Mastic Trade & Organization
During the Byzantine Empire (4th – 13th century) mastic monopoly was under the Emperor Michail VIII Palaiologos. The Genoan family Zaccaria took control of Chios in 1304 and Benedetto Zaccaria continued to trade mastic as he did from 1282. In 1346 the Genoan admiral Simone Vignoso and twenty-eight more admirals decided to each equip a vessel in order to conquer Chios. The admirals conquer Chios and in 26th of February 1347, signed a treaty with the republic of Genoa and founded the company of Maona of Chios. The treaty defines the relationship between a strong state and a private economic company. The Maona of Chios has the right to occupy and exploit Chios for twenty years, until the debt of the republic of Genoa is paid off. Maona of Chios becomes responsible to defend Genoa’s interests in the East. In 1362 Maona of Chios seizes to operate, only to become a new company. The company’s operation changes with the signature of a new treaty that renews Maona’s rights in Chios. The new company is named New Maona of Chios and its main difference is that the island of Chios is divided in twelve parts which are equally rented to tenants. The new company works as a joint-stock company and is considered the forerunner of colonial enterprises. The company is also known as Maona of the Giustiniani because the tenants changed their last name to Giustiniani. The name ‘Giustiniani’ and ‘Maonesi’ are correlated.
Maona had a very strict program regarding the production of mastic. For this reason, they implemented a production of maximum 42.000 kilos per year. If the production exceeded this limit, the difference of product was kept in storage for the next year or it was burnt. Maona kept contracts of three, six, eight and ten years with companies from Genoa, Armenia, Cyprus, Istanbul, Alexandria, Greece, and Syria. The transportation of the product was taking place in sealed crates called ‘cuffini’ that were wrapped in textile. One crate weighted approximately forty-eight kilos. The vessels that transported crates with mastic were called ‘mastic boats’ and they could transfer fifteen to thirty crates. Maona was even stricter when it came to incidents of theft or acceptance of stolen products. Thus they implemented punishments for the thieves and rewards for those who would snitch. If someone stole less than 10 liters (3,2 kilos), s/he would be whipped and cut his/her ear. If the amount was 10 to 25 liters, s/he would be stigmatized on the forehead with a burning iron. If the amount was 25 to 40 liters, s/he would have his/her nose and right ear cut. If the amount was 50 to 80 liters, s/he would have his/her nose and both ears cut and be stigmatized on the forehead. If the amount was 100 to 200 liters, one eye would be removed and an arm or leg would be cut off. If the amount exceeded 200 liters or if someone was caught stealing for the second time, hanging would be the punishment.
Social figures of Maona’s rule over Chios include the mastic officials (Officiales Super Recullectionem Mastics) which were responsible to gather and deliver the mastic, the investigators (Perquisitores) who researched the vessels for smuggling, the Castellani who was the chief of the castle of Chios and the military force of the island, the accountants (Logiriastitae) who supervised the mastic and divided the duties to the secretary on general duties, secretary on sales, and the weigher, the commissioner (Podesta) who had the juridical, administrative and fiscal control of the island, and the employees (Scriba Masticis) who kept record of the mastic production. It is interesting to mention that only the employees could also be of Greek nationality. The last record of an employee was in 1700 and it was John Mavrocordatos of the historical Greek family. He later became ruler of Moldavia.
During mastic trading of the Genoese there is also a letter from Christopher Columbus destined to Luis de St. Angel (Treasurer of Aragon). The letter is dated 15th of February 1493 and Columbus wrote it to report on his findings from his first trip to America. It is noteworthy that among the American discoveries that the King and Queen can have, he mentions that they can still order as much mastic as they like from Chios at a special price for them because so far he has found it only there.
In 1566 the occupation of Chios changes as the Ottomans conquer the island. As rulers of the island the Ottomans took over the monopoly of the mastic trade; a product that was already very famous in the Ottoman Empire and especially among the Sultan’s harem. The annual production is estimated approximately from 50.000 to 60.000 okades (1 oka = 1.208 gr) per year. Nevertheless, the Ottomans allowed some facilitations for the mastic communities. Mastic producers had to pay poll tax as well as mastic tax in kind instead of money. Mastic tax was calculated according to the annual production. For example, if the production was 21.000 okades, mastic tax would be 5.020 okades.
During the Ottoman Empire, local people of Chios seem to have been more involved in the social organization of the mastic villages. Some social figures and roles appearing at that time are the Assembly of the Mastic Villages which was comprised of elderly people coming from the twenty-one mastic villages and they functioned as a local parliament that was meeting among other places at Panagia Sikelia, the Sakiz-emini who was a Turkish officer responsible for the collection of the mastic tax (he collected the tax once per year, while his arrival was announced every time with drums so that the people can prepare their payment), the Sakiz-vekileri who was Greek, voted by the Assembly of the Mastic Villages, and functioned as the consultant of Sakiz-emini, a team of villagers who kept record of the mastic production, the weigher who was Jew and accompanied Sakiz-emini on the collection of the mastic tax (it is said that he was taking advantage of his position because every time he weighed an amount, he took a handful of mastic for him and a handful for the Agha), and the field guards who were Greek and were responsible to keep the doors of the village closed during collection of the mastic tears from the fields.
