History

The Mani Peninsula, also long known by its medieval name Maina or Maïna, is a geographical and cultural region in Greece. The capital city of Mani is Areopoli. Mani is the central peninsula of the three which extend southwards from the Peloponnese in southern Greece. To the east is the Laconian Gulf, to the west the Messenian Gulf. The peninsula forms a continuation of the Taygetos mountain range, the western spine of the Peloponnese.

The terrain is mountainous and almost inaccessible by land with only two entrances, Gytheio and Verga. From the time of the ancient Spartan Kingdom up until around the 17th century AD (1600's AD) Mani was called "Lakedaimonia". "The name Mani is originally thought to have come from the Venetian word Mano meaning hand, but this was due to the Venetians having built a castle called "Castle De Le Maina" by hand. Linguistically the name Mani actually originates from the ancient Doric Greek word μᾶνιν (mãnin) meaning 'rage' (Attic-Ionic: μῆνιν) which lead to the evolution of the word Μανίαν (Attic-Ionic: μηνίαν) "Manía" (Μανία), meaning "mania", "crazed with rage" or "wild" which it self originates from the Ancient Greek word "Manîsomai" (Μανήσομαι), meaning to "become crazed" or "full of violent rage". The English word "mania" evolved from this."

Until recent years many Mani villages could be reached only by sea. Today a narrow and winding road extends along the west coast from Kalamata, Messenia to Areopoli, Mani, then south to Akrotainaro (the pointy cape which is the most southward soil of continental Greece and continental Europe) before it turns north toward Gytheio.

Mani has been now been traditionally divided into three regions:

-Exo Mani (Έξω Μάνη) or Outer Mani to the northwest,

-Kato Mani (Κάτω Μάνη) or Lower Mani to the east,

-Mesa Mani (Μέσα Μάνη) or Inner Mani to the southwest.

A fourth region named Vardounia (Βαρδούνια) to the north is also sometimes included but was never historically part of Mani. Vardounia was a region between Mani and Laconia that was occupied by Turk-Albanians during the Ottoman occupation of most of Greece.

The Maniots are the direct descendants of the Ancient Spartans and therefore are of the Dorian tribe of Greeks, the Maniots are in fact the last (of the) Ancient Spartans (along with the Tsakonians to some extent). The Maniots were called Spartans up until as recent as the early 19th century (where as the inhabitants of the city of modern Sparta were simply called Laconians, as they have no link to the Ancient Spartans) when the diminutive "Maniot" came into existance, which in Greek (Μανιάτης) means "he who is wild" or "he who is crazed". Napoleon Bonaparte addressed the Manniots as "Spartan descendants" and Theodoros Kolokotronis (leader of the Greek War of Independence) called them "The Spartans". Among other distinguishing features of Mani is its native dialect because it is one of only two existing descendant dialects of Ancient Doric Greek as opposed to most other dialects which descened from Attic-Ionic. It has no modern relative exept Tsakonian, the only other existing descendant of Doric Greek which is spoken in the region of Tsakonia.

Throughout it's entire history, Mani remained free of conquest, one of the influencing factors being it's geographical location, and natural ruggedness. Out of this environment a regional civilization grew and flourished where strong traditions and customs are still upheld. The maniots were always ready to bear arms as they held their freedom in high esteem and were never seen to lay their arms down, especially throughout the duration of the Greek Struggle for independence.

In ancient times Mani formed a part of Sparta. During the time of the Roman invasion of Greece, Northern Sparta (modern Laconia) formed 'The Society of Free Lakedaimonioi' under the watch of the Achaeans which survived until the middle of the 3rd century A.D. The Spartans who refused to live under Roman occupation, left and moved to Southern Sparta (Mani) which remained untouched by the Romans.

In the 7th century A.D, Sparta itself (the actuall city) was burnt down to the ground by the numoures Slavic incursions. It was then rebuilt 20 kilomiters down the road from it's original site. Most of the original Spartan inhabitants moved to Mani to live with the rest of their Spartan breathen and other Greeks from the islands and other parts of Greece migrated as refugees to repopulate "New Sparta". Due to this, the inhabitants of modern Sparta (the city), and Laconia as a whole region, have no connection little or no to the Ancient Spartans.

