Ο μύθος των Ζηλωτών της ΘεσσαλονίκηςPart of : Βυζαντιακά ; No.30, 2012, pages 229-242
The myth of the Zealots
Αφιέρωμα στη Θεσσαλονίκη για τα 100 χρόνια από την απελευθέρωσή της
The “Zealot revolt” became a myth of Byzantine studies, especially in circles of Eastern Europe’s researchers during the Cold War. The movement was thought to represent a social revolution of the middle and lower social classes against the aristocracy, which was directed by the political party of the Zealots and had a clear political program of changing the social and political status quo (a redistribution of wealth and perhaps another political model of government more “democratic” with the participation of social groups other than the landed aristocracy). Although the major source for this “program”, a homily of Nikolaos Kabasilas, was rejected by I. Ševčenko already in 1357 as referring to the Zealots, many scholars did not abstain from expressing similar views.The Zealot movement is closely connected with the second civil war (1341-1354) between the regency of the minor Ioannes V and Ioannes Kantakouzenos. When in 1342 the governor of Thessalonike Theodoros Synadenos decided to join Kantakouzenos, a popular revolt led by the antiKantakouzenists expelled him along with the supporters of Kantakouzenos.Their properties were raided and were redistributed to the leaders of the revolt, who were none other than known members of the local aristocracy, who had titles and large land possessions. A new governor was appointed by the central government altering nothing in the status quo of the city. The influence of the Zealots on the people was rather limited. When in 1345 the governor Ioannes Apokaukos murdered the leader of the Zealots and imprisoned several others, he caused no turbulence among the populace.However, when he tried to join Kantakouzenos another Zealot leader, Andreas Palaiologos, aroused the demos of the coastal part of the city, of which part he held the administration. Still, the support of the rest people and the victory of the Zealots were only achieved because of the treason of a military leader named Kokalas, who aroused the populace against Apokaukos and convinced the soldiers to abstain from fighting. The victory ended with the bloodshed of Ioannes Apokaukos and 100 of his supporters. Accordingly, in 1349 the next governor, Alexios Metochites led most of the city’s demos against the coastal demos and Andreas Palaiologos achieving thus a sound victory.The Zealots then started negotiating the surrender of the city to the Serbians but Metochites called Kantakouzenos for aid. The entry of Kantakouzenos next year in the city was peaceful; he imprisoned the rest of the Zealots without any reaction. Similar efforts trying to link them with the religious controversies of the time (e.g. opposition to the Hesychasts) or with heretic circles have proved fruitless. The Zealots were nothing more than a fraction of the aristocracy that tried to appropriate power and use the force of the people for their cause. Moreover, the city remained attached to the central government and does not represent an effort for self-government. Yet, it can be treated as one more incident in the growing centrifugal tendencies of the late Byzantine centuries, caused by a weakening state machine.