The Vertiskos Project in Context

Fieldwork and Music 

Apart from fieldwork in the village of Vertiskos, I intended to expand the research slightly to neighbouring communities, which would provide us with more data about the cultural background of the area, interactions between villages, and the cultural dynamics concerning the movement of people between villages or their emigration to cities. How did women contribute to music in the area, and how did it differ from the contribution of the men, supposing  the latter were more mobile? How did older villages differ from Vertiskos since we knew that people from Amphilochia in Roumeli, another region of Greece, had taken refuge here from the vengeance of the Ottomans during the 1821 Revolution?

Research and local information tells us that the area had two languages: the older Greek Macedonian dialect and the local Southern Slav dialect more widely known as “local”, “native”, or “Macedonian”. There was also a Vlach-speaking village (see below under The Historical Background). Although purely Greek-speaking areas existed, it was clear that there were also bilingual communities in the environs, and it was important, if at all possible, to find songs in both languages or at least information about bilingualism and the reasons for it.

Unfortunately we could not find any record of Slav-language songs because the older generation who knew them had passed away, and  the repertory consisted of very few songs in the first place. There must, however, have been laments, probably improvised. We also recorded Greek-language laments in Vertiskos.

We found and recorded one children’s song which must be of Slav origin and which was explained to us by two women in Vertiskos (see Video “Vertiskos in Past and Present”).

Around the time of the first and second World Wars, the Bulgarians occupied this area.  Part of the Slav-speaking local Macedonians were identified with the Bulgarian occupation and their propaganda, resulting in avoidance of Slav songs by both Greek and Slav speakers who didn’t wish to identify themselves with Bulgarian nationalism or, on the other hand, in a performance of extreme strategies against bilingualism by the dictatorship in Greece.

The Greek songs were documented in three villages on Mount Ossa in central Macedonia: Vertiskos, Horouda and Ossa (see map). For comparison, I did a little fieldwork in a nearby village, Sitohori, on the eastern slopes of Mount Ossa.


There was documented research in another local village, Sochos, which Jane Cowan studied for her monograph on ‘Dance and Body Politics’ which aimed to discover social symbolisms formed through dance movements or, in other words, how dance practices could serve to develop and form different social behaviors through social communication (e.g., between male and female) in community life.

We had brief contact with the village of Ksiloupolis and heard of interaction there between instrumentalists and songs, but we did not complete any research there (the village is shown on our map but it is from hearsay not from direct experience). The other villages are shown because of firsthand fieldwork experience or, in the case of Sochos, because of data and music from previous research.

We tried not to restrict our fieldwork to information about the most well-known songs. Our purpose was to reveal the hidden repertories, hidden in the sense that they are not heard often—or even at all—today. Thus we searched for ritual songs and interviewed women and men separately, or groups of singers when possible, in order to locate and document different styles of repertory related to different functionalities. Also to know more about the collaboration of both genders in the case of the community events and gatherings and in the case of marriage inside or outside the village. Marriage movements were also part of our interest and were important in order to identify relationships among the communities and their affiliation. This would be important to test the movements of the melodies and the reasons for their movement. We documented  wedding songs of different functionalities, dance songs, songs for the day of Saint Lazarus, verses for the swings, laments, and a lot of information about the villages, their people, their habits, the instruments and the instrumentalists, their origin and relationships with the area, the new sounds and new instruments as well as urban influences in music.

According to the information we gathered, and previous research, the area seems to belong to a Greek-speaking section which might be called a ‘Byzantine layer’ meaning that melodies present a more or less melismatic process that follows the norm of the Byzantine ecclesiastical modes with special combinations in a local style (like for example so-called Defteroprotos echos (mode) which combines the soft chromatic intervals of Defteros (Second) mode with the diatonic catalixis of the Protos (First) mode.

After contacting local researchers in the Langada region of central Macedonia (I owe this information and musical example to Dimitris Karagiannis see mus.ex. Kolchikon Fieldwork Karragiannis Lelia Mitro Mali), I had the opportunity to listen to the local Slav-language Macedonian repertory from a village in the plain, where I also found a Byzantine musical substratum. Also found in these songs is the second or second plagal ecclesiastical “echos” (mode), with its soft or sharp chromatic interval, characteristic of the Greek speaking repertory in the whole of Central Macedonia in Greece.

Ex.1 Soft chromatic (Second (defteros) echos)


Ex.2 Sharp Chromatic (Second (defteros) plagal mode)


Note: The symbol T means tonal centre.

In the case of Defteroprotos the succession of Ex.1 is used in the following way.

