The slow change of the Classical Mediterranean world to Late-Classical and thence to a medieval state of affairs is a period when we have few mentions of Mani and indeed it is impossible to place when the name was given to the peninsula - or to precisely define what its derivation is. The sheer expanse of time is difficult to grasp as the four hundred year old Roman Empire merges into the Byzantine Empire which was to last for even more centuries. To give some idea of the length of the survival of the Byzantine tradition from around 500 - 1453 AD one only has to speculate that there is some sort of factitious cultural and political continuum from our own time at the start of the 21st century back as far as the 1050s - before the Norman conquest of England - an almost unimaginable period of time. The connection over such a vast arch of time both confirms the essential longevity of Byzantine culture and its equally sclerotic entropy.
The period known in the West as The Dark Ages was, in Peloponnesian terms, just as murky. As the towns and cities of the Roman Empire faded and crumbled we have little recorded knowledge of the long centuries when the Balkans, Greece, the Morea and eventually even Mani were invaded by a series of Slavic migrations led by the Avars and followed by others. There have always been claims by the Maniates and others that they are descended from the Spartans who took refuge behind the barrier of the Taygetus mountains and this theme of being an area of refuge is a constant mantra in Mani history - romantic - and with a modicum of reality. But whereas it seems unlikely that no outsiders penetrated the Deep Mani it can be assumed that not many did.
When the 'enlightened' west rediscovered Greece in the 18th century there was a fair amount of wishful thinking on the part of travellers and philhellenes that the then inhabitants of Greece were not just the symbolic descendants of the Ancients but were their pure blood line. The often sordid experiences of those philhellenes who took part in the War of Independence soon put paid to these over-romanticised views. The German historian Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer (1790-1861) put the cat amongst the pigeons with the publication, in 1830, of the first of his volumes Geschichte der halbinsel Morea wahrend des Mittelalters (History of the Peloponnesian Peninsula during the Middle Ages). Fallmerayer's thesis was based on the spread of Slavic place names in the Peloponnese during the dark and middle ages and his conclusion was that the 19th century Greeks had almost no lineal connection to the ancients and an exceedingly large one to the Slavic tribes who invaded during the 6th and 7th centuries.
This was not at all popular with those who wanted to believe that the nascent Greek state of the 1830s was a rebirth of not just of the great age of Ancient Hellenic values but also of the pure Hellenic bloodline. Greek historians of the period lead by Paparigopoulos were affronted by Fallmerayer's theory, which, it has to be admitted, had numerous inbuilt flaws and racial prejudices. But the refuters went too far in the opposite direction claiming that there had been no Slavic invasion of Greece whatsoever. Indeed you will still find Greeks to this day who vigorously refute any suggestion of Slavic ingress. The truth, in so far as we can ascertain it, lies somewhere in between the two extremes and is based in part on contentious interpretations of place names and the veracity, or otherwise, of such relatively contemporaneous documents as The Chronicle of Monemvasia. For as clear as possible exposition of this see Kalligas, Haris. Byzantine Monemvasia.: The Sources. Akroneon. Monemvasia. 1990.
With the former paragraph in mind it is, on balance, likely that by the end of the 7th century most of the Peloponnese had been lost by the Byzantines. Only a few isolated coastal fringes down the eastern seaboard of the area still clung to the distant rule of Constantinople. In Mani it is likely that there was some penetration by the Slavs and certainly into upper Mani as two tribes of Slavs were still in the area centuries later, the Melingi in what probably corresponds to the present day Messenian or Exo Mani and the Ezerites in the swampy area east of Githeon in Lakonia. Surveys of the spread of Slavic place names have revealed that these are widespread in the Exo Mani and certainly not uncommon in the inner Mani (see Malingoudis, P. Studien zu Slavischen Ortsnamen Griechenlands. 1: Slavische Flurnamen aus der messinischen Mani. Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur. Mainz. 1981). An obvious 'giveaway' is the ending '-itsa' which shows Slavic origins but other place names such as Gaitses have strayed in spelling over the centuries. In the 17th century this is recorded by the Ottoman writer Evliya Celebi as Gatsitsa.
