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Cyprus – Original Manuscripts (Late 17TH Century) Economic History / Era Of The ‘Boyacioğlu Rebellion’




A pair of original manuscript letters written in the late 1680s by the French textile merchant Sauvier Marin, based in Larnaca, who was one of the great political and economic powerbrokers in Cyprus during the era of the ‘Boyacioğlu Rebellion’ – business correspondence lending fascinating insights into the contemporary Cypriot economy, and its place within the greater Mediterranean world.


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Sauveur MARIN (Larnaca) to Francesco VENTURINI (Livorno), July 30, 1688.

1p. on tall quarto, watermarked paper, signed, marked “Copie”, but wax-sealed and endorsed on verso (toned).


In this letter, written in French, Marin addresses his business colleague in Livorno, the merchant Francesco Venturini.  Marin notes the arrival of the Dutch envoy to Larnaca and discusses correspondence being forwarded to Acre (Palestine).  He notes that silver is being sent from Marseille, and that prices of textiles had increased by 20-25%! Wool now sells for 38 piastres per quintal on the island, loom wool for 16 piasters per quintal.  Sauvin mentions that his nephew, Etienne, has entrusted with the cargo for his son, Jean.  Th letter is marked as a “Copie” but is wax-sealed and endorsed on the verso.



Sauveur MARIN (Larnaca) to Francesco VENTURINI and Signor VERNACCIA (Livorno), April 28, 1689.

3 pp. on tall quarto, watermarked paper, singed wax-sealed and endorsed on verso (toned at folds).


This letter, written in Italian, is addressed by Marin to Venturini and another busines colleague in Livorno, a Signor Vernaccia.  Here Marin acknowledged the arrival of letters and monies in Larnaca via the English ship Fedelta.  A French ship also arrived via Sidon (Lebanon) and Acre.  All cotton the sent to Acre was sold, mainly to clients from Tunis.  Cotton was very expensive due to extreme competition from 6 merchant vessels from Marseille (with 6 more due to arrive shortly) and 8 ships from England, heading for London.  Marin laments that war with Spain seems inevitable but is glad that there is peace with Algeria and Tripoli, Libya (piratical states that preyed upon merchant shipping).


Sauveur Marin: Major Powerbroker in Cyprus and the Boyacıoğlu Rebellion

In 1570-1, the Ottoman Empire conquered Cyprus, which had been ruled by the Venetians since 1489.  In honour of Cyprus’s great economic importance, the Ottomans made it into a province that would additionally govern parts of the coasts of Syria and Lebanon.  However, many of Cyprus’s traditional trading links had been severed due to its being part of the Ottoman realm, and it experienced economic decline and mass emigration.

In 1670, the Greek Orthodox Church, which held considerable power on the island, successfully convinced the Sublime Porte that Cyprus was suffering under the administrative burden of running an eyalet with external commitments.  Cyprus was this downgraded to being a sanjak (district) of the Eyalet of the Archipelago, to be governed by the Kapudan Pasha. head of the Ottoman Navy.  In turn, the Kapudan Pasha placed the day-to-day governance of Cyprus in the hands of the local Turkish agas (local landowners and magistrates), who often acted as tax collectors.

These administrative reforms had the effect of weakening the Sublime Porte’s authority in Cyprus, as the agas progressively gained power.  Soon virtually all manners of government were controlled by the agas, with Istanbul exercising only de jure sovereignty.  It was not long before the agas fought amongst themselves for power, creating a febrile, unstable environment.

Into what was a power vacuum, the French merchant community in Cyprus came to occupy outsized influence.  France was long the Sublime Porte’s prime foreign ally.  French merchants had extraterritorial status and special privileges within Cyprus and the rest of the empire not enjoyed by other outsiders.

