A small peninsula of Greece in the AEgean Sea, famous for its monasteries. It is thought that this was a favorite abode of hermits as early as the 4th or 5th century. Organized societies of monks were there in the 9th century, and in the 10th the 58 communities were loosely united under an abbot general, the Anatolian monk, Athanasius. Since that time successive governments have granted exemptions and other privileges, and the group of monasteries has gradually formed a republic with an almost independent representative government. In 1928 the population was 4,858, all men, chiefly monks of the Greek Orthodox Church, following the Rule of Saint Basil, in 20 principal monasteries and their dependencies. Seventeen of these are Greek, one Russian, one Bulgarian, and one Serbian. The buildings are mostly Byzantine in style, with many art treasures, and the libraries contain about 8,000 valuable manuscripts.