Some books speak for themselves. Hard to summarise, so here is the conclusion in it’s entirety. If you think this is interesting, you will love the book! “Render unto the sultan” by Tom Papademetriou.
“Between 1453 and 1500, the office of the Patriarch of Constantinople changed hands eighteen times with an average of a one patriarch every 2.4 years. Between 1500 and 1600 it changed thirty-two times with an average of one patriarch every 3.1 years, and between 1500 and 1600 it changed fifty-three times with an average of one patriarch every 1.9 years. A quick examination of the names of individual patriarchs shows individuals were elevated, deposed, and reappointed, in one case up to seven times. The Patriarchate of Constantinople in the era after 1453 appeared to be fragile and vulnerable. As the only surviving institution from the Byzantine era, it was an institution in a state of flux. The rapid change of leadership raises the question of how much authority did the patriarch actually have over the Greek community.
The answer is complicated, when one considers that the instability of the office was caused largely because the broader lay Greek community intervened in the appointments and depositions of bishops. Doctrinal issues certainly played a role in depostions, and there are examples of patriarchs and bishops being challenged in their faith, and affirming their confession of faith in the Orthodox religion. However, the practice of condemning an opponent for unsound theology did not become common practice until the seventeenth century. One such challenge to the faith occurred in the 1560s and 1570s when the German Lutherans, Martin Crusius, and Stephan Gerlach, visited the court of Patriarch Jeremiah II Tranos. They were ultimately rebuffed by the Patriarch Jeremiah II though they became friends with members of the patriarchal court. The lack of cooperation from the sixteenth-century patriarchal hierarchs and theologians did not prevent inroads from being made by Protestants and Roman Catholics in the seventeenth century. Among the most famous cases of a patriarch who was elevated and deposed multiple times ostensibly for doctrinal reasons is Patriarch Cyril Loukaris (1612, 1620—23, 1623, 1623—33, 1634—35, 1637—38). Patriarch Cyril Loukaris held the patriarchal throne of Alexandria and Constantinople seven times between the years 1612 and 1638. Loukaris was known to be sympathic to the Calvinist doctrine, and became a proponent of translating the scriptures into the commonly used Greek language of the day. Patriarch Loukaris was caught between the intrigue of his pro-Calvinist acquaintances, and the Jesuits, who undermined him in the sultan’s court. He was eventually killed, having been strangled and tossed into the Bosphorus. However, aside from this major episode there were few major doctrinal disagreements responsible for patriarchal succession in the seventeenth century.
The underlying reasons for many of the depositions of patriarchs were more often than not associated with power struggles over the ecclesiastical office. The rapid patriarchal successions show an increase in competition for patriarchal power. As bishops of the Church, patriarchs were not only subject to the vicissitudes of a dominating imperial state, but they also were subject to the machinations and designs of ambitious members of the Greek community.
If one continues to accept the millet system paradigm to describe Ottoman rule of non-Muslim communities, then this power struggle was purely a political struggle, in which churchmen were vying for the leadership position of the Rum millet-i. This view, however, does not take into account the interests of the members of the Greek community, who were made up of merchants, artisans, as well as ecclesiastical personalities.
Since according to the millet system non-Muslim religious leaders in the Ottoman Empire served as both spiritual and temporal leaders, it would be understood that the Porte issued laws and ruled the non-Muslim populations through the religious leaders of the Greek, Jewish, and Armenian communities. While this description is tidy and neat, and even though there might have been heavy politics involved in religious leadership succession, the notion of the millet system must, once again, be challenged.
An alternative, and perhaps more productive explanation should replace the millet system paradigm. Ecclesiastical offices offered an economic benefit to their holders, as they functioned as tax farms and became an object of intense competition for members of the Greek Orthodox community. Because these offices could only be purchased, power was spread into the hands of the wealthy lay people. This new description counters the received wisdom that the patriarch was the leader of the Greek millet, having both religious and civil authority over the non-Muslim Greek Orthodox Christian community.
If the focus changes from a political story to an economic one, a fuller, more contoured, and variegated picture of the Greek community in Ottoman society develops. One result is a better understanding of incidents such as the rapid turnover in the office of the patriarch and of other hierarchs. In the course of examining Ottoman and Greek ecclesiastical documents, the one common element that continually appeared throughout the study was the distinctive fiscal relationship between Church hierarchs and the Ottoman state.
