Guerrier grec a cheval’, painting by Eugene Delacroix, 1856. currently on display in Lausanne. / Museum Alexandros Soutzos, Athens
Two Kinds of War
The Greeks who had actually carried out the killings that made the Revolution possible had little sympathy with the Greeks from overseas and their Frankish colleagues who assumed so readily that they would take over the leadership. They disliked their Western manners and Western clothes and the fact that so many of them were more at home speaking French, German, or Italian than Greek. They preferred squatting on the floor to sitting on chairs, they loved extravagant flowing clothes covered with embroidery. Their most prized personal possessions were daggers and firearms decorated, if they could afford it, with precious metal and jewels. To the local Greeks those from overseas were Franks almost as much as the Europeans by whom they were usually surrounded; and to be regarded with the same mixture of contempt and respect as travelling gentlemen.
Whitman College, Creative Commons
To most of the Greeks who lived in Greece it was by no means obvious that a national government or a regular army on the European model was necessary. The country had always been split geographically. The Moreotes or Peloponnesians felt themselves different from the Roumeliotes across the Corinthian Gulf, the islanders felt different from the mainlanders. Within these divisions there were innumerable smaller local loyalties. The inhabitants of Western Greece had little contact with those of Eastern Greece. Every island had its own character. There were age-old disputes between neighbouring communities. The mountains and seas of the Greek Archipelago divided the people so completely that virtually every town and plain had a distinct character of its own. Although the Turks had been disposed of, the regional and municipal institutions through which they had ruled the country still existed. Some of the local Greek leaders who had enjoyed great authority under the Turks were content that the institutions should remain unchanged. Many Greeks regarded these ’primates’ as little better than the Turks with whom they had recently been in full co-operation. But after the massacres of the Turks in the spring of 1821 the country had reverted to virtual anarchy. Although the primates kept a tight grip over some areas, much of the country was now in the hands of war lords whose strength stemmed from simple armed violence. The Mainotes left their mountain peninsula where the Turks had kept them shut in for hundreds of years and descended into the plains of the Peloponnese. They had few of the civic virtues of their putative ancestors, the ancient Spartans. They ruthlessly plundered the settled Greek villages and left a trail of destruction in the areas through which they passed. Houses were burnt and flocks seized. Cultivation of the land became intermittent. The klephts and armatoli, freed from the restraints which Turkish Government had imposed, were equally undisciplined. Power depended on money, and money could only be found by forced exactions from the peasantry or by plunder. Any Greek who could pay for a band of comrades became a ’captain’. He simply announced that he was willing to accept recruits and took as many men into his service as he could afford. Some captains had a handful of men, others a few hundred or even thousands. Many Greeks moved from master to master in accordance with their success. Within a few months of the outbreak of the Revolution the economy of the Peloponnese was ruined and food had to be imported. The ruin was caused almost entirely by the Greeks themselves.
At the time of Demetrius Hypsilantes’ arrival, Southern Greece was a patchwork of virtually independent communities, across which bands of armed men moved at will. Some villages and districts tried to isolate and defend themselves as best they could, hoping that somehow the troubles would pass them by. In other areas the local captains established their own bases for banditry and everywhere there were small bodies of armed men roaming about looking for targets. The leaders of the islands tried to keep themselves free from events on the mainland. A handful of captains had such large bands of armed men at their disposal that they were virtually independent chieftains prepared to operate over a wide area. Petro Bey,* who had signed the appeal to the peoples of Europe, was the undisputed leader of the Mainotes, Marco Botsaris led the Suliotes, semi-independent community of Albanians who had joined the Greeks, and Odysseus exercised a precarious sovereignty over much of Eastern Greece.
