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Пятница, 10 Июнь 2016 18:06

When was Monemvasia inhabited and who were its first residents?

During his tour in Lakonia in 160 A.D., Pausanias reports that just opposite Epidauros Limira, there was a “promontory” perched off the coast, “called Minoa”.

The use of the word Minoa, which has been identified as the hunk of rock occupied later by Monemvasia, implies the existence of port facilities since antiquity.

What is more, the existence of a port on the rock does not necessarily suggest that an important settlement had been developed there, so much so as Pausanias would have definitely mentioned it.

The form of the rock that Pausanias encountered (as well as the geographer Stravon, a century earlier, namely in the 1st century A.D.) was not any different from what it is today.

In his written reports Pausanias does not refer to the place as an island, an indication that it was somehow even then connected with land. Therefore, it is utterly possible that during the 4th century A.D. there was a settlement in this very area, when the capital of the Roman Empire was transferred to Constantinople and new sea routes opened up; the beginning of Monemvasia’s story has allegedly its starting point in the middle of the 6th century A.D. with its first inhabitants to be from Lakedaimonia, the place that was the continuation of the once mighty and well known Sparta. For a very long time, the notion that Monemvasia was founded by the inhabitants of Lakedaimonia prevailed, when the latter, who were in a state of panic due to Slavic incursions in 587-588 A.D., are said to have abandoned their homeland and under the command of their bishop, found refuge to the hunk of rock of Monemvasia, where they founded a new city.

katikisan protoi monemvasia 1

This theory, therefore, was hugely disputed, mainly because of evidence provided by archaeological research, concerning not only the identity of the first inhabitants and the period of time Monemvasia was founded but mostly the idea of Lakedaimonians abandoning their homeland in a state of panic.

More specifically, it is estimated that the reestablishment of the population from Lakedaimonia to Monemvasia did not take place at that particular period of time that is 587-588, but had already begun since the reign of Ioustinianos. The population movement of a whole town with all its inhabitants to new places with better fortifications, either natural or artificial, was customary and widely pursued during the period of Ioustinianos’ reign, so that barbarian invasions could be more effectively dealt with.

During Ioustinianos’ reign, town reestablishments took place as a precautionary measure mostly and not necessarily after destructive raids.
It was therefore, suggestive of this particular tendency that part of the population of Lakedaimonia was located in Githio, as well as in Parnonas, with a mind to guard the mountainous crossings.

The records by archaeological finds confirm the population relocation on the rock during the end of the 6th century, an era when the first phase of the basilica of Elkomenos Christos in Lower Town is dated.

The reestablishment from Lakedaimonia to Monemvasia had begun during Ioustinianos’ reign, while it is possible that it took a long span of time to be completed.

As a matter of fact, all evidence coincide with the idea that the relocation took place as a result of a long term design, large scale building business and careful preparations.

So, the establishment of Monemvasia by the inhabitants of Lakedaimonia- who on the ground of the inauguration planning during Ioustinianos’ reign and in order to avoid barbaric invasions, looked for a more protective location, which actually responded perfectly to the new needs created and coincided with the time when the capital was transferred from Rome to Constantinople in the 4th century A.D.- took place in that particular manner and under a specific time span.

(The passage is based on research, evidence and information from the book “Monemvasia, a Byzantine City State” by Haris A. Kalliga, Potamos publications)