing boards (consisting of up to twelve members in the case of Ottoman colonies), which were elected by the general assemblees of the guilds (named as “lontza” or “capitolio”, depending on the region). A craft guild’s leader, whose tenure was one to two years, was called “protomastoras” and was recognized by the communal authorities. He officially represented the guild and punished whoever violated the set rules (Efthimiou 2003, 331). In Venetian colonies the foundation act, the objectives, the regulation and the decisions of the guilds as well as the names of the members can be found in the so-called “mariegola”. The latter also determined the membership fees, which included an annual fee (luminaria) and an access fee (bona entrata), while there was a special charge for foreigners (Panopoulou 2010, 165). Exceptionally, in Crete the guilds were represented by the so-called “vardiani”, who were also the guardians or heads of the monasteries, where the guilds were based (Panopoulou 2010, 167).


Nevertheless, in both the Ottoman and Venetian colonies the craft guilds, as all other types of guilds, had a close relationship with the Church (Efthimiou 2003, 334) and a significant social activity, from founding schools and hospitals to donating for the old, weak or poor community members.


The craft guilds in the Greek territory both under the Ottoman and Venetian rule started to terminate their activity at the same period as the other types of guilds did and for similar reasons. The high competition derived from European industries and the structures of the intensive capitalist development in the nineteenth century eroded the level of socio-economic equality between the guilds’ members, causing conflicts between them. In almost all craft guilds the gap between wealthy and poor members increased at such extent that in some cases the poor ones abandoned their profession and were proletarianized (Papageorgiou 1988, 282-3). In the early twentieth century, the workers started to form their own associations aiming at mutual support, resulting in the division of most of the craft guilds to associations of capitalist employers and associations of workers/employees (Papageorgiou 1988, p.284).