Perhaps the most important, and certainly controversial, member of the French commercial community in Cyprus were Sauveur Marin, a Provençal textile merchant.  Marin, who settled in Larnaca in 1657, and remained there for over 30 years, was a larger-than-life figure, who spoke fluent Greek and Turkish and had many ardent followers amongst the local elite of the island.  He made the valuable cotton fields of Episkopi into his own fief.  He played by his own rules, coopting the local Turkish authorities to ‘shake down’ his competitors, forcing them to pay surprise ‘fines’ or ‘taxes’ or face physical repercussions.  He was also known to harass Orthodox priests, who held temporal authority in many villages, when they refused to do his bidding.  The French and English consuls and the Archbishop Nikiforos, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church on Cyprus, all despised Marin for this ‘scandalous behaviour’, yet for a long time seemed powerless to stop him.  The English consul, Samuel Peer, wrote that Marin’s actions were “to the detriment of not only other foreign merchants but also the poor Greeks”.

In 1678, Marin was appointed as the Genoese consul in Cyprus, a move that greatly added to his status.  However, by 1680, he had acquired too many powerful enemies, and was temporarily forced to leave the island for France.  However, Marin returned to Cyprus a few years later, where he acted as a powerbroker in the ongoing feuds between the various Turkish agas.

From 1683 to 1685, an ambitious local potentate, Mehmed Ağa Boyacıoğlu, managed to take over all of Cyprus, diapcing or subordinating all the ather agas.  While his power grab is commonly referred to as ‘Boyacıoğlu’s Rebellion’, in reality the aga’s actions were not an attmept to question Ottman Empire’s sovereignty over Cyprus, but rather the result of a local contest for money and authority.  In 1686, the Ottomans made an agreement with Boyacıoğlu (or so they thought), under which they would allow him to continue to govern Cyprus in return for acknowledging the Sublime Porte’s supremacy and keeping order on he island.

Boyacıoğlu apparently paid little heed to his promises to Istanbul.  He led a messy administration, full of profligate corruption and mismanagement, and came into conflict with innumerable of the island’s stakeholders.  He often employed physical force to extort people across the island, actions that alienated him form man of his former supporters.

Sauveur Marin was initially an ally of Boyacıoğlu, and he played a role in his rise to island-wide power.  However, in 1687, Marin and Boyacıoğlu had a falling out.  Apparently, Boyacıoğlu’s wife and mother had borrowed 1,060 kuruş from Marin.  When Marin tried to politely collect the dept, Boyacıoğlu reacted with anger and incivility, and threatened Marin that he should forgive the debt.

Apparently, Boyacıoğlu forgot who he was dealing with, for Marin was a sly political operator.  He gathered affidavits testifying to Boyacıoğlu’s heavy-handed behaviour (including Boyacıoğlu’s threats to his person) from across the island and forwarded them to the French government.

Pierre Girardin, the immensely influential French Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, took up the matter and in June 1688 the Ottoman government ordered Boyacıoğlu to repay the money his family owed Marin.  However, Boyacıoğlu’s response was to send armed men to Marin’s house, threatening to kill him unless the matter was dropped.

Marin’s case, combined with other issues of maleficence, convinced Pierre Girardin that Boyacıoğlu was a ‘bad actor’ and a threat to both Ottoman authority on Cyprus and trade and commerce in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Girardin convinced the Sultan that Boyacıoğlu and his chief lieutenants needed to be removed from power, once and for all.  In 1690, an Ottoman force landed in Cyprus and overthrow the aga’s regime, executing Boyacıoğlu and his main ringleaders.

The Ottomans would never again allow Cyprus to exercise local autonomy over its affairs and placed it under direct rule.  From 1703, the island came under the direct authority of the Grand Vizier in Istanbul, so ending a dramatic chapter in Cyprus’s history.


Provenance: The present letters were formerly in the collection of the late Herry W. Schaefer (1934 – 2016), a Swiss banker who was one of the most avid and tasteful collectors of maps, books, archives and ephemera of the Mediterranean world and the Near and Middle East.


References: Cf. Marios HADJIANASTASIS, ‘Cyprus in the Ottoman Period: Consolidation of the Cypro-Ottoman Elite, 1650-1750’, in Michalis N. Michael, Eftihios Gavriel, Matthias Kappler (eds.), Ottoman Cyprus: A Collection of Studies on History and Culture (2009), pp. 69-70.


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