From «Pax Ottomanica» to «Pax Europaea»

The growth and decline of a Greek village’s micro-economy

by Dimitrios Konstadakopulos (Author)
©2014 Monographs XVI, 359 Pages


The macroeconomic development of south-eastern Europe has been profoundly affected not only by the region’s major historical events – for example, liberation from the Ottoman Empire, the outbreak of civil wars, and the birth of new nations – but also by global events, such as the world-wide conflicts of the twentieth century, and the recent transnational processes of globalisation and European integration. The rationale of this book is to employ a comprehensive micro-history – that is, the history of one particular community: in this case, the village of Tsamantas, in north-western Greece – as a means of providing a detailed picture that will permit extrapolation to a wider context. Situated in one of the most isolated parts of the region of Epirus, Tsamantas has a complex history and a rich folk culture. At times, it has been a textbook example of how decision-making within a community can impact upon the success of the local economy. Its inhabitants have been rational problem-solvers, with a sense of what is in their family’s best interests, rather than passive victims of circumstance, and their choices at critical points in the village’s history have resulted either in growth or decline. The author focuses his groundbreaking analysis on these choices, drawing upon publications, archived materials, and illuminating oral accounts of local events.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Preword
  • Introduction
  • Objectives
  • The structure of the book
  • Part I: The First Half of the Twentieth Century
  • Chapter 1: The Physical Environment and its Impact on the History of Tsamantas
  • 1.1 In the shadow of Mount Mourgana
  • 1.1.1 Topography, climate and the natural environment
  • 1.1.2 The built environment
  • 1.2 Ancient ambiguities: the land of the Atintanes?
  • 1.3 Perceptions, identity, and attachment to place
  • 1.3.1 A place of refuge
  • 1.3.2 Factors affecting attachment to place
  • Chapter 2: Tradition and Culture of Tsamantas through the Eyes of Nikolaos Nitsos
  • 2.1 Nitsos’s background
  • 2.2 The academic study of Greek folklore, and its influence on Nitsos
  • 2.3 The organisation of the monograph: structure and taxonomy
  • 2.4 The natural environment, the history of Tsamantas, and local toponyms
  • 2.5 Local customs
  • 2.6 The local dialect and the debate about linguistic purity
  • 2.7 Songs and dances
  • 2.8 Fairy tales and proverbs
  • 2.9 Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: The Social and Cultural Environment: Foundations for the Village’s Success?
  • 3.1 Traditional values
  • 3.2 The influence of the Orthodox Church
  • 3.3 Gender roles and marriage
  • 3.4 The education system
  • 3.5 The legal and administrative systems and local politics
  • 3.6 Conclusion
  • Chapter 4: The Economy of Tsamantas during the First Half of the Twentieth Century
  • 4.1 The final years of Pax Ottomanica
  • 4.1.1 The economy of Tsamantas
  • 4.1.2 Local specialisation: the growth and decline of the tinkers
  • 4.2 After independence: contrasting fortunes up to the start of World War II
  • 4.3 Conclusion
  • Chapter 5: The First Waves of Emigration
  • 5.1 The industrial city of Worcester and its immigrant communities
  • 5.2 Creation of the database of migrants
  • 5.3 The establishment of chain migration from Tsamantas to Worcester
  • 5.4 From Ottoman Europe to New England: the transatlantic journey
  • 5.5 The economic, social and spiritual life of the Tsamantas immigrants in Worcester
  • 5.6 The start of emigration to Australia
  • 5.7 Conclusion
  • Chapter 6: The Delimitation of the Greek–Albanian Border, and its Impact on Tsamantas
  • 6.1 The 1913 international boundary commission
  • 6.2 The first boundary commission’s visit to Tsamantas
  • 6.3 The second and third international boundary commissions (1922–1924)
  • 6.4 The emergence of nationalism
  • Chapter 7: The Years of War (1940–1949)
  • 7.1 The Second World War
  • 7.1.1 The Axis invasion and occupation
  • 7.1.2 Economic consequences of the occupation
  • 7.1.3 The national resistance
  • 7.1.4 The Easter of sorrow: German raids on villages in the Mourgana area
  • 7.1.5 The summer of despair
  • 7.1.6 The expulsion of the Chams
  • 7.1.7 The aftermath of liberation
  • 7.2 The civil war
  • 7.2.1 The battle for Mount Mourgana
  • 7.3 Conclusion
  • Part II: The Post Civil War Era
  • Chapter 8: Tsamantas from 1950 to 1981: Causes and Effects of Decline
  • 8.1 After the civil war in Tsamantas: poverty, disunity and transformation
  • 8.1.1 Social change in Tsamantas and its consequences
  • 8.1.2 Local administration and national politics
  • 8.2 The seven years of military dictatorship (1967–1974)
  • 8.3 New waves of migration
  • 8.3.1 Emigration to West Germany
  • 8.4 The early years of true democracy (1974–1981)
  • 8.5 Conclusion
  • Chapter 9: Pax Europaea: Life within the European Union
  • 9.1 Greek politics from 1981 to the present day
  • 9.2 The effect of EU membership on Tsamantas and its region
  • 9.3 The opening of the Greek–Albanian border
  • 9.3.1 The borderland: still a place of ambiguous identity
  • 9.3.2 The current situation in the border area
  • 9.4 Life in Tsamantas today
  • 9.5 Some reflections and concluding comments
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix → Figures

