25 September, 2018

The Greek Archive

The Greek Archive

The archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, like those of all the Athonite monasteries, al¬ready began to form in the period of its foundation1. Documents necessary to safeguard the very existence of the Monastery, its privileges and property began to accumulate as early as the last two decades of the 10th century. The material tended to increase with the passage of the centuries as the fame and economic influence of Vatopaidi spread.

Thus in the course of its uninterrupted life of more than a thousand years an archive has built up which contains documents in impressive numbers – which represent what are conventionally regarded as the three last phases of its history (medieval, modern, and contemporary).

The content of the archive of Vatopaidi, in spite of the fact that it is incomparably greater in volume than those of other monasteries and in spite of differences in detail, does not deviate from the typology of the archive of an Athonite monastery.

The principal major units of documents which can be distinguished are:
a. documents concerned with the Monastery’s foundation and those safeguarding its admin¬istrative and economic privileges;
b. title-deeds to goods, that is, ‘proofs’ of rights and claims which deal with the possession and utilisation of immovable property (e.g., titles of ownership of every kind, groups of documents which make up the ‘history’ of cases which have been settled);
c. documents and ledgers relating to the management of property;
d. documents, codices and ledgers which concern the current administration of the monastic community;
e. documents and correspondence connected with the part played by the Monastery in the life of the Athonite community and relations with other monasteries;
f. documents and correspondence which give a picture of the more wide-ranging activities, influence and relations both of the Monastery and of distinguished members of the brotherhood;
g. internal records (registers of monks, codices of commemoration, etc.).

No evidence has survived of where the archive was kept during the Byzantine and post-Byzan¬tine periods, down to approximately the mid 18th century. It was usual in monasteries for the docu¬ments, including the most important, to be kept in the sacristy or to share accommodation with the library in the catechumena. We must suppose that this was also the case at Vatopaidi. What is perhaps the earliest testimony as to the location of the archive is that of Vassily Barskij. The Russian traveller, on his second visit to the Holy Mountain in 1744, was able to visit the sacristy, where the greater part of the library was kept. He noticed incidentally that the Monastery’s archive was also kept there. This gives us a ter-minus post quem for the housing of the archive there of 1636/37, the date of the erection of the building.

Letter of Gregorius Archbishop of Thessaloniki (July 1432)

It seems that Barskij was not able to linger long in the sacristy. He made hurried notes on 11 documents only (six Byzantine chrysobulls, four patriarchal sigillia, and one Romanian document), but he expresses his admiration for the wealth of the archive, noting the presence of documents of every kind (court decisions, donations, title-deeds, etc.).

The archive, or at least the older part and that considered by the monks to be the most important, must have remained in the sacristy for approximately another 150 years. The Russian cleric Antonin Capustin, in 1859, gives us to understand that the documents were stored in the sacristy. Ten years later, in 1869, I.M. Raptarchis, during the course of a visit to the Monastery, notes that the chrysobulls were still there, while the books had recently been transferred to the restored tower.

The removal of the archive to its present accommodation, on the ground floor of the tower in the north-eastern corner of the Monastery, seems to have coincided with the work of classification which was undertaken in 1901.

The efforts in this direction of the monks charged with the keeping of the documents in the Vatopaidi archive began at an early date. Repeated notes of a similar nature made on the backs of the documents, giving a summary of their contents, date back to the Byzantine period and provide evidence of repeated sorting and arrangement of the archive. There is, however, no evidence of overall systematic recording of the material in the archive before the mid 19th century, or none that has survived. The existence of numbers on the back of the oldest and most important documents and the noting of loose leaves with transcriptions of documents which must date from the last decades of the 19th century lead to the hypothesis that some more systematic efforts must have been made at that period, though they do not seem to have been completed.

The enormous task of classifying the Vatopaidi archive was undertaken at the dawn of the 20th century, a task which was shouldered and brought to completion by a senior of the Monastery, the archivist Elder Anthimos, deacon-monk, with the assistance of the deacon-monk Veniamin. This project was, in chronological terms, the continuation of more general efforts made by the Monastery to re-organise the library and to make a record of the manuscripts and early printed books.

Anthimos divided the documents into two major units: those which he judged should be preserved in the form of unbound documents and those which should bound and made up into codices.

