Nationalist Revolutionary Energy from the Late 18th Century Onward
The emergence of nationalist revolutionary energy in Greek-speaking milieus from the last decade of the 18th century has been documented.1 The Greek diaspora in central and western Europe provided the central impetus in this process, reflecting to a large degree the political upheavals of the period, which had been triggered by the French Revolution of 1789.
Local and even regional revolts by Christian subjects in Ottoman southeastern Europe had already been occurring intermittently for some time – for example the Orlov Revolt, which broke out in the Peloponnese in 1770 during the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774) and also affected parts of central and northwestern Greece. However, these revolts had not previously pursued a programme of national independence and generally exhibited only very vague political aims.
Similarly, there had been occasional expressions of dissatisfaction with Ottoman rule for some time. However, these complaints had always fallen within a mode of thought which was dominated by the Orthodox church and which defined the "yoke of the infidel Turks" as a punishment from God to "purify the Orthodox Christians", which thus legitimized Turkish rule in terms of the history of redemption. The second half of the 18th century saw the first articulations of a critique of existing political and social conditions which was based on secular arguments and which was the result of the increasing spread of Enlightenment thought in Ottoman southeastern Europe.2
At the end of the 18th century, texts were published in Greek which were directly influenced by the French Revolution and the events which it precipitated. Their novelty lay in the fact that they for the first time went beyond an already familiar critique of the present to depict the radical rearrangement of existing conditions through the use of force as a realistic option in the near future. This new revolutionary literature began with the writings of Rigas Velestinlis (also known as Rigas Feraios, 1757–1798), who came from Thessaly and who, after a career as a secretary in Constantinople and in the Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, had settled in Vienna in the 1790s, where he concentrated on writing and publishing. His most significant political manifesto was a draft constitution that he wrote in 1797. It was heavily influenced by the constitution introduced in revolutionary France in 1793 and it spread the idea of the creation of a state called the "Hellenic Republic" within the borders of the Ottoman Empire through the participation of all of its subjects regardless of their religious or other backgrounds.3
This was followed by various revolutionary writings from the pen of Adamantios Korais (1748–1833), a leading figure of the Greek Enlightenment who lived in Paris from 1788 to the end of his life and thus witnessed the French Revolution first hand. From 1800 onward, he published a series of revolutionary poems which were inspired by the war song Thourios written by Velestinlis in Vienna – which subsequently became very popular4 – as well as political essays such as the Mémoire sur l’état actuel de la civilisation dans la Grèce of 1803, which was a key text in the context of the emerging Greek nationalist movement.5 These texts in turn inspired further revolutionary pamphlets, which began to circulate anonymously in the first decade of the 19th century.6
All of these texts were directly or indirectly inspired by contemporary military developments in the region, particularly by the French expedition in the eastern Mediterranean in 1798, during which there were for a time signs of a fundamental upheaval in the political status quo in Ottoman southeastern Europe.
The content of the writings also reflects to a large degree contemporary trends in European thought, which featured an idealized perception of ancient Greece and the axiomatic elevation of the latter to a universal cultural paradigm. However, while in the west an idealized image of ancient Greece served as a reference point for an Occidental concept of Europe in opposition to the "uncivilized" Orient, in southeastern Europe the image of ancient Greece had a particular political potency, because it was accompanied by the identification of modern Greeks with ancient Greeks. This identification, which became a core doctrine of Greek nationalism, not only provided the argumentative basis for depicting Ottoman rule over the Greeks as unjust and the future removal of that rule as an act of national emancipation, but also connected it with the expectation of a cultural regeneration, thus making the issue of Greek freedom a cause of European civilization.
Conditions on the Eve of the War of Independence
The establishment of the restoration order by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 initially created a generally inauspicious climate for nationalist revolutionary movements, but in southeastern Europe the preceding period of the Napoleonic Wars had also resulted in a clear erosion of the power of the Ottoman state. After years of Russian occupation (1806–1812), the Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia were formally declared demilitarized and thus only remained under the ephemeral suzerainty of the Ottoman government. Serbia, which had rebelled as early as 1804, enjoyed partial autonomy from the second rebellion (1815–1817) onward, and was thus on its way to becoming a sovereign principality. Additionally, various Ottoman provincial potentates had previously succeeded in withdrawing substantial territories in the Balkan Peninsula from the control of the central government for extended periods, thereby de facto establishing their own rule. For example, Osman Pazvandoğlu of Vidin (1758–1807) ruled a territory in the border region of present-day Bulgaria and eastern Serbia for a time after his rebellion in 1794, which at the time provided additional inspiration for the revolutionary plans of Rigas Velestinlis, who referred to Pazvandoğlu directly in his work Thourios. As Pasha of Ioannina (from 1788), Ali Tepedelenli (ca. 1744–1822) – to give another example – ruled southern Albania, Epirus, western Macedonia and Thessaly, thereby controlling the entire southwest of the Balkan Peninsula. From 1807, he was de facto the sole and independent ruler, until he was defeated militarily by the central government in 1822. Ali's rebellion played an important role as a model for the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Many of the prominent military figures involved in the latter had previously served under Ali as mercenaries and had thus seen through direct experience that it was indeed possible to successfully challenge the Sultan's rule.
