Greek War of Independence

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Pre 1900 Military

Greek War of Independence
Part of Wars of Independence

Monastery Agia Lavra, Peloponnese, 1821. "Germanos blessing the flag". Theodoros Vryzakis, 1865.
Date 18211831
Location The Balkans (mainly Greece) and the Aegean Sea.
Result Greek Victory, Establishment of the modern Greek state.
Greek revolutionaries
United Kingdom
Russian Empire
Ottoman Empire
Egyptian Khedivate
Theodoros Kolokotronis,
Alexander Ypsilanti
Omer Vryonis,
Ibrahim Pasha.
100,000 Greek
400,000 Ottoman

12,000 Egyptian
Casualties and losses
50,000 Greek, 181 British, French and Russians
115,000 Ottoman; 5,000 Egyptian

The Greek War of Independence (18211831), also known as the Greek Revolution ( Greek: Ελληνική Επανάσταση Elliniki Epanastasi, Ottoman Turkish: يؤنان ئسياني Yunan İsyanı, i.e. "Greek insurgence"), was a successful war waged by the Greeks to win independence for Greece from the Ottoman Empire. Independence was finally granted by the Treaty of Constantinople in July 1832 when Greece (Hellas) was recognized as a free country. The Greeks were the first of the subject peoples of the Ottoman Empire to secure recognition as a sovereign power. Greeks celebrate their independence day annually on March 25.


The Ottoman Empire had ruled almost all of Greece, with the exception of the Ionian Islands since its conquest of the Byzantine Empire over the course of the 14th and 15th centuries. However, in the 18th and 19th centuries, as revolutionary nationalism grew across Europe (due, in part, to the influence of the French Revolution), and the power of the Ottoman Empire declined, Greek nationalism began to assert itself and drew support from Western European "philhellenes".

It is important to note that the Greek Revolution was not an isolated event, but that there were numerous failed attempts at regaining independence throughout the history of the Ottoman occupation of Greece. For example, in 1603 there was an attempt in the Peloponnesos to restore the Byzantine Empire, and throughout the 17th century there was great resistance to the Turks in the Peloponnesus. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Orlov Revolt of 1770. The Mani Peninsula of Peloponnesos also continually resisted Turkish rule, defeating several Turkish incursions into the region, the most famous of which was the Ottoman Invasion of Mani (1780).

One of the early writers who helped shape opinion among the Greek population in and out of the Ottoman Empire was Rigas Feraios (Ρήγας Φεραίος). Born in Thessaly and educated in Constantinople, Feraios published a Greek-language newspaper Ephimeris in Vienna in the 1790s. He was deeply influenced by the French Revolution and he published revolutionary tracts and proposed republican constitutions for Greek and pan-Balkan nations. He was arrested by Austrian officials in Trieste in 1797 when he was betrayed by a Greek merchant in that city. He was handed over to Ottoman officials and was transported to Belgrade with his co-conspirators. They were all strangled to death and their bodies dumped in the Danube River in June, 1798. Instead of diminishing support for Feraios's ideas, his death fanned the flames of Greek independence. His nationalist poem which is today memorized by Greek schoolchildren, the thourios (war-song) was translated into many Balkan and European languages, and served as a rallying cry for Greeks against Ottoman rule:

Ως πότε παλληκάρια θά ζούμε στά στενά
Until when brave warriors, shall we live under constraints ,
μονάχοι σάν λιοντάρια στίς ράχες τά βουνά
Lonely like the lions in the ridges of the mountains,

Καλύτερα μιάς ώρας ελεύθερη ζωή
It is better an hour of free life,
παρά σαράντα χρόνια σκλαβιά καί φυλακή.
Than forty years of slavery and jail.