The unbound documents were divided into six categories by subject-matter. They were filed in an equal number of large wooden cases, which were called squares and numbered 1 to 6. They were also classified by language (Greek – Turkish) and an attempt was made to follow some chronological sequence. Each category was identified by a code symbol (a letter of the Greek alphabet); each document, apart from the code symbol of the category to which it belonged, was separately numbered (in Arabic or Greek numbering). Thus identified, they were place in groups in wooden pigeon-holes on the shelves of each case. Wooden labels, placed vertically on the divisions of the pigeon-holes, indicate which documents are contained in each pigeon-hole. A further wooden cupboard was termed a square and was given the number 7. Only documents bound into codices and archival codices were put in this.

Document of the Great Synaxis of the Holy Mountain concerning the Vatopaidi and St Hypatius Monasteries, April 1056

Included in the six major categories of documents, Greek and foreign-language, Byzantine, post-Byzantine, and modern, which certainly met the requirements of the Monastery in the early 20th century, were the following: a. documents concerning the Monastery itself and the region within the bounds of the Holy Mountain (Square 1); b. title-deeds of metochia which existed at the time and were of vital importance for the Monastery’s survival (Prosphori, Provlakas, Ormylia, Ayios Mamas, Meleniko, Afousia, the monastic house and lake of Pouros, Moudania, Antikalamos, the monastic house on Samos, Thessaloniki, Souflari) (Squares 2 and 6); c. documents dealing with property and metochia owned in the past and now only of historical interest (Square 3); d. documents concerned with the Athonite community (Square 4); e. patriarchal documents (Square 5); f. ‘homologa’ (purchase documents) of sketes and kellia* (Square 6).

A criterion for Anthimos in the selection and classification of the earlier (Byzantine and early post-Byzantine documents) must have been their special importance in demonstrating the historical nature of the Monastery. In the case of the later (post-Byzantine, 19th century, and Turkish) documents, the selection for recording must be attributed to a. their usefulness in safeguarding property; b. the need to make use of the Monastery’s landed property within the framework of the Ottoman bureaucracy of the late 19th century, and c. the monitoring of Vatopaidi’s dependencies outside the Holy Mountain.

A guide to the finding and checking of the documents in the squares is provided by the manuscript catalogues of the contents of each of these, in which the documents have been entered by their code symbols and code numbers.

The catalogues consist of five volumes and were compiled in 1901 by Anthimos and his as-sistant, Veniamin. They are well-written and great care has been taken over them. In many cases, they do no confine themselves to a mere recording of the documents, but extend to lengthy summaries, and to comments and judgements on their contents.

Additions and corrections to the catalogues, with the simultaneous insertion of the docu-ments in the appropriate squares, were made by a subsequent archivist, Alexandros of Vatopaidi, and by Elder Arkadios and Prohegoumenos Theophilos, monks of the Monastery known for their learning.

The section containing unbound documents is the most important of the archive, but it contains a relatively small number of items. A vast amount of archival material, consisting of a variety of correspondence, within the Holy Mountain and beyond, of bishops and other clerics, of monks and laymen, ‘official’ and ‘private’, was found in boxes, bags, bundles or scattered in various corners of the Monastery and posed a probem for the Vatopaidi archivists in classifying it. Finally, these documents, on purely chronological criteria, were, not without hestitation and dilemmas about the solution adopted, bound into codices which were given the name of ‘Codices of Correspondence of the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi’.

Anthimos and Veniamin compressed this material into some 150 codices, containing mate-rial dating from 1645 to the early years of the 20th century. A record of the codices by headings was set down in the ‘Catalogue of the Codices of Correspondence’, drawn up in 1904. The work was continued by Anthimos’s successors, so that today the number of codices of bound documents, dating to 1959, stands at 282. A detailed catalogue of the codices was begun in the early years of the present century, but has remained unfinished.

The work of the two Vatopaidi archivists, as far as we know, is the most striking example of the classification of monastic archival material to have been carried out in a monastery not only on Athos, but anywhere in the Greek East. It took more than five years and was carried out under adverse conditions, which they recorded in the greatest detail: “… we ate and swallowed dust of every kind and smelled a variety of odours occasioned by extensive rot and we often had the idea that we should suffer in our health because of the foul smell generated in the various boxes. But our eagerness was great and our will to work greater and, with these prevailing, the threats to our health were overlooked and we took no account of bodily toil, often labouring in winter and the bitterest cold, as a result of which we frequently suffered not a few grave illnesses”.

Nevertheless, in spite of the efforts of these industrious Vatopaidi archivists, the archive of the Monastery needed further work. Anyway, their work had not been without its weak points. Erroneous dating, frequent misreadings and mistaken records of the contents of the documents called for substantive revision, at least of the cataloguing. Moreover, new material, dating mostly from the 18th century onwards, coming from the archive, in active use until a few years ago, of the Monastery’s secretariat, the delegation in Karyes, the dependencies and the metochia, as well as from the personal archives of Vatopaidi monks accumulated in the archive. In addition, hundreds of archival codices and financial ledgers of every kind had remained unrecorded.

