Strata, Portraits of Humanity, Episode 17, “Church of St. George at Akrefnio”

StrataImage-webThis month in the Strata series we are looking at the making of a legend—or myth, or epic or saga. Cultures throughout time have used storytelling to record and dramatize their histories. “The Church of St. George at Akrefnio” depicts how the creative spark begins.

March the 15th, 1311. On a plain in central Greece, two armies are facing each other. On one side, Frankish knights from the Duchy of Athens. On the other side, their Catalan mercenaries of the Catalan Company demanding more benefits. The Frankish knights lose the battle and perish almost to the last. One of the few surviving knights, Anthony le Flamenc, prays to St. George for holy assistance in battle. In gratitude for his salvation, the knight orders a church built, dedicated to St. George, in Akrefnio, Boeotia. This is his story.

Strata: Portraits of Humanity is a monthly half-hour video series available online and on select cable channels. Strata is a showcase for unique and diverse stories about the world’s cultural heritage. Stories come from across the globe with segments produced by Archaeological Legacy Institute and dozens of producer and distributor partners around the world.

Click on the image below to view the program on The Archaeology Channel and scroll down to see the curriculum developed by AntiquityNOW to accompany this episode’s video.
Strata March 2016

Lesson Plan


  • To discover how cultures through time have created a belief system, and how that belief system is part of our collective world heritage.
  • To consider how cultures and their values evolved, and how past events critically shaped the societies we see today.
  • To demonstrate how cultural preservation enables us to explore the ways people in past times expressed themselves and their world—beliefs and behaviors that still continue to influence modern politics, religion and self-identity.


  • To realize how cultures create their identity through storytelling.
  • To understand how diverse cultures recognize the importance of capturing and interpreting historical events to forge a cohesive identity.
  • To consider how similar people need to create identity as a nation, a culture, a community and an individual.

Lesson Plan

Project Idea #1

  • Group Discussion: In this documentary we learn about an historical event that was later memorialized in the building of the church at Akrefnio, Boeotia, dedicated to St. George. Divide into small groups, with each group member assigned to research and report on a question below. Explore whether these are valid questions, generalizations, falsehoods or distortions regarding a society’s behavior. As a group, write a final presentation on your analyses and present to the class.
    • Is warfare more prevalent compared to other behaviors in defining a culture’s national identity?
    • Why do individuals enter combat? How do they come to believe that fighting in battles is heroic? What is a conscientious objector?
    • Is war mythologized, or are there legitimate reasons for war?
    • Why do cultures build monuments to wars, military heroes and those soldiers who died?

Project Idea #2

  • Group Activity: Today’s computer game industry has discovered the marketability of storytelling that has conflict at the center of the game.
    • Break into small groups, each group selecting a different war-related game to play. Record how each player feels as he/she proceeds through the game.
      • What are some of the emotions recorded? How do they correlate with the action?
      • Who are the opponents? How are they characterized? Are they similar or different from you? In what ways?
      • Is there any feeling of remorse for destroying the opponent? Why or why not?
      • How does it feel to be victorious? Defeated?
      • Do you think the game manipulates your emotions to make killing justified? Or do you think this is just a game and people are not so easily swayed?
    • Group Discussion: Games are obviously not the same as war. Read and analyze the themes in the articles below.
  • Imagine yourself a soldier right before a battle. Suddenly, shots are fired. Write a scene with dialog about what follows. Will your character play a heroic role, or a role that focuses on his or her interior struggle with killing? Or both? Will it be a realistic portrayal, or will you follow a Hollywood-like storyline of guns and action? Click here for a sample screenplay page.

Project Idea #3

  • Find the definitions for the following. Think about how the subject of this documentary could be written as each.
    • Legend
    • Myth
    • Epic
    • Saga
  • Read these articles on the elements of myths and legends. Both have similar elements, but also subtle differences. Compare the two as you read. It may help to write down the similarities and differences in a side-by-side comparison. Write an essay (500 words) on why storytelling is so influential for a culture, with particular focus on the oral tradition found in myths and legends. Compare it to today’s storytelling and what is forecast for the future. Why is storytelling so important to our species?

Ten Characteristics of a Myth[1]

  1. A myth is a story that is, or was considered, a true explanation of the natural world and how it came to be.
  2. Characters are often non-human and are typically gods, goddesses, supernatural beings or mystical “first people.”
  3. Setting is typically ancient, or prior to the time when actual records were kept. Myths are typically set in a world very similar to our own, but with supernatural monsters or areas.
  4. The plot of a myth may take place between a supernatural world and our present day world. Myths do this to highlight the basic human behaviors that are essential in any setting.
  5. Myths possess events that bend or break natural laws. This is often done to magnify the “super-naturalness” of the mythical world.
  6. Promotes “Social Action”—myths try to tell people how to act and live. Core values such as individualism, family and community are often instilled in mythical heroes.
  7. Myths have sense of mystery, or the unknown.
  8. Dualities (or complete opposites such as night/day, good/evil) often play important roles in the plot of a myth.
  9. Myths often have an emphasis on language… Mythical heroes are often sophisticated storytellers.
  10. Myths are often metaphoric—that is, myths are created to comment or analyze a real world event. Real world questions that myths often attempt to answer are:
  • Why are we here?
  • Who are we?
  • Why are we living? What is our purpose?

Stylistic Elements of a Legend[2]

A legend is a short narrative regarded as somehow historical, without an affirmation that the events actually occurred. Legends have a specific set of characteristics that set them apart from other genres of literature. Observing the characterization, themes and certain plot elements will help you determine if the piece is a legend.

Characters and Setting

  • Characters in a legend are limited to a small cast. They may be inanimate objects, gods, or humans with super traits. The gods are superheroes who may appear in human form, but maintain immortality and supernatural abilities. Legends typically take place in the past, and the setting is somehow relevant to the culture from which it derives.

Plot and Theme

  • A legend’s plot will include a lot of action, suspense and conflict. The characters of a legend are often faced with difficult obstacles to overcome, and struggle with their fate or destiny. Legends often explain natural phenomena, religious practices and human nature. They usually offer a straightforward moral, or a lesson for life.

Point of View and Style

  • Legends are written from the third person point of view. A legend will reflect upon a society’s culture, values and beliefs and the frail nature, or weakness, of human beings. Readers of the legend will believe that the main character is capable of overcoming any obstacles in his path, and root for him to succeed.


  • Legends are usually passed down through generations. Prior to printing, legends were passed orally to teach the younger generation a certain set of values.

Project Idea #4

  • Use your imagination! Rewrite the story of Anthony le Flamenc as a legend or myth.
    • What story lines or actions will you include to invest your story with values important to the main character’s culture?
    • What do you know that historically happened? What are you surmising?
    • How much poetic license will you take?
    • Consider how the winning army feels. The losing army. Will you depict these characters’ feelings, and to what end?
    • The purpose of any myth or legend is to convey characteristics of a culture that will survive through subsequent generations. How and what will you incorporate that will resonate in the future? Will you include only positive themes, or will negative themes also be important messages?
  • Share your stories with the class. Compare how each relate themes of war, morality, cultural values, heroics, memorialization and generational transmission.



Web Links:

Akraifnio (Wikipedia)

Battle of Halmyros (Wikipedia)

History of Greece (Wikipedia)

History of Greece: Byzantine Period

St. George in Akraifnio – making-of (YouTube)


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