By Evaggelos Vallianatos, Ph.D.
After nearly four centuries of ceaseless resistance and rebellions against Turkish military occupation of their country, the Greeks revolted to regain their freedom. The Greek Revolution started in 1821 and came to some kind of a temporary slowdown in 1827, when French, Russian and British warships annihilated a join Turkish-Egyptian fleet in the Bay of Navarino in Peloponnesos. The Turks and Egyptians tried to exterminate the Greeks of Peloponnesos and replace them with Africans.
Struggle for freedom
During these revolutionary years, the Greeks fought primarily a guerilla war against European-trained, armed, and provisioned regular Ottoman Turkish troops.
The struggle of the Greek revolutionaries was a heroic struggle, not much different than the victorious war of the smaller Greek forces against the large armies of the Persians in early fifth century BCE. In both cases, the Greeks defended their homes, wives and children, and the temples / churches of the gods / god against determined enemies. In the 1820s, the Greeks exploded like a bomb killing hundreds of thousands of their oppressors. Ceaseless humiliations and injustices were the spark for that explosion.
The Greek Revolution was a life and death struggle for freedom. Both Greeks and Turks committed atrocities. The accumulated injustices of centuries crushed the hubris of the occupiers. The war was one of annihilation. The result was the destruction of Greece, widespread famine, destitution, and the enslavement of thousands of Greek men, children, and women. More than twenty percent of the Greek population probably perished.
The Greeks had the advantage of defending their lives and civilization. Everywhere they looked, they saw remnants of the culture of their ancient ancestors: ruined temples, stadia, and theaters. Those ruins always reminded them of their glorious history and origins.
Olympeion: Temple of the Olympian Zeus near the Acropolis in Athens. Photo: Evaggelos Vallianatos
However, those ruins had a secret history that revealed the early hatred of Christianity for the Hellenes and their glorious civilization. Christian monks, priests, and bishops wrecked Hellas more than a millennium before the Turkish conquest of 1453.
The Orthodox clergy, especially the high ranking ecclesiastics, served its new Moslem masters by throwing water on the flames of rebellion. They kept blessing the Sultan as the legitimate king of the Orthodox Christians. The majority of the Orthodox monks, priests and bishops knew they were the infrastructure of the Turkish control of Greece. The Turks run the country through them. This added to their fervor, ceaselessly reminding Christian Greeks that their ancient ancestors were heathen and idolaters.
Fighting internal enemies
Adamantios Koraes, 1748-1833, the intellectual father of the Greek Revolution, was well aware of that tragedy. In public, he expressed his respect for Orthodox Christianity and support for the clergy. He zeroed in on the Turks and could not afford divisions among the oppressed Greeks. Yet, a few times, and without revealing his identity, Koraes lashed out at the traitorous policies of the senior ecclesiastics largely serving the Turks.
The first time was on the immediate aftermath of the French Revolution of 1789. European governments, including that of the Ottoman Turks, went into alert about subversion from within and without. Patriarch Anthimos of Jerusalem launched a campaign on behalf of the Sultan among the Orthodox. In late 1790s, he published Paternal Teaching, a shameful and demeaning defense of Turkish tyranny, telling the Orthodox they had to put up with oppression as their ticket to heavens.
The news reached Koraes in Paris, and, immediately, he trashed the ludicrous and awful propaganda of Anthimos. But Koraes was too embarrassed to bring the dirty Christian laundry out for all to see. In 1798, he published anonymously in Rome his Brotherly Teaching, a vigorous denunciation of the clerical lies praising the rule of the Ottoman Turks over the Orthodox Christians. Anthimos said that Jesus raised the Ottoman Turks from nothing to heights of power in order to protect the Orthodox from the scheming Western Christians. Koraes argued that such a slander could not have been written by a patriarch.
In contrast to the dark-age submission of Patriarch Anthimos to tyranny, Koraes connected the struggle for freedom of the Greeks in his time to the struggle for freedom of the Greeks against the Persians in the battle of Salamis in 480 BCE. He quoted lines 401-406 from the play The Persians by the Athenian dramatic poet Aischylos, urging the Greeks to think about nothing else but their life and death struggle against the Persians: Your struggle against the Persians is all you have, Aischylos said: free the land of your fathers, free your sons, wives, burial grounds, and the temples of the gods. Nothing, not even fire and iron, Koraes said, can divert the Greeks from their hatred for tyranny and their passion for freedom.
The second time Koraes turned his attention to the clergy was in 1806. He suspected the clergy made up a secret army of the Sultan undermining Greek society and freedom. He published anonymously in Livorno, Italy, a Philippic against priests, monks, and bishops. He entitled this powerful, ethical, political, patriotic, and revolutionary book: The Greek Nomarchia (Rule of Law), Namely a Speech On Freedom. Koraes likened the synod of bishops in Constantinople to a pack of wolves who kept the Greeks in the Turkish enclosure.
How do I suspect Koraes wrote the Greek Nomarchia? In the early 1970s, I wrote my dissertation on Koraes. The man touched me profoundly. I was then at the University of Wisconsin. Far from home. I was perplexed why Americans and Western Europeans were so far advanced in the sciences, while, Greece, mother of sciences and civilization, was impoverished to the point I had to seek an education in a country thousands of miles away from Hellas. I chose Koraes for my doctoral thesis because I thought he might help me answer my question. So, I went deep into the massive work of Koraes, who spent his productive years in “New Athens,” Paris, away from Smyrna and the Turks.
I read hundreds of his letters and dozens of volumes of his work: of original writing, translations, edited books with commentary-reflections. This invisible knowledge of his style, language, and, primarily, his ideas and intimate grasp of Greece of his time and his knowledge of Hellenic philosophy, politics, and science led me to see behind the anonymity of Nomarchia and identify it as a genuine work of Koraes.