Image:10ec gre.png
Portrait of Rigas on a 10 cent Greek euro coin

The movement for independence

The reasons why the Greeks were the first to break away from the multi-ethnic, multi-religious Ottoman Empire and secure recognition as a sovereign power are several. The fact that the Ottoman Empire was in manifest decline made such a revolt feasible. Some Greeks enjoyed a privileged position in the Ottoman state, and Ottoman Turks had always afforded a specific class of Greeks a degree of power. Since the Hellenisation of the Byzantine Empire they had controlled the affairs of the Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, based in Constantinople, and the higher clergy were always Greek. From the 18th century onwards Phanariot Greek notables (Turkish-appointed Greek administrators from the Phanar district of Constantinople) played an influential role in the governance of the Ottoman Empire.

A strong maritime tradition in the islands of the Aegean together with the emergence in the 18th century of an influential merchant class generated the wealth necessary to found schools and libraries and to pay for young Greeks to study in the universities of Western Europe. Here they came into contact with the radical ideas of the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution. In 1814 three young Greeks, much influenced by the martyrdom of Rigas, founded the Filiki Eteria, the secret "Friendly Society" which laid the organizational groundwork for the revolt. The society was founded in Odessa, an important centre of the Greek mercantile diaspora. The Greeks' success marked the beginning of the gradual break-up of the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, the other peoples of the Balkan peninsula were to follow the Greek example in seeking their freedom from Ottoman rule.


Due to Greece's classical past, there was tremendous sympathy for the Greek cause throughout Europe. Many European aristocrats and wealthy Americans, such as the renowned poet Lord Byron, who died during the Siege of Missolonghi, took up arms to join the Greek revolutionaries. Many more also financed the revolution, and the Scottish historian and Philhellene Thomas Gordon took part in the revolutionary struggle and wrote one of the first histories of the revolution in English.

Lord Byron was a prominent English Philhellene who was killed in the Greek revolution
Lord Byron was a prominent English Philhellene who was killed in the Greek revolution

Once the revolution broke out, Ottoman atrocities were given wide coverage in Europe and drew sympathy for the Greek cause in western Europe — although the British and French governments suspected that the uprising was a Russian plot to seize Greece (and possibly Constantinople) from the Ottomans. The Greeks were unable to establish a coherent government in the areas they controlled, and soon fell to fighting among themselves. Inconclusive fighting between Greeks and Ottomans continued until 1825, when Sultan Mahmud II asked for help from his most powerful vassal, Egypt.

The sortie of Messolonghi by Theodoros Vryzakis
The sortie of Messolonghi by Theodoros Vryzakis

In Europe, the Greek revolt aroused widespread sympathy among the public but at the beginning was met with lukewarm reception by the Great Powers, with Britain supporting the insurrection only after 1823 when the Ottomans failed to assert their power despite a Greek civil war and Russia adding their support after Britain, to limit the British influence over the Greeks. Greece was viewed as the cradle of western civilization, and it was especially lauded by the spirit of romanticism that was current at the time. The sight of a Christian nation attempting to cast off the rule of a Muslim Empire also appealed to the western European public.

One of those who heard the call was the poet Lord Byron who spent time in Albania and Greece, organising funds and supplies (including the provision of several ships), but died from fever at Messolonghi in 1824. Byron's death did even more to augment European sympathy for the Greek cause. This eventually led the western powers to intervene directly.

Beginning of the Revolution

In 1814, Greek nationalists formed a secret organization called the Friendly Society (Filiki Eteria) in Odessa. With the support of wealthy Greek exile communities in Britain and the United States, the aid of sympathizers in Western Europe and covert assistance from Russia, they planned a rebellion. The basic objective of the society was a revival of the Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople as the capital, not the formation of a national state. John Capodistria, an official from the Ionian Islands who had become the Russian Foreign Minister, was secured as the leader of the planned revolt. In 1821, the Ottoman Empire was occupied with war against Persia and with the revolt of Ali Pasha in the Balkans. The Great Powers, who opposed revolutions in principle in the aftermath of Napoleon were preoccupied with revolts in Italy and Spain and the revolutionaries started their actions. The planned revolt originally involved uprisings in three places, Peloponnese, the Danubian Principalities and Constantinople. The start of the uprising can be set in 1821 on March 6 when Alexander Ypsilanti accompanied by several other Greek officers of the Russian army crossed the river Prut in Romania.

