The Regiment Baleste: The First Trained and Organized Unit in the Greek War of Independence

The Regiment Baleste faces off with the Ottomans in standard Western European formation / Wikimedia Commons

By William St. Clair / 05.10.2013
Senior Research Fellow, Institute of English Studies
University of London

Indications that violence had broken out in Greece began to reach Western Europe when ships called at Marseilles, Trieste, and Ancona to buy arms and ammunition. Then letters arrived from Greeks at the scene of war and travellers hurried back with their impressions. The newspapers circulated such scraps of information as came their way with little means of checking them. Stories current in the ports were published in the local newspapers and then reprinted in other newspapers all over Europe.

Since the organization of the Revolution was in the hands of men educated in Europe, it was natural that their version of affairs should be the first to appear. They were conscious of the need to obtain international support and many of the proclamations and communiqués were drafted more with an eye to the European reader than to the Greeks to whom they were supposedly addressed.

Alexander Ypsilantis in Filiki Eteria attire / National Historical Museum of Greece

While Alexander Yypsilantes should have been making military preparations to meet the Turks or trying to establish a secure base, he was devoting his efforts to issuing proclamations.

Let us recollect, brave and generous Greeks, the liberty of the classic land of Greece; the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae, let us combat upon the tombs of our ancestors who, to leave us free, fought and died. The blood of our tyrants is dear to the shades of the Theban Epaminondas, and of the Athenian Thasybulus who conquered and destroyed the thirty tyrants – to those of Harmodius and Aristogeiton who broke the yoke of Pisistratus – to that of Timoleon who restored liberty to Corinth and to Syracuse – above all, to those of Miltiades, Themistocles, Leonidas, and the three hundred who massacred so many times their number of the innumerable army of the barbarous Persians – the hour is come to destroy their successors, more barbarous and still more detestable. Let us do this or perish. To arms then, my friends, your country calls you.[1]

Only a tiny proportion of Greeks could have had any comprehension of these historical allusions.

A stream of false rumours poured from the Danubian Provinces – that Ypsilantes had won great victories, that tens of thousands of Bulgarians and Serbs had joined him, that important cities were being captured and that the Russians had invaded. Stories of Ypsilantes’ successes were being printed in Europe long after his rash venture had been crushed.[2]

The news from Greece itself was even more misleading. The story was widely believed that on the outbreak of the Revolution the Greeks had offered the Turks rights of civic and religious freedom within a Greek state.[3] In May it was reported that the whole of the Peloponnese and Epirus was in Greek hands and that a Turkish army of 30,000 had been destroyed.[4] In July it was announced that the standard of the cross now flew on the Parthenon and that the Greeks had taken Athens without losing a man.[5] Two great naval battles were said to have been fought against the combined Turkish and Egyptian fleets, in one of which the Greeks sank eight ships.[6] Great victories were said to have been won, usually near sites famous in antiquity, in which thousands of Turks were killed and only a handful of Greeks. The newspapers delighted in drawing comparisons with the Ancient Greeks. The Victories’ of the Modern Greeks, according to the Examiner, enhanced even the glory of the Ancients:

It is hardly possible to name a spot in the scene of action, without starting some beautiful spirit of antiquity. Here are victories at Samos, the birthplace of Pythagoras; at Rhodes, famous for its roses and accomplishments; at Cos, the birthplace of Apelles, Hippocrates, and Simonides. But to behave as the Greeks have done at Malvasia is to dispute the glory even with those older names.[7][8]

As the news became more detailed there was a search for heroes. The Mainotes were of course the Modern Spartans but Marco Botsaris, the Albanian Suliote leader, was usually taken as the Modern Leonidas. When stories appeared of a woman of Hydra, Boubolina, leading the Greeks in battle, she was dubbed the Modern Artemisia or the Greek Joan of Arc. It seemed impossible to represent any event in Modern Greece as an event in its own right without overwhelming it with misleading allusions.

The Turks were unaware of this aspect of international public opinion. They had no comprehension of the curious phenomenon of philhellenism which was returning full circle to the land where it was born. When the Revolution broke out, the Ottoman Government correctly diagnosed that the institution which gave a unity to the Greeks was the Church. There was a certain terrible logic in the Turkish policy of killing the patriarch and bishops and terrorizing the Christian inhabitants of Constantinople and Asia Minor. Most of the Greeks of the Ottoman Empire saw nothing strange in the idea of taking revenge on a community as a whole for wrongs done by a few members. They shared this ethic themselves.