The melody moves on the upper tetrachord as a soft chromatic intervallic succession using as a tone centre the tone sol. Under the tone sol it becomes diatonic and ends on the tone re presenting the characteristics of the First diatonic mode of the Byzantine music. This Echos-mode is the characteristic combination of the Deyteros and Protos mode in ecclesiastical music. It has been attested for traditional music by Simon Karas (see Karas 1982,42-43, see also Kalaitzidis 1993).

Nonetheless in the case of traditional music we find an interesting variation of this ecclesiastical tradition: the “Deyteroprotos” mode which I discovered in central and eastern Macedonia in three cases: The first one was an old two-part Greek-speaking polyphonic song from the village of Volakas in the North Eastern Macedonia (see musical example “Dyo aderfia eixan mia Aderfi” Volakas, Katsanevaki fieldwork). The second was one Greek-speaking song again in Volakas (see CD, Makedonika Paradosiaka track 11), which must had been originally a Bulgarian-speaking song (“To vradi I Anna”), if we observe the structure of the melody.[1]


The last case was one old Slav-speaking song of a “lament” style (“complaint” as the singer characterized it) in the area of Thessaloniki which is more melismatic (see musical example Kolchikon  Fieldwork by Karagiannis, Lelia Mitro Mali see above).

This variation of Deyteroprotos is even more complicated: The melody moves in the upper tetrachord of the shoft chromatic (see transcription ex.1) and stops on the sol tone using this tone as a tonal centre. Then there is a modulation and the sol tone becomes diatonic fa and moves downwards till the tone mi which is now diatonic re (pa according to the Byzantine nomenclature) as a diatonic intervallic succession. In the female Greek-speaking repertory of the village of Vertiskos (Vaitses songs see mus.ex. 2 Kalotychi Kyratsa mou) there is a similar variation of a modal change from the Fourth syllabic mode (legetos- Tetartos Irmologikos) to the First mode (the tones sol-mi which are the important tonal centers of legetos mode lead to the tone re which is the characteristic tone of the First mode). In the two-part singing songs of Volakas the Greek-speaking one which seems to be older than the Greek one translated from the Bulgarian (it has a text which is a lament narrative song a Paralogi well known in other Greek-speaking areas as a lament text), the voice that makes the ison (drone) follows exactly the ecclesiastical way of singing the ison in the legetos (Tetartos eirmologikos Echos) or the Soft chromatic syllabic mode (Second Plagal eirmologikos Echos) but applied on a mixed mode Deyteros and Protos, Deyteroprotos with a modulation. I consider this a real popular “invention” which is based on a strong relationship of this people with Byzantium and with an eccleciastical music which seemed to be part of their lives. The really difficult intervals of the soft chromatic are also precisely performed by the local women who are absolutely unaware of any kind of “musical education”. So is the change of the ison on the proper points of the melody. It is also probably older than the usual deyteroprotos in the sense that it fulfills the style and the ethos of the combination of the two modes in a smaller musical range.

Kalaitzidis had attested the usual version of Deyteroprotos as a characteristic one in the melismatic Greek-speaking repertory of Central and Eastern Macedonia in Greece (see Kalaitzidis 1993).

But this variation we present here makes the relationship of these areas and also its Slav-speaking or billingual population with the Byzantine tradition even more interesting. One reason is that (as explained above) it is also found  in our research in the old Greek-speaking repertory of the bilingual communities of the Polyphonic area in the Northern mountainous part of Eastern Macedonia in Greece and in a part of the older Slav-speaking melismatic repertory of the plain areas close to Thessaloniki.

This Byzantine layer might be both due to the local monastic life (see also in Kalaitzidis 1993), and to the general interrelationship of the area with the City of Thessaloniki, the second capital of the Byzantine Empire as well as the Byzantine history of these populations. It is also, however, based on a Thracian substratum of dances and well-defined ritual melodies (e.g., Easter songs and the female repertory). The hand movements in both simple and more complicated stepped dances are characteristic of Greek Thracian dances but also of Romanian dance, Armenian dance, and the Pontic Greek dances of Asia Minor and other Thracian areas (See in Katsanevaki 1998, Part A, p.28 footnote 1, 1998-2014 Part A).  In contrast, the slow ancient melismatic melodies of the male songs common to Mount Ossa and the plains near the town of Serres, together with the Byzantine ison  practices  and intervals to the North,  attest to the area’s Byzantine musical tradition as it is presented here. This is supported by the fact that there is a very old tradition of Monastic life as well as Byzantine towns of Irakleia and of Serres reknown for their Byzantine musical life.