In another anonymous pamphlet he wrote in 1801, Blowing the War Trumpet, Koraes defined the Turkish nation as “thrice-barbarous and vile.” This nation, he said, was the antithesis of freedom, which was sacred and, to the Greeks, as much a vision as vision is to the eyes. Freedom, he said, has been necessary for man so that he knows he is a man. In other words, freedom is everything. Koraes warned the Greeks not to rely on foreigners but fight to the last man and free themselves with their own strength.
Koraes, about whom more below, knew that not all Orthodox clerics were Turkish agents or wolves. He respected the Orthodox faith of his ancestors. In his Autobiography, which he wrote in 1829, he said it was inevitable that the barbarian rule of the Turks would have a distressing, unpatriotic, and corrupt impact on the Greek population, and the Orthodox clerics in particular. It did.
Education in Turkish occupied Greece, he said, nearly disappeared. That had a deep corrupting influence on the clergy and the Christian traditions of the people. But, he argued, if one compared corruption among chief Orthodox ecclesiastics to that of the clergy serving the Pope, the “sins” of the Orthodox clergy paled into insignificance to the horrific abuse of justice and other crimes of the Catholic priests, monks, and bishops. Koraes had probably the crusades and religious wars in mind.
Koraes was no enemy of the Orthodox clergy. Some of his most devoted students were clerics. Not a few of them protected ancient Greek culture. They were endowed with the virtues of sensibility, patriotism, and knowledge. They were aware of the crime of their religion.
The ninth-century Patriarch Photios, for example, abridged 280 classical authors. He was a great humanist and scholar that protected classical Greek learning. Metropolitan Bessarion in mid-fifteenth century presided over the failed effort of uniting the Orthodox and Catholic Churches at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, 1438-1445. Pope Eugene IV was so pleased with the work of Bessarion that he made him a cardinal. When Bessarion left Constantinople for Rome, he carried with him the greatest collection of Greek manuscripts ever to reach Europe. These philosophical, scientific, and literary works seeded the Renaissance with Greek thought and science.
Moreover, Bessarion tried to tech the chief lesson of Hellenic history to the West, especially the leaders of Italy. He told them that when the Hellenes were united, they were invincible. He denounced the opposite of unity, dichonoia (διχόνοια), disagreement and division. These divisions caused the Peloponnesian War and, in time, were responsible for the loss of Greek freedom. He urged the rulers of Italy to abandon their own disagreements, unite like the Athenians and Spartans did in fighting the Persians in 480 BCE, in order to fight and defeat the Turks. He was an eloquent defender of Hellenic civilization.
In the 1820s, there were clerics who also defended Hellenism. They protected the vulnerable Greek population from excessive violence. They educated the young rudimentary reading and writing. And when the Greek Revolution broke out, they fought with the irregular forces against the Turks. The Greeks had the burning desire to live free or die. They wanted to revenge their humiliation; they wanted to punish the Turks for the crushing taxation, the abuse of their children, and the kidnapping of their young sons.
Russia and the Greeks
International politics in late 18th century helped to some degree to ameliorate the position of the Greeks under Turkish rule. Russia under Catherine the Great, 1762-1796, favored the immigration of Greeks to her country. The French philosophe Voltaire urged her to free Greece from the Turkish barbarian yoke. She failed to destroy Turkey because the other European powers, France and England, needed Turkey to balance their extreme competition against each other. Nevertheless, Catherine supported the Greek cause.
Greek communities in Russia and other European countries prospered in trade. Greek merchant ships were armed with canons and fighters. They could move in the Mediterranean freely under the Russian flag. The prosperity of the Greek merchants raised the standards of living in Greece. Merchants funded Greek schools and the education of Greek students in Europe.
Society of Friends
The Society of Friends (Philike Εtaireia) was a consequence of rising patriotism that books like those of Koraes, including The Greek Nomarchia, made possible The prosperity of the Greek merchant class was also significant. The Society was fundamental in the preparation of the Greeks for the struggle to regain their freedom and independence.
In 1814, three merchants (Nikolaos Skouphas, Emmanuel Xanthos and Athanasios Tsakalov) founded the secret Philike Etaireia in Odessa, Russia. Its sole purpose was the liberation of Greece. In 1821, the Society had barely 1,100 members, about half in mainland Greece and the rest in Russia, Western Europe, and among Greeks in Constantinople. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Society had a political plan to launch a war against the Turks. Many of its members were prosperous merchants with money and connections to the power brokers of Russia and Western Europe.
The Society’s mission crystalized a burning desire among Greeks to become free, at last. It expanded local patriotism to a Hellenic patriotism that included all of Greece.
Taking an Oath for joining the Philike Etaireia. Painting by Dionysios Tsokos, 1849. National Historical Museum, Athens. Wikipedia.
The founders of the Society made several efforts to convince Ioannes Kapodistrias to accept the leadership of the Society and to launch the war against the Turks. Kapodistrias, a Greek from the Ionian island of Kerkyra, was the foreign minister of Russia. He declined the offer of the Society.
The Society then chose Alexandros Ypselantes as its director. Ypselantes was the son of a Greek prince from Wallachia (region of Romania). Alexandros served in the Russian army and lost his left hand during the Russian war against Napoleon. He was promoted to lieutenant general. In the 1815 Congress of Vienna, Ypselantes was an advisor to Tsar Alexander of Russia.
The year 1821 looked auspicious. Ali Pasha, a Turkish general governing northern Greece (Epiros), was at war with his boss, the Sultan. Ypselantes and the Philike Etaireia decided 1821 should be the year for launching the revolt against the Turks. Ypselantes could not go to Peloponnesos. He started the rebellion in Moldavia (region of Romania). On February 27, 1821, he and his closest associates crossed the Pruth River from Russia into Turkish territory.
Alexandros Ypselantes crossing the Pruth River, 1821. Public Domain.