Figure 1

Tsamantas and neighbouring villages on either side of the Greek–Albanian border

Figure 2

External trade in Epirus (1900–1909) in Gold Francs

Figure 3

The routes taken by itinerant tinkers from Tsamantas during the final years of the Ottoman Empire

Figure 4

Demographic changes in the community of Tsamantas between 1913 and 1940

Figure 5

The contributions made in dollars by various members of the St George’s Society in Worcester, Massachusetts to the building of a new school in Tsamantas (1928)

Figure 6

Number of immigrants from Tsamantas arriving in New York, 1900–1924

Figure 7

Tsamantiot peddler in Worcester, Massachusetts, c. 1910

Figure 8

Members of the St George’s Society at one of their picnics near Worcester, Massachusetts, c. 1914

Figure 9

Population of Tsamantas 1895–2011 ← ix | x →

← x | xi → Tables

Table 1

Characteristics of emigrants from the village of Tsamantas arriving in New York between 1901 and 1916

Table 2

The relationship of the contact person in Worcester to the migrant in transit

Table 3

Damage done by fire to the buildings of Lidizda in the German raid of April 1944

Table 4

Loss of life in selected Mourgana villages, and their material destruction by the occupying forces (April 1944)

Table 5

The change in population of five villages on Mount Mourgana during the 1940s

Table 6

GDP per capita in purchasing power standards (PPS) of the ten lowest-ranked European regions (1998) ← xi | xii →

← xii | xiii → Preword

This book is the history of the recent past of the village of Tsamantas, a mountain community in the region of Epirus in north-western Greece. It was written with the belief that the analysis of one village contains implications that could enable us to obtain a new understanding of the economic, political and social transformation of south-eastern Europe during the last hundred years.

I visited Tsamantas for the first time during the summer of 2000, one year after the death of my mother Spyridoula. I stayed in the stone house, which my mother had just rebuilt out of the ruins of her ancestral home – burnt down by the Nazis in April 1944. The village was the birthplace of my mother and my maternal grandparents Nikolaos and Paraskevi Vezdrevanis. In 1938, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, my grandfather, an itinerant tinker, took his wife and his three young daughters to live in the faraway city of Patras in the Peloponnese. I was born and grew up in Patras in the early 1950s, but since I was a child I felt a sense of belonging and affinity for Tsamantas, listening to the tales and stories (such as that of St George’s votive lamp) told by my grandparents sitting around the small charcoal fire during cold winter nights in Patras. When I visited for the first time this place of my imagined childhood, I was amazed by the village’s extraordinary beautiful landscape, rich culture and exceptional people. But I was also saddened by its dramatic socioeconomic decline and abandonment. I felt I had to find out more about the reasons for the village’s illustrious past and uncertain present. My aims were ambitious: departing from the nature of my previous work on aspects of regional development in Western Europe, Southeast Asia and North America, I embarked on an interdisciplinary research over the next twelve years and produced this book. Although I was based in the UK, I made numerous research trips to Greece, including visits to the USA and Australia over that period, to carry forward this project on Tsamantas.

← xiii | xiv → I looked closely at what the local people and the diaspora said about life in the village, and from these accounts I tried to identify the factors that influenced them to stay put or move away. My task was a difficult one. There are obvious problems in moving to broader generalisations on the basis of evidence, especially for the early part of the twentieth century, in which oral evidence was secondary and fragmentary. I have tried not to allow personal and ideological biases to enter my work and allowed the historical witnesses to speak freely. The micro-history of a community such as Tsamantas provides us with a new lens for understanding the complex political economy of south-eastern Europe, based on the study of one village.