In the Peloponnese the main seats of the revolt where Achaia, and Mani. Early incidents of the revolt occurred in the form of scattered attacks against organs of the Ottoman administration around Kalavryta, the town itself was sieged on March 21. In Patras in an already tense atmosphere, the Ottomans transferred their belongings to the fortress on February 28 and their families on March 18. On March 23 the Ottomans launched sporadic attacks towards the town while the revolutionaries, led by Karatzas and using guns drove them back to the fortress. Makryiannis who had been hiding in the town referred to the scene in his memoirs:
Σε δυο ημέρες χτύπησε ντουφέκι ’στην Πάτρα. Οι Tούρκοι κάμαν κατά το κάστρο και οι Ρωμαίγοι την θάλασσα.
Shooting broke out two days later in Patras. The Turks had seized the fortress, and the Greeks had taken the seashore.

On March 25 the revolutionaries declared the Revolution in the square of Agios Georgios in Patras. On the next day the leaders of the Revolution in Achaia sent a document to the foreign consulates explaining the reasons of the Revolution. The Maniots declared war of the Ottomans on the March 17. On March 23 revolutionaries took control of Kalamata in Peloponnese. Simultaneous risings were planned across Greece, including in Macedonia, Crete and Cyprus. According to the tradition, the Revolution in Greece and Peloponnese was declared on March 25 in the Monastery of Aghia Lavra by the archbishop of Patras Germanos, however there is no concrete evidence to support this assertion.

The Sacred Battalion

Ypsilantis was the elected head of the Filiki Eteria, and in 1821, he placed himself at the head of the insurrection against the Ottoman Empire in the Danubian Principalities raising the "Sacred Battalion" of Greek exiles vowing to fight for a free Greece. Accompanied by several other Greek officers in the Russian service he crossed the Prut on March 6, announcing that he had "the support of a great power" and also under the impression that the local Romanian Christians would support the revolution.

Instead of advancing on Brăila, where he arguably could have prevented Ottoman armies entering the Principalities, and might have forced Russia to accept a fait accompli, he remained in Iaşi, where he ordered the executions of several pro-Ottoman Moldavians. In Bucharest, where he had arrived after some weeks delay, it became plain that he could not rely on the Wallachian Pandurs to continue their Oltenian-based revolt as assistance to the Greek cause; Ypsilantis was met with mistrust by the Pandur leader Tudor Vladimirescu, who, as a nominal ally to the Eteria, had started the rebellion as a move to prevent Scarlat Callimachi from reaching the throne in Bucharest, while trying to maintain relations with both Russia and the Ottomans.

Then, unexpectedly, came a letter from former Russian Foreign Minister, Kerkyra-born Kapodistrias' upbraiding Ypsilantis for misusing the mandate received from the Russian Emperor, announcing that his name had been struck off the army list, and commanding him to lay down his arms. Ypsilanti's decision to explain away the emperor's letter could only have been justified by the success of a cause which was rendered hopeless. When Vladimirescu took this to mean that his commitment to the Eteria was over, a conflict erupted inside his camp, and he was tried and killed by the pro-Greeks and the Eteria. The loss of their Romanian allies, followed an Ottoman intervention on Wallachian soil sealed defeat for the Greek exiles, culminating in that of Drăgăşani on June 19.

Alexander, accompanied by his brother Nicholas and a remnant of his followers, retreated to Râmnic, where he spent some days in negotiating with the Austrian authorities for permission to cross the frontier. Fearing that his followers might surrender him to the Turks, he gave out that Austria had declared war on Turkey, caused a Te Deum to be sung in the church of Cozia, and, on pretext of arranging measures with the Austrian commander-in-chief, crossed the frontier. But the reactionary policies of the Holy Alliance were enforced by Francis I and Klemens Metternich, and the country refused to give asylum for leaders of revolts in neighboring countries. Ypsilantis was kept in close confinement for seven years.

