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Mani History

Journey to the Mandres

The Mandres
Katsoulakos News Letter related links and books Other travels and sites of Greece


History of Mani with concentration on Kelefa

The Katsoulakos family originated in Mani, a small region in the Southern Peleponese of Greece. The Mani has a rich history and it is impossible to provide an in-depth look at the history in a few short paragraphs. I have included several book suggestions in the links that will help you gain more knowledge on the history of Mani. In short, it was part of the Spartan Empire (850BC to 196BC) who built several sanctuaries and temples including Poseidon at Taneron (the tip of the peninsula which by the way is tied for the most southern point of continental Europe (with Gibraltar)). The Romans succeeded the Spartans and many ruins and baths from the Roman era exist. In around the year 900 a traveler making it to the Mani found the people living in and around the great castle of Maine' (largely believed to be located at Tigani) to claim they were ancestors of the ancient-classical Greeks and of pure blood. Hence the claims that the Maniates stem from the Spartans. However history tells us that Mani was entered and sometimes settled by outside people including the Dorians, Albanians, Cretans and some Slavic tribes. The Greeks were strict about staying a homogenous society but after centuries these outsiders either ceased to exist or assimilated into the Greek populace. The Mani remained Pagan worshippers until the Byzantines efforts to convert them to Christianity in the years 900-1100AD. In the 13th century the Frankish conquest introduced the concept of the medieval feudal system where classes of society were established. The more powerful would become the warlords and land owners, and the less fortunate would become serfs, and lower clans people. The introduction of the fortified tower house developed in this time period, and it was only in the rights of the upper-class to build such homes. This class of Greeks became known as the Nikliani, they were the lords of the society, they built fortified complexes to further assert their power positions. Over time these families grew in size through marriage and it was common to see blood related and betrothed families form a large clan and an alliance towards a family patriarch. Each village contained Nikliani and they were often seen to compete with eachother for scarce resources and subsistence. Disputes were dealt with in a system that existed for centuries and involved the "the committee of elders" to make decisions which commonly was a "Flesh for Flesh" resolution. There were strict honor codes and to violate that code would result in retribution. They openly declared their intention to take revenge (the vendetta) which would lead to deadly family feuds. It was also common for them to fight against each other to compete for supremacy, for to be the Nikliani (leading family) of the village was to be in a position of power. These aggressive and primitive customs were the permanent expression of the conflicts between the various segments of a society which did not posses a political and judicial authority to solve them at a higher level.

When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, many Greeks seeking to remain free of Turkish domination, began migrating to the Mani. The Mani has natural defenses as the mountain range (Tyegetos) gives no opportunity to march entire armies through the very narrow passes.The ocean and rocky shores around the Mani are notorious for being treacherous and creating ship wrecks. Equally defensive are the rocky and cliff laden shoreline. The defensive properties of this land contributed greatly to Maniates existence but bore a tremendous burden which was it's barren and rocky nature and lack of aridable soil to farm and raise crops and livestock. The influx of refugees mixed with the already indigenous Greeks ballooned the population and made life a struggle with the limited land and resources on the peninsula. Many of the Maniates turned to piracy. This is not a well known fact among many Greeks who think they know their heritage, but Mani ports were the home bases and drop points of many pirate ships who were  raiding the commercial vessels trying to travel around their peninsula to get to the Agean and Eastern trade ports since the 1500s and continued with a high escalation of activity in the 16 and 1700s.  In a region that had no system of commerce and certainly not enough to sustain the number of people living there, piracy became the most lucrative economic stimulator in the region. Through the centuries they had forged a way of life continuing their Greek customs, religion and language in an increasingly hostile region where banditry, piracy and lawlessness prevailed. There was no law, or courts. It was a wild land where the strength of the sword and gun decided who would be a benefactor. The only means of protection came under the clan system which continued to develop. As the clans grew in size their complexes and defenses became more elaborate. New weapons were introduced and the introduction of slack lime to make mortar resulted in the war towers becoming taller and stronger, violent bloody outbreaks between clans occurred regularly and sometimes feuds lasted 20, 30 even 40 years!