I owe much to many people and organisations. First, I would like to thank the hospitable people of Tsamantas, some of whom died while I wrote this book. An important source of information and inspiration was the nonagenarian distant relative of mine, Nikos Stolakis. Gifted with a photographic memory, Nikos could remember persons, events and facts going back to his childhood in the 1920s. He was a model of how to live as a decent family man from the land in a challenging environment and a difficult world. Second, I would like to express my gratitude to the Dr M. Aylwin Cotton Foundation of Guernsey which generously funded this project in 2005. Third, I am grateful for the honour of having been invited to be a guest speaker to talk about the community of Tsamantas at the International Seminar ‘Regional Identities, Cultures & Images – a Path to Regional Development?’, at the Department for Ethnic Studies in Norrköping of Linköping University in Sweden (March 2005). I am also indebted to the participants, who made useful comments on my preliminary findings, at the conferences of: the Transatlantic Studies Association, at the University of Cork in Ireland (July 2007); the St George’s Hellenic Benefit Society of Tsamanta[s], (Worcester, MA), at the Hellenic College in Brookline (Boston) in the United States (October 2008); and the Australian and New Zealand Modern Greek Studies Association conferences at Flinders University in Adelaide (July 2009) and Macquarie University in Sydney (December 2010).

Of particular importance was the workshop that was organised jointly by the Centre for European Studies of the University of the West of England, ← xiv | xv → Bristol with the support of the Municipality of Filiates, the Community of Tsamantas, the St George’s Hellenic Benefit Society of Tsamanta[s] that took place in Tsamantas in September 2005. I am very grateful to the following colleagues for their contribution which has influenced my research: Katharina Eisch-Angus, Mark Angus, Sarah Blowen, Sarah Green, Ann Kennard, James Korovilas, Konstantinos Mantzos, Lynn Morrison, Vasilios Nitsiakos, Annalisa Rellie, Antonia Sagredo and Soterios Zoulas.

I am also grateful to the three fraternal societies of Tsamantas, St George’s Hellenic Benefit Society of Tsamanta[s] (Worcester, MA), St Nicholas (Melbourne) and St Dimitrios (Athens) for their support and encouragement. Nick Athanasiou, Lynn Morrison, Michael Pantazakos, Antonia Sagredo and in particular Ange Kenos, read parts of the manuscript and offered useful comments. Finally, this book would not have been written without the support of Phil Wood, who besides providing valuable assistance in proof reading and helping to put the manuscript in final form, has influenced my thinking in many areas. Phil suffered stoically my interminable dragging out of this project over all these years. Thank you, Phil.

I very much hope that the readers of this work will find themselves richly rewarded for attempting to follow the fascinating world of this idio­syncratic Greek village.


← xvi | 1 → Introduction

At the start of the twentieth century, the geopolitical map of south-east Europe was very different from the one we know today. For one thing, Albania had not yet been created, and what is now its southernmost territory was part of a region – an outpost of the vast Ottoman Empire – that bore the name of Epirus. But victory in the First Balkan War (1912–1913) against the Ottomans resulted in the region’s independence, and the subsequent division of its territory between Greece and the newly created state of Albania. The land subsumed by Greece continued to be known as Epirus.1 Its predominantly Greek-speaking population had long cherished the hope of joining the free Greek state, and the fulfilment of their objective was an occasion for joyous celebration. However, the new region of Epirus was very much an economically backward area, described by Yotopoulos, a perceptive observer of its development, as having a ‘conclave’ economy, due to both its geographical isolation and the belatedness of its unification with Greece (1967: 36). Furthermore, it was frequently the focus of world attention during the first half of the twentieth century, due to major battles contested on its stage: not only the war of liberation, but the longer and more devastating conflicts of the 1940s. In recent years, however, Epirus has started to emerge as a wealthier and more stable region, but still the poorest in the European Union before the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 – an achievement unthinkable a hundred years ago – and, significantly, its economy is integrating with others in the Balkan ← 1 | 2 → peninsula, in a process underpinned by the modernisation taking place in south-east Europe. But although this economic integration has brought major development to the Balkans, paradoxically it has marginalised some of its economically weaker areas; indeed, some localities and ethnic minorities have been excluded altogether from the progress being made (Petrakos, 2002: 26; Green, 2005a). As in other peripheral regions of the European Union, many of the remote rural communities of Epirus have missed out on the success enjoyed by the wider region, having been adversely affected by depopulation, with urban centres increasingly a magnet for those seeking a better life.

