Greek War of Independence: Struggle for Freedom from Ottoman Oppression and the Birth of the Modern Greek Nation

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The Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire captured the imagination of the world. It was the revolution of the Romantic Age, inspiring painters, poets and patriots the world over, fired as much by Lord Byron's ringing words and Delacroix's brilliant paintings as by Greece's seemingly hopeless plight.

For nearly four hundred years the Ottoman Turks governed Greece, subjecting it to crushing and arbitrary tax burdens and its ...
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Overview

The Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire captured the imagination of the world. It was the revolution of the Romantic Age, inspiring painters, poets and patriots the world over, fired as much by Lord Byron's ringing words and Delacroix's brilliant paintings as by Greece's seemingly hopeless plight.

For nearly four hundred years the Ottoman Turks governed Greece, subjecting it to crushing and arbitrary tax burdens and its peasants to serfdom; the glories of the ancient past were gone, and under Turkish rule Greece was poor and backward. But inspired by the examples of the American and French revolutions, Napoleon's victories, and the Latin American wars of liberation, the Greek people rose up against their Turkish masters in 1821. For twelve brutal years—years of terrible violence and bloody massacre—the Greeks and the foreign volunteers who flocked to their cause fought until independence was finally won in 1833.

The Greek War of Independence is certain to be the standard history for many years to come. David Brewer has captured it brilliantly, from the ground up—the heroes and villains, the victories and tragic defeats. Greece was, as Byron said, a land with a special destiny—"Freedom's home, or Glory's grave."

Author Biography: David Brewer was first a Classics scholar at Oxford and afterwards learned modern Greek. The Greek War of Independence, the result of a lifelong interest in the history and culture of Greece, is his first book.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1821, Greek revolutionaries began a War of Independence fueled by longstanding grievances against their Turkish occupiers and Enlightenment ideals. In 1833, Greece became the first nation-state to win its independence from the Ottoman Empire, the centuries-old nemesis of Christian Europe. This volume is former Oxford classics scholar Brewer's detailed narrative of this achievement. Brewer effectively employs historical analogies to place the struggle within an understandable context. For example, he likens the popular support of Europeans, if not their governments, for the Greek struggle to 20th-century support during the Spanish Civil War, and he describes the effect on European public opinion of a vivid painting by Delacroix, based on the Turkish capture and pillaging of Mesolongi, a Greek fortress town, as similar to that of Vietnam War-era photographs that aroused antiwar passions. Brewer comprehensively describes the military campaigns, but he is most engaging when examining the internal and external political factors that influenced the war's outcome. Both the difficulties in forging a coherent Greek effort (despite deep divisions among Greek factions) and the complex set of historical relationships that informed the political stances of European governments are set out in close detail. The latter factor was pivotal, as it was the joint intervention of England, France and Russia that finally forced the Ottomans to accept Greek independence. At times, the details are too dense; although it is no fault of Brewer's, the betrayals, massacres, impalements, decapitations and mutual depredations of the combatants will leave readers profoundly depressed. Nonetheless, Brewer's effort willbe worthwhile for those interested in European history. Illus. and maps. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In his first book, Brewer, a former Oxford classics scholar, has produced a meticulously researched, scholarly, yet engaging account of the brutal struggle of the Greeks to win independence from the Ottoman Turks. Inspired by the American, French, and Latin American revolutions and the recent Napoleonic victories, the Greek War continued for 12 years, from 1821 to1833; even then, the Turks capitulated only after pressure from foreign powers. Although he provides exhaustive historical detail, Brewer manages to add a great deal of humanity to this work, not only in his depiction of the various personalities involved but also through vivid description of the atrocities committed by both sides. Brewer also gives good background on the declining Ottoman Empire, and although sympathetic to the Greek cause, he does give credit to the Turks and blame to the Greeks as events warranted. All in all, an excellent, comprehensive, well-documented undertaking; recommended for academic and large public libraries. Ruth K. Baacke, Highland Mills, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In sturdy but ordinary prose, a freelance historian tells the complicated story of the war that took the life of Lord Byron and freed Greece from Ottoman rule. Brewer (a one-time classics scholar with a half-century's interest in Greece) debuts with a thorough, if occasionally sluggish, account of a struggle that ultimately involved the great powers of Europe and consumed virtually all of the 1820s. After the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, Brewer argues, "Greece became a small, poor and backward part of this great empire. . . . " It was principally the Christian church that enabled the Greeks to keep their dwindling sense of national identity. By the early 19th century, time was ripe for talk of liberation to become action. In September 1814, three Greeks founded a secret society to foment the uprising they hoped would result in liberation. Brewer confidently guides us through the seven complex years before hostilities erupted in March 1821. At first the Greeks were out-gunned, out-shipped, and out-manned, but a number of early victories greatly improved morale-and encouraged foreign investors and sundry philhellenes to adopt the Greek cause. (One young idealist who showed up to fight was a Spanish girl dressed as a man.) Brewer does not withhold the full measure of gore: Following their victory at Chios, for example, the Turks sent a grisly shipment of Greek heads and ears to Constantinople. Brewer devotes several interesting chapters to the intertwined stories of Lord Byron and his friend Edward John Trelawny (the latter snatched Shelley's heart from the funeral pyre in 1822 and later barely survived an assassination attempt in a Greek stronghold). And Brewer, ever incommand of his facts, explains the effects of sizable British loans, the attempt to forge a constitution and find a king; he relates, as well, the world's last major naval battle involving ships powered only by the wind. A nutritious but heavy loaf that lacks the leavening of felicity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585671724
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 9/10/2001
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.44 (d)

