Greek War of Independence

Greek War of Independence
Theodoros Vryzakis (oil painting, 1852, Benaki Museum, Athens) illustrates Bishop Germanos of old Patras blessing the Greek banner at Agia Lavra on the outset of the national revolt against the Ottomans on 25 March 1821.
Date 22 February 1821 – 12 September 1829 [3]
(8 years, 6 months and 3 weeks)
Location The Balkans (mainly Greece) and the Aegean Sea.

Greek victory


Greek Revolution flag.svg Greek revolutionaries (1821)
Greece First Hellenic Republic (from 1822)

Supported by:

  Russian Empire
  United Kingdom
Flag of Haiti (civil).svg Haiti [1] [2]

Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Ottoman Empire

Commanders and leaders
Filiki Eteria flag.svg Filiki Eteria
Greece Alexandros Mavrokordatos
Greece Ioannis Kapodistrias (from 1828)
Greece Theodoros Kolokotronis
Greece Alexander Ypsilantis
Greece Demetrius Ypsilantis
Greece Georgios Karaiskakis 
Greece Richard Church
Greece Thomas Cochrane
Greece Andreas Vokos Miaoulis
Greece Constantine Kanaris
Greece Markos Botsaris 
Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Mahmud II
Flag of Egypt (1844-1867).svg Muhammad Ali Pasha
Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Omer Vrioni
Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Mahmud Dramali Pasha
Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Hursid Pasha
Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Husrev Pasha
Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Reşid Mehmed Pasha
Flag of Egypt (1844-1867).svg Ibrahim Pasha
Casualties and losses
est. 25,000 [4][ better source needed] est. 20,000 [4][ better source needed]
Civilian deaths: estimated as high as 105,000 [4][ better source needed]

The Greek War of Independence, also known as the Greek Revolution ( Greek: Ελληνική Επανάσταση, Elliniki Epanastasi, or also referred to by Greeks in the 19th century as the Αγώνας, Agonas, "Struggle"; Ottoman: يونان عصياني Yunan İsyanı, "Greek Uprising"), was a successful war of independence waged by the Greek revolutionaries between 1821 and 1832 against the Ottoman Empire. The Greeks were later assisted by the Russian Empire, Great Britain, the Kingdom of France, and several other European powers, while the Ottomans were aided by their vassals, the eyalets of Egypt, Algeria, and Tripolitania, and the Beylik of Tunis.

Even several decades before the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, most of Greece had come under Ottoman rule. [5] During this time, there were several revolt attempts by Greeks to gain independence from Ottoman control. [6] In 1814, a secret organization called the Filiki Eteria was founded with the aim of liberating Greece. The Filiki Eteria planned to launch revolts in the Peloponnese, the Danubian Principalities, and in Constantinople and its surrounding areas. By late 1821, the insurrection had been planned for March 25 (Julian Calendar) 1821, on the Feast of the Annunciation for the Orthodox Christians. However, as the plans of Filiki Eteria had been discovered by the Ottoman authorities, the revolutionary action started earlier. The first of these revolts began on March 6/February 22, 1821 in the Danubian Principalities, but it was soon put down by the Ottomans. The events in the north urged the Greeks in the Peloponnese into action and on 17 March 1821, the Maniots declared war on the Ottomans. This declaration was the start of a spring of revolutionary actions from other controlled states against the Ottoman Empire.

On March 25 the revolution was officially declared and by the end of the month, the Peloponnese was in open revolt against the Turks. By October 1821, the Greeks under Theodoros Kolokotronis had captured Tripolitsa. The Peloponnesian revolt was quickly followed by revolts in Crete, Macedonia, and Central Greece, which would soon be suppressed. Meanwhile, the makeshift Greek navy was achieving success against the Ottoman navy in the Aegean Sea and prevented Ottoman reinforcements from arriving by sea.

