C. SHORT HISTORICAL OUTLINE OF THE ATHOS PENINSULA (1.Mythical and pre-Christian period )
1.Mythical and pre-Christian period
Athos is a grand and imposing mountain or as Irodotos says “a big and famous mountain that is placed by the sea”; it always excited its visitors, many of which hymned it with various means and in various ways. These products of the quill, the chisel, the needle and other objects compose today a rich production, an intellectual volume that, as it is known, is composed by some very brilliant fables and legends, fascinating traditions and descriptions, poems and manuscripts, sculptures or other artistic works. From all those rich intellectual fruits that are reported on the peninsula of Athos, we mention in this paragraph only those that are included in the mythic and pre-Christian period.
According to an ancient Greek legend, the Mount Athos was named after the homonymous giant from Thrace, who, during a confrontation with Neptune, tried to sling against him “just like a small stone” an entire mountain. He threw the stone and it was wedged in the sea, where it remains motionless ever since.
According to another story, it was Neptune who threw the huge Stone and with this crashed the objector giant. Another fable says that Neptune had a son named Athos and the mountain was named after him. The glory of Athos during the mythic age is revealed by the reference of Homer in the Iliad, when he presents Athena going from Olympus to Limnos. Aeschylus gives us the information that on the highest peek of Athos existed an altar dedicated to Zeus with his statue, who according to the Greek lexicographer Isihio Alexandrea never saw rain because it was above the clouds! In order to declare the great height of the mountain, Stravon says “those who live on the peek of Athos watch the sunrise three hours before those who live by the sea”. And Rodios Apollonios says that at sundown the shade of Athos fell on the east and reached Limnos, where it covered the statue of a cow that was found in the square of the city.
During the Argonaut expedition, it is reported that the Greeks who sailed towards Hellespont passed along the coast and did not approach Athos from fear not to crash onto its abrupt coasts.
Having in mind those legends, we could, perhaps, distinguish the eternal and ceaseless fight of the foamed sea and the intense wind with the indestructible and steadfast rock of Athos, who for centuries now resists against the ferocities of nature and the ephemeral supercilious attacks of humans.
In the waters of this sea that for thousands of years burst on the steep rocks of Athos, the fleet of Mardonios, a Persian general, was destroyed in 493, as Irodotos informs us. Twelve years later, in the year 481, the great king Xerxis remembered the defeat of this fleet and hesitated to circumnavigate the mountain.
He therefore ordered to cut the peninsula at its base and at the point where there is a narrow gorge, the known today Provlakas, where there is also the new village of New Roda. Through this canal, he passed with his fleet, threatening at the same time the sea and the coasts around it with the following words: “demoniac Mount Athos does not resist me ... because I will “cut” you and throw you into the sea”!
An architect, Stisikratis or Dioklis as Ploutarch informs us or Deinokratis according to Stravona wished to exploit the impressive figure of Mount Athos few years later. He therefore suggested Alexander the Great to allow him to cut the mount Athos, since it was the most suitable of all the other mountains and make his statue that in his right hand would hold a “river flowing to the sea” and in the left one a “city of a thousand people”.
Alexander denied such an impudent suggestion and said: “Leave Mount Athos as it is; it is enough that the other king without any shame and with arrogance made a canal to it”.
He obviously implied Xerxis.
The oldest residents of the peninsula must have been from Thrace.
Later on, Greeks located there and progressively Hellenized the region.
Historians and Archaeologists agree on the number and the names of the cities of Mount Athos. However, they disagree regarding the exact location of these cities. Irodotos says that there were six cities: “Sani, Dion, Olofixos, Akrothoon, Thissos, Kleonai”. Skilax mentioned a seventh, Haradrian.
Sani was a colony of Andrion and it is located in the south of the canal that Xerxis constructed, where Ouranoupolis stands today. Dion was a colony of Eretrieon, it was founded in the 7th century and is located near the monastery of Vatopediou. Olofixos, the second city in size, is placed between the monasteries of Chelandariou and Esphigmenou. Akrothoon was built where there is today the Rumanian Skete. Loukianos informs us that the residents of this city (Akrothoon) “lived up to 100 years”. Thissos was a colony of Halkideon and it was founded between the monasteries of Zografou and Docheiarion and particularly, near the port of the monastery of Konstamonitou.
The city of Kleonai was founded in the place where today stands the monastery of Xiropotamou. Haradria is only probably placed at the area where there is today the monastery of Vatopediou or near Dafni. It appears that other small cities also existed on the peninsula of Athos, which however are not cited by geographers and historians.
All those cities had their autonomy until the period that king Philip subjugated them in the Macedonian state. After the victory of King Paul Aimilios against the king of Macedonia in 168, this region was devolved in the hands of Romans, as entire Macedonia did. Few years later, it seems that the cities of the peninsula of Athos declined and were progressively destroyed by the wars between the Macedonians and the Romans and by the barbaric raids against them during that period.