However, for an acute revolutionary situation to emerge, it was not enough that there was an awareness that a political overthrow was possible, there also had to be a will to actively bring it about. In order for this to emerge, the sense of dissatisfaction among the Greek-speaking elites needed to grow, a development which can indeed be observed in the second decade of the 19th century.7 This dissatisfaction manifested itself less among groups like the Phanariotes8 who were already an established part of the socio-political establishment in the Ottoman Empire, than among the rising middle classes of intellectuals and merchants, who from the mid-18th century had become increasingly successful in the area of trade with central and western Europe. These merchants had also benefited to a considerable degree from the knock-on effects of the period of war which began in 1789 and, after it had come to an end, were confronted with the prospect of declining economic fortunes.9
The Philiki Etaireia (meaning roughly "Society of Friends"), which was founded in 1814 in the Russian city of Odessa, provides clear evidence of these circumstances. This secret society, which was modelled on the masonic lodges and had links with the Italian Carbonari, marked a turning point in the development of the Greek nationalist movement because, in contrast with the various educational societies of the preceding years whose programmes where only indirectly revolutionary,10 it was the first organization to make a general insurrection for the "emancipation of the fatherland" from Ottoman rule its sole aim.11 Its founders, Emmanouil Xanthos (1772–1852), Nikolaos Skoufas (1779–1818) and Athanasios Tsakalof (1788/1790–1851), were – like the first members – all merchants who had achieved at best modest commercial success, who were not very well connected and who did not have a particularly high standard of education. They were thus a group which had relatively little to lose but potentially a lot to gain from a radical transformation in conditions. The geographical spread of the Philiki Etaireia is also instructive. Its membership base was considerably stronger in Russia and the Danubian principalities than in the territories which subsequently formed the Greek nation-state.12
Contrary to their own understanding of themselves and the claims of their programme, the Philiki Etaireia cannot be described as a national movement for emancipation because it did not enjoy mass support. Even during its phase of greatest popularity, which roughly began in 1818, it only reached an infinitesimally small portion of the Greek population. However, its leadership nonetheless succeeded with the help of a masonic approach and concealment tactics to create the impression among its target audience of a mass organization with an effective command structure, and it successfully spread the rumour that it had the backing of the Russian state and was headed by none other than the tsar himself.13 Thus, the historical significance of the Philiki Etaireia for the Greek War of Independence lies primarily in its role as a catalyst, which it played before the war began. After the outbreak of the war in 1821, it was no longer able to play any significant role and it quickly receded into the realm of national legends.
Start: The Rebellion in the Danubian Principalities (1821)
In view of the fact that the central impetus for the formation of the nationalist movement came from diaspora communities in cities such as Paris, Vienna and Odessa, it is not surprising that the War of Independence itself began not in the central territories of the later Greek state, but in a region which was never considered part of the Greek national territory, either then or now.
On 22 February 1821, Alexandros Ypsilantis (1792–1828) – an officer of Greek descent serving in the Russian army and one of the few Phanariotes who had joined the Philiki Etaireia but who had then immediately become their leader – crossed the River Prut from Bessarabia into the principality of Moldavia with a legion of volunteers numbering about five hundred men, the so-called "Holy Company". Iași, the capital city of Moldavia, surrendered to him without any resistance two days later. From there, he moved southward in the direction of Bucharest, which he reached on 17 March, but which he could not hold for long. He was forced to retreat in the face of superior Ottoman forces, who had crossed the Danube in the meantime and had advanced into the demilitarized Danubian principality with Russian permission. These forces finally engaged Ypsilantis on 19 June 1821 in Drăgășani in Oltenia, where the Holy Company was obliterated.
With this campaign, Ypsilantis had hoped to provide the impetus for a general rebellion against Ottoman rule, just as Rigas Velestinlis had described in his revolutionary writings. However, the anticipated popular response did not materialize because the majority of the Rumanian population viewed the rebellion with caution or even hostility, particularly as they saw themselves as being oppressed less by the Ottoman Turks than by the native Boyars and the Greek Phanariotes. An initial plan to join forces with the Pandur leader Tudor Vladimirescu (ca. 1780–1821), who had simultaneously started a rebellion in Wallachia and who met up with Ypsilantis in March 1821 in Bucharest, soon proved unrealistic because of this divergence of interests, demonstrating the limits of supra-regional cooperation among Christians under Ottoman rule in the Balkans.14
While under these circumstances the failure of the Greek revolt in the Danubian principalities seemed inevitable, events unfolded very differently at the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula. By this time, a general insurrection was underway there, with its centre in the Peloponnese. March 25, 1821 is officially identified as the start of this rebellion – though the rebellion actually began some days before this – and this date is now celebrated both as the Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and as Greek Independence Day.
Escalation I: Insurrection in the Peloponnese, Central Greece and the Islands (1821)
After the rebels had gathered at various points in the Peloponnese and central Greece at an agreed time, they succeeded relatively quickly in bringing a large part of this region under their control by forcing the local Ottoman forces to retreat into a small number of fortresses, which were then besieged and surrendered after a short period. Only Tripoli in Arcadia, the civil and military centre of Ottoman rule, managed to resist for a longer period and was only captured at the end of September 1821 after a bloody battle, which was followed by a brutal massacre perpetrated against the predominantly Muslim population. After the Peloponnese and central Greece, the insurrection spread in the spring of 1821 to the Aegean islands, particularly Hydra, Spetses and Psara, which played a decisive role in the maritime war in the subsequent years. The rebellion also flared up in other regions, such as in Thessaly, Epirus, southwest Macedonia, on the Chalkidiki Peninsula and in Thrace, though these were too weak and isolated and were quickly suppressed.
