History of an Epirote family in Venice of centuries past

A few kilometers outside Venice, in the village of Levada di Piombino Dese, is a beautiful villa, now the home of the Marcello family, who are descendants of Venetian nobles who include a doge and many senior officials. The family crest is mounted above the iron gate leading into the large garden as well as on the villa’s facade. In its current form, the house dates from the mid-18th century, when it belonged to the Maroutsis brothers, Lambros, Panos and Constantinos. In 1725, the Maroutsis family bought the villa when it was just a simple farmhouse dating from the 16th century and turned it into an architectural jewel. In the ballroom are frescoes depicting incidents in the life of Alexander the Great and other paintings by the Settecento artist Giambattista Crosato. The villa stayed in the Maroutsis family until 1847. That year, Russian Prince Sergei Sumrokoff, who had married Alexandra Maroutsi, was awarded the estate as a dowry, only to lose it at cards. The villa then passed into the hands of the Marcello family. The Maroutsis family originally came from Epirus, merchants from Paranythia who expanded their trade to Venice. Lambros Maroutsis, the first of the family to settle in Venice, at the end of the 17th century, was the son of Panos, who had trading houses in Venice and Ioannina with his three brothers Simon, Anastassios and Christodoulos. The main goods traded by Epirotes were dyes, wax, wool, paper, hats, scarves from Halepi, rugs from Messini, cotton from Thessaloniki, Cyprus and Smyrna, and coffee from Alexandria. During the century that followed, the family expanded its trade to France, the Netherlands and Britain, entered the property market in Venice and the surrounding region and also became involved in banking, eventually making large fortunes. Family members owned property in Venice and the surrounding countryside (Levada, Mira and Scorze) as well as in Arta, Koboti and Ioannina. During the early decades of the 18th century, Anastassios and Christodoulos, sons of Panos and his wife Hymo, entered the French diplomatic corps, with Anastassios becoming French consul in Arta and Christodoulos vice consul in Ioannina. A few years later, Christodoulos’s son Lambros set up shop in St Petersburg, while in 1768 his brother Panos was appointed Russian charge d’affaires in Venice and was made a marquis by Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, as well as a Knight of the Order of St Anne by Russia’s Catherine the Great. In Venice, the Maroutsis family were involved in the administration of the Greek community in which they were often elected to office. They also made large contributions to the Maroutsaia School in Ioannina. Their effect on the Greek community, and on political developments of the time, have been the subject of research by several scholars including K.D. Mertzios, V. Kolios and Christina Papacosta (the latter two former scholarship students at the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies in Venice). This writer’s own research in the city recently led to a formerly unknown archive source with a number of reports on the family’s activities from the end of the 17th to the mid-19th century. The documents, found in the Venice State Archive in a collection that was only recently made accessible, include a number on the Maroutsis family dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, with correspondence between the family and their commercial agents in various ports such as Corfu, Leghorn and Trieste, in Bucharest and elsewhere, deeds to their property and movable assets, wills and other documents on claims to inheritance, on dowries, and a statement by Alexis Orloff that Panos Maroutsis had offered his services during the struggle against Turkish rule. There are letters sent by Panos to his brothers in 1765 and 1766 from Paris, Brussels, Moscow and St Petersburg. The archive is valuable for any research into the Greek community during the centuries of foreign rule. The material needs to be stored digitally, published and studied. It is not a job for a single researcher, but a group who can transcribe, comment and edit. Of course, none of this is possible without financial backing. The Hellenic Institute of Venice, the only scientific foundation which Greece has abroad, has been training specialized researchers for decades, and is prepared to organize such an undertaking. The foundation hopes that these funds will be found and that private individuals and foundations that have frequently indicated an interest in the country’s cultural affairs will eventually offer their support and sponsor the project. (1) Chrysa Maltezou is a professor at Athens University and the director of the Greek Institute of Venice.