A fascinating story lies behind the beginnings of monasticism on Mount Athos (or Ayion Oros, the Holy Mountain). There is reliable historical evidence of the existence from the 9th century onwards of organised monasticism, which acquired a more precise form upon the arrival on Athos in 963 of Saint Athanasios, founder of the Great Lavra Monastery.
The first 'typikon' (charter) of monastic life on the mountain was compiled in 971/2, its rules persisting throughout the Byzantine age. The monastic state was governed by the 'protos' (first), the primate of Athos, whose seat was at Karyes, and the 'Synaxis' (Assembly) of the abbots of the leading monasteries. By the 11th century there were about 180 monasteries, of which only 20 are in existence today.