The Progress of Arbanassi

With such an advantageous status, freedom from onerous taxation, security, and in later years guaranties of private property, its climate and wonderful location, Arbanassi was obviously an attractive place to live. So much so we see from existing documents that in 1541 there were 150 “taxpayers”, that number growing tenfold over following years.

That wonderful location provided one of the major businesses in the beginning of Arbanassi. In early Spring traders from Arbanassi would travel the entire Empire, buying the very best livestock of all types and return them to the lush pastures around the hills and mountains of Arbanassi for the summer. By late Autumn these very well fed animals would be in the “Salhani” or slaughterhouse, the meat being processed into a variety of products, the fats into candles and soap, the hides into high quality leathers for local craftsmen.

Not only did the people of Arbanassi produce such goods, they also created an active commodity market, and by stockpiling certain commodities, they could obtain the best prices in a bad season elsewhere in the known world. To the point where in 1714, Tsarigrad (Constantinople) was experiencing a dire shortage of tallow and butter. The Sultan himself sent a personally written message to the merchants of Arbanassi to “Please sell immediately at your best price these required commodities, and place them on my ships to be brought forthwith to the Capital!”

Silkworm farming in Arbanassi

Around the 17th century there was a great development in silkworm farming, Arbanassi soon becoming a large exporter of fine quality silk.

But it was trade itself which was becoming the core of Arbanassi’s growth and wealth. From existing official documents it is clear that Buzutci had by 1695 established one of the largest trading groups in this region. By the end of the century, Poland was also a large trading partner.

To the south, as natural Greek speakers, markets were opened with great rapidity in Greece and the many Arbanassi merchants were highly active in International trading.

To the North, trade was well established with Romania, the Ukraine, and especially Transylvania, whose King George Rakotci granted rights to form partnerships, (or companies in today’s language) to citizens of Arbanassi within Transylvania. Two men from Arbanassi, Andrei Arnavukelie and Georg islands in the Mediterranean, and from 1639, Evastiu Platzgu was the director of one of the largest trading companies in Greece, joined later in 1644 by Zotos Nikokincitis another well-known Arbanassi trader. Hristo Dabitany, Kosta Zotu and Isarie Hotu, all from Arbanassi were well known as powerful corporate traders throughout the region.

All of this activity did not go unrecognized by the other great civilizations of the period, especially Rome, with Bishop Antonio Stefani writing in a report to the Pope in 1685 – ” these people (from Arbanassi) are natural traders and astute business people, having already established not only business with our own principalities in Italy, but also roam as far afield as Hungary, Poland and Russia, and it has been brought to my attention the name of Dimitur Hintinlata from Arbanassi, who has active trade with India and Persia! We would do well to stay informed of these people.”

With international trade comes international money, and from this period that meant gold coinage, so Arbanassi became an active centre for currency exchange, and of course speculation on values of that currency.

This is a precursor of todays futures markets, and then as now, huge profits were made on such speculation between the major cities of the Empire and beyond. Such was the strength of the trade that Arbanassi was allowed to issue paper “letters of credit”, contracts and other certificates of value, and deal in moneylending. Remarkable enough for such a small town, but when its noted the names of women such as Elena and Mahie were active in such trade, the special status of Arbanassi in a Moslem world is only further confirmed.

A particular story may illustrate the sorts of wealth that Arbanassi contained, and its special relationship with the Muslim capital. In 1688 and 1689 around the Turnovo region, probably within a thirty to forty kilometer radius around Arbanassi, preparations were made for an uprising against the Ottoman invaders and Empire. This ultimately did not go on without the attention of the Ottoman rulers, and subsequent investigations and searches uncovered a huge cache of weapons within Arbanassi itself. While there is no indication that the people of Arbanassi were involved, one must remember that such activities would have normally led to terrible retribution and wholesale execution of entire villages, as had happened in other parts of the Empire.

But Arbanassi quickly sent its sincere apologies, along with 20,000 gold coins, literally a kings ransom in those times, directly to the Sultan. No more was ever heard of the matter between the Ottoman ruler and the people of Arbanassi.

Not so probably for the unfortunate people in the surrounding region who would have paid a much more terrible price for such covert activities against the Ottoman state.

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