Commons – Greece


The available historical data referring to forms of common pasture in the Greek territory date from the seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century, when most of the common pasture groups, both settled and nomadic, were dissolved. Common pasture groups were active mostly in the mountainous areas of the Northern part of Greece, such as the regions of Thraki, Macedonia, Ipiros, and Thessalia, as well as in some Aegean islands, including Crete, Naxos, and Syros.

Nomadic forms of common pasture were found in the Northern part of Greece and the whole Balkan region: the so-called “tseligkata” of Sarakatsani and Vlachs (more information on the term Vlach at bottom of this page). Their main difference was that Sarakatsani spoke the Greek language, while Vlachs spoke the Vlach one. The name “Sarakatsani” or “Krakatsani” derives most probably from the Turkish expression “kara-kacan<kir-kacan”, which means “the one who leaves the woods” (Arseniou 2005, 26), while the word “tseligkas” is of Slavic origin and indicates “the leader of the clan” (Weigand 2002). Some authors claim that Sarakatsani livestock communities had ancient origin (Arseniou 2005), while others argue that Sarakatsani emerged and developed as nomadic livestock populations during the Ottoman rule (Tsoumanis).

Sarakatsani and Tseligkata

According to the available data, the cradle of nomadism were the plains around the mountain Pindos (Arseniou 2005, 22). Throughout their long history, Sarakatsani never had a unified piece of land; actually, they never owned land in general. Even until the early twentieth century, they grazed their sheep in leased grasslands (Arseniou 2005, 30). They used to move towards the mountains in the spring (departure on the 23rd of April, on Saint-George’s-Day) and towards the plains in the autumn (departure on the 26th of October, on Saint-Dimitrios’-Day).

Tseligkata were unions of a number of extended families. Economists considered “tseligkato” as a peculiar production unit and a type of informal cooperative of livestock keepers (Arseniou 2005, 25). The meat, milk, and wool that was produced, were more than enough to cover the needs of the shepherds and their families; hence, the produced surplus caused wealth accumulation in the livestock sector. The members of tseligkata invested this surplus in buying more sheep and making the tseligkato bigger (Arseniou 2005, 39). With the expansion of the cities and the development of trade, tseligkata passed from the first stage of self-preservation to the second stage of increased production for trade (Arseniou 2005, 136-7).

Because of problems related to the use of land, a set of laws named as “Nomi” was formed during the Byzantine era and maintained by the Ottoman Empire, which laws in general facilitated the movement and establishment of tseligkata (Arseniou 2005, 40). The function of tseligkata was based on unwritten principles, thus customary law. A shepherd could participate in any tseligkato he wanted, and also exit the tseligkato whenever he desired to do so (Arseniou 2005, 88). However, shepherds usually chose to participate in the same tseligkata that their relatives used to be part of. There are no data about specific entrance conditions. All members had the same rights and obligations. The general assembly was important for the function of tseligkata, since it discussed any emerging issue and made decisions based on suggestions prepared by the leader. If disagreements were caused, the discussion should continue until consensus was achieved.

Management of common pasture

Nevertheless, the leader of this form of common pasture was not elected; the position of tseligkas was hereditary. Only in some rare cases, when the inheritor was considered as inadequate, the member who had the most animals used to become tseligkas (Arseniou 2005, 89). Among the duties of the leader were the leasing of appropriate grassland and the supply of additional animal feed. The supplies and sales were all common for the members. Unfortunately, tseligkata did not keep accounting records of their revenues and expenses. The distribution of the profit was done twice a year, and a part of it was kept for medical care, lawyers’ fees for protection over agricultural damages, and reserve (Arseniou 2005, 91). Three of the most important customs and moral principles of tseligkata clans were the intermarriage, the solidarity, and the autonomy.

Dissolution of common pastures

After the independence of the Northern part of Greece in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the contribution of the livestock sector to the national economy remained important. Nevertheless, according to some scholars, in the 1950s, the Greek state started to implement anti-agricultural policies, which caused severe damage to the sector. For instance, the prices of the livestock and agricultural products were decreased to such extent – in order to be competitive in the national and international market – that the quality standards decreased as well, while a big part of the rural population migrated to the urban centers for employment. The so-called “distorted modernisation” is considered as the main cause for the dissolution of many common pastures, including tseligkata (Arseniou 2005, 135-6). Many Sarakatsani with their families abandoned the life of the nomads and the mountainous areas, and moved to permanent settlements closer to the cities.

