Amykles Book, Excerpt: Sklavohori

In 1982, Sarantos P. Antonakos published Amykles, a history book about his native village. Amykles is one of my ancestral villages, too–the birthplace of my 3rd great grandfather, Panagiotis Zarafonitis. I am beyond excited to have found this book in the Central Library of Sparta, and I copied some of the pages relevant to my family. With sincere thanks to Giannis Michalakakos for his translations and history lessons, I am learning much about this beautiful village and the lives of my ancestors. This is the first posts of several, with excerpts from the book.

Prophet Ilias Church, built in the late 13th century, Amykles.

In the Preface, Mr. Antonakos writes: Amykles was the salt and the pepper for  the Spartans and for the whole Laconian peninsula, a religious, cultural and commercial center. The people lived here hundreds of years in the middle of a very fertile plain through which the Evrotas River passed and it was from then, until today, the subject of study of hundreds of scientists and researchers.

Among several profiles of prominent men in Amykles is a paragraph about Georgios Dimitrios Zarafonitis, a soldier who fought with distinction in the Revolution of 1821.

Antonakos, Sarantos P., Amykles, pp. 250-215; 1982; Athens. Repository: Central Library of Sparta Greece

The translation reads: στ. Zarafonitis George.

          Soldier of the sacred struggle was Georgios Zarafonitis, who, immediately after the start of the revolution took up arms, and after he entered became the head of relatives who fought all the battles in Morea.
During the invasion of Ibrahim Pasha, the house of Zarafonitis was burned to the ground by the Arabs, like many of his fellow countrymen. Zarafonitis sent an application to the state to recognize his services on 19 May 1846 [
he is applying for an Aristeia award]. The application included a certificate from the chieftains G. Sklavohoriti, P. Matalo, etc.
In this certificate, the chieftains of Lacedaimon referred among others “… Mr. George Dimitriou Zarafonitis, citizen of Sklavohori of the municipality Amykles of this province (Lacedaemon) from the beginning of the Holy Fight, in charge of his relatives, put himself under the direction of the chief Panagiotis Giatrakos, and he was with us in different battles like the seige of Tripolis, the battle of Fragoviso, Kerasis, Ververa, Valtezi, Doliana, even in the siege of the fortress Nafplion, Corinth, Patra and when Dramali Pascha came in Argos, Vervenakia and after his disaster in Messinia, fought against Arabs in Coroni, Methoni, and Neokastro, also in Kalamata in Verga of Almyro and in the horrible battle of Polyaravo.
This Greek during all the time of the revolution served military and did his duty with passion and extreme obedience to his superior officers. from his certificate I can assume that he was a very good soldier.”

Unfortunately, a paper trail between this hero of the Revolution and my Panagiotis does not exist. But using “educated deduction” and knowing that families of the same name from the same village are related, I can claim Georgios as part of my ancestral clan.

Another reference to Georgios is found in a list of men from Sklavohori who served as Jurors. This was published on 2 November 1894 in ΦΕΚ, the official newspaper of the Government of Greece. In the page below, he is enumerated on line 12; he is age 50 and a resident of Sklavohori (click on image to enlarge).

General Archives of Greece
List of Jurors – 1849
FEK: Official Government Newspaper of Greece
2 November 1894
Line 112 , Georgios Zarafonitis, age 50, of Sklavohori, farmer
FHL: Film #1038847, section-6, image 28; Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah

Sklavohori, the home of Panagiotis and Georgios, is the same village as Amykles. As is common in areas of foreign dominion, name changes occurred over the centuries. It is an unusual word, certainly not of Greek origin, and Mr. Antonakos addresses this on page 201, Sklavohori. It is a fascinating study.

a.  Some researchers opine that the name was given when Slavs occupied the area. However, Slavic tribes resided in the region known as Amykles in 750 A.D;  and the name “Sklavohori” is not mentioned in any documentation until 1432 — 700 years after the Slavs departed.

b.  When St. Nikon resided in Lacedaimon from 968 to 998, the village was called Amykles and Amyklion. When the life story of St. Nikon was written in 1142, the region still was known as Amykles; proving that the name change occurred later.

c.  All of the Slavic toponyms in Laconia, which are many, were given when the Slavic tribes settled; this did not happen in Sklavohori.

d.  No villages in the plains of Evrotas (where Amykles is located) have Slavic names. Slavic place names are found in mountain villages, where the Slavic tribes retreated so as to remain inaccessible from those determined to evict them (the Franks, the Byzantines, etc.).