There is also a very old Byzantine musical tradition in the Mount Pangaion region of Greek Eastern Macedonia, where even today there are many great church singers: the Monastery of the Mother of God of Eikosifinissa in this region was founded in early Byzantine times.[2]

The Mount Ossa area also has much in common musically with the nearby Halkidiki region due to the local population’s connections there; certain songs are common to both areas. The bilingual village of Sochos (Greek and Slav speakers) has some older Carnival songs in its repertory, reflecting older Greek-speaking musical substratums. These songs clearly have an ecclesiastical Byzantine past though paradoxically the performers also look pagan. This is also apparent at the Carnival in Ossa where, however, there are no songs, and the the ‘zurla’ wind instrument and the ‘davul’ drum provide musical accompaniment. The Sochos Carnival songs were first recorded and presented by a student at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Konstantinidou 1992) for her final year dissertation. These songs, along with other ones from the villages of Ossa and Vertiskos, are invaluable for making conclusions about the identity of the bilingual villages above and beyond the two languages concerned.

The Historical Background of the Area

Part of our research was to find sources from the area in order to trace the past and comprehend the musical dynamics.

There have been settlements on the slopes of Ossa next to the present village of Ossa since the fifth century BC. Excavations there inform us of its habitation since pre-historic times and up to Roman times. It was on the borders of the region of Ancient Visaltia, today’s Serres valley region in Greek Eastern Macedonia which, since antiquity, were mainly Thracian areas regarding the population. The Mount Ossa area in Central Macedonia is referred to by Ptolemy, Thucydides, and Aristotle as having a famous city with its own coinage. In Hellenistic times, the people were farmers and shepherds. Their houses had two floors, a habit found also today, with the lower floor a storage space and workshop for metal and pottery. The upper floor was for the inhabitants and where they engaged in spinning and weaving and honoured the Ancient Greek deities. The women used the upper floor too for dressing themselves and putting on ornaments. This settlement lasted until the first century BC. In the time of Justinian, there is evidence of this community’s existence from the ruins of a Byzantine church, which could have been used by a local monastery as well.

In this way, the common ancient Thracian population background which, on the one hand, relates to and explains the common Thracian dance character (see above) of the area and the strong ecclesiastical musical background on the other, are supported by the historical evidence regarding the older population background of the area, its settlements and its cultural background and relationship with the other Thracian areas.

The present-day village of Ossa, which is older than Vertiskos, our main centre of study, has been prosperous since the sixteenth century when Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire. Some of the inhabitants were Muslim, but the Greek-speaking background was older because we have the evidence of the young martyr Saint Kyrana, who was taken from Ossa to Thessaloniki in an attempt to convert her to Islam. She was imprisoned and then put to death in Thessaloniki at the White Tower in 1751. The name Kyrana is of Ancient Greek origin and is found in other areas of northern Greece among Vlach speakers as well. It is an alternative name for the Ancient Greek goddess Athena. Kyrana was from a prosperous family from Ossa.

On the other hand the Ottomans called Ossa ‘Visoka’, a Slav word connected to leather tanning. There are two explanations for how the Slav-speakers came to inhabit ‘Visoka’: during Ottoman times there was a Muslim Slav-speaking population that had been introduced to the village by the Ottomans, or perhaps the few houses around the present day village that have gradually been integrated into it belonged to Slav-speakers who moved there before Ottoman times or in the late Byzantine era from the Serres region, which had been occupied by Bulgarian Tsars and later by Serbians in late Byzantine times. It is worth noting that even when this area returned to Byzantium, the Byzantine authorities kept the Serbian ecclesiastical leadership there.

So it seems that this village had three components: 1) a small Slav-speaking element who also spoke Greek, according to the locals; 2) a Greek-speaking population who were said to be bilingual by the locals; and 3) a Muslim neighborhood.  The first two may be identical, but we have to accept that the Greek-speaking population’s mother tongue was Greek because of the very old Byzantine Greek vocal repertory. Was bilingualism due to the influx of a small Slav-speaking population to the village who introduced their language to the local Greek speakers? Were the Muslims somehow connected to the Slav speakers as well in regard to the introduction of the two elements?