The most formidable of the war lords was Colocotrones. For generations his family had been klephts in the Morea and several of his close relatives had been killed or tortured by the Turks. Colocotrones himself spent the early part of his life in violence, killing and robbing Turks and Greeks alike. Before the Revolution he tried to present himself as a Robin Hood defending the poor against their oppressors, but, for the most part, he was a simple bandit chief. At one time the Turks had driven him out of the Morea and he had served for a while with the British Army in the Ionian Islands. Thus, unlike many of the other Greek warlords who came to prominence during the Revolution, he had some knowledge of the world outside. He was able to make use of this knowledge while remaining all his life a Greek klepht. Colocotrones was admitted into the conspiracy while in the Ionian Islands and had crossed secretly to the Peloponnese before the outbreak of the Revolution. In the first weeks he and his small band of followers had been as quick and as ruthless as any in their killing and plundering of Turks. He was therefore sufficiently rich to maintain the biggest band of armed Greeks in the area, and at the time of Hypsilantes’ arrival in June 1821, had about 3,000 men at his call who would remain loyal to him if he could continue to provide them with pay and opportunities for plunder. He had some difficulty in restraining them from killing Hypsilantes, the primates, and the other captains, which they were constantly pestering to be allowed to do.
The local Greek population, whether klephts or peasantry, watched the Regiment Baleste with incomprehension. Apart from a few leaders such as Colocotrones, most had never seen a European army and they regarded the bayonets, uniforms, and parade drill manoeuvres with a mixture of admiration and contempt.
Their own concept of fighting was quite different. In their battles against Turks, Albanians, and one another in the old days and during the first battles against armed Turks during the Revolution they had employed a highly stylized form of warfare. The limiting factor was the inaccuracy of the firearms and the poor quality of the gunpowder which could be obtained locally. Firing their weapons was a lengthy process and often as dangerous to themselves as to the enemy. They invariably fired from the hip and turned their back to the enemy as they pulled the trigger. When the terrain allowed they preferred to try to ambush the enemy in mountain passes or on rocky ground. They hid behind rocks and fired; when the enemy fired back they swiftly retreated behind other rocks, covering one another as they darted back. In more open ground, where there were no adequate rocks to hide behind, they prepared for a battle by building waist-high barricades of stones, from behind which they could fire. Much of their effort during a skirmish was devoted to undermining the enemy’s confidence by vigorous shouting of abuse and taunts from behind cover. We hear of Greeks being shot in the bottom while making obscene gestures at the Turks. Casualties were almost always light on both sides. Sometimes a battle went on for many hours with hundreds of men engaged but without anyone being killed. If someone was killed then it became a matter of pride to try to capture and strip the body. After a battle the heads of the dead were invariably cut off and taken in triumph to be piled into pyramids as a trophy. Prisoners could always expect to have their heads cut off unless they were thought to be rich and influential enough to be worth ransoming. Both Greeks and Turks paid their men a bonus for the number of heads they brought in after a battle and the Turkish commanders sometimes sent sackfuls of ears and noses to Constantinople as proof of their military success. These incentive schemes encouraged the men on both sides to prefer cutting up the dead to pursuing the live enemy: they also made prisoners more valuable if they were killed off.
Panagiotis Zographos illustrates under the guindance of General Makriyannis the battles of Alamana (left) and Acropolis (right) (from his Scenes from the Greek War of Independence). / Wikimedia Commons
Occasionally a detachment of Turks could be entirely surrounded without means of retreat. In those circumstances they had little hope of escaping alive. Similarly, if a detachment of Greeks could be caught on open ground by Turkish cavalry, there was no defence. They had simply to run away as best they could and hope that the cavalrymen would be distracted from cutting them down by eagerness to strip the dead.
These fighting techniques had a certain resemblance to the modes of fighting described by Homer – a point immediately noticed by the Europeans – but they were characteristic of guerrillas operating in mountainous regions. Most Europeans failed to realize that the Greek method of fighting was remarkably effective and that it was militarily sound for a small badly-armed force to employ hit-and-run tactics. They simply regarded the Greek methods as obsolete and barbarous; different from the methods used in Europe and therefore inferior. All societies tend to be conservative where their military customs are concerned. They often cling to methods that have been successful in the past which have been rendered obsolete by developing tactics and technology. It was generally realized, for example, that one of the main reasons for the drastic decline in the military effectiveness of the Turks was their insistence on employing the charge of uncoordinated soldiers in huge numbers, even although experience had shown, on dozens of battlefields, that trained European infantry standing in lines and regulating their fire could withstand them.