The Peleponnesos and Sterea Ellada

Equestrian statue of Theodoros Kolokotronis in Nafplion, Greece
Equestrian statue of Theodoros Kolokotronis in Nafplion, Greece

Theodoros Kolokotronis, a Greek klepht who had served in the British army in the Ionian Islands during the Napoleonic Wars returned to Greece and went the Mani Peninsula, a largely unsubdued area of the Peloponnese in early March. Once the Turks found out about the Kolokotronis' arrival, they demanded Petros Mavromichalis surrender him. Mavromichalis refused saying he was just an old man.

On the 17th March 1821, war was declared on the Turks by the Maniots at Areopoli. An army of 2,000 Maniot under the command of Petros Mavromichalis, which included Kolokotronis, his nephew Nikitaras and Papaflessas advanced on the Messenian town of Kalamata. The Maniots managed to reached Kalamata on the 21 March and after a brief two day siege it fell to the Greeks. On the same day, Andreas Londos, a Greek primate captured Vostitsa.

The most popular revolutionary flag, that of Kolokotronis
The most popular revolutionary flag, that of Kolokotronis

European intervention

Image:Naval Battle of Navarino by Carneray.jpg
The Battle of Navarino--The Destruction of the Turco-Egyptian Fleet

On 20 October 1827 the British, Russian and French fleets, on the initiative of local commanders but with the tacit approval of their governments, attacked and destroyed the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Navarino (Πύλος). This was the decisive moment in the war of independence, although the British Admiral Edward Codrington nearly ruined his career, since he wasn't ordered to achieve such a victory or destroy completely the Turko/Egyptian fleet. In October 1828, the Greeks regrouped and formed a new government under John Capodistria (Καποδíστριας). They then advanced to seize as much territory as possible, including Athens and Thebes, before the western powers imposed a ceasefire. The Greeks seized the last Turkish strongholds in the Peloponnese with the help of the French general, Nicolas Joseph Maison.

Massacres during the revolution

Almost as soon as the revolution began, there were large scale massacres of civilians by both the Greek revolutionaries and the Ottoman authorities. The Greek revolutionaries massacred many Muslims inhabiting the Peloponnese and Attica where Greek forces were dominant, whereas the Turks massacred many Greeks especially in Ionia ( Asia Minor), Crete, Constantinople and the Aegean islands where the revolutionary forces were weaker.

According to a number of sources, massacres of the Turkish civilian population started simultaneously with the outbreak of the revolt. William St. Clair said: " The bishops and priests exhorted their parishioners to exterminate infidel Moslems. The klepths and armatoli came down from the mountains and ravaged the Turkish settlements and the whole country was overrun by bands of armed men killing and plundering. The Turks of Greece paid the penalty for centuries of wrongs, real and imagined, and for their inherited religious beliefs." George Finlay, who was himself a Philhellene, wrote in 1861: "In the meantime the Christian population had attacked and murdered the Mussulman population in every part of the peninsula. The towers and country homes of the Mussulmans were burned down, and their property was destroyed, in order to render the return of those who had escaped into the fortresses hopeless. From the 26th of March until Easter Sunday, which fell, in the year 1821, on the 22nd of April, it is supposed that fifteen thousand Mussulman souls perished in cold blood and that about three thousand farmhouses or Turkish dwellings were laid waste.", followed by all but 22 in Missolonghi, 500 families in Vrachori, almost all the men, women, and children in Navarino.