As news of the uprising in the Peloponnese spread, there were attacks on the Greek population in various cities of the Ottoman Empire. Among the victims of these attacks was the patriarch of Constantinople, Gregor V (1745–1821). In accordance with his official duty as the milletbaşı or ethnarch of the Orthodox subjects of the sultan, he had immediately excommunicated all of the rebels – just as he had officially condemned the revolutionary writings of Rigas Velestinlis in 1798. In spite of this, he was lynched on Easter Sunday in his full regalia by a mob in Constantinople, which knew that it had at least the tacit consent of the authorities. Similar executions occurred in July 1821 in Cyprus, where in addition to the archbishop, all of the high-ranking clergy were killed.
Apart from the violence, which was a feature of the Greek War of Independence from the beginning, the incidents described above demonstrate that from the Ottoman perspective also there was a dimension to the war which went far beyond a local revolt. The incidents also demonstrate that the conflict not only stirred up nationalist animosities, but religious ones also. Indeed many of the rebels viewed the conflict very much as a religious war between Christians and Muslims. This attitude was by no means limited to social milieus with a low standard of education and it was soon reflected by a corresponding symbolism.15 The most conspicuous example of this was the decision to make the cross the symbol of the rebellion, giving rise to the subsequent coat of arms and flag of Greece, which are still in use today.16 This symbol was defined in the Greek revolutionary Constitution of Epidaurus, which was adopted on 1 January 1822. It was the first document of its type which explicitly claimed jurisdiction over the entire Greek nation and it also contained the first official instance of the rebels referring to themselves as Hellenes. The Constitution of Epidaurus thus marks an important step in the political transformation of the revolt into a national rebellion. On the other hand, it was just a way station in a process of constitutionalization which had already begun in the first months of the War of Independence and which continued after the constitution was introduced.17 Already in the first year of the war, numerous rebel governments had formed and passed local constitutions – one in the Peloponnese, two in central Greece and others in the islands.18 These local constitutions remained in force even after the Constitution of Epidaurus was adopted and were not formally annulled until March 1823, while the local governments which had created them de facto remained in existence for several years.
This reflects the extraordinarily strong particularist forces at play among the rebels, which were to have a profound influence on the War of Independence throughout, and which were one of the main reasons why it repeatedly came close to failure. They were also a reflection of the socio-cultural heterogeneity of the territory in which the rebellion occurred, which was characterized by elite and clientelist structures which were very diverse in terms of their historical development, and which continued to influence life in the Greek state for a long time after its foundation.
Actors and Clientelist Structures
The core territory of the War of Independence, out of which the Greek state emerged in 1830-1832, consisted of three main historical regions, each with its own distinctive cultural-geographical profile: the Peloponnese or Morea, the central Greek mainland including Attica and the island of Euboea, which was generally referred to as "Roumeli", and, thirdly, the Aegean islands.19
The Peloponnese was dominated by a landowning elite of civilian notables, the kotzampasides (Koça Başı), who from the early 18th century had been an integral and a correspondingly privileged component of Ottoman structures of rule.20 Consequently, their interest lay in retaining the position of leadership which they had enjoyed before the revolution in the new changed circumstances. In particular, this meant allowing no changes to occur in the conditions of landownership and defending their traditional privileges as far as possible. This explains why this group exhibited a particularly strong tendency towards regional particularism. The same applies to the Mani Peninsula at the southern tip of the Greek mainland, which constituted a separate space. It had never been ruled directly by the Ottomans due to its geographical inaccessibility. It was de facto ruled by the Mavromichalis clan.
The rugged mountainous region of the central Greek mainland had an entirely different social structure, which was characterized by comparatively fragmented landownership and a generally low level of urbanization, with relatively weak links with the maritime economy. This region was dominated by a military elite of irregular fighters, the Armatoles, who the Ottomans had taken into their service as a Christian militia for the maintenance of public order, though the distinction between this socio-professional group and the brigands they combated was often a blurred one. They had come under pressure as, after the Orlov Revolt, the Ottomans increasingly favoured Muslim Albanians when hiring such militias. Fundamentally, the outbreak of the War of Independence did not constitute a dramatic change in circumstances for them – many of them had already previously participated in Ali's revolt – because the war meant little more than a changed context in which to pursue their traditional profession as independent mercenaries, and not a radical overthrow of the old order. This also explains why the collusion of individual commanders with the Ottomans was particularly common in this milieu. This collusion ranged from individually negotiated truces to the temporary or longer term changing of sides.21
Circumstances were different again in the third historical region, the Aegean islands, which in the period before the War of Independence underwent the most pronounced economic and social changes. The region was dominated by an elite of maritime merchants, who in the second half of the 18th century had used the favourable broader political context in Mediterranean trade to achieve commercial success, and who had benefited in particular from the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca signed in 1774, which recognized Russia as a protector of the Orthodox subjects of the sultan and the right of ships sailing under the Russian flag to sail through the Dardanelles. Under these conditions, the islands experienced not only strong demographic growth, which even affected small remote islands which had up to then been pirate dens rather than centres of supra-regional trade, but also the accumulation of considerable private wealth, which was invested in the development of a trading fleet and which provided the financial backbone of the rebel naval campaign in 1821.22 Geographic and social mobility in tandem with increasingly close links with western Europe made these maritime merchants an ideal audience for modern progressive ideas and promoted in their milieu the emergence of a mentality which can be described as bourgeois in the broader sense of the word.
