Cult and Economy: The economical networks of Mount Athos, 10th - 18th c.

Kriton Chryssochoides

The dependencies (metochia), i.e. the properties that were generally far from the building structures of the monasteries of the Orthodox East, became in time an institution of crucial importance for the survival of the monasteries and their development. This was even more the case with all monasteries of Mount Athos, insofar as the geological morphology of the peninsula of Athos did not provide the means for the survial of the holy institutions.

Already since the days of their foundation, and with the care of their founders, the Athonite monasteries create an economic inland that stretches mostly into neighboring or near to Athos areas. Rural in the beginning, the Athonite dependencies expand quickly during the Byzantine era into wider regions of Macedonia, Thrace and generally the southern Balkans and Asia Minor. Near the rural dependencies, urban ones will gradually appear and function in Constantinople, Thessaloniki, and other cities of the Empire, while simultaneously, an important number of monasteries outside Athos will be annexed as dependencies by Athonite monasteries.

Despite the losses, the contractions and the administrative difficulties created especially during the first century of Ottoman rule (15th c.), all kinds of Athonite dependencies (rural, urban, small monasteries), manage to survive. Gradually, from the 16th century onwards, those already existing since Byzantine times are stable and recovering, while new very important acquisitions appear both inside the Ottoman Empire and outside. A very large number of these do not belong to the category of large productive dependencies as aforementioned. These compose a very large number of pieces of property, with huge differences in size and duration, and with a wide geographical dispersion, of which the acquisition and administration is directly connected with the activity of Athonite monks, who, under orders by their monastery, travel to various lands to collect alms. Thus, the dependencies are directly linked to the practice of zeteia, which developed into a crucial financial institution by the monasteries of Mount Athos, and others as well, with 'unwritten', yet lasting rules from the 16th to the 19th century. Their annexation can be seen as a movement 'from under', which involves mostly local collective entities and less individual regal initiatives. Concerning their nature, they can be divided into three large categories: a. small or/and large (at certain times) monasteries, b. churches within larger or smaller agglomerations, and c. small urban property.

Hence, from the 10th until the end of the 18th century, even until the first decades of the 20th, when they shrink dramatically or disappear because of the expropriations or the historical adventures of Hellenism beyond the borders of the Greece, the dependencies of Athonite monasteries comprise a dense timeless network of existence and movement of material and spiritual goods.

The economical parameters, not only for the mother monasteries, but also for the local communities next to which they developed, form, of course, the main characteristic of the network of the Athonite dependencies, to the extent that the various activities developed (e.g. agriculture, trade) aim at both strengthening the sovereign institution, and revitalizing the local economy. Yet the dynamic spiritual, cultural, educational, even artistic relations and osmosis developed with rural and urban populations made the dependencies a privileged space par excellence of communication between the monastic community with the lay world.

The present project forms part of the framework of a wider research that has begun recently concerning the mapping of the dependencies of the monasteries of Mount Athos in time, from the 10th to the 20th century. There is still much effort to be made, and it is our belief that we will be in a position to have a more complete and detailed image of the dependencies of Mount Athos in the near future.

PROJECT DIRECTOR: Kriton Chryssochoidis, Research Director, IHR/NHRF

COLLABORATORS: Nicholas Melvani, Post-doctoral Researcher, IHR/NHRF, Nikolaos Livanos, Research Assistant, IHR/NHRF