From an examination of Byzantine and Ottoman evidence that extends from the earliest Ottoman times in the fourteenth century to the beginning of the seventeenth century, a clear trend was established. The Ottomans identified the Greek Orthodox ecclesiastical hierarchy as a resource for cash income. They became known primarily as tax farmers (multezim) for cash income derived from the Church’s widespread holdings. The Ottoman state granted individuals the right to take their positions as hierarchs in return for yearly payments to the state. To gain those positions, the hierarchy enlisted the services of members of the Greek economic elite to purchase the ecclesiastical tax farm (iltizam), and to alienate the Church’s revenues. As a result, the hierarchical positions became highly prized for their economic aspects and, as tax farms, became subject to increased forces of competition, just as a customs zone tax or any other tax farm might be.
This practice continued into the seventeenth century, where we find the continuity of ecclesiastical tax farming. With this explanation, the work of previous historians becomes eminently more accessible and understandable. Multiple examples of this process are visible in the minutes of the patriarchal synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Codex Beta and Codex Gamma cover the years 1612—1761 and contain numerous references to the tax collecting obligations of the bishops and of the patriarchate. For instance, in 1624, Patriarch Cyril Loukaris and the Holy Synod proposed defrocking Metropolitan Neophytos of Corinth, who had refused to pay the harag (land tax), the zeteia (an irregular collection applied similarly to avariz), and the vakia (monies overdue from the zeteia). He was defrocked because he refused to heed the warning of the synod and ignored a previous suspension.
The problem that a metropolitan such as Neophytos posed to the patriarch was that he would not pay his share; this meant that the patriarch found himself in the difficult position of trying to gather enough money himself to pay the Imperial Treasury the agreed yearly amount. This recalls the episode of Patriarch Raphael, and of numerous patriarchs, metropolitans, and bishops thereafter. Time and again, the Ottoman state responded to requests from petitioning clergy by coming to their aid, and using the state’s coercive authority, to make sure that the payments were made. Even though this was the state’s response, each patriarch most likely dreaded and feared the moment he was forced to clamp down on his metropolitans and bishops through state authority to ensure their loyalty and continued payment of the ecclesiastical revenues. The documentary records in Codex Beta and Gamma are full of such references.
However, an unusual development took place in the beginning of the seventeenth century. As historian Phokion Kotzageorgis explains, it appears that by the beginning of the seventeenth century, there was a “transformation of the harag/ maktu into zara-i kassabiye” or payment of provisions of meat for the imperial gardeners corps. The form of payment and system by which it was collected appears to have changed. Nevertheless, the patriarchs and the Holy Synod continued to focus attention on the financial responsibilities of individual patriarchs toward the state. Because the Holy Synod became more involved in reviewing the financial position of individual bishops, and of the institution of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in general, it appears that the patriarchate was trying to consolidate its corporate authority over individual bishops. This was, perhaps, a first step in consolidating authority within the Church, and a first step toward developing real authority over the Greek community or millet.
In response to these financial pressures and problems, Patriarch Cyril Loukaris’ rival and three-time successor Patriarch Cyril II Kontares (1633, 1635—36, 1638—39), in May 1635 appointed a financial committee to develop a solution to the “great indebtedness weighing heavily on the Great Church.” The patriarch and Holy Synod enacted a number of measures to deal with this enduring problem. First, they established a financial committee composed of five hierarchs that was to have complete control over all revenues of the Church. These revenues included the alms, zeteia, inheritances, ordination gifts, monastic revenues and fees charged to lower clergy. Second, no clergy except the patriarch, in consultation with other hierarchs, had permission to interfere or depose anyone. The desire of clergy seeking these positions promoted a sort of hyperactive misbehavior, where scandals and charges of scandals were meant to bring down hierarchs. Third, no election of a metropolitan or archbishop could be made without the approval of the financial committee. Fourth, no collection of any kind could take place in the province without the direct permission of the financial committee, and fifth, bishops could not transfer their sees without very good reason. The patriarch and his synod meant to rein in the local clergy and hierarchy and to place them under the direct supervision of the patriarchate. The fact that a committee was established to prohibit these activities indicates that these must have been a rampant problem.