The economic history of Epirus in general, and one of its communities in particular, is the subject of this book. Some of the questions that will be addressed are as follows: To what extent has the economy of Epirus been shaped by historical events, such as liberation from the Ottoman Empire, the birth of new nations, and the wars of the twentieth century? How have the recent transnational processes of globalisation and European integration influenced its economy? And how is the region integrating with the rest of south-east Europe? Although these issues have been considered by a number of studies of south-east Europe’s twentieth-century history and macroeconomic development, there is a need for more detailed study at the local level (Gallagher, 2001a: 141–155). The method of using a micro-history – that is, the history of a single community – as a means of extrapolation to a wider context has been successfully applied by David Sabean, in his detailed study of a village in Germany. Marion Gray, in her review of Sabean’s study, supports his approach, arguing that ‘the analysis of one village contains implications that could lead historians to new understandings of Europe’s transformation from agrarian communalism to a modern, class-based society’ (2001: 419–431). The present volume will adopt this same approach, and thus attempts to answer the questions posed above by examining the way that one particular community in Epirus – the village of Tsamantas – has developed in economic, political and social terms.

← 2 | 3 → Situated right beside the Greek–Albanian border, in one of the most isolated parts of the region, Tsamantas has a long and complex history.2 From its origins as an insignificant settlement in pre-historic times, it eventually became a thriving micro-economy based on subsistence farming, pastoralism and male emigrant labour, reaching its peak during the inter-war years of the twentieth century. Since then, however, its economy has dramatically declined, for reasons to be explored throughout the book. Tsamantas shares many of the features found in other border communities in north-western Greece, as identified in various ethnographical studies (Green, 1998 and 2005a; Hart, 1999; Green and King, 2001; Nitsiakos, 2003 and 2010; de Rapper, 2004 and 2007). One of these is its remoteness, which has had contrasting effects on its history. On the one hand it has allowed the evolution and preservation, over the centuries, of a strong cultural identity amongst its residents. Their folk culture is extremely rich, yet virtually unknown to the outside world, even among ethnographers, anthropologists and historians specialising in south-east Europe; one objective of this book is thus to bring it out of seclusion and into the realm of the wider community. However, the isolation that allowed this culture to flourish has also brought serious disadvantages, in being largely responsible for the economic backwardness that plagued the village up to the start of the twentieth century. During the Ottoman rule of Epirus, this backwardness was compounded by the exploitation of agrarian society through the çiftlik land-ownership system, in which peasant-owned land was appropriated by Muslim landlords (or agas) and turned into an estate, to be farmed or used for pasture by the locals. The landlord exacted dues and tithe from his peasant workers, who were also heavily taxed by their Ottoman rulers. When the long-awaited liberation came, incorporation in the free Greek ← 3 | 4 → state failed to resolve the region’s economic problems.3 But, in contrast to the situation in Epirus as a whole, the village of Tsamantas was by now responding admirably to the challenge of overcoming its backwardness, having started to develop, in the early twentieth century, a micro-economy that for a while made it relatively prosperous.

A fundamental premise of this book is that the growth and decline of a micro-economy depends more on the choices made by its people (as well as the decisions of those elected to local and central government) than on factors beyond their control, such as geographical location, availability of natural resources, the interference of foreign powers in matters of national significance, and so on. At times, Tsamantas has been a textbook example of how the making of such choices can lead to a strong local economy, for its inhabitants have always been rational problem-solvers, with a strong sense of what is in their best interests and those of their family, rather than passive victims of circumstance. For centuries the major economic activity in Tsamantas was subsistence agriculture, from which the inhabitants barely scraped a living. But at the start of the twentieth century the village experienced a significant increase in its wealth, as a result of the emergence of a form of proto-industry: itinerant labour, mostly involving tinkers (tinsmiths). This domestic industry provided a reasonable income for villagers who would otherwise have been underemployed, or even without employment of any kind. Estimates based both on local documents and oral accounts suggest that, at this time, virtually all of the adult men in Tsamantas were either master tinkers (or their apprentices) or some other type of itinerant worker. But in the long term, as in many proto-industrial rural economies, the tinsmith profession become backward-looking and resistant to technological change, and its gradual disappearance after the Second World War not only led to a lower standard of living in Tsamantas but also accelerated the pace of emigration overseas, which had started in the early 1900s.

