the holy mount athos

The History Of Mount Athos (15th century - 18th century)

The Byzantine Empire was conquered in the 15th century and the Ottoman Empire took its place. The monks of Holy Mount (to avoid the pillage and devastation of the Holy Mountain), when Murad II conquered Thessaloniki in 1430, immediately pledged allegiance to him.

In return, Murad recognized the monasteries' properties, something which Mehmed II formally ratified after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. In this way independence of Mount of Athos was somewhat guaranteed.

 Monastery of Simonos Petra
The Monastery of Simonos Petra

From the account of the Russian pilgrim Isaiah, by the end of the 15th century many the monasteries were largely occupied by foreign monks: these included the Monasteries of Iviron (Georgians), Panteleimon (Russians), Helandarion, Gregorion, St Paul (Serbs), and Zographou, Philotheos and Simon Petra (Bulgarians). But their numbers gradually began to wane, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century the only Slav monasteries remaining were those of Helandarion, Zographou, St Paul and Xenophon.

The 15th and 16th centuries were peaceful for Mount Athos. This led to relative prosperity for the monasteries. An example of this is the foundation of Stavronikitas monastery which completed the current number of Athonite monasteries. Russian tsars and princes from Moldavia, Wallachia and Serbia (until the end of the 15th century), helped the monasteries survive with large donations.

Following the conquest of the Serbian Despotate by the Ottomans many Serbian monks came to Athos. The extensive presence of Serbian monks is depicted in the numerous elections of Serbian monks to the office of the Protos during the era.

stavonikita monastery
The Monastery Of Stavronikita

Although most time the monasteries were left on their own, the Ottomans heavily taxed them and sometimes they seized important land parcels from them. This eventually culminated in an economic crisis in Athos during the 17th century.

This led to the adoption of the so-called "idiorhythmic" lifestyle (a semi-eremitic variant of Christian monasticism) by a few monasteries at first and later, during the first half of the 18th century, by all.

This new way of monastic organization was an emergency measure taken by the monastic communities to counter their harsh economic environment. Contrary to the cenobitic system, monks in idiorhythmic communities have private property, work for themselves, they are solely responsible for acquiring food and other necessities and they dine separately in their cells, only meeting with other monks at church. At the same time, the monasteries' abbots were replaced by committees and at Karyes the Protos was replaced by a four-member committee.

In 1749, with the establishment of the Athonite Academy near Vatopedion monastery, the local monastic community took a leading role in the Modern Greek Enlightenment movement of the 18th century. This institution offered high level education, especially under Eugenios Voulgaris, where ancient philosophy and modern physical science were taught.

evgenios voulgaris
Eugenios Voulgaris, 1716–1806. A Greek scholar, prominent Greek Orthodox educator & bishop of Kherson, Ukraine.

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The history of Mount Athos: Antiquity & Mythology

The history of Mount Athos from the 4th century to the 14th century

The history of Mount Athos from the 19th century to the 20th century