The introduction emphasizes the paradox surrounding mastic. Despite the fact that the skinos plant is a characteristic feature of the maquis vegetation in countries of the Mediterranean, only in the south of Chios is the plant cultivated systematically in order to produce mastic, thanks to methodical eugenics, standardised commercial exploitation and the particular climatic conditions.

A song about the skinos plant is heard in the room. At the open exhibition case we can touch the sweepings (skinos leaves, soil and mastic), which is the form in which mastic is gathered at the field. The mastic grower’s toil is reflected in the verses sung by Mrs. Marianthi Almyroudi, recorded in 2015 at Mesta village. The smell of mastic becomes stronger. A map shows the 24 villages in the south of Chios where gum mastic is produced; accordingly, they are known as the Mastichochoria (the mastic villages). Written sources serve as proof that mastic is produced only in Southern Chios.

The Mastichochoria in southern Chios

These villages were created in the Middle Ages, in order to organise in a systematic fashion the production and exploitation of natural gum mastic. They were built on sites that were not visible from the sea, and they were enclosed by outside walls in order to ensure protection from invaders as well as to confine and control the population. From the very beginning, the administrative and social unit that each settlement constituted had acquired a special significance. Thus, every village configured and maintained its particular characteristics thanks to which it was distinguished from the others: dialect, customs, clothing, even the various subspecies of the skinos plant.

Today there are 24 mastic villages in southern Chios: Agios Georgios Sykousis, Armolia, Vavyloi, Vessa, Vouno, Elata, Exo Didyma, Tholopotami, Thymiana, Kalamoti, Kallimasia, Katarraktis, Koini, Lithi, Mesa Didyma, Mesta, Myrmigi, Nenita, Neochori, Olympoi, Pagida, Patrika, Pyrgi and Flatsia. The villages that were not destroyed during the earthquake of 1881 retain most of their original features.

The paradox of mastic

The Chios mastic had been a recognizable product even from the time of Antiquity, when it already had acknowledged uses and specific qualities. Oribasius, a physician who lived in the 4th century A.D., reported: Resin is produced from skinos, also called skinini, and becomes mastic; the best and most plentiful is to be found on Chios Island. Around 600 references to gum mastic and its byproducts can be located in the works of at least 50 Greek and Latin authors in ancient times.

In our times, the unique qualities of this resin are attributed to the following factors: a. methodical application of eugenics; b. systematized commercial exploitation; c. the climate of southern Chios. The tall wooded mountains in the northern part of the island contain humidity and weaken the northern winds, thus granting the hilly part of southern Chios a very special climate with mild winters and very dry summers. Often it rains throughout the island, except in the region of Mastichochoria; dry and hot summers at Mastichochoria allow gum mastic to dry. If the mastic gets wet before “maturing”, it is ruined.

Skinos growers on Chios used to distinguish the trees that gave the most and better quality resin. They would cultivate those and propagate them in order to create new plantations with skinos trees that retained the qualities of their ancestors. As centuries passed, methodical application of eugenics created a new kind of skinos tree that was much more productive in terms of the amount of mastic that could be acquired from it, and this variety became known as Pistacia lentiscus var. Chia (mastic tree). Today, though, scientists gradually understand that this variety was the product of systematic cultivation (Pistacia lentiscus cul. Chia).

Through a trade network that was quite extended, gum mastic moved to the centre of a systematized framework of commercial exploitation, and was considered an expensive and valuable product that dominated the market thanks to the variety of its uses and applications. The commercial significance of gum mastic is also reflected in the Price Edict promulgated in 301 by Emperor Diocletian, in order to determine a price cap for goods and services. The Edict was posted in marketplaces of various cities and listed the goods and services chosen by each city according to its particular commercial needs. The Chios mastic is mentioned in excerpts from the Edict that were found in southwestern Anatolia (Aphrodisias of Karia) and in the Peloponnese (Tegea and Troizina). The trading of mastic as commercial product on both sides of the Aegean confirms that this was a product that circulated in short-distance as well as long-distance trade. In addition, records taken from these excerpts reveal that the Chios mastic maintained its high price per libra: one libra of mastic (327.45 grams) costs 175 dinars, when the same amount of incense, for example, costs 150 dinars, while a libra of pork meat or beef costs 12 and 8 dinars, respectively.

Skinos and gum mastic

The exhibition unit “Skinos and gum mastic” presents the characteristics of the plant (skinos) and the qualities of its resin (mastic). The unit develops in visual dialogue with the skinos plantation outside, so as to highlight the form of the plant and its relation to the rest of the plantation. The light box showcases the scientific information about the physiology of the plant and the chemical properties of the resin, thanks to which gum mastic was acknowledged as a natural medicine.

What is skinos?

The skinos plant, also known as the mastic tree, is an evergreen shrub. It is a resilient plant, which thrives, in the arid, stony, dry and poor soil of southern Chios, where the male plants are cultivated. A strong variety of the plant is propagated, as new plants are created when the growers plant branches or grafts.

The mastic tree has a lifespan of more than a hundred years. It grows slowly and starts to produce resin five to seven years after planting. From the age of fifteen and until its fiftieth year, the plant gives its peak production of mastic, which decreases considerably after the seventieth year. Average yearly production per tree is 150-180 grams of mastic. Rarely, a single tree produces up to 2 kilograms.

Because the mastic tree needs adequate air circulation, the skinos trees are planted in lines at a distance of 3 to 5 metres from each other, and in rows at a distance of 2 to 3 metres from each other. Because mastic also needs shade, the foliage of the tree becomes shaped like an umbrella providing ample shade for branches and the area around the trunk of the tree. The tree is pruned in such a way that the branches start out from a low point and develop parallel to the ground, if possible, so that the resin tear may flow on shady and clean soil.

Family and genus

The oldest surviving testimony that confirms the existence of the skinos plant (Pistacia lentiscus) has been found at the site of the volcano on Santorini Island, where fossilized leaves of the plant dating from 50,000 to 60,000 years ago have been found enclosed within the walls of the caldera.

The plant Pistacia Lentiscus var. Chia belongs to the Anacardaceae family. It is related to species such as the pistachio tree (Pistacia vera) and terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus).

Today the mastic trees are characterized by a variety of subspecies that often differ from village to village. The differentiation is more prominent in the foliage and the height of the shrub, while the amount of resin produced may also vary.

What is gum mastic?

The natural gum mastic of Chios is a resin. More than 70 of its ingredients have been identified. It consists of 3% essential oil, 25% natural polymer, and 72% total extract. Subcomponents of this resin have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant properties as well as beneficial activities against diabetes.

Over time, gum mastic has been used in the following ways: a) as an ingredient of chrism, as incense and as colour stabilizer in religious painting of icons; b) as chemical component of varnish for musical instruments and furniture, benzol, linseed oil, in the mix used as stabilizer and glue for glass and precious stones; c) as aromatic substance in the production of wine and raki, as condiment in the preparation of sweets and pastries; d) as ingredient of soaps, creams, sunscreen; e) as ingredient in products for the cleaning of teeth, for the protection from dental diseases, for clean breath, for periodontal perfusion, to stop toothache, as a stabilizer for teeth, in toothpicks; f) in medicinal uses for the digestive tract, the strengthening of cardiac function, to combat coughing, to regulate hair growth, to combat skin diseases and infections, to disinfect and to ensure asepsis.

Natural medicine

Pedanius Dioscorides, from Anazarbus, Cilicia, in Asia Minor, in his five-volume pharmacological manual titled Περὶ ὕλης ἰατρικῆς, also known as De Materia Medica (About Medical Material), dating from 77 A.D., records the basic information about mastic, apparently adopted by later medical writers as well.

In our days, scientific research gradually confirms the beneficial properties and uses of mastic in medicine. In 2015, the European Medicines Agency (Ε.Μ.Α.) classified mastic as a traditional herbal medicinal product in two therapeutic indications: mild dyspeptic disorders, and treatment of minor inflammations of the skin and as an aid in healing of minor wound.

The ingredients of mastic that have proven therapeutic action are the following: moronic acid (antimicrobial activity), oleanonic acid (anti-inflammatory activity, against diabetes) as well as the isomasticadeniolic acid and masticadenionic acid (anti-oxidant properties, active against diabetes).


The exhibition unit titled “Cultivation” describes the various stages in the cultivation of the skinos plant and the production of mastic. Mastic farming is an arduous toil. The expertise of cultivation techniques is transmitted from generation to generation, further developing the know-how from the past. Local society centres on the production cycle of mastic, as the role of the mastic grower continues to carry full weight until our times.

Mastic growers care for the tree, prepare the soil (arrange the so-called “table”, i.e. the ground around the trunk, and add sifted white soil), they make incisions on the trunk and the branches of the tree (i.e. they embroider it, to get the tears). A few days later, the mastic resin has started to flow, and then growers begin to collect the mastic drops. When the weather gets colder, the women start working on the mastic in the village. They sift it, they soak it, they clean it and they deliver it to the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association. Today this traditional process has been inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

This exhibition unit is divided into three sub-units: a) work in the field, b) work in the village, and c) mastic: intangible cultural heritage. Various objects (tools, clothing, equipment, and furniture), texts and oral history, audio-visual productions and photographic material add to the contents of this exhibition unit.

Mastic cultivation in the annual cycle of agriculture

Despite its uniqueness and commercial value, mastic cultivation and production is unable to provide adequate financial resources for the subsistence of local population. For this purpose, the traditional family unit on Chios Island continues to cultivate olives, grains, figs, vine, vegetables and legumes, and also develops bee-keeping, cattle breeding and fishing.

Nevertheless, mastic cultivation is the most arduous and tiring of them all. The skinos plant demands continuous care throughout the year. Indeed, during the harvesting and the cleaning of mastic, everyone works, man and women, children, adults and the elderly, as well. Yet, because agricultural work in general is plenty, mainly the female population is employed in the cultivation of mastic.

Care for mastic trees starts in winter and ends in spring. Resin is produced in summer and during the first months of autumn. From October until early spring, the mastic drops are cleaned in the households. During this long period, mastic cultivation is the dominant element of daily life.