When the Turkish advance finally reached the Mani in 1460, the Maniates put aside their internal riffs to meet their common enemy in battle. The Maniotes put up fierce passionate resistance and courageously fought off the invaders in what was a rather loosely formed cooallition of clan warriors but of what would become known as klefts, "The freedom fighters of Mani". They would not settle for concessions with the Turks in their homeland and they made it their purpose to live in defiance of the Turks and constantly track, harass and confront any Turkish movement through the Peleponese and Mani. A word of mention is due here, there were some other groups within Greece that lived as klefts and were constantly at war with the Turks. The Souliotes from Souli, the courageous mountain fighters in the Northwest of mainland Greece defied the Ali Pasha from Ioaninna and successfully fought off their advances until 1803 when the mounted a major assault. These Greeks would continue to resist and would live in a constant state of war with the Ottomans for the next 380 years. They constantly 

held out hope for their "Christian" Europeans to aid them in their struggle against the "Powerful Ottoman Empire" and along the way forged alliances with the "Franks", the "Venetians" and the "Russians" to wage war against the Turks. These allies not only empathized with the Greeks but saw the strategic importance of their peninsula as a base to secure their trade routes to the East. Due to the heavy traffic of merchant vessels sailing by the Mani in order to enter the Aegean and cross to Turkey, the Maniates reverted to Piracy. During the last two hundred years before 1800 Maniate piracy activity was in full swing. Piracy became one of the main means of survival, and the Maniates were some of the most daring and feared Pirates. They began building their own boats with the booty and money they captured, and their skills as seamen and pirates earned them a reputation for able bodied seamen and mercenaries. One the more famous Maniote pirates came from Oitylo. The pirate Limberakis Gerakaris resorted to piracy and became notorious. One of the more common tactics (of all pirates) was to capture prisoners and sell them into slavery or ransom them back. Oitylo became a famous slave market and was referred to as "Grand Algiers". It is hard to imagine that the sleepy little villages of Oitylo and kelefa had such a past, and that they were the main epicenters of population in the 16 and 1700s. Since the Turks were unable to subdue the population they implemented a way to designate a Maniot a representative to the Sultan. They called this person a "Bey" or prince. In 1667 Limberakis Gerakaris was captured at sea and jailed for piracy by the Turks. The Turks had ended their last war with the Venetians (1645-1665) and were looking to regain control over the Mani. They selected Kelefa hill, as a place to build a castle, because of several reasons. It was strategically positioned over Oitylo bay, home port for the Maniates piracy activity that flourished and the lucrative trade route it created that came right through there. Also Gerakaris who is pleading for his life is a powerful kapetan back in Oitylo but he is in the hands of the Turks!  The Turks wanted to control this area of high piracy activity and vibrant clans that acted free and independent. So in order to gain his freedom the Turks would name Gerakaris the "Bey of Mani" in return that he agreed to return to the Mani gloriously as their leader and put down any rebellion that might ensue challenging him. He was already the most notorious and successful lead pirate of the time and the support of the Turks enabled him to pursue his vendetta against the Stephanopoli clan which after he captured and executed 35 of the Stephanopoli in a sweeping raid, and the Turkish garrison guns pointing at Oitylo and Kelefa, several families