It did not occur to Europeans, as they read the news from Greece, that the Greeks of the Ottoman Empire shared the Eastern scale of values and the news arrived in such a way that the fact was not brought home to them. Constantinople and Smyrna were full of Europeans: diplomats, traders, and seamen. They were major communications centres from which ships regularly sailed to Europe. The Turkish atrocities against the Greek population were, as a result, witnessed with horror by many Europeans and soon reported all over Europe. The initial atrocities in Greece, on the other hand, were seen by very few Europeans. If any were reported they were put down to justifiable hatred arising from extreme provocation, and explained away in the same terms as the occasional atrocities committed by European armies. Few Europeans suspected the real forces that were at work.

Nobody was more deceived by the news from Greece than the overseas Greeks who had instigated the Revolution in the first place and who, by virtue of their superior education, regarded themselves as the obvious leaders. As soon as they heard of the Greek victories’ in the Peloponnese, hundreds of Greeks studying in European universities or working in merchant houses made their way to the sea and embarked for the homeland which few of them had ever seen. Greeks who had survived the unsuccessful revolt in the Danubian provinces made the long journey through Russia and Austria to join them. The ports of Italy were soon crowded with Greeks looking for a passage to the Peloponnese. Many Greeks turned their assets into money and rushed to share the leadership of the newly independent country. Greeks from the Greek communities in Smyrna and Egypt left their families to join the cause, and many Ionians crossed to the Peloponnese before the British authorities put a stop to the exodus.

The overseas conspirators of the Friendly Society had appointed Demetrius Ypsilantes to lead the revolt in Greece. He arrived at Hydra with fifteen companions in June 1821 at about the same time as the revolt of his brother Alexander Ypsilantes was at its last gasp in the Danubian provinces. Like his brother, Demetrius Ypsilantes had been an officer in the Russian service, and at first sight he appeared to be the kind of leader the Greeks needed. Although only in his twenties he had a mature military look about him. His undoubted bravery and military experience won him respect. But, like his brother, he had launched himself into a situation which he could not control and did not really understand. On his arrival in Greece he declared himself regent on behalf of his brother whom he insisted would in due course take over the leadership of the new state. Like so many of the overseas Greeks he delighted in issuing grandiloquent proclamations aimed more at European opinion than the local Greeks. The tone of these pronouncements and the ceremoniousness with which he insisted on being treated made him appear ridiculous rather than impressive to the local populace. Since he had been appointed by the Society he never doubted his claims to complete sovereignty and seems to have been genuinely surprised that all classes of Greeks did not immediately rally to acclaim him as their leader. For many months he clung to the hope that Russia would invade Turkey and that all would turn out for the best. Partly as a result, rumours that the Russians had invaded European Turkey and that a Russian fleet was on its way to the Peloponnese were widely believed throughout the Peloponnese during the first year of the war. Shortly after his arrival, Ypsilantes announced that he would march on Constantinople during the next campaigning season.

Meanwhile, he devoted himself to attempting to graft the institutions of a modern European state on to the territories from which the Turks had been expelled. He distributed portfolios of imaginary departments of state to his followers and sent others as commissioners to proclaim his authority in the areas where the Revolution had broken out. The most pressing need, however, was to organize an army, to reduce the fortresses in Greece that were still in Turkish hands, and to prepare to defend the new state against the Turkish counter-attack which was bound to come.

Thousands of Greeks were in arms but they could not be called an army. They were simply the personal followers of the various leaders of the Revolution. It was clearly a first priority for any government to bring all the armed forces of the country under its direct control and to organize them so that their loyalty and discipline could be depended upon.

Ypsilantes had made his preparations before he left Italy. In Trieste he engaged a Frenchman called Baleste to raise and take command of a cadre which would provide the basis of a Greek national army. Baleste was eminently suited to the task. He had fought with distinction in Napoleon’s armies and had no lack of military experience.[9] He had lived for many years in Crete where his father had been a merchant and therefore had first-hand knowledge of Greek conditions (before the Revolution) and he knew the language. Baleste engaged a party of former officers, French and Italian, and sailed for Calamata. There he began the task of recruiting and training the first regiment of the Greek army, known as the Regiment Baleste or simply as the Regiment.

