Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography/Athos

ATHOS C^evs/ABuv, Ep. 'ABdaSj gen. *A06<io: Etk. 'Atftf^Tiit), the lofty mountain at the extremity of the long peninsula, running out into the sea firom Chakidice in Macedonia, between the Stngitic gulf and the Aegaean. This peninsula was properly called Acte CAkH, Thuc. iv. 109), but the name of Athos was also given to it, as well as to the mountain. (Herod, vii. 22.) The peninsula, as well as the mountain, is now called the Holy MomUain {"Ayiop "Opof , Monte Santo), from the great mimber of monasteries and chapels with which It is covered. There an 20 of these monasteries, moet of which were founded during the Byzantine empire, and some of them trace their origin to the time of Constantine the Great Each of the difierent natiaaa belonging to the Greek Church, has one or more monasteries of its own ; and the spot is visited periodically by pilgrims from Russia, Servia, Bui* garia, as well as Cram Greece and Asia Minor. No female, even of the animal kind, is permitted to enter the peninsula.

According to Pliny (iv. 10. s. 17. § S7, Sillig), the length of the peninsula is 75 (Roman) miles, and the circumference 150 (Roman) miles. Its real length is 40 English miles, and its average breadth about four miles. The general aspect of the peninsula is described in the following terms by a modern tra- veller: — ** The peninsula is rugged, being intersected by innumerable ravines. The ground rises almost im- mediately and rather abruptly from the isthmus at the northern end to about 300 feet, and for the first twelve miles maintains a table -land elevation of about 600 feet, for the most part beautifully wooded. At this spot the peninsula is narrowed into rather less than two miles in breadth. It immediately afterwards expands to its average breadth of about four miles, which it retains to its southern extremity. From this point, also, the land beccones mountainous rather than hilly, two of the heights reaching respectively 1700 anid 1200 feet above the sea. Four miles &rther south, on the eastern slope of the mountain ridge, and at a nearly equal distance from the east and west shores, is situated the town of Karyes, picturesquely placed amidst vineyards and gardens. Immediately to the southward of Karyee the ground rises to 2200 feet, whence a rugged broken country, covered with a forest of dark-leaved foliage, extends to the foot of the mountain, which rears itself in solitary magnificence, an insulated cone of white limestone, rising abruptly to the height of 6350 feet above the sea. Close to the cli£^ at the southern extremity, we learn &om Captain Cope- land's late survey, no bottom was found with 60 fathoms of line." (Lieut Webber Smith, in Journal of Royal Geogr. Soc vol. vii. p. 65.) The lower bed of the mountun is composed of gneiss and argil- laceous slate, and the upper part (^ grey limestone, more or less inclined to white. (Sibtiiorp, in Wal pole's TraveUj ^c. p. 40.)

Athos is first menticmed by Homer, who represents Hera as resting on its summit on her flight from Olympus to Lemnos. (//. xiv. 229.) The name, however, is chiefly memorable in history on account of the canal which Xerxes cut through the isthmus, connecting the peninsula with Chalcidioe. (Herod, vii. 23, seq.) This canal was cut by Xerxes fear the passage of lus fleet, ia order to escape the gales and high seas, which sweep around the promontoiy, and wlach haid vnecked the fleet of Mardonius in b. c. 492. The cutting of this canal has been rejected as a falsehood by many writers, both ancient and modern ; and Juvenal (x. 174) speaks of it as a specimen of Greek mendacity:

"creditur olim Velificatus Athos, et quidquid Graecia mendax Audet in historia."

Its existence, however, is not only attested by Herodotus (L c), Thucydides (/. c), and other ancient writers, but distinct traces of it have been discovered by modern travellers. The modern name of the isthmus is Pr6vlakaj evidenUy the Romaic form of Xlpoa^Xo^, the canal «n /ront of the penin- sula of Athos. The best description of the present condition of the canal is given by Lieut Wolfe : —

  • ^ The canal of Xerxes is still most distinctly to be

traced all the way across the isthmus from the Gulf o/MonU Santo (the ancient Singitic Gulf) to the Bay of Erao in the Gvlf of ConUua^ with the exception of about 200 yards in the middle, where the ground bears no appearance of having ever been touched. But as there is no doubt of the whole canal haying been excavated by Xerxes, it is probable that the central part was afterwards filled up, in order to allow a more ready passage into and out of the peninsula. In many places the canal is still deep, swampy at the bottom, and filled with rushes and other aquatic plants: the rain and small springs draining down into it from the adjacent heights afford, at the Monte Santo end, a good watering place for shipping; the water (except in very dry weather) runs out in a good stream. The distance across is 2500 yards, which agrees very well with the breadth of twelve stadia assigned by Herodotos. The width of the canal appears to have been about 18 or 20 feet; the level of the earth nowhere exceeds 15 feet above the sea; the soil is a light clay. It is on the whole a very remarkable isthmus, for the land on each side (but more especially to the westward) rises abruptly to an elevation of 800 to 1000 feet." (Penny Cyclopaedia, vol. iii. p. 23.)

About 1½ mile north of the canal was Acanthus [Acanthus], and on the isthmus, immediately south of the canal, was Sane, probably the same as the later Uranopolis. [Sane.] In the peninsula itself there were five cities, Dium, Olophyxus, Acrothoum, Thyssus, Cleonae, which are described under their respective names. To these five cities, which are mentioned by Herodotus (l. c.), Thucydides (l. c.) and Strabo (vii. p. 331), Scylax (s. v. Μακεδονία) adds Charadriae, and Pliny (l. c.) Palaeorium and Apollonia, the inhabitants of the latter being named Macrobii. The extremity of the peninsula, above which Mt. Athos rises abruptly, was called Nymphaeum (Νύμφαιον), now Cape St. George (Strab. vii. p. 330; Ptol. iii. 13. § 11.) The peninsula was originally inhabited by Tyrrheno-Pelasgians, who continued to form a large part of the population in the Greek cities of the peninsula even in the time of the Peloponnesian war (Thuc. l. c.). (Respecting the peninsula in general see Leake, Northern Greece, vol iii. p. 114; Bowen, Mount Athos, Thessaly, and Epirus, London, 1852, p. 51, seq.; Lieuts. Smith and Wolfe, Sibthorp, IL. cc.)