G. Pagratis, “Merchants and Shipowners in Venetian Corfu in the first half of the Sixteenth Century”, in Maria Christina Chatziioannou-Gelina Harlaftis (επιμ.), Following the Nereids. Sea routes and maritime business,...
Gerassimos D. Pagratis
One of the desiderata of recent Greek historiography is to define the physiognomy of the merchant and the shipowner. A second is to investigate their intervention in economic and social processes, of which they appear at once as products and agents. The related lacunae in our knowledge are due mainly to the lack of sufficient prosopographical examples from which we could elicit the more general typological traits of the persons involved in maritime trade. Despite the fact that relevant archival material is rare, several works have been produced, which shed light on partial aspects of the issue but without fulfilling the necessary preconditions for a broader synthesis. Most of these works refer to the late eighteenth and primarily the nineteenth century. For the preceding periods we are at present limited to a few studies that illuminate a handful of personalities and do not permit us to proceed to a typological hermeneutic classification.
The present paper attempts to sketch the portrait of the merchants of Corfu in a period when the island’s role in transit trade was upgraded, after the Venetians’ loss of Methoni and Koroni (1500), a loss which transformed the harbours of Corfu and Zante into obligatory ports of call for ships sailing from Venice to the Levant and vice versa. In these circumstances Corfu could function as an observation post for mercantile activities, with a geographical radius much wider than the local-regional. In order to achieve our goal, we have synthesized of a considerable number of prosopographical notes that allow us to distinguish the norms and the deviations from these.
First of all we should make clear that the merchants examined here are those who can be characterized as professionals. They are known as pramateftes (πραγματευτές), a term that is usually translated into English as pedlar, but in the case
 For prosopographies of sixteenth-century merchants see Georgios Ploumidis, “A typical sixteenth-century merchant-magnate”, Dodoni 27/1 (1998), 45-55 (in Greek), which refers to Pietro Condolignoti. See also Gerassimos Pagratis, “Mateo Vergi: Merchant from Corfu and owner of ships in Venice, in the 16th century”, Proceedings of the 3rd Panhellenic Symposium of Genealogy and Heraldry (29 October – 1 November 1998), Athens 2001, 589-593 (in Greek).
of Corfu has a different meaning. Pramateftes made up a professional group that presumably based its identity on membership of a corporate body (perhaps a guild), about which, however, we have no information; they were neither ad hoc traders nor persons with another primary occupation who participated sporadically in maritime trade, nor captains or seamen who engaged in trade in the course of their voyages.
In Europe in early modern times the pramateftis was essentially the itinerant merchant, a person who wandered about incessantly, carrying on his back or his pack animal his usually paltry wares to villages and towns that remained outside the organized trading networks.
As a rule the pramateftis made his living in economically backward regions. On account of his continuous peregrinations, his limited profits and his humble appearance, the pramateftis in the West had low social status. A chapbook (livello) of 1622 described a ragged pramateftis roving around “with a leather bag slung on his shoulder, with shoes that had leather only at the edge, and his wife trailing behind him, covered by a large hat pulled down behind so that it reached to her belt”.
To these typical features are added several nuances too, depending on the more specific needs he the pramateftis was called on to serve in each region and period. This is confirmed by the number and variety of terms used to describe this rather vaguely defined social type: in Italy merciajuolo, in Spain buhonero, in England pedlar, hawker, huckster, petty chapman or packman, in Germany Hueker, Hausierer, Ausrufer, etc.
The virtually wretched pramateftis often escaped the fate of his kind. The wealthy merchants of Manchester and the manufacturers of Yorkshire, whom Daniel Defoe describes in the eighteenth century as carrying their goods on horseback, were types of pramateftes. Affluent too were many of the pramateftes who acquired a permanent workplace and clientele, and concurrently began to climb the social ladder. In late eighteenth-century Munich the most powerful trading firms in the city had been founded by successful pramateftes of Italy or Savoy.
As far as the typical traits of the Corfiot pramateftis are concerned, we have noted a unique, of its kind and for its period, contract of apprenticeship in the art of trading (πραγματεία), of which we cite the summary:
 Fernand Braudel, Material Culture, Economy and Capitalism (15th-18th century), vol. I, Athens 1995, 56-86 (Greek translation).
