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Greek Revolution

The Greek Revolutionary War of Independence of 1821.

philhellene Lord Byron in Missilunghi
British adventurer, volunteer and philhellene Lord Byron in Missilunghi.

The outbreak of the Greek Revolution and the subsequent War of Independence is now in its bicentennial year.

The Greek Revolution

Alexander Ypsilantis
Alexander Ypsilantis, the head of the Greek Revolution.
The Greek Revolution of 1821 was not a spontaneous action like the Serbian Revolution of 1815 to 1817, but a well-planned action designed in advance by the Greek secret societies that had been formed since 1814, the so-called Hetairies under Grand Prince Kapadidtrias in Athens and Prince Ypsilanti in Odessa, Russia.
February 24, 1821, is generally considered the birth of the Greek Revolution, when Alexander Ypsilantis published his proclamation to the Greeks in Iasi in Bessarabia, near present-day Romania. However, the attempt to inspire the Romanians with the Hellenistic idea failed, and the Russians did not want to get involved either, so the revolutionary movement from the north collapsed after the defeat of Dragashan.

The beginning of the victorious revolution in the Peloponnese is considered to be the entry of the Greek rebels into Kalamata on March 23, 1821, after the surrender of the Ottomans in the city without a fight in the face of a superior force under Petrobey Mavromichalis. Another prominent start date is March 25, 1821, when the Messinian Senate followed the issuance of the ‘Warning’ and is now an annual Greek holiday celebrating the revolution.

Planning the revolution

Greek Armatoloi
A Greek Armatoloi.
It appears that the hetairies planned the start of the revolutionary movements in 1820 in three locations.
The first included Constantinople, where the elite of the Greek people also resided, the second the Peloponnese with the important dignitaries located there, the proestoi or community leaders, who were committed to the Hetairies and had armatoloi (armed guards) and kleftes (secret militias that acted as a national guard). The third scene was to be an invasion from Russia into Moldavia by a Greek force.

The operation in Moldova was ill-prepared and took place at an inopportune time and place. Russia opposed the Greek plans because it considered itself bound by the decisions of the Laubach Conference, in which revolutions against legitimate claims to power were not to be tolerated. Thus, the whole thing was doomed to failure there.
This part of the Ottoman Empire was a Romanian province and so the Greek invaders marched not against Turks but against Romanian villagers. At the same time, the insurgent Tudor Vladimirescu refused to support Ypsilantis, having in mind first and foremost the interests of the Romanian boyars.

Not only the powerful army of the Sultan in the capital Constantinople, but also disagreements between the different classes of Greeks in the city prevented a revolutionary movement in the polis. The riots against Greeks that followed the start of the revolution in Constantinople quickly stifled any thought of revolts there.

The start of the revolution in the Peloponnese was probably planned for a later date, but was brought forward when the Ottomans learned of the Greeks’ intentions. Other authors, on the other hand, claim that the revolution there would have started earlier had it not been delayed by the strict administration of Ali Pasha of Ioannina.

The reasons for the Greek revolution clearly emerge from the ‘Warning’ of the ‘Messinian Senate’ to the European Great Powers of March 25, 1821. The very pertinent text gives as the reason for the revolution the oppression by the Turks and that the Greeks were basically fighting for their human rights and their human dignity.
The increase in literacy, the spread of European education and the wealth accumulated by the Greeks through trade were the means for the outbreak and success of the revolution. The finances of the revolution were raised through private funds, while at times wealthy Greeks even organized and maintained military units.

The demographic parameter, as has often been shown in ancient or modern history, was a major factor in the balance of power. Greeks in the Ottoman Empire were the largest non-Muslim minority and formed the majority in the Peloponnese.
This compact Greek population in the Peloponnese and elsewhere contributed to the success of the revolt, along with their devotion to the idea of freedom, which a significant portion of Greeks had wholeheartedly embraced.


Metropolitan Germanos of Patras blesses the Greek flag
Metropolitan Germanos of Patras blesses the Greek flag in the monastery of Agia Lavra on March 25, 1821, which is considered the official beginning of the revolution. Other sources, however, claim exactly the opposite about the church leader (see text).
Of course, there were also objections from Greeks who distrusted the uprising and preferred inaction. Nor were all Greeks in favor of the revolution. There were even Greeks who were part of the Ottoman power system.
Metropolitan Germanos of Patras, who in the painting on the right is said to have blessed the Greek flag of the revolution, is instead said to have said on that day, ‘Let the children of Mohammed finish off the children of Robespierre !’
And one of the Greek dignitaries working for the Ottoman administration commented: ‘It is better for the Turks to subjugate their Christian subjects than for there to be a free nation with a people who have rights’.
Accordingly, it is an after-the-fact promoted legend that Germanos of Patras was the first to raise the standard of the 1821 Revolution. Rather, it was in Patras that the popular leader Panagiotis Karatzas raised the Greek flag and was later murdered for it by the community leaders of Patras. The Turks were then able to hold Patras in the Peloponnese until their withdrawal after the peace treaty of 1829.