Fresh work on the archive, after some 90 years, was begun on the initiative and with the support of the Monastery’s new coenobitic brotherhood.

Systematic research into the Vatopaidi archive began in the mid 19th century with the mission of Porfyrij Uspenskij in 1845/46 to the Holy Mountain. He was not allowed into the archive himself. He described and copied a small number of documents which were shown to him. It seems that access to the archive was not easily obtained. Langlois described it as “secret”, while Antonin Capustin was similarly denied access.

Publications of material in Greek from the archives are relatively few, not always reliable, and confined for the most part to documents of the Byzantine period.

A first small collection of documents from the archive was published by V. Regel in the late 19th century (25 documents). Among the first to make use of the archive were scholarly Vatopaidi monks such as Arkadios and Alexandros, as well as other clerics such as Sophronios Eustratiadis.

Among Greek men of letters and scholars who carried out research on the archive was M. Goudas, who visited the Monastery during the naval campaigns of the Balkan Wars, while a small number of documents was published by M. Laskaris, I. Papadopoulos, A. Sigalas, and G. Theocharidis. Of foreign scholars, the work of A. Solovjev, V. Laurent, and F. Dölger should be mentioned, while items fom Vatopaidi have been included in published collections of Atho¬nite documents.

The publication of accounts of documents from the archive, whether included in general catalogues of Athonite archives or compiled specially for the documents of Vatopaidi, has remained incomplete and fragmentary.

The Byzantine documents of the Vatopaidi Monastery constitute the largest collection of documents of this historical period on the whole of Mount Athos, numbering approximately 250 and covering a very wide range of documents of Byzantine diplomacy.

The oldest document which the Monastery possesses is a copy of a libellus of Constantine, Protospatharius* of the Chrysotriclinum and Great Chartularius* of the General Chancery. It is probably to be dated to a little after the middle of the 10th century and deals with the lands in the Strymon region. The next document, chronologically, preserved in the original, is an instrument of the Protos of the Holy Mountain Nicephorus, of September 998, and concerns a dispute of Vatopaidi with the small Monastery of Philadelphus. This is followed by a document of the Protos of the Holy Mountain Paul of 1001, by which the Abbot of the Philadelphus Monastery Joseph settles the above dispute with the Abbot of Vatopaidi Nicholas.

It should be noted that, compared with the archives of other Athonite monasteries, a large number of the oldest documents of the Protoi of the Holy Mountain are preserved here (dating from the 11th century).

The oldest imperial documents in the Vatopaidi archive are chrysobulls, preserved in copies, of the Emperors Nicephorus III Botaneatus (January 1080), Alexius I Comnenus (February 1082), and a prostagma* of the latter (October 1100 or 1115). The letter in the form of a sigillium and the memorandum of Patriarch Isidorus I of the years 1347 and 1350 must be regarded as the oldest documents from the patriarchal secretariat to be preserved in the Monastery. Next comes the sigillium of Patriarch Philotheus I Coccinus of the year 1370, which is also the oldest preserved in the original in the archive.

The main bulk of the Byzantine documents dates from the closing decades of the 13th century to the early decades of the 15th. This period could be desribed as the ‘golden age’ of the Byzantine section of the archive. Chrysobulls and prostagmata of most of the Emperors of the Palaeologue dynasty, which particularly favoured the Vatopaidi Monastery, documents of state functionaries, of ecclesiastical and secular leaders, representatives of the Byzantine Empire, and juridical and ecclesiastical acts make up the archival picture of the period. The density of the documents of the period reflects the prestige and prosperity of the Monastery.

From this treasury of Byzantine diplomacy, it is worth mentioning one unusual and interesting document. This is a parchment scroll of a length of approximately 7.5 metres, on to which, around the end of the 14th century, 110 bills of sale of landed property in the region of Serres and Zichna were copied. All of these date from 1337/ 1338. The purchaser was Theodora Angelina Cantacuzena, mother of the Great Domesticus* and subsequently Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus.

The 16th century is represented in the archive by only 43 documents. The phenomenon of an exceptionally small number of Greek documents dating from this period is common to all the Athonite archives. The causes of the phenomenon should be sought both in the more general crisis which followed the Turkish conquest and in the change in the official state authority. The documents which register privileges or safeguard ownership of the monasteries, as well as valid juridical acts are no longer the documents of Byzantine officials, but those issued by the Ottoman authorities, and these are as a rule drawn up in Turkish. It was these which had to be kept with care, as being valid in law.