Master Theocharis Rodas confessed that in the past, wishing his son Georgios to be instructed in the art of trade at a theoretical and practical level, sent him daily to the workshop of the Triantafillos brothers, Batis and Alivizis, his wife’s brothers. Because Master Theocharis wishes his son Georgios to learn more than what he already knows, for this reason he has agreed with the Triantafillos brothers to continue to train Georgios, both inside their workshop and on voyages at sea, and in journeys in the mainland opposite Corfu, and to show him from the theory and the practice of trade as much as his mind can hold. Master Theocharis promises on behalf of himself and on behalf of his son that after the end of the training none of them will claim any remuneration whatsoever from the Triantafillos brothers. The same holds also for the latter, who undertake also to cover the living expenses of Georgios.
The typical traits of the Corfiot merchant, as these emerge from the above document, refer to a type of mixed character, between the sedentary and the itinerant trader, between the petty trader and the merchant-magnate (negoziante). The limits of his activity were, however, clearly defined, since he learnt it through apprenticeship to an acknowledged pramateftis.
The kinship ties between the apprentice and his masters (Georgios was nephew of the two pramateftes – his maternal uncles) leads us to suppose that initiation into professional practices was largely within the tight family circle (father to son, uncle to nephew). If this hypothesis is correct, this must be a Corfiot peculiarity, since in Candia (mod. Herakleion) for example, a port with a much greater turn-over in the mid-sixteenth century, there were teachers of invoice and account books, who gave private lessons in arithmetic (abacus), Western foreign languages for trade, double-entry book-keeping, filling in of maritime documents and so on. There were also pramateftes and merchants whose basic tools for keeping their books were Glytzounis’s practical manual of arithmetic, their daily contact with commercial praxis and commercial handbooks in foreign languages, which in any case circulated widely in this par excellence international profession. In these ways they served their practical professional needs, even without the existence of
 General State Archives, Archive of the Prefecture of Corfu (henceforth GSA), Notaries, busta P 186 (Emmanuel Parastatis ), filza 1, f. 7v (1519).
 Manuel Glytzounis, Handbook for everybody containing practical arithmetic or rather called accounting, Venice 1568 (in Greek).
commercial manuals in the Greek language, which were published from the late eighteenth century onward.
The merchant’s responsibilities included running a store, from where he conducted his commercial affairs and sold various goods wholesale or retail, travelling on land and sea in search of promising merchandise which he purchased wholesale, and clinching deals to sell the commodities at a higher price than he had paid for them.
The centre of his enterprise was located outside the fortress of Corfu, where he kept a bottega (workshop) or a magazeno (shop or storage place), built of timber or stone, in which he stored his merchandise temporarily and from which he sold various commodities to individual customers or to partnerships. The two terms bottega and magazeno are used interchangeably and indiscriminately in the sources, in contrast to the case in other regions and other periods, such as Mykonos in the eighteenth century where magazeno denoted specifically the place of storage and wholesale selling of merchandise, whereas bottega was the store for retail transactions.
In Corfu too, in the sixteenth century, some distinction must have existed between shops in the retail trade and those in the wholesale trade, which must necessarily have had sizeable storage spaces. For example, the bottega of Pieros Bratanecis, which was stone-built, between 3.66 and 4.50 metres deep, and as wide as the door and the projection which opened outwards to display his wares to passersby, was more suitable for retail trade, or at least for orders of goods that would have been stored, at least temporarily, elsewhere and delivered directly to the buyer.
Possession and utilization of a store in its dual role (wholesale and retail trade), in parallel with possible participation in a professional corporation, were the
 See Triantafillos Sklavenitis, The Commercial Manuals of the Venetian Period and the Ottoman Period, and the Commercial Encyclopaedia of Nicolaos Papadopoulos, Athens 1991 (in Greek), esp. 11-53, with relevant bibliography.
 GSA, Notaries, b. M 245 (Georgios Moscos), f. 124r and b. S 147 (Petros Spongos), f. 76v.
 Vassilis Kremmydas, Chatzipanayotis Archive, vol. I: Chatzipanayotis-Politis, Athens 1973, 107-110 (in Greek).