Ypselantes marched to Jassy, the capital of Moldavia. The Greek prince of Moldavia welcomed him. The Declaration of War against the Turks , dated February 24, 1821, resembled the love of freedom, courage, and patriotism of Aischylos, writing about eight years after the heroic struggle of the Greeks against the massive Persian fleet in Salamis in 480 BCE. Ypselantes tells the Greek men to fight for Faith and Country.
Ypselantes, like Koraes, tells the Greeks they must revolt and fight. The Turks have humiliated and oppressed them for centuries, even abusing their children and kidnapping their boys. He urges them to emulate the courage of those Greeks that fought for freedom in ancient times: men like the Spartan King Leonidas and his three-hundred immortals at the Battle of Thermopylai in 480 BCE; Themistokles, the Athenian general who made Athens a great naval power and orchestrated the defeat of Xerxes in Salamis in 480 BCE; and Thrasyboulos, the Athenian general who defeated a Spartan army and the Thirty tyrants the Spartans had imposed on Athens. Thrasyboulos restored democracy in Athens in 404 BCE.
In 1821, Turkish forces defeated the young Greek students who had joined the forces of Ypselantes. The news of the revolt, however, triggered countless revolts all over Greece.
Greek Revolution in monarchical Europe
The outbreak of the Greek Revolution in 1821 disturbed monarchical Europe that, in 1815, had signed the Holy Alliance in Vienna to put down insurrections. In 1821, Tsar Alexander of Russia was at Laibach (Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia) with the kings of France and England scheming how to suppress any revolutionary upheavals in Europe. Learning of Ypselantes’ failed revolt sufficed to dismiss him from his Russian post.
In March 1821, Dikaios Papaflessas raised the flag of revolt in Peoponnesos.
In April 1821, the revolutionaries took over the Turkish administrative center of Peloponnesos, Tripolis, and slaughtered thousands of Turks.
In July 25-28, 1822, a revolutionary leader named Theodoros Kolokotrones, 1770-1843, and his irregulars inflicted a decisive defeat on a large Turkish army led by Mahmud Dramali in the narrow passes of Argolis-Dervenakia near Corinth in Peloponnesos.
Theodoros Kolokotrones and his fighters enjoying themselves after defeating the Turks at Argolis-Dervenakia, Peloponnesos, July 25-28, 1822. Painting by Peter von Hess. Public Domain.
Atrocities and Philhellenism
In retaliation, in April 1822, the Turks slaughtered some 30,000 Greeks in the prosperous Aegean island of Chios and sold into slavery dozens of thousands of women and children.
In June 1822, Admiral Konstantinos Kanares burned the Turkish flagship in the waters of Chios.
The news of the Chios slaughter and Greek victories contributed to the rise of Philhellenism in Europe. Young men from France, England and Germany joined the Greek irregulars in their war against the Turks.
Greek political tensions
Meanwhile, during 1821 and 1822, three different local governments came into being. In 1823, these governments merged and revised the 1822 liberal Constitution of Epidauros. However, political tensions overwhelmed the constitutional experiment at Epidauros.
In 1824, the landowning elite came to blows with the shipowners from Psara, Hydra and Spetses. This power struggle brought to the surface the conflict between the irregular guerilla fighters and the pro-Turkish party, influenced by the Greeks from the Phanar district of Constantinople. The Phanariotes thought themselves the descendants of the ruling families of medieval Greece. During the Greek Revolution, they served the Turks by causing civil wars and doing the dirty work of the European powers, especially of England, which for the most part did not wish to see a free Greece.
England controlled Greek territory. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, it incorporated the United States of the Ionian Islands, the first modern Greek independent country, to its colonial control. It probably knew the Greeks of the islands would want to join independent Greece.
Meanwhile, in January 1824, Lord Byron, a celebrated Philhellene, arrived in the threatened and strategic city of Mesologgi in Central Greece, only to die of fevers in April 19, 1824. John Kittmer, former UK ambassador to Greece, says that the death of Byron released “a great wave of philhellenic sentiment across Europe and the United States.” True, his death and the tragic and heroic fall of Mesologgi to the Turks helped Philhellenism and the rising of consciousness in Europe and America in favor of the Greek Revolution.
Despite the heroic resistance of the defenders of Mesologgi, the strategic city fell to the Turks in 1825. The news of the struggle reached France and, in 1827, Eugene Delacroix painted his immortal painting of Hellas on the verge of death.
War of extermination
Sultan Mahmud II was determined to wipe out the Greek Revolution. He talked to his Egyptian vassal, Mehmet Ali, ruler of Egypt, and Ali’s son, Ibrahim Pasha. He urged them to invade Greece and put down the revolution and, in return, he promised them the spoils of war and Peloponnesos.
Ibrahim came to Peloponnesos with a large fleet and large army of Egyptians and Africans. His Earth-scorched policy brought the Greek Revolution to the verge of extinction. Greek politicians started begging Europeans to intervene. The British and the Russians, fearing and suspecting each other, decided they had to do something. In 1825, they signed the Protocol of St. Petersburg. This allowed them to mediate between Greeks and Turks. France joined this agreement with the Treaty of London of 1827.
The victory of Navarino
In October 1827, the join fleets of England, Russia and France arrived in the waters of the Bay of Navarino (Mycenaean Pylos, kingdom of the Trojan War hero Nestor). The town Navarino (Pylos) is on the west side of Peloponnesos. Confusion and misunderstanding brought the opposing forces to conflict. The allied fleets destroyed the Egyptian-Turkish fleets anchored in the Bay of Navarino.
Navarino changed the relationships between the Great Powers and Turkey, making it a certainty that independent Greece was about to emerge.
Chronology of the revolution
In general, these were the key events of the Greek struggle for independence:
1821: The naval island of Spetses revolts, April 3; the other naval power, the island of Psara, takes up the arms in April 10; Hydra, the island naval superpower, revolts on April 16; Greeks take over Tripolis in Peloponnesos, September 23.
