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Galatz


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Brief history of Galaţi before 1774

The beginnings of human existence in the area of Galaţi date back since the Antiquity, when a Dacian settlement was founded in the proximity of a Danube ford. After the Roman conquest of Dacia, the settlement was incorporated into a Roman administrative-territorial unit belonging to the province of Moesia Inferior. The old Dacian settlement was placed near the river bank south from St. Precista Church, but it was destroyed, for the most part, by the river. After the abandonment of Dacia by the Roman troops, the dwellers moved northwards, but they continued to inhabit the area up to the 14th century. Their main occupations must have been fishery, agriculture, shepherding and craftsmanship. Being placed in one of the Danube shallows, in close proximity to the junction of the rivers Siret and Prut with the Danube, the settlement was part of the commercial routes connecting southern Moldavia with the northern Dobruja and the Byzantine Empire. This placement, alongside with the abundance of fish and the economic influence of Dinogetia, a neighbouring borough, led to the constant transformation of the settlement during the 14th century, becoming a permanent borough at the beginning of the next century.

The name of the town has been related to the Greek variant for Celts (Gallatae), but also to the Cuman word gala, galat, synonymous with the Arabic kalhat, which means citadel or fortress. Another etymology connects the toponyms with the Southern Slavic eponym Gal – which means black – with the suffix –at added, and later pluralised, as it often happened with many other Romanian toponyms. A more recent hypothesis asserts that the Slavic–Romanian name of Galaţi derives from hallāṣ, revenue officers collecting taxes for the Hungarian Kingdom.

The name of the borough in the form Galff is recorded for the first time in a German manuscript from 1467 (Ettenheim Münster II), which records, inter alia, a list of Moldavian boroughs represented at the Constanţa Council of 1415. Another documentary record is found in the description of Moldavia written between 1527 and 1538 by Georg Reichersdorffer, in which the borough of Galaţi is mentioned as oppidum (town).

Like all the other Moldavian urban settlements, the borough of Galaţi was founded on a princely estate. Later, the Moldavian rulers gave some of the lands to the community, but kept the most part in their property. Several villages around the borough were placed under the administration of an official whose residence was at Galaţi. The first documentary mention of this fact dates back from April 1588, when Prince Petru Şchiopu sold Şiviţa, a neighbouring village “which used to belong to the prince”. There were two types of administrative officials in the borough: the autonomous ones, elected by the members of the community, and those appointed by hospodars.

The autonomous administrative organs were the şoltuz (head of the town) and the council of twelve pârgari (town councillors), whereas those appointed by the Prince were the vornic (town steward) and the pârcălab (high magistrate). The first source mentioning such administrative organs elected by the community is dated 4 August 1622, when the şoltuz and pârgari avouched as witnesses to a deed of conveyance for a village in the county of Fălciu. Despite this late mentioning, one may assume that these organs had also been in power during previous centuries. They had various responsibilities: to allot fiscal tasks to the community, to parcel out the land of the town, to judge the small litigations among the borough’s citizens, to record all the real estate transactions in the register. The elected organs also authenticated the deeds concluded in the borough, as they were able to certify the deeds of conveyance. In addition, they were entitled to use the seal of the borough, which they applied on the documents they issued. During the 15th to 17th centuries, the seal of the borough was in Slavic, and its heraldic area depicted two fish separated by a horizontal line, thus suggesting the importance of fishery for the local economic life. As representative of the state, the town steward’s (vornic) primary assignment was tax collection, being probably placed under the authority of a regional official. The other representative of the ruler was the pârcalab, exercising his authority both within the borough’s enclosure and in the County of Covurlui. His main responsibilities were military, judiciary and fiscal, but he also pursued the fulfilment of the ruler’s behests and authenticated deeds bearing obligations concluded between private parties.