The Skinos Plantation

In the past, the skinos plant used to be cultivated at a distance from the villages, at the edges of hills and generally in the most arid and hilly terrain. Vegetables, grains, and legumes were cultivated in the areas nearest to the villages, while the olives, the carob trees, and the various fruit trees were located further afar.

The skinos plantations, or mastic fields, have a particular morphology. The soil is arranged in terraces divided by dry-stone walls built with stones that are revealed during the clearing of land. Often, a small stone cabin is built in the field, as temporary housing for the family during the mastic cultivation. There are also auxiliary buildings such as warehouses, stables, and water tanks for animals.

The Chios Mastic Museum is located in an original skinos plantation with its auxiliary buildings, the stable, and the water tank.

Work in the field

Planting and care for skinos:

In winter the young skinos plants are planted, after being generated out of the branches of old trees (grafts) that are the best mastic trees in the possession of a grower. Old plantations are renewed through stolons or suckers. According to tradition, the best timespan for planting starts on the next day of Saint John’s feast (8 January) and lasts until mid-February. Usually the new plants are not watered, but they are covered with a wide stone at the point where the graft is planted, so that it will be kept cool and protected from sunlight.

During the same period, from January to February, the skinos tree is pruned and cleaned from all the dry branches, so that it may strengthen. Thus, the field is aerated and resin dries quicker on the tree trunk. In March and April, growers till the field around the skinos trees, to revitalise the soil and remove any pests. In autumn, some growers sow beans as natural fertilisers, which they cover with soil during the flowering period.

Preparing the soil under the skinos tree:

In early summer, the ground around the trunk of the skinos plant is levelled with the use of a tool called amia and cleaned thoroughly with makeshift brooms, so that the “table” is formed, the circular space around the trunk on the ground where the mastic drops are about to fall.

White soil, incisions:

This smoothened ground is then covered with white soil, so that the mastic drops that fall will be solidified, polished, and easily collected. Along with the application of white soil comes the first stage of embroidering, called riniasma. The growers make a few incisions at a low point on the trunk, “so that the tree remembers to give mastic”, as the locals say.


In August and September, the growers “embroider”. This is the process of scratching the bark of skinos on the trunk and the thick branches, which is made with care and dexterity, so as not to hurt the trunk of the tree in great depth. The incisions are shallow, no deeper than 5 millimetres, and no longer than 15 millimetres.

Usually the embroidering is done in two cycles two and three times a week on the same skinos tree, around a hundred incisions depending on the age and size of the tree, starting from a high point and proceeding lower, with more and thicker incisions around the trunk. After each embroidering session, the tears are left to dry.

Collecting mastic:

From mid-August till after mid-September growers collect the mastic drops. They are gathered very early in the morning dew, because gum mastic tends to soften with heat. If it rains in August or early September, mastic production is destroyed.

The first stage of harvesting takes place in the last days of August, around two weeks after the first incisions, with mastic having dried for at least two weeks. Then the growers collect only the thick pieces of resin, which they call “pita”. Yet harvesting essentially begins on the feast of the (14 September), and continues throughout the month. In the end, the growers clean the “table” in order to gather even the tiniest drop of mastic and they sift in order to leave out the white soil. Mastic is gathered unsifted and uncleaned in the basement of the house in wooden chests, which growers cover with white soil, so that it may not clot.


“Mastic doesn’t disappoint anyone “people say, because the skinos plant produces even small amounts of resin throughout the year, and there’s always some mastic left, even after the most thorough harvesting. From October to March, it is time for the kokoloi, the collection of the few tiny grains of mastic left on the trees. It is said that in the past this was a task for the poorer cultivators in the area.

Work in the village


During the collection of mastic and until November, it is stored in households, spread out so that it may stay cool and thus solidify. The sifting with the use of sieves called “dromonia” serves to remove the leaves, stones, and twigs. Mastic pieces are sieved according to their sizes, with the use of sieves in four degrees of thickness, as the ones used for grains. Thus, repeating three to five times, the growers initially separate the mastic pieces according to qualities. The “tahtarisma”, the sifting that separates the fine pieces and the mastic in powder form from any impurities, is usually carried out by women and requires a special knack and experience.


The traditional practices that are used for the cleaning of mastic are identical in all the villages of Chios. When the weather gets cold, the women clean the mastic pieces in front of the houses, in courtyards or in the street. They wash mastic in water with white soil, leave it to soak for a day, and then drain it. In this way, dust and remains of stones are removed, and yellow resin is separated from the white one. Then they clean the mastic pieces with soap and rinse them. Wet mastic pieces are spread out on white sheets, on the floor, on rooftops, even in the street, so that they may dry and remain clean.

Perhaps the only difference is the washing of mastic in the sea, which is practiced during the last decades by those who live in close distance to the seashore and those who have the means to transport the sacks filled with mastic.


From autumn till early spring growers clean their mastic. Women, working in groups, “pinch “it in order to remove any impurities that might remain stuck on granules of mastic.

Mastic for sale:

Even though life for the people in southern Chios is inextricably linked to skinos cultivation and the collection of mastic, they were not used to consume their own product. For them, it was just something for sale.

Mastic: intangible cultural heritage

In 2014, the know-how of mastic growing in Chios was inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Accordingly, the simple tools of labour, constructed based on local knowledge, are gathered from the ground in order to document the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

Intangible Cultural Heritage is defined as the sum of practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and techniques, as well as the tools, objects, artefacts and the cultural places related to them, which are acknowledged as part of their cultural heritage by communities, groups and at some cases individuals themselves.


The exhibition unit titled “Management” presents the way in which the exploitation and management of mastic for centuries shaped the landscape of southern Chios. From the troubled times during which Chios was part of the Byzantine Empire until the island became part of the Modern Greek State, first the Genoese and then the Ottoman rulers systematized the management and exploitation of gum mastic. Based on this order, the agricultural landscape evolved, the various settlements were created, the houses were built to specific architecture, and the social life of mastic growers was adapted to it as well. Mastic growers represented a special category of serfs for the Genoese, bound by the duty to produce mastic. Until 1400, provisions for organised mastic cultivation had led to the fortification of the settlements. In the time of Ottoman rule, gum mastic production ensured various privileges to mastic cultivators. The affluence of local communities was reflected in the dense web of settlements and the development of housing architecture.

This exhibition unit is divided into five sub-units: a) the cultural heritage of mastic, b) the architecture of the settlements, c) troubled times, d) Chios under Genoese rule, e) Chios under Ottoman rule. First the agricultural landscape is presented, and then the inhabited one. The contents of this exhibition unit are based on photographic and archival material, models, multimedia applications, and a few objects.

Locate the various sites on Chios that are related to the management of mastic throughout history, and look for them while touring the island!

The cultural heritage of mastic

Gum mastic was systematically cultivated and commercially exploited throughout the Middle Ages. It was a significant export product enriching the economy of the island and a major source of wealth for local rulers, since mastic was famous for its medicinal effects and numerous other beneficial qualities already known from Antiquity.

The organised management of mastic production influenced the agricultural landscape of southern Chios. It determined the locations of the skinos plantations and of the remaining cultivations. It traced the paths and roads that connected the villages and the fields. Mainly, though, it shaped the creation of villages, dictating a model of constructing settlements according to the needs and restrictions of the monopoly of mastic. Finally, mastic was also related with monuments of cultural heritage on Chios.

Today we often refer to the “culture of mastic”, meaning that dense network of historical, economic, social and cultural relations that developed around the cultivation and management of mastic. This is the main theme around which Unit D unfolds.

Patron saint of mastic trees

According to tradition, the skinos trees on Chios shed tears owing to the miracle of Saint Isidore. He was born around 230 A.D. in Alexandreia. While serving as officer at the Roman navy in Chios he confessed his faith before admiral Numerius. He was jailed, tortured, and finally beheaded. His martyrdom during transport from Chora to Nechori, the beheading, and the tearing to pieces of his body remained indelibly in the collective memory of local society, and his memory is honoured with great glory on 14 May, as he is considered the patron saint of mastic trees. Churches and chapels dedicated to Saint Isidore can be found at the villages Neochori, Nenita, Kallimasia, Armolia, Pyrgi, Mesta, Lithi, Elata, Komi, Koini, Agios Georgios Sykousis and elsewhere on Chios.

About mastic in the Middle Ages

While Byzantine authors often wrote about various products originating from Chios, especially emphasising the extraordinary quality of the local wine, information about mastic are essentially confined to a few lexical references. One of the first medieval texts referring to the production of gum mastic is by Russian Abbott Daniel, not a figure of major significance, who stopped by Chios in the early 12th century (1106-1107) on his journey to the Holy Land: From Mytilini to Chios, where Saint Isidore is buried, it’s a distance of 100 versts [1,047 metres]. This island produces mastic, good wine, and all kinds of vegetables.

Mastic is presented as a highly esteemed product in both the Christian and the Muslim realm, as a commodity as valuable as pepper and indigo. Some travellers emphasize that, although the skinos tree grew elsewhere as well, gum mastic was produced only on Chios Island. Similarly, Arab chroniclers called Chios “the island of mastic”. The various testimonies of travellers on the issue of the centre of mastic production concur. According to them, the mastic-bearing skinos tree grew exclusively in the southern part of the island. As to the characteristics of the plant from a botanical point of view, in most cases the travellers agreed that it was a variation of the Pistacia Lentiscus species.

The architecture of villages

Despite the fact that Chios was surely inhabited during Antiquity and the Byzantine era, there are no known architectural remains that testify to the cultivation and commerce of gum mastic during those times. For that, we have to rely only on the numerous references to mastic throughout the written sources. On the contrary, mastic cultivation is clearly reflected in the landscape during the following periods of foreign rule on the island.

The creation of settlements came about because of the policies by the Genoese company Maona for the civil reinforcing of rural areas in order to promote the organised management of mastic. Settlements were meant to house the mastic cultivators, a special category of serfs bound by the duty of mastic production. In order to reach its goals, the Maona company had created a web of commitments and duties, rigorous control and punishments. In parallel, under threat of piracy and Ottoman invasion, the villages were fortified and walled within the framework of a special programme imposed by the Giustiniani.