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


Revolution and the Great Church


In the history of a nation's hour of triumph a myth is often embedded,a romantic story of heroic action or noble gesture which passes fromgeneration to generation even though nobody really believes it. TheGreeks cherish such a myth about the outbreak of their war to win independencefrom the Ottoman empire. This empire, dominated by theTurks, was one of the most impressive that the world has ever seen. Itlasted from its foundation by Osman I in the fourteenth century untilthe end of the 1914—18 war. At its greatest extent it stretched from Algiersto Baghdad and from Cairo to Budapest. From the time of theOttoman capture of Constantinople in 1453 Greece became a small,poor and backward part of this great empire, and remained so for nearly400 years.

    In the early months of 1821 Greece showed all the signs of impendingrevolution against her Turkish rulers. Plans for it were debated,dates for its outbreak were discussed, and widespread purchase ofweapons led to a shortage of powder and shot in the bazaars. One ofthe most prominent Greek leaders was Georgios Yermanós, bishop ofPatras in the north-west Peloponnese for the last fifteen years. Yermanóswas not simply a local dignitary. A personal friend of the GreekOrthodox patriarch, his reputation and influence extended beyond thePeloponnese to the rest of mainland Greece and to the islands of theAegean. It is on Bishop Yermanós that the myth centres.

    According to the story Yermanós was summoned from Patras at theend of March 1821 to Tripolis inthe central Peloponnese for one of theregular meetings of Greek leaders with the Turkish authorities. Hisroute took him to Kalávrita, high in the hills above the Gulf of Corinth,and there he declared that he would go no further. After spending anight in prayer at a convent, he proceeded on 25 March to the nearbymonastery of Áyia Lávra, where 1,500 armed peasants were assembled.He promised them a miracle: that when the Turks came to seize him,the Greeks needed only to shout the Old Testament slogan `Thine, OLord, is the victory.' So it turned out: when sixty Turkish cavalryappeared, the united roar echoed from the surrounding mountains andthe Turks scattered and fled pell-mell back to Kalávrita.

    As the story continues, a Te Deum was sung, and Yermanós, nowregarded as a supernatural being, celebrated mass, and then addressedthe assembled throng. There will be no help, he said, from the Christianpowers. What benefit, he asked the military leader and former mercenaryKolokotrónis, did you ever get for shedding your blood under theRussian flag? France, always the friend of the Greeks, could provideonly distant and indirect help. As for Britain, the governor of theBritish-held Ionian islands and the English consuls in Greece were sohostile that one could count them as on the Turkish side.

