The research program

This research proposal concerns the Jewish communities in Thessaly during the 19th century. Thessaly, the geographical area on which our project focuses, is a frontier region representing strong cultural diversity, as it used to be home to Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews and Gypsies. The region is also characterized by intense cross-border mobility prior to its annexation to the Greek State (1881). Our research will focus on the study of the local medium-sized Jewish communities of Thessaly, emphasizing the following issues: i. Formation of Jewish households, demographic patterns and trends (nuptiality, fertility and mortality) and migration of Jews within the region and towards other destinations (Salonika, Ioannina), ii. Socio-economic stratification of the Jewish communities as it emerges from the diversity of professions, iii. Culture, education, practices of philanthropy and social care, iv. Demographic, economic and social differences between the different cities of Thessaly, as well as between cities and villages, v. inter-faith relationships.

The main comparison will be established between the Jewish communities of Volos and Larissa (the largest cities in Thessaly). From a demographic and economic perspective, these two cities have followed a particular process of development. Larissa was the most populous city, gathering mostly a rural population, as opposed to Volos, a port city, which had attracted a working class population from Mount Pelion and from the Thessalian hinterland. The rapid industrialization of Volos and its almost simultaneous urbanization enlarged the gap between the two cities; they became competitive, each one of them claiming a leadership in demographic and economic terms. On the other hand, Trikala and Karditsa, smaller cities in Thessaly, absorbed the population of the neighboring villages, preserving their rural and farming character.

The research investigates the reasons which led the small Jewish community of Volos - completely unknown to the Central Committee of Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) in Paris - to establish the first school of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Ottoman Turkey in 1865, only five years after the foundation of the AIU (1860). It is worth noting that bigger Jewish communities, such as those of Edirne, Salonica, Izmir, Balat, Galata were still unaware of these educational institutions. At this point, we shall further analyze the role of this 'leading' Jewish community in the social and educational development of Jews in Thessaly and its contribution to the establishment of Alliance schools in Larissa (1868) and in Salonica (1872).

Another aspect of the research is related to the detection of the development and the activities of commercial entrepreneurship (before and after Thessaly's annexation) by the Faraggi brothers. These have been distinguished members of the Jewish community of Volos who undertook the difficult task not only to maintain a school, but also to mediate between the schoolmasters and the other members of regional school committees, trying to fight the political and class differences within the Jewish communities in Thessaly.

In a broader context, this project explores the social relationships between the different religious communities which were living side by side in Thessaly in a stormy period of major economic and social changes: the large migration waves following the creation of the Greek State (1821) and other nation states in the Balkan peninsula, the application of the Tanzimat reforms of the Ottoman Empire and their socioeconomic effects upon minorities, the Russo-Turkish war of 1877, the annexations of Thessaly to the Greek state (1881) and of Eastern Rumelia to Bulgaria (1885), the impact of the Greco-Turkish War of 1897.

Our research is based on archival sources located in Greece, in France and in the United Kingdom. A major part of our study was carried out in Paris, in the Archives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, in the National Archives of France and the Archives of the French Foreign Office. The National Archives of the British Foreign Office in London (which holds the correspondence of the British Vice-Consulate in Volos) were extremely useful. Moreover, the project aims at exploring the archives of local Jewish communities of Thessaly (Volos, Larissa, Trikala, Karditsa), as well as other "quantitative" sources: local municipal archives (Civil Registers Books of Births, Marriages and Deaths, Family Records).

Although the history of the Jewish communities, mainly after WWII, has been recently in the spotlight of research by historians in Greece and abroad, our knowledge on the growth of Jewish communities in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the region of Thessaly during the 19th century is still very poor. The principal goal of our project is to integrate the case study of the Jewish communities of Thessaly in the framework of European Jewish studies. The period covers the years between the War of Greek Independence (1821) to the Greco-Turkish War (1897) and to the complete collapse of the Ottoman Empire. These were times when the demographic character of Thessaly was constantly changing due to the gradual exodus of Muslim populations.