Archives of Vatoussa: 1733-1912--A 'Titanic' Work by Christos Stavrakoglou

HCS Staff

In August 2013, a formal book presentation was held for the long-anticipated work of Christos An. Stavrakoglou, The Archives of Vatoussa: 1733-1912. In the Metamorphosis Hall of Vatoussa, a panel of scholars and educators spoke at length about the work itself, its significance, its contribution to local and regional history, and also about the author.

Yiannis Manoukas, a retired educator residing in Athens, served as the panel spokesperson and welcomed guests and villagers to the presentation. He introduced each of the speakers and panelists, including Vangelis Gdondelis, another educator and long-time friend of the author, two university professors, a representative of the island association OLSA, a former student of Stavrakoglou, and two volunteers who read excerpts from the massive book.

Since then the book has achieved acclaim from a range of reviewers, some of them unexpected sources of comment. One wass an attorney who has compiled a list of resources for researching Byzantine law.

Archives of Vatoussa, cover. HCS image.

Another was an attendee of the formal presentation of the book at the Municipality of Athens in April 2014, Dimitrios Bournous, who videotaped the presentation and created a fine YouTube clip of the speeches, the audience, the author, and the book itself: The emcee of this event, Manolis Papoutsis, summed up the event at its opening, "We are here today to honor our teacher, Christos Stavrakoglou," testifying to the widespread respect on Lesvos of the author of the work. The presentation, one of a number of similar events in Kalloni and Vatoussa, was attended by many noted literary, professional, and political figures and boasted a full crowd.

Laudatory assessments have been penned by a number of critics and published in newspapers and periodicals. Aris Kyriatzis, a noted scholar, complimented Stavrakoglou on his important work in an online article posted to in September 2013 expressing “admiration for the rich material” and describing it as a “great, valid, valuable” magnum opus “of prominent philologist Christos Stavrakoglou.” An online reviewer for Dimokratis in Mytilini rendered a glowing assessment of the work in December 2012: “Arguably, it is a perfect resource for historians and students of history.”  Reviewers at have highlighted sociological aspects of the book, specifically mentioning social problems and the villagers’ efforts at redress. The National Hellenic Research Foundation has picked up the work and included it on its website as a significant research resource. And now, the Modern Greek Collection of Harvard College Libraries has acquired a copy of this weighty tome.  Librarian Rhea Karabelas Lesage, a former President of the Modern Greek Studies Association in the U.S., signaled an interest in the book, and purchased one for Harvard's Collection.

The weighty tome is a culmination of more than a decade of research, supported by the Christos and Mary Papoutsy Foundation for the Revitalization of Vatoussa in Lesvos, to study, transcribe, and annotate a lengthy sequence of original village documents unearthed in the gallery of one of Vatoussa’s churches. The documents detail the decisions of the local Dimogerontia, Church accounts, legal documents, formal correspondence of the village, and more. A rather full picture emerges of this small village in the late Ottoman period in the final years before liberation. It is a singular compilation of original primary source material.

Stavrakoglou transcribed all of the hand-written documents and selected a representative sampling for reproduction in the book. Even for those Western scholars with a reading knowledge of Modern Greek, the task of translating these records would prove Sisyphian, given the range of penmanship and writing styles in vintage Katharevousa and anomalies of Mytilinian dialect. A laborious decoding of the fine, sometimes blurred handwriting was a task at which only a native scholar could hope to succeed.

Author Christos Stavrakoglou. Photo: HCS

Each document was arranged in chronological order within its category and subgroup. Among unbound records, Stavrakoglou created more than a dozen subgroups, including ecclesiastical documents, inventories of assets, dowry contracts, wills, donations, sales, leases, distributions, promissory notes, letters of attorney, documents pertaining to the Monastery of St. Antonios (no longer extant), a cluster of varia, and a final section of unbound Ottoman-script documents. Footnotes shed light on obscure points of local history, offering explanations and additional information wherever necessary, demonstrating the depth and breadth of Stavrakoglou’s scholarship.

By all accounts, Stavrakoglou has set a new standard for local and regional histories.

(Posting date 04 September 2014)

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