Tensions soon developed among different Greek factions, leading to two consecutive civil wars. In the meantime, the Ottoman Sultan negotiated with Mehmet Ali of Egypt, who agreed to send his son Ibrahim Pasha to Greece with an army to suppress the revolt in return for territorial gain. Ibrahim landed in the Peloponnese in February 1825 and had immediate success: by the end of 1825, most of the Peloponnese was under Egyptian control, and the city of Missolonghi fell in April 1826 after a year-long siege by the Turks. Although Ibrahim was defeated in Mani, he had succeeded in suppressing most of the revolt in the Peloponnese, and Athens had been retaken.

Following years of negotiation, three Great Powers—Russia, Britain and France—decided to intervene in the conflict and each nation sent a navy to Greece. Following news that combined Ottoman–Egyptian fleets were going to attack the Greek island of Hydra, the allied fleet intercepted the Ottoman–Egyptian fleet at Navarino. The battle began after a tense week-long standoff, ending in the destruction of the Ottoman–Egyptian fleet. By 1828 the Egyptian army withdrew under pressure of a French expeditionary force to which the Ottoman garrisons in the Peloponnese then surrendered, while the Greeks proceeded to the Ottoman-controlled part of central Greece. As a result of years of negotiation, Greece was finally recognized as an independent nation in the Treaty of Constantinople of May 1832.

The Revolution is celebrated by the modern Greek state as a national day on 25 March.


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Ottoman rule

The Fall of Constantinople on 29 May 1453 and the subsequent fall of the successor states of the Byzantine Empire marked the end of Byzantine sovereignty. After that, the Ottoman Empire ruled the Balkans and Anatolia, with some exceptions. i[›] Orthodox Christians were granted some political rights under Ottoman rule, but they were considered inferior subjects. [7] The majority of Greeks were called Rayah by the Turks, a name that referred to the large mass of non-Muslim subjects under the Ottoman ruling class. ii[›] [8]

Meanwhile, Greek intellectuals and humanists, who had migrated west before or during the Ottoman invasions, such as Demetrios Chalkokondyles and Leonardos Philaras, began to call for the liberation of their homeland. [9] Demetrius Chalcondyles called on Venice and "all of the Latins" to aid the Greeks against "the abominable, monstrous, and impious barbarian Turks". [10] However, Greece was to remain under Ottoman rule for several more centuries.

The Greek Revolution was not an isolated event; numerous failed attempts at regaining independence took place throughout the history of the Ottoman era. Throughout the 17th century there was great resistance to the Ottomans in the Morea and elsewhere, as evidenced by revolts led by Dionysius the Philosopher. [11] After the Morean War, the Peloponnese came under Venetian rule for 30 years, and remained in turmoil from then on and throughout the 17th century, as the bands of klephts multiplied. [12]

The first great uprising was the Russian-sponsored Orlov Revolt of the 1770s, which was crushed by the Ottomans after having limited success. After the crushing of the uprising, Muslim Albanians ravaged many regions in mainland Greece. [13] However, the Maniots continually resisted Ottoman rule, and defeated several Ottoman incursions into their region, the most famous of which was the invasion of 1770. [14] During the Second Russo-Turkish War, the Greek community of Trieste financed a small fleet under Lambros Katsonis, which was a nuisance for the Ottoman navy; during the war klephts and armatoloi (guerilla fighters in mountainous areas) rose once again. [15]

At the same time, a number of Greeks enjoyed a privileged position in the Ottoman state as members of the Ottoman bureaucracy. Greeks controlled the affairs of the Orthodox Church through the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, as the higher clergy of the Orthodox Church was mostly of Greek origin. Thus, as a result of the Ottoman millet system, the predominantly Greek hierarchy of the Patriarchate enjoyed control over the Empire's Orthodox subjects (the Rum milleti [16]). [7]

The Greek Orthodox Church played a pivotal role in the preservation of national identity, the development of Greek society and the resurgence of Greek nationalism. iii[›] From the early 18th century and onwards, members of prominent Greek families in Constantinople, known as Phanariotes (after the Phanar district of the city) gained considerable control over Ottoman foreign policy and eventually over the bureaucracy as a whole. [17]

Klephts and armatoloi

Portrait of a Greek armatolos by Richard Parkes Bonington (oil painting, 1825–1826, Benaki Museum).