The Regiment was to be organized as a European infantry battalion with muskets and bayonets and to be trained to fight in the standard European fashion by standing in line in close formation. Ypsilantes spent his fortune on equipping the force. Arms were bought in Europe and a uniform was distributed consisting of a black military dress with a black hat bearing a skull and the motto ’Liberty or Death’. Everything was provided, even drums and trumpets. Ypsilantes himself invariably wore the uniform of the Regiment which was the same as that adopted by his brother in the Danubian Provinces.

The Greeks defending the ancient ruins of Corinth.

A European view of the first siege of Missolonghi.

Some of the returning overseas Greeks who were familiar with European conditions joined the Regiment and began their training, and the Greeks from the Ionian Islands saw it as the natural focal point for their energies. There was a large contingent of Italians, but virtually none of the local armed Greeks could be persuaded to join. They much preferred the independent life of following a successful leader in search of plunder to the dull routine of discipline and drill. Most of the recruits were refugees, mainly Greeks who had escaped the destruction of Kydonies and had been landed destitute and friendless on the coast of the Morea. Altogether the Regiment Baleste was an unpromising basis on which to build a national army since the connections of most of its members with Greece were tenuous to say the least. However, since they were being fed and promised pay and since, for the most part, they had no other means of finding a livelihood, the recruits submitted willingly to the training of Baleste and his European officers. He was so successful that within a few weeks he had trained up a small force of about two hundred men to tolerable discipline able to execute European drill manoeuvres with reasonable confidence. Provided some means could be found of maintaining the flow of money to maintain the men and bring in new recruits, Baleste was confident that he had a nucleus on which to build an effective military organization.

Ypsilantes’ arrival in Greece was soon followed by that of other prominent overseas Greeks each surrounded by a party of followers and each expecting to be given a position of authority on his arrival. Many had served in European armies or government services and their ideas of the type of Greece they wanted were basically the same. The establishment of a national army on European lines featured in their plans and some of them engaged European officers to accompany them. One is said to have brought thirty German officers. Some of these overseas Greeks hastened back to Western Europe as soon as they saw the real conditions, but most attached themselves with more or less conviction to Ypsilantes.

The most important of the new arrivals was Alexander Mavrocordato, a member of a noble Constantinople family which had supplied the Turks with governors of the Danubian Provinces for the last century. Mavrocordato was a cultured man, thoroughly Europeanized, fluent in several languages, a friend of Byron and Shelley who had dedicated Hellas to him. Unlike Ypsilantes, who always wore the uniform of the Regiment and had an unmistakable military air about him, Mavrocordato usually dressed in a European frock coat. He was short, inclined to fatness, and wore spectacles. He looked like a civil servant or minor politician from one of the smaller European states. Many Europeans were drawn to him and looked upon him as an example of the kind of Greek who was most likely to bring about the regeneration of the country. Mavrocordato chartered a ship at the beginning of the Revolution and sailed from Marseilles with a large party of Greeks, several European officers, and a store of arms.

If the overseas Greeks had co-ordinated their activities and pooled their resources from the start they might have succeeded in asserting the leadership which they thought was their due. But the colonies of Greeks in European cities were quarrelling about their respective roles in the new state before they had even left Europe. When they reached Greece they gave one another the minimum of support and spread out to the various corners of the country to try to establish an area of influence for themselves. Mavrocordato, in particular, recognized very soon that Ypsilantes did not have the qualities necessary in a national leader and made no secret of his wish to supplant him. He had brought more money, more arms, and more European officers than Ypsilantes and he too wanted to begin the process of establishing an army on the European model.

The Regiment Baleste never exceeded three hundred men. But, as usual, by the time news of Ypsilantes’ decision to form an army reached Europe, it was hopelessly distorted. Across the narrow strait in the Ionian Islands it was believed that ’several regiments were organizing at Kalamata, commanded by French and Italian generals’.[10] In August the Greeks of Livorno were saying that there were four thousand organized European troops’ in Greece.[11] By the time the news reached Sweden the newspapers were reporting that Ypsilantes was going to raise 10,000 infantry, cavalry and artillery on the European model.[12] The great Victories’ of the Greeks in the first days of the Revolution were attributed to the Greek ’Army’. The Moreotes were reported to be singing the Marseillaise.[13] The projected march on Constantinople was said to be imminent[14] and Ali Pasha to have changed his name to Constantine.[15]