Under Ottoman rule, the mastic villages developed but retained their character as walled fortified settlements. Even though special privileges were accorded to the islanders in lieu of a motive to continue mastic cultivation, stifling restrictions were imposed especially during mastic harvesting, in order to contain and combat smuggling. At least during the 17th and 18th centuries, and until 1840, the possession of skinos trees and housing was tantamount to tax obligation paid in the form of gum mastic.

The organization and inhabitation of rural areas

During this long-lasting period, the skinos trees were the dominant feature of the landscape. The villages, the pathways and the rural constructions, the farm fields and the pasture grounds were all used uninterruptedly.

Every Mastichochori (mastic village) organised the agricultural space around it differently, according to the site where the village was located and the natural resources in the environs. Villages were constructed in flat lowland areas with access to water sources, located far from the sea. Usually they were built in small valleys suitable for systematic cultivation.

Until 1400 most of the Mastichochoria had been already shaped. The gates of the walls surrounding them opened and closed at predetermined times. Villagers left in groups early in the morning and returned in groups at dusk. The tower built for defence purposes was at the centre of the village. It was the largest and tallest building, the final refuge in case of a raid by pirates. The streets linking the central square of the tower with the gates of the walled village were few and narrow. From them branched out other streets, even narrower and leading to cul-de-sacs with small houses.

In the time of Ottoman rule, thanks to the privileges given to the inhabitants of Chios, the villages became densely populated. Residences grew in size and were enriched with decorative elements. Yet, houses located in villages always functioned as units of production and processing of agricultural produce and subsistence needs. The public spaces and the workshops functioned in order to serve the needs of the community.

The creation of settlements

First the castra were created, the square towers in the centre of fortified rectangular courtyards. The basic road network in the settlements most probably developed on the pre-existing footpaths leading to the castra. As housing gradually was built around the castra, loosely shaped settlements started to form, and their population kept growing.

Later, probably within the framework of a wider defensive plan, it was decided that settlements would be fortified with a surrounding wall equipped with round towers in the corners and with gates at the points where the wall met the basic roads. The new walls usually enclosed an area in polygonal shape, in accordance with the natural terrain and the size of the settlement at the time. Most probably the walls also enclosed undeveloped land which was built later.

The fortified settlements of the Genoese era can be divided into three main categories, according to the type of the core dwellings and the process by which they developed. The first category includes villages that developed around a tower with a fortified yard, and a wall built in the perimeter after the expansion of the settlement. The second category, quite similar to the first one, includes villages that were formed around a single tower and were walled much later. The third category includes villages that were created with a surrounding wall and a central tower from the start, also shaped based on urban planning.

During the same period, the possibility of a grave attack on fortified settlements seemed highly unlikely, since pirates were mainly interested in capturing ships and their cargo, not in storming the coastal areas. New buildings were constructed right next to the surrounding walls, transferring their loads on them and opening small windows as well.

It was in the early 19th century that people started to build houses outside the village walls. In villages such as Mesta, Pyrgi and Olympoi the phenomenon started much later, while in villages such Kalamoti, Vessa, and Elata, where the area already enclosed was too small, dwellings were already being built outside the walls much earlier.

In the time of Genoese rule, the so-called castra were created in southern Chios. The film focuses on Pyrgi and presents the rectangular tower and the rectangular walled yard with the round towers and the central gate. Inside, there are warehouses for the storage of produce. Around the tower with the walled yard the village develops, where building blocks are arranged along the natural routes. In these early days, the area is not densely populated. The film centres on the Olympoi village, with the houses being built around the central tower. The roads branch out radially in relation to the central rectangle. Then we move to the Mesta village. When habitations around the tower grow denser, a polygonal wall is built, and parts of the land are left undeveloped.

In the Ottoman era, the empty spaces between the village and the perimeter walls are filled with buildings constructed in contact with the wall, which is utilized as a house wall, and even windows are opened there. Some buildings also acquire multiple storeys, at times extending over the street.

The village of Olympoi

The village is located in a lowland zone. Just outside the village, limits there are orchards, and the skinos plantations are located at higher ground.

The village is walled. There are turrets at the corners of the wall. Two gates open to the two central roads of the village leading to its centre, the tower, where they converge. Houses have been built along the wall, and so there are windows on it.

The village roads are narrow and labyrinthine. The houses have two storeys by now, and often rooms extend outwards over the street. The dominant colours are those of the local rocks.

Houses at the Mastichochoria

The houses were built from stone and a binding agent. In order to construct a storey, stone or wooden beams were essential. Balance was ensured with the use of carved beams, made out of wood or metal, free-standing or embedded in walls. Even though buildings support each other, as in most cases they share sidewalls in terraced building, it is possible to see joint between houses, as proof of non-concurrent construction.

The buildings were usually crooked and complex in shape, as the building blocks intruded in each other. Quite often, a storey extended over the rooftop of the building next door, through an arch that created a passageway.

The interior of the house, although restricted in size, was by no means Spartan. Wooden cupboards and shelves adorned the walls, while a wooden elevation was used as a bed in the room where the whole family slept. The floor was usually covered with “astrakia”, a kind of hydraulic lime with a smooth texture, also used to cover rooftops. In a few cases, floors were covered with stone tiles, while in houses that are more recent the bedrooms have wooden floors. Sometimes we also see decorated pillars. Window frames were especially decorated, and sometimes-characteristic seats were created in front of the windows, matching the thickness of the wall.

Turbulent times

From 330 A.D., when the Eastern Roman Empire was founded, Chios became part of the trade route connecting Constantinople with Egypt and Syria.

From the 7th century, Arab pirates marauding the coasts of the island destroyed its ports. In the early 11th century, after control of the Aegean was regained, powerful Byzantine families settled in Chios. The island’s economy developed and its port attracted merchants from the West.

In the late 11th century, Latin merchants traded in Byzantine ports with the privilege of lower tariffs. Trade in Chios was controlled by the Venetians in exchange for naval protection.

Later, emperor Michail VIII Palaiologos regained control of Chios and transferred the privileges of the Venetians to the Genoese.

The Genoese gradually consolidated their dominance, and after a period of guardianship rule by the Zaccaria family, they conquered the island in 1346.

Mastic exploitation in the Byzantine era

We have nearly no knowledge regarding the organization of production and the trade of mastic on Chios during the Byzantine era. The Nea Moni (New Monastery) of Chios must have had a significant role and a central position in the production of the invaluable resin in the mid-11th century, as according to the Golden Bull of 1259 by Emperor Michail VIII Palaiologos this monastery owned agricultural land with skinos plantations in the mastic-producing region of the island.

The inclusion of Chios in those areas of the Byzantine Empire where the Venetians enjoyed privileges of tax exemption from 1082 is indicative of their early interest in the island and in mastic in particular.

The financial gains to be had from the trade of gum mastic naturally interested the main rivals of the Venetians, the Genoese, as well. Another indication of the profit derived by the Byzantine state from the export of mastic is the Golden Bull of 1304 by Andronikos II Palaiologos, which exempted the Genoese from the payment of tariffs on all products except salt and mastic. Ensuring the monopoly of mastic was a great motive for the Zaccaria who sought control of the island and consolidated their primacy in its exploitation.

The Zaccaria family in Chios (1304-1329)

The Zaccaria were one of the richest and most powerful families in Genoa. Fulcone Zaccaria was a friend of Emperor Michail VIII Palaiologos, who granted Phocaea to Manuele Zaccaria, son of Fulcone, in 1267.

In 1275 his other son, Benedetto, who had been already involved in the trade of mastic since 1282, married the sister of Emperor Michail VIII Palaiologos and acquired the region of Damalas, along with the monopoly of alum, as part of the dowry. In addition, in 1288 he succeeded his brother Manuele as lord of Phocaea.

In 1304, Benedetto Zaccaria conquered Chios, Samos, Ikaria and Kos, which were marauded by pirates. Andronikos II Palaiologos granted him the island of Chios for a period of ten years, provided that the flag with the double-headed eagle would wave as until then on the island. This grant was renewed in 1314, 1319, and 1324.

Throughout his rule, Benedetto Zaccaria settled in Chios, strengthened the naval defence of the island, built the Neokastro (New Castle), respected the rights and the property of Nea Moni, organized the production and trade of mastic. Most important, though, was the fact that the liberated the serfs and established the system of apotritoi. As apotritoi, villagers could farm the land they already worked as serfs, but could also have the ownership of one third of the land. They could own half the fruit produced in the two thirds of the ruler’s lands. In this way, the ruler got rich and the cultivator as well.

After Benedetto died, his son Benedict II Palaiologos succeeded him. The last of the Zaccaria family, the sons of Benedict II, Martin and Benedict III, succeeded him in 1314. In 1320, Martin     exiled his brother to Damala and later solicited the support of Western rulers who acknowledged him as a monarch in 1325. As a king he imposed grave taxation and angareies (compulsory service) on the inhabitants of Chios, constantly violated the terms of the initial agreement and derived enormous profit from mastic and other resources of the island. Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III marched against him, and Chios came under Byzantine rule again in 1329.

The exploitation of mastic by the Zaccaria

The annual revenue of Chios during the time of the Zaccaria rule amounted to 120,000 gold coins. A large part of this amount derived from the trade of gum mastic. The monopoly of this product was in the hands of the family, and they used mastic repeatedly as collateral in order to contract loans. In 1319 Martin Zaccaria acquired permission from Pope John XII to export mastic to Alexandreia, despite the fact that all Frankish trading activities in Egypt had been already banned.

Chios under Genoese rule

In 1346 the Genoese attacked Chios. They conquered the whole island quickly, with the exception of the Chios town, also conquered after a three-month siege. Then they attacked Phocaea, on the coast of Asia Minor, and established full control over that area as well.

The new land holdings were given to Maona, a private shipping company, for twenty years. The exploitation agreement included the monopoly of mastic, alum, salt, and tar.

Authorities in Genoa, because of constant financial constraints, never managed to buy out Chios from the Maona company. On the contrary, they were forced to renew the lease agreement eight times. In 1566, the Ottomans conquered the island and seized the possessions of Maona.


