Friday, November 30, 2018

Running water for the officials, rainwater for the poor

Venetian aqueduct in Crete
The latest issue of Water History has an article by Yannis Spyropoulos, "Running water for the officials, rainwater for the poor: symbolic use and control of water in early modern Ottoman Crete". The abstract:
This paper deals with the issue of water management on the island of Crete from the beginning of the Ottoman–Venetian war in 1645 to the beginning of its Egyptian administration in 1830. Based primarily on information given by Kandiye’s (mod. Herakleion) Shariah court records, but also on a variety of published and unpublished archival material from Turkey, Greece, and France, it explores the socioeconomic aspects of water-resource exploitation in the island’s urban centers, analyzes the involvement of various local and imperial actors in water management, and locates the struggles created in the above-mentioned processes. Through a detailed analysis of the challenges faced by the administration and the population of an insular area with limited water resources, such as Crete, the article tries to take a fresh look at water management on the Ottoman periphery: It redirects the researchers’ focus from heavily-populated cities and large cultivated plains to the examination of smaller regions with no major hydraulic and irrigation networks and puts emphasis on the symbolic use of water in the socioeconomic context of the Ottoman Empire.
And from the conclusion:
I would like to underline the importance of running water in early modern Ottoman Crete as a symbol of financial and administrative power. In Islamic Law, water was considered to be a public good reserved for everyone, regardless of class and officialdom. Yet, in an insular space with limited water resources, such as Crete, Islamic canonical treatment of water was often overruled in favor of those with access to wealth and power. In this context, the ownership of running water became a status indicator for the island’s elites and a field of competition and negotiation between various officials. In early Ottoman Crete, it was mainly the sancakbeyis and other non-Cretan officials who undertook the task of finding and channeling running water to the island’s three cities, yet, through time, as local elites started rising to power, mainly through their connection with the military, the management of water resources gradually passed into the hands of both imperial and local actors. Their origins notwithstanding, the tactic used by all these elites was similar: They claimed the water of all the springs discovered in the vicinities of their cities by creating infrastructure connecting the former to the latter. After ensuring the appropriation of a large amount of water resources for their own establishments, they provided the rest of the water for public use –mainly through private endowments—thus presenting themselves as benefactors in the eyes of the local populace. The latter’s restricted access to running water, on the other hand, not only made them turn to rainwater in order to quench their thirst, but it also seems to have been one of the most probable causes of the frequent sabotage of the water-supply networks of Crete, a reasonable reaction if seen in the light of the following Koranic verse: “And We send the fecundating winds, then cause the rain to descend from the sky, therewith provide you with water (in abundance), though ye are not the guardians of its stores”.

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