restricted access The Greek Community in Odessa, 1861–1917
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The Greek Community in Odessa, 1861-1917 Patricia Herlihy The Greeks and the Black Sea The Greeks have always been a seafaring people, interacting with lands in easy maritime access to their homes. The northern littoral of the Black Sea is one such accessible region. In ancient times Greeks often visited this coast, dotting it with numerous colonies and trading stations. In the late 18th century, Greeks again came in considerable numbers to the region, now part of the Russian empire. Expanding commercial opportunities, especially the booming export of cereals from the southern steppes to western Europe beckoned them. This essay describes the Greek community in one city of the Russian empire, Odessa, for a particular period in its history. For contrast, characteristics of the German and Jewish communities of the time are occasionally referred to. The principal sources for the study are two census reports and material to supplement them. The censuses , valuable as they are, provide aggregate and rather static information . To gauge the direction and degree of change, I have also examined life histories and have conducted oral and written interviews with elderly people of Greek descent who either lived in south Russia or had close relatives who did so. Some of the questions addressed are: Who were the Greeks who came to the southern territories of the Russian empire? How did their economic interests and activities change as the area's initial prosperity gradually waned in the late 19th century? What factors either hastened or obstructed assimilation with the native peoples among whom they settled? The present study offers only partial answers with respect to the situation in approximately the last half century of tsarist rule in Russia.1 The Greeks living in the Russian empire have not been closely studied. As the soviet historian, G. L. Arsh, rightly points out, much less is known about Greeks in the northern Euxine regions (now the south Ukraine) in modern times than about their ancient predecessors (Arsh 1969: 80). Arsh's own research has done much to rectify this, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 7, 1989. 235 236 Patricia Herlihy but his studies are largely limited to Greek settlement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the region first became part of the Russian empire. Arsh was chiefly interested in the contribution that Greeks of the northern diaspora made to the independence movement in their homeland and only secondarily in their experiences abroad (Arsh 1970, 1965; Karidis 1981; Herlihy 1979-80). No one, to my knowledge, has paid attention to the history of the Greek populations in Russian territory over the late 19th century. Odessa In order to reconstruct their history, special attention must be paid to Odessa, long the queen city among Black Sea ports and one which had early attracted a large and prosperous Greek community. In the history of Black Sea commerce, the Crimean War (1853-56) marked a watershed. Over the last half of the 19th century, the cereal exports of the Russian empire continued to grow in absolute volumes, but also declined in relative share of the world market. The United States, Canada, Argentina, and other countries emerged as vigorous competitors. Odessa in particular now faced diminishing commercial opportunities. Several of its prominent Greek mercantile families abandoned south Russia altogether in order to pursue more promising commercial enterprises elsewhere. Still others among the wealthy early arrivals transferred their businesses to other ports along the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Odessa did, however, continue to attract immigrants from Greece and the Turkish Empire. Doubtless, it also lost emigrants back to the homeland, particularly among those older persons who wished to retire in the country of their birth and had earned the means to do so. I want to look closely at the residual community of Greeks who made Odessa at least their temporary home in the late 19th century in spite of the city's weakening economic fortunes. Numbers Two censuses give us glimpses into the size and general characteristics of Odessa's Greeks. They were redacted in 1892 and 1897 respectively, and both included the entire city (Rezul'taty 1894; Pervaia perepis' 1899—1905). The census of 1897...