Aleksandar Fotić

Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of Belgrade

Coping with Extortion on a Local Level: The Case of Hilandar’s Metochion in Zdravikion (Draviskos, Strymon Region) in the Sixteenth Century

Abstract: In the Ottoman Empire extortion on a local level was a frequent practice and it took diverse forms. The Ottoman documents preserved in the archive of the Monastery of Hilandar (Mount Athos) give us a picture of the ways in which its monks struggled to preserve their privileges and protect their large metochion at Zdravikion (about 700 dönüms). Their basic tax obligation to the “master of the land” (sahib-i arz) was paid annually in a lump sum (maktu‘) ever since 1481, when sultan Bayezid II exempted them from paying the tithe at the express request of the Wallachian voivode Basarab II Țepeluș. The annual lump sum of 600 akçes accounted for only a half of the total tax burden – they had been relieved of paying the other half by the sultan himself. This privilege was confirmed by all subsequent sultans, most likely until 1569. Local masters of the land (at first sipahis, then hass and finally vakıf authorities) persistently and in various ways sought to impose the payment of the tithe. This paper presents different arguments they used in the attempt to extort the payment of the tithe and the monks’ firm attitude in defending their rights before the kadı’s court and the Imperial Divan. Monks were able to prove their rights because they conscientiously kept, sometimes for centuries, all the necessary documents relating to their land possessions, producing them as evidence in court proceedings.

Keywords: Hilandar Monastery, metochion, Zdravikion, extortion, sixteenth century