Case Studies - Guilds - Greece

The guild of coopers in Handakas, Crete


Type of institution for collective action

Guild (Craft guild)

Name/description institution  

Guild of coopers (varelades / barileri)





Name of city or specified area 

Handakas (Candia)

Further specification location (e.g. borough, street etc.)

Church of Santa Maria Pandanassa

Patron Saint

Initially Saint-Martin. Later on: Saint-Minas.



Church of Saint-Minas, Candia (Crete). Saint-Minas became the patron saint of the coopers' guild. The church was however another church than the church the guild convened in.


Foundation/start of institution, date or year

June 28, 1579

Foundation year: is this year the confirmed year of founding or is this the year this institution is first mentioned?

This is the confirmed year of the guild’s foundation.

Foundation act present?


Description of Act of foundation

The foundation act of the guild consists of 22 chapters, which were written by 10 electors, appointed by the general assemblee of the guild’s members.


According to the statutory provisions, the board members of the guild were a “vardianos” and two consultants, who were elected for one year. In addition, two trustees / assignees (procuratori) were also appointed, in order to take care of the guild’s legal affairs, while two “gastaldi” and four comrades (compagni) were elected to keep records of the revenues and the expenses of the guild.


Furthermore, all the coopers and the ones who were going to practice this profession in the future, as well as any person who wanted to, could subscribe to the guild.


Finally, in order for the decisions of the general assemblee to be valid, at least 40 members should be present at the meeting, including the members of the board (banka).

Year of termination of institution

In 1669, the Ottoman Empire completed the occupation of Crete and the members of the guild of coopers, just like the members of other guilds, migrated to Zakynthos, which was still under the Venetian rule. So, the guild actually did not terminate its operations, but the location of its activity changed.

Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?

See above.

Act regarding termination present?


No, see above.

Description Act of termination


Reason for termination?

In 1669, the Ottoman Empire completed the occupation of Crete and the members of the guild of coopers, just like the members of other guilds, migrated to Zakynthos, which was still under the Venetian rule. So, the guild actually did not terminate its operations, but the location of its activity changed.

Recognized by local government?


Concise history of institution

On April the 22nd of the year 1566, three leaders (kapi) of the thirty coopers in Handakas appointed Giorgis Malakis - who resided in Venice - as their legal representative, in order for him to ask the Venetian authorities to satisfy the request of the coopers in Crete to found a guild and to certify the chapters of the guild’s charter. The procedure must have been long and time-consuming, since the application was approved only on June 28, 1579, thirteen years later.


Initially, the guild did not have its own church. The members used to gather in the church of Santa Maria Faneromeni, which was close to the workshops of coopers. However, in 1617 the church of Santa Maria Pandanassa was granted to the guild by the family Mouzouraki.


Besides coopers, honorary members were also subscribed to the guild. Most of them were persons with intensive social and economic activity, such as the vicar of the Santa Maria Faneromeni, Markos Moresinos, and the brother of the great painter Domenicos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), Manousos Theotokopoulos.


The guild’s social and philanthropic work, including the financial support of the weaker and older members as well as the endowment of their daughters, was significant. Moreover, the guild of coopers, as other guilds in Venetian Crete did, contributed to the beautification of the church, where the meetings of the members used to take place.


The main sources of income for the guild were the contributions of the members and the donations of wealthy citizens. Just like other guilds, the guild of coopers was also confronted with some economic problems, usually related to debts that members did not pay off.


The history of the guild continued after the occupation of Handakas by the Ottoman Empire in 1669, since its members migrated to Zakynthos, transferring their sacred objects and their charter to their new home, the church of Forty Saints (Agii Saranda), in the Cretan community of Zakynthos.

Special events? Highs and lows? Specific problems or problematic periods?

See above.


Numbers of members (specified)

At the time of its foundation (1579) the guild of coopers had 78 members, of which 71 were coopers and the rest were honorary members. It was one of the largest guilds in Handakas.

Membership attainable for every one, regardless of social class or family background?

The access to the guild was quite open, both regarding social status and family origins as well as regarding ethnicity and religious affiliation.

Specific conditions for obtaining membership? (Entrance fee, special tests etc.)

Each apprentice (lavorante) who wanted to practice the profession of cooper should have been tested succesfully by the guild first; otherwise he had to pay a penalty fee of 25 hyperpyra (Venetian currency). If the apprentice proved capable and became member of the guild, then he was held to pay one dukato as an entrance fee (bona entrata).

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

None mentioned.

Advantages of membership?


Obligations of members? 

The obligations of the members of the guild were various:

  • all coopers of the city should be subscribed to the guild and do charities, depending on their economic capacity;
  • each year they should give two of their (daily) salaries, one in March and one in August, to the guild;
  • members of the guild who were not coopers, should pay only the annual fee (luminaria), which was one mocenigo per year, on the celebration day of the guild’s patron saint;
  • the coopers, who wanted to open workshops, should pay two dukata (Venetian currency) per year.
  • no master could keep an apprentice or servant without the permission of the latter; the penalty fee for this case was 100 hyperpyra, of which half was given to the shipyard of Handakas and the other half to the guild;
  • the sixth chapter of the charter refers to the obligation of the vardian and the consultants to prepare the celebration of the patron saint of the guild, an occasion that all members had to attend;
  • according to the seventeenth chapter, the guild should give to each member incapable of working and to each elderly member of the community ten hyperpyra;
  • the eighteenth chapter indicated that the guild should dower two daughters of the poorest members of the guild each year;
  • the nineteenth and twentieth chapters refer to the obligation of the guild to take care of the burial of the indigent dead members;
  • finally, according to the twenty-first chapter all members should participate in the processions and funerals, with a penalty fee of five hyperpyra for each time a member would be absent.

Literature on case study

  • Kiskiras, I., 1968. The apprenticeship contract in Crete under the Venetian rule (along with unpublished documents from the Archivio di stato of Venezia). Athens.
  • Konomos, N., 1968. Crete and Zakynthos. Athens.
  • Panopoulou, A., 2001. Guilds and religious fraternities in Crete of Venetian period. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Crete (Rethymnon), esp.  pp. 384-93; 477-85.
  • Panopoulou, A, 1989. The craftsmen of the shipyards of Handakas and Chania during the 16th and the 17th centuries. Kritiki Estia, 3, 173-94.
  • Zois, L., 1893. The guilds in Zakynthos. Zakynthos.
  • Zois, L., 1940. Cretan Notes. Athens.

Sources on case study

  •  Archivio del Duca di Candia

Links to further information on case study:


Current case study composed by

Kleoniki Alexopoulou, Utrecht University.