In this regard, they were close to another group of actors, which was numerically small but played an important role in the War of Independence. These were the members of a Greek intelligentsia who were native to the large urban centres of the Ottoman Empire and also came from Diaspora communities in Europe, and who arrived in Greece after the rebellion started in order to actively contribute towards its success. Many of them were highly educated, which made them suitable for important organizational, political and diplomatic roles. They were the initiators and drivers of the process of constitutionalization; they staffed the emerging state structures; and it was predominantly they who served as a megaphone for the rebellion in western Europe, which became enormously important as the conflict progressed. However, as recent arrivals and "heterochthonous" actors without indigenous clientele networks they soon came under fire from the native "autochthonous" elites, who were eager to drive these non-local competitors out of the positions of leadership which they had obtained. This gave rise to conflicts which continued for a long time after the foundation of the Greek state.
Finally, a number of people deserve mention, who prior to the rebellion had not belonged to any of the milieus described above, but who succeeded in making a name for themselves during the war as the leaders of guerrilla groups and in this way gained prestige and authority. Their influence was based on military prowess and personal charisma, though in some cases it was also based on the fact that they made themselves the voice of people without property. Ioannis Makrygiannis (1797–1864), who was born into very poor circumstances as the son of a trader in central Greece, was one of these, as was Theodoros Kolokotronis (1770–1843), a brigand leader in the Peloponnese who in 1822 gained an important victory over the Ottomans and subsequently became a leading military figure in the rebellion.
Careers such as these were made possible by the exceptional circumstances created by the outbreak of the revolt, but were also assisted by the specific forms that the war took, which are also an important key to understanding the many internal conflicts within the rebel camp. The Greek War of Independence was fought by guerrilla groups who were not subordinate to any central leadership. Their cohesion was based solely on the personal loyalty (which was thus liable to change) of groups – which rarely numbered more than a few hundred, but which more commonly only numbered a few dozen – towards their respective leader, or kapetan.23 Indeed, this huge organizational disadvantage led the rebellion to the point of military collapse after a few years. However, in the second year of the war, these forces were able to achieve a number of important intermediate victories.
Escalation II: Nationalization of the Conflict in the Second Year of the War (1822)
The war reached a new stage of escalation in 1822 when the central Ottoman government issued call-up and mobilization orders to the pashas of the region, which was the usual means of dealing with a revolt. Having defeated Ali in Ioannina at the beginning of the year and suppressed a local rebellion in the mountainous region of Souli, an army under the command of Reşid Mehmed Kütahı and Omer Vrioni set out from Epirus heading southward. From Thessaly, Mahmud Dramalis (1780–1822) advanced against the Peloponnese, which he reached in the summer of that year without encountering any significant resistance along the way. A fleet of Ottoman warships had also been dispatched from Constantinople to the Aegean Sea early in year. In late March, it occupied the island of Chios and perpetrated a massacre against the population, which caused outrage among the European public and gave huge momentum to existing trend of philhellenism.24
There were thus three main points of attack against the rebellion, none of which achieved its operational aim:
The army that advanced from Epirus under Kütahı and Omer Vrioni came to a halt at the western central Greek harbour city of Missolonghi. The siege of Missolonghi failed after the rebels succeeded in supplying the city by sea. After a failed attempt to storm the city on Christmas Day in 1822, the demoralized Ottoman troops retreated into the surrounding countryside.
The Thessaly army under Dramali reached the Peloponnese unimpeded and took the strategically important fortress of Acrocorinth on the Isthmus of Corinth without a fight, as the rebels had left it unoccupied. However, in late July the army was almost obliterated in a battle in the Dervenakia Ravine on the route between Corinth and Nafplio by Theodoros Kolokotronis, who in this battle rescued the war and also established his reputation as an outstanding military leader.
The Ottoman naval fleet remained at anchor in the harbour of Chios until the summer, and in June it was the target of arson attacks25 by the rebels, who even succeeded in destroying the flagship, killing the commanding admiral in the process. Part of the fleet then sailed northwards toward the Dardanelles. The other part sailed to the Peloponnese, where it was engaged by the fleets of the islands of Hydra and Spetses. In October of the same year, it was forced by further arson attacks near the island of Tenedos to also retreat to the Dardanelles.
In these three failed offensives in 1822, the Sublime Porte had – temporarily at least – exhausted its military resources for fighting the revolt, and the rebels knew that they would not face another largescale attack from Ottoman forces for some time.
Constitutional Crisis and Civil Wars of 1823/1824
The military successes of the second year of the war had rescued the rebellion from acute external threats. However, the removal of these threats brought internal conflicts to the surface all the more forcefully in the rebel camp. These conflicts manifested themselves initially in the form of a constitutional and parliamentary conflict, which quickly escalated into two successive civil wars.
The Constitution of Epidaurus, which had been adopted at the beginning of 1822, was a document which had been heavily influenced by the French revolutionary constitution of 1795. It contained a radical form of the separation of powers. The constitution exhibited the intellectual influences of Alexandros Mavrokordatos (1791–1865) and Theodoros Negris (1790–1824), as well as the Italian Carbonaro Vincenzo Gallina (1795–1842), who had travelled to Greece in 1821 with the texts of European constitutions in his luggage.26 Its concept of the state, which was strongly influenced by the idea of checks and balances between the arms of government, was apt to win the support of democratically minded circles in the European public and to give the rebellion a western, modern appearance from the outside. In practice, however, a constitutional model which had already failed after a short period in France soon proved to be completely unworkable in revolutionary Greece, as it took almost no account of the socio-political conditions there.