The Ottoman response to the Greek revolution took place throughout the empire. St. Clair wrote: "The Ottoman Government in Constantinople, faced with violent revolutions in different parts of the Empire, decided to answer terror with terror... Turkish counter-terror which began with the hanging of the Patriarch at Constantinople on Easter day, started before the Ottoman government realized full extent of what was happening in the Peloponnese, but soon it was in full swing." In addition to this hanging of Patriarch Gregory IV on Easter Sunday, 1821., his body was mutilated and thrown into the sea, where it was rescued by Greek sailors. This was followed by the execution of two metropolitans and twelve Bishops by the Turkish authorities.In June, Turkish massacres of Greek civilians began in earnest in Ionia. In the town of Kydonia in Ionia, the Turkish garrison began plundering houses and massacred an estimated 25,000 people. After the beginning of the Greek War of Independence, Ottoman soldiers began the massacre of thousands of Greeks around the Ottoman Empire. In the great massacre of Heraklion on 24th June 1821, that people remember as "the great ravage" ("o megalos arpentes"), the enraged Turks massacred the metropolite of Crete, Gerasimos Pardalis, and five more bishops: Neofitos of Knossos, Joachim of Herronissos, Ierotheos of Lambis, Zacharias of Sitia and Kallinikos, the titular bishop of Diopolis.Jelavich states: "As a rule, Ottoman actions were fully reported in Europe, with all the gruesome details; Christian atrocities tended to be ignored."

Some of the first Greek actions were taken against unarmed Ottoman civilians and according to William St. Clair, upwards of twenty thousand Turkish men, women and children were killed by their Greek neighboors in a few weeks of slaughter. Other estimates of the Turkish and Muslim Albanian civilian deaths by the rebels range from 15,000 out of 40,000 Muslim residents to 30,000 only in Tripolis to 60,000 (Turkish claim), but the revolution was successful in removing the entire Turkish and Muslim Albanian population from the Peloponnese, whether through death or displacement. The Turkish and Moslem Albanian population of the Peloponnese had ceased to exist as a settled community.Historian W. Alison Phillips wrote in 1897: "Everywhere, as though at a preconcerted signal, the peasantry rose, and massacred all the Turks —men,women and children— on whom they could lay hands.. The Mussulman population of the Morea had been reckoned at twenty-five thousand souls. Within three weeks of the outbreak of the revolt, not a moslem was left, save those who had succeeded in escaping into the towns." St. Clair said "The orgy of genocide exhausted itself in the peloponnese only when there were no more Turks to kill."

Eugène Delacroix's Massacre of Chios
Eugène Delacroix's Massacre of Chios

The Ottoman authorities soon began massacring Greek islanders, whose fleets were instrumental to the Greek cause. During the Chios Massacre, one of the most notorious occurrences, during 1822, about 42,000 Greek islanders of Chios were hanged, butchered, starved or tortured to death; 50,000 were enslaved; and 23,000 were exiled. The French painter Eugène Delacroix immortalised this massacre in his famous painting The Massacre of Chios. While Greek atrocities against civilians were largely limited to the opening phase of the conflict, they largely stopped after rage had died down over the killing of Patriarch Gregory on Eastern Monday. To the contrary, Ottoman atrocities against civilians continued as official policy. The Egyptians were especially brutal in the Peleponnesos. On May 17, 1824, one of the worst atrocities was committed by Turkish, Egyptian and Albanian forces which is today etched in the Greek national psyche — the destruction of Psara. The entire male civilian population over the age of eight in Psara was wiped out, and the women and small children were sold into slavery. Every building was razed to the ground. In the castle of this city, 150 Greeks, seeing the tortures that their compatriots faced when captured by the Turks, set alight their powder stores, killing themselves along with many Turks. The epigram by Dionysios Solomos commemorates this brave act of defiance:

Στων Ψαρών την ολόμαυρη ράχη,
Οn the all- black Psaran ridge
Περπατώντας η δόξα μονάχη,
Glory, walking alone,
Μελετά τα λαμπρά παλλικάρια,
Contemplates the splendid brave lads,
Και στην κόμη στεφάνι φορεί,
And on her hair she wears a crown
Γινωμένο απο λίγα χορτάρια,
Made of the few remaining green shoots,
Που είχαν μείνει στην έρημη γη.
That remained on the deserted earth.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Jews curried disfavour with the Greeks by supporting the Ottoman Empire and during the Greek War of Independence, thousands of Jews were massacred alongside the Ottoman Turks by the Greek rebels and the Jewish communities of Mistras, Tripolis, Kalamata and Patras were completely destroyed. A few survivors moved north to areas still under Ottoman rule. Greek bishops and priests had exhorted their flocks to exterminate the Turkish and Jewish minoties. Despite the fact that many Jews were killed, they were not targeted specifically: "Such a tragedy seems to be more a side-effect of the butchering of the Turks of Tripolis, the last Ottoman stronghold in the South where the Jews had taken refuge from the fighting, than a specific action against Jews per se." Nevertheless, many Jews within Greece and throughout Europe were supporters of the Greek revolt, using their wealth (as in the case of the Rothschilds) as well as their political and public influence to assist the Greek cause. The Greek state also attracted many Jewish immigrants from the Ottoman Empire following its establishment, being one of the first countries in the world to grant legal equality to Jews.