It was not surprising that this good news, lavishly sown on ground already well fertilized with philhellenic sentiment, should produce a harvest of volunteers from Europe eager to join the cause. Europe was full of men for whom war offered the only hope of advancement. During the great upheavals of the French wars vast armies had been mobilized and after Waterloo they had been quickly demobilized. Tens of thousands of men had spent years in fighting, knew no other trade, and were now out of work. Many officers were in that familiar category of men who had served with credit but not distinction, men who had been long enough in the wars to realize that they were good at the military profession but for whom the peace had come before they had obtained any benefit. There were also many in the uncomfortable position of having just finished their training, with no experience of active service, when peace came; all they had to look forward to were years of dreary garrison duty and slow promotion among comrades who would bore them with tales of their exploits in the glorious days of war. Even for those who had served and who were still retained in the army when it was run down, the prospect was not always promising; the various governments were anxious to rid their armies of elements which were politically unwelcome.

Eugène Rouher (1814 – 1884), French politician, president of the Senate during the Second French Empire, leader of the Bonapartiste party after 1871. / Bibliothèque nationale de France

The French army was steadily being purged of prominent Bonapartists. Many officers who had fought for Napoleon had hoped against hope that the Emperor might still return from St. Helena as he had from Elba and were thrown into despair by the news of his death, which arrived at the same time as the news of the Revolution in Greece. The governments of the German states, more conscious than before of their nationality, looked with disfavour on men who had worked with the French. Many officers lived in exile from their native countries subsisting as best they could, sometimes taking service as mercenaries in the less sophisticated armies and sometimes actively plotting to stage a return to the old system. The secret police in several countries kept a close watch on men who had been prominent during the wars.

Many of the Europeans who set out to take part in the Greek Revolution in the first year came from this great pool of unemployed or underemployed military talent. The war in Greece seemed to promise not only the chance to serve in a cause which was intrinsically good and honourable but an opportunity of reviving their own fortunes. As with the crusaders of other days, to whom they often compared themselves, the path of religious duty seemed to offer solid economic advantages. The overseas Greeks, in their rush to the Peloponnese from Trieste, Livorno, Marseilles and other European ports, found themselves being jostled at the quayside by volunteers eager to go with them. Most were officers with some means of their own, ready to buy their own arms and pay their passage. Many had read reports of the Appeal which called on Europe to support the cause with ’money, arms and counsel’ and which seemed to promise practical gratitude. They confidently expected that they would be enrolled as officers in the Greek Army and given the chance to distinguish themselves. The overseas Greeks, suffering from the same delusion themselves, encouraged them to come and almost every shipload of returning expatriate Greeks contained a number of Europeans. Other volunteers with means of their own set out from Europe independently. They drew out money from their banks, bought a personal set of arms, equipped themselves with uniforms (usually of their own design as they had read in the old travel books was the best method) and took passage on merchant vessels. If they knew any prominent Greeks settled in Europe they asked them for letters of introduction.

The governments of Europe were only slightly better informed about the circumstances of the outbreak of the Greek Revolution than the newspapers. The British Government with its officials in the Ionian Islands and warships ranging round the Levant coasts had access to first-hand reports, but the other governments depended to a large extent on despatches from their missions in Constantinople. The governments, in any case, were in no mood to respond to any romantic view of the Revolution. They judged the events in Eastern Europe in the context of their general European policy and in the light of their own national interest.

In 1821 the European system which had been set up after the final defeat of Napoleon looked distinctly shaky. Although the forces let loose by the French Revolution had been crushed, and Europe restored had a superficial resemblance to the Europe of 1789, the ideas which had led to the French Revolution could not be eradicated from men’s minds. Post-war Europe did not seem to provide the kind of society that the peoples had fought for. In state after state the restoration had turned out to be not merely the return of the old monarchs but the old system of oppression by the nobility and by the Church. Large sections of the public in France, Spain, Germany, and Italy had liked their first taste of liberal institutions which they had experienced during the war or seen applied elsewhere. The new generation had formed an exaggerated view of the benefits which could be expected by changes in the political system. ’Liberty’ was an intoxicating and still novel concept embracing both national independence and freedom for the individual. The liberals all over Europe looked enviously at the English parliamentary system of government (although during this time many of the safeguards of English personal freedom were in suspense), but pinned their own hopes on constitutions and especially the Spanish constitution of 1812. The call for ’The Constitution’ became a slogan and a rallying cry for liberal opinion in lands far from Spain.

