Book release for The Archives of Vatoussa: 1733-1912 written by Christos Stavrakoglou

The Archives of Vatoussa [Lesvos]: 1733-1912
Christos An. Stavrakoglou
Christos and Mary Papoutsy Foundation for the Revitalization of Vatoussa
Printer and Graphics:
D. Doukas and Sons, Mytilene
Date of Publication:
Greek (with a foreward translated into English)
Hardcover, 654pp, index, images
(Greece); (U.S.) Enfield Publishing and Distribution Co. at

About the Book (by HCS Publisher Mary Papoutsy, one of the sponsors of the book)

This recently released, 654-page masterpiece, printed in Greek (with English translation of forward), offers a significance new resource on rural island history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is the culmination of a decade of research and transcription of hand-written documents by one of the island’s most respected and well-known independent scholars, Christos Stavrakoglou. And Vatoussa, a traditional, historic village located in the northwestern foothills of Lesvos, provided the materials and dramatic setting for this rare glimpse into the past.

The information contained in this volume offers an unprecedented insight into the daily activities of a number of generations of islanders. Their experiences come alive in the transcriptions of actual documents unearthed in the village where readers can trace their struggles. Dowries, wills, proceedings of the dimogerontes, financial transactions of the local Church—which acted as an informal bank during the Ottoman occupation—all appear in great detail. Stavrakoglou has triumphed in presenting a work on the entire village, based on a near two-hundred-year span of primary-source records. Not only will scholars find much of value in this seminal tome, but Vatoussans and other Lesviots will benefit from the invaluable genealogical data, especially the lengthy index of individuals in the appendix.

This publication is a rare appearance in Greece of such a complete view of island life in the late Ottoman period. Living conditions, local regulations, and socio-economic vitality of Vatoussa appear with clarity. Village correspondences, too, with Vatoussan enclaves in Smyrna and Constantinople, as well as with Metropoleis and the Patriarchate, have also been among the treasures discovered by Stavrakoglou, detailing the relationship of the village as a whole with other towns and institutions.

The Archives of Vatoussa has already been cited as a resource internationally for Post-Byzantine Law, with specific reference to ecclesiastical decisions on issues of marriage, prenuptial agreements, aphorisms, donations, sales and rentals of properties, inheritances, payments and distributions, loans, proxies, leases, and other legal categories. Reviewers at have highlighted sociological aspects of the book, specifically mentioning social problems and the villagers’ efforts at redress. One Mytilinian author and critic, Aris Kyriatzis, praised the efforts of Stavrakoglou to present and annotate the original documents, expressing “admiration for the rich material” and describing it as a “great, valid, valuable” magnum opus “of prominent philologist Christos Stavrakoglou.” Island journalists likewise were laudatory in their assessments, as evidenced by the website of the island’s largest newspaper, Dimokratis: ‚rguably, it is a perfect resource for historians and students of history.” And finally, Vatoussans themselves have embraced the memorialization of their village, freely expressing their admiration and appreciation after a recent successful presentation of the book at the Cultural Center of the Municipality of Athens. Xenia Vazirgiantziki wrote on Facebook:

[It was] a very beautiful event today at the Cultural Center of the Municipality of Athens for the
presentation of the book, a life-work—the Archives of Vatoussa (1733-1912)—of our dear
Christos Stavrakoglou. In a particularly moving atmosphere of speakers-friends and students
of Christos, . . . [there was presented] the report and analysis of the role of the Church and of
the Dimogerontias during the subjugation of Lesvos and Vatoussa in the era of the Ottoman
Empire. [It is] a life work of Christos and a great job for us all. [In the book there are] published
Patriarchal letters, contracts, deeds, dowry-contracts, . . . decisions of the Dimogerontias for the
life [of the village, and] the traditions and customs of our village. [It is] one great work, [a] legacy
for generations to come [27 March 2014].

Stavrakoglou has done a masterful job in presenting the original records. His choice to transcribe all of the hand-written documents is sound, as is his decision to select a representative sampling for reproduction on pages 475-529. 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, as well as 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.

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 (concerning engagements, marriages, baptisms, etc.) with excommunications treated separately, 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 catch-all cluster of documents that don’t fall within any other subgroup, and a final section of unbound Ottoman-script documents. Each document was dated and received a collection number, as well as a brief introduction to contextualize it for readers and researchers. 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.

For instance, on page 254, he elaborates on the identification of the author of the document: “Minas Taxis was an uncle of the historian Stavros Taxis and brother of Ioannis Taxis, the famous scholar of the Greek Mercantile School of Halki.” Few Vatoussans would have made the connections between the three men, since Stavros and Ioannis are not specifically mentioned, but many would readily recognize the surname Taxis as that of a distinguished family from the village. In another footnote of the same document, the author skillfully describes how letters were conveyed in the mid-1800’s without use of a postal system. Writing papers were folded carefully, with the name of the addressee on one side, and then sealed and stamped with wax on the other. The author thoughtfully included images of the actual documents, both sides, so that readers could see the traces of sealing wax and letter folds (pages 500-501) opposite the hand-written original.

But his extensive knowledge of local custom was nowhere more apparent than in his explanations for abbreviated items among church expenses. An itemized account of 1854 included a “bed” for the church, which the author explained was a local term for “climbing vine,” while another mention of a “bed” for the dead in a following line was exactly that, a bed used solely in funerals. Another puzzling entry, “gathering and salting of olives,” became clear with Stavrakoglou’s footnote: growers had to wait their turn for use of the olive press, so olives were stored in yards and cellars and salted to prevent spoilage.

The book has much to offer experts and lay readers alike. Stavrakoglou has superbly annotated and presented the villages’ archives in an eminently useful fashion, setting a new standard for accounts of local and regional histories.

The Christos and Mary Papoutsy Foundation for the Revitalization of Vatoussa underwrote the costs of researching and printing The Archives of Vatoussa, Lesvos 1733-1912. All proceeds of the sale of the book will benefit renovation of the village’s small museum (Gogos Museum).

Reviewers' Remarks

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.

Book Presentations and Other Events

August 2013--Vatoussa, Lesvos, Greece
February 2014--Kalloni, Lesvos, Greece
April 2014--Municipality of Athens, Greece
August 2014--Presentation of book to Modern Greek Collection of Harvard College Libraries, Massachusetts

About the Author

Christos Stavrakoglou is a philologist, a graduate of the University of Athens, and the former headmaster of the public high school in Kalloni, Lesvos. Among his many scholarly publications, a number of which appear in prefectural and local publications in Lesvos, Mr. Stavrakoglou is the President of the Christos and Mary Papoutsy Vatoussa Revitalization Foundation.

Mr. Stavrakoglou has authored a number of seminal and interesting articles, especially on Greek history and foreign travel, a few of which HCS is pleased to be able to offer readers: "At Mount Athos, in Panayia's Garden [in Greek]," "One More Document From the Elders of Vatoussa," "Impressions From Australia," "In Commemoration of Asia Minor," "A Tribute to Helen Demos Papoutsy," "A Local Law of Old Achyrona (Kalloni, Lesvos, Greece)," "A Trip to Faraway Pontus: Pilgrimage to Panagia Soumela Monastery," and "Pioneer Decisions. The Abolition of Dowry Contracts at Vatoussa in 1900 [in Greek]."

(Posting date 04 September 2014)

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