Email Email   

NASI, JOSEPH (ca. 1510-1579).

Jewish statesman, banker, and merchant. Born in Portugal, Joseph Nasi came from the historic Nasi-Mendes family of distinguished Spanish aristocrats. Some of them were among the refugees from Spain who settled in Portugal in 1492. Forced to adopt Christianity in 1497, they became Marranos, or secret Jews. Joseph’s Marrano name was Joao Miguez. When he was about 15 years old, Joseph’s widowed aunt, Donna Gracia de Mendesia, took him to Antwerp where there was less religious prejudice. In Antwerp, also, they came to be suspected of secretly observing Judaism, and fled to Venice. When Venice expelled all Marranos and arrested Donna Gracia, the powerful Nasi-Mendes banking and financial house brought its influence to Turkey. Joseph was therefore able to get the help of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in obtaining freedom for his aunt. When she was released, Donna Gracia, her daughter Reyna, and Joseph settled in Constantinople and threw off the disguise of Catholicism. Joseph married his beautiful cousin Reyna, and after Suleiman’s death he entered the service of Sultan Selim. He was a favorite at the court, and his influence was greater than the Grand Vizier’s. In gratitude for the success of his policies, Selim made Joseph Nasi Duke of Naxos and Prince of the Cyclades. He also gave him a grant of the city of Tiberias in Palestine. Joseph Nasi gathered up 200 Jewish refugees from the Inquisition in Italy and brought them to Tiberias in his ships. Into this colony he introduced mulberry trees for silk cultivation, although the results of this 16th-century experiment in agricultural settlement of the Holy Land are not recorded. One of Joseph Nasi’s spectacular policies was dictated by his desire for revenge. He pressed the Sultan into declaring war on Venice; the result was the capture of Cyprus by the Turks.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email