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According to the legend, “Akrites” (=defenders of the borderland) were responsible for guarding the boundaries of the Byzantine Empire and especially the east and the north boundaries. There, the attacks of Iranian, Arabian and Saracen were very frequent. When they did not fight, Akrites dealt with athletics and, therefore they always had well-built and strong bodies.
Akrites had so much strength and bravery, that, apart from the other sports, they also enacted with a sport called “ditzimin”- that is the throwing of an enormous block of stone- which until today is one of the traditional games of Cypriot.
The most famous and the bravest among all Akrites was a man called Digenis Akritas. He was given that name due to his national origin (digenis means from two generations): his mother was the daughter of a Byzantine general and his father was an emir from Syria.
Both in Cyprus and in Crete people admit that apart from guarding the borders of east Digenis had preoccupation for the two islands, since these two islands were also being attacked by Arabian.
As most popular legends are interwoven with history, thus the imagination of Cypriot population wove round this brave Akritas the following beautiful tradition, which resembles with a real fairy tale and it is related to the legendary mountain of Pentadachtylos.
“ When one of the strongest Saracen men, after an awesome battle with Digenis, came out defeated, in order to save himself from the giant’s hands, he entered a boat and headed to Cyprus, from where he would go to Syria. Digenis followed him and came out at Keryneia. There he discovered easily the trails of the Saracen, from the traces of his enormous legs.
While Digenis was approaching the Saracen, a huge mountain, which did not exist before in that place, suddenly appeared. The strange about this mountain was that it wasn’t stone made. It was so soft, like the yeast, like the rubber. Digenis wanted to climb it in order to follow his running enemy. However, he did not achieve that because, wherever he stepped, his giant feet were sinking in the mad and he could not move on.
Finally, with all his strength, Digenis grabbed on the top of the mountain and he jumped over it, passing from Keryneia to Kythrea, while the marks of his hand were formed on the mountain. Simultaneously, the mountain became a rock and since then it was named Pentadaktylos (=five fingers).
Afterwards, Digenis saw from above the Saracen who was heading to Ammochostos. Therefore, he removed a huge rock from the mountain and threw it towards him without hitting him. This rock, called “Stone of Digenis”, is located near Kythrea and gave its name to a village.
In another case Digenis grubbed an enormous rock and with superhuman force he threw it from Troodos Mountain towards the Saracens, which were trying to debark on the coast. Since then the rock remains there and gave its name to the surrounding area called “Petra tou Romiou” (=Stone of the Greek).
Many Cypriot songs are referring to Digenis Akritas and his legends.