Family Ferreira da Fonseca, c. 1600-1625

Since the defeat of the Moors from Ceuta in 1415, many of our Portuguese ships and merchants had to find trade else- where.  They were doing particularly well sailing down the west coast of Africa and trading with the native peoples and also made their way into the Indies. I, like my great grandfather, Andres, before me, was given a great amount of work on the docks unloading all the merchandise our Portuguese ships had obtained because they were doing so well in exploration and trade.

Recently, one of the ships just returned from the eastern Mediterranean near Venice, but when my crew and I went to unload it, we found hardly anything in the ship. I overheard one of the crew members talking and they were furious that the Venetians wouldn’t trade with them because that means a loss in profit. Since unloading commodities was my job and there was not anything to unload I questioned one of the crew members on the occurrences in Venice. He told me, “Os venezianos não trocar bens com nós, porque alguns de nossos membros da tripulação eram marranos.”  In translation, the Venetians would not trade with the crew because some of them were Marranos. Many that were considered to be Marranos were not trusted by Christians or Jews simply because they switched faiths even if it was unwilling.[1]

Unfortunately, there is a large population of Portuguese Marranos due to the expulsion of all the Jews from Spain almost two- hundred years earlier. Many of us that are of Jewish faith were then forced to convert to Christianity to keep our place in society. If conversion wasn’t enough to add, my country of Portugal has and still continues to be under the rule of Spain.[2]

Arturo Ferriera da Fonseca

[1] Dursteler, Eric. Venetians In Constantinople. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2006. 103-129.

[2] Griffin Ortiz, Julia. Spain and Portugal. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007. 146.


Family Zénehat, c. 1600-1625

I continue the tradition in my family of having tailoring as a trade. However, many things have changed since my family first came here to Constantinople. The population rises daily and the city is constantly evolving.[1] I, along with my family, continue to live in Galata. Galata is an area that is filled with many different types of people. We live towards the west of the Tower of Galata. This is an area where most Muslims congregate. However, we also live amongst and interact with the Jews, Spanish, Italians, Germans, Russians, English, French, Dutch, fellow Turks, and many more.[2] Our trade receives business from many of these different types of people too. There are many different types of officials who come to me for tailoring. Ottomans, Frenchman, and even some Venetians come to me for my expertise. The Venetians are slowly losing power and this is something that is not favorable to me. I feel this way because I will be losing business, but also because I count some Venetians as good friends of mine. While I do not like to be involved in politics, it does bother me to see my friends upset over their loss of power. The French have been becoming a larger of our community ever since the French moved their Embassy to Galata. Another change that is occurring currently is the growing number of my fellow Turks living here in Galata. Due to this increase in Muslims living here, there are more Mosques and less non-Muslim churches. I, along with many other Muslims, have always been very interested in these other faiths. Since, I am a Sufi, I am extremely open to different religions. In fact, as a child my mother took me to one of these churches when I was sick in the hopes that I would be healed.[3] On a daily basis I trade with and encounter many different people.

[1] Eric R. Dursteler, Veneians in Constantinople: Nation, Identity, and Coexistence in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2006), 156.

[2] Ibid., 155.

[3] Ibid., 182.

Family Barrera, 1625

Things here in Spain have taken a turn for the worst. While many still believe that everything is going to turn out alright I truly believe that our country is in decline. Many of the skilled labor that our country once had have left the region. First, the Jews had to leave or convert to Christianity. Those that converted faced accusations that their conversions were not sincere and even presently Marranos are taken before the inquisition. Even all these years later after their forced conversions most people do not know how to identify them. They are neither truly Jewish nor Christian. For this reason they are often seen as untrustworthy and some people are hostile towards them. Next, the Moriscos were driven from the country from 1609 to 1614 by Phillip III. These people were once Muslims who converted to Christianity for political reasons. They were forced to convert or leave the country. However, even though they converted to Christianity they were eventually forced to leave anyway. They were not allowed to take many their possessions with them and their valuables including their land was confiscated.  Many of the Jews and Muslims that were driven from the country relocated to lands under the control of the Ottoman Empire like Constantinople where their skills are valued and they are able to live openly as Jews and Muslims.[1]

Unlike in some other places in the Mediterranean Christians here did not convert to Islam or Judaism. If they had converted they would have had to leave the country. However, I have heard accounts of people returning to the country after being held captive by the Ottomans and claiming to the inquisitors that they had been forced to convert to Islam in order to avoid being treated badly. These renegades are usually allowed to rejoin our society without repercussions. However it is hard to tell if they converted because they had to or because they wanted to and so many people do not fully trust them even though they claim they have returned to Christianity.[2]

My family now only does business with old Christians. However, business is hard to come by now days. The economy is suffering greatly and so there are not as many merchantmen needing ships. The government has begun to tax the poor very harshly however much of the money goes to the nobles instead of the crown. Valencia, one of the ports I do a lot of business in, has suffered greatly. Hundreds of thousands of Moriscos have been forced to leave from there. Since it was a Muslim port it makes sense that it was the hardest hit by the expulsion. However, so many people leaving has greatly hurt my family’s business and it does not appear that things will improve anytime soon. Some fellow Christians are trying to take over jobs that the Moriscos had previously held, however they do not have the experience that is needed for them to be successful.[3]


-Mariona Barrera, 1625

[1] Eric R., Dursteler, Venitans in Constantinople: Nation, Identity, and Coexistance in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2006), 103-129.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Family ben David, December 2, 1624

Protocol of Moses ben David III, Son of Moses ben David, notary public for the city of Alexandria , kept for the purpose of accounts , personal business, and all other details related to the job of a notary public within the jurisdiction of Alexandria. Kept for the purpose of providing evidence and facts when disputes arise.