In 21st of February 1821 the Greek Revolution started against the Ottoman Empire. In Chios a big massacre took place from the 22nd till the 25th of April 1822. By the end of the massacre approximately three quarters of the island’s Greek Orthodox population of 120.000 are killed, enslaved or die of disease. Of the survivors, almost all flee as refugees. An estimated 20.000 are direct victims of the massacres. A further 45.000 are taken into slavery, of whom about half are redeemed and half die (neglected and in poverty throughout the Ottoman Empire). In Istanbul some Chian slaves are offered for sale at 100 piastres (Ottoman currency) each, though the sudden glut means that slave prices tumble throughout the region. Mass circumcisions of young Christian Chians takes place in Istanbul, while women are dispatched to the brothels. An unquantifiable number die on the island as a consequence of hunger and disease. Around 5.000 Chians, mostly prosperous merchants and diplomats, happen to be abroad at the time – including many young men learning the family business in satellite trading houses in port cities around the Mediterranean. Around 15.000 manage to escape the island before Kara Ali’s Turkish troops invade the island. The only formal record of named victims is to those members of the island’s aristocracy held hostage in the Castle or hanged on the 23rd of April 1822.
In 1825 many Chians migrate to the island of Syros and establish a ‘second Chios’ which has a predominantly Greek Roman Catholic population. The Chians embark on rapid construction projects and re-establish their shipping and trading enterprises. Today Syros still has a monopoly on the manufacture of Turkish Delight, a ‘Chian’ specialty made from mastic.
Although the majority of Greece was independent by 1829, Chios remains under the Ottoman rule till 1912 when the Greek Navy liberated Chios in a hard-fought but brief amphibious operation. The Ottoman Empire recognized Greece’s annexation of Chios and the other Aegean islands by the Treaty of London (1913). Mastic trade those year was still affected but with consequences. From the 1910s a crisis at the commercial price of mastic is observed and the following Balkan Wars (1912-1913) and World War I (1914-1918) result in some years of zero mastic exportation.
From the mid-1920s local people started to freely self-organize. There is therefore the creation of ‘masticharia’ which were cottage industries owned by former fruit growers and merchants of dried fruit and mastic, who were responsible for processing the mastic gum. It was women migrants from Asia Minor who worked there in order to clean and sort the mastic gum which was then delivered to local facilities for further processing, and then to markets of Europe (France, England, Cyprus, Germany, Romania, and Greece), Asia (Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and India), and North Africa (Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria). Αt that time the mastic producers also started organizing meetings in order to discuss the market and use of mastic products, take decisions regarding the control of cultivation, improvement of crop production, and collection of the mastic left overs on the tree and the soil after the collection period (kakoloi). In the meantime from 1922 to 1940 there have also been several changes in the agricultural policy that affected mastic cultivation. The continuous change of governments and dictatorships in Greece modified the agricultural policy and reformed rural space. Main objectives of these changes were to expropriate estates and redistribute land, turn to the production of agricultural products destined for the Greek market, intervene in institutional and financial matters, and support small agricultural producers to form agricultural associations.
George Staggoulis (a doctor and at that time president of the Olive Fund of Chios, also took part in the discussions of the mastic producers) writes an article in 1929 for the first time in order to express his opinion on the matter of the mastic crisis. He disagrees with the suggestion from the mastic producers to expand the mastic plantations and collect ‘kaloloi’ because on the one hand, at the eastern villages there is no sufficient place to plant new trees, and on the other hand, at the western villages the soil is not fertile. Furthermore, he finds that protection and intervention from the government would be inefficient because the sole thing that they can provide for mastic cultivation is restriction orders. He believes that without a proper study of consumption, production and market, discussions will not be fruitful. Therefore, he suggests that mastic producers are the key persons that should begin such discussions because it is their position that is at stake. As far as intermediate merchants exist, the situation will not improve. He suggests then the creation of mastic associations in every village so that the association can defend the producers’ rights (they will engage in defining the price, cleaning the mastic, and trade).
In 1932 the Governor of Chios constitutes a ‘Committee for the salvation of Chios Mastic’. The committee’s task is to process the proposals that will be submitted to the technical advisers of the Ministries of Agriculture and of National Economy. The proposals would then be presented in the meetings of the mastic producers in order to be enriched with their opinions. Two conventions took place in 1932 and 1934 in order to inform and make dialogue with the mastic producers. Both of them took place at the village of Kalamoti which at that time was the representative administrative village of the mastic villages in southern Chios. As an outcome, local associations were founded in the mastic villages while on 22nd of April 1937 the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association was founded. Reasons that led to the foundation a general association is firstly because the mastic producers seemed inactive regarding the ‘mastic crisis’ till 1934. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie of Chios was active and started discussing the idea of founding an association while the Agricultural Bank of Greece, local members of the Greek parliament, and the government supported the idea of founding an association. From a social point of view, the Association was founded to protect mastic producers from merchants that could regulate the demand and price of mastic.