    Nevertheless, Yermanós went on, we can no longer remain subjectsof the Sultan, and he pointed out that the die was now cast. The wholeof Greece was compromised by action already taken against the Turks,which he described as `a spark which will produce a generalconflagration'. The attempted revolution now in progress among theweak-spirited people of Moldavia and Wallachia would fail, but boththat venture and the rebellion in Iánnina of Ali Pasha, the `criminal',would helpfully divert Turkish forces. He claimed for Greece the islandsof the Aegean, and districts and cities as far north as Ali Pashas domain,a boundary not in fact achieved until nearly a century later. Thesupreme principle of our policy, he said, must be to conquer or to die,and he concluded: `I will go back into the Lord's house and will repeatto you from the pulpit of truth what I have told you today: that ourwhole history, and our whole future, are enshrined in the words religion,freedom and fatherland.'

    His speech ended, Yermanós allocated tasks to each leader, and withother priests received confessions. Then he mounted a knoll and gave ageneral absolution to the crowd, which had now grown to 5,000, thesame number as those to whom Christ preached in the desert. Afterdistributing to each, by his own hand, the consecrated bread, hereleased the faithful from their Lenten fast, publicly doing so himselfand declaring that, since the life and religion of all were under threat,they must have strength to defend the people and the altar.

    So ends the legend-creating account. The Greek revolution did infact begin in the spring of 1821, but this whole incident was pure invention.Neither Yermanós nor Kolokotrónis, whom he is supposed to haveaddressed, were at Áyia/Lávra on 25 March, Kolokotrónis being milesaway in the southern Peloponnese. Contemporary historians, Greekand foreign, dismissed the episode as only assumed to be historical oras simply false. The story comes from the pen of François Pouqueville,French consul in Greece and author of a four-volume history of theGreek rising rushed out in 1824. Pouqueville is not to be trusted. Heinvents incidents, and plucks convenient facts and figures from the air.He does so either to enhance a story or to express his animus againstany country but his own, as he did in Yermanós' supposed references toRussia and Britain and in his own calumnies against some of his fellowconsuls. If Chauvin had not given his name to bellicose and exaggeratednationalism, Pouqueville might have done so.

    Nevertheless Áyia Lávra has become for Greeks the defining venuefor the outbreak of their revolution, and 25 March is still a day ofnational celebration. The appeal of Pouqueville's story is that it links theGreeks' revolution in every possible way to the Bible, to religious faithand to the Orthodox church: the setting at a monastery, the Biblicalslogan which scattered the Turkish cavalry, the gathering of a Biblical5,000, the date which coincided with the religious Feast of theAnnunciation, the emphasis on religion ahead even of freedom andfatherland. In this the myth reflects reality. The church had indeed beenthe main preserver of Greek national identity throughout nearly 400years of Turkish rule.


As Sultan Mehmed II launched his Ottoman forces in a final attack onByzantium's capital Constantinople in the early hours of Tuesday 29May 1453 it was the churches whose bells rang the alarm throughout thecity, and whose buildings were sought as asylum by the terrified inhabitants.Constantinople fell that day. Churches were pillaged, and therefugees still sheltering there either slaughtered or led away for ransomor to slavery. In the late afternoon of that cataclysmic Tuesday theSultan entered Áyia Sophía, the greatest church in the city and indeedin the whole of Byzantium. From the pulpit a Muslim cleric proclaimedthat there was no God but Allah, and the Sultan himself mounted thealtar slab and made obeisance to the God of his faith.

    The triumph of the Ottomans might have been expected to mark theend of the Greek Orthodox church, but this did not happen. Many ofthe churches of Constantinople were saved from destruction on thegrounds, sometimes rather artificial, that they had surrendered ratherthan been captured. The Sultan, still only 21, had Greek blood, a belovedGreek stepmother and a profound admiration for the Byzantine achievement.He was therefore sympathetic to his new Greek subjects, and hispolicy towards them was from the beginning pragmatic rather thandestructive. The Greeks were to form a separate community within theOttoman empire, subject to its laws and taxes but otherwise largely self-governing.The ultimate responsibility for their good behaviour was tolie with the patriarch of the Orthodox church who would, as inByzantine times, reside in the city which was now named Istanbul,though for the Greeks it would always remain Constantinople.