 G.S.A, Notaries, b. M 180 (Antonios Metaxas), f. 325v. (1539). Essentially the word bottega denoted all places where services, commercial or other, were provided. So even the notary’s office was called bottega. GSA, Notaries, b. M 245, f. 52r and busta M 180, ff. 49v & 181r.
principal factors differentiating pramateftes from other tradesmen, systematic or occasional. The existence of a fixed professional abode was a great advantage, since it relieved the merchant of the costs of renting storehouses and undoubtedly influenced his business tactics.
As for the object of their trade, Corfiot merchants did not usually concentrate on one category of goods, but bought and sold whatever made a profit, and disbursed their capital, thus spreading possible losses due to unfavourable circumstantial developments in the trafficking of just one product. The examples are many and confirm the above hypothesis. Georgios Antonatos had in his store beans and pulses but also cotton. Zuan Vergotis on the one hand sold grain and on the other bought masts, with the intention of selling them. Silvestros Suvlachis dealt in razor blades and knives, but also cotton, from his bottega in the Spilia quarter of Corfu. In another bottega, belonging to Micail Pramateftis, one could find just about everything, from playing-cards, razor blades and copper frying pans, to writing paper. However, as is deduced from examination of the circulation of goods in the main harbour and the smaller outports of Corfu, the island was constantly short of foodstuffs, chiefly grain, to which need its merchants will have naturally responded.
A significant deviation from the rule of the European type of pramateftis was the social status of the Corfiot pramateftis. The merchant to whom Georgios Rodas was an apprentice, Batios Triantafillos, is not unknown in the Corfiot prosopography. Alongside initiating Rodas into the secrets of “the art of trade”, he was a member of the close circle of some 150 citizens who held the local civic offices of Corfu (1519, 1520 and 1524). Furthermore, he had the advantage of owning a ship, the Kolou, of
 For the merchandise circulated in the port of Corfu, in detail, see Gerassimos D. Pagratis, Maritime Trade in Venetian-held Corfu, 1496-1538, (doctoral thesis, Ionian University-Corfu), Corfu 2001, 160-204 (in Greek). Idem, “Trade and Shiping in Corfu (1496-1538)””, International Journal of Maritime History, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, vol. 16/2 (December 2004), 169-220.
 GSA, Notaries, b. G 54 (Michael Glavas), f. 310v.
 Op. cit., f. 158v.
 GSA, Notaries, b. S 146 (Petros Spongos), f. 15r.
 GSA, Notaries, b. T 11 (Manolis Toxotis), f. 275r.
 GSA, Enetocrazia, registro 5, ff. 303v, 305v & 307v. The council of 150 served for one year and from its members those who held public offices in Corfu were elected. The 150 members were voted for by members of the families included in the wide body of the cittadini of Corfu. For the social history of Corfu see Nicolas Karapidakis, Civis fidelis: L’ avénement et l’ affirmation de la citoyenneté corfiote (XVIème-XVIIème siècles), Frankfurt am Main 1992.
medium displacement, the crew of which his apprentice most probably joined as a cabin boy.
As far as the business activities of his brother, Alivisis Triantafillos, are concerned, we know that he participated in two partnerships in 1529, in which he had invested 57 Venetian ducats. The first of these was set up for the purpose of loading merchandise at an unspecified staging town, to be transported to the “Bay of the Venetians”. This was also the destination of the second partnership venture, which was to travel first “to the bay of Patras”. It seems that Alivisis stayed for long periods in Venice or at least travelled there frequently. We come across him paying his dues to the Greek Brotherhood of the city in the years 1520, 1524 and 1526; in 1526 he had also voted in the elections for its administration. In effect, his role was manager of the affairs of the family collaboration from the political and economic centre of the Ionian Islands. We assume that he spoke Italian, at least satisfactorily, and that he had useful acquaintances among the Greek merchants of Venice, who functioned as the link between the Venetian citizens and the privileged local merchants.