Maona was founded in 1346 as a joint-stock company to exploit areas or monopoly privileges, by 29 creditors of Genoa.

The members of the company provided the funds for a navy of 29 galleys, providing the future revenues from the areas to be conquered as collateral for the debt incurred with the government of Genoa.

Despite the success of the naval campaign, they could not repay the debt.

Thus, they began another military campaign, in Asia Minor, in order to strengthen the position of Genoa, and they conquered Chios. The treaty of 1347 granted the Maona company the rights to Chios and Phocaea for twenty years, until the loan would be repaid. Genoa kept the sovereignty, judicial power and the right to buy back the shares of the creditor members.

With a new treaty in 1362, the government of Genoa accepted that the Maona company had the right to rent Chios and Phocaea for twelve years to twelve leaseholders, provided each would acquire one of twelve equal shares.

The leaseholders were organized into a new corporation called the New Maona. After 1364, they all adopted the surname Giustiniani, from the name of a famous Genoan family.

The members of the New Maona had equal participation in the liabilities, profits, and losses of the company.

The share capital comprised 1,200 shares with a nominal value of 120,000 liras, 100 of them to each member of the company. The members had the right to transfer their shares to persons outside the company.

Soon each share was divided to three parts, which were also subdivided into twenty-four parts. Thus, at the time of the Ottoman conquest of Chios, the Maona company had acquired more than 600 members.

Administrative control from Genoa

The contract of 1346 also provided for the administrative organization of Chios.

A podestà taking orders directly from the government of Genoa was appointed head of the administrative hierarchy on the island. He was appointed by the Doge among four candidates selected by the Maona company from a list compiled by the Genoese authorities. Initially he served for one year, but after 1558, he served for a four-year term. The podestà had the right to mint coins, provided that they were in accordance with the ones already in circulation in Genoa. He had limited powers as far as fiscal management was concerned, since duties and revenues were transferred to the Maona company.

The same held as far as public expenditure was concerned, since all decisions were taken by councillors elected from among members of Maona, who also undertook the defence of the island. This Council was the central governing body of the Maona company. The number of councillors varied between 6 and 10. Among them were also two treasurers or governors of Maona. The Council also had the initiative for diplomatic contacts.

A subordinate of the podestà was the castellan of Chios, also appointed by authorities in Genoa. As second in governmental hierarchy, he was head of the castle – Genoa had retained the rights to the castle as well – and the armed forces on the island.

Finally, Genoa also selected a secretary (notarius) who was in charge of keeping ledgers and registers of the chancellery where public and private contracts were recorded. From 1408 onwards, the notarius also had an assistant.

Administrative structure by Maona

Beside the appointment of the two highest officials and their entourage, the selection of the other government officials was an affair conducted by Maona, as the company had its own administrative procedures and mechanisms.

The representative body was the general assembly of shareholders. After 1350, shareholders gradually replaced the 29 initial partners, and in 1373 Genoa sold them the exploitation rights for the island of Chios. The general assembly of shareholders also determined who would hold office.

Each shareholder was selected by the drawing of lots and could serve in the governing council of the island or sell the right to the office or appoint someone else in his place. The offices were divided in 13 groups of two and were held for six months. Accordingly, each shareholder was called to hold office for a year throughout a cycle of 13 years.

The island was divided into twelve administrative districts. The northern part, Apano Merea, comprised 8 districts, while the southern part, Kato Merea, comprised 4 districts. A castellan was in charge of each districts and responsible for policing and resolving the disputes between villagers, who also had the right to appeal to the judicial powers of the podestà.

Reinforcing the countryside

After the island’s conquest by the Genoese, the population of Chios was less than 25,000 according to calculations. The Maona company divided the island to districts, with their centres were located in castles or villages, referred to as castra. The main settlement and administrative centre of the island was Chios town, known as Kastro, where the seat of Maona and the podestà were located as well.

The countless small villages scattered all over the countryside did not allow efficient protection of mastic production and the farmers themselves, and also hampered efficient governance on the island. Aiming to attract farmers to the countryside and to organize production in the most profitable way, the new overlords of the island applied a policy of systematic reinforcing of the countryside.

The main tool of this policy was fortification. The Genoese initially founded isolated castles at new locations or near pre-existing settlements. The central towers might have been built during the Zaccaria period, who had already fortified the island before its conquest and organization by the Giustiniani. A network of 24 watchtowers served warnings in case of any threat or attack from the sea.

Control of production

The Maona company appointed officials responsible for organizing the production, harvesting and distribution of mastic. They were free from the control of the podestà and the other officials, and they also had the right to force farmers and mastic workers to perform their duties, without any intervention by the authorities. The Maona company appointed a Secretary of mastic affairs in charge of weighing and one in charge of sales. In Chios there was even a special neighbourhood known as Contrata Mastica, with all the offices housing the services related to mastic.

In the southern part of the island, cultivators rented a predetermined number of skinos trees from the Maona company. Even though liberated, the farmers were under the obligation to serve the Genoese overlords of the island. People who married women from mastic-producing areas were also under the same obligation. The whole workforce was registered in special books.

The farmers who cultivated skinos trees were obliged to deliver a minimum predetermined amount of mastic every year, which was weighed with the use of the pendarium as a measurement unit. If they delivered less they would pay, a fine to the administration of the island, while surplus mastic was purchased for a predetermined price.

The cultivators were also responsible for taking care of the plants and cleaning the area under and around each one of them from wild vegetation and dirt so that the collection of mastic could be conducted under the best possible circumstances. The whole production process of gum mastic essentially was the same as the one that is followed even today. The cultivators, using a pointed tool made of iron, made multiple incisions on the bark of the tree. From these, the mastic resin flowed in the shape of tears, which they gathered. Opinions differ as to the time of harvest. It is said that harvesting began during the months of July and August, ending in September. Yet, there are testimonies that the first harvesting of the mastic resin took place in the spring months, from the successive incisions that had been done in the previous year.

According to harvest time and the processing that had taken place, there were different qualities of mastic: there was fresh gum mastic, from the current harvest, and old gum mastic, from the harvest of the previous year; there was unprocessed gum mastic, as it was gathered from the tree, and processed gum mastic, considered higher quality, as it had been cleaned from leaves, soil and dirt residue. Mastic processing included the cleaning of the resin from any impurities and smaller, inferior quality pieces, through sifting.

All the stages of the production process were controlled by specially appointed officials. The produce was then delivered to representatives of the Maona company, most probably in order to be stored in a central warehouse. After harvesting and processing, the produce was packaged and sold in baskets tightly wrapped with canvas sheets. The Maona company owned vessels for the transport of gum mastic, with a capacity of 15 to 30 baskets.

Measures to defend the monopoly

In order to defend the monopoly, the Maona company took strict measures fighting theft, illegal possession and smuggling of mastic. The product was sold wholesale. Mastic officials were not allowed to sell the product to third persons, regardless of their social status. Anyone outside the acknowledged network had no right to trade the product.

Yet, illegal sales and theft were rife. In 1392, the podestà of Chios issued a new decree ordering most rigorous punishment for transgressors. The punishment for stealing mastic varied from the payment of a fine – raised according to the amount stolen – to death by hanging.

The lightest penalty was a fine per ounce of mastic and public flogging, if the fine had not been paid within ten days, for stealing an amount of mastic less than one pound. For larger amounts the fine was also higher, while corporal punishment was enforced when the fines were not paid within the prescribed period. Corporal punishment included public flogging, stigmatization, and even mutilation of the offenders.

In detail, fines were determined as follows: for 1 to 10 pounds of mastic stolen, mutilation of an ear; for 10 to 25 pounds of mastic stolen, stigmatization on the forehead and the cheek; for 25 to 40 pounds of mastic stolen, mutilation of nose; for 40 to 50 pounds of mastic stolen, mutilation of nose and ear; for 50 to 80 pounds of mastic stolen, stigmatization on forehead, mutilation of nose and one ear; for 80 to 100 pounds of mastic stolen, stigmatization on forehead, mutilation of nose and both ears; for 100 to 200 pounds of mastic stolen, mutilation of nose and one arm or limb or removal of one eye; in case of more than 200 pounds of mastic stolen the punishment was beheading, a non-redeemable penalty. At the same time, though, the podestà also ordered that whoever was in illegal possession of mastic, whether Westerner or Greek, member of the clergy or not, would be spared from punishment provided the product would be handed in during the following 15 days at the church of Saint Michail or any other predetermined spot.

Organized exploitation of gum mastic

The policy adopted by the Maona company concerning gum mastic aimed at increasing demand for the product and maintaining stable pricing. It also imposed restrictions on the amount of mastic that would be harvested on a yearly basis; in case of overproduction, the company ensured that the surplus would be either destroyed or stored in warehouses in order to be marketed the following year.

The constant need for liquidity led the Maona company to pre-sales of the product through auctions. According to this process, the highest bidders acquired the exclusive right to sell the product in one or more of the following three geographical zones: a) the Muslim East; b) Romany and the Turkish lands; c) the West. A predetermined amount of mastic per year at predetermined prices corresponded to each of these areas. Conceding the right to sell mastic through auctioning ensured significant revenues to the Maona company. These profits were distributed to the members according to their shares in the company, after having first deducted the management fees and the costs for the defence of Chios Island.

The largest amounts of mastic were sent to the East, where the largest markets were located in the Pera district of Constantinople, in Famagusta, in Beyrut and mostly in Damascus and Alexandreia. In the West, Genoa was the largest commercial hub for the trade of gum mastic. From there, the produce was transported to Ceuta in North Africa, to Sicily, and over the Alps to Paris, Bruges, and London. In the Italian peninsula, significant amounts of mastic were exported to Calabria, Apulia, Marche, Tuscany, and Lombardy, besides Sicily.

In the 15th century, income from the trade of mastic represented half the income of the island. The 43,750 liras brought in from the auction that took place in 1401 were more than amply sufficient to meet the administrative and defence needs of the island. In the end of that century, according to calculations by Christopher Columbus, the island’s profit from the exploitation of this aromatic resin amounted to 50,000 ducats.

