Islamic epigraphic material, despite its value as authentic historical record, has been underused in Greek archaeological and historical studies until recently. Indeed it has been hardly exhibited in most archaeological museums contrary to the inscriptions of Classical and Hellenistic date. However, its systematic study and publication could offer valuable information for the reconstruction of the social and economic history of the Greek mainland as a province of the Ottoman Empire. Only recently scholars and research projects have attempted to study and publish the Islamic inscriptions from various sites of the Greek mainland (Larissa, Almyros, Ypati in central Greece, Thessaloniki, Pella and Veroia in northern Greece, Messenia in the Peloponnese) and the islands (Chalkis in Euboea, Crete, etc.) and to identify them as a dynamic means for understanding the complex ethnic and economic processes in Greece during the Ottoman period[1].

With the permission of the Local Council of Antiquities of the Greek Ministry of Culture and under the auspices of the Max van Berchem Foundation, I had the opportunity to study systematically the corpus of inscriptions from the site of Elassona in northern Thessaly.

Elassona is located at the foot of mount Olympus and is a site that was continuously inhabited from Prehistory to the Byzantine and Ottoman period as the archaeological remains and the historic records indicate (fig. 1)[2]. The area flourished due to its crucial location at the axis of important road networks leading from southern to northern Greek mainland and the Balkans. This important location attracted Ottomans soon after their invasion of Thessaly in 1393 and contributed to the nomination of Elassona (Alasonya in the Ottoman archives) as one of the most important towns of the region. Evliya Çelebi, who visited the area in 1668, describes a prosperous town with multi-cultural population and an intense social, religious and economic life.


The mosque in Elassona

Fig. 1. The mosque in Elassona dated to the late 19th century.


The available epigraphic material from the site is part of the Archaeological Collection of Elassona that is housed in the old Customs Building which is dated to the end of the 19th century, at the last stages of the Ottoman presence at the area (fig. 2). It comprises the second largest group in central Greece after the recently published corpus from the nearby city of Larissa and supplements the recent publications on Islamic inscriptions from various sites of Greek mainland. The corpus consists of 34 inscriptions, mainly intact examples (fig. 3) and fragments of others, (with inventory numbers E 105-139). Unfortunately, the exact location and discovery date of the majority of the inscriptions are unknown. However it is highly possible that they were used as gravestones and that the Islamic cemetery of Elassona was the provenance of all the available material.


The Ottoman Customs House

Fig. 2. The Ottoman Customs House erected in 882.


Gravestone E 117

Fig. 3. Gravestone E 117.


Local marble and greyish marble of high quality, meticulously sculpted, were used for the gravestones. A diversity of shapes can be noticed, however most of the gravestones have no special decorative patterns. Of special interest is the preservation of female names in two of the funeral material and the preservation of specific floral ornamentation. The study of the inscriptions indicates a date that expands from 1601 to 1908 AD. The gravestones Ε 108–118, 121, 124-128, 130- 133, 137 are inscribed, Ε 119, Ε 120, Ε 122, Ε 123, Ε 127 have katibi kavuk and the rest of them have no decorations and no inscriptions. This last category, according to its typology, suggests that it belonged to females. Most of the inscriptions are embossed. The type of the script most frequently used is the basit celî sülüs which varies from simplest forms to more calligraphic. The lines of the inscriptions are carved within cartouches.

The study of the corpus of unrecorded inscriptions from Elassona attempted to illuminate an underestimated field of the archaeological and historical research and to enrich the available data on the geography of the Islamic epigraphic findings in the Greek mainland. The forthcoming permanent exhibition of the inscriptions, together with all the archaeological material from the area of Elassona, where they will be available to scholars and visitors, will contribute to the reconstruction of an important chapter of the history of Greece that only recently started to be evaluated.

Dr. Gregory Stournaras

[1] See indicatively: P. Xidiroglou, “ΟθωμανικEς επιγραφEς της Κρnτης”[Ottoman inscriptions from Crete], in Proceedings of the 5th International Cretological Congress, vol. 3, Herakleion : 1985, 247-260; G. Liakopoulos, “ΟθωμανικEς επιγραφEς της Χαλκiδας” [Ottoman inscriptions form Chalkis], in TOURKOLOGIKA. Essays in honour of A. ordanoglou, Thessaloniki : 2011, 63-160 ; G. Liakopoulos & Th. Palioungas, ΟθωμανικEς ΕπιγραφEς της Λaρισας [Ottoman Inscriptions of Larissa], Thessaloniki : 2013.

[2] S. Choulia, “Les Monuments Musulmans en Thessalie”, in La Thessalie. Quinze années de recherches archéologiques, 1975-1990. Actes du Colloque International, Lyon 17-22 avril 1990, Athens : 1994, 453-460.