But these differences in military techniques were relatively unimportant. With experience and good will the advocates of both methods could have grown to understand the advantages and disadvantages which both involved and planned their strategy accordingly. What the Europeans failed to understand was that the Greek method of fighting was part of a total scale of values quite alien to their own. In Europe the model of military virtue was the man who would stand his ground in the line of battle as his comrades were shot down around him and obey his orders to the end. For the Greeks, exposing oneself unnecessarily to the enemy’s fire was considered foolhardy and anti-social, not brave; it was also foolish to risk being surrounded – running away at a certain point in the battle was not cowardice but common prudence. When it was explained to the Greeks that in Europe it was a point of honour to disregard the enemy’s fire and that sometimes whole regiments stood shooting at one another in open ground until almost everyone on both sides was killed, their prejudices about the intrinsic stupidity of the Franks seemed to be confirmed. Perhaps most important of all, the Europeans did not understand that in the Ottoman lands fighting was regarded as a communal, almost a family, affair in which everyone of the religious community shared. The concepts of treating one’s enemy with respect, of extending rights to prisoners of war, of looking after the enemy wounded, and all the other conventions of European warfare were unknown. The Turks, it was often remarked, did not seem to regard the horrible cruelties of the Greek revolutionaries as unjust any more than they regarded it as unjust if the Sultan should decide to cut off their own heads without any apparent cause. Cruelty and violent death were everyday occurrences throughout the Ottoman Empire to which a fatalistic religion saw little objection, and death at the hands of Christian infidels, it was believed, led immediately to the arms of the black-eyed houris of Paradise.
The Greeks shared much of this scale of values. Their version of Christianity allowed them to regard all Moslems, men, women, and children, as abhorrent to God and deserving of total extirpation. As in so many wars, a martyr’s crown and eternal bliss were promised to anyone who was killed in fighting the enemies of the faith. As the war progressed, the similarities between the Greeks and the Turks became more apparent. The first symbolic act of both sides when they took possession of a mosque or a church was to ride in on their horses and foul the places which their enemies regarded as most holy. Members of the opposed religion had no rights and need only be spared if they had some commercial value. Men of fighting age were almost invariably killed as being the safest way of disposing of them. Women and girls had some value as slaves and concubines provided the market was not overloaded. Boys also had a value and were usually baptized or circumcised to emphasize their change of faith before being exposed for sale.
The Greeks were proud of their fighting techniques and affected to despise the discipline required by European methods as being unworthy of free men. Yet they were not ignorant of the intrinsic superiority in certain circumstances of regular forces. Some of the leaders who had served with the French and British armies had seen how small bodies of well trained and disciplined troops could cut their way through local troops many times their number; they had also seen the effects of European artillery both in the field and in storming defended positions. From the beginning, many Greeks realized that the Regiment Baleste with the help of the experienced European officers could be developed into an army which would be far more effective than their own unreliable bands of halfarmed individualists. Even among the ordinary Greek population the Europeans who arrived in Greece in the first months of the Revolution enjoyed immense prestige. It was instinctively felt that officers who had taken part in the great campaigns in Europe must have military secrets and techniques at their disposal which would easily defeat the Turks. Young men, full of philhellenic enthusiasm, were shocked soon after their arrival by receiving invitations from captains to join their bands instead of going to Hypsilantes. Offers came through from Ali Pasha whom Europe had been led to believe was a monster. There were even dark hints that a more satisfactory military career could be guaranteed if they joined the Turks. All these offers were turned down with indignation and amazement by the newcomers.
