Salonika and the Jews
Misha Glenny is one of Europe's foremost Balkan specialists. His survey of the Balkans is one of the best modern histories of the region, which he originally covered as a journalist. Here he discusses the now vanished world of Jewish Salonika.
Since the Jewish colonization of the town in the first two decades of the sixteenth century, Salonika had been the hub of the Sephardic world in the Balkans. Settlers moved along the spokes of a wheel which radiated out to Üsküb (Skopje), Sarajevo, Kosovo, Split and Valona (Vlorë) before reaching further to settle in Belgrade, then later in Sofia, Plovdiv and Smyrna (Izmir). The more adventurous traders built new maritime networks across the Aegean to the Near East, the Maghreb and western Europe. Their commercial success was based on the strong bonds which linked the Salonika community with their co-religionists in the Balkan hinterland and on the establishment of loose but effective trade monopolies in Salonika.
Above all the Sephardim were masters of the cloth trade. Their most important customers were the janissaries. The Salonika Jews enjoyed the exclusive right to supply the vanguard of the Sultan';s military power with all their clothes. So when Murad ll instigated the destruction of the janissaries in 1826, the consequences for the Salonika Jews were severe, and the compounded by the penetration of cheap mass-manufactured British garments into the Empire.
The Balkans 1804-1999: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers. Misha Glenny. 1999.
[pp:180-1 / Granta Books]