Greeks in the territory of Rus’ke Wojewodstwo in 15th – 18th c.
This text focuses on the question of how Greek immigrants from the Venice
Rupublic and Ottoman Empire has active in the Ru’ske Wojewodstwo of the Polish-
Lithuanian Commonwelth in 15-18th centuries. In addition to material contributions
and other influences Greeks also had numerous contacts with Easter Orthodox
Church centres and active cooperation with the local Ukrainian community. The role
of Greeks in the dissemination of Orthodox and Eastern Mediterranean culture in the
area along the common borders of present Romania, Poland and Ukraine is not very
known still. However it is the book that sheds light on some particular aspects of the
historical and sociocultural processes of this region of Europe.
The beginning of the Greek diaspora in the cities of the Rus’ke Wojewodstwo
of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was not an accidental coincidence of
circumstances. Most of the Greek immigrants moved to this area of Eastern Europe in
the second half of the 16th-17th centuries. This immigration had complex geopolitical
and economic reasons that have roots in the last centuries of the Byzantine Empire.
Since 1453, the Greeks became a people without a state, divided by the borders
between the powerful countries of the Mediterranean. Most of their ethnic lands went
under the control of the Ottoman Port. The islands of Crete and Cyprus were in
possession of Venice (La Serenissima). The Greek population became the hostage of
permanent political, economic and armed conflicts that endured between Turkey and
the Republic of Venice (La Serenissima).
For the Greeks, there were few areas of activity where they could calmly
implement their political and social plans. One of the most important activity was
craft and trade. In search of profit, the brave Greek merchants stepped onto the
Balkan Peninsula, to the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. From there, some
of them gradually began to work with the territories of the Polish-Lithuanian
Greek merchants actively created numerous merchant unions. Thanks to their
activities, there was a kind of network of Greek communities across borders. Three
influential families: the Kornyakts, the Weweli, and the Langish settled in Poland and
continued to maintain contact with their partners in Moldova, Turkey, and Crete. The
success of their activities allowed them to accumulate significant funds. As a result,
Greek immigrants actively contributed to the local Polish school system, published
books, and influenced the activities of church institutions. Religion and language
were the markers that determined the commonality of the actions of these
The reason Greeks moved to the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian
Commonwealth was commerce. In the 14th century, the needs of consumers were provided by local Armenian merchants who had settled in the region. In the second
half of the 16th century, Poland, via the port city of Gdansk, increased the supply of
agricultural products to Western Europe, and enabled the accumulation of wealth in
Poland. The noble and wealthy burghers began to spend more on luxury goods such
as textiles from southern Europe and the Middle East. With the help of caravans, they
brought favorite items from the Genoa trade offices in the Crimean peninsula and the
territories of Turkey or the Middle East. Residents of the Commonwealth gradually
became accustomed to using spices, wine, textiles, and rugs in their everyday lives.
The market segment where the Greeks had an absolute advantage was wine.
Large quantities of Malvasia – a sweet wine from Crete and adjacent territories –
began to be imported to the Commonwealth, turning it into a product customary for
local cuisine. The “wine boom” continued under Greek control throughout the second
half of the 16th century, while the Turkish government, which controlled the Black
Sea area, kept the trade routes open to foreign merchants.
The Greek diaspora of the Rus’ke Wojewodstwo in the 16th and 17th centuries
was not homogeneous. The notion of “Greek merchants,” “Greek craftsmen” or
“Greek priests” often concealed subtle but exciting nuances. Polish authorities were
suspicious of immigrants, believing that some Greeks were interfering in the social
processes of the Commonwealth, or even spying for Turkey or the Moscow state.
Regarding economic matters, Greek merchants did not experience discrimination on
national or religious grounds; however, for those who decided to settle in the country
forever, career prospects were limited by the same legal legislation that had been
enacted for the local Ukrainian Orthodox population.