Consequently, the Second National Assembly, which convened in late March 1823 on the Peloponnese island of Astros, set about revising the Constitution of Epidaurus as regards the functioning of the central state level. It replaced the original absolute veto of the executive with regard to parliamentary legislative bills with a suspensive veto, which effectively gave the legislative arm of government a monopoly through the parliament. The attempt in the Constitution of Astros to centralize the state, which was reflected in other measures such as the formal annulment of the local constitutions of 1821, was influenced to a large degree by the conflicting interests of two political camps which had emerged by then: the "archontes", who consisted of members of the civil elite and who dominated the parliament; and the "military men", who dominated the executive.27 The disempowering of the executive thus also meant a victory for the established elites over the group of military leaders who had only gained influence during the war.
However, this victory was only a temporary one, as the reactions which it elicited led to a civil war, which broke out in November 1823 and continued until June 1824. The "military men" initiated the conflict by violently dispersing the parliament at its meeting place on Argos. The parliament then moved to Kranidi, a coastal town near the island of Hydra, where it elected a new executive in December of 1823, thereby creating its own government. In response, the "military men" moved to Tripoli in Arcadia, where they formed a new parliament in early 1824, thereby creating a second revolutionary government which was mainly under the influence of the Peloponnese.
However, the government in Kranidi, which was dominated by the islanders and the central Greek guerrilla commander Ioannis Kolettis (1773/1774–1847), was able to claim greater legitimacy by citing the National Assembly of Astros. It was also successful in having its claim to legitimacy recognized in the rest of Europe, where the philhellene-minded public followed the rebellion in the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula with interest and increasing sympathy. This enabled it to access its first European loan, which was agreed in early 1824 in London for the cause of Greek freedom.28 The prospect of this money put the government in Kranidi in the position of being able to pay soldiers wages, or at least to make a credible promise to pay them in the future. This proved a decisive factor in its military victory over the opposing government in Tripoli in the summer of that year.
The confrontation between the revolutionary governments in Kranidi and Tripoli in the first half of 1824 already hinted at the shift in the central axis of conflict from the initial predominantly "vertical" configuration – established civil elites against rising military figures – to a more "horizontal" configuration based on regional factors. This trend reached its full expression in the Second Civil War in November and December of 1824, which was primarily a conflict between the central Greeks (who were supported by the islanders) on one side, and the Peloponnese on the other. The latter had been largely politically marginalized at the end of the First Civil War and had consequently formed an alliance which de facto controlled the central and western Peloponnese, thereby cutting the government off from the proportionately large tax revenues from this region. The government thus sent troops, which consisted of a coalition of central Greek warlords put together by Kolettis, who laid waste to the region in a devastating campaign of plunder.
The government camp thus also emerged from this conflict as the victor. The defeated Peloponnese were forced to flee or were captured, as was the victor of Dervenakia, Theodoros Kolokotronis. However, the end of the Second Civil War did not lead to a lasting stabilization. Only a few weeks later, the military situation deteriorated drastically.
Escalation III: Internationalization of the Conflict (1825–1827)
In late February of 1825, an Egyptian expeditionary force of 17,000 men landed near Methoni in the southwest of the Peloponnese. The force was equipped with modern weapons and had been trained to European standards by French military instructors. It was under the command of Ibrahim Pasha (1789–1848), the son of Muhammad Ali Pasha (1769–1849), the viceroy of Egypt, who at that time was only nominally under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, and to whom the Sublime Porte had promised the island of Crete and the Peloponnese in return for his military intervention.
Apart from harassment using guerrilla tactics, the rebel guerrilla groups were not able to put up any resistance against this force. After establishing a bridgehead around the bay of Navarino almost unhindered, Ibrahim's force proceeded with the conquest of the Peloponnese. In June 1825, it took the city of Tripoli in Arcadia, and it reached Argos in the northeast of the peninsula a few days later. A further advance to the Isthmus of Corinth was prevented by successful resistance by the Greek rebels at the mills of Lerna and by logistical problems. Instead, the force moved northwestward through the Peloponnese to support the siege of Missolonghi, which Kütahı Pascha had undertaken again from the central Greek mainland in early 1825. This time the attackers succeeded in effectively cutting the city off from seaborne supplies and Missolonghi fell in April 1826, after the defending force had launched a despairing attack in which most of them died, while those who remained in the city blew themselves up.
The "Exodus" of Missolonghi marked a military turning point. After taking Missolonghi, the Ottomans were able to bring the central Greek mainland under their control again relatively quickly.29 By July 1826, Kütahı had already reached Athens and he laid siege to the Acropolis. The Greek rebels were thus caught in a pincer attack from the north and the south, and – apart from the islands which had escaped capture (Crete) and destruction (Psara, Kasos) – they now only controlled a narrow strip in the northeastern Peloponnese around Nafplio and Corinth.