We have no factual proof of this last question although both the Greek and Slav languages were known to the Muslims in the village. The Vlach-speaking settlement of ‘Flamouri’ in the area was destroyed by the Ottomans because the majority of the inhabitants refused to convert to Islam, and only a small minority converted. We have no information about the Vlach-speaking repertory of this village. The nearby Slav-speaking village of Nickopolis, or ‘Zarova’ in Slav, was pro-Bulgarian and left for Bulgaria after the Second World War when the Axis powers (Bulgaria and Germany), who had occupied the area, were defeated. Local people called this village “Bulgarian” and its inhabitants “Bulgarians” (see map), even though they did not all speak Bulgarian. The village of Nickopolis (Zarova) was later peopled with Greek refugees from Pontos in Asia Minor who had been forcibly moved to Greece by the exchange of populations in 1922 and, before 1922, by President Kemal Ataturk’s Turkish nationalistic government. In Ottoman archives, we have evidence that a Greek from Nickopolis (Zarova), Georgios Stamatis, converted to Islam in 1797 and was named Ali. There were Slav names like Stogianni’ there but also Greek names like Manoli, which means that also this village was not completely Slav-speaking in the past.

According to historical archives of Macedonia in the Ottoman period (Thessaloniki region 1695-1912), we have definite information about the following villages.

Visoka-(Ossa),in 1697,1725,1752,1780

Berova-(Vertiskos) in 1752,1780

Sochos in 1752,1780

Zarova (Nikopolis) in 1797,1801

Zagliveri in 1797

Horouda in 1801.

Ossa seems to be the oldest village here. There is further evidence of the village’s existence as early as 1568 and that Sochos was there in the fifteenth century. A manuscript from Mount Athos mentions it in 1671. Vertiskos (Berova) is mentioned as a Christian village in 1697, which confirms that the village was there before refugees came from other areas of Greece to hide from repercussions of later revolutions. Horouda is mentioned in Ottoman documents in 1694.

This evidence is further supported by the common female musical repertory of the village of Vertiskos (Berova) along with the other purely Greek-speaking village of the area: Chorouda. In Chorouda, a village due east of Vertiskos, the main Church Agios Athanasios comes from the second half of the 16th century, but the changes inside reveal that the Church was a living place at least 150 years before this date. The name Chorouda, with its characteristic modern Greek Thracian suffix (-ouda), betrays the Thracian Greek-speaking identity of the Greek-speaking native population of the mountain of Ossa and its relationship with the Thracian background of Eastern Macedonia in Greece. This is also supported by the dance tradition.

Chorouda was destroyed after the Greek revolution in 1821 by the Ottomans and was inhabited again gradually by its people later when they were permitted in 1827 to return to the place, initially living in huts. It was abandoned again after the Second World War in 1947.

Summarizing the information given in this short introduction about the music of the area of Ossa and Vertiskos, we might conclude that it belongs to and reflects the other traditions of central and Eastern Macedonia and is based on the blending of two main traditions coming from two historical eras. The Thracian background of the area revealed in the dances with the vivid (with usually two main beats) rhythms with the back and forth movements of the hands, the simple steps mainly of syrtos dance (7/8 beat rhythm), and hasaposerviko dance (2/4 beat rhythm) as well as the Byzantine substratum which is revealed in the slow melismatic melodies of many songs (usually Greek-speaking) which also follow the norms of the Byzantine modes (usually diatonic or chromatic, and mainly soft chromatic) with their local secular variations of Echos Defteroprotos. An important part of the Slav speaking repertory of the three Slav speaking villages of the plain area reflects the same tradition (See the musical examples and videos). There are also northern Slav influences which seem to be mainly secondary and reflect later movements in the area.

The information we gathered was digitalized and was offered for the first time to the village in the form of a video with the extracts of our interviews. This video was prepared by one of our students: Christianna Vei. She made her own choices about which extracts would be the best to be included in the final video and produced the video as well. She also prepared the musical accompaniment of the small film. I am grateful for her nice work.

I choose a number of songs from the village of Vertiskos which would be the best for a small festival (mainly dance songs which are always part of the local festivals) and prepared the voices, while my student, Natalia Lambadaki, organized the meeting of the small group of instrumentalists. The students worked by ear. They learnt the melodies and prepared the instrumental arrangements. We matched together during some fruitful meetings. I might say again that I am grateful because they undertook with such a happy mood (kefi) this initiative to give back to the community what its people had offered to us. It was unforgettable for them, for me, and for the people in the community.


I am grateful to Angelos Mitsas from the village of Ossa for his help and support regarding the bibliographical research about the area and the fieldwork in the village of Ossa, Stelios Oksinas and Georgios Zervas from the village of Vertiskos for their constant support, Dimitris Karagiannis for offering to me his recording from the village of Kolchikon and Vivian Dumba for her Chartography support. All those people who helped and supported us during our fieldwork in the area. My friend Anastasia Radou for her support during my research in Volakas in the years 2002-2005.