, overwhelmed and tired of the blood thirsty feuding negotiated a deal with the Venetians to emigrate with 800 family members from Oitylo to Corsica, forming the Cargese community. This and several other emigrations from growingly worried Maniate families thinned out the population and allowed Gerakaris to pursue his conquer and divide policy to submit the Maniates to his demands. He promised Maniates certain privileges, in return to allow the Turks to build three fortresses. The Turks then built three fortresses in the Mani, one in Kelefa, one in Zarnata, and Porto Kagio, Tanearon, forming a triangle of power over the region. The Turk "Kuesy Ali Pasha" built the castle of Kelefa in 1667-70. It's very large and could contain at garrison of least 500 soldiers. The Maniates were forced to accept the imposition of taxes and control of their harbors for the next 15 years. Gerakaris remained in power but eventually general outcry from the Maniotes removed Gerakaris from favor, and when the Maniates heard the Venetians had declared war against the Turks again (1685) they immediately put the castle of Kelefa under siege. When Morosoni, the Venetian arrived in the Bay of Oitylo in 1685 with his invasion fource, the Maniates already had the Turks in the castle under siege and the used the Venetians to force a surrender. Until learned thisIt was always a mystery to me how the Turks were able to build a castle in the heart of the Mani and now we know. Gerakaris was a very controversial character and thought to be a traitor my most. Gerakaris left Mani and continued to side with the Turks where he fought against the Venetians in the Peleponese. He was finally captured by the Venetians and he died in prison in 1710 in Venice. The remains of the castle of kelefa can be seen on the road to the modern day village of kelefa. It is remarkable how this loosely populated area of Kelefa and Oitylo were the main epicenters of population in the preceding centuries. The area would remain free of any Turkish domination for the next thirty years until 1715 when the Venetians had a peace treaty with the Turks, and they moved back into the peloponese. 

The Venetians and the Russians (1770 Orlov revolt) helped the Maniates oust the Turks more than once, only to see them return again.  Centuries of  warring and  internal struggles sharpened their skills and they earned a reputation for having brave and skilled warriors who fiercely defended their lands, their honor. Their military skills were observed by Europeans countries and thousands of Maniate men through the ages were recruited as mercenaries. There were periods of peace where trade and eco-social life prospered and in generally after 1740 the North knew relative peace which allowed for agriculture and other economic advances. The geographical location allowed for trade and commerce to be managed was more easily and the Northern system of Kapetancies, their own system of  power, continued to benefit these family. The Kapetans were the warlords of their districts. In return for their protection, they gained wealth from their system collecting a portion of the trade that they directed. They usually were led by blood related men and had a garrison of soldiers under their command. They commonly built the fortified towers and walled complexes found in Mani as their residence and fortification for their garrisons and the lower clans people in times of war. Some families sent their children to school abroad, and the the young Maniates returned armed with an education and knowledge of the world outside of mani. 


They also lost battles and many fighting men met their deaths, so the importance of producing more boys was evident in their reference to them a "guns". The need for fighting men was also a necessity in the family in order to maintain enough gun carrying men to keep in a position of strength. 


The reason we begin our family history with Kapetan Thomas (1795) is because he was a young man in the critical years leading up to and during the Greek War of Independence (1821-1830) and he managed to achieve a kaptancy in the area of Kelefa. The legend of his becoming has been passed on to the generations and I will provide the scant details from what has survived. The area of Kelfa and Itilo has long been an important center of the Mani. In the 1600s it was densely populated and census data shows Oitylo and kelefa containing 400 and 300 families respectively. In the early 1495 kapetan Thomas Phokas of Kelefa was awarded Knight of St. Mark by the Venetians for he and his mens valor in battling the Turks. The area of Oitylo and Kelefa played a leading role as much of the Mani population was there. 


The Mani also has a history of being a haven for the patriotic movement to free all of Greece from the tyranny and oppression of the 380 years of Ottoman (Turkish) occupation. It's seclusion and auto

nomous characteristic allowed the bright minds and military rebels of the Mani to plan and conspire their uprisings. They had a history of revolting and taking the fight to the Turks. Several uprising resulted in heavy losses and ever tightening oppression, but the Turks could not stifle the Greeks.

There is so much to read about the Greek War of Independence and the history of the Mani that I could not possibly capture it all in my summarized accounts. I have compiled a few good "Mani links" to explore and read further to get a fuller understanding if you so desire. There are also some books that recount the war such as; The Flames of Freedom by David Brewer 2001. If not for the survival of our family hero Captain Thomas Katsoulakos, we would not be here today.