The revolution of 1821 involved not only Orthodox Christians and native Greeks, but also the so-called Philhellenes from Western Europe and in the Danubian principalities Wallachians, Moldovans, Bulgarians, Albanians, Serbs, Gypsies, Hungarians, Poles and others.
Among the undecided were some dignitaries of Morea in the Peloponnese. However, their summons by the pasha to Tripolitza (Tripoli, Peloponnese) and the fear of their imminent execution allayed any misgivings they might have had. But the reluctance was partly justified and was not actually surprising. The danger from the Ottomans was real and imminent.

On the other hand, the harshness of the insurgents’ aggressiveness was also a matter of concern. For the slaughter of Muslims, especially during the liberation of Tripolitza, was just as intolerable under any circumstances, as the Ottomans also repeatedly did on various occasions.

Outbreak of the revolution

Panagiotis Kefalas in liberated Tripolitza.
Panagiotis Kefalas in liberated Tripolitza.
The choice of time for the outbreak of the revolution was also inappropriate. Having settled the European order only a few years earlier at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 through the Restoration following the defeat of Napoleon, the Great Powers frowned on any change, especially of a revolutionary nature along the lines of the French Revolution of 1789.
The hetairies may have originally envisaged a different timetable, but it was inevitable that, from a certain point, the disclosure of their plans and the Greeks’ great desire for freedom would wrest the situation from their control.

Therefore, although the Greek revolution was not spontaneous, since it was planned, its actual beginning was the result of other events and developments.
Moreover, the preparations of the Ottomans were dangerous for the planned revolution, because Mahmud II still organized a new army under French influence. This new army was defeated by a Russian force in its first battle under Asakir-i Mensurei Muhammediye, and a second defeat followed against Mehmed Ali of Egypt, but against a poorly organized Greek rebel army the result could have been quite different.

However, at that time Ali Pasha of Ioannina rebelled against the Ottoman administration in Constantinople and the Tsar’s officer, Aiexander Ypsilantis, who was to carry the revolution to Moldavia, gave rise to the hope that Russia would not miss the opportunity to take up arms against the Ottomans.

However, the Greeks basically believed that they would prevail even without the participation of the Europeans. This idea was confirmed, at least in the first phase of the revolution, even when the major European powers opposed it for various interests.

In any case, the warriors of Mani did not seem to have taken any of these objections into account when they took up arms against the Ottomans at Kalamat on March 23, 1821.
The revolution developed a momentum that resembled a fire approaching a powder keg. Victory followed victory for the rebels, which resulted in the liberation of Greek cities in the Peloponnese and the mainland.
The Ottomans, not to be taken by surprise, responded by mobilizing numerous troops at their disposal. However, despite their sporadic victories, they could not stop the decisive victory of the Greeks, who fought for their lives practically to the last cartridge and warrior in every battle. Thus, the Greeks managed to hold the territories liberated at the beginning of the revolution and repel the Ottoman counterattacks.

Greece within the borders of 1829
Greece within the borders of 1829, within which the successful revolution was also fought.
After this initial phase, the revolution stabilized and the military situation remained in a stalemate, as neither side was strong enough to bring about a decisive victory.
In this second phase, the Ottomans were forced to retreat to their bases in Thessaly after their defeats or due to adverse weather conditions in winter, while the insurgents were not strong enough for a counterattack and could not achieve a decisive victory.
The uprisings in Sterea, Macedonia and Epirus also delayed the Ottomans’ efforts to deal with the situation in the Peloponnese.

In 1822, the Greek National Congress in Epidauros proclaimed independence, which was promoted in Europe by many conservative and liberal ‘philhellenes’, including Louis I of Bavaria and Chteaubriand. Volunteers, including Britain’s Byron, gathered in Geneva and supported or fought in the War of Independence for the Greek cause. The ‘Turkish atrocity of Chios’ in 1822 also changed the European perspective on the revolution.

Another cause of the lack of military activity was the internal discord of the Greeks at that time. The political leaders, who were represented by the Phanariot Alexandros Mavrokordatos and the Hydra shipowner Georgios Koundouriotis, were at odds with their assembly, which consisted mainly of notables, dignitaries, and wealthy merchants, with the soldiers of the small regular army, the freemen, and the former kleftes loyal to Theodoros Kolokotronis. The political discord even culminated in an internal civil war in 1824 during the still ongoing revolutionary war against the Ottomans !

In addition to these conflicts, the interventions of Great Britain, France and Russia, which sought to preserve their strategic political and economic interests in the Ottoman Empire, also contributed to the failure of the revolutionary momentum to develop.

Here to Part II: War of Independence and Crete.

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