1822: April slaughter in Chios, impact on European Philhellenism; Konstantinos Kanares, captain and expert in fireships, burns Turkish fleet, June; Theodoros Kolokotrones defeats the invading large Turkish army of Dramali, Argolis-Dervenakia, Peloponnesos, July 25-28.
1823: November victory of Kitsos Tzavelas outside Mesologgi.
1824: The Turkish-Egyptian fleet arrives in Crete and suppress most of the revolts in the island, March-April; destruction of Psara, June; Greek fleet defeats Turkish fleet near the island of Samos, July-August.
1825: The Egyptian fleet arrives in Peloponnesos, February; second siege of Mesologgi by the Egyptian forces, April.
1826: Starting of heavy bombardment of Mesologgi by the Egyptians, February 12; defenders of Mesologgi break through the Egyptian siege and leave the city, April 10-11; Athens under siege and bombardment, July; heavy and bitter fighting around the Acropolis, July-December. Georgios Karaiskakes, 1782-1827, was the prominent defender of the Acropolis.
1827: Defeat of the Greek defenders of Athens and death of Karaiskakes, April 23-24; Acropolis falls to the Turks, May; Navarino defeat of the Turkish-Egyptian fleets by the European Great Powers, October.
The British government demoted its admiral Edward Codrington for “overstepping” his authority at Navarino in joining France and Russia and destroying the Turkish Egyptian fleet. However, Navarino happened. A hundred years after Navarino, a Greek postage stamp honored Codrington.
A 5 drachmas 1927 Greek postage stamp honoring the one hundred year anniversary of the Navarino victory and the British admiral Codrington, Public Domain.
Ioannes Kapodistrias, 1828-1831
The defeat of the Turks at Navarino was the first step towards Greek independence. In 1828, Russia declared war on the Turks because the Sultan Mahmud II shut the Dardanelles to Russian shipping. The Russian troops reached Adrianople, not that far from Constantinople. One of the provisions of the Treaty of Adrianople of September 14, 1829 recognized Greek independence. Certainly, like Navarino, the Russian victory over the Turks in 1829 boosted the Greek cause for independence, but it was the Greeks themselves in their perseverance and victories over the Turks that made them free. Meanwhile, a French army expelled 40,000 Turkish Egyptian troops from Peloponnesos.
Russia, France and England agreed that Ioannes Kapodistrias would be the first president of Greece. He had a distinguished political career, rising to be Russia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Tsar offered him a life pension for his services, but Kapodistrias refused to accept it. He thanked the Tsar and said to him the only flag he would raise in liberated Greece would be the Greek flag.
On January 18, 1828, Kapodistrias arrived in Nauplion, in Peloponnesos, and assumed the responsibilities of the first president of the country. He did his best to establish a national army in order to defend the precarious borders of the country, tax those who had property, and establish the rule of law. He created an administration machinery for governing a tiny wrecked and starving Greece. However, his policies angered entrenched interests, local and foreign. He said repeatedly the only Greeks he trusted were the peasants. He did not hide his contempt for most of the leaders of the Greek Revolution, especially those whose destructive squabbles nearly defeated the Revolution. He called the senior ecclesiastics Turks under the flag of Christianity.
The European great powers were pleased with the choice of Kapodistrias as the first president of Greece. But soon they discovered he was a patriot, and that displeased them. England wanted a tiny Greek state subservient to the Sultan. The Tory English government undermined Kapodistrias and supported his Greek enemies – ambitious Turk lovers and instigators of civil wars: men like Alexandros Mavrokordatos and Georgios Koundouriotes. The French supported Yannes Kolettes, another prominent opponent of Kapodistrias. These enemies of Kapodistrias almost set up an alternative government in the island of Hydra. In fact, the situation was so bad that, in Augustin 1831, admiral Andreas Miaoules burned the Greek fleet, lest it fell in the hands of Kapodistrias. Two months later, October 1831, two brothers from Mani in southern Peloponnesos assassinated him.
The antagonism against Kapodistrias was so strong that the English military refused to allow one of its warships to carry his body to Kerkyra for burial. A Russian warship did that. But the English opposition to Kapodistrias even delayed his burial until late at night. The English governed Kerkyra and the other Ionian islands.
Monarchy in Greece
The year 1832 was a continuation of the 1824 civil war. The assassination of Kapodistrias added sparks to the conflict between Peloponnesos and Central Greece. Fighters from Central Greece led by Kolettes invaded Peloponnesos and destroyed the achievements and reforms of Kapodistrias. The country was starving and in chaos.
In 1833, the Great Powers sent Otto, the underage son of the Philhellene king Ludwig of Bavaria, to govern Greece as a monarchy. No Greek who had fought for the Revolution could have predicted a German king ruling independent Greece. However, the existing political monarchical system in Western Europe, the murder of Kapodistrias, and the terrible internal conditions in the country precluded a democratic alternative.
I already introduced Adamantios Koraes. His gravest bad judgment was his opposition to Kapodistrias, the most distinguished Greek politician who had solely Greek interests in mind. Koraes did not expect the first president of independent Greece to come out of Russia. His Greek and European contacts so biased him that he needlessly and wrongly attacked Kapodistrias as a Russian agent.
Koraes was aware of the ambivalent European attitude towards Greece. He kept calling Europe Enlightened, but he was certain that the Enlightenment of Europe was superficial at best. Down deep, Europe remained tied to the dark ages. He praised the French Revolution. Napoleon, however, said Koreas in his Autobiography, failed to free Europe from despotisms and became a despot of despots. Instead of spreading eudaimonia (happiness) all over Europe and become “a god on Earth,” he preferred the pleasant lies of his flatterers.
Koraes shared the Platonic idea of philosopher king or, at least, government by well-informed people. He saw the increasing influence he had in the pre-revolutionary decades. So, he thought the Greek Revolution should break out in the 1850s. Greeks then would be in a position to have a successful revolution and good government. But political reality dictated the outbreak of the revolution in 1821. This was a time of the Holy Alliance that disturbed Koraes.