The restored governments of Europe, conscious that they did not rule by general consent, were inclined to resort to repressive measures to keep their subjects in order. Liberty seemed to be a euphemism for revolution and they feared and detested revolution like an epidemic disease which would not respect national frontiers. Attempts were made to bind the five great powers – Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia – to an agreement to help one another to put down revolutions in their dominions and elsewhere in Europe. Britain refused and France was unenthusiastic, but the three others were determined to enforce their policy.

By 1821 it looked as if this policy was failing. In early 1820 a military revolution in favour of ’The Constitution’ was proclaimed in Spain followed shortly afterwards by a similar movement in Portugal. Then in July revolution broke out in the kingdom of Naples and in March 1821 it spread to Piedmont. A separatist movement also broke out in Sicily. The news of the Greek Revolution coming shortly afterwards seemed to indicate that the whole political system was in danger. The governments of Europe felt bound to regard all these revolutions as examples of the same phenomenon. There were, it was true, superficial resemblances. All had been instigated by secret societies, usually lumped together as carbonari and freemasons, and the Friendly Society had used roughly the same methods of spreading their membership and laying their plans. All proclaimed their aim as Liberty. All were enthusiastically acclaimed in Northern Europe by the political opponents of the governments. In the eyes of the absolute monarchs of Austria, Russia, and Prussia, all were revolts of ungrateful subjects against their legitimate sovereigns.

While the overseas Greeks and unemployed officers were scrambling to go to Greece, the revolutions in Italy suddenly collapsed. On the approach of an Austrian Army the Italian revolutionaries lost their nerve and dispersed with hardly a fight. The revolts in favour of the constitution in Naples and Piedmont, and the separatist revolt in Sicily, were quickly put down. Throughout Italy Metternich’s policy was to prevail. These movements had all been, in the main, revolts by the military rather than popular or nationalist insurrections. When the Austrians arrived executions, imprisonments, and purges were ordered. Hundreds of men who had joined the revolutions had to leave Italy at once to escape the repression. Suddenly another large body of military men had to find a means of earning a living. Some, including the leader of the Neapolitan revolutionaries, General Pepe, went to Spain where the constitutional government was still in power, but most went in the first place to France or England. A few believed that they could somehow continue the struggle in Greece.

Although the Greek Revolution was in fact totally different in kind from the others, ironically the policy of the powers helped to make the connection closer. As, one by one, the revolutions in Italy and the Iberian Peninsula were put down, and as the monarchs elsewhere progressively purged their own societies of men whom they found undesirable citizens, an increasing body of discontents was created. No government wanted potential revolutionaries within its own borders; political refugees were therefore continually being moved on, like bands of gypsies for whom no one would accept responsibility. The number of places of refuge for these men became progressively fewer. Even Switzerland, a traditional sanctuary for political refugees, became debarred to them as the ambassadors of the powers put pressure on the Swiss authorities. The refugees were driven by circumstances to move further afield – to England, to the United States, to South America, to Egypt, and then to Greece. With each turn of the screw their plight became more desperate, their means of earning money more limited. As their numbers grew, the sympathy and practical charity with which they were greeted at first became more attenuated.

Theodoros Vryzakis, 1852, illustrates Bishop Germanos of old Patras blessing the Greek banner at Agia Lavra on the outset of the national revolt against the Ottomans on 25 March 1821. / Benaki Museum, Athens

