You are on page 1of 7

GERASSIMOS PAGRATIS University of Athens The Consulates of the Septinsular Republic (18001807) in Sicily

The advance of Napoleon’s army to the East, in 1797, ended the Venetians’ sovereignty in the Ionian Sea, a sovereignty that had lasted for some four hundred years. This area acquired political unity for the first time in its modern history, when, in 1800, thanks to the international diplomatic game, the Septinsular Republic was founded. The creation of this state was made possible by the transient identity of interests of Russia and the Ottoman Empire, which were also guarantors of its function, aided and abetted by Great Britain. This development was of decisive importance for Ionian merchant shipping, for three main reasons: Firstly, the Ionian islanders had secured their defence and national integrity. Secondly, the Russians and the Ottomans undertook to protect Ionian shipping in various ways. The Russians, already since 1774, had permitted the Greeks to fly the Russian flag and have access to the grainexporting harbours on the north coast of the Black Sea, where numerous Greek communities had settled. The Ionian islanders, moreover, were able to count on the services of the Russian consular authorities wherever they had no representative of their own. The Ottomans, on the other hand, had assumed the obligation of protecting the islands’ ships and the merchants who were active in harbours of the Empire’s territory, mainly in the Barbary States of North Africa. It was to protect Ionian vessels from the Barbary corsairs that their captains were supplied not only with the Regia Patente but also with a firman signed by the sultan. The third comparative advantage of Ionian shipping was the neutrality kept by the Septinsular Republic in the wars of this period, initially between Britain and France (1803) and subsequently between France and Russia (1806). Ionian sea captains (and the Greeks in general) exploited the FrancoBritish conflict and the consequent withdrawal of these countries’ ships from the Levant, and took over the transport of cargoes from the Ottoman Empire to the ports of Italy and Malta, and vice-versa, without great competition.


Circumstances were particularly favourable for the Ionian Islanders to apply what they had been taught in the years of Venetian domination: that is, the development of commercial and maritime enterprises in a strictly protectionist regime.

The Consulates of the Septinsular Republic

So they formed the appropriate institutional framework for the smooth operation of trade and shipping, and constituted a dense network of consulates, set up on the traces of the previous Venetian consular map. The developments described briefly above acquire special importance if we consider that for the first time in modern Greek history, Greek merchants, ship owners and seamen, became masters in their own space and were subject consciously to the protection and the encouragement of State policy. Within this favourable clime, there developed in the Ionian Islands a mercantile fleet of unprecedented size for the place, consisting of 441 ships, of total capacity 56.959 tons and average capacity 132 tons. In the present paper, which is part of a wider research project on the history of merchant shipping in the Ionian Islands during the Napoleonic Wars, we shall examine some aspects of the operation of the Septinsular Republic’s consulates in Sicily. These consulates are included in a very wide network of representation of the Ionian Islands, which spread over

most of the Mediterranean, and beyond. Apart from the special envoys of the Septinsular Republic in Instanbul, Paris and Saint Peterburg, there are: -General Consolates in: Smirna, Palermo, Lecce, Patras, Arta ecc. and -Consolates in: Trieste, Naples, Venice, Leghorn, Genoa, Otranto, Malta, Barletta, Missolonghi, Thessaloniki, Prevesa, Chios, Odessa, Aleppo, Athens ecc.

The General Consulate of the Septinsular Republic in Sicily began operating in 1801, based in Palermo and with Baron Antonio Genzardi as General Consul. From this position, Genzardi was responsible for appointing sub-consuls and agents, to serve the Republic’s citizens and particularly the captains and crews who came into the region of his jurisdiction. More analytically, he appointed sub-consuls: 1) in Palermo, don Luciano Greco and, the Greek, Constantinos Adamos, 2) in the port of Messina, the Greek merchant Nicolaos Varvessis. 3) in Trapani, don Antonino Greco, father of Luciano Greco. The same person was vice-consul of the Ottoman Impire, 4) in Marina of Tuja (or Tusa), don Giuseppe Tantillo, 5) in Milazzo, don Pasquale Riolo, 6) in the port of Sciacca, (caricatore e spiaggia), don Giuseppe Friscia, 7) in the port of Terranova, don Gaspare Tedesco, 8) in Acireale, don Francesco Trinomi, 9) in Catania, don Giovanni Danielo.