These facts support the theory that the name Sklavohori was given much later than the Slavic occupation of the region. Thus, Mr. Antonakos proposes two other, more plausible, explanations:

a.  The name comes from the word, “slave” or “slavery.”  Feudal rulers enslaved Greek citizens, and gave them land to farm, which was located in the fertile plains of Sparta. A literal translation of the name, Sklav-ohori, would be “village of slaves.”

b.  In the island of Tinos in the Aegean Sea, there a a village named Sklavohori. However, there was never a Slavic presence there. The village was given its name because its citizens had been enslaved.

As I wandered through Amykles/Sklavohori in July, I could not imagine this village of my ancestors once being a den of enslavement. The land is a beautiful and abundant valley nestled under the Taygetos mountains; its citizens are hospitable, filled with the spirit of φιλότιμο (filotimo).

The beautiful cemetery belies the hardships and tragedies that the heroes and citizens of Amykles overcame. My family is among them.

Amykles cemetery, July 2017



Mini-Classes at a Festival!

Greek festivals are all about food, dancing, and fun–not the usual venue for genealogy lectures. But, during its Festival last weekend, the Annunciation Cathedral in Baltimore, Maryland offered its visitors and parishioners something different–mini-classes (20-30 minutes) about beginning Greek genealogy. I was honored to be invited to give these presentations.

This idea came from the directors of the Hellenic Heritage Museum and Archives of Maryland, an organization working to document and preserve the rich Greek heritage in Baltimore.

Part of the Museum’s exhibit for the Festival included photos of early Baltimore Greek families; and a brief talk about “Finding Your Yiayia” fit perfectly with the theme. Joining me was Antigoni Ladd of Westminster, Maryland, who spearheaded a project to document the founding families of Westminster:

I had a lot to cover in 30 minutes: U.S. documents that may reveal a family’s original surname and village of origin; what types of documents are found in Greek Archives and Town Halls and how to access them; Orthodox Church records; planning a research trip. During conferences, each of these topics take a full hour. But I talked fast and provided attendees with a two-page handout with links to the most relevant websites. This handout can be downloaded here.

I gave five presentations over three days; about 50 people attended in total. They ranged in age and area of origin. Several had families from Asia Minor; some from the Peloponnese; some from the islands. But all were surprised and delighted to learn that records do exist and are accessible.

These are some of the family photos brought by parishioners to honor their ancestors.

Nicholas Prevas, who has been the official historian of the Annunciation Cathedral since he was 20 years old, wrote two extensive histories of the Cathedral and has been lauded as setting the standard for such works.

Nicholas Prevas with a display featuring his book, House of God…Gateway to Heaven

Every year, Nicholas creates an outstanding display of photos and documents to honor Baltimore Greek families. This display is replaced annually with new items and a new theme. These beautiful cases line the hallway leading to the chapel where they are enjoyed by thousands of people throughout the year.

Greek festivals are a source of enjoyment for the entire community. I stood in a food line behind a young man from the neighborhood who said that he waits all year for the food and music. Churches depend on festivals to bring in revenue and to enhance regional relationships. This year, Panos from traveled from Chicago to set up a vendor table with items that were popular and fun.

Greek road signs, created by Panos at

Of course, I had to get one from Sparta! In the box on the table are keychains with names written in Greek.

And what is a festival without dancing and music? These brightly costumed children stole the show.

I hope that the idea of holding mini-classes during Festivals catches on. It’s a low-key and easy way to introduce people to the basics, and to broaden their perspectives on family history. The jovial environment and ethnic surroundings provide the perfect backdrop for enhancing a desire to learn more about our heritage.