As the years passed, more and more of the volunteers who came to fight for the Greek cause were men who had been driven by circumstances of this kind. This is not to say that many of them were not influenced also by philhellenic motives, by genuine belief that the Greek cause was right and good, and by feelings of self sacrifice, but for most of the volunteers who came to Greece in 1821 philhellenic sentiment was only one of the factors which contributed to their decision. An increasing number had been on the circuit of revolutions moving from one trouble spot to another, picking up new companions on the way, and becoming cynical at the liberal beliefs which had started them on their wandering lives in the first place. Already by the summer of 1821, when the Regiment Baleste was being formed, the tendency could be seen. Persat,[16] for example, one of the earliest volunteers, had been a disgraced Bonapartist officer. He had taken part in a plot to try to rescue Napoleon from St. Helena; he had fought with Bolivar in South America; he had joined in another Bonapartist plot on his return to France and been obliged to flee; he had fought for the constitutionalists in Naples against the Austrians; and had escaped from prison by killing his guards. Humphreys,[17] a young English officer, had graduated from the military academy in 1817 but had been unable to obtain a commission in the British Army. He had gone to Naples with the intention of fighting for the constitutionalists but arrived when it was too late. On reading in the newspapers that the Greeks seemed determined in their turn to breathe the air of liberty* he hastened to Greece, believing himself about to taste the reality of the fantasies he had acquired from reading Byron.

There were a number of Poles who had given loyal service to the French cause and, as so often in the history of their country, they found that they were unwelcome in Poland when the wars came to an end. One,[18] the son of a rich landowning family, left behind by the war, had already tried his luck in South America and as a fur-trader in a ship up the Mississippi. After a gun fight with the captain of the ship he had been abandoned on the shore and lived for a while on wild berries with an Indian woman in a cave before being taken to the Poor Hospital at Boston. He had then drifted back to Europe and taken a ship to Greece. Another Pole,[19] who had served in Napoleon’s armies and followed the Emperor to Elba, had fought under Bolivar and taken part in the Piedmontese Revolution. ’I have grown old in the search for freedom’, he told his comrades. The freeing of Greece from the Turks was to be a preparation for the freeing of Poland from the Russians.

By far the largest group who came to Greece in the summer of 1821 were Italian refugees. Mavrocordato’s party included half a dozen Piedmontese victims of the troubles’.[20] Nine prominent citizens of the Papal States joined a ship carrying Greeks from Livorno in August. One of them wrote that he went to Greece ’in the hope of assisting in recovering her freedom, and perhaps, one day, that of my poor country which groans under the sacerdotal yoke’.[21] A tenth man who was to have accompanied them, a halfpay captain ’deeply compromised in political matters’, committed suicide when he was refused a passport to go to Greece.[22] Crowds of Italians of all classes, misled by the news from Greece, made the short journey to Calamata ’in hopes of finding employment, in teaching languages, or getting situations as secretaries, commissaries, and clerks’.[23] Most of the Italians were military men, officers of the lower and middle ranks, captains, majors, and a few colonels. Tarella, a Piedmontese refugee under sentence of death, had served in the French Army in many of its successful campaigns, had been a battalion commander in 1815, and stuck with Napoleon to the end. Dania, a Genoese, also exiled, had been a successful cavalry officer in the French Army. Staraba, a Sicilian colonel, is said to have brought a party of volunteers to Calamata after the failure of the revolution in Naples.[24]

As these volunteers from all over Europe arrived on the coast of Greece by their various routes in the summer of 1821, their first act was to ask to be directed to the ’Greek Army’. They were met by uncomprehending stares at many places, but soon so many Greeks had heard about this Army that it was believed that it actually existed. Since only a tiny minority of the newcomers spoke any Greek, the scope for misunderstanding was great. All through 1821 and 1822 foreign volunteers were to be found wandering from village to village in the Peloponnese expecting that they would soon find the regiments which existed only in the imagination of the newspaper writers. Three travelling gentlemen, a German and two Englishmen, were in the Ionian Islands when they decided to join ’with heart and hand in the contest’ and crossed to the mainland.[25] Soon after their arrival they encountered a band of about thirty armed Greeks. The Greeks could not understand their talk about being on the way to join the Army and shot at them, killing their servant. They then robbed them, tied them to trees, and left them to die. By good luck they managed to escape and even persevered on their way to Calamata.

When these men and the scores of other volunteers actually saw the Regiment Baleste, their disappointment can be imagined. Instead of the ’Army’ they found Baleste and half a dozen European officers and three half-trained companies of recruits, mainly Greek refugees almost as unfamiliar with the conditions of the Peloponnese as they were themselves. There was no military treasury, no commissariat, none of the conveniences which they associated with an army. Far from being given the high commands they had been led to expect, there was clearly no room for the newcomers even as junior officers. Even if, as was still hoped, the Regiment was to be expanded, there was already a queue of other volunteers with a prior claim.