The mapping of the sub-consulates shows that Genzardi made provision for coverage in all Sicilian harbours (échélles) into which an Ionian ship might possibly sail. It is not known why Palermo was chosen as seat of the General Consulate and not Messina, where other powers (Ottoman Empire, Russia, Austria, etc.) maintained corresponding services. We suspect that the reasons were administrative, but also geographical. That is, they were associated with the more advantageous location of Palermo in relation to Naples, which was the seat of the Bourbons. Of the services that the consuls provided, what concerns us most here was the facilitation of Ionian merchant shipping, which was also their most important responsibility. The first ships flying the flag of the Septinsular Republic sailed into the harbour of Messina in 1802 and the last one in 1807, the year of the state’s dissolution. In all, there were 67 arrivals/departures, with slight fluctuations annually, peaking in the year 1806, which was followed by the year with the least number of ships, 1807. number of % arrives/departures 1802 14 20,8 1803 12 17,9 1804 10 14,9 1805 11 16,4 1806 19 28,3 1807 1 1,4 TOTAL 67 100 Table 1. Arrives/departures of Ionian ships in Sicily


The main role of Sicily, or more precisely of the port of Messina, for Septinsular ships (76%) was that of intermediate port of call. A role that was to be expected and was obviously due both to the advantageous geographical location of Messina and the facilities it provided as a porto franco. In general, the departure harbours of the Ionian ships for which Sicily was an intermediate port of call or the final destination were very varied. Nonetheless, the superiority of the harbours of the Levant is clear, accounting for 74% of cases, as opposed to 26% of those of the West. The East as a starting point for the voyages of Ionian ships refers: -mainly (53%) to the Ionian Sea (Ζakynthos, Cephalonia, Corfu, Gulf of Lepant, Kythira). -to Constantinople and the Black Sea (Tangarok, Odessa), (28%), -and last, the Aegean Sea and Cyprus (19%). The Ionian islanders who began their voyages from the Levante and for whom Sicily was an intermediate port of call or the final destination, were importing to Sicily, as a rule, agricultural produce of the East (grain, currants, etc.) and to a lesser degree raw materials (acorns, sponges) for the operation of the manufactories of the West.
Departure ports of Ionian ships in Levant and imports in Messina Place n. % Commodities Ionian Sea (Zakynthos, 17 53 tar & raisins (Gulf of Lepant), barley Cephalonia, Gulf of Lepant, (Zakynthos, Cephalonia), wheat (Cephalonia), Kythira) maize (Cephalonia), iron (Zakynthos) Istanbul-Black Sea 9 28 wheat (Tangarok, Odessa) Aegean Sea (Maratonissi, 6 19 sponges (Rodes), acorns (Maratonissi), barley Scala Nova, Chios) –Cyprus (Cyprus) TOTAL 32 100

When the Ionian ships departed from a harbour in the West, this was: Leghorn, Barcelona, Tarragona, Naples, Marseilles, Tunis and Lungone. From these regions the Ionian islanders imported to Sicily colonial products (sugar and coffee from Livorno) and hides (from Barcelona).


Departure ports of the Ionian ships in “West” and imports in Messina place number % commodities Leghorn 3 27 sugar and coffee Barcelona-Tarragona 3 27 sole di Spagna Naples 2 18 Marseilles 1 9 Tunis 1 9 Lungone 1 9 TOTAL 11 100

All other products were simply transshipped via Messina to other ports. When Ionian ships used the Sicilian harbours as intermediate ports of call, the final destination of their voyage was: -64%, harbours in the East (mainly the Ionian Islands, the homeport of 18 of these 25 voyages). -26%, ports in the West, and last, -10%, ports on the east coast of Italy. The ports of Sicily exported to both East and West, mainly agricultural products (lemons, lemon juice, wheat, split peas, etc.), as well as few semi-processed goods, such as staves for casks, cotton yarn and soda.
Port Messina Messina Messina Messina Exports from the ports of Sicily Commodities Destination sardine, codfish, sugar Zakynthos sugar from Havana, Levant lemons wood, wheat, fava beans Naples soda (cenere), lemon Leghorn juice, cotton, cotton yarn, wine malmsey (malvasia) soda Canea Salt Ancona

Catania Trapani

From the total mapping of Ionian trade it becomes clear that the arena of the Ionian fleet’s activity was the Eastern Mediterranean, in which Ionian ships were carriers of agricultural produce from the Black Sea and the Aegean Islands to the Ionian Islands, as well as to the transit-trade ports of Italy and Malta. This last zone was probably the western boundary of the Ionian islanders, and of the Greek mercantile fleet in

general. There the products of the East were loaded onto larger ships of Western European countries, to continue their voyage to the markets of western and northern Europe. The favourable conjuncture of the demand for Black Sea grain and foodstuffs in general from the Levant, in a Europe plagued by wars, the Septinsular Republic’s policy of encouraging trade, the technical possibilities and the existence of accumulated capital, were all reasons underlying the formation of one of the most important mercantile fleets in the Eastern Mediterranean at that time. Beyond analysing the capacity of the Ionian fleet, the geography and the object of its activities, we hope that on completion of this present research project we shall be able to answer questions concerning Greek merchant shipping as a whole, such as the reciprocal relationship between shipping and the socio-economic system, in which it was in any case incorporated, the organizational framework of Ionian maritime trade, and last, the continuities or discontinuities in the persons and methods accompanying the practice of shipping activities.