But Missolonghi also marked a political turning point because the fall of the city, which had had a number of famous philhellenes among its defenders including the famous English poet George Gordon Noël Lord Byron (1788–1824), caused a public reaction in Europe which was even stronger than the reaction to the massacre of Chios. For the first time, the governments of the great powers considered intervening politically to assist the Greek rebels. Already on 4 April 1826, a few days before the end of the siege, Great Britain and Russia had signed a protocol in St. Petersburg which envisaged the creation of an autonomous Greek state under Ottoman suzerainty as the solution of the conflict, with both of the powers also attempting to position themselves as the main mediator. The Protocol of St. Petersburg, which was followed by a similar agreement between Great Britain and France in the following year (the London Convention of 6 July 1827), represented the beginning of a shift in position by these states from interested bystanders to active participants, and also began a process which ended in 1830 and 1832 with the creation of the sovereign kingdom of Greece as a product of European great power diplomacy.30
The intervention of the great powers was not limited to the field of international diplomacy, but soon assumed much more direct forms. In October 1827, a united British, French and Russian naval squadron, which had already been patrolling the Aegean for a number of months, sank the Egyptian invasion fleet of Ibrahim in the Bay of Navarino. This was an important event on the road to the establishment an independent Greece, a process which was further cemented in the subsequent year when Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire, allowed its army to advance up to the gates of Constantinople and forced the Ottoman government to accept the humiliating Treaty of Adrianople in 1829, which included a provision on Greek autonomy based on the Serbian model.
The influence of the great powers became significantly stronger inside Greece also at this time, particularly as by then they had begun to establish consular representations in the larger centres, a move which almost amounted to recognizing the rebels as a state. Of course, Russia had already maintained such representations since the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774.
In the autumn of 1825, the rebels called elections to form a Third National Assembly, which convened in early April 1826 in the Peloponnese city of Piada (now known as Nea Epidaurus), but which had to halt its work soon afterwards. This was the result of massive differences between two interest groups, who tellingly were named after the great powers: the "English" group which was led by Ioannis Kolettis, and the "Russian" group was led by Theodoros Kolokotronis.31 In August 1826, the National Assembly split into two factions, which convened at two separate places, the "English" faction on the island of Aegina and the "Russian" faction in village of Ermioni near Kranidi. It took long and arduous mediation, which was largely driven by the British32 and during which there were repeated armed confrontations between the two camps, to bring the assembly members of both sides to agree to a joint assembly, which convened in March 1827 in the Peloponnese town of Troezen.
There the assembly passed a third revolutionary constitution in May of that year, which was modelled on the American constitution of 1787 and the concept of presidential democracy. This turning away from the principle of a radical democratic balance of powers, which was a feature of the earlier constitutions, in favour of a clear strengthening of the power of the executive arm of government may to an extent be viewed as a reaction to the negative experiences of the preceding conflicts. However, it had a specific background, as even before the constitution was passed, the Third National Assembly in Troezen had unanimously elected Ioannis Kapodistrias (1776–1831) as the first regent (Κυβερνήτης) of Greece with a seven-year term of office.
State Formation with Setbacks (1828–1832)
A native of Corfu, Ioannis Kapodistrias (also known as Capo d'Istria) had had a career in the Russia diplomatic service before the Greek War of Independence, serving among other things as the tsar's plenipotentiary at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In Kapodistrias, who before 1821 had been very pessimistic about the prospects of an armed insurrection33 but who increasingly showed solidarity with his Greek compatriots after the rebellion had begun, the rebellion had a statesman of European standing, who could be expected to shape the cause of Greek independence both within and outside Greece.
After arriving in Nafplio in early 1828, Kapodistrias immediately initiated a programme of development which encompassed almost all areas of state, economic, and societal action, and which, in view of the very difficult conditions under which it began, was very ambitious. It addressed such fundamental aspects as the administrative organization of the state territory, which was divided into departements in line with the policy of centralization that Kapodistrias pursued. It also included the homogenization of the judicial process by the compilation of a modern civil law code, which however did not progress very far. Finally, it included the creation of a professional military, which would be able not only to continue to fight the war, but also to ensure the implementation of government policy in the face of internal resistance. Kapodistrias also created the first foundations of a state education system and the beginnings of a public system of social provision, and he also introduced important measures in the areas of economic and fiscal policy. These included innovations in the agricultural sector including the introduction of modern equipment, the introduction of new crops such as the potato, as well as the establishment of an agricultural school in Tiryns. Additionally, maritime trade, which was in a depressed state after years of war, was stimulated by means of legislative measures and targeted measures to combat piracy. As early as February 1828, a state commercial bank was founded to mobilize domestic and foreign capital reserves and a national currency, the Phoenix, was introduced, which however collapsed just a few years later.34
For the realization of his ambitious programme of state formation, Kapodistrias had little more to work with than his own expert knowledge and the respect he enjoyed. There was no financial capital in the country worth talking about, and he only received a small portion of the loan that he was led to believe would be made available from elsewhere in Europe if he accepted the regency, and only after a considerable delay. His task was made more difficult by the fact that the loan from London in 1824 – followed by another in 1825, which like the first one partly disappeared into the pockets of Greek middlemen and European philhellenes – had to be paid back. In 1829, the Greek state had to officially default on these loans, and thus became a rare example of a state that went bankrupt before its own independence.