Many of the volunteers took one look and decided at once to take the first available ship back. A high-ranking Bavarian cavalry officer[26] declared that he was leaving because he had heard that the Turks were offering 1,500 piastres for the heads of Franks. A Piedmontese major[27] was offended most of all by the lack of paybooks and the absence of arrangements for providing underwear and footwear. These excuses were reasonable enough considering what the volunteers had been led to expect. Inevitably, however their decision to go home was in these early days put down to cowardice or softness or unfulfilled ambition. And so there began a process that was to be seen at various times throughout the Greek Revolution. Volunteers, waiting in the European ports, were continually meeting disillusioned volunteers on their way back. Volunteers, arriving in Greek ports, were met at the quay by other volunteers eager to leave. It is a measure of the deep-rooted strength of the philhellenic impulse and of the other motives that drove men to Greece, that volunteers continued to arrive. The newcomers could not bring themselves to believe the accounts of the men who had been on the spot, the first-hand information was discounted as biased by personal disappointment. Every new volunteer felt that somehow he knew more about the real situation from his reading in the newspapers; that somehow he was more hardy or more enthusiastic or more likely to be welcomed than the weaklings who were turning back. For many, a return was out of the question. By taking part in the constitutionalist revolts and plots they had become stateless persons and in many cases deprived of their livelihood as well. The more prominent were sentenced to death in their absence to emphasize the point. Somehow they had to make the best of it. Forty Italians agreed to serve in the ranks of the Regiment Baleste in the hope that they might later have a chance of becoming officers when the Army was expanded. Others hung around nursing the belief that once they succeeded in meeting Ypsilantes personally, their special talents or qualifications would be recognized and they would be given positions of responsibility.

The number of volunteers who made the journey to Greece in the summer of 1821 is unknown. By September it was estimated that there were already two hundred.[28] The arrival of these men – many of them well-born, well-educated, well-armed, often splendidly uniformed, and by local standards apparently quite rich – made an impression on the local Greeks. Coming after the massive influx of Europeanized Greeks with whom they had so much in common, their arrival seemed to indicate that the world was deeply interested in the Greek Revolution and that it could not be regarded as a purely local Greek affair. The Greeks of the Peloponnese soon became used to the presence of foreigners among them and ceased to remark on the fact. Because the foreigners were there almost from the first, it soon ceased to occur to the Greeks that there was anything strange in volunteers coming from the other end of Europe to help them in their fight. They regarded it as entirely natural that the affairs of Greece should command such interest.


1 Quoted in the Examiner, 1821, p. 232.

2 Ibid., p. 372.

3 Ibid., p. 689.

4 Ibid., p. 372.

5 Ibid., p. 456.

6 Ibid., p. 631

7 Quoted ibid., p. 632.

8 * For a description of what actually happened at Monemvasia see p. 41.

9 Raybaud, i, p. 422.

10 Humphreys, First Journal, p. 29.

11 Brengeri, i, p. 462.

12 Aschling, p. 28.

13 Raffenel, i, p. 10.

14 For example Brengeri, i, p. 462. Ypsilantes himself encouraged this rumour. Humphreys, First Journal, p. 55.

15 Examiner, 1821, p. 242. This story is noticed in an enthusiastic philhellenic letter by Alexander Pushkin of March 1821. See The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, ed. J. Thomas Shaw, Bloomington and Philadelphia, 1963, i, pp. 80 ff. Pushkin joined a masonic lodge in part to help the Greek cause and his friend Karlovich Küchelbecker seriously considered volunteering, but by 1824 Pushkin was disillusioned.

16 See his Mémoires.

17 See his First Journal.

18 Emil von Z. See Byern, p. 108. This Philhellene cannot be definitely identified with any of the Poles whose names are known.

19 Mierzewsky, killed at Peta. Elster, Fahrten, p. 319.

20 Raybaud, i, p. 269.

21 Brengeri, i, p. 466.

22 Ibid., pp. 462 ff.

23 Humphreys, First Journal, p. 40.

24 Voutier, Mémoires, p. 171.

25 Christian Müller, Preface. The two Englishmen are described as Mr. N. and Mr. S.

26 Not identified. Raybaud, i, p. 367.

27 Identified only as G. Raybaud, i, p. 368.

28 Brengeri, i, p. 467.

From That Greece Might Still Be Free: The Philhellenes in the War of Independence, by William St. Clair