Yet this image of prosperity did not always correspond to the actual situation. Just as the Zaccaria had done in the past, the Maona company also had to contract loans repeatedly using the revenue from the sale of mastic as collateral, in order to meet its financial obligations towards other parties. This was especially the case after the mid-15th century, as the needs for cash, under pressure from the Ottomans, became more and more acute.

During the last century of Genoese rule on Chios island the demand for gum mastic fell, perhaps because of a change in the dietary habits, or maybe because the fad for chewing mastic gum receded with the passage of time. The decline in mastic trade cannot be attributed solely to the expansion of the Ottomans in the Aegean. Yet, it is certain that because of the dramatic decrease of revenue from the exploitation of gum mastic, the only source of income for the Maona company, Chios became an easy prey for the Ottomans.

Chios under Ottoman rule

Chios became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1566. The conquest by the Ottomans was not an unexpected event, as a long preparation had already taken place, since from 1512 the Maona company had imposed a tax on the Sublime Porte equalling the one paid by the Chios residents after the conquest of the island.

Aiming to continue the cultivation of mastic, Ottoman authorities imposed a new system of administration and taxation according to which significant privileges and exemptions from duties were granted to the Aga of Mastic (Emin) in return for delivering a predetermined amount of pure mastic on a regular basis. The villagers of the Mastichochoria region were exempted from compulsory services and other kinds of taxation, and they enjoyed religious freedom and self-administration.

The Massacre of 1822 destroyed the Mastichochoria region as far as the population, society and economy is concerned. The Turks were enraged at the attempted revolt on Chios Island. During four months, thousands of people were killed and arrested, as a warning to others, and some managed to escape to the West, to Thessaloniki or the Cyclades (mainly to Syros, Andros, and Naxos islands). This disaster devastated the production of mastic, which had been the pillar of the economy of the island along with other sectors of primary production. Yet, mastic cultivation revived after the inhabitants returned to the island. After 1830, favourable legislation encouraged mastic-producers to return from migration.

Reforms in the Ottoman Empire brought about through the Tanzimat lead to deregulation of mastic trade and changes in the taxation of people in the Mastichochoria region. The mastic-producing villages became organized as a single administrative region (nahiye = municipality), and mastic production was taxed in monetary terms, while the compulsive sale of mastic produce to the Aga of Mastic was abolished. Gradually, though at a low pace, began the processing of gum mastic in Chios town and the trade of skinos products intensified.

In 1850, very low temperatures in winter (in local dialect, the “kaftria”), destroyed a very large number of mastic trees. This disaster ravaged around 80% of the cultivations, and accordingly prices rocketed. In 1881 the “Chalasmos”, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.5 degrees on the Richter scale destroyed the town of Chios and the eastern Mastichochoria region, leaving behind 3,500 dead and homeless. This catastrophe changed the structure and morphology of the settlements.

When Chios became part of the Modern Greek state in 1912, the island was decoupled from the Asia Minor mainland. Changes in taxation and the wars that followed had a grave effect on the production and revenues of mastic. The male population of the area decreased significantly because of mass recruitment during the First World War.

The short-lived occupation of Smyrna by the Greek army was the last vestige of the single economic area comprising the coast of Asia Minor and the islands.

Thus, the end of the Ottoman era in the history of mastic can be pinpointed to 1923, when the Turkish side accepted from a legal point of view the incorporation of the islands to the Greek State. The creation of nation states and economic borders between the islands and the coast disrupted mastic exports to traditional markets at the Anatolian territories of the former Ottoman Empire.

The Sublime Porte and mastic cultivators

The Porte decreed a special form of administration for the Mastichochoria region. As it had the absolute control of production, the residents of these villages were directly accountable to the Porte, thus differing in terms of administration from the other areas of the island.

The residents of the Mastichochoria region were exempt from all the taxes imposed on all the other islanders, except for the poll tax, paid only by the head of each family, and the tax in kind, mastic ”margarokokos” (first-class). This tax, imposed on the whole of the Mastichochoria region according to the production capacity of each village, was divided among the members of each community.

Residents of the Mastichochoria region had the right to appeal to the Porte when they believed that their fiscal rights and community autonomy were being violated. They also had the right to defy authorities at the community administration whenever their privileges were under threat.

Finally, the Mastichochoria villagers were exempt from additional burdens such as compulsory services, but they were under the obligation to provide beasts of burden for the transport of mastic and to ensure the protection and fortification of the southern part of the island.

The Emin of Mastic

The Lord of Mastic, or Sakız Emini, was charged with the administration of the villages and the collection of mastic tax.

Every spring, the Emin would arrive at the Mastichochoria, along with the custody in charge of counting, weighing, and sifting, in order to determine exactly the amount of mastic to be given by each village. Local officials were in charge of determining and distributing the tax to be paid among the villagers.

The office of the Emin remained until 1839. A remnant (or parody) of this ritual is to be found in the current tradition of the Aga on Clean Monday in Mesta and Olympoi.

Central powers and self-administration

Chios became a pashalik. The Ottoman governor (pasha) had under him a kahya, a kadi, a voyvoda and a customs officer. Yet villages were governed by the elected Council of Elders. At each village, power was in the hands of one or more elders, according to the size of the population. In performing their duties, these elders were assisted by commissars, abbots, guards (viglatores) and dragates (jandarmerie).

All of them were elected during a general assembly.

The vekils or commissars were inspectors or mayors at the Mastichochoria region. Usually they were elected by the elders for one year. They served as judges in case of grievances among villagers or between villagers and strangers. They elected the appropriate “mnemonic” or notaries, to ensure that justice would be served and recorded. They were also responsible for education matters, and exams took place in their presence. They ensured that roads were in good order and that hygiene regulations were obeyed.

The elders were elected by an assembly of elders, the head priest, and the elite, in order to act as “aga” for a year. The elders were remunerated for their expenses and services from the village fund. They had the right to arrest whomever they wanted and to deliver him to be jailed.

They were elected to serve for a year and they were put in charge of all the affairs of the village, the management in general.

The commissars or re-commissars were elected to serve for a year and they were put in charge of all the affairs of the village, the management in general. The viglatores were responsible for the surveillance of the sea around Chios as well as the mainland.

Their main duty was to contain smuggling, especially that of mastic.

Privileges granted

The privileges granted to the residents of the Mastichochoria comprised religious freedom and the building of churches without limitations, ban on the building of mosques outside Kastro, ban on recruitment of children or violent islamisation, free choice of garments, protection of property rights, exemptions from the payment of the tithe, no taxation on housing, on orchards and vineyards, no duties on Chios products traded in ports of the Black Sea, and many more.

Until 1820, many of those privileges had begun to fade or were ignored by agents of the Ottoman Empire. The Porte would frequently “intervene” to redress grievances.

Until 1820, many of those privileges had begun to fade or were ignored by agents of the Ottoman Empire. The massacre in 1822 obliterated the privileges of Chios In 1824 the governor of Chios formally invited the islanders to return. A few years later, in parallel with the re-founding of the Council of Elders, he returned their powers and privileges, thus dividing Chios into two administrative entities: the Municipality of Chios and the Municipality of Mastichochoria. A fireman of 1832 ordered that property confiscated from Chiots be returned, exempt from the tithe, as before. With the introduction of the Tanzimat in 1840, on the basis of the principle of equality among all the subjects of the Empire, the payment of the tithe was imposed on mastic growers as well, and the system of direct taxation took effect, according to data from the property. This brought about the end to the monopoly of mastic and deregulated the market.

Dress in the Mastichochoria region

Thanks to these privileges, residents in the Mastichochoria region were not obliged to comply with the standards of Ottoman dress. On the contrary, they were able to safeguard the local dress that had been developed under the strong influence of the Genoese and their clothing. The short white draped foustania of Mastichochoria, the pristida of Pyrgi, the foustani me gagioma (draped dress) of Kalamoti and the foustani or konto or camisori worn at the rest of the Mastichochoria region were based on dress models from the 16th century strongly influenced by the Italian Renaissance.

Local women manufactured their dress modelled on the dress of the Chios noblewomen, yet making significant changes to the initial patterns. These changes were due to the needs of work in the field and the material used for dress, manufactured by the women themselves in the household loom: the chiotiko (cotton twill fabric). Accordingly, the long draped robes with a vertical aperture in the upper part allowed free movement of the female body during agricultural work.

In Pyrgi, the dress with podies or rasozipouna echoes the medieval male attire in rural areas. In the rest of the island, men wore the familiar island costume with breeches.

Control of the production process

When Evliya Çelebi passed through Chios in 1671, he described the skinos trees as “low trees where farmers make incision in July; when it [mastic] dries on the soil, they gather it with care”. Later, travellers also recounted and illustrated the tools that were used and are almost the same as the ones that are still used today.

Mastic-producers who were responsible for caring for the skinos trees were not allowed to neglect their obligations. They were also obliged to deliver a certain amount of gum mastic (303 crates, according to 18th-century sources) to state authorities in lieu of tax.

The remaining amounts of gum mastic were sold inevitably to the tax collector at a trivial price. Producers could purchase mastic for their own use, if they wanted, at double the price and only from the tax collector, in sealed packaging so that it would not be considered stolen goods. During harvest time, the gates of the villages were shut and guards were put on watch in order to control “all passers-by”. Whoever was arrested “bearing mastic “was punished by confiscation of property, life imprisonment or death. To combat smuggling, villagers were made to spy on each other.

Through a taxation programme, the ownership of skinos trees and a house was linked with the obligation to pay the mastic tax. At least during the last quarter of the 17th century, every owner of a house in the Mastichochoria region was required to deliver an amount of gum mastic in order to cover the tax obligations of the village. This obligation was borne by the property and was transferred or divided between parents and children or between spouses.

The obligation to pay tax in kind was determined according to a pattern identical for all the producers of wealth in the Ottoman Empire. Yet, in the case of mastic, producers were under extreme pressure, because the monopoly of the product in the hands of the Emin of Mastic, the compulsory sale of the product to the capital city of the empire and the ban on smuggling hindered the creation of surplus for the payment of taxes.