In view of this situation, Kapodistrias was even more keen to at least secure as much room to act as possible in the face of potential internal opposition. One of the first measures that he took after assuming office in January 1828 was to suspend the Constitution of Troezen, citing the emergency situation in which the state found itself, and to transfer responsibility for all important decisions to himself. Initially, Kapodistrias was able to rely on the consent of native political forces in establishing his own de facto autocracy. The suspension of the constitution was done with the express consent of the parliament, which even disbanded itself in the process. Over the medium-term, however, his autocratic and paternalistic style of government and his rigid programme of centralization and modernization met with increasing resistance. Opposition to his regime gained additional momentum after the French July Revolution of 1830. In September 1831, Kapodistrias was killed in an assassination attempt perpetrated by members of the Mavromichalis family. This family had already incited a revolt on the Mani Peninsula, which they controlled, and Kapodistrias had suppressed the revolt with Russian assistance and had had the head of the family, Petrobey Mavromichalis (1765–1849), arrested. However, what on the face of it appears as an atavistic act of revenge also had much broader political causes. In their assassination attempt, Kapodistrias' attackers were able to rely on the support of the British and French consular representatives, who may even have ordered the attack themselves.35
It was in the interests of Great Britain and France to restrict Russian influence in Greece, and they viewed Kapodistrias as the main exponent of that influence. This same consideration had already played a role in August of 1828 as, during the Russo-Turkish War, the French sent a force of 14,000 men under the command of General Nicolas-Joseph Maison (1771–1840) to the Peloponnese. The ostensible purpose of this force was to disarm the Egyptian expeditionary force, but the French force continued to be stationed there until 1833.
After the death of Kapodistrias, a triumvirate consisting of Theodoros Kolokotronis, Ioannis Kolettis and Avgoustinos Kapodistrias (1778–1857), the younger brother of the assassinated regent, assumed power. In December 1831, they convened yet another National Assembly in Argos, which quickly appointed Avgoustinos Kapodistrias as president. He immediately set about disempowering his two competitors, which soon led to another split in the government. Kolettis rejected the legitimacy of the National Assembly in Argos and travelled with his supporters to Perachora near Corinth, where he convened his own national assembly and appointed his own governing commission. Once again, two antagonistic revolutionary governments faced one another, which this time consisted of the "government supporters" (Κυβερνητικοί) around Avgoustinos Kapodistrias and the "constitutionalists" (Συνταγματικοί) around Kolettis.
The ensuing civil war was won by the "constitutionalists" with a victory in the battle at the Isthmus of Corinth in March 1832. In June of the same year, they convened their National Assembly again in Argos,36 though they were soon forced to move first to Nafplio and then to the town of Pronoia nearby, as the territory of the rebellion was by then in a state of general anarchy. Among the last measures adopted by the Assembly in July 1832 was to unanimously confirm the appointment of Otto von Wittelsbach (1815–1867) as the future king of Greece, as had previously been decided by Great Britain, France and Russia. However, the assembly's announcement two days later of its intention to draft a new constitution met with a firm rejection from the great powers, who in August arranged the forcible dissolution of the assembly through their consular representatives. In doing so, they removed the last remaining organ of political representation of the Greek War of Independence.
Greece as a European Project
The creation of the Greek state was the result of a chain of international treaties between Great Britain, France, Russia and the Ottoman Empire. After the Treaty of Adrianople of 14 September 1829 had initially only provided for Greek autonomy with a Christian ruler under Ottoman suzerainty, the London Protocol of 3 February 1830 fixed on Greek independence under a sovereign hereditary monarchy. The Treaty of London of 7 May 1832 made the son of the Bavarian king the king of Greece and also confirmed the status of Great Britain, France and Russia as guarantor powers. The borders of the state were finally set by the Treaty of Constantinople of 9 July 1832 as well as in the London Protocol of 18 August 1832.
This chain of treaties would never have occurred without the War of Independence, but once it was in motion it followed its own logic, which was only indirectly affected by the war – if at all – and to an even lesser degree reflected the actual progress of the war. It was thus not so much the military events themselves which proved to be decisive, but rather the response of the European media and public to them. This process had already begun in the first year of the war and it subsequently developed a specific dynamic of its own, which – as one would expect – was heavily influenced by projections and the formation of stereotypes. In this process, three central motifs can be identified, which were partly traditional, but also contained references which were very current:
1. The perception of the rebellion as the struggle of a Christian people against its Muslim oppressors and the implied duty of fellow Christians to show solidarity towards them.
2. The perception of the rebellion as the struggle of a civilized European people against Oriental barbarism and the implied duty of other civilized peoples of the world to show solidarity towards them.
3. The perception of the rebellion as the struggle of a freedom-loving people, who were also credited with inventing democracy, against despotism, and absolutist and arbitrary rule.
The last of these three motifs proved to be particularly effective in the contemporary context of the restoration order after the Congress of Vienna. In this context, the Greek War of Independence assumed the function of a model and a valve for liberal and democratic energies in the European public sphere.
The rebelling Greeks thus served as a polyvalent projection surface for religious, cultural and political ideals, the effect of which was made all the more potent by the fact that the Ottoman Turks offered an equally polyvalent negative foil – whether in the role of religious enemies, of barbarians or of despots (or even all three). This resulted in correspondingly one-sided victim-aggressor depictions, which dominated the European perception of the War of Independence and which also explain the apparently paradoxical situation that it was not the military victories of the Greeks but the defeats and catastrophes that befell them that focused international attention on the rebellion and thus became political victories.