Agios Nikolaos ChurchIn Chora of Outer Mani St. Nikolaos a church belonging to the Anastasiadis/eas family was built in the 10th and 11th century in memory of Nikon The Metaniote. The Marble artifacts present in the interior of the church such as the inscribed Holy Table gives more weight, coupled with existing evidence, to the already commonly accepted ideology of the Maniots Spartan ancestry.

Later the Franks found difficulties in their attempts to occupy and control the Maniots and were subsequently forced to build three castles;

  1. Passava
  2. Great Mani
  3. Lefktrou

After Guillaume Villehardouin, Mani became part of the Empire of Emperor Paleologos. With the onset of the Turkish occupation the Maniots could not be brought to heel. At school, Dimos Stephanopoulos writes that before the Revolution, the children would be tought that a Maniot is a person free and that which keeps this firm is their constant reminder of their proud Spartan Ancestry . The Duties of a Maniot is to respect the elderly and to assist them. To love and to support those who have given them the gift of life. When one has given their word then they must resolve to fulfill their obligation to that person and/or persons as quickly as possible and the most important is to uphold freedom religiously, which was handed down from their anscestors. Even to sacrifice ones life for freedom.

Ottoman Turks under the leadership of the Sulatn Mohammed the 2nd the Conqueror entered the Peloponnese in May 1460. The Maniots fought the invading Ottoman Forces in every way to keep their freedom with success. The Ottoman Turks could not subdue the Maniots however they attempted to impose a tax on the Maniots of 4000 Grosia a year which the Maniots also refused to comply with. During the Greek revolution of 1821 against the Turks, the Maniots contributed enourmously. It was also a safe haven for guerillas looking for refuge whilst fighting the Ottoman Turks. The Philike Hetairia (Friendly society) selected Mani as the safest location to start the revolution and later circumstances proved them to be right. The Maniots were the first people to rise to the challenge and on the 17th of March 1821 led by the Mavromichalis Clan, of which Petrobey was voted as leader on the 8th of March of the combined Maniot army, the Maniots raised the Maniot Flag and vowed to fight till victory or death. Panagioti Troupakis at the Battle of Verga, 1826Wisely the Philike Hetairia also chose to store the military equipment that was to be used for the revolution within this region as there was no turkish presence and so there was no danger of the cache being uncovered. The raising of the Maniot flag and the subsequent movement of Maniot troops across their border, passed Verga in outer Mani, and into the Turkish occupied regions of the Peloponnese. Attacking Kalamata on the 23rd of March 1821 secured the first victory in the war and started a series of events, one of which was the Battle at Verga, Diro and Poliarivo in 1826, which was to develop into the first Greek State. Refuge for all running from the Ottoman Turks was to be found in Mani's Mountains such as for the famous Kolokotroni Family.

In 1830 the Kingdom of Greece was established, which consisted of "Sterea Ellada" down to the Peloponnese,(Epirus, Macedonia, Thrace, Crete, Pontus were still under Turkish occupation) but did not include Mani, as Mani was still an independent region. Even with the establishment of a Greek Kingdom this did not mark the end of the Maniot rebellion. Mavromihallis swiftly fell out with the first president of the nation, Kapodistria and, with other members of the clan, was imprisoned by him at Naflpio - and act which led to the Presidents assasination at the hands of Petrobeys brothers.

