The first century of Ottoman rule in Macedonia is characterized by a marked decrease in the Christian population which was primarily due to Muslim Turkic colonization. The Yuruks, a semi-nomadic Turkic tribe, represented the majority of the newcomers, having already appeared in Macedonia since the 14th century. Most ofthem settled in the region of Thessaloniki, in Central and Western Macedonia (Yenitsa, Kilkis, Strornnitsa, Servia, Florina) and as far north as Monastir (Bitola). At the same time, the Christian populations retreated either to the western and southern mountainous regions or to Chalcidice.2
Towards the end of the 15th century it was the tum of Jews to come in lagre numbers from Central and Western Europe and settle, mainly in Thessaloniki. The Askenazim, Jews of German and Hungarian origin, were the first to arrive, but the most numerous group was that of Spanish Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492. Other groups came from Sicily and Southern Italy and still more from Portugal in 1497. Jews of Western origin came to be known collectively as Sefardim (Spanish Jews). During the 16th century the Jewish element moved towards the interior of Macedonia and by the end of the century Jewish communities had been established at Skopje (Uskub), Monastir, Kavala, Drama, Serres, Siderocausia of Chalcidice, and elsewhere.3
However, the Jews were not the only mobile part of the population during the 16th century. Christian populations also began to move towards the plains. One part headed for Chalcidice where metallurgy was flourishing:
The most important movement ofpopulation was the resettlement of Vlachs from Agrapha and Acheloos, who began to move to Macedonia and, to a significant extent, to urbanize. The urbanization of the Vlachs as well of other local Greek and Vlach populations during the following century resulted in the depopulation of the interior of Macedonia; this facilitated the continuous flow of peasant Slav populations southwards.4
These movements seem to be confirmed by a recent study on Western Macedonia, according to which the population decreased by one quarter before 1641, following the relative swell of late 16th century. After this period and until 1683 the population of the western Macedonian plateaux seems to have remained stable, but a new decrease followed during the years of the Austrian-Turkish wars (1683-1711).During that turbulent period the islamization process, which had not ceased during the 16th century, intensified. The most characteristic example is the case of the Valaades, Christians turned Muslim (in the 19th century they constituted 25% ofthe population of the AliaJanon valley) who, however, had been hardly turkicized by the time ofthe Greek-Turkish exchange of populations.5
However, islamization in the 17th century was not the bane of Christians only. By mid-century, the Jewish communities were divided by the preachings of the pseudo-messiah Sabetai Chvi from Smyrna. After a ten-year activity, he was arrested by the Turks and eventually, in 1666, he was converted to Islam. Subsequently, many of his followers were islamized too, preserving, however, their Jewish customs. The so-called Donmeh (converted), although they gradually adopted the Turkish language, remained firmly aloof from genuine Muslims and Jews alike until the day of the exchange of populations.6
In Western Macedonia there was a considerable growth of population during the 1700s (about 50% from 1711 to 1788) followed by a decline towards the end of the centUry. In the sanjaks of Thessaloniki and Kavala it seems that the growth did not exceed 100% between the 16th and 18th centuries. Regarding the Christian population, in particular, whose ranks were decimated by islamization and emigration to Central Europe, the percentage of growth was only 50% -an annual rate of a mere 0.16%, compared to a 0.50% for the rest of Europe. For exactly the opposite reasons, which included extensive colonization, the Muslim share of the population grew. Considerable was the increase in the numbers of Jews, who, however, remained a small minority, some 40,000 in both sanjaks, out of an estimated total of 600,000. Of course, the value of such estimates regarding any particular district is limited. Thus, it was surmised that the Christian population of the villages in the region of Thessaloniki might have quintupled between late 15th and early 18th century’s.
At the turn of the 19th century (1801) the traveller Edward Clarke estimated the total population of Macedonia at 700,000. The first general Ottoman census, which was waged in 1831 and covered only the male population, proved Clarke's estimate inaccurate. According to it, the vilayet of Thessaloniki (Selanik, including probably some regions of Thessaly too) had the greatest proportion of Turkish population of all the European provinces of the Empire (41.70%). The male population amounted to 240,411 (127,200 Christians, 100,249 Muslims, 7,047 Gypsies and 5,915 Jews). In the vilayet of Monastir there were 208,222 male inhabitants (120,582 Christians, 81,736 Muslims, 4,682 Gypsies, 1,136 Jews, 24 Armenians and 35 of other religious affiliations).9
By Vasilis Gounaris
This text is from the Volume 1 of the book “Modern and Contemporary Macedonia ” and the article “Demographic Developments in Macedonia Under Ottoman Rule”, pages 44-46. Sources and bibliography at the book.