The feudal system and the agrarian problem of Corfu – Part 1

Since Corfu came under the rule of western sovereigns, the feudal system was introduced, although with some variations.
First the Anjou dynasty, sovereigns of Sicily and S. Italy, introduced the French model of feudalism, with the exceptions of a series of aspects conjectured by the treaty with the Despotate of Epirus. They were followed by the Venetians who nevertheless were pledged by the Chrysobull of 1387, by which Corfu acceded to the Republic.
In any case, until the 15th century when a situation was established, we notice the effect of the formation of large possessions of land. Those possessions are sorted to three main categories: the “immediate” feuds, the “public” baronies and the lands of the Roman Catholic Archbishopric. The main difference in the character of these possessions was who had sovereignty over the inhabitants, mostly peasants of the feud. In the case of the “immediate” feuds the full authority belonged to the feudarch, while, in the other two categories it belonged to the state.
The fact that the above possessions were not cohesive, but on the contrary they were scattered along the island, and also the fact that their owners were annexing more and more lands, also scattered, led to the effect of the fragmentation of the cultivable lands of Corfu.
Irrespectively, though, of who was their sovereign, the peasants of Corfu were living under hard conditions. Those who were serfs under the authority of a lord had very small earnings, but also the free farmers, who cultivated their own or rented lands, had to face the rents, the capitations of the olive-presses and the payments to the lenders to whom they regularly turned when the harvest was small.
There was also another group of peasants, who either had not inherited land by their parents, or they had lost their land in some way. Those unfortunate people had to subordinate to a lord willingly, in order to survive from starvation.
In the text below we can see such a case:

Bond contract from Corfu (16th c.) (translation)

1674, 12th of August. In the court (the courtyard of the mansion) of the present Honest Senior Alexandros Kartanos (Quartano), [son] of the late Honest Marinos, in his mansion at Cothoniki, [agreed with Mr Konstantis Soukeras [son] of the late Mr Stathis, and he hired to him all his fields he possesses in the above region.... also and the garden, with all the trees inside it. Also and the olive trees at ... He also give him and the hut in order to stay inside with his family, with no burden (rent), and he also give him the old hut, if he, Soukeras, in any time should have the means to repair it, to live in it with no burden... With the bond of Mr Soukeras to bring two loads of firewood per week at the holidays to the house of Honest Kartanos in the town, from the lumber of the same Kartanos....
Before the witnesses Mr Zafiris Potamitis and Mr Giorgakis Kampisas.
Α.P.C., Notaries, V Γ 76, p. 333v

In the above text we can note the use of the term “rent” referring to the lands the Sinior Kartanos gave to Mr Soukeras, but the absence of any reference to a relevant sum, as well as the terms of the concession of the huts to Mr Soukeras, imply that we have to deal with a “παροικική σύμβαση”, a bond contract between a lord and his serf, the terms of which do not differ much from those of the byzantine ones.
Under the status of παροικία (serfdom), the receiver of the land had the right to live in the possessions of his lord, with no right to leave it. The difference with the “immediate” feuds was that the lord had no legal judicatory authority over his serf.

(the above article was written by Andreas Grammenos and was published at the newspaper "Η Κέρκυρα Σήμερα)

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