Slowly but surely during the 8th century the Byzantines began to inch back into the interior of the Peloponnese and by the ninth century the Slavs had, according to some historians, either been assimilated into the Greek populace or had been marginalised into mountain fastnesses. During this time it is assumed by some that deep Mani was a haven for old Hellenic stock. The Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus (reigned 908-959) writing about his empire in his De Administrando Imperio described the Maniates as being descendants of the true Hellenes and also of following the old pagan ways. His writings are also the first time that we hear the name Mani or Maina. It is assumed from this that the Maniates had never been converted to Christianity, but this is held in suspicion by most experts who prefer the theory that the Slavic invasions meant that the Christian church and beliefs went under during those centuries and there was a reversion to old pagan practices. Certainly there appears, from Constantine Porphyrogenitus' account, to have been a Byzantine fortress in Mani, which he called Maina. There is speculation that this may have been at the tip of the Tigani promontory in Deep Mani though there are some champions for the deserted hill-top Byzantine citadel of Old Kariopoulis in Kato Mani (see Etzeoglou, R. Karyoupolis, Une ville Byzantine desertée. Byzantion. 11.1982.)
In the ninth century, with the resurgence of Byzantine power in the area, the church - always an integral part of the Byzantine cosmos - began to assert itself in the pagan corners of the Peloponnese. There are reports of an attempt in 804 by Tarasius, Patriarch of Constantinople, to convert the "Hellenes" of the Tainaron region (by which we may infer the Deep Mani). This was resisted but in the 860s The Holy Nikon 'Metanoiete' - "Repent Ye" is the translation given by Steven Runciman of the last of these names - a rather stern evangelising priest from his base at Sparta began to proselytise the Christian religion in the area. This, it would seem, he did with a certain amount of ferocity and the upshot was that from the next century onwards there was an expansion of church building in the area and the pagan ways were mutated into Christian myths and traditions.
Episkopi - one of the finest examples of the upsurge in church building in the Mesa Mani in the Byzantine centuries
There is evidence of earlier 5th and 6th century Christian Basilica styled churches on coastal sites in Mani which points to the area being Christian during the late classical period - but nothing during the intervening centuries - until in the 10th and 11th centuries there is a flurry of church building in the area - the riches of which remain dotted around the Mani countryside. In fact the period when we can assume that Mani was outside Byzantine control was also the period of the Iconoclastic turmoil within the Byzantine Empire. During this period various Emperors and clerics attempted to stamp out the use of representation of Christ and the Saints and Holy men in painting and art. This had the effect of whitewashing much early Byzantine church art and little painting from before or during this period has survived in any quarter of the Greek world - so perhaps Mani missed little and the upsurge in painted and decorated churches was simultaneous with the rest of the renascent Empire.
After centuries of Slavic invasions, Arabic raids on the coastlines (probably rather rare in Mani which has few safe let alone good harbours and an interior which even in the middle ages must have been relatively impoverished) the Byzantines seemed to have a firm grip upon the area but their large empire was never inviolable and they lurched from internal crisis to external threat. The Peloponnese was a relatively rich area but also distant from the great city of Constantinople. It was therefore something of a backwater. Although many of the major Byzantine families owned estates in the Peloponnese those officials who ran the province were often minor legal figures thus they were called Krites - Judges. There was a widespread minor aristocracy called Archons who either owned land or were based in the towns, and there is still academic controversy as to whether the society was feudal before the arrival of the Franks or whether this social system was imported by the westerners. When the internal stagnation and outside threat combined, as at the start of the 13th century, it turned the whole of the Morea into a region of warring parties and sounded the eventual, slow but inevitable, death knell of the Byzantine Empire.
On to next history The Period of Frankish rule and the medieval period up to the Ottoman conquest. 1204 - 1460