Greece remained highly unstable but was recognised as an independent kingdom in 1832, under the protection of France, Russia and Great Britain. They gave Otto, the son of Louis I of Bavaria, the throne of Greece but, as he was only seventeen years old, regents were appointed until he came of age in 1835. In 1833, the very soul of Maniot culture came under attack when it was decreed that the Maniot towers would have to be pulled down. The situation was made worse by rumours that the Greek Orthodox Church was under threat from Bavarian Catholicism, and by the arrest of Kolokotronis on charges of treason. The first attempt to enforce this decree in 1834 resulted in a detachment of Bavarian troops being surrounded, forced to surrender, stripped naked and ransomed for a derisory price ny the Maniates.The Earl of Carnarvon visited Mani in this period and reported. "the majority of the soldiers owing their lives to the contempt of their enemies, who sold them, naked and shivering,in the public market at the low price of two pence a-head". A second attempt by a larger Bavarian force resulted in heavy Bavarian losses and a forced withdrawal. A third attempt with 6,000 regular troops again failed to enforce the order and a negotiated settlement between the region of Mani and the governement resulted in the order being rescinded and the towers were left intact. Many towers were built after this time but they tended to be wider and designed to live in as well as retaining their defensive character. In 1839, the Earl of Carnarvon recorded the Maniot dissatisfaction with the new state. "Many even, in their disgust at the new civilization which had promised so much and done so little, which had destroyed political and feudal power, and which had given no compensation in the form of material prosperity for what it had taken". After another abortive military attempt to subdue the Mani government agents took a much more conciliatory approach to the Maniates and things quietened down. One of the tactics used by the government was to enrol the Maniates into the Greek Army, thus harnessing their martial inclinations to a national cause. The kings German officers were sent to Mani to enlist soldiers in a special Maniot Militia. The idea was adopted with enthusiasm, and was the start of an enduring tradition of Maniot service in the modern Greek military.

Today Mani has the largest number of Byzantine Churches in the Peloponnese after Mistra and Geraki. The Towers pose the most interesting landmark numbering around 800 in total scattered in all corners of Mani. The Towers show a glimpse into the eventfull and proud past of the people of Mani.

Below is a list of the Governors (beys) of Mani:

Lymberios Gerakaris from Oitylo, Mani (1684-1698)
Tzanetos Koutifareas from Thalames, Mani (1776-1779)
Panagiotis Boukouvaleas from Kardamyli, Mani (1779-1782)
Tzanetos Grigorakos from Skoutari, Mani (1782-1798)
Panagiotus Koumoundoureas from Doloi, Mani (1798-1803)
Antonis Grigorakos from Skoutari, Mani (1803-1808)
Konstantinos Versakos from Malevriou, Mani (1808-1810)
Theodoros Grigorakos from Skoutari, Mani (1811-1815)
Petros "Mavromixalis" Pierrakos from Limen, Mani (1815-1821)

At the start of the 20th century, Greece was involved with the Macedonian Struggle (Defence of Native Greeks from Macedonia against Bulgarian insurgents), military conflicts against the Bulgarian organization known as the Bulgarian Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, and Turkish forces in Ottoman-occupied Macedonia. Many volunteers from Mani took part in the war such as soldiers from the Dritsakos, Koutsonikolakos, Kosteas, Georgopapadakos, Iliopiereas, Loukakos, Kyriakoulakos and Kalantzakos families. The Maniots also took part in the series of wars that followed including the Balkan Wars, World War I, and the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922). The participation of troops from Mani in these wars under Constantine I of Greece, created strong royalist feelings amongst Maniots. That is why most Maniots remained loyal to Constantine during the Greek National Schism.

Religion

The introduction of Christianity came late in the Mani: the first Greek temples began to be converted into Christian churches during the 11th century A.D. A Byzantine Greek monk (although said to be of Armenian origin or a Greek originally from Argos) born in the Pontus called Nikon "the Metanoite" (Greek: Νίκων ὁ Μετανοείτε) was commissioned by the Church to spread Christianity to areas that had stayed true to their own original pagan traditions such as Mani and Tsakonia. Some pagan Maniots would wear a small helmet or spear tip pendant called a Dory around their necks as a symbol of their main god, Ares, similarly, the Vikings, most who remained pagans until the 14th century would wear either a small hammer pendant called a Mjolnir or a small spear tip called a Gungnir as a symbol of their main gods, Thor and Odin. The area of the Peloponnese was a land full of demons, which St. Nikon was constantly struggling against. St. Nikon came to the Mani in the latter half of the 9th century to preach Christianity to the Maniots. Although the Maniots began to convert to Christianity in the 10th century due to Nikon's preaching, it took around over 200 years i.e. until the 12th and 13th centuries to eliminate most of the pagan Greek religion and traditions and for the Maniots to accept Christianity. After his sanctification by the Greek Orthodox Church, St. Nikon became patron saint of the Mani as well as Sparta.

"Sealed off from outside influences by their mountains, the semi-troglodytic (Wildman) Maniots themselves were the last of the Greeks to be converted. They only abandoned the old religion of Greece towards the end of the ninth century. It is surprising to remember that this peninsula of rock, so near the heart of the Levant from which Christianity springs, should have been baptised three whole centuries after the arrival of St. Augustine in far-away Kent."