The Regiment Baleste at the Battle of Dragashani / Wikimedia Commons
The potential of the Regiment Baleste was dramatically demonstrated in August when a Turkish fleet appeared off Calamata and prepared to attack the town. The Greek inhabitants fled, prepared to abandon the place, but Baleste led his tiny force to the beach and, with a great show of flashing bayonets and calm proficiency, terrified the Turks and drove them off. Again, when Mavrocordato arrived at the siege of Patras in August, with a few pieces of artillery and two French artillery officers brought from Marseilles, the nature of the fighting changed appreciably. Although several thousand Greeks had been besieging Patras for some months they had not been able to prevent the Turks from making sorties almost any time they wanted. In August, when the Turks made a foray in force, they were fired upon with such effect by two fieldguns manned by the French officers that they were driven back in confusion to the safety of the castle. They lost about a hundred men and fifteen others were captured and beheaded. This was their greatest defeat so far. By the time the news reached Western Europe the Turkish loss was put at 1,200.
The Greek leaders looked with admiration and dismay at these and other examples of European methods. They were in a dilemma. On the one hand, it was obvious to all that the success of the Revolution was by no means assured, all the resources that could be mustered from whatever source would be needed if independence was to be consolidated. On the other hand, the local Greek leaders wanted to ensure that it was they who would inherit the new country, not the incomers. An uneasy compromise was the result. The Greek leaders paid lip-service to the idea of national unity, they chose to ignore temporarily the conflicts of interest among themselves, and grudgingly acknowledged Hypsilantes’ claim to the leadership. But they refused to give him any active help. They refused him supplies and discouraged their men from joining his Regiment. Hypsilantes and the Regiment were forced to rely for their existence on the money which he had brought from Europe and this was rapidly running out.
The first essential from a military point of view, if the Revolution was to survive, was to capture the towns and castles in the Peloponnese that were still in Turkish hands. There were not many of them and all had been besieged in desultory fashion since the early days of the Revolution. Having virtually no artillery, the Greeks’ main hope of compelling a surrender was to starve the Turks out, but usually they were unable to maintain a close blockade. Some of the fortresses continued to be supplied by sea, either by the Turkish fleet or by European merchant vessels. Others were blockaded by land and by sea but the blockade was not continuous. At siesta time Greeks and Turks slept and there was no question of activity on either side at night. But the Turkish castles were badly equipped to withstand a siege. They had not been stocked with provisions during the years of civil peace, their walls were in poor repair, and the cannon were often unserviceable.
By August 1821 the small town of Monemvasia was at its last extremity. The Turks were driven to eat cotton seed and seaweed and were stricken with a terrible disease. They even made desperate sorties to pick up dead bodies for food. They were determined not to surrender to the Mainotes encamped outside and for good reason. The Greeks had shortly before brought ashore sixty men and women who had been captured at sea and killed them one by one in sight of the Turks behind the walls. Then Hypsilantes sent one of his officers, who had come with him from Trieste, to conclude a capitulation. He agreed that the lives and property of the Turks would be spared and that they should be taken by sea to Asia Minor. When the gates were opened, however, he was unable to restrain the Greeks. The town was plundered and many Turks were killed. About five hundred Turks were taken in Greek ships and landed on an uninhabited island off the coast of Asia Minor. Those who survived this second period of starvation were rescued by a French merchant.
The surrender of Monemvasia was the only case during the first year of the Revolution in which the majority of the Turkish population succeeded in escaping extermination. When the news reached Western Europe it was proclaimed as a triumph of Liberalism and Christianity. In fact, it was the solitary example where the ideas of the Europeanized Greeks prevailed over the ideas of the local Greeks. More typical was the surrender of Navarino which occurred a few days later. The Turks there, who were also at the last extremity of starvation, offered to surrender on the same terms as Monemvasia, trusting that Hypsilantes’ men would be able to save them. Baleste himself was present, and, knowing what had happened at Monemvasia, refused to be a party to the surrender agreement or to commit Hypsilantes. The Greeks, however, offered a convention whereby they would be granted a secure passage to Africa. They had neither the intention nor even the means of doing this and one of the Greek negotiators boasted later that he destroyed the copy of the agreement so that no evidence should remain. When the gates were opened the Greeks rushed in and the whole population of between 2,000 and 3,000 were killed with the exception of about 160 who managed to escape. Some of the Turks were left to starve on an uninhabited island in the harbour. A Greek priest who was an eyewitness described the scene as the Turkish women were stripped and searched to see if they were concealing any valuables. Naked women plunged into the sea and were shot in the water. Children of three and four were thrown in to drown, and babies were taken from their mothers and beaten against the rocks.
