Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Athos
ATHOS is, strictly speaking, the terminal peak of the most eastern of the three peninsular promontories which stretch south from the coast of Turkey (Macedonia), like the prongs of a trident, into the Archipelago. The name is, however, frequently extended to the whole peninsula which was formerly known as Acte. The peak rises like a pyramid, with a steep summit of white marble, to a height of 6780 feet, and can be seen at sunset from the plain of Troy on the one hand, and on the other from the slopes of Olympus. The whole peninsula is remarkable for the beauty of its scenery, with rocky heights and richly- wooded flanks, ravines " embowered from the light," and glimpses or free outlook over the surrounding sea. The climate is for the most part healthy and pleasant, though the western side is perhaps too much exposed to the heats of summer ; and Lucian assures us that in ancient times the inhabitants were famous for longevity. Several towns, such as Sane, Dium, Olophyxus, Cleona?, are mentioned by Greek and Latin writers as existing in the Peninsula ; but none of them seem to have attained any great importance, and the most remarkable event in the ancient history of Athos is the construction by Xerxes of a ship-canal across the isthmus between the outer sea and the Singitic gulf. Traces of this canal, which was regarded by Juvenal as a Greek myth, have been found almost right across the neck of land, and leave no doubt of the truth of the story. In more modern times the district of Athos has been famous for the number of hermits and monks that have found shelter in its retreats. No fewer than 935 churches, chapels, and oratories are said to exist, and many of the communities possess considerable wealth. It is believed that, with the exception of the dwellings of Pompeii, some buildings in
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Athos are the oldest specimens of domestic architecture in Europe ; the shrines are in many cases richly decorated with goldsmith s work of great antiquity ; the wealth of the monastic libraries in illuminated manuscripts has long been celebrated ; and nowhere, according to Mr Tozer, can the Byzantine school of painting be studied with equal advantage. The date of the oldest religious foundation in the peninsula is not clearly ascertained, and the traditional chronology of the monks themselves can hardly be trusted. A bull of Romanus Lecapenus speaka of the restoration of the monastery of Xeropotamu in 924, and as early as 885 a rescript of Basil the Macedonian forbids the molestation of the " holy hermits." Lavra, on Mount Athos proper, was founded by St Athanasius in 960 ; the village of Caryes or " The Hazels, " was appointed as the seat of government about the same time ; and shortly afterwards there followed the establishments Iveron ([Greek]), Vatopedi (/foroTre Sioj ), and Sphigmenu (TOV Ea-cjuy^vov). The family of the Cornneni (1056-1204) bestowed great privileges on the existing monastaries, and added to their number. In the reign of Alexius the first purely Slavonic monastery (that of Chilandari) was founded by the Servian prince Stephen Nemenja. The taking of Constantinople by the Latins in 1204 brought persecution and pillage on the monks ; this reminded them of earlier Saracenic invasions, and led them to appeal for protection to Pope Innocent III., who gave them a favourable reply. Under the Pabeologi they recovered their prosperity, and were enriched by gifts from various sources. In the 14th century the peninsula became the chosen retreat of several of the emperors, and the monasteries were thrown into commotion by the famous dispute about the mystical Hesychasts. Their numbers were gradually increased by the foundation of St Dionysius, Simopetra, Constamonitu, Russico, St Paul. In the 15th century the monks made terms with the Turkish conqueror Amurath, and have since been molested by none of the sultans, except Soliman the Magnificent, who laid waste some parts of the peninsula. In 1545 Stavroniceta, the last monastery, was added to the list. The hospodars of Wallachia, who were recognised as the protectors of Athos, enriched the communities with lands ; but a process of secularisation was commenced by
Capodistrias, who confiscated their holdings in Greece ; and more recently they have been stripped of theii possessions in the Danubian principalities. They still retain some property in parts of the Archipelago. A Turkish official resides at Caryes, and collects the taxes, which amount to about ten shillings a head ; but for the most part the peninsula is autonomous, being governed by an administrative body of four presidents (cTrio-rarca), one of whom bears the title of " First Man of Athos," and a representative body called the Holy Synod, which consists | of twenty members, one from each of the monasteries proper. These twenty communities are partly Coenobitic, with a common stock and a warden, and partly Idiorrhyth- mic, with a kind of republican government and great individual liberty. Besides these regular monasteries, there are a number of do-Kr/rr/pia, or sketes, which consist of several small associations gathered round a central church, and numerous little communities known as Ka^ioyAara, or retreats, as well as genuine hermitages. Harmony is not always maintained between the different establishments, as was shown by a bitter dispute about a water-course between Cutlumusi and Pantocratoros, which led to the interference of the British consuls of Salonica and Cavalla, in answer | to an appeal from some Ionian monks who were British j subjects (1853). For the most part, however, the inhabi- j tants of Athos are quiet and moderately industrious. They are said to number about 3000, all men ; for no female, even of the lower animals, is permitted to desecrate the pre- I cincts of the Holy Mountain.
"Descriptio Montis Atho et xxii. ejusMonast.,"by Jo. Comnenus in Montfaucon s Palceographia Grceca; Georgirenes, Description of Pre sent State of Sanios, Patinas, Nicaria, and Mount Athos, Lond. 1678 ; Lieut. Webber Smith, On Mount Athos, " &c. , iii Jov.ru. Roy. Geog. Soc., 1837 ; Curzon, Visits to Monasteries in the Levant, 1849; Fallmerayer, Fragmenta aus dem Orient, 1845 ; Gass, Commen- tatio Historica, &c., and Zur Geschichte, &c., 1866; Ramner s Hist. Taschenbuch, 1860 (art. by Pischon) ; Report by M. Minoide i Minas, 1846 ; J. Miiller, Denkmdler in den Khstern von Athos; Langlois, Athos, &c. ; Didron s Iconographie Chretien^e, 1844 ; i Journal Asiatiquc, 1867; Tozer s Highlands of Turkey, 1869.