‘This is their profession’ Greek merchants in Transylvania and their Networks at the End of the 17th century
Maria Pakucs, The ‘Nicolae Iorga’ Institute of History and New Europe College Bucharest
Sometime in early 1694, the Greek merchant Kozma Kis (i.e. ‘Small’ in Hungarian) was lying on his deathbed in Sibiu, Transylvania, while his creditors, not waiting for his last breath, were opening up his shop and taking away bundles of English cloth.We know these details from the testimonies of sixty Greek merchants ofSibiu, when Kozma’s creditors requested the settlement of outstanding debts. Principally, the town judges of Sibiu acted as executors and administrators of deceased merchants, under great pressure coming from István Apor, a baron of the realm, and György Bánffy, the governor of Transylvania. The inquest papers are a goldmine of information on the commercial web of local and international trade connections created by the Greek merchants of Sibiu.
The Transylvanian case of the legacy of a foreign merchant, an extraordinary occurrence in our region for this period. The surviving primary sources on the lives of the Ottoman Greeks in Central Europe before the eighteenth century are scarce, therefore the documentation created in the wake of Kozma’s death in 1694gives us a welcome insight into realities of this professional group of merchants specialised in the trade with the Ottoman Empire. In this articleI aim to recreate the commercial and social network of aTransylvanianGreek merchant at the end of the seventeenth century in order to understand how it spanned a large territory, from the core of the Ottoman Empire to Poland, and how it crossed social boundaries by building a varied clientele, ranging from barons to servants of villages priests in rural Transylvania.I shall introduce briefly the political and economic setting of Transylvania in this period; then I shall discuss in more detail the local community of these Balkan-Ottoman merchants settled here from the sixteenth century on wards.
The largest part of the analysis will be dedicated to the events of1694in Sibiu and their implications. For this study I am relying on documents preserved in the archives of Sibiu, such as unpublished political and private correspondence, letters of debt, loan contracts, town protocols and judicial in quests written in Hungarian, Latin or German. Ido not have linguistic access to any historical sources related to the particular situation of Kozma Kis written in Greek and possibly preserved in the archives of the Sibiu Greek ‘company,’which could enrich the details of my analysis.
This material reveals the extent of the business undertakings of the Greeks in the second half of the seventeenth century, which excedeed the limitations of their legal status in Transylvania.Moreover, Kozma’s commercial activity in Central Europe enhances our understanding of the Greek commercial networks in Hungary and Transylvania. To date, scholarship focused exclusively on the juridical status of the Greeks in these polities, and a lack of diverse primary sources prompted a unilateral perspective, informed by the official legislation.For instance, Olga Katsiardi-Hering asserted that they “extended either within those regions themselves, as part of the bi-directional commerce between rural and urban areas, or within the Ottoman-ruled Balkans.”2While it is a fact that all Greeks travelled regularly into their home territories for financial and personal reasons, Kozma’s letters of debt and the testimonies of his fellow Greek merchants uncover his ambitious network of business partners and agents placed in the great commercial hubs of Central Europe, such as Nuremberg and Vienna.