From very early on, the Chians cultivated friendly relations with Rome, foreseeing the role that history would reserve for the Latins. In 189 BCE, they were rewarded for their friendship with a grant of autonomy. Many Roman citizens began settling on the island, enticed by its climate and economic potential, while Chians in turn settled in Rome. With their assistance, the mastiha produced on the island was promoted in the capital of the empire and throughout its possessions.
6th century CE
The shift of the seat of the Roman Empire to Constantinople strengthened the geopolitical position of Chios, which was located on the sea route linking the new capital to the Mediterranean. In the 6th century CE, two markets operated on the island, both markets dealing in local commodities. One was in the town of Chios and the other was in Emporios, a small port in the south. Today it is a holiday resort but in those days, it was a busy, strategic harbor, as proven by the ruins of a castle and large basilica church. Emporios was the export station for mastiha.
Beginnings of the14th century
In the early 14th century, the Republic of Genoa was experiencing internal unrest. With its coffers empty, its governors were unable to assemble an army to settle differences with their dissenters. So, they requested aide from the private sector. Twenty-nine wealthy citizens responded to the call. They furnished an equal number of ships and, led by Simone Vignoso, put themselves at the service of the Republic. The internal problem was solved, and immediately thereafter Vignoso’s battle-ready fleet set sail for the Aegean, heading for the island that produced mastiha. In April 1346, it besieged the fortress of Chios, and three months later, the Zyvos, the Agelastos, the Koresis, the Damalas, the Argentis, and the other lords defending it, surrendered in exchange for maintaining their lands and privileges. Despite this success, the Republic of Genoa still had no money and was unable to repay Viniozi’s twenty-nine sponsors for their services.
Against its debts, the government granted them rights to the exploitation of Chios, confining itself to simple suzerainty. The twenty-nine founded a joint-stock company, the Maona di Scio, to manage the revenues from the island. Maona was the Genoese and Florentine term for companies managing taxes and similar revenues. Soon, the shareholders in the Maona were limited to twelve families, each of which had 1,000 shares. The heads of the families were Pietro Oliverio, Raphael Fornetto, Francisco Arangi, Pietro Recanelli, Giovanni and Andrea Cabae, Paolo Banca, Tomaso Longo, Francisco Garibaldi, Lucino Negri, Nicolas Fiesco da Canetto, and Gabriel Adorno. They settled permanently in Chios and added the epithet Giustiniani to their names. The Maona had its Genoa headquarters in the Palazzo Giustiniani, built supposedly by a nephew of the emperor Justinian II (685-711 CE), of the Heraclian dynasty.
Taking advantage of this legend, the twelve shareholders decided to claim Justinian decadency. The company crest was an eagle on a porphyry ground (the Byzantine imperial color) with the blue escutcheon of the Heraclians on its breast. The Giustiniani ruled Chios for two centuries and influenced the island like no other conqueror.
14 th - 15th century
Business flourished for Maona in Chios. They constructed, fortified, irrigated, organized and then reaped the fruits of their investments, amassing immense fortunes. The dividend distributed to its shareholders was 2,000 ducats in bad years, reaching ten times that amount in good years. The total annual turnover never fell below 120,000 ducats. Of this, 30,000 came from mastiha sales, the rest from direct and indirect revenues, port charges, duties, land leases, exploitation of tin deposits, trade of Chian clay, textiles, etc. The extent of demand for Chian goods at this time is evident in the following incident.
In 1512, Pope Alexander VI, wishing to flatter the English King Henry VIII, sent a galleon to London loaded with Chian products: wine, black and red marble, almonds, honey, oil, rosewater, flower extracts, mastiha liquor and mastiha. In the 15th and 16th centuries, mastiha became a sort of writ of payment. Against debts, the Maona would leave its lenders crates of mastiha as collateral. They pre-sold the future yields of three, five or ten years to trading houses and collected advance payments. They even remitted a portion of their annual tax to the sultan in mastiha. Hence, to maintain a constant price, they made sure that the annual yield never exceeded thirty tons. They did not hesitate, moreover, to impose a drastic decrease in production when they saw the price falling. The surplus from each harvest was stored in warehouses until the following year. If the new harvest was satisfactory, they either burned or tossed the reserves into the sea. In the opposite case, they kept as much as they needed to supplement the desired quantity. The Maona was not involved in the retail trade of mastiha; it simply sold the output. It was exported to Istanbul, Asia Minor, and the Crimea (50% of production), to Armenia, Rhodes, Syria, and Egypt (25% combined), and to Europe and northwest Africa (the remaining 25%). The company’s shareholders, the Giustiniani, were cosmopolitan, and always maintained the best relations with their Genoa homeland. They went there to marry, and sent their children there to study. They also had good relations with the Byzantine emperors and the Turkish sultans, as well as with the Mongol khan Tamerlan. They even found a means of dealing with the Chian aristocracy. Gradually, either through purchase of shares or through intermarriage, families of Chian origin became members of the Maona. The only ones with whom they did not get along were the ordinary Chian folk, who remembered them as the most despised despots of all time. In the early 16th century, the Giustiniani were compelled to fight the Venetians and the Turkish pirates simultaneously. The excessive costs of war brought them to the brink of bankruptcy, obliging them to deed the Bank of Saint George a portion of Maona shares as well as the rights to exploit Chios. They kept only the mastiha monopoly, which continued to yield 30,000 ducats a year. But that was not enough to avert their downfall.