In order to perform these tasks, the pârcălab of Covurlui had an important apparatus of servants in the service of the hospodar. As the borough was placed on the Moldavian border, there was also a third category of officials: the revenue officers. Apart from the Moldavian revenue officers, since the 17th century there was also a Turk revenue officer collecting taxes for the Ottoman Empire. It was probably after 1484, when Moldavia lost the two important ports at the Black Sea, Chilia and Cetatea Albă, that the borough of Galaţi entered the international trade circuit, thus becoming the most important harbour of the country. The economic development continued later, after Brăila became a Turkish citadel, in 1540. Whilst Brăila remained a centre for supplying the Ottoman military system from the southern Danubian area, Galaţi preserved some freedoms, being allowed to have commercial relations with other partners than the Ottoman Empire, such as Poland and Transylvania.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, the most traded goods on the Galaţi market were fish and big and small cattle. The 17th century marked the borough’s transformation into an important economic centre, as almost all the trading at the Lower Danube was carried out on this market. The main economic actors were the local merchants (cupeţi), the monasteries, the grand boyars, but also foreign merchants, mainly Greeks, Turks, Ragusans (grouped around a Catholic church attested for the first time in the 17th century) and Armenians (gathered around their own church, attested in 1669). On the other hand, with the forced orientation of Moldavian commerce towards the Ottoman Empire, the town of Galaţi became the main gate for supplying the goods requested by the Porte: cereals and food supplies (zaherea). The trading with Poland continued, nevertheless, the town being now the main market wherefrom the merchants of Galicia bought fish. The transit trade also continued, and Galaţi remained an important station on the routes connecting Poland and Transylvania with Constantinople. The local goods exported through the local market were, just like during the previous centuries, fish, big and small cattle, but also wax, honey, butter, wood (timber) and caustic potassium.

The increase in economic importance led to an intense activity of church foundations. Along the 17th century several churches and monasteries were erected, some of them masonry buildings. At Mavromol Monastery there functioned, starting since 1765, a school with two teachers appointed by the county’s school administration.

By virtue of the obligation to supply Constantinople with grains, the town remained, along the 18th century, the primary collecting point for cereals from Moldavia; at the same time, it became the most important market for fish trading at the Lower Danube. Other goods often traded on the local market were sheep, cheese and wool (brought by the Transylvanian shepherds), honey and wax, wine (from the Moldavian vineries), salt, and timber. The documents of the time also mention the first manufactories established during this period. Starting with the first half of the 18th century, the presence of shipyards is attested, where there were built commercial ships and warships for the Ottoman fleet.

During the 18th century, the town administration began to lose the relative autonomy the town was enjoying, as the elected administrative bodies (the şoltuz and pârgari) had been replaced with town trustees. The entire management of the administration was placed under the control of the pârcălab of Galaţi, appointed by the Moldavian Grand Treasurer and approved by the Princely Divan. The county grand captain and the town captain (bulucbaşa) also played an important part in the local administration, both under the rule of the pârcălab. A Turk official (serdar), under the rule of the Prince, but appointed by the Sultan or the Grand Vizier also resided in the town; his responsibilities were to act as police for the Turk residents or business travellers. During the Russian–Turk wars in the 18th century, the town was repeatedly occupied by the Russian or Ottoman armies and was the scene of two devastating battles, in 1769 and 1789.

 


References

Anghel, Aneta, “Observaţii cu privire la zonele locuite în oraşul medieval Galaţi” [Observations regarding the residential areas in the medieval town of Galaţi], Danubius, 11–12 (1984–1985), 75–86.

Ciurea, D., “Câteva date pentru istoricul Galaţilor (sec. XVI-XVIII)” [Several Data for the History of Galaţi (16th – 18th centuries)], Studii şi cercetări ştiinţifice, Istorie, Iaşi, 8:1 (1957), 227–229.

Lazarovici, Gr., Şt. Stanciu, Galaţii, istorie şi contemporaneitate [Galaţi, History and Actuality] (Galaţi: Editura Alma, 2004).

Munteanu–Bârlad, Gh. N., Galaţii (Galaţi, Societate de Editură Ştiinţifică–Culturală, 1927).

Pacu, Moise N., Cartea Judeţului Covurlui. Note geografice, istorice şi în deosebi statistice [The Book of Covurlui County. Geographical, Historical and Mainly Statistical Notes] (Bucharest: Stabilimentul Grafic I. V. Socecu, 1891).

Păltănea, Paul, “Câteva date privind începuturile oraşului Galaţi” [Some Data on the Beginnings of Galaţi], Anuarul Institutului de Istorie şi Arheologie “A. D. Xenopol”, Iaşi, 6 (1969).

Păltănea, Paul, “Ştiri despre economia oraşului Galaţi în secolele al XV-lea şi al XVI-lea” [Information on the Economy of Galaţi during the 15th and 16th Centuries], Danubius, 5 (1971), 101–114.

Păltănea, Paul, “Vechi locaşuri de cult şi viaţa bisericească în sudul Moldovei până la 1864” [Old Houses of Cult and Church Life in Southern Moldavia until 1864], Monumente istorice şi izvoare creştine [Historical Monuments and Christian Sources] (Galaţi: Editura Arhiepiscopiei Tomisului şi Dunării de Jos, 1987), 189–255.

Păltănea, Paul, Istoria oraşului Galaţi de la origini până la 1918 [The History of Galaţi from Its Beginnings to 1918], second edition, edited by Eugen Drăgoi (Galaţi: Editura Partener, 2008).


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