Diplomatic endgame

John Capodistria was assassinated in 1831 in Nafplion. As a state of confusion continued in the Greek peninsula, the Great Powers sought a formal end of the war and a recognized government in Greece. The Greek throne was initially offered to Léopold I of Belgium, but he refused, as he was not at all satisfied with the Aspropotamos-Zitouni borderline, which replaced the more favourable Arta-Volos line considered by the Great Powers earlier.

The withdrawal of Léopold as a candidate for the throne of Greece, and the July Revolution in France, delayed the final settlement of the frontiers of the new kingdom until a new government was formed in the United Kingdom. Lord Palmerston, who took over as British Foreign Secretary, agreed to the Arta-Volos borderline. However, the secret note on Crete, which the Bavarian plenipotentiary communicated to the Courts of the United Kingdom, France and Russia, bore no fruit.

In May 1832, Palmerston convened the London Conference of 1832. The three Great Powers ( United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, July Monarchy France and the Russian Empire) offered the throne to the Bavarian prince, Otto Wittelsbach, without regard to Greek views on this. The line of succession was also established which would pass the crown to the heirs of Otto, or his younger brothers in succession, should he have no heirs. In no case would the crowns of Greece and Bavaria be joined. As co-guarantors of the monarchy, the Great Powers also empowered their Ambassadors in the Ottoman capital to secure the end of the war. Under the protocol signed on May 7, 1832 between Bavaria and the protecting Powers, and basically dealing with the way in which the Regency was to be managed until Otto reached his majority (while also concluding the second Greek loan, for a sum of £2,400,000 sterling), Greece was defined as an independent kingdom, with the Arta-Volos line as its northern frontier. The Ottoman Empire was given 40,000,000 piastres in compensation for the loss of the territory.

On July 21, 1832 British Ambassador to the Sublime Porte Sir Stratford Canning and the other representatives of the Great Powers concluded the Treaty of Constantinople, which set the boundaries of the new Greek Kingdom at a line running from Arta (Αρτα) to Volos (Βολος). The borders of the Kingdom were reiterated in the London Protocol of August 30, 1832, signed by the Great Powers, which ratified the terms of the Constantinople Arrangement.


The first national flag of Greece adopted 1828
The first national flag of Greece adopted 1828

The consequences of the Greek revolution were somewhat ambiguous in the immediate aftermath. An independent Greek state had been established, but with Britain, Russia and France claiming a major role in Greek politics afterwards and with the import of a Bavarian dynasty as the ruler and a mercenary army. The country had been ravaged by ten years of fighting, was full of displaced refugees and empty Turkish estates, necessitating a series of land reforms over several decades.

The new state also contained 800,000 people, fewer than one third of the two and a half million Greek inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire and for much of the next century the Greek state was to seek the liberation of the “ unredeemed” Greeks of the Ottoman Empire, following Megale Idea, the goal of uniting all Greeks in one country.

As a people, the Greeks no longer provided the princes for the Danubian Principalities and were regarded within the Ottoman Empire, especially by the Muslim population, as traitors. Phanariots who had up to then held high office within the Ottoman Empire were henceforth regarded as suspect and lost their special, privileged category. In Constantinople and the rest of the Ottoman Empire where Greek banking and merchant presence had been dominant, Armenians mostly replaced Greeks in banking and Bulgarian merchants gained importance.

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