General Bibliography

 Agtzidou Eythimia

“The female traditional dressing in the village of Sochos”, in  Macedonika, Vol. 36, 225-254, Thessaloniki 2007, in Greek.

Chatziioannou Maria- Christina

The Historical evolution of the settlements in th area of the Aliakmonas river during the Turkish occupation. Codex no201 of the Monastery of  the Transfiguration of Christ- Zaborda. Centre for modern Greek Studies, National Institution for Research, 75, in Greek.

Chatzikyriakos Georgios

Thoughts and impressions during travels in Macedonia together with topographic, historic and archaeological notes. Athens Anestis Kostandinidis Editions, 1906, in Greek.

Cowan Jane,

Dance and the Body politics in Northern Greece, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1990.

Historical Archives of Macedonia

A’. The Thessaloniki Archive 1695-1912. Editor Ioannis Vasdravelis, Thessaloniki, 1952, in Greek.

Kalaitzidis Kyriakos


“The Second mode of the ecclesiastical music in the demotic songs of Macedonia” in the Proceedings of the Panhellenic conference on the Demotic songs of Macedonia, Thessaloniki May 14-15, 1993, p.45-47.

Karas Simon

1982: A method of Greek Music. Theory, Volume II, Athens 1982 (In Greek).

Katsanevaki Athena


Vlach-speaking and Greek-speaking songs of the Northern Pindus mountain-range. A historical-ethnomusicological approach: Their archaism and their relationship with the historical backround. PART A,B 3 Volumes 7 tapes, Phd Thessis Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (in Greek).


Vlach-speaking and Greek-speaking songs of the Northern Pindus mountain-range. A historical-ethnomusicological approach: Their archaism and their relationship with the historical backround. Phd Thessis Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Revised and enlarged, Part A, 490 pages, Part B 657 pages English version printed by IEMA, Athens 1998-2014 ©,  Amazon kindle edition.

2016: “The “hidden historical messages” in the vocal musical tradition in Western Macedonia”. In the Proceedigns of the 1st conference for the History of Western Macedonia, Western Macedonia in the last era (15th-20th century), Grevena 2-5 October 2014, Center for Western Macedonia Studies (In Greek).

Kostandinidou Roxani

Songs from the villages of Sochos, Vertiskos, and Ossa, Dimploma Thesis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, School of Fine Arts, Department of Music Studies, No 472, 1992. in Greek.

Mantemochoritis Dimitrios

Traditional forms of Social Organization: the Greek community of Mandemochoria villages in the years of the Turkish occupation, Diploma Thesis, Aegean University,  School of Sosial Sciences, Department of Geography, Mytilini 2012. in Greek.

Parcharidou – Anagnostou Magda

A manuscript of the 18th century in the Monastery of Kosinitsa (Eikosifinissa), Post Byzantine texts and treatises. Center for Byzantine Studies, Thessaloniki,2009, I Greek.

Robou-Levidi Marika

2008: Dancing along a prohibited language: A case-study in Eastern Macedonia-Greece” in the Proceedings 23rd Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Ethnochoreology 2004 Monghidoro, (Bolonga) Italy,ICTM Study Group on Ethnochoreology & Institute of Technology and Folklore Research, Monghidoro, Zagreb.

2016: Lives under Supervision. Music, dance and the formation of subjectivity in Macedonia, Ethnographies, Alexandreia Publishing House (in Greek).

Thelykos Asterios

“The religious life in the Ottoman time: Saint Kyranna” Macedonian Diary, 1967, 344-348, in Greek.

Tourali Zacharoula

A Cultural Atlas, General Secretary for Youths, Athens 2000, in Greek.

Tsobanis Tryfon (Theology Univ.Prof.)The City of Langadas and the revolution of 1821 revealed in its songs. In Greek Unpublished.

Cd Makedonika Paradosiaka (Monastiraki, Ksiropotamos, Petrousa, Pyrgoi, Volakas, Kali Vrisi), publication organized by Giannis Alatzas, Production by LYRA 4653, 1995

[1] Note:(for a social anthropological analysis on the divergence in the structure of this song (To vradi i Anna) with reference to the time of the dictatorship, World War II and the Civil war in Greece, see Robou-Levidi 2016 p.71-89) and for an analysis in terms of the relationship between the language and the melody and its historical meanings in the vocal bilingual and Slav-speaking repertory in the area of Western Macedonia based on fieldwork in the years 1990-2014 see in Katsanevaki 1998-2014 chapters A1.1. A 1.2.).

[2] In Eastern Macedonia and especially in the area of Serres extensive research has been conducted by Yvonne Hunt mainly in the case of instrumental music.