The Triantafillos brothers’ high profile and prestige in Corfiot society, to which their profits from trade had no doubt contributed, was no exception. We observe that over half the persons in the circle of Corfiot merchants enjoyed comparable social status. Scions of the old feudal families were also present in its ranks, such as the Avramis, Suvlachis and others. For all their land property –frequently not inconsiderable– at least some of the younger members of feudal families were systematically involved with commerce. They accordingly acquired the necessary infrastructure (workshop and ship) and voyaged for their mercantile affairs or assigned the obligatory travels to younger members of their closer or wider family circle. So, there is nothing strange in the fact that the role of pramateftis did not
 In June 1429 it was sent to Thessaloniki, in order to load grain to transport to Venice. GSA, Notaries, b. S 147, f. 134r.
 GSA, Notaries, b. S 147, f. 138r & 156v.
 Antonis Pardos, “Alphabetical list of the first members of the Greek Brotherhood (1498-1530)”, Thesaurismata, vol. 16 (1979), 377 (in Greek).
permit combination with other roles that could be considered socially inferior, such as of seaman paid by a share in the profits or by a salary.
The Merchants (pramateftes) of Corfu (source: Gerassimos D. Pagratis, Maritime Trade in Venetian-Held Corfu, 1496-1538, doctoral thesis, Ionian University-Corfu, 2001 (in Greek).
Certainly not all merchants had the same economic and social background. Gradations are observed, as is the case in any profession. Nevertheless, the tone in this particular class seems to have been set by the presence in its midst of some of the socially most powerful men on the island. As a rule, the Corfiot merchant came from the local nobility. He had turned his attentions to trade in order to increase his incomes from stipendiary local offices and from leasing public revenues and feudal landholdings. In so doing he adopted the example of nobles in the West, primarily Venice, who were the model for the Corfiot citizen in many areas of his life.
On the other hand, the norm shows that owning a ship, totally or partially, was a major advantage for a merchant and facilitated his transactions, as the case of the Triantafillos brothers and others attests.
The prosopographical examples presented below aim on the one hand to confirm the sketch of the Corfiot merchant and on the other to highlight in stronger colours certain facets of his physiognomy.
Augustinos Petritis is a typical case of a feudatory with significant social prestige and influence in his domain, who practiced trade systematically as a pramateftis, had close mercantile collaborations with members of his wider family milieu, and at the same time owned a ship. In 1515 the Community of Corfu entrusted him and Antonelos Vardas with the honorary office of outfitting a war galley. In contrast to other feudatories in the mid-sixteenth century (1545), he resided in the extra muros quarter of Corfu, in the parish of St Francis. His patrimonial land property was augmented by the dowry property of his wife, Kyra Remounda: vineyards and groves with olive, almond and pomegranate trees at Synarades. In the commercial sector he collaborated stably with his relatives, brothers Zorzis and Antonelos Vardas. In 1523 he settled his accounts with them and at the same time sold to Zorzis Vardas cotton cloth for flags, which he had ordered from Venice, and various luxury textiles. In 1512 he sold from his workshop cotton to Constantinos Zacanelis. In 1527 he was in Venice, where he also paid his contribution to the Greek Brotherhood.
 The most characteristic case in that of Alexandros Vergis (brother of Matteo), an energetic merchant and owner of two sailing ships. See more specifically, Pagratis, “Matteo Vergi”, op. cit.
 Augustinos was elected to the Council of 150 in the years 1506-1509, 1519, 1520 and 1524. GSA, Enetocrazia, reg. 5, filza 18, ff. 287r, 288v, 300r, 302r, 303r, 305r, 307r.
 Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Senato Mar, reg. 18, f. 63r and reg. 29, f. 51r.
 GSA, Notaries, b. G 54, f. 301r.
 GSA, Notaries, b. S 147, f. 43r-v. Antonelos Vardas, brother of Zorzis, was the uncle of Victor Petritis, Augustinos’s son. ASV, Senato Mar, reg. 29, f. 51r-v. ASC, Notaries, b. M 180, f. 308r.
 GSA, Notaries, b. T 11, f. 180r.
 Pardos, op. cit., 366. For more data on Petritis’s family circle see Katerina Zaridi, “The Corfiot versifier Iakovos Tripolis”, Eoa kai Esperia, vol. 1 (1993), 182-183 (in Greek).