In the Chora of Chios an important figure that helped understand the mastic merchants’ part was Constantinos Argyrakis who was raised in Smyrna in a bourgeois family, knew many languages, and was director of a commercial company. He took over as the first director of the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association when it was founded in 1937.
In order to facilitate and better regulate and supervise the mastic production, the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association votes to start the operation of local accountant’s offices in 1941. Three local accountant’s offices started to operate at Nenita (responsible for the local associations of Nenita, Vouno, Koini, Katarraktis, Neochori, Kallimasia), at Exo Didima (responsible for the local associations of Agios Georgios Sikousis, Mesa Didima, Exo Didima, Mirmigki, Tholopotami, Lithi, Vessa, Elata), and at Kalamoti (responsible for the local associations of Mesta, Olimpi, Pyrgi, Armolia, Kalamoti, Patrika). The accountant’s office was responsible to keep updated the accounting books of the local associations. Their operation started with problems because of World War II and the German Occupation. After 1945, regulation of the accounting books was imperative.
During the German occupation of the island, it was decided through the local meetings of the Chians that the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association will be responsible for the supply of food to Chians and their animals. Therefore, on 13th of January 1942 the Association exchanged with Turkey 15.784,86 kilos of mastic for 150 tons of figs and 146.762 kilos of chickpeas, in the 17th of August food supply was organized to be delivered in Chios from Evros, all at the expenses of the Association, while a second exchange with Turkey took place on 22nd of December of the same year when 11.665 kilos of mastic were exchanged for 200 tons of figs. At that time the German financial office gave mastic export licenses for the Turkish market which resulted to a drop of the mastic price. By the end of World War II, the Association was eager to revive mastic trade and the development of mastic products. For this reason, in 1947, professor Spinos was hired as technical advisor for the production of mastic products. At the same time Evanggelos Mendonidis, a mastic producer and founding member of the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association, leaves the Association and applies to the Greek state for a patent certification for the production of chewing gum.
In the 1950s George Staggoulis becomes president of the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association. This decade offices and storage rooms in all local associations and the new offices of the Association are constructed, a chewing gum factory is built, and the management of all mastic products is redeveloped. The market of Turkey declines while Iraq becomes a main one. In 1950 the first mastic oil is produced at the premises of the Association through distillation while in 1952 professor Spinos stops his collaboration with the Association and Evanggelos Mendonidis takes his place. The first chewing gum ‘VEM’ (‘BEM’ in Greek) is produced while the necessary machines and raw material for the production of chewing gum is bought. ‘VEM’ was not very successful and the Association stops rather quickly its production. New research is conducted and in 1956 ‘ELMA’ (ELliniki MAstiha; that is, Greek mastiha) is produced. The name of the product was conceived from a competition among schools of Chios.
During the 1960s the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association becomes an important stakeholder of northern Chios when it comes to agricultural topics. The Association gradually expands its tasks by creating industrial facilities and by managing in this way almost the overall agricultural production. The market of Iraq creates a big demand of product which becomes a problem considering the difference of demand and production. At the same time, inhabitants of the villages start to flee towards the town. For this reason, the Association decided to pass a legislative decree of obligatory mastic cultivation. Chewing gum is the main product that offers most of the Association’s revenues. At that time and because of the Association’s involvement in the main topics of the Chian society, it acquires an institutional role and develops into a regulator of the political and economic life of Chios.
In 1978 George Staggoulis dies and Thrasyvoulos Kastanias takes his place as president of the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association. This decade is characterized by the termination of exports to Iraq and a general decline in the mastic production mainly due to heavy rainfalls that took place and destroyed the crop. Priorities became to manage the stock, pay on time the producers for their delivered product, minimize smuggling, and develop sufficient regulations that defend the producers’ rights. Above all, the Association’s preoccupation was to defend its institutional role by creating strong bonds with political figures and by conforming to each government. Furthermore, in 1979, machines for cleaning the mastic were installed in the Association.
From 1983 to 1987 Aristeidis Belles was president of the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association. In 1984 the Association decides to buy new machines for the chewing gum factory that is built and starts to operate in 1988. This decade was rather negative for the Association because of changes in agricultural politics and the presence of political parties among the local associations and the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association. The Association has many debts and scandals appear from time to time. As a consequence, the mastic producers chose to stop delivering their product to the Association because of its negative image. They sell individually and enjoy the height of the mastic price.
Regulation of the debts and reduction of the Association’s tasks lead to positive outcomes. Production and sales of mastic rise while the insertion in European programs and the acquisition of the Certificate of Origin for mastic ameliorates the Association’s image. President during this decade is Konstantinos Ganniaris, and towards the end of the 1990s the Association decides to move towards new approaches for mastic marketing. In 2002 the Association creates a subsidiary company called Mediterra in order to take over the marketing of mastic products. Mediterra establishes the first ‘Mastihashop’ in Greece in July 2002 while nowadays mastihashop can also be found in Cyprus, Jeddah, New York, Paris, and Qatar.