Specific animal lease agreements

Furthermore, in some Aegean islands and Crete, both under the Venetian and Ottoman rule, particular types of animal lease agreements (Arnaoutoglou 2010) were strongly related to forms of common pasture. For instance, in Crete there were five types of animal lease agreements and / or common pasture, called as “koiniata” (Greek for: “commons”) (Mavrakakis 1948, 61).

Type 1: Apohopsiariko

In the first type, which was called “apohopsiariko” in the local dialect, one or more livestock owners used to give their animals to a person who had no livestock, with the obligation of the latter to graze them for four to five years, offering his personal work instead of capital. This person was entitled to half the generated income, but he also had the obligation to pay half of the expenses for leasing grassland, possible damage, and taxation. After a period of five years, the two (or more) parties of the agreement divided the livestock units into equal shares (Mavrakakis 1948, 62).

Type 2: Ksehaotzisto koiniato

In the second type, which was called “ksehaotzisto koiniato” in the Cretan dialect, the person who took the animals in order to graze them had to pay back the owner / owners in money. The sooner he managed to do that using the generated income, the better for him, since after paying off his debt he could keep the half of the animals. During the leasing period, which was usually two to three years long, all expenses were covered by the shepherd (Mavrakakis 1948, 62-3).

Type 3: Maksoulosimmisiako

Similar to type 2 was the “maksoulosimmisiako” in the area of Mylopotamos (Rethymno), where all expenses were covered by the generated income, while the owner / owners and the shepherd shared the profit. All the aforementioned agreements were either written or oral.

Types 4 and 5: Koiniato and Symmisiako

However, the most important type in terms of collective action was the one called as “mainly koiniato” or “symmisiako”. Two or more people used to participate in this type of common pasture, grazing together their sheep and goats, sharing the costs and distributing the profits in equal shares. The historical continuity and longevity of such a common pasture depended on the extent in which the cooperation between the members was smooth, without any kind of problems. According to oral testimonies, a successful example of this type of common pasture in Crete was the koiniato of Grammatikos Protopappas in the area of Sfakia, which koiniato was founded before 1867 and was dissolved in 1935 (Mavrakakis 1948, 63-4).

Similar types of animal lease agreements and common pasture were found also in Naxos and Syros, especially during the period from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century (Kefalliniadis 1974; Zerlentis 1923).


Vlach is a blanket term, covering several modern Latin peoples descending from the Latinized population in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Groups that have historically been called Vlachs include: modern-day Romanians or Daco-Romanians, Aromanians or Macedo-Romanians, Morlachs, Megleno-Romanians, and Istro-Romanians. Since the creation of the Romanian state, the English term has mostly been used for those living outside Romania. The Vlachs, which would develop into the modern Romanian ethnicity, do not become tangible before the High Middle Ages and their prehistory during the Migration period is a matter of scholarly speculation. The term “Vlach” is originally an exonym. All the Vlach groups used various words derived from “romanus” to refer to themselves. Over the centuries, the Vlachs split into various Vlach groups and mixed with neighbouring populations: South Slavs, Greeks, Albanians, Bulgars ,and others. Almost all modern nations in Central and Southeastern Europe have native Vlach minorities: Hungary, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, and Bulgaria. Only in Romania and the Republic of Moldova does the Vlach (Daco-Romanian or Romanian proper) population comprise an ethnic majority today.


  • Arnaoutoglou, I., 2010. Οικονομική και νομική συνέχεια στις συμβάσεις κτηνοληψίας [Economic and legal continuity in animal lease agreements]. In: Πνεύματος δώρημα Γεωργίω Π. Νάκω, 113-8. (Thessaloniki: s.e.).
  • Arseniou, L., 2005. Τα τσελιγκάτα Σαρακατσάνων και Βλάχων [The tseligkata of Sarakatsani and Vlachs] (S.l.: Ella).
  • Kefalliniadis, N., 1974-1978. Ποιμενικά Νάξου. Επιτόπιοι συνήθειαι εξ ανεκδότων εγγράφων [Pasture of Naxos. Local customs from unpublished documents]. EEKM (10) 407-55.
  • Mavrakakis, G., 1948. Ποιμενικά Δυτικής Κρήτης [Pasture of Western Crete] (Chania: s.e.).
  • Weigand, G. 2002. Οι Αρωμούνοι (Βλάχοι) [Aromouni (Vlachs). The location and the people] (Thessaloniki: Kyriakidi).
  • Zerlentis, P., 1923. Μαντροκάθισμα, βουδόμαντρες, θεμωνιά, μιτάτο (εκ του αγροτικού και ποιμενικού βίου των Συρίων) [Mantrokathisma, voudomantres, themwnia, mitato (from the agricultural and pasture life of Syros)] (Ermoupolis: s.e.).