History of the Morea in Ottoman times

Last Sunday’s ground-shaker revived memories of the bigger quakes in 1999 in Turkey and subsequently in Greece, which launched trans-Aegean «earthquake diplomacy.» Scholarship brings similarly rich potential for bridging cultures and reducing ignorance levels, and the foreign classical studies institutes operating in Greece – themselves with long histories and sometimes touchy roles – have added much along these lines via discerning and detailed studies of the past, often following years of collaborative effort. One such work is «A Historical and Economic Geography of Ottoman Greece: The Southwestern Morea in the 18th Century,» published last year by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Triply authored by Fariba Zarinebaf, John Bennett and Jack L. Davis, with six other contributors and a research supporting cast of dozens in the USA, UK and Greece, the volume (Hesperia Supplement 34) is a dense analysis of life in southwest Morea (the Peloponnese) in the last full century of Ottoman rule in Greece. For the Morea itself, this marked a crucial period following the Ottomans’ ouster of Venice from the area in 1715. In fact, while the subtitle indicates a single-century focus, the text itself ranges back to the 15th century in parts – a nice reversal of the frequent tendency for book titles to claim more than they deliver. The authors – the first an Ottomanist, the latter two archaeologists – believe their cross-disciplinary work can serve the study of Greek local history as well as Balkanists and Ottomanists interested in regional and social variations within the empire. Early on they make the case that Ottoman Greece remains sparsely examined, being still so politically fraught and paling in comparison with Byzantine and Classical glories. Though considered the poor cousin of research areas, there is a rich vein here that the authors mine thoroughly, centering around a translated Ottoman tax register from 1716 and touching on institutions such as tax-farming that fostered pre-revolutionary social tensions. The volume compiles research by the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project and incorporates prime-ministerial archives in Istanbul along with published sources and archaeological fieldwork in an effort to compile a social and economic history of the Morea. Thus it combines textual with material/archaeological analysis. The result is undoubtedly useful to scholars of early modern Greece, both historians and archaeologists, and groundbreaking in parts. The book is around 340 pages of dense text in smallish print, with copious footnotes, figures and photos, charts, a nine-page Turkish glossary, property and name lists, an exhaustive index – you get the point; worthy, painstaking and impressive but tough going as bedtime reading. It even comes with a CD-ROM providing color, digital versions of the figures and other information.

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