Heraclea Lyncestis (Greek: Ηράκλεια Λυγκηστίς – City of Hercules upon the Land of the Lynx) was an important settlement from the Hellenistic period till the early Middle Ages. It was founded by Philip II of Macedon by the middle of the 4th century BC, and named after the Greek demigod Heracles, whom Philip considered his ancestor. As an important strategic point it became a prosperous city. The Romans conquered this part of Macedon in 148 BC and destroyed the political power of the city. The prosperity continued mainly due to the Roman Via Egnatia road which passed near the city. Several monuments from the Roman times remain in Heraclea, including a portico, thermae (baths), an amphitheater and a number of basilicas. The theatre was once capable to house around 3,000 people.
In the early Byzantine period (4th to 6th centuries AD) Heraclea was an important episcopal centre. Some of its bishops have been noted in the acts of the Church Councils as bishop Evagrius of Heraclea in the Acts of the Sardica Council from 343 AD. A Small and a Great (Large) basilica, the bishop’s residence, a Funeral basilica near the necropolis are some of the remains of this period. Three naves in the Great Basilica are covered with mosaics of very rich floral and figurative iconography; these well preserved mosaics are often regarded as fine examples of the early Christian art period. Other bishops from Heraclea are known between 4th and 6th century AD. The city was sacked by Ostrogothic forces, commanded by Theodoric the Great in 472 AD and, despite a large gift to him from the city’s bishop, it was sacked again in 479 AD.
It was restored in the late 5th and early 6th century. In the late 6th century the city suffered successive attacks by Slavic tribes and was gradually abandoned.
In the 6th and 7th century AD the region around Monastiri experienced a demographic shift as more and more Slavic tribes settled in the area. In place of the deserted theater, several houses were built during that time. The Slavs also built a defence fortress around their settlement. Monastiri was conquered and remained part of the First Bulgarian Empire from late 8th to early 11th century. The spreading of Christianity was assisted by St. Clement of Ohrid and Naum of Preslav in the 9th and early 10th century. Many monasteries and churches were built in the city.
In the 10th century, Monastiri was under the rule of tsar Samuil of Bulgaria. He built a castle in the town, later used by his successor Gavril Radomir of Bulgaria. The town is mentioned in several medieval sources. John Skylitzes‘s 11th century chronicle mentions that Emperor Basil II burned Gavril’s castles in Monastiri, when passing through and ravaging Pelagonia. The second chrysobull (1019) of Basil II mentioned that the Bishop of Monastiri depended on the Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid. During the reign of Samuil, the city was an important centre in the Bulgarian state and the seat of the Monasir Bishopric. In many medieval sources, especially Western, the name Pelagonia was synonymous with the Monastir Bishopric, and in some of them Monastiri was known under the name of Heraclea due to the church tradition, namely the turning of Heraclea Bishopric into Pelagonian Metropolitan’s Diocese. In 1015, tsar Gavril Radomir was killed by his cousin Ivan Vladislav, who declared himself tsar and rebuilt the city fortress. To celebrate the occasion, a stone inscription written in the Cyrillic alphabet was set in the fortress where the Slavic name of the city is mentioned: Bitol.
Following battles with tsar Ivan Vladislav, Byzantine emperor Basil II recaptured Monastiri in 1015. The town is mentioned as an episcopal centre in 1019, in a record by Basil II. Two important uprisings against Byzantine rule took place in the Monastiri area in 1040 and 1072. After the Bulgarian state was restored in late 11th century, Bitola was incorporated under the rule of tsar Kaloyan of Bulgaria. It was conquered again by Byzantium at the end of the 13th century, but became part of Serbia in the first half of the 14th century, after the conquests of Stefan Dušan.
As a military, political and cultural center, Monastiri played a very important role in the life of the medieval society in the region, prior to the Ottoman conquest in mid-14th century. On the eve of the Ottoman conquest, Monastiri (Monastir in Ottoman Turkish) experienced a great boom, having well-established trading links all over the Balkan Peninsula, especially with big economic centers like Constantinople, Thessalonica, Ragusa and Tarnovo. Caravans of various goods moved to and from Monastir.
From 1382 to 1912, Manastır (now Bitola) was part of the Ottoman Empire. Strong battles took place near the city during the arrival of Turkish forces. Turkish rule was completely established after the death of Prince Marko in 1395. For several centuries, Turks were a majority in this city, while the villages were populated mostly with Slavs. Evliya Çelebi says in his Book of Travels that the city had 70 mosques, several coffee-tea rooms, a bazaar (market) with iron gates and 900 shops. Manastır became a sanjak centre in the Rumeli eyalet (Ottoman province).
After the Austro-Ottoman wars, the trade development and the overall thriving of the city was stifled. But in late 19th century, it again it became the second-biggest city in the wider southern Balkan region after Salonica. The city is also known as “city of consuls”, because 12 diplomatic consuls resided here during the period 1878–1913.
There is opposing ethnographic data from that period, but it appears that no specific ethnic or religious group could claim an absolute majority of the population. According to the 1911 Ottoman census, Greeks were the largest Christian population in the vilayet, with 740,000 Greeks, 517,000 Bulgarians and 1,061,000 Muslims in the vilayets of Selanik (Thessaloniki) and Manastır. However it should be noted that basis of Ottoman censuses was the millet system. People were assigned to ethicity according which religion they belonged. So all Sunni Muslims were categorised as Turks, all members of Greek Orthodox church as Greeks although it included vaste majority of Aromanians and certain number of Macedonian Slavs, while rest being divided between Bulgarian and Serb Orthodox churches. (Also see “Jewish community” below.) But the Ottoman register of Bedel-I Askeriye Tax of 1873 says the Manastır vilayet had about 150 000 Bulgarian men (heads of households), 40 000 Muslim and only 700 Greek. Ottoman population data from 1901 counts 566 000 Slavs, 363 000 Turks and 260 000 Greeks in the Thessaloniki and Manastır vilayets..
In 1894, Manastır was connected with Selanik by train. The first motion picture made in the Balkans was recorded by the Aromanian Manakis brothers in Manastır in 1903. In their honour, the annual Manaki Brothers International Film Camera Festival is held in modern Bitola. The Manastır congress of 1908 which defined the modern Albanian alphabet was held in the city.
|2. Vilayet of Monastir||261,283||178,412|
|3. Sanjak of Skopje
(part of the Vilayet of Kosovo)
 Ottoman census of Hilmi Pasha for the region of Macedonia (1906)
|Muslims (Turks and Albanians)||423,000 (41.71%)|
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