A story from the 17th century...

An Athenian statesman who was raised in Egypt returned to Athens on his father's wishes. Upon his arrival, he saw what a poor and putred place Athens had become since the Turks had occupied it. He descided to travel to Sparta, but being raised in Egypt, he knew little of Greek history, only of the reputation of the Spartan and Cretan warriors. When he arrived in Sparta he was greeted by the inhabitants, he asked them, "where are the Spartans?", and one of the inhabitants replied, "here we are, you are in Lacedaimonia (the name Lacedaimonia was used synonomously with Sparta) don't forget" to which the Athenian replied "this may be Lacedaimonia (Sparta), but not one of you is a Spartan, the Spartans are  savage warriors and they are of a much stronger stock, very different to you, you are shpeards who tend to the land, besides, a Spartan knows how to use his weapons" he said pointing to a some of the inhabitants who had blunt swords put in their skeaths the wrong way round and their leather harnesses knotted up. Later that night an old lady who had over heard the conversation said that she had seen out skirts of where the true Spartans lived the last time went foraging on the Taygetus, and that she would take him there if would help her carry some wood to her sister who had a house at the base of the mountain (the side outside of Mani). One of the other inhabitants offered to go with them and help the old lady on the way back. When they arrived at Mount Taygetus, the old lady pointed and said "there, see those towers and those pointy things moving around?", the Athenian and the inhabitant of "New" Sparta, both dumb founded, replied with a simple "yes", the old lady continued, "those pointy things moving around are the Maniots, they are the true blood descendants of the Ancient Spartans, they are the Spartans you are looking for Athenian, each Maniot is his own master and he carries with him his full array of weapons, swords, rifles, pistols, axes and clubs, and the women carry daggers and sickles". The inhabitant of Sparta asked how the old woman knew so much about them, and she revealed her sickle saying "I'm a Maniot, i live in Laconia to keep watch over my step sister", the Athenian who was stunned, replied "yes, these Maniots are the true Spartans".

Maniot Surnames

Like all parts of Greece, Mani has certain suffixes on the end of the Maniot surnames. Such examples of this is the "opoulos" from the Peloponesse (outside of Mani), the "adis", "idis" and "antis" from Pontus. The Maniot surnames end in "-eas" in what is now the Messinian part of Mani, "-akos" in what is now the Laconian part of Mani and the occasional "-oggonas". The Maniot "-akos" is not to be confused with the Cretan "-akis", which was introduced into Mani by the first Cretan refugees who fled Crete once the Ottomans eventually fully occupied Crete in 1669. The Maniot "akos" is a masculine adjective denoting strength and power and as opposed to the "akis" which is a feminine adjective which denotes weakness, being small and being effeminate in nature. Both surnames however, "akos" and "akis" originate from the Byzantine "akios".

For various reasons such as gdikiomaioi (ventettas), some Maniots surnames were changed. Examples of this is some of the "Beys" (Generals) of Mani:

Panagiotis Boukouvaleas (Mourtinos/Mourtzinobey) who for some unknown reason was called Michali. His surname however, was changed from Boukouvaleas to "Troupakis". This was because his father, who was at the time, fighting a small of group of Turks, fell into a ravine/large hole and when found by the other Maniots, he was jokingly called "Troupakis", "troupa" meaning hole in the Maniot dialect.

Tzanetos Grigorakos (Zanetbey) who's family was referred to as "Grigorakis" as mockery by an opposing family due to a ventetta, which was later incorrectly documented as "Grigorakis" instead of the original "Grigorakos".

Petros Pierrakos (Petrobey) who's grandfather, Michalis Pierrakos was an orphan. During the industral age (16th century to 19th century) in most of Europe, orphans were referred to as "black" as a sort of nickname, in Greek "mavros" which meant that Michalis Pierrakos was known as "Michalis o Mavros" (Michael the black), as time went on that changed to "Mavros michalis or Mavros o Michalis"  (Black Michael) and then finally shortened to "Mavromichalis". Due to the nickname being given to his grandfather, "Mavromichalis" became a family nickname and eventually the surname "Pierrakos" was dropped from verbal recognition and thus the name Mavromichalis incorrectly became a surname. Later on in time when a branch of the family moved from Mani to the island of Lesvos, that sub branch furthur split again and the name was changed to Drakos by one side and Drakoulis by the other.