Koraes was one of a kind. Of all Greek intellectuals who helped the liberation of their country, Koraes was by far the most important. He was a revolutionary and a classicist who understood the power of Hellenic thought and civilization. He lived in the twilight of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment when all things seemed possible, what with the resurrection of Greek mathematics, astronomy, and mechanics, including classical studies and scholarship. His books brought all that power of the ancient and modern world together. He got the European scholars thinking that ancient Greeks were alive in persons like him. Besides, European respect for Koraes increased Philhellenism in Europe. Modern Greeks were fighting the grossly unequal struggle with the Moslem Turks supported by European governments. Wasn’t that wrong?
The books of Koraes found their mark with the Greeks. They inspired them to revolt and fight and die for freedom.
Koraes was a golden link reuniting ancient and modern Greece. He received his medical degree at the University of Montpellier, France. On May 24, 1788, he arrived in Paris. This was on the eve of the outbreak of the French Revolution. He had strong letters of recommendation from his professors, which opened important doors for him. He saw in Paris the Athenian democracy of the fifth century BCE. The French Revolution shocked him, but despite the danger, he decided to make France his permanent home, and never to return to the tyranny of the Turks. His apartment overlooked the Bastille royal tower-prison. He never practiced medicine but a pedagogy of liberation. Like Aischylos, he never ceased telling the Greeks their struggle against the Turks was of the utmost timeliness and of the highest political importance. It was a life and death struggle for freedom.
He spent his life translating the virtues and achievements of ancient Greek civilization into accessible wisdom and inspiration. For about 44 years he edited Greek classical texts with lengthy prolegomena-introductions in modern Greek, highlighting the tremendous political significance of ancient Greek thought to modern Greek freedom, language, culture, democracy and prosperity. His books circulated among Greek merchants and most Greek schools as student textbooks.
His famous edition in 1800 of Hippocrates’ Airs, Waters, Places, and his translation of the Greek text into French, was paradigmatic of the medical and scientific knowledge and wisdom of the father of medicine, Hippocrates, and Koraes. This was a pioneering study of the environmental origins of disease and the role of climate in public health and civilization.
But even more than his outstanding contributions to classical scholarship, Koraes opened the doors of Hellenic civilization to his contemporary Greeks, preparing them for the struggles ahead.
Koraes was the father of the Greek Revolution. He was seventy-three years old at its outbreak in 1821. Though he was concerned the revolution came prematurely, he spent the last twelve years of his life, 1821-1833, editing political texts from ancient Greece and Europe. His purpose was to inspire successful strategies for defeating the Turks. He emphasized the intimate connection of politics to ethics and the need for civilized government to abolish capital punishment and torture and other barbaric customs.
The texts Koraes edited during the Greek Revolution include: the Politics (1821) and Ethics (1822) of Aristotle; the Strategikos (Strategics, 1822) of the Platonic philosopher Onesander who flourished during the first century; the 1764 Traito dei delitti e delle pene (On Crimes and Punishments), which Koraes edited in 1823. This was the work of the Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria; Koraes also edited Plato’s insightful political and ethical dialogue, Gorgias (1825), and the equally powerful political treatise of Xenophon, Memoirs (1825).
Both Plato and Xenophon were students of Socrates and earned their wisdom from the misfortunes of the Greek civil war known as the Peloponnesian War. Koraes then edited the Oration Against Leokrates (1826) by the Athenian orator and statesman Lykourgos who lived after the Peloponnesian War and during the supremacy of Macedonia. Lykourgos accused Leokrates of treason for his pro-Macedonian views.
Next Koraes edited the Handbook (1826) and Discourses (1827) of Epiktetos, a Greek philosopher who lived under Roman rule in the second half of the first century and early second century. Epiktetos experienced slavery and preached practical wisdom and universal brotherhood. In 1822, Koraes wrote his own commentary on the Constitution of Epidauros, in which he urged the legislators to be tolerant to Jews and Turks born in free Greece. They, too, deserved Greek citizenship. In 1831, he published Sacred Handbook, in which he summarized his understanding of Orthodox Christianity. In addition, he wrote a five-volume study of the Greek language, which came down to us under the title Atakta (Miscellaneous Notes, 1828-1835).
Koraes did influence the Greek Revolution by filling the introductions of the texts he edited with practical advice from the wisdom of classical Greek political and ethical thinkers. His linguistic contributions shaped modern Greek language. He was funded by Greek merchants.
The meaning of the Greek Revolution
Greek merchants also funded the Revolution. Greeks by the thousands gave their lives for its cause. The Revolution was the first popular and national upheaval that defeated an entrenched and well-armed enemy. It became a model for future national revolutions.
Grateful Hellas by Theodoros Vryzakes, 1858. National Historical Museum, Athens. Public Domain. The leaders of the Greek Revolution, including Regas and Koraes, are looking at the goddess-like Hellas with admiration verging on veneration.
In addition, the Revolution tested Greek courage and patriotism sufficiently enough that even pro-Turkish Europe decided Greece deserved political independence. The Greek Revolution prepared the Greeks for another century of struggle to bring most of the Turkish-occupied Greek territories under Greek control.
Greek struggle in the twentieth century
The twentieth century was a time of war for Greece. The victorious allies of WWI, especially England, encouraged Greece to reclaim some of its territory occupied by Turkey. England, however, abandoned Greece as it saw communist Russia (Soviet Union) arming and training the Turks. This led to what Greeks describe to this day as the Great Catastrophe. My father fought in that war. The newly armed Turkish army expelled the Greek troops and hundreds of thousands of Greek civilians from Smyrna and Asia Minor.
WWII was another calamity for the struggling country of Greece. Despite its first victory against the Italians in 1940-1941, the Germans occupied the country and came close to wiping it out. The Greeks resisted the Germans and their Italian and Bulgarian allies. The Germans retaliated with unprecedented ferocity. They launched campaigns of death: killing domesticated animals, cutting off major cities from the countryside to inflict maximum death from famine. In addition, they wiped out dozens of villages and smashed the country’s infrastructure. They also looted Greek archaeological treasures.