← 4 | 5 → In the catastrophic decade of the 1940s, the village suffered a series of painful episodes. It became the focus of resistance during the Italian and German occupation of the Second World War, and experienced famine, disease, looting and destruction. But the hardships suffered by the locals were far from over at the war’s conclusion, for the region of Epirus then became the main battlefield of the Greek civil war (1946–1949), which traumatised its people and inflicted considerable damage on its economy; on top of this, the rise of communism and the descent of the Iron Curtain brought about the closure of the Greek–Albanian border, severing contact between the closely linked communities on either side for the next forty-five years. The lives of the people of Mount Mourgana were changed for ever during the decade of the 1940s. In the Second World War, the Germans and their allies, the Chams, destroyed and looted properties, and stole the villagers’ precious crops and livestock. Many of the destitute inhabitants were radicalised by their experiences, and when the war was over, the two political extremes within the resistance movement brought about a civil war that had disastrous consequences for the borderland communities of Mount Mourgana. Proximity to neighbouring Albania had been advantageous during the Second World War, when it helped to alleviate the effects of the famine by providing access to basic foodstuffs, through bartering with Albanian villagers or working in the local fields. However, in the civil war this same proximity proved to be calamitous for the local people, since it facilitated the supply of military hardware to the antartes and thus sustained the warfare. Terror and bloodshed reigned for almost a year, as the villagers were surrounded by fierce fighting, suffered loss of life and property, and witnessed executions. Many more people were killed during the civil war than in the Axis occupation, and substantially more destruction occurred. Atrocities were committed by both sides, creating an atmosphere of simmering hatred and a vicious cycle of acts of vengeance against people who had once been neighbours but were now regarded as ‘the enemy’. Caught in the crossfire were those – that is, the majority of the villagers – who were reluctant to align themselves with either side.

In the aftermath of the wars, during the 1950s and early 1960s, living conditions in this mountainous part of Epirus were so bad that the World Council of Churches sent an international team to help relieve the situation. ← 5 | 6 → The process of emigration that had begun towards the end of the Ottoman era continued in earnest, as desperate Epirots moved away to find employment overseas: mainly in the United States (especially the industrial city of Worcester, Massachusetts), but also in Australia, Canada and West Germany. In Tsamantas, emigration significantly reduced the village’s working population, so much so that the remaining inhabitants eventually abandoned agricultural and commercial activities. In this respect the diaspora was instrumental in the creation of an unproductive middle class and, ultimately, the sharp decline of the village.

Meanwhile, an atmosphere of paranoia and constant scrutiny pervaded both sides of the Greek–Albanian border at Tsamantas, with intense security, restrictions on movement, and frequent rhetorical aggression. The two countries were in a state of de jure war, which would last until the restoration of diplomatic relations in the 1970s. For the communities on the Greek side of the border, life would begin to improve in the new era of economic growth that came about as a consequence of two major national developments: the return of democracy to Greece in 1974, after a seven-year military dictatorship, and accession in 1981 to the EEC (European Economic Community, as the European Union was called at the time). Substantial funding from the latter helped to alleviate the economic and social problems of these communities. But while the community of Tsamantas was starting to enjoy the benefits of Greece’s membership of the EEC, in the form of higher living standards, its sister villages just across the border in Albania were enduring unimaginable poverty and desperation. However, in the last week of 1990 and the first of 1991, the collapse of the draconian border-security system imposed by Enver Hoxha’s regime resulted in the mass exodus of hundreds of people into Epirus. The refugees were mostly ethnic Greeks. Lacking adequate clothing and food, and subjected to harsh weather conditions, they followed ancient routes and somehow succeeded in reaching the border checkpoint at Tsamantas. This first wave of penniless and destitute emigrants from Albania to Epirus resulted in a sea change in Greek–Albanian relations. Depopulated villages are now benefiting ← 6 | 7 → from the influx of both skilled and unskilled Albanians:4 in Tsamantas, immigrants can be seen repairing its traditional houses and stone walls, and paving its roads and squares, thus conserving the rural landscape; they have also worked at the village’s café and the museum, and have tended kitchen gardens as well as herds of animals. So, in a sense, the village has come full circle to the time of the Ottomans, when ethnic and cultural tolerance in the region resulted in a peaceful co-existence and good relationships between its local communities – a situation commonly referred to as ‘Pax Ottomanica’.



XVI, 359
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (January)
development liberation globalisation Tsamantas integration
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2014. 359 pp., 9 b/w ill., 6 tables

Biographical notes

Dimitrios Konstadakopulos (Author)

Dimitrios Konstadakopulos is Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management in the Cardiff School of Management at Cardiff Metropolitan University. He has spent over ten years researching the mountain community of Tsamantas, in north-western Greece, as well as its diaspora in the United States, Australia and elsewhere. In addition to conducting various research projects in Europe, South East Asia and North America, he has published books, chapters in books, and several articles and reports on innovation, knowledge and learning, local and regional development, and policies on environment and technology.


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