Other such exmaples are:

*Moutzoureas was changed to Moutzouris/Mountzouris after the war of 1821 when part of the clan moved to Kalamata.

*Magiakos was changed to Giannopoulos after the war of 1821 when part of the clan moved to Kalamata.

*Drakoggonas was changed to Drakoggis/Drakoggonis/Drakonis during the first world war.

*Anastaseas was changed to Anastasiadis in support of the Pontian Greeks.

Dances

The dances of Mani, are as one would expect, based about war and combat.

Tsamikos (Τσάμικος): The Maniot Tsamiko is different from the Tsamika of Epirus and Macedonia in Northern Greece. The Maniot Tsamiko is alot "heavier" in terms of rythem and tune, and the steps are different.

Pyrixios (Πυρίχιος): The Pyrixos/Pyrric dance is known as Pourxoz (Πούρχοζ) in the Maniot dialect of Greek. Although it is originally though to have been of Pontian Greek origins, the Pyrixos has its origins from the town of Pyrixos in Mani. The dance was named after the son of Achilles, a Mycenaean Greek warrior who fought against the Trojans in the Trojan war. The son of Achilles, was name Pyrixios, he was born in Mani, and the town in which he was born took the name "Pyrixos" in his honour. Unlike the Pontian Pyrixos, the Maniot Pyrixos is much "heavier" and consists of different rythems and beats and it is also much more violent. Another distinguishing factor of the Maniot Pyrixos is that the Maniot dance it with larger and heavier swords. The ancestors of the Maniots, the Ancient Spartans, would dance with weapons such as spears, swords and their shield while also wearing their amour. The Spartans also used the Pyrixos dance as training due to the fast pace and their Maniot descendants are no different. Up untill the early 19th century AD, the Maniots would dance while wearing their full array of weapons, 2 large swords, 2 or 3 pistols, a short sword, a club, an axe and 1 to 2 rifles (although it was sometimes danced without the rifles and pistols).

Maniatiko (Μανιάτικο): The Maniatikos dance is one of the unique dances that is dances only in Mani. It consists of complex steps that go back and forth and require holding the belt of the person next to you.

Costumes

Male

The military uniform of the Greek revolutionary forces basically consisted of (1) The "Fesi" which was worn on the head, and wrapped around the Fesi was the "Serveta" which was piece of material to secure the Fesi. This was also standard for the Ottoman Forces; (2) A vest, which was called a "Yeleki"; (3) The "Foustanella" which was equivalent to a kilt, which went down to the knees, and was tied at the waist by a "Zostira" which was a sash; (4) "Kaltses" which were long socks, drawn up to the waist; (5) "Tsarouhia" which was made from the unprocessed leather derived from male cows; (6) the "Flokarta" or "Kapa" which was draped over the shoulders which was lined inside and out with fur.

The Maniot Military Uniform was basically the same as the uniform mentioned above with the following exceptions.

  • The Foustanella was replaced by a pair of loose wearing pants that extended to the knees called a "vraka".
  • Soldiers that came from more econically fortunate backgrounds could afford to have a richly decorated "Yeleko" crossed over as indicated in the illustration below.
  • Richly decorated jackets were also common amongst economically fortunate soldiers and were worn above the "Yeleko"

The Mavromihali Clan in Messinia Kostandinos Mavromihali Ioannis Mavromihalis

A common item between these two uniforms was the "Selahi" which was a leather belt used to carry and secure the soldiers weaponry.

Modern representations of the Maniot Military Uniforms Circa 1821 are shown below.

The Maniot Military Uniform The more decorated military uniform

Costumes pictured above were manufactured by the workshop of Nikolaos Plakidas of Messologi.

Female

It is a festive costume of the 18th century on which you can see all the characteristics of their exclusive society. It consists of the white shirt, the woolen woven dress with the wide red strip on the "katakormi" and the striped silk belt round the waist. The head was covered by the "kefalouri".

A Female Maniot Costume

Another Representation of the Female Maniot Costume Circa 1821 is shown below.

A Modern Representation of Female Maniot Costume