Abenaes, Solomon

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ABENAES, SOLOMON (Abenaish, Abenyaex, Aben-Ayesh ; Heb. Even Yaish ; c. 1520–1603), Marrano statesman. Born as Alvaro Mendes to a Converso family of Tavira, Portugal, Abenaes made a fortune in India by farming the diamond mines of the kingdom of Narsinghgrah. Still ostensibly a Christian, he returned to Europe, becoming a knight of Santiago, and lived successively in Madrid, Florence, Paris, and London. When the Spaniards seized Portugal in 1580, he embraced the cause of the pretender to the Portuguese throne Dom Antonio, prior of Crato, and became one of his most active supporters. In 1585 he settled in Turkey where he reverted to Judaism under the name Solomon Abenaes. Because of his wealth, experience, and connections, he came to be highly regarded at the Turkish court, renewing the position of Joseph *Nasi, who had died in 1579. He farmed the Turkish customs revenue and was created duke of Mytilene, one of the largest Aegean islands. He succeeded in maintaining his position, notwithstanding constant intrigues, for some 20 years. Like Nasi he had an elaborate information service all over Europe which proved highly useful to the Turkish government. Above all, Abenaes devoted himself to the cause of an Anglo-Turkish alliance against Spain, as the support of the claims of Dom Antonio to the Portuguese throne depended on this. For this purpose he maintained close contact with the Marrano group in England, headed by Dr. Hector *Nuñez and the queen's physician Roderigo *Lopez, his relative by marriage. Through them Abenaes was able to bring the Turkish government the first news of the defeat of the Great Armada in 1588. At one time he put forward the audacious plan of establishing Dom Antonio in the Portuguese dominions in India, from where he would be able to sail with strong forces and gain control of Portugal itself. Dom Antonio proved, however, weak and vacillating, and Abenaes accordingly broke with him; Dom Antonio in turn accused him of treachery. In 1591 Abenaes sent a personal representative, Solomon Cormano, to London to present his case before the queen, and in 1592 Judah Ẓarefati (Serfatim), with the same object. The execution of Roderigo Lopez in 1594 on the charge of attempting to poison the queen did not seriously affect Abenaes' position nor did the intrigues against him in Constantinople by David Passy, his Jewish rival, instigated by Dom Antonio and the French ambassador.

Abenaes was one of the architects of the Anglo-Turkish alliance which stemmed the menacing advance of the Spanish power at the close of the 16th century.

Shortly after his arrival in Turkey Abenaes secured the renewal, in his own favor, of the grant of *Tiberias and seven adjoining townships that had originally been made to Nasi. His name is thus associated with this important attempt to reestablish an autonomous Jewish life in Ereẓ Israel. His son jacob abenaes (formerly Francisco Mendes) actually settled in Tiberias, but to his father's disappointment, instead of helping in political and administrative organization, spent his time in study.


C. Roth, The Duke of Naxos (1948), 133–4, 205–16, 248–9; Wolf, in: jhset, 11 (1924–27), 1–91; A. Galante, Don Solomon Aben-Yaèche, Duc de Mételin (1936).

[Cecil Roth]