This applies in the first instance to the Chios massacre in 1822, which caused the first wave of public outrage and sympathy, followed by the "Exodus from Missolonghi" in 1826, which resulted in a second peak in outrage and support. Donation appeals were organized in many western European cities at this time, and associations and committees were founded for the support of the Greeks.37 As organizations dominated by the middle classes, these associations also provided an institutional framework for the exchange of opinions and for political expression, and in this way they contributed to the process of the formation of a civil society in the pre-parliamentary period. Through the supra-regional networks that existed between these organizations, they also contributed to the emergence of a Europe-wide public sphere.38
These developments were accompanied by a level of media coverage and discussion which was unprecedented up to that point, and which exhibited a number of very diverse aspects. Firstly, there was the very intensive reporting by the European press, which made the war part of the daily news for a broad European readership. Newspapers, journals and other periodicals with a supra-regional circulation played a central role in this.39
Additionally, the media portrayal of the war also included opinion pieces and memoir-style reports by philhellenes who were personally involved,40 as well as a variety of treatises with varying degrees of academic rigour, which were published in large numbers during the War of Independence. For example, Johann Christian Gottfried Jörg, a gynaecologist and paediatrician from Leipzig, published his treatise with the title Die Wichtigkeit des jetzigen griechisch-türkischen Kampfes für das physische Wohl der Bewohner des europäischen Continents during the first year of the war (Leipzig 1821), and Conrad Melchior Hirzel, a lawyer from Zürich, published his Bible interpretation entitled Der heiligen Propheten Aufruf für die Befreiung Griechenlands aus dem Worte Gottes enthoben in the subsequent year (Zürich 1822). This trend also included works of a much higher academic standard, such as Claude Fauriel's Chants populaires de la Grèce moderne (2 vols., Paris 1824/25), which marked the beginning of systematic research into the folk music of Greece.
Much more numerous than these were the literary works, and in particular poems, dealing with the War of Independence. While these works included some by European literary figures of renown – such as Victor Hugo's (1802–1885) volume of poetry entitled Les Orientales published in 1829, and Adelbert von Chamisso's (1781–1838) cycle of poems entitled Chios (first printed in 1831) which was inspired by the massacre – this field was in general dominated by authors whose literary ability was even questioned by their contemporaries and who today are largely forgotten.41 Particularly in the German-speaking territory, there was a veritable deluge of such publications and anthologies, such as Hellas an die Teutschen. Ein Jammerschrey um Hülfe in griechischen Hexametern, durch einen teutschen Jüngling […] Jungen Teutschen, Freunden der hellenischen Literatur mitgeteilt von Johann Adam Goez (Nuremberg 1822). Also of significance in terms of the influence they had over broad sections of the public were theatre plays. While some of these were only ever written to be read, many were performed, for example the drama Die Mainotten written by Harro Harring (1798–1870) in 1824, which depicted the rebel fighters on the Peloponnesian peninsula of Mani, and Gioachino Rossini's (1792–1868) opera Le siège de Corinthe from 1826.
There was also a large volume of visual depictions of the War of Independence, which covered a broad spectrum from popular engravings to works of a high artistic standard, for example the two oil paintings by Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) entitled The Massacre at Chios (1824) and Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1826).42 The kaleidoscope of contemporary media representations even included fashionable clothing accessories in the "Greek style" as well as a whole range of items of everyday use, such as decorative crockery, playing cards with depictions of prominent Greek freedom fighters and even a version of the popular party game "Bell and Hammer" with the telling title "Phoenix and Half-moon".43
It seems not unreasonable to assume that this intensive engagement with the Greek War of Independence by the European media and public also had an effect on the decision of the great powers to support Greek independence, though it is very difficult to reconstruct concrete connections in this regard. It is however clear that – in addition to philhellenic sentiment, which is difficult to quantify – the governments of the great powers were also motivated by very concrete power-political considerations. While these two motivations, the ideological and the power-political, appear very different in their emphases, it is impossible to view one in isolation from the other.
Power-political motives came into play in the delineation of spheres of influence in southeastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean in the context of the "Eastern Question", i.e., the continuing decline of the Ottoman Empire as the dominant power in the region. The creation of a Christian protectorate on the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula thus served the long-term strategic interests of the powers involved, even though it remained unclear at the time which of them would ultimately establish themselves as the preeminent power in the region. This question was only decided by the defeat of Russia in the Crimean War (1853–1856), which made Great Britain the preeminent power in the region, a status which in managed to retain until the mid-20th century. The initial uncertainty regarding the outcome of this process is also reflected in the choice of monarch. The Bavarian prince represented a neutral central power, which was not particularly closely linked with any of the protector powers involved and which itself had no ambitions of hegemony in the region.
Apart from these power-political considerations, the choice of monarch was informed by the ideological motive. Otto von Wittelsbach was also the son of one of the most committed and high-profile philhellenes of his time, Ludwig I of Bavaria (1786–1868). The latter was determined to make Greece a model kingdom, which, while not emulating the glorious past of Greek antiquity, could at least ascend into the circle of civilized states and which could serve as a beacon of European culture in the Orient.44 To this end, he appointed suitably qualified officials to assist his son, who was then still a minor. These officials created the main institutional foundations of the Greek state in a relatively short period, including the administrative structures, the judicial system, and the education system – aspects of which have remained the same to this day. Much of what Kapodistrias had previously unsuccessfully attempted to do was now put into practice. However, the Bavarian officials had much more effective means at their disposal to do this, including a development loan of 60 million gold francs,45 which had also been agreed by the great powers in the London Treaty of 1832, and also – and no less important – a military contingent of 3,500 men to accompany the Bavarian officials. The most potent symbol of this programme was the transfer of the capital city from the Peloponnesian city of Nafplio to Athens, which at that time was scarcely populated, and which from 1834 onward was quickly developed into a royal city with neo-classical architecture.
The foundation of the Greek state was thus a European project in two regards. On the one hand, it was the result of the strategic calculations of great powers. On the other hand, it was the object of Occidental missionary zeal in the form of romantic philhellenism. Both aspects, the political and the ideological, had a profound effect on the development of the country in the 19th and 20th centuries.