The mastic tax was essentially enforced upon the whole village as a unit under the obligation for the payment, accordingly divided among the residents. In particular, the tax collector maintained a register with the number of all the skinos trees in possession of every mastic-producer in every village. In case harvest was insufficient one year, the producer had to contract a loan in order to pay for the taxes, very often burdened with a high interest rate and having to mortgage even his own harvest. If he were unable to meet obligations during the following year as well, he would often proceed to eradicate his trees, preferring to lose his wealth rather than work without remuneration.

Uses and trade of gum mastic

For the Ottomans, mastic was the most important product of Chios, and they controlled its monopoly. Gum mastic provided direct revenue for the Sublime Porte and was the object of taxation profit for the customs offices in Istanbul. The state determined the price and sold the product as well. In order to receive pre-payment of the value of mastic in cash, the state also auctioned off the right to receive payments in kind (mastic) of the annual land tax (mukata’a), based on the minimum annual values as they were determined by the State Treasury. Sometimes the state granted successful tenderers the right to receive payments for more than a year. Potential contractors submitted their tenders having calculated profit and expenses, as well as the annual tax. The successful tenderer (mültezim) paid the said amount to the state and kept the rest of the income from tax as personal profit.

The best quality mastic would be received by the Sublime Porte. In a market register dating from 1640, we find the Chios mastic, among other aromatic substances, in three grades: highest grade (for the Sultan), tear and low-grade mastic. Translucent gum mastic, also called “sultan’s mastic”, was worth more than gold. Its production and trade was controlled by the Sultan himself. If any amounts of gum mastic were found in anybody else beside the lawful contractors (mültezim), it was confiscate, since the mastic trade was exclusively associated with the Sultan’s Treasury.

Gum mastic was traded in East and West. The largest commercial hubs were located in Istanbul and later in Smyrna, as well as in the ports of the Italian peninsula. And large stations in the trade of mastic were located in all the large markets for products of the East in Western Europe. A prominent trading post reflecting the inroads at the Black Sea region was Kaffa in Crimea, which had been a Genoese port and a hub where Latin merchants exiled from Chios were active until the early 18th-century. In the trade of gum mastic, Crimea was an entry point to the markets of Eastern Europe and even the Baltics.

Gum mastic and the products of skinos were used in their natural forms, as chewing gum and mastic wood for toothpicks, in naturally processed form (grated, shredded, dissolved in water), as condiment for kitchen use, as ingredient in the production of pharmaceutics and cosmetics, in painting and in the form of distillate (mainly mastic oil) in perfumery, the beverage industry and pharmaceutics.

The third group developed mainly during the 19th century, in relation to the development of the free trade of mastic and the specialization of some merchants and manufacturers mostly in Smyrna and Istanbul as well as on Chios. It was then that the consumption of mastic spread to wider sections of the population and diversified throughout the Balkans and the Near East through the developments in the beverage industry and confectionery. Mastic, though, always retained its high symbolic value because it was used in the kitchens of the Sultan and in the preparation of chrism in the Orthodox Church.

The prime of Chiot society

Developments in the 17th century were especially significant since they favoured the so-called “communities” of the Mastichochoria. As the right to reside in the villages of the area was bound with the obligation to pay tax, foreigners were excluded from the production of mastic. The residents of the Mastichochoria enjoyed the freedom that enabled them to negotiate directly with the Sublime Porte, since they were autonomous from the elites of the country.

The bourgeoisie of the island was at its prime during the 18th century, when numerous merchant houses were founded in Britain, France, and the Netherlands. During that time, many Chiot merchants also operated in Smyrna and settled in Istanbul. Special emphasis was given to education and culture. In 1792 the School of Chios was founded, an institution renowned throughout Greece, with 12 professors, its own printing house, and a library comprising 30,000 books.

In the mid-19th century, Chios had a population of 60,000 inhabitants, of whom 57,000 were Greeks, 2,000 were Muslims and 400 were Roman Catholics. Mastic was the main export, followed by oranges, lemons, almonds, silk, grains, dried vegetables, olive oil, wine, cotton and fruit. The products of Chios were exported to Istanbul, the Danube region and Russia.

In the end of the 19th century, the Mastichochoria villages were incorporated in the municipality of Kalamoti; they were 22 villages with 13,945 inhabitants in total. The cultivators of skinos trees were all Christians. Mastic was at the top of the list of exported products. Around 200,000 pounds of it were exported mainly to Istanbul and Western Europe, in addition to alcoholic mastic beverages, wine, citrus fruit and olive oil.

Following a single line in time, from the 1st century A.D. to the 21st century, we discover the uses of mastic. On the map of the Mediterranean, the Byzantines, the Genoese and the Ottomans state their positions and their territories. They establish administrative structures for the management of mastic through monopolies and to combat smuggling of the product. The fully loaded galleon travels, but the mastic cultivator always remains at the same geographical location, away from the sea and the ports of mastic, committed to his own role, confined by the walls of the village. Despite cross-sections and discontinuities, gum mastic brings privileges and freedoms, improving the lives of the islanders. Today, mastic is an inextricable feature of the landscape of southern Chios.


The unit titled “Production” presents the production history of gum mastic and all its byproducts. As the obligation to pay tax in kind was abolished in 1840, a transitional period of free trade and initial processing of mastic began. Yet, the mastic cultivators were led to a standstill because of historical circumstances. The compulsory founding of a cooperative was inevitable in order to ensure the protection of mastic producers. Thus began the story of Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association, which holds the fate of mastic since 1938. In the early years, the Association traded gum mastic and managed the network of commercial representatives, packaging of the products and adaptation to international developments. In the 1960s, the Association undertook the processing of gum mastic and produced natural mastic, chewing gum, and mastic oil. Today gum mastic is used in medicine and the pharmaceutical industry, in cooking and confectionery, in the beverage industry, in dyes, perfumes, and cosmetics. Thanks to its constantly increasing uses and applications, gum mastic travels throughout the world.

This exhibition unit comprises the following subunits: a) the foundation of cooperatives; b) the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association; c) the factory of the Association; d) the uses of mastic. As the unit develops in different levels, visitors acquire a wider perspective on the trajectory of mastic. Photographic and archival material from the archives of the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association, restored machinery from the old factory of the Association – functioning for demonstration purposes – original objects related to the administrative and commercial activities of the Association, as well as audio-visual productions and multimedia databases accompany the presentation of the trajectory of mastic throughout the cycles of production.

The founding of cooperatives

Deregulation of the mastic trade

Throughout the various stages of the monopolistic exploitation of the mastic trade, growers themselves were in charge of its management only during 1840-1938.

Freedom in management of mastic trade began when the residents of Mastichochoria became equal with the rest of the population for taxation purposes and ended with the founding of the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association.

Throughout this time, control of production was transferred from the producer and the primary production process to the control of market mechanisms and the development of processing in relation to the sales networks. This strengthened the retailers and the tradesmen who purchased mastic directly from the growers, having unofficially distributed among themselves whole villages or even families.

In an attempt to maximise profits from mastic trade, until the end of the 19th century systematic planting and intensive farming were adopted in stages, as well as the clearing of land to ensure exemption from land tax in the early 20th century.

Commercial pressure, price fluctuations, and the need for money led to overexpansion of mastic cultivations outside villages and to the creation of production surplus. Thus, the price given by the producer was lower than the cost of cultivating mastic. Producers of mastic were in crisis.

In the early 20th century, the “Mastic Regulation” drafted in the village of Kalamoti stipulated a decrease in cultivation time (three months), a ban on the collection of kokkoloi, and the destruction of low quality product. The Regulation was signed by all the producers and approved by the Ottoman authorities. A committee appointed for a four-year period would inspect the application of the Regulation. Violators would be punished by fine or imprisonment. As a result of this Regulation, production decreased and prices doubled.

The liberation of the island in 1912 created a vacuum as far as measures to promote the management and production control of mastic were concerned, as these had been agreed upon in assemblies of growers who had signed the copromissory notes. The fact that they were taxed as the rest of the Greek population dealt a blow to mastic growers, and compulsory recruitment in wartime decreased the production capacity in the area of the Mastichochoria.

Early attempts by individuals to process gum mastic

The deregulation of the mastic trade resulted in the expanded usage and consumption of the product. Traditional uses in vogue during the Ottoman period continued: beverage industry, incense production, various kinds of sweets, medicine and varnish industry. In parallel, new uses were developed and presented in guidebooks to commercial fairs of the time.

In the fair of 1870, the following were presented for the first time: mastic alcohol produced by two companies (one in Nafplion, the other in Constantinople), mastic raki produced in Piraeus, mastic water, and mastic raki produced by Kyriakos Fountoudis in Chios, mastic lokums made in Constantinople and mastic jam prepared by Marietto Bezeri in Chios.

In 1875 in Athens, mastic-secreting skinos trees were sold in pots, as well as mastic alcohol in Piraeus, dried figs with mastic and mastic raki in Corfu. References to activities of this kind continued during the following years, with an emphasis on products mixing mastic with alcohol.

In Athens, in the mid-19th century, mastic coffee shops selling the alcoholic mastic beverage opened one after another. This mastic beverage was drunk in the morning, between 11.00 and 13.00, during the employees’ break at work, as an aperitif at lunchtime, after the end of work and before returning to office after lunch break, but also in the afternoon, after the usual visit to a coffee shop or pastry shop in the city centre. In addition, the streets of the marketplace were filled with itinerant sellers who peddled gum mastic along with nutmeg, frankincense, various rings and trinkets, socks and underwear. Some of the “mastic girls” used the sale of mastic as a façade in order to peddle sorcery remedies.

In 1913-1914, merchants did not purchase mastic from the growers. Greece was at war, and in 1914 the incorporation of the so-called “new countries”, as well as Chios, to the tax regime of “old” Greece caused grave discontent.

In 1915, growers began to organize assemblies asking for protective measures regarding mastic. In Kalamoti, in the summer of 1915, the first general assembly took place, and its conclusions became a decree by law titled “Concerning extraordinary measures to aid Agriculture. Measures in favour of mastic, No. 23”.