After this barbaric German experience, Greece faced the new lord of the Mediterranean, the Americans and their NATO alliance that included the Greeks’ perennial enemy, the Turks, and the Germans. This new political reality made America the new model for imitation. American and European NATO officials tried unsuccessfully to tame Turkey and make it another ally. The Turks are Moslem and see the European Christians as infidels. The Europeans tolerate the Turks in NATO and their unfriendly and often hostile behavior towards Greece, but reject their membership to the European Union. Greek people, not necessarily its leadership, see the Turks as the enemy.
Greek politicians received their education in the new Rome, America. They have been acting as if Greece is America, borrowing and desperately revising their culture to accommodate America’s multiculturalism. But the experiment failed. The Greeks in independent Greece never had non-Greeks of non-Western civilization living with them. Greece has never been a multicultural society.
Political plague in Greece
Yet Greek political leaders keep harming Greek culture. They have been borrowing the politics and economics of EU and America. When in 2008 the American-triggered financial world tsunami reached Greece, the country collapsed, not because of high debt but because of the machinations of the EU and America’s IMF. They sent to Athens their man, Andreas Georgiou. He was made head of the Greek statistical service. In that sensitive position, Georgiou massaged the numbers for Greek budget deficit and public debt. The Greek Supreme Court accused him for harming the national interest.
Suddenly, Greece became a pauper outlaw. It had borrowed too much and could not pay back money it received from French, German, and American banks. And just like a Third World country, Greece was forced to the humiliating embrace of IMF. The EU and IMF took over, putting Greece on starvation-like austerity. The country went through a great depression in the second decade of the twenty-first century.
In his eye-opening 2017 story, Adults in the Room, Yanis Varoufakis, Greek minister of finance for the first six months of 2015, described EU and American policy towards “bankrupt” Greece as waterboarding: quite an unflattering policy based on disinformation, threats, blackmail, collusion, betrayal and brinkmanship verging on war.
On July 2-3, 2021, I listened and participated in a political discussion hosted by Maria Negroponti-Delivanis, emeritus professor of economics and former president of the University of Macedonia. Her speakers included former president of the Greek Parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou, academics, and journalists. In 2015, when she was the president of the Greek Parliament, Konstantopoulou, organized a parliamentary committee for the investigation of the Greek debt. The committee concluded the debt was “illegitimate, illegal, odious and unsustainable.”
In July 2, 2021, Konstantopoulou repeated that the Greek debt was “illegitimate, illegal, odious and unsustainable.” The rest of the participants agreed with her. The consensus was that EU and IMF played a dirty game, which has nearly enslaved Greece. One of the participants, Zoe Georgantas, professor of economics at the University of Macedonia, charged Brussels for blackmailing Greece to continue with the present unacceptable loss of its sovereignty. She is convinced that Brussels is behind the sale of Greek public property to Germany for practically nothing, and for accommodating Turkish demands for the future dismemberment of the country.
Greek leaders, meanwhile, have been exacerbating the political and economic difficulties of the country with anti-Hellenic social and cultural policies. They keep lowering educational and national standards, and rewriting Greek history to make Turks and other Moslem foreigners in their midst tolerable. This political and willful ignorance of Greek history has been backfiring. It is giving rise to Greeks who have a very low self-esteem and despise Greek culture and civilization, including the Greek Revolution. National heroes and monuments, ancient and modern, become intolerable to Greeks with a low self-esteem.
In articles in the Greek media (Epikaira, August 25, 2017 and Hestia, November 23, 2020), and in her presentation on July 3, 2021, Maria Negroponti-Delivanis equates this malaise to foreign influence. On July 3, she said that from the moment of the EU-IMF orders to Greece, she searched in vain for a ray of light. She only came across darkness getting denser by the day. She accused the lenders and their EU-IMF agents for inhuman, criminal, illegal and unethical demands and policies towards Greece. In addition, she became livid realizing that Greece was trashed for a relatively small debt, compared to the 1 trillion euros debt of Germany to Greece. During WWII Germany borrowed from occupied Greece. Furthermore, German troops committed numerous atrocities and smashed the country’s infrastructure as well as looted Greek archaeological treasures. All these costs, Delivanis calculated, are worth 1 trillion euros. Yet Germany, with American support, refuses to make restitutions to Greece for its WWII barbarism.
Delivanis agrees with Georgantas that behind the aggressive austerity EU-IMF imposed on Greece there are schemes of dismembering the country for the benefit of Moslem Turkey. European crusaders (Germans, Venetians, and French) did the same thing in 1204. They captured Constantinople and divided Greece among themselves. Their occupation weakened Greece so much that prepared the ground for the 1453 Turkish conquest of the country. Steven Runciman, a distinguished British historian of the crusades, said the 1204 fourth crusade was a giant war crime against humanity, wounding mortally a great civilization.
Clearly, the paid guns of EU-IMF are not capable of ethical thinking, even remembering the inconvenient Hellenic origins of Western civilization. Their virtual war against Greece facilitates the recovery of the outrageous and illegal amounts of money Brussels cooked up in the Greek debt statistics.
Negroponti-Delivanis sides with Varoufakis. She accused the EU politicians for launching “criminal” attacks against her country. Second, she says that ethnomidenismos (Greek self-hatred and hatred of Greece) is not unrelated to foreign hostility. She equates Greek self-hatred to a deadly plague eating the soul and culture of the country. It’s responsible for the defeatist attitude and apathy and inactivity of the country’s leadership.