    The office of patriarch was at that moment vacant, and the Sultancould make his own choice. This fell on the eminent and widely respectedscholar Georgios Yennádhios. There was an excellent political reason forappointing Yennádhios, in that he was the leading opponent of the unionof the Eastern and Western churches, that is of the Orthodox and theCatholics. This union was the subject that the two sides had met to discussat the Council of Florence fourteen years earlier. There the Orthodox,under pressure from the Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaeologos, whowanted Western political and military support against Ottoman invasion,had reluctantly signed an act of union with the Catholics which waswidely unpopular with the Greeks. A later historian described the strengthof anti-union feeling on the eve of Constantinople's fall: `If, at this ultimatehour, an angel had appeared to the Byzantines and had told them:"Admit the union of the two Churches and I will scatter your enemies,"the Greeks would not have listened and would have preferred the yoke ofthe Ottomans; such deep traces had the schism left.'

    The Sultan had no wish to see the western European powers givingto their fellow Christians the support against Islam which John VIIIhad tried to secure at Florence. Thus the anti-union Yennádhios was ahighly suitable candidate for patriarch, but at first he could not befound. Eventually it was learnt that he had been captured at the fall ofConstantinople and was now the house slave of a wealthy Turk inAdrianople, modern Edirne. He was brought back to Constantinopleand in January 1454 was enthroned as patriarch in the Church of theHoly Apostles. The formal enthronement was a link with the past. Asecure future was promised in the words of the Sultan as he handedYennádhios the robes, staff and pectoral cross of office: `Be Patriarch,with good fortune, and be assured of our friendship, keeping all theprivileges that the Patriarchs before you enjoyed.'

    The terms on which Yennádhios accepted the patriarchate laid downthe framework of semi-autonomy for the Christians in the Ottomanempire. The patriarch himself, and his successors, were guaranteed personalinviolability, freedom of movement and exemption from taxes.No more churches were to be converted to mosques. Patriarchal ratherthan Turkish courts were to deal with all cases where only the Orthodoxwere involved. The patriarch could tax the Orthodox to raise money forthe church. In return for these privileges the patriarch was responsibleto the Ottoman authorities for the good behaviour of his flock and forensuring that they paid their taxes to the state. These patriarchal powersand responsibilities were not limited to the Greek members of his flock.They extended in principle to all the Orthodox churches which then orlater were part of the Ottoman empire: the patriarchates of Alexandria,Jerusalem and Antioch, the Slav Orthodox churches and even nominallythe Russian.

    All this promised well. The patriarchate was under the protection ofthe state, its powers were consolidated and in some respects extended,and the rights as well as duties of the Christian community were formallyestablished. But the weaknesses of the arrangement soon becameevident. The promise not to convert churches to mosques was overriddenby later sultans. Church leaders were now involved in the politicsof the Sultans court and skill in intrigue became as important an attributeas spirituality. Finally, there was the question of money. Though thepatriarch was personally exempt from taxes, the patriarchate as an officewas not, and taxes on it steadily rose. Furthermore, since under theYennádhios agreement a patriarch, though elected by the Holy Synod,needed confirmation by the state, the practice developed of making apayment to the state on election. These payments increased not only inamount but also in frequency, as Turkish intrigues brought aboutrepeated changes of patriarch: a total of sixty-one elections in thehundred years 1595-1695. Thus by the eve of the Greek war of independencethe patriarchate was hugely in debt.

    Chronically short of funds, the church neglected the clergy in thetowns and villages. Little was done for the clergy's own education, or toenable them to provide schooling for their parishioners. In fact, withthe Turkish conquest, Greece entered a dark age of education. The universityat Constantinople and the academies at Thessalonika, Místraand Trebizond all disappeared. A century after the fall ofConstantinople a professor from Tübingen, Martin Crusius, on a visitto Greece lamented: `In all Greece studies nowhere flourish. They haveno public academies or professors, except for the most trivial schools inwhich the boys are taught to read the Horologion, the Octoëchon, thePsalter, and other books which are used in the liturgy. But amongst thepriests and monks those who really understand these books are very fewindeed.' By the beginning of the nineteenth century a disgruntledtraveller could maintain that Orthodoxy was no more than `a leprouscomposition of ignorance, superstition and fanaticism'.

