were an anti-aristocratic political group with social demands that dominated political developments in Thessalonica
. The contemporary sources, notably anti-Zealot in sympathies, provide little information on the Zealots' government of Thessalonica. The Zealots managed to establish effective civic self-government for eight years. They confiscated the property of the aristocracy
, and redistributed their wealth. However, it is hard to know whether the Zealots actually had a program for social reform
. One possible explanation would be that as the city was in a constant state of siege, a sense of somewhat egalitarian society may have developed.
At the beginning of 14th century
the Byzantine Empire
went into dramatic decline. There were two major civil wars
accompanied with invasions from almost all sides.
As the Byzantine Empire
became weaker and more impoverished,the misery of the great masses in the countryside and in the cities became almost unbearable. Both in the country and in the towns all wealth was concentrated in the hands of a small aristocratic class, and against them was directed the bitterness of the destitute masses. The leader of the all-powerful aristocratic class was the pretender to the throne John Cantacuzenus
Ascent to power
The Zealots seized power in 1342 and after driving out the supporters of Cantacuzenus, they set up their own government in the city. The possessions of the aristocracy were confiscated. The Zealots, who were regarded in conservative ecclesiastical circles as disciples of Barlaam of Calabria
and Gregory Acindynus
, were also violently opposed to the Hesychasts
, who supported Cantacuzenus . The political Zealots were therefore enemies of the church Zealots.
The Leaders of the Revolt
Michael and Andreas Palaiologos. Despite efforts to identify them,however, they do not fit in any way into the known
Palaiologan family tree, and we do not even know their relationship to each other: they may, indeed, simply have come from some sort of client family or families who took the dynastic name by extension. But one point does remain unavoidable: the so-called “revolutionaries” did consistently identify themselves with Palaiologan legitimacy.Andreas Palaiologos, was just known as leader of the Longshoremen (Parathalassioi)
The Commune of Thessalonica
They roused up the people against the aristocracy, and for two or three days, Thessalonica was like a city under enemy occupation and suffered all the corresponding disasters. The victors went shouting and looting through the streets by day and by night, while the vanquished hid in churches and counted themselves lucky to be still alive. When order returned, the Zealots, suddenly raised from penury and dishonour to wealth and influence, took control of everything and won over the middle class of citizens, forcing them to acquiesce and characterizing every form of moderation and prudence as "Cantacuzenism".
Although the Zealots recognized the legitimate Emperor John V Palaeologus and the most important members of the party were also members of the House of Palaeologus, the city was effectively acting as a commune and peoples's republic.
Reaction and terror
Early attempts of Cantacuzenus to capture the city with the aid of his allies, the Seljuk Emir Umur
and Stefan Dusan
of Serbia failed as the resistance was fierce.
there was a plot by John Apocaucus to surrender the city to Cantacuzenus.He had the leader of the Zealots,Michael Palaeologus killed. But this caused even greater violence : Led by Andreas Palaeologus, the Zealots overpowered the reaction, as described by Demetrius Cydones
...one after another the prisoners were hurled from the walls of the citadel and hacked to pieces by the mob of the Zealots assembled below. Then followed a hunt for all the members of the upper classes: they were driven through the streets like slaves, with ropes round their necks-here a servant dragged his master, there a slave his purchaser, while the peasant struck the strategus and the labourer beat the soldier (i.e. the pronoiar).
Cantacuzenus and the emperor John V reconciled, but the Zealots ignored the orders from the capital.When mob violence
was unrestrained, there was even talk of surrendering the city to the protection of foreign serbian rule.But by the end of 1349 their rule collapsed. Andreas Palaeologus fled to Mount Athoswhile
Cantacuzenus, accompanied by John Palaeologus, made a triumphal entry into the city, and Gregory Palamas
, protagonist of the hesychasts, who had been appointed Archbishop of Thessalonica, but previously refused entry by the Zealots, was now received.