This elite is under the delusion that no matter the problem, including the daily Turkish violations of the Greek skies and the exploration of the Aegean by Turkish petroleum ships, the allies and friends of Greece will step in to help and protect the country. This self-deception, Delivanis said, has reached levels of astonishing ignorance: from rewriting Greek textbooks diminishing Greek achievements and ignoring atrocities of the Turks, to listening to hostile scholars explaining away the Greek Revolution 200 years after it broke out in 1821.
Greek leaders who hate their Greek identity, says Delivanis, have given birth to the humiliating behavior and policies of slaves.
Nikolaos Papadopoulos, emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Thessalonike, applauds Delivanis, saying he fears there are plans for the dismemberment of Greece, indeed, the total destruction of the country (International Hellenic Association Forum, November 23, 2020; April 11, 2021, July 10, 2021). The only way out, he says, is for the country to issue its own currency (one drachma == one euro), leaving the EU, and launching a program of reconstruction of the economy, putting all Greeks to work in building a new country capable of defending itself against any enemy.
Other Greek scholars-professors argue that unless Greece protects its borders and stops the flow of illegal Moslem immigrants to the Aegean islands from Turkey, there will not be an independent Greece by 2050. They cite the failure of European countries to assimilate Moslems. Greece is no different. With the exception of Greece, European countries shut their doors to Moslems.
My friend, Alexandros Hahalis, a famous Athenian music composer, artist, and a satirical poet following in the footsteps of Aristophanes, is convinced Greek governments are cowardly, traitorous, and anti-Greek. He is especially upset about the offensive behavior of the Greek government in giving in to he northern small Slavic state of Skopje demanding and getting a Greek name for itself: Macedonia. Skopje is a mixture of Albanians and Bulgarians. Now north of the home of Alexander the Great, Greek Macedonia, is North Macedonia inhabited by non-Greeks.
Second, Alexandros argues that the Greek government is preparing the ground for the Turkish control of the Aegean islands. He says there are too many Moslems in Athens, creating a climate of fear and insecurity among Greeks. “Most of the Moslems have four or five children while Greeks have one or two or have stopped having children. These Moslems are getting support from the EU. The future is grim,” he says.
Like Alexandros Hahalis, the Greek journalist Demetres Konstantakopoulos has been arguing that Greek politicians, exactly like former US president Donald Trump, are selfish, caring not at all about their country. These men and women, Konstantakopoulos says, in normal circumstances would not qualify being assistants to assistants in grocery stores. But in politics, they cause serious damage. They even passed a law giving rights of voting in Greek elections to diaspora Greeks, probably as a convenient means for rigging the elections at home. This sort of thing, says Konstantakopoulos, “is another sign of degeneration and the abolition of democracy” in Greece.
The Greeks don’t think like us
The fears of these Greek thinkers arise from the deplorable behavior of the corrupt Greek elites, both communist-left wing and right wing varieties, which model themselves after the powerful leaders of the European Union and America, including the American managers of the International Monetary Fund. Some of the ethnomidenistes (Greeks who hate Greece) may profit from the millions of euros the EU is spending for feeding the illegal immigrants in Greece.
During the second decade of the twenty-first century, EU-IMF and Greek leaders eliminated Greek sovereignty. This was a dramatic symptom of loss of freedom and decline. It was another fourth crusade. EU and IMF have turned Greece into an invisible colony.
This humiliation took place under Barack Obama’s watch. In his 2020 apologia-memoirs, A Promised Land, he said “Greece imploded.” He shows concern for the plight of the Greeks and politely denounces the Europeans’ Old Testament vengeance against them. However, he probably bought all the propaganda that the Greeks, in the mind of the Germans, are lazy, don’t pay taxes and “brought their troubles on themselves with their shoddy governance and spendthrift ways.” He overheard EU bureaucrats saying to each other in confidence in a G8 summit lavatory, “the Greeks don’t think like us.” But he did very little to denounce or prevent the implementation of such a racist indictment.
Obama knew the Greek debt was mostly cooked. He knew, too, that such debt was primarily with French, German and American banks. The Greeks suffered to save those banks. He could have simply ordered the IMF to be generous in its terms with Greece or part ways with the EU’s misanthropic treatment of the very country that had removed the Europeans from centuries of barbarism. Instead, Obama went along with the cruel EU-IMF policy of destroying the freedom of the Greek people.
EU and America in Greece are like the Romans who looted the country systematically for centuries. The Roman elites beautified Rome with stolen Greek statues. They filled their villas with masterpieces or copies of masterpieces of Greek art. Today’s robbers, EU and IMF, are not that straightforward like the Romans. They hide behind research institutes and non-profit organizations and invisible bankers. Yet they are the decision makers behind the scenes, reminding Greeks daily they have become half men. The Greek elites under Roman occupation, and now under EU-IMF sophisticated control, are desperately trying to please their bosses. They ignore Homer.
The Bicentennial of the Greek Revolution and Greek identity
Foreign experts (and their Greek followers) were members of the Greek government committee for the bicentennial of the Greek Revolution. One of those experts, Roderick Beaton, professor of medieval and modern Greek history and literature for three decades at King’s College, London, raises uncomfortable questions about Greek identity, disputing the connection and continuity between ancient and modern Greeks. He argues that aside from the “affinity” modern Greeks have had for ancient Hellenes, there’s practically no evidence the citizens of modern Greece are related to the citizens of ancient Greece. Beaton offers no evidence for this baseless and offensive assertion.
Modern Greeks are the descendants of ancient Greeks. They speak a simplified yet sophisticated and beautiful version of the language of Homer, Herodotos, Aristophanes, Plutarch and the New Testament. They have had the same cultural and political traditions with the ancient Greeks. They follow their ancestors’ ways in baking bread, making wine, cooking and diet, building their homes, making their clothes, singing, and dancing. Until late twentieth century, Greek peasant farmers (like my father) had been cultivating the land and raising their food with the assistance of the same domesticated animals alive in the age of Hesiod. Modern Greeks plant wheat, barley, lentils and other cereals still known as Demetriaka, gifts of goddess Demeter.