Map 2: Fortresses in Southern Greece remaining in Turkish hands after the outbreak of the Revolution
It seemed probable that the next town which would fall to the Greeks would be Tripolitsa. Situated in the middle of the Peloponnese, it was the biggest town in Southern Greece. It had a population of about 35,000 Turks and Albanians, many of whom had taken refuge there at the time of the outbreak of the Revolution. It had been the headquarters of the Turkish governor of the Morea and was therefore stocked with arms and money. Many rich Turks and Jews were also known to live there.
Hypsilantes and the Provisional Government of which he was head had gained nothing from the surrenders of Monemvasia and Navarino. Everything of value in these towns had been looted by the Greeks. Hypsilantes’ own treasury was by now running very low and he was having difficulty even in maintaining the Regiment. The Greeks of Calamata who had been saved from the Turkish fleet by the Regiment refused to supply it with food.
Hypsilantes’ hopes turned therefore to Tripolitsa. If Tripolitsa could be captured, its wealth, which was immense by Greek standards, could be used to replenish the national treasury and to pay and expand the Regiment. The city was surrounded by thousands of Greeks all waiting for their chance to share in the spoils. Colocotrones had the biggest contingent and there were numerous captains with smaller bands. But although the siege had been going on for several months its progress was slow. The Greeks were unable to maintain a continuous blockade and were often scattered by sorties of Turkish cavalry. They were even unable to prevent some of their number from selling provisions to the Turks. It seemed the kind of situation where European military methods and especially European artillery would be most useful. Hypsilantes therefore decided to summon the Regiment and the numerous European volunteers who were congregating at Calamata and elsewhere. Many Greeks now had their first sight of Europeans in action.
Two mortars and a few other pieces of artillery had been hauled with great difficulty from the coast and it was confidently expected that they would soon make an impression on the 12-foot-high wall which was the extent of Tripolitsa’s fortifications. A plausible Italian called Tassi volunteered to direct the fire. He claimed that he had been Napoleon’s chief engineer and casually let it be known that he was a personal friend of Castlereagh and Metternich. The Greeks were taken in and entrusted him with the precious mortars. He assumed the title of ’Engineer-in-Chief’. But when he made his preparations to fire the first shot, it was obvious to the other Europeans that he knew nothing whatsoever about artillery. When the fuse was lit the mortar exploded. Tassi was nearly lynched on the spot. It emerged that he was not an officer but a saddler who had lived at Smyrna and had bankrupted himself by financial speculations.
The prestige of the Europeans suffered another blow when Hypsilantes’ letter summoning the volunteers to Tripolitsa arrived at Calamata. There were about forty men of various nationalities in the town waiting to join the ’Greek Army’. Hypsilantes addressed his letter to Colonel Staraba, a Sicilian exile, who was the only one known to him by name, asking him to inform the other European officers of his wishes. This innocent action caused a great clamour. Several Frenchmen and Germans declared that they would never consent to serve under the command of an Italian (although this was not intended) and began to pick quarrels with the Italian volunteers. The Italians took offence at the insult and an affray broke out which lasted several hours. The Greeks looked on in amazement.
They were even more amazed when the letter was produced and it became clear that the whole episode was the result of a misunderstanding. The Italians demanded ’satisfaction’. A duel was arranged and a Frenchman was wounded and had to return to France. Such occurrences were common. The words ’Honour’ and ’Satisfaction’ were for ever on the lips of the volunteers, but it was a concept of honour which few Greeks could comprehend. ’Instead of fighting for the liberation of Greece,’ said one of the Italian officers, ’we were constantly killing each other on the slightest provocation’.
