|Elements of interculturalism, through temple inscriptions, in monuments of the late Byzantine period in the Mani region|
|Archontoula Papoulakou, archaeologist|
Our Age is an Age of important cultural change and scrutiny. Terms and meanings such as globalization and interculturality influence the modern national identity and refers to the age of Renaissance and the European Enlightenment or even to earlier days?
By the term interculturality, we mean the relation between communication, influential interaction and assimilation between different civilizations.
Interculturality therefore presupposes the coexistence of many different civilizations, many different nationalities, as well as the creative contact and communication among them and finally perhaps the assimilation and incorporation of heterogeneous elements from the local society.
The concept of interculturality is found in nearly all civilisations through the ages. Is therefore communication between different cultures and different populations essential for many reasons in our days (social, political, cultural) or the lack of tolerance towards all that is different, i.e. racism and xenophobia, dominate today and especially in our country ?
A historical retrospection will persuade us that previous civilizations were very cultural, they accepted and absorbed easily than us the different racial populations.
This series of monuments, that convinces us of the multicultural aspects of this specific time period and region, are the monuments (mainly temples) of Mani, of the late Byzantine period.
In this isolated area of the Byzantine Empire, a number of ecclesiastical monuments were developed. There were samples of provincial art and also there were representations of cultural life, which declare this period as the Despotate of Morea and whose capital is Mystras.
Usually a series of inscriptions in the interior of the temples can provide us with much information about the same monuments. From these inscriptions we realise that the donors of this temples were not any distinguished social persons, or any member of the empire family or members of the despot of Mystras. Although, the majority, were unknown, simple men, they were inspired by an intense religious sentiment. This sentiment led them, although they were poor, to build or to decorate these monuments of great worth.
The plethora of inscriptions in the temples provides us with evidence that these simple people with the whole family very often participated in the decoration of these temples.
Within the crowd of these simple people, there was an important category of donators called “tzaousioi” (This name was found in Saint George of Geraki, Saint George of Oitylon, Saint Nicholas in Platsa, Saint George of Longanikos).
These ”Tzaousioi” were particular political and military dignitaries of the Byzantine Empire and they were very often of Slavic origin.
Externally, above the marble, in front of the arch, in the north entrance of the temple, there are two engraved inscriptions.
The inscription states that the temple was renovated during the years of Andronikos C’ of Palaiologos, in the year 1331/1332 and during the leadership of “tzasi” of Melingoi, Constantine Spanis. After that, follow the names of those who contributed to the renovation of the temple and finally it invoke Saint George to protect the donators and renovators of the temple.
The opinions for the origin of Melingoi differ:
From the text of 12th century “The Life of Saint Nikon”, we can learn that Melingoi were governed by a particular sovereign called Antiochos and he had the Roman and Byzantine title of duke, something that proved Greek citizenship and the dependence on the Byzantine state. The duke was named by the General of the Peloponnese “Thema” and not by a Slav governor. It must be noted that the Constantine Spanis of our inscriptions, who was recognized by the Byzantine authorities as a governor in the 14th century was given the name “tzasis – tzaousios” instead of the title of duke.
During the era of the Despotate of Morea the Melingoi were incorporated into the local culture and during the Palaiologean period they were absorbed by the locals spoke Greek language and adopted the Greek conscience.
Now, to return to the inscription of the temple of Saint George in Oitylon:
The name Slavouris is probably another evidence of the Slavic origin of the family.
We can therefore reach the conclusion that the renovators of the temple belong to very rich and powerful families of Melingoi, they have Greek Christian names but their Surnames remind us of their Slavic origin.
Another temple, which is related to Constantine Spanis, is the temple of Saint Nicholas in Platsa of Messinian Mani. It was built in the locality of Kambinari (a local name from the word kambos, which is very common in Mani), outside the village of Platsa.
The conditions, under which the temple was decorated, are known from four inscriptions, which have been saved in different parts of the temple. The most important evidence is offered to us, by an inscription in big lettered-verse. It starts from the north wall, continues to the altar, goes along the south wall and it ends in the west part of this wall, exactly opposite the point where it began.
The elements given by the inscription are the followings:
In conclusion, it is clear that Constantine Spanis, between the years 1331/1332 (the inscription from Oitylon) and the years 1337/1338 was married and acquired the title of “the most respected” which makes him also and “the most noble”.
In the inscription, he continues to have the title of tzaousios, but is also tzaousios of Drongos of Melingoi. The word drongos has a German origin and initially meant the military unit (Ducange), but after, it had a clearly geographical meaning. Here it means the place, the region, where the Melingoi were leaving.
The huge inscription, which goes around the walls of the central aisle of the temple of Saint Nicholas in Kambinari, is extremely unusual for a temple of an isolated province of a Byzantine state.
From the two other inscriptions of the temple, we can realize that the decoration of the south aisle was completed after long time, between the years 1343/1344 and 1348/1349. Probably, it lacked the significant financial support of Constantine Spanis and so it needed the subscription of many people of the region.
Another especially interesting element that arose with regard to the constitution of the population, is the presence of the Slavic origin of Melingoi. They inhabited this region of the Despotate of Morea and during the late Byzantine period, they were absorbed and incorporated into the Byzantine Empire. They spoke the Greek language and they had a Greek conscience.
And while the borders of the powerful “Pax Byzantina” have shrunk dramatically in the east and west, the empire will continue to remain a mosaic of populations and a mosaic of consciences even in the most isolated provinces.
MONUMENTA © 2007