In times of militarily weak central authority, the Balkan countryside became infested by groups of bandits that struck at Muslims and Christians alike, called " klephts" ( Greek: κλέφτες) in Greece, the equivalent of the hajduks. Defying Ottoman rule, the klephts were highly admired and held a significant place in popular lore. [18]

Responding to the klephts' attacks, the Ottomans recruited the ablest amongst these groups, contracting Christian militias, known as " armatoloi" ( Greek: αρματολοί), to secure endangered areas, especially mountain passes. iv[›] The area under their control was called an "armatolik", [19] the oldest known being established in Agrafa during the reign of Murad II (r. 1421–1451). [20] The distinction between klephts and armatoloi was not clear, as the latter would often turn into klephts to extort more benefits from the authorities, while, conversely, another klepht group would be appointed to the armatolik to confront their predecessors. [21]

Nevertheless, klephts and armatoloi formed a provincial elite, though not a social class, whose members would muster under a common goal. [22] As the armatoloi's position gradually turned into a hereditary one, some captains took care of their armatolik as their personal property. A great deal of power was placed in their hands and they integrated in the network of clientelist relationships that formed the Ottoman administration. [21] Some managed to establish exclusive control in their armatolik, forcing the Porte to try repeatedly, though unsuccessfully, to eliminate them. [23]

By the time of the War of Independence powerful armatoloi could be traced in Rumeli, Thessaly, Epirus and southern Macedonia. [24] To the revolutionary leader and writer Yannis Makriyannis, klephts and armatoloi—being the only available major military force on the side of the Greeks—played such a crucial role in the Greek revolution that he referred to them as the "yeast of liberty". [25]

Enlightenment and the Greek national movement

Rigas Feraios (d. 1798), intellectual and revolutionary, is regarded as a forerunner of the Greek Revolution.

Due to economic developments taking place both within and outside the Ottoman Empire, the 18th century witnessed the ascent of two merchant groups to prosperity: Greek sailors of several Aegean islands, such as Hydra and Andros, became affluent maritime merchants and Rumeli muleteers of Slav, Greek and predominantly Vlach origins changed from muleteers and peddlers to independent merchants and bankers after the treaty of Passarowitz. As commerce expanded in the Balkans, Greek became the area's lingua franca and continental merchants homogenized through a process of assimilation to the Greek "high culture" by the end of the century. [26]

They generated the wealth necessary to found schools, libraries and pay for young Greeks to study at the universities of Western Europe. [27] It was there that they came into contact with the radical ideas of the European Enlightenment, the French Revolution and romantic nationalism. [28] Educated and influential members of the large Greek diaspora, such as Adamantios Korais and Anthimos Gazis, tried to transmit these ideas back to the Greeks, with the double aim of raising their educational level and simultaneously strengthening their national identity. This was achieved through the dissemination of books, pamphlets and other writings in Greek, in a process that has been described as the modern Greek Enlightenment ( Greek: Διαφωτισμός). [28]

Crucial for the development of the Greek national idea were the Russo-Turkish Wars of the 18th century. Peter the Great had envisaged a disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the re-institution of a new Byzantine Empire with an Orthodox emperor. His Pruth River Campaign of 1711 set a precedent for the Greeks, when Peter appealed to Orthodox Christians to join the Russians and rise against the Turks to fight for “faith and homeland”. The russo-Turkish wars of Catherine II (1762-1796) made the Greeks to consider their emancipation with the aid of Russia. An independence movement in Peloponnesus (Morea) was incited by Russian agents in 1769, and a Greek flotilla under Lambros Katsonis assisted the Russian fleet in the war of 1788-1792. [29] Those Greek revolts of the 18th century, whereas unsuccessful, were more massive than the revolts of previous centuries, and announced the initiative for a national revolution. [30]