Tripolitsa fell to the Greeks on 5 October 1821. There were only about twenty Europeans present manning the artillery. Some fifty others on their way from Calamata did not arrive in time. Hypsilantes and the Regiment had been reduced to a desperate condition even before this. His money had run out, the fine uniforms of the Regiment were in shreds, many of the soldiers were now barefoot and near starvation for lack of supplies. Hypsilantes on a sudden impulse decided to march them to Patras on the strength of a rumour that it was about to fall. He seems to have realized that events were now beyond his control. While he was absent, Colocotrones and the other captains began to negotiate with the Turks for a capitulation. The Albanians made a separate agreement and were allowed to leave for Epirus with their arms, thus greatly reducing the strength of the defenders. Individual rich Turks began to offer to buy their way to safety and other groups within the walls made arrangements with Greek leaders that they had known before the Revolution. The armed Greeks who were waiting for their plunder began to notice cart-loads of goods coming out of the town at night, and the Greek leaders were constantly going to and fro for negotiations with the Turks. Whether or not any formal capitulation was signed is largely irrelevant. On 5 October the Greeks broke in and for two days the town was given over to the mob. Upwards of ten thousand Turks were put to death. European officers who were present described the scenes of horror. Prisoners who were suspected of having concealed their money were tortured. Their arms and legs were cut off and they were slowly roasted over fires. Pregnant women were cut open, their heads cut off, and dogs’ heads stuck between their legs. From Friday to Sunday the air was filled with the sound of screams and laughter before Colocotrones called a halt. One Greek boasted that he had personally killed ninety people. The Jewish community was systematically tortured. About two thousand prisoners, mainly women and children, were stripped and driven to a valley outside the town and then killed. The heap of bones could still be seen years later. For weeks afterwards starving Turkish children running helplessly about the ruins were being cut down and shot at by the exultant Greeks. The dead lay where they fell. An intolerable stench soon arose and flocks of scavenging birds settled on the town. Wild dogs roamed through the smouldering ruins feeding on the putrid corpses. The wells were poisoned by the bodies that had been thrown in. Soon plague broke out and spread so virulently that during the rest of the war the Peloponnese was never free of it.
Portrait of Theodoros Kolokotronis, by Dionysios Tsokos / Wikimedia Commons
Thousands of Greeks enriched themselves with plunder and retired to their villages, leading a few Turkish women as slaves. Heaps of bloodstained clothing, arms, furniture, everything of value that could be found was put on sale. The price of slaves fell so low that they could not be sold, and all but the youngest women were killed off. The proceeds were divided amongst the various captains. But the greatest share of the booty went to Colocotrones. Fifty-two horses carried off the money, arms, and jewellery from the Turkish governor’s palace which Colocotrones carefully preserved for himself. He became immensely rich, his money was sent to a bank in the Ionian Islands. He now had the resources to maintain himself and a band of men as an independent force for years to come.
Hypsilantes and the Greek national treasury gained nothing from the fall of Tripolitsa. What was worse in the long run, the prestige of his so-called government and of European military methods suffered a cruel blow. The captains now become openly hostile, refusing supplies to the Regiment and saying that the Franks should go home since no one had invited them to come to Greece. To keep alive, the Regiment began to make forays into the Greek countryside, seizing animals and food from the peasants, and thus increased the dislike in which they were held. Even so, men of the Regiment died of starvation and exposure with no help from the victorious Greeks. The plague claimed its victims. European volunteers sold their weapons in a desperate attempt to find money to buy their way back to Europe. Soon splendid uniforms were on sale in the bazaars, and rough Mainotes could be seen sporting golden epaulettes and European war medals over their rough sheepskin coats.