What I have come to learn about my Greek heritage is based purely on the stories relayed by my father, Nicholas Thomas Katsoulakos (1923) (Great Grand Son of Capt Thomas (1795)). I have also read a few books about the Greek War of Independence, the great land struggles of the war veterans and much about the Mani, it's people and it's historical significance. 
I would like to also invite the descendants of Thomas Katsoulakos in the Greece, U.S.A., Canada, Australia, and South Africa, to explore these web pages and correspond by sending writings, historical accounts, pictures or anything related to the Katsoulakos ancestry. I am more than willing to allow others to contribute to the content (or link to their web sites). I am not a historian so any corrections are also welcome! 


The generations of hard, violent and daring men and women were fiercely independent and  their would-be conquerors and 

 fortifications. the  Mani  that Mani claimed on being the first to raise the flag of independence. Mani and  Here I will discuss the history of Mani () and the history of our family. Well also focus on a piece of history that is unique to the Katsoulakos family, "The Mandres", the fortified tower home of our family hero; kapetan Thomas Katsoulakos 1795. 


Prologue: You may have noticed my last name is Lakos. The name Lakos is derived from the name Katsoulakos. Many Greeks (and others) who emigrated to the USA or elsewhere have truncated their names for English simplicity and acceptance. As a result there are several Lakos' now in the U.S. phone directory now (I do believe we were the first though, my grandfather, Thomas Katsoulakos,  arrived at Ellis Island in New York, from Kelefa Greece, in 1907). The name "lakos" or "akos" in the former Greek name indicates that the family is from the province of Laconia (particularly the Mani). This Lakos family are Katsoulakos. Other Greek names ending in "akis" and "aes" are of Mani as well, with the "akis" having come over to Mani from the island of Crete.

The Katsoulakos family name originates from the Mani region of Greece. Mani is the middle one of the three peninsulas in the Southern most tip of the Peloponnese. Captain Thomas Katsoulakos was born in the Mani in (1795). Thomas became a leader of men, a Captain from Kelefa, in the Mani.  Captains were powerful clan leaders (generally blood related) who provided protection for the lower lying clans people in the neighboring areas. The Maniotes were pure Greek and were not converted to Muslims like some other parts of Greece. They spoke original Greek and retained customs and traditions during the Ottoman occupation of the rest of Greece. One of those traditions happened to be warring (fighting), whether it be against an attempted intrusion by the Turks or a family feud that resulted in Maniot families feuding each other, sometimes for years. It is here in the Mani where the vision for Greek independence over the 380 years of Ottoman rule would be put into action. The Maniotes raised their flag of independence in Aeriopolis, Mani, on March 17th 1821, and soon began their first act of revolt when they marched to Kalamata to siege the Turkish garrison, thus began the war of Independence. At 26 Thomas Katsoulakos and his clan would join generations of strong proud Greek clansmen from the Mani to march against the Turkish-Ottoman occupiers. Thomas Katsoulakos was from Kelefa just outside of Aeriopolis which takes it's name from "Ares" the god of war and translates to "The city of War". The Maniotes changed the name of the town from "Tsimova" to Aeriopolis immediately emphasizing their warlike credentials and laying claim to their primacy of beginning the uprising. It was in Aeriopolis that the revolutionaries leaders like Petrobey Mavromichalis, the captains of the Mani and their  bands of warriors were sworn into arms under their revolutionary flag "Liberty or Death". 
 The courage of the Maniotes is legendary. Their ferocity in battle was known throughout the ages and they held this virtue in high regard based on their belief of their Spartan ancestry. Their contribution to the war was immense ranging from the funding and preparations required, the skilled fighters that came forth, and the military leadership. The Maniots were extremely brave and experienced in warfare. Often the men were "klefts" who lived their lives in defiance of the Turkish occupation and gained combat experience while attacking Turkish forces as they tried to move about in the Mani region. Often, and almost solely at the beginning of the war the Maniote regiments were at the spear head of the battles. They, combined with other Greek forces to liberate Kalamata in the first days, won an early and decisive battle at Valtetsi, and laid siege to Tripoli and Monemvassia, catapulting Greece into a no-turning-back revolution. Captain Katsoulakos and his clan were loyal to the Maniote leader and general of all the Spartan armies, Petrobis Mavromichalis. Although it is said that no Mani captain owed more loyalty to anyone other than his own men and were enlarge hard to manage. The Maniotes were and still are admired by all of Greece for their sacrifice, honor and commitment to the Greek Independence.
After 7 years of war the Greek warriors went home to claim their ancestral lands. Capt. Thomas returned to his home in the Mani and built a home (The Mandres,
seen in photo) in Kelefa, just outside of Aeriopolis. Capt. Thomas married had children and lived a long life. Subsequently several generations have spawned to now include a couple of hundred (maybe hundreds?) of descendants. See the family tree as it was in 1979 below.