December 2, 1624- Trade in Alexandria has been going well. But it has certainly become more complicated since my father’s time. When he was a notary for the city of Alexandria it was simple to tell who a person was. Where they were from, their religion, their culture all one needed was to ask. This difficulty in distinguishing identity is largely in part to my own people I am sorry to say. Since the Jewish diaspora, the Jewish people have been forced to fan out and often change their identities as the need arises in order to live and trade in areas they would not be normally allowed to take part in. A prime example would be the merchant I met in the port of Alexandria today. He is a Marrano Jew, at least that is what I have been led to believe. He gave me the name Abraham Benvenisti.[1] After I finished recording the goods that his ship contained I went on my way to discuss the day’s events with my fellow notaries. I was told something of great interest by a fellow notary who is of Portuguese decent. This fellow subject of the sultan informed me that he had dealt with the same merchant earlier in the year and that he had given him the name Anriquez Nunez.[2] Although this appeared fairly strange at first it readily became clear in a matter of seconds, he had given my friend, the Portuguese notary, a Portuguese name, and me, a Jew, a Jewish name. Clearly he hoped that this would create an emotional state of kinship upon us in hopes of attaining a better deal in the port. Perhaps he believed we would not charge him as much if we had a cultural connection with him. This is the crutch of the problem that we in the service of the sultan are facing now. It is near impossible for notaries and other members of the state to know what is truth and what is merely a façade.

However this is not only creating a problem for me in my official position it is also creating problems in my personal life. Many people feel that the Jewish people are changing their identities merely to avoid paying their due taxes and duties in ports to the nation. I have received word that the Baili[3] in Constantinople has made an official complaint to the sultan about this very issue with merchants in the ports of Constantinople. This mistrust of the Jewish people has even reached the ports of Alexandria. I see day in and day out the people becoming more and more untrusting of people they suspect of being Jewish , whether they are or not. Even with my role as a notary for the state I have seen distrusting looks by those who are not aware of who I am. Although, they quickly change once they are made aware of who I am. I fear that as long as a few continue to work the system that all Jewish people will suffer from it. All that I can do is try and catch these people in the act before they can become to big of a problem. And hopefully restore trust in my people. I will have to wait and see I guess.[4]

[1] Dursteler,Eric R., “Venetians in Constantinople: Nation, Identity, and Coexistence In The Early Modern Mediterranean.”(John Hopkins University Press,2006 )Pg106

[2] Ibid

[3][3] Pages used 7-12

[4] For more information on the current political situation within the Mediterranean and how it has changed since the time frame of this blog go to this website and read the article by Moratinos.

Family Sanudo, 1615

My name is Basilion Sanudo the year is 1615 and I am currently the head of the Sanudo family.  Times are becoming more complicated for my family in these times.  The jobs on Crete are not as plentiful as they once were.  I am having trouble finding work for my sons, and I do not wish for them to fall into debt.  All is not lost though; the powerful Ottoman Empire is just north of us and I believe that this may be the answer to our problems.   I suggested to my sons Arrigo and Adalfieri that it would be wise for them to make a move north and try and find work elsewhere.

My son Arrigo found his way into the Turkish arsenal in Constantinople working on the ship as a caulker which from what he has told me that he earns 20 akce a day.[1]  From what I understand there is already 3000 Candia people in Galata.[2]  Arrigo plans to stay there for some time so he went through the bailo to transfer his house to me.  I have also been in contact with the baili to see if he could grant him a document of fede; this would help him socially as well as open more opportunities for him economically.  I believe that my argument is sound enough for this to work.  After all I reminded the bailo that it was my family that helped defend some of his trading interested in Crete and that I may be willing to lend more of my family if need be.  Arrigo tells me that he has converted to Islam; though I personally believe he is doing this to gain favor with his Ottoman superiors.  He always was the one to anything to get ahead in any situation.

My other son Adalfieri took work on a Venetian merchant ship but unfortunately I have bad news in his case.  I learned that recently his ship was captured by privateers I’m guessing either the Knights Stefano or Hospitaller.[3]  If I know him he will do anything to get back home so I think he has become one of them but I cannot be certain.

[1] Eric R. Dursteler, Venetians in Contantinople: Nations, Identity, and coexistence in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Maryland: John Hopkins University Press,2006), 80.

[2] Idid., 84.

[3] Ibid., 236.