The overriding concern for Patriarch Cyril II Kontares was that the Church was under a huge financial burden that needed to be lifted. Because of this, the rapid deposition and succession produced the burden of the pi§ke§. However, the problem with collecting the annual taxes was also extremely challenging. Patriarch Cyril II Kontares, in a sense, created an auditing committee that was intended to stop any individual from exploiting his ecclesiastical office and the perks associated with it. The problem would persist for the patriarchate, as is evident in another attempt to rein in misbehaving hierarchs at the end of the century
In May 1697, Patriarch Kallinikos II, along with Patriarch Dositheos II of Jerusalem and other hierarchs and archons, met to reaffirm the independence and autonomy of the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, the Archbishoprics of Cyprus and Ohrid and Pep. They had gathered together to confirm their autonomous status, as there was a recent attempt to purchase the offices of the Church by “certain disciples of the devil” who were not named in the document out of embarrassment. One of these “disciples of the devil” was the Metropolitan of Thessalonike Methodios, who appears to have made a dangerous proposal, perhaps directly to the Divan, to purchase the ecclesiastical offices as mukataa and malikane.5 According to the patriarchal document 56, the plan was to purchase the tax farm and subsequently reap financial reward by offering the offices to the highest bidder.
In order to avoid the selling of offices, Patriarch Kallinikos II called on the other patriarchs and archbishops both to affirm their independence and to render financial assistance to the Church. In the document, after the problem was laid out, it stated that, “an appeal was made to the government, money was spent, and thus common destruction was avoided.” Being a formidable challenge to their authority, the above named hierarchs banded together to petition the Porte to disregard the new offer, and to ensure that the state would comply. They made a counteroffer and “spent money,” most likely a considerable amount, and were assured the continuity of the office-holders.
This example confirms the existence, even at such a late date as May 1697, of a form of tax farming in the ecclesiastical sphere. The interesting development is the use of the terminology of mukataa, which is a generic term for a tax farm that does not indicate the relationship with the Imperial Treasury that the term iltizam does. What is surprising in this document is that it carries the tone of frustration both with the individual who attempted to exploit the institution and also with the regime that allowed the institution to be exploited.
While the present study does not extend into the seventeenth century, it attempts to offer background, context, and explanation with which to better understand the previously published examples and studies including: the aforementioned ecclesiastical examples from the patriarchal archives, the work presented by Halil Inalcik on the Piskopos Mukataa Kalemi that covered the years 1641—51, Josef Kabrda’s examination of the Bulgarian hierarchy from 1635 to the mid-nineteenth century, the 1678 account of Sir Paul Rycaut that even included a berat of appointment to a Latin bishop of Chios, and the study by Helmut Scheel that focused on the Metropolis of Trebizond between1732 and 1830. It is certain this list will continue to grow as a more vigorous examination of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries uncovers even more documents issued to ecclesiastical figures by the Ottoman state.
While the purpose of the present work has been to offer the history and context of a seemingly unique fiscal system—which in reality was not unique from the Ottoman fiscal administrative point of view—it has also attempted to offer social and cultural context. Beginning with the earliest interactions with Turkmen tribes, the Greek Orthodox bishops of Anatolia met multiple challenges
5 Metropolitan Methodios of Thessalonike was one of those seeking to purchase the offices. See Vaporis, Codex Gamma, 56, n. 3.
in maintaining their flocks. Their practical financial arrangements with Turkmen overlords allowed them to maintain a presence in their ecclesiastical see, despite suggestions from the patriarchal synod of Constantinople that they were being disloyal or disobedient. When the Ottomans formally took over, it became evident that the Church posed certain challenges to governance, considering the Islamic restraints on taxing religious institutions. Therefore, the transition from Byzantine to Ottoman control saw a development of an ecclesiastical tax farm that became an important way to exploit an unconventional resource for income.
In the process of demonstrating how this ecclesiastical iltizam system worked, the Church was considered by the Ottomans as a fiscal institution, which can best be understood from within an Ottoman economic and social context. In turn, this context sheds light on many of the the dramatic elements of Greek Church life in the Ottoman era that have always thrilled readers of this history, such as the scandals and intrigues of the bishops, the rapid succession of patriarchs, the economic and political considerations of the Greek community, and the decision making of the Ottoman government. An awareness of the Ottoman economic and social context also sheds light on the actions of the Greek community, especially by enigmatic individuals such as Michael Kantakouzenos. It is to be hoped it will also be helpful for historians researching later periods leading into the nineteenth century and the period of the Tanzimat reforms, giving them a clearer understanding of the continuities and changes that took place in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Greek Orthodox community.
It is only from the context and vantage point offered in the present work that one can understand the fact that the priests, bishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Ottoman Empire, from their earliest interactions, knew well and responded to the command to render unto the sultan what is the sultan’s and unto God what is God’s.”