12jan19:00Dr. Anastasios B. NikopoulosReevaluating the Institutional Autonomy of 14th Century Mount Athos under the Ottomans: The “Confiscation Issue” with Regard to Athonian Landholdings in Postbyzantine Macedonia
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Dr. Anastasios B. Nikopoulos
12 January 2022, 19:00
Reevaluating the Institutional Autonomy of 14th Century Mount Athos under the Ottomans: The “Confiscation Issue” with Regard to Athonian Landholdings in Postbyzantine Macedonia
The self-governed monastic community of Mount Athos is the only surviving monastic center of many that once existed in the extensive territory of the previous Byzantine Empire. Τhis sο-called monastic democracy situated on the peninsula of Chalkidiki in Northern Greece, covers an area of about 335,000 acres and has held significant real estate through its numerous dependencies (metochia), especially in the wider area of Macedonia and Thrace as well as on the islands of the North Aegean. The dependences occupied a total area about ten times that of the Athos peninsula, which is distributed among the 20 Athonite Monasteries. The foundation of the Athonian monastic community dates back to the 8th century. From the 9th century onwards, the Byzantine emperors took care to endow it with a unique legal status, characterized by institutional self-sufficiency, which has ensured its survival to the present day.
In the 1380s, when Thrace and Macedonia submitted to Ottoman rule in a first phase of conquest, Mount Athos and its monastic domains, located in this area, seem to have been granted a special legal status, which by all indications was the result of timely and reliable negotiations.
It has been argued, however, that the Ottoman overlords caused massive deprivation by confiscating landed property and dependencies of the monasteries, right from the beginning of the conquest. It has recently been argued by drawing on selected archival documents of the late 14th century that even those Athonite monasteries, traditionally believed to have preserved all their properties thanks to their bargaining submission to the Ottomans, suffered severe losses.
This lecture will question the traditional view on these presumed “confiscations” on the basis of a thorough reexamination of the extant primary sources held at different Athonian monasteries. It will be argued that a reinterpretation of the legal acts in question will show that the Ottoman administrative practice has in fact preserved and upheld for future centuries the protection of institutional autonomy for Mount Athos.
Dr. Anastasios B. Nikopoulos is an achieved jurist and a legal historian of Byzantine law.
After studying law at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, he continued his studies on the postgraduate level in International Humanitarian Law at the Institut International de Droit Humanitaire at San Remo, Italy, and in Constitutional Law at the Max-Planck-Institut für ausländisches und internationales Staatsrecht in Heidelberg, Germany. He is a former member of the Greek Parliament. As a jurist, he has been a legal adviser to the Greek Ministry of Defense and he continues to serve as a legal counsellor for the Holy Monastic Community of Mount Athos.
In 2019, he earned his PhD in Byzantine Studies under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Johannes Niehoff-Panagiotidis at Freie Universität Berlin with a thesis on the legal status of Mount Athos under Byzantine Rule (8th-15th centuries). He has published widely on Greek constitutional and administrative law. As a legal historian he has made a name for himself as one of the foremost experts on the Byzantine legal history with a special focus on the legal status of the autonomous monastic community of Mount Athos. Dr. Nikopoulos’ doctoral thesis has been published in Greek in 2021 (Η διάπλαση του αρχαίου καθεστώτος του Αγίου Όρους. Ι, Η Βυζαντινή περίοδος 8ος αι. – αρχές 15ου αι) by the Center for Patristic Studies in Thessaloniki.