The Greek diaspora of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was formed
mainly from people who left the Greek territories under the rule of Venice. They lived
for many years in the Catholic community, where they were able to preserve their
religious, linguistic and ethnic identity, which made their transition to a new
homeland easier. Moreover, once they were settled, they were met with the support of
the local Orthodox community. The Greeks and Ukrainians were remarkable
situational allies and each group received benefits from this association: the Greeks
helped Ukrainians in the conduct of economic activity. Ukrainians strengthened the
Greek community through the support of wealthy and authoritative members. The
Greeks paid a large part of the taxes they spent on building urban infrastructure and
defense facilities. The authorities of Lviv obliged the Greeks by enabling them to buy
the most expensive houses in the city. For the Greeks, this was a definite form of
investment and, at the same time, a property qualification.
The main centers of the Greek diaspora in the Commonwealth were the cities
of Lviv, Zamość, and Brody. The Greek group in Zamost emerged in the late 16th
century entirely on the initiative of the city’s owner – Crown Chancellor Jan
Zamoysky. From the beginning, he created for Greeks an economic environment that
existed parallel with the Ukrainian and Polish ones. Unlike Lviv, where the Greeks,
together with the Ukrainians, united around the Church of the Assumption of the
Blessed Virgin Mary; in Zamość, the Greeks had a separate church, priest and a
cemetery. The Greek diaspora in Zamost began to decline after the death of
32Zamoysky, when masses of Greeks either left the city or assimilated into the local
The group of Greek masters of embroidery in the city of Brody was too small
to create its own diaspora community. Its members were craftsmen who built a
factory to manufacture expensive fabrics – known in Polish as “złotogłow” – and to
produce clothing and accessories. Not only was embroidery an economic
phenomenon, but people such as Manuel Korfinski initiated a new aspect of material
culture for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Korfinski belonged to a new group
of Greek immigrants that was different from previous ones: most of these Greeks
stayed outside the Ukrainian social context. Unlike the Greeks in Lviv, Brody’s
Greeks did not have any contact with groups such as the Stavropihian Brotherhood,
an organization that represented the rights of the Orthodox community. The Greek
masters had focus to created a comfortable business environment for themselves and
was separate from the Ukrainians social context.
For the local society, the most important thing was not the existence of the
Greeks’ factories, but the new generation of local students who trained in the textile
arts and continued the unique skills and work taught to them by the Greeks. As a
result, these students had an impact on the continuation of an endeavor to keep and
develop a local cultural tradition of embroidery. After the decline of Greek textile
production in Brody, the local people continued to develop new artisans and related
Thanks to people such as Korfinski, in the second half of the 17th century
“sarmatism”, the ethno-cultural phenomenon of spiritual and material culture that
formed a core aspect of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth elites, flourished.
Korfinski’s supporters, chiefly the gentry of the border areas, were influenced by the
culture of the Orient and considered themselves the descendants of the ancient
Sarmatians – an ancient Iranian people – as the brave defenders of Europe. Greek
merchants and masters of embroidery in the territory of the Rus’ke Wojewodstwo of
Poland in the 16 and 17th centuries were in the right place at the perfect time, and
they used the situation to their advantage and were able to obtain much obvious
material and social benefits through trade.
In Lviv, in addition to economic activities, the Greek people actively conducted
public religious and educational activities along with the Ukrainian community.
Lviv’s Greeks distinguished from other Greeks in the Commonwealth primarily
through their participation in the affairs of the Stavropihian Brotherhood. Many of
them assisted in resolving economic problems and defended the interests of
Ukrainians before local Polish authorities. They were a significant element in the
contacts between the institutions of the Eastern Church and the Metropolitan of Kyiv.
Greek merchants were involved in the preparation of visits of Patriarch Jeremiah II
Tranos and the Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril Lukaris to the Commonwealth of
Constantinople. Thanks to the financial support of Konstantin Korniakt, a new tower
was constructed at the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin; it also acted
as a defensive tower for the city.
First-generation Greek immigrants continued to feel isolated because of their
nationality. However, second- and especially third-generation Greeks actively tried to
33become an organic part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and later the
Austrian establishment. Some well-known families later decided to emigrate and
serve the monarchs of Russia.
By the end of the 18th century, however, despite the preservation of well-
known families such as Paparas or Mazaraki in the Rus’ke Wojewodstwo, attempts to
form local Greek diasporas in this part of Central-Eastern Europe had mostly ended.
Key words: Greeks, malvasia, Lviv Dormition (Stavropihian) Brotherhood, Lviv.
Rus’ke Wojewodstwo, Greek diaspora.