The number of documents increases significantly in the 17th century, while those dating from the 18th are even more numerous. These two centuries are represented in the archive by approximately 5,000 documents. This fact reflects the substantive recovery of the Monastery’s fortunes, the extent and spread of its spiritual and economic activities, an increase in the number of its metochia and the development of those it already possessed, and a marked increase in its social influence.

The documents of the 19th and early 20th centuries make up the main bulk of the archive and number some 300,000. We are now in the ‘golden century’ of the modern history of Vatopaidi, a period of spiritual, intellectual and social renown and of considerable economic prosperity. The bulk and the handling of the incoming and outgoing archival material shows systematic secretarial organisation, with a considerable number of trained monks employed in the processing of the Monastery’s affairs.

The volume of the varied correspondence with official secular (Greek, Ottoman, Russian) and ecclesiastical authorities (patriarchates and bishops), with authorities of the Holy Mountain and the representatives of the Holy Community in Constantinople, in Thessaloniki, and in Athens, with other monasteries, with the Monastery’s representatives in Karyes, with its dependencies (sketes and kellia), and with a host of important and completely unimportant clerics, monks and laymen reveals the very broad complex of relations and influences of an organism which was active far beyond the framework of a simple monastic institution. Moreover, the correspondence dealing with economic matters, but not only, with its dependencies beyond the Holy Mountain and its stewards there extends to more than 30 major metochia and 48 smaller ones.

The personal archives of distinguished Vatopaidi monks, often extremely bulky, as, for example, that of the Grigorios, Metropolitan of Eirinoupolis and the Monastery’s general inspector at its metochia in Moldavia and Bessarabia (late 18th century – 1846), of the deacon-monk Anthimos, senior of the Monastery and its archivist, whom we have already spoken of (1895-1912), of Archimandrite Chrysanthos, a particularly vigorous leader of the community (1867-1899), of Archimandrite Iakovos (Dimopoulos), for many years Abbot of the metochi of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Moscow (1853-1893)43, and of the well-known scholar Arkadios of Vatopaidi, is not confined to letters with a personal content. As archives of officials of the Monastery with particular prestige both in the Athonite community and in the ecclesiastical and secular world around who were actively involved in the affairs of the Greek nation in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they provide information on more general issues of modern Greek and Balkan political history.

A large part of the Vatopaidi archive is taken up with some 1,100 archival codices and financial ledgers (210 codices and 880 ledgers).

The 210 codices, monuments of accounting accuracy and precision, contain copies of correspondence from, but much more to, the Monastery’s commissioners (1877-1943), of the general outgoing correspondence (1854-1990), of the correspondence of its representatives with the Holy Community (1891-1912), and of the encyclicals of the Holy Community (1885-1948). Included in the computation of these are the extremely bulky codices of the minutes of meetings of the Monastery’s seniors (1888-1942), the registers of monks of the Monastery and its dependencies (1894-1958), and visitors’ books (1929-1973).

One of the most important sections of the archive is made up of the financial ledgers, which amount to the impressive figure of some 680 codices and more than 200 unbound codices of a few pages each, in almost unbroken chronological sequence for approximately 300 years (late 17th century to the present). Systematic research into this priceless source for economic history will not only make known to us the range of the economic activities of a flourishing monastery, but will throw light on other aspects of the economic life of the broader region of northern Greece.

More specifically, this section of the archive contains: 220 (approximately) ledgers of general and particular dealings and of those involving the metochia (late 17th century-1799), 76 general balance sheets (1800-1940), 64 ledgers of dealings in capital (1842-1967), 15 ledgers of capital receipts (1864-1893), 15 of capital out¬goings (1879-1937), 62 journals of receipts and outgoings (1885-1983), 21 journals of receipts (1860-1891), 30 journals of outgoings (1864-1941), 37 financial ledgers of the metochia (1874-1943), and 22 pay-roll ledgers for employees (1819-1955). Also included is a host of ledgers with more particular content, such as ledgers dealing with securities, bonds, loans and interest coupons, with trading in timber, warehouses, shops in Karyes, etc., all dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.

The unbroken historical continuity and the volume of the Vatopaidi archival material make it one of the most important archives of the Greek East, a pool from which answers can be drawn to the questions of the history not only of ecclesiastical and monastic institutions, but also to those of social, economic and local history. The preservation of such a large number of evidential documents can be appreciated even further if it is borne in mind that its content deals mainly with a geographical region in which the vicissitudes of history have swept away the testimonies of the archives of both secular and ecclesiastical authorities.