Christianity terminated the Olympics, burned the libraries, and shut down the schools throughout Hellas. But not all learning disappeared. And not all Greeks became fanatic Christians. Important ancient works of science, philosophy, and literature found protection. Reading and learning from those ancient treasures never ceased. And even during their long occupation by the Romans, government by kings in medieval Greece, and Turkish military occupation, the Greeks maintained local democracy, especially in the cities and villages. Cities and villages paid taxes collectively to the authorities. Feudalism did not find a fertile ground in Greece.
Hellenes lost their Olympian gods. Nevertheless, Hellenes found ways of subverting the original Christian dogmas. They populated their new religion with Greek saints. Some of those saints took the virtues of the gods, even their names. Moreover, Hellenes / Greeks retained their ancestors’ love for freedom, agrarianism, veneration of the natural world, and the cosmos.
Beaton ignores this culture. He is eager to please policymakers. He is wrong for calling the ruthless Greek leaders of the foreign occupation, 2009-2021, “pioneers” for tolerating the crushing and humiliating waterboarding dictated by the EU / IMF in order to save American and European banks. But he is right in calling Greeks “pioneer” because their 1821 Revolution changed imperial and monarchical Europe to a continent of nation states.
Other Western scholars ridicule medieval Greek history as sterile, forgetting that medieval Greeks preserved their ancient democratic traditions and saved the classical texts we have today. They ignore the fourth European Christian crusade of 1204 that, literary, shredded Greece and prepared the road to the Turkish conquest of 1453. Then to add insult to injury, they write that Greeks and Turks lived together and in peace. They did not. The works of Greek scholars, including those of Adamantios Koraes, are full of Turkish atrocities. Not only that, but the Turks slaughtered more than a million Greeks in early twentieth century. Foreign intellectuals raise doubts about that holocaust. This pleases the Turks who also refuse to admit they murdered about 1.5 million Armenians as well. Now that President Joe Biden spoke about the campaigns of extermination by the Turks against Armenians and recognized the Armenian genocide, Turkey and America and Greece will rethink past history and its effects on their lives. The new Xerxes of Turkey, Erdogan, will have to think twice in continuing his aggression towards Greece.
These and other doubts and hopes smooth and complicate the historical narrative of the EU-IMF intellectuals trying to please Turkey and the European-American friends of Turkey. After all, there are many more Turks than Greeks who can buy more from EU and American industries.
Freedom or death
The Memoirs of Theodoros Kolokotrones, probably the greatest hero of the Greek Revolution, add light to the perplexing Greek reality.
The “old man of the Morea-Peloponnesos” says this about the Greek Revolution:
“Our Revolution has nothing to do with European revolutions, which were civil wars. Our revolutionary war was the most just war between two nations. With the Turks in Greece, the Greeks only did what violence demanded. They never swore obedience. Besides, the Sultan never recognized the Greeks as a people with dignity. He only thought of the them as slaves…. There was no ground for compromise with the Turks, none whatsoever.
“Freedom or death was our purpose.
“The Turks killed some Greeks, others they enslaved. But others like me lived free for several generations. The Turks killed our king [Constantine Palaiologos during the defense and Turkish capture of Constantinople in 1453]. He made no agreement with the enemy. His guards became the fighters we know as “klephtes” (thieves, guerrillas). They never ceased fighting the Turks. Two military cities, Souli and Mani, remained free.”
Kolokotrones unites the struggle for freedom of ancient and modern Greece. His commitment to freedom or death was also the decision of Athenians and Spartans facing and fighting the Persians in 480 BCE.
Another revolutionary leader was Ioannes Makriyiannes, 1797-1864. His record was not sterling like that of Kolokotrones. He rose to power by chance and personal ambition. In contrast to Kolokotrones who supported Kapodistrias, he opposed him. Nevertheless, he had some virtues. He learned how to write at the age of 32 in order to tell his story. His Memoirs is an insightful and riveting book. He could not stand the Turks and those of the Greek politicians who were corrupt or made corrupt by power, the Turks, and the Europeans.
Makriyiannes did not mince words. He said:
“Ancient Greeks enlightened the world with eternal light. They stripped men of evil and clothed them with virtue. You would think their pupils, the Europeans, would be grateful and help us, the descendants of ancient Greeks. But, no, the Europeans are training us in evil and corruption. We fight the Turks without muskets or ammunition or other war supplies. We unmasked the Sultan for the criminal he has always been. The Europeans call the Sultan Grand Seignior. The Sultan scared the Europeans; they paid him a poll-tax.
“We killed more than 400,000 of the Sultan’s troops. Yet during the first years of the Revolution, Europe supplied Turkish forts with food and ammunition. Just imagine with the power we had how far we would have gone if only Europe had not been supporting our Turkish enemies in Greece. Instead, Europeans are trying to make us their sole servant: dance to their tunes.”
These Greeks, including Regas, Koraes, Kolokotrones, Niketas Stamatelopoulos (Niketaras), and Kapodistrias, took Homer seriously. Any infringement of freedom diminishes man and civilization. Their victories against the Turks mirrored the victory of their ancestors in Marathon against the Persians in 490 BCE and in Salamis in 480 BCE and Plataia in 479 BCE. The battle cry in all these confrontations with the enemy was freedom or death. The Greek Revolution was a struggle for freedom or death. It proved Hellenic continuity. It was a spark for the resurgence of Hellas. It was, moreover, an applied lesson of fighting for winning freedom. It’s a model for the Greeks of the twenty-first century in rebuilding a free country for Hellenes.
Evaggelos Vallianatos, historian and ecopolitical theorist, is author of several books and hundreds of articles. His dissertation: From Graikos to Hellene: Adamantios Koraes and the Greek Revolution, was published by the Academy of Athens in 1987. His books include The Antikythera Mechanism: The Story Behind the Genius of the Greek Computer and its Demise (Forthcoming: Universal Publishers, 2021).