In order to ensure protection for gum mastic, in 1929 the Greek state promoted the law 4381, that imposed restrictions on the “incisions” of the skinos trees and the collection of gum mastic in a timespan of three months (15 July-15 October), and through controlled planting of new trees there was an attempt to stabilize production at 200,000 okas (around 550,000 pounds) annually. In parallel, according to this law, distribution and management of the product would be undertaken by third parties: landowners, brokers, politicians, lawyers and members of leading or powerful social groups in general.

Meanwhile, since the mid-1920s various cottage industries processing gum mastic were founded, known as ”masticharia”, by former fruit growers and merchants of dried fruit and mastic. It was there that mastic transported from villages was cleaned and sorted by women workers who had migrated from Asia Minor. Cleaned gum mastic in various grades was delivered to local processing facilities, and sometimes exported directly to Europe (France, United Kingdom, Cyprus, Germany, Romania, Greece), Asia (Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, India, Iraq), or Africa (Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria).

Restrictions to the amounts of produce and the very low prices in the marketplace provoked the ire of mastic producers, especially in 1930-1936. In January 1932, a committee to save the product was set up; the committee studied the problem and presented its conclusions at an assembly in Kalamoti. It comprised the local elite, social, financial, and political. Yet G. Choremis, president of the committee, did not believe in cooperatives. Financial cooperatives had been already been founded since 1915, but they had failed. Nevertheless, the founding of the Agricultural Bank of Greece in 1929 and the agricultural reforms during the 1920s provided loan guarantees for the financing of such initiatives as well as systematic encouragement for the creation of cooperatives by producers.

In 1934, the issue of compulsory founding of cooperatives by mastic growers was again on the table. The assembly came out in favour of the cooperative, without exact description of the purpose of the cooperative. Until 1937, the prefect of Chios kept assuring that the Association would concentrate solely on the gathering of mastic, while the cleaning and trade of the product would remain in the hands of merchants.

Compulsory Law 1390/1938, voted in November 1938 by the Metaxas government, officially imposed the cooperatives in every mastic-producing area and their affiliation with the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association, with compulsory participation by all mastic producers. The statutory texts of the cooperatives and the Chios Mastic Growers Association were approved in early February 1939.

Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association

The Association is governed by the nine-member Governing Council, elected by the General Assembly. Its Mission Statement is the following: The protection of the Chios mastic through the systematisation of production, collection and processing, and through mass marketing, as well as the raising of the living standards of mastic growers by offering them a variety of services and by ensuring their cooperation as members of this cooperative promoting the growth of their economy.

The results from the first fiscal year confirmed the expectations of the Association and vindicated the commitment of the mastic producers, who got 50% more than the price they received until then.

In 1939, the Association comprised the following Departments: management office,

Accounting Department, Financial Services Department, Trade Department, treasury, technical department, and human resources. In 1951, the administrative structure was further reinforced, including the Propaganda and Logistics Department, promoting the management, collection, and sale of the product through the local cooperatives, the Warehouse and Retail Department etc. Regional offices included the agencies, retail outlets, warehouses, and industrial buildings.

In order to fulfil its duties: a) The Association raises loans and grants them to its members. b) It acquires possession of warehouses or sheds for the storage of mastic. c) It packages and sells on behalf of the cooperatives the mastic delivered by them, paying up to 3/4 of its value in advance. d) It acquires possession of buildings for industrial processing of mastic, for own profit or on behalf of the members, and sells the products or by-products resulting from the processing. e) It provides for the balancing of demand and supply of mastic and undertakes its advertisements, also actively searches for new markets and ways to increase consumption of mastic. f) It acts on behalf of the members and after their consent in order to acquire goods necessary for cultivation.

The social role of the Association

During the Second World War, the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association did not stop purchasing gum mastic from the producers, as part of its social policy. Thus, in early 1950s, when the adverse effects of the war period were more than obvious, the Association was in no position to pay for mastic, whose trade was undergoing a grave crisis. Nevertheless, the Association distributed the humanitarian aid by the Allies and provided various household goods and agricultural supplies to mastic growers. Thus, it became a prime agent providing support to farmers in southern Chios.

After the mid-1950s, the finances of the Association were much improved and payments for mastic purchased in years past were gradually settled. The Association also managed other agricultural products, gathering surplus production, negotiating prices and trading on behalf of the producers. In parallel, it began to provide loans funded by own capital; they were short-term loans, covering needs related to cultivation or emergencies. The amount was proportional to the amount of mastic delivered by the grower, in return for future deliveries.

During the 1960s, the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association was powerful. It provided financial services; it gathered up agricultural products; it owned industrial complexes for the processing of agricultural products; it sold tools, seeds, fertilisers, household goods and animal feed. It was able to contribute financially to the construction or completion of infrastructure works, to sponsor public institutions, churches, associations, and schools, to establish scholarships for agricultural studies for young people from southern Chios.

The organization of cooperatives

Promoting and enhancing the concept of the cooperatives was a significant priority for the Association, since the relevant sensibility would also ensure that growers conformed to the compulsory law of 1938 and would also increase their active participation in the policy-making procedures. Within this framework, the Association created the Cooperatives Department, organised the cooperative unions and strengthened their local structures.

As local cooperatives neglected their institutional and financial obligations, in order to ensure compliance the Association hired itinerant bookkeepers who undertook the task of keeping records for the various cooperatives. In August 1941, the Association founded three regional accounting offices: one in Nenita, in charge of cooperatives in Nenita, Vouno, Koini, Kataraktis, Neochori and Kallimasia; another one in Exo Didyma, in charge of cooperatives in Agios Georgios, Mesa Didyma, Exo Didyma, Myrmigi, Tholopotami, Lithi, Vesa and Elata; and a third one in Kalamoti, in charge of cooperatives in Mesta, Olympoi, Pyrgi, Armolia, Kalamoti and Patrika. Yet, the war did not allow them to operate normally, and during the first years after 1945, there was a dire need for the accounting issues of the cooperatives to be put in order.

According to directives of the Association, it was decided that technical personnel would be hired to receive mastic deliveries. They would be in charge of applying the best and less expensive system for the cleaning of mastic. They received mastic deliveries and were in charge of quality control and sorting according to the guidelines of the Association, while they also instructed growers how to clean mastic.

The Association took draconian measures to ensure the compliance in mastic deliveries, especially until the end of the 1940. Very often, the craftsmen were fined as well. Whoever did not comply with instructions was fired summarily. These practices, though not common in the Association, emphasized the importance of growers’ compliance with the quality standards set by the administration.

Primary cooperatives

According to the statute, 21 cooperatives were founded in 21 villages of the Mastichochoria region. These cooperatives acted as mediators between mastic growers and the Association. They undertook mastic deliveries on behalf of growers and carried out the payments by the Association; they administered loans given by the Agricultural Bank via the Association; they supplied growers with fertilisers, animal feed and other goods, and they traded on their behalf other agricultural products beside mastic.

The General Assembly would convene whenever an exceptionally important decision had to be taken, as well as to provide information to growers. It also elected two representatives and an alternate for the Association. The Governing Council, with five members, decided on matters concerning the everyday operations of the cooperative. The third-member Supervisory Council, as the controlling mechanism of the cooperative, checked the decisions and activities.

According to the statute, enrolment in a cooperative was determined as follows: Throughout the region of one or many Communities at Mastichochoria of Chios, there is in each one a Cooperative of limited liability, with obligatory membership for any adult mastic producing landowners or growers, or usufructuaries, or tenants, or sharecroppers farming skinos plantations. Those underage are represented by persons acting as their guardians, while those who are deprived of the freedom of managing their property are represented by their legal representatives who register as members themselves. Owners of skinos plantations in the environs of multiple communities are not obliged to register in all the cooperatives of the region, but only one, either where they reside or according to the area where their production is located, as they choose.

The grower delivered the mastic he collected to the cooperative, where it was weighed, and the amount recorded in the file of the grower. Mastic was stored in the cooperative warehouse and then delivered to the Association. During the delivery of the product to warehouses, the ownership of mastic was transferred from the grower to the cooperative. Thus, the amount of mastic in storage was considered property of the cooperative.

The Association sent the cooperative an amount of money as advance payment, which the cooperative transferred to the grower in accordance with the weight of the product delivered by him and the predetermined prices. If the mastic trade went well, he would also receive complementary payments for the amounts of mastic he delivered.

Combating smuggling

Cracking down on smuggling was very important for the Association. Its main tools employed for this purpose was the prosecution of smugglers and the punishment of growers. In parallel, though, the Association administration acknowledged that the best way to minimise illegal channelling of mastic to smugglers was by propagating the collective gains to be had by law-abiding practices. During the following decades, illegal mastic trade was indeed reduced, yet smuggling has never been fully eradicated.

Due to systematic recording of the amount of mastic delivered, as well as the informal network of information, the Association controlled to a large extent the illegal sales of mastic and the growers themselves. The Association’s control mechanism also provided for merchants who bought any amount of mastic directly from growers, as well as anyone mediating between growers and other persons, to be prosecuted after “accusation by the Association” and punished by jail term of up to six months and a penalty payment up to five times the value of the mastic smuggled. This amount of mastic is confiscated and delivered to the Association.

As was to be expected, the Association reserved a different treatment for growers who were arrested while trading illegally, and a different one for the merchants. Typically, Article 11 of the statute states: All members of the Cooperatives are obliged to deliver the whole of their mastic production to the Cooperative to which they belong and via that to the Association. In extraordinary circumstances each grower is allowed to retain at most two okas of the mastic he has produced, provided it will be reserved for household use. The way in which the delivery is carried out will be determined by the Statute of the Association or, as authorised, by its regulation regarding operations. Any member of the Cooperative who does not comply with the above will be liable to a fine equal to the value of the mastic not delivered, imposed by decision of the Governing Council.

Processing at the Association’s factory

After the German Occupation, the Association had reserves of more than 600 tons of mastic. The Association also had to service loans taken by the Agricultural Bank of Greece, but was faced with closed markets and is obliged to make the most of its reserves. So it diversified into processing, by standardising the production of various forms of mastic, such as mastic oil, rosin, resin wax, varnish and frankincense.

In the early 1950s, the Association produced the “ΒΕΜ” chewing gum, yet it production was terminated after the failure of the recipe, and in 1956 the Association marketed the chewing gum under the brand name ELMA, meaning Greek Mastic.