At the same time, revolutionary nationalism grew across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries (including in the Balkans), in large part owing to the influence of the French Revolution, [31] the Ottoman Empire's power declined and Greek nationalism began to assert itself. [32]

The most influential of the Greek writers and intellectuals was Rigas Feraios. Deeply influenced by the French Revolution, Rigas was the first who conceived and organized a comprehensive national movement aiming at the liberation of all Balkan nations—including the Turks of the region—and the creation of a "Balkan Republic". Arrested by Austrian officials in Trieste in 1797, he was handed over to Ottoman officials and transported to Belgrade along with his co-conspirators. All of them were strangled to death in June 1798 and their bodies were dumped in the Danube. [33]

Better an hour of free life
Than forty years of slavery and prison.
Rigas Feraios, approx. translation from his "Thourios" poem. [34]

Rigas' death ultimately fanned the flames of Greek nationalism; his nationalist poem, the "Thourios" (war-song), was translated into a number of Western European and later Balkan languages and served as a rallying cry for Greeks against Ottoman rule. [35]

Another influential Greek writer and intellectual was Adamantios Korais who witnessed the French Revolution. Korais' primary intellectual inspiration was from the Enlightenment and he borrowed ideas from Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. When Korais was a young adult he moved to Paris to continue his studies. He eventually graduated from the Montpellier School of Medicine and spent the remainder of his life in Paris. He would often have political and philosophical debates with Thomas Jefferson. While in Paris he was a witness to the French Revolution and saw the democracy that came out of it. He spent a lot of his time convincing wealthy Greeks to build schools and libraries to further the education of Greeks. He believed that a furthering in education would be necessary for the general welfare and prosperity of the people of Greece, as well as the country. Korais' ultimate goal was a democratic Greece much like the Golden Age of Pericles but he died before the end of the revolution.

The Greek cause began to draw support not only from the large Greek merchant diaspora in both Western Europe and Russia, but also from Western European Philhellenes. [32] This Greek movement for independence was not only the first movement of national character in Eastern Europe, but also the first one in a non-Christian environment, like the Ottoman Empire. [36]

Filiki Eteria

Oath of the Filiki Eteria

Feraios' martyrdom was to inspire three young Greek merchants: Nikolaos Skoufas, Emmanuil Xanthos, and Athanasios Tsakalov. Influenced by the Italian Carbonari and profiting from their own experience as members of Freemasonic organizations, they founded in 1814 the secret Filiki Eteria ("Friendly Society") in Odessa, an important center of the Greek mercantile diaspora. [37] With the support of wealthy Greek exile communities in Britain and the United States and with the aid of sympathizers in Western Europe, they planned the rebellion. [38]

The society's basic objective was a revival of the Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople as the capital, not the formation of a national state. [38] In early 1820, Ioannis Kapodistrias, an official from the Ionian Islands who had become the joint foreign minister of Tsar Alexander I, was approached by the Society in order to be named leader but declined the offer; the Filikoi (members of Filiki Eteria) then turned to Alexander Ypsilantis, a Phanariote serving in the Russian army as general and adjutant to Alexander, who accepted. [39]

The Filiki Eteria expanded rapidly and was soon able to recruit members in all areas of the Greek world and among all elements of the Greek society. v[›] In 1821, the Ottoman Empire mainly faced war against Persia and more particularly the revolt by Ali Pasha in Epirus, which had forced the vali (governor) of the Morea, Hursid Pasha, and other local pashas to leave their provinces and campaign against the rebel force. At the same time, the Great Powers, allied in the " Concert of Europe" in opposition to revolutions in the aftermath of Napoleon I of France, were preoccupied with revolts in Italy and Spain. It was in this context that the Greeks judged the time ripe for their own revolt. The plan originally involved uprisings in three places, the Peloponnese, the Danubian Principalities and Constantinople. [40]

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