The sultan Selim II kept for himself and his heirs the most regular income Chios had to offer – the “mastiha business.” With his ahdnamé he required the Mastihohoria to supply him with 25,000 kilos of mastiha annually. In exchange, he exempted them from all taxes, except the head tax, which was reduced. To satisfy the mastiha cultivators, he permitted them to have bells in their churches and to continue to wear their traditional white sariki, or turban. In the Ottoman Empire, only Islamic clerics had the right to wear a white sariki. Whereas the Genoese did not let mastiha production to exceed 20,000 kilos, under the Ottomans, production reached 38,000 kilos. Of this, 25,500 kilos belonged to the sultan. The rest were purchased by the Sakiz Emin, the sultan’s deputy in the Mastihohoria, for one-fourth its wholesale value. An important Ottoman innovation was to allow self-government in the twenty-one Mastihohoria. Each village was managed by elected elders, who served one-year terms. The elders administered community property, levied taxes, maintained moral standards and had the right to arrest and punish law-breakers. Μost importantly, they decided on the quantity of mastiha that each inhabitant was required to contribute to fulfill the sultan’s revenue. The elders of all the Mastihohoria held annual meetings at which they determined the time for mastiha gathering and elected two vekilis, (authorized representatives). They were in charge of dealing with the Ottomans and in particular the Sakiz Emin. The mastiha harvest commenced simultaneously in every village. Throughout its duration, the Emin’s guards monitored the passes leading to the Mastihohoria. To prevent smuggling of any kind, access was prohibited to all strangers and local wayfarers were thoroughly searched. In early November, the Sakiz Emin toured the villages to collect the mastiha. In a procession accompanied by drummers and musicians– a custom left over from the Genoese era – he then transported it to the fortress in Chios town (Hora). Those wishing to make purchases applied to the customs inspector, who would dispense the requested quantity, in stamped and sealed packages. Mastiha without a stamp was considered stolen goods.
1822 - 1850
The Ottoman Turks remained the masters of Chios for four-and-a-half centuries. Despite the time span, they affected life on the island clearly less than the Genoese did. Aside from a few words and even fewer buildings, their greatest intervention on the island, was the massacre of 1822. From 1830 on, the Ottomans exerted considerable effort into returning the Chian refugees. The sultan Mahmut II, replaced the old ahdname “that were lost during the familiar events” (as he discreetly called the massacre) and in 1835 reinstated the privileges that the Mastihohorians had been granted by his predecessors. “The subjects in the Mastihohoria are exempt from governmental taxes, the tithe and the transit taxes during war or peace, except for the head tax and 20,020 okes (25,800 kilos) of mastiha per year.” Remarkably, the tax on mastiha remained unchanged for 300 years!In the 1840’s a progressive wind was blowing through the Ottoman Empire. The elders governing the Mastihohoria sensed it and in 1848, in an historical meeting in Panagia Sikelia, decided to request a free-trade agreement for mastiha. They got it with the intervention of the Chian colony in Constantinople, and for the first time, the mastiha producers had the right to sell the fruits of their labor on the free market and pay their taxes in cash, rather than mastiha. The sultan Abdul Metzit ratified the new status quo with a firman in 1850.
Chios was incorporated into the Greek state in the winter of 1912. The Greek army landed in eastern Chios in early November, and reached Hora without encountering serious resistance. The Mastihohoria were the first to be liberated. Sykousis was taken without a fight on November 14, while the inhabitants of Kalamoti themselves captured the Turkish governor and his guard. The bravest Mastihohorians armed themselves with the rifles they’d taken off their enemies and, together with men from Kampos, formed a militia based in Lithi. They guarded the passages to southern Chios to prevent the Turks, who had regrouped to the north on Mt. Aepos, from getting food supplies. Although they had no war experience, the Mastihohorian militia kept a strong hold on its positions, especially when the Cretan captain G. Perros took over as leader with his 50 fighting troops. In the most significant battle they fought outside of Lithi, Klearchos Chrysis from Nenita and Ioannis Galanos from Katarraktis were killed. So was captain Perros who was eating at the time of the attack and didn’t want to be interrupted. Chios officially surrendered to the Greek army on 21 November 1912.
In 1941 Chios was occupied by the Germans. During the winter of this year famine struck the island. A group of prominent Chians went to Turkey to negotiate a food-for-mastiha exchange. They closed a deal, but it remained on paper. The Germans confiscated the mastiha earmarked for this purpose and sold it for their own profit. At this time mastiha distribution was handled only with vouchers issued by the German authorities. Moreover, these vouchers were typically granted to black-marketeers in exchange for information about the situation on the opposite shore. The black-marketeers exchanged the mastiha in Turkey for food, which they then took, not to Chios, but to the Cycladic Islands, Samos, and Piraeus, where they got better prices.