Chios town was the centre of production at the time. The building of the Association was extended, since new operations demanded new equipment, some of which were so rare that they had to be manufactured by local workshops. Parallel activities also developed there: chemical control, manufacturing of wooden boxes, printing of packaging material.

As chewing gum sales continually increased, in 1981 the Association decided to build a new chewing gum factory, completed in 1988, at Kambochora in the Kardamada region, where it still operates today.

As time passed, production processes remained almost unchanged. Today, natural gum mastic, chewing gum and mastic oil are the most important products of the Association. These three production lines are presented in the exhibition, with the use of original mechanical equipment. The restored machinery can be operated by visitors for demonstration purposes.

Production line of natural mastic

Weighing and storage:

The grower delivers mastic to the Association, having cleaned and roughly sorted it.

During delivery, mastic is weighed, sorted according to quality (soft or hard) and size (pita, large, small), and stored.


Mastic is sifted in stages. In this way, it is graded according to the size of the pellets. Each size category has its subcategories. Then, mastic is stored in fridge-rooms.


When an order is to be prepared, the prescribed quality and amount of mastic is transferred to the washing area. The washing process is carried out in two stages: first, in saltwater. Clean mastic floats, while pieces containing other elements sink to the bottom. Then mastic is washed with green soap. In this way, it is cleaned of impurities and acquires a sheen. Then it is air-dried.


Mastic pieces that sunk during the washing process are then spread on large tables, and classified according to quality, they are cleaned from impurities with the help of a sharp knife. This is a task carried out exclusively by women workers.

Production line of gum

Producing chicle:

Chicle is made out of natural mastic, sugar, butter, and corn flour. In the prescribed quantities, the above ingredients are placed inside the blending machine, where the meal is blended for 15 minutes in a heated vat, with the addition of hot water. Then it is spread on a marble counter. Icing sugar is added, and the meal kneaded by hand to form “pies” 2.5-3 cm wide. They are placed in rows of shelves and cooled with the flow of air that lowers their temperature from 50 to 35°C.

Forming gum dragees:

The “pies” are transferred to the machines for cutting. The cylinders in adjustable distances and sizes gradually form thin sheets of the meal and cut it into rectangles like lozenges, also called gum dragees. Then they are placed in the appropriate shelves and left to dry. The ones that are not well shaped are kneaded and cut again.


Gum dragees that are whole and well shaped are transferred to the candy machines.

Each of the machines has a capacity of 40 to 60 kilograms and rotation at about 24 times per minute. Their vat is heated by glass flame underneath, while fresh air is channelled through a nozzle. The aim is to control moisture and completely dry the dragees. This process lasts around 24 hours, depending on humidity in the environment. Then the chewing gum dragees are unloaded on thin palettes and left to dry on the shelves.


Having cooled, the dragees are loaded on the revolving cylinder, where they are polished with stearin and talc for about 15 minutes. Now the dragees are ready to be packaged.

Production of mastic oil:

Mastic oil is produced by distilling natural mastic that is unsuitable for other uses, because it is not sufficiently pure. Mastic is placed in a closed vat. Underneath, steam at a temperature of 120οC heats and melts the pieces of mastic. The essential oil turns into vapours that are gradually carried towards the tube at the upper end of the vat. What remains below is solid resin, known as rosin. Via the tube, vapours are led to a condenser that is made up of a tube in the shape of a helix immersed in a vat where water keeps circulating. The vapours of water and essential oil liquefy while cooling and are collected in a tank with overflow. Essential oil, which is lighter, overflows to the oil reservoir while water is separated via the tap at the lower end of the tank.

Packed with special care:

Recently in Athens kiosks, patisseries, and the baskets of street vendors selling sweets a green-red box with the brand ELMA figures more and more often. It contains Chios mastic, in a form and packaging identical to the famous American brand of chewing gum, while it is tastier and more pure. Every day more and more Athenians or residents of other areas taste this delicious Greek product and are amazed at its perfection and value. And of course, its price is much lower than that of the American gum. It is produced by the “Chios Mastic Growers Association”, a huge and very powerful corporation, itself a source of pride for Greece.

This was written in Chiakos Laos (People of Chios) newspaper in 1960.

As the market for chewing gum showed promising growth, the Association undertook the packaging of chewing gum and other products as well. Until today, the marketing pitch for chewing gum has remained constant in its basic argument: the mastic chewing gum from Chios is natural, original, flavours the mouth, cleans the teeth, strengthens the gums, and helps digestion. Most of all, though, it is an exclusive product of Chios.

Uses of mastic: an epilogue

Thus began the story of the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association, the institution that systematised the cultivation, production and processing of gum mastic. The Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association, based on the structure of a cooperative and operating with democratic procedures, supported cultivations and farmers, and the local economy in general. Its main achievement, though, was that Chios Island became identified with this invaluable natural product, thus opening a significant chapter in the production history of Greece.

Today, gum mastic that is produced on Chios Island travels throughout the world. The Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association, its subsidiary company Mediterra, as well as other merchants and producers, make full use of this natural product and create related manufactured goods for uses that had been known for centuries.

Mastic is a rare material, produced from a rare plant under special conditions thanks to the labour and intelligence of the people. The management of mastic was important, as can be seen from the structures created since the Middle Ages for control of the production process and its trade.

The mastic of Chios Island is valuable today, as it had always been. Yet, in our days, its symbolic value is formally certified: it is recognised as a Protected Designation of Origin product, a natural medicine and a part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of southern Chios.

The agricultural landscape of the Mastichochoria

Here summer is long, dry and hot, with average highest temperature at 30°C (in July). Winter is mild, without frost, with average lowest temperature at 6°C (in January). Average annual rainfall is half a metre. Sunshine is ample, cloudiness is limited. The predominant winds come from the north, with stronger intensity during the winter months.

In the Mastichochoria region, intensive farming is not practiced. Thus, the semi-natural features of the ecosystem are preserved. The skinos plantations are permanent. In addition, they occupy only one section of the field. The agricultural landscape resembles a mosaic, as it is comprised of small estates with mixed farming.

Land is developed for cultivation with the creation of “scales”, that is terraced ground through the use of dry stone walls, which restricts drainage of water, keeps soil erosion in check and retains nutrients in the soil. These “scales” are built with stones that are found in the fields, and they are maintained by the farmers themselves. Caring for the terraced ground is as important as owning the land.

In order to ensure autonomy as far as subsistence needs were concerned, the residents of the Mastichochoria region cultivated olives for their oil and their edible fruit, fig trees to have dried figs and vine in order to produce wine. In parallel, they made full use of wild trees such as carob, in order to produce flour and fodder, as well as the turpentine tree (tsikoudia) in order to have its oil.

In the same fields where mastic or olive was cultivated, in the free spaces on the terraced ground, farmers would also plant legumes (broad beans, lentils, and chickpeas), vegetables (tomatoes, onions, potatoes, green beans) and grains (wheat, barley, and vetch). They also utilized wild brushwood and herbs, such as aniseed, to produce spices.

Donkeys, mules, horses, and oxen are the main helpers used by man in daily work. The mastic fields were significant grazing areas for the small animals of the village, such as goats and sheep, because herbs flourished in them.

In the cultivations that were at a distance from the settlements, farmers used to build makeshift shelters, sheds (votes or cabins) where they would be protected from the midday sun, they would store their equipment or even stay the night on the field when the needs for cultivation were especially acute. These sheds were used mainly when other cultivations were combined with that of the skinos tree. The sheds were also built with the use of dry stone, without mortar, in rectangular or cyclical shape, and they were covered with wood or tiles that would then be pasted with soil.

The Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association mention in the website ( their vision as follows:

Chios Mastiha Growers Association’s vision and target is to introduce mastiha to all consumers through modern and healthy products, to demonstrate that unique and special spice gifted with a distinctive flavour & aroma, but also with considerable & certified therapeutic qualities.

Its aim is to make mastiha an indispensable ingredient for a number of functional products of everyday use, in order to be able to actively respond to its purpose and its commitment towards its thousands of growers-associates. Respecting their labour and their efforts, the Association seeks to stand by them as an assistant, by contributing to the upgrade of mastiha cultivation, to the improvement of its producing procedure and of course to the guarantee of the highest possible profits for them.

Mastic has been apparent also in representational arts such as film and photography. The following segments are offered in [62] . The original text is in Greek. Below is a translation in English by the creators of the deliverable:

Film creations of a high level include the work of Dimos Avdeliotis. “The tree we hurt” and “The four seasons of law” are rich in autobiographical moments and personal experiences of the director that consist a highly shrewd aspect of the Mastichochoria society during the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s. The inclusion of many historical facts, pictures, and personalities offer the opportunity to present a combination of artistic creation and historical documentation through photographs, landscapes, and objects of the Mastichochoria and mastic’s culture.

The photographic material of the villages is created after the earthquakes of 1881 and they are followed by the publication of Pernot at the beginning of the 20th century. They are mainly photographs of ethnographic and reporting interest and many like them continue to be produced during the whole 20th century. Great collections, such as those of Periklis Papachatzidakis and Elli Papadimitriou at the Benaki Museum, preserve an image of the villages before and after the war.

From the interwar period and mostly the first years after the war, it is important the appearance of local photographers. A significant case is that of the Maistros family from Kalamoti, which comprises a vaste visual record in film and photographs. The journey of a refugee – Kostas Maistros – to his village inharite us amateur pictures of Chios in 1948. The same individual provides photographic cameras to George Maistros who becomes the main photographer of mastic villages, capturing everyday life scenes and many of the eldest inhabitants of today’s municipality of mastic villages. Recruitment to the army and immigration created the base in which private photography developed and spread to all social stratifications of the agricultural communities of northern Chios.

During the 1st year of the tree, it is best to irrigate 2, 3 or 4 times per day depending also on the weather conditions. The summer of 2nd or 3rd year of the tree is crucial in order to have a successful production. The older trees though are resistant in drought. It is important to note that persistent humidity can make the tree suffer until the point of drying. Thus, the quality of the mastic is reduced and there is danger for infections.