After the war of Independence the Maniates were recruited for the new Greek army because of their martial qualities. They were allowed a unique uniform that distinguished Maniates from other Greek regiments. This is a picture of a Maniate soldier circa 1837.  



Brief history about the Mani, the historical significance of the region. The Maniots contribution to the War of Independence in 1821. The Mandres, Kelefa, Mani, Greece
My Great Great Grandfathers home
See pictures of Kapetan Thomas Katsoulakos Home, and read about my trip to find the Mandres.

The family tree was constructed by Yanni Nicholas Katsoulakos 1908 (my grandfathers brother and also a Grandson of Kapetan Thomas). Yanni was the first the receive a college education and had a passion for Greek history our family that descended from Mani. Although the tree only begins with Kapetan (Captain) Thomas Katsoulakos (1795 - 1877 Read more about the Mani and Kapetan Thomas Katsoulakos on the links below) the family name goes back even  more generations.

                             Other travels of Greece and other places:


Other points of interest from my Greece vacation in 1999.   

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About the Author, Stephen Nicholas Katsoulakos: I have always had an interest in my heritage. My brothers and I grew up as 2nd generation Americans. My parents were both the first born in this country, my father from my Greek immigrant grandparents and my mother from my Italian immigrant grandparents. My grandparents left their countries for hardship reasons. They came to America for opportunity in the early 1900s. Some of my great aunts and uncles went to Australia and South Africa and I know my father has cousins there. My grandparents passed on the traditions of their countries, the food, the Holiday celebrations, family values and the old country pride. My father, a proud Greek/American is the great grandson of Captain Thomas and being the eldest son, carries his namesake. He had 6 sons, which was a huge thrill to my Great Uncle John from Greece, "you know what 6 Maniate men are capable of doing?" We can be seen in the family tree near the top under Thomas Nichloas Katsoulakos 1882 (my Papou). Carrying on traditions we were all baptized Greek Orthodox and take great pride in our Greek heritage. We celebrate Greek Easter by baking lamb or roasting one over a spit and all sorts of Greek food that my Italian Mom (and Dad) mastered in cooking. We had Sunday spaghetti dinners and my Italian grandmother would make Sicilian pizza and manicotti and fresh raviolis. My mom cooked great Italian too, the food was a huge benefit, and my house always smelled of food. There were things we noticed as kids like, our tree fort was called Sparta, and we were the "Little Spartans". Of course as a kid you listen to them talk about your heritage but it doesn't really resonate until you grow older. Now I am intrigued just as many 2nd generation Americans, grand children of immigrants seeking out their heritage. I love these countries traditions and ways of life, the food the culture (they're very similar; Greek and Italian) and the history. Greece is particularly interesting though, the history, the land, the culture and food all strike intrigue...and knowing I have a direct lineage to a Greek revolutionary war hero inspires me to learn more about it. However, I am also half Italian...and if I don't want the black glove (Mafia) after me, I'm must pay my respects to my Italian/Sicilian heritage.  My mothers parents came from Abruzzi (Papa) and Sicily (Nana) and there is no lack of history, culture, landscape and  food there! I can't wait for the day I leave for Rome, whenever that may be, to go to Italy and visit the places of my ancestors, but I promise I will and you'll find the trip on this web site.

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