    Nevertheless, the church remained in close touch with the people. Thevillage priest was chosen from among the villagers, and lived as they did.If the community wanted to protest against acts of aggression or extortionby the state, it was often through the local pappás and his superiorsthat this could be done. While the nation's Muslim occupiers attendedthe mosque, a sense of Greek national identity was maintained by thechurch services in the Greek language. It is still widely believed in Greecethat the local churches were also used as secret schools. Greeks of todaystill remember the children's rhyme beginning `Phengaráki mou lambró':


Little moon, so bright and cool,
Light me on my way to school,
Where to study I am free,
And God's word is taught to me.


Why, the mystified child would ask, should it be the moon which lightsthe way to school, and would be told that because of Turkish oppressionchildren had to creep from their homes at night to learn their languageand religion secretly from the local pappás. But the Turks did notsuppress education, secular or religious: they left it in the hands of theOrthodox patriarch. Probably many children did go to a makeshiftschool, often in a church and with a priest as teacher, but went at nightsimply because they were working in the fields all day.

    By the end of the eighteenth century the patriarch was faced with anincreasingly difficult dilemma. On the one hand, the church was, forthe Greek people, the trustee of their continuity with the past, andmany saw it as the guarantor of their eventual liberation. On the otherhand, the patriarch had sworn an oath of loyalty to the Sultan on takingoffice, and had accepted the agreement made by Yennádhios at the verybeginning of Turkish rule. Was it not therefore the patriarch's duty torender unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's? The church was thus atthe head of both collaboration and resistance and was, as it were, castsimultaneously in the roles of Pétain and de Gaulle. The collaborationistrole was the dominant one, in public at least. A Paternal Exhortationwas published in 1798, over the signature of the patriarch of Jerusalembut perhaps composed by Grigórios V, then patriarch of Constantinopleas he was again in 1821. The document could hardly have been moreobsequious: the author thanked God for the establishment of theOttoman empire, which had preserved Orthodoxy and saved it fromthe incipient heresies of Byzantium, and he ordered the faithful to obeyand respect the Sultan whom God had set in authority over them.

    As revolution approached, the patriarchal line hardened even further,and at the first outbreak of revolt in March 1821 an encyclical was circulated,over the signatures of the patriarch Grigórios and twenty-twoother prominent churchmen, excommunicating any who took part ina revolution against their lawful sovereign the Sultan. But the dilemmaof the church could not be resolved in this or any other way. Grigórioswas arrested for supposed complicity in the revolt, hanged at the gateof his own palace and his body dragged through the city and throwninto the Bosphorus. The Great Church still had a significant contributionto make in the fight for independence, but the patriarchate nowhad none.


Excerpted from The Greek War of Independence by DAVID BREWER. Copyright © 2001 by David Brewer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

Illustrations ix
Acknowledgements xi
A note on pronunciation xii
A note on currencies and prices xiv
Maps xv
1. Revolution and the Great Church 1
2. Resentment and Regeneration 8
3. Two Prophets of Revolution 17
4. The Philikí Etería 26
5. Ali Pasha 36
6. Revolt along the Danube 49
7. Doubts and Deliberations in the South 62
8. The Storm Breaks 70
9. The Land War 79
10. The War at Sea 89
11. The Turkish Reaction 100
12. The Capture of Tripolis 111
13. Forming a Government 124
14. The Eyes of the World on Greece 135
15. The Philhellenes in Action 145
16. Chios 154
17. The Expedition of Dramali 168
18. The GreeksDivided 180
19. Byron's Road to Greece 194
20. Byron at Mesolongi 204
21. Gold from London 220
22. Civil War in Greece 226
23. Ibrahim in the Peloponnese 234
24. The Involvement of the Powers 247
25. Odysseus and Trelawny 258
26. The Fall of Mesolongi 269
27. The Second English Loan 289
28. Desperate Remedies 297
29. Athens, the Last Ottoman Success 306
30. The Treaty of London and the Admirals' Instructions 316
31. Navarino 325
32. Kapodhístrias, a Border and a King 337
Notes 352
Select Bibliography 371
Index 377
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