Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Salty Peloponnesos

The Acts of the Third International Congress of Peloponnesian Studies, Kalamata, 8-15 September 1985 (Athens, 1987-1988) contain all kinds of neat papers spanning from antiquity to modernity. Angelike Panopoulou's article (in Greek) "Salt Works and the Production of Salt in the Peloponnese Based on the Grimani Archive (1698-1700)," (v. 3, pp. 305-329) is one such paper. Panopoulou presents the historical evidence for salt works in the Peloponnese. It's difficult to imagine such an obscure yet fascinating topic appearing in a mainstream academic journal. One has to love these Greek conference proceedings. I came across it only while searching for a different article by Drandakes on rock-cut chapels.

Cyprus seems to have been the dominant source of salt for Venice and its global markets until 1570-1571, when the island was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Crete filled the salt gap at the end of the 16th c. and first half of the 17th c., but the wars of 1645-1669 and the consequent loss to the Ottomans, as well, terminated supplies. As other European nations shouldered Venice out of her commercial primacy, the Venetian authorities compensated by exploiting salt production from their newly-acquired Peloponnesian colony. The Grimani archive illustrates that salt production was concentrated in Thermisio (Corinthia), Pyrgos, Lechaina (Eleia), Kamenitsa (Achaia), Methoni, and Coroni (Messenia). The salt of Thermisio was of best quality; the industrial installation employed about 600 workmen. The salt of Pyrgos was popular for local markets but too poor for export. Salt had been produced in Methoni and Coroni since the 13th c. and continued to be exploited. I would be curious to know if there is any archaeological evidence on salt works. There is none that I know from Pyrgos, Lechaina, and Kamenitsa. I must asked Bill Caraher about Thermisio. The Corinthia seems prime for early industrial activities housing, for example, Washingtonia, an American company town that is almost completely forgotten. I cannot wait for EKAS to publish this site.

Panopoulou raises issues of labor. A large workforce had to be conscripted from the mountainous hinterland. Some coercion had to be exercised since most locals preferred agricultural work to the miserable industrial conditions of salt. Panopoulou offers hard data on production quantities and qualities. Although this is a 20-year old article, its obscurity makes it an exciting discovery, and a veritable thirst-quencher.

Food has been on my mind while I prepare a seminar on the Medieval Mediterranean for Wesleyan University. See future postings on medieval food. For a global history of salt, a popular work (now in paperback) hits the spot, Mark Kurlanskry,
Salt: A World History (New York, 2002). I've seen it in stock at most Border's and Barnes and Nobles bookstores.

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Kostis Kourelis

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