Probably a hundred Europeans saw either the fall of Tripolitsa or its immediate aftermath. For many, it was their first and last experience of the Greek War. Men who had taken part in numerous bloody campaigns in Europe found they had reached the limit of their tolerance. Those who had the money to pay for a passage and still had a homeland to return to made their way back to Europe. For some, their only military experience in Greece had been in fighting against the Greeks themselves to try to save a few Turks from the general massacre. Others, who had taken under their personal protection Turkish women and boys whom they had found starving in the ruins, sadly abandoned their protégés, well aware that they would not survive long. For those who had no home to go back to the prospects were terrible. They had only two choices, either to stay with Hypsilantes in hope that their comrades would support them until something turned up, or alternatively to enter the service of Colocotrones or one of the other captains. This second alternative amounted to a betrayal of their ideals and of their sense of military honour. It also meant embracing a life for which they were not fitted. They had somehow to learn a difficult language; to adapt themselves to live off the roughest of food consisting often merely of wild herbs; to live among men who never washed and who took pride in the amount of body lice they carried; and to accept the haphazard plundering and killing associated with the life of a brigand. Only a few had the stamina for this.
Baleste himself was disgusted and disillusioned by the events at Tripolitsa. Having seen the preambles at Monemvasia and Navarino, he felt that he understood the forces that were really at work. He proposed to Hypsilantes that the only course which could now save Greece would be to kill Colocotrones and the other captains and take their accumulated plunder into the national treasury. He suggested a plan to Hypsilantes for using the Regiment and the volunteers to do this, but Hypsilantes refused to contemplate it.
Yet despite the exodus of many disgusted volunteers, more and more began to arrive. The older hands laughed at their polished boots, dress uniforms, and the ignorant stories they brought from Europe. The newcomers were shocked to find some of their friends whom they had last seen in officers’ messes and ladies’ salons in Europe now settling down to live like bandits surrounded by concubines and slaves. They could not shed their European habits so quickly. In particular they simply could not understand how the Regiment had proved so ineffective. They saw with contempt the puny fortifications and primitive arms with which the Turks had defended themselves at Tripolitsa. These officers were certain from their own wide experience that with a few hundred disciplined European troops they could capture any fortress still held by the Turks; with a few hundred such troops they could clear the whole of Greece.
Portrait of Alexander Ypsilantes / Wikimedia Commons
A month after the fall of Tripolitsa, Hypsilantes and the Regiment Baleste were at Argos with about two hundred European officers who were waiting for the commissions and commands which the newspapers had led them to expect. Dania, a Piedmontese revolutionary in exile who had been a cavalry officer, drew up a scheme to try to restore the situation. His idea was that Hypsilantes and the Regiment would capture Nauplia by assault in the European style, occupy it themselves in such a way as to prevent looting, and so ensure that the wealth of the fortress should be used to replenish the national treasury. It was a bold scheme. Whereas Tripolitsa was a sprawling town on an inland plain surrounded with a single low wall, Nauplia was strategically situated on the coast, still on occasion being supplied by sea, and protected by a series of fortifications that are among the wonders of Venetian military architecture. Looking at the topography of the place one marvels at the daring of the plan and doubts whether it could ever have been carried out. But the European officers were experienced soldiers and from the subsequent history of Nauplia it seems likely that Dania’s scheme was indeed feasible. It did, however, depend for its success on a degree of discipline and co-ordination which was unlikely to be achieved. The plan involved three main elements: ships were to attack the seaward side; the Regiment and the Europeans were to creep secretly up under the walls; and Colocotrones’ Greeks were to make a mock diversionary attack elsewhere. While the Turks were distracted, the Regiment was to scale the walls with ladders and take the place by bayonet assault. Dania calculated that the Turks would be so terrified by the sudden unexpected appearance of a regiment of European troops in close order that they would be unable to resist. To make surprise doubly sure Dania arranged for the assault to be made at night several hours before daybreak since it was well known that neither Turks nor Greeks ever ventured out in the dark.
In the middle of December all the preparations were made. The many European volunteers waiting for commissions agreed to form themselves into a ’Sacred Company’. It was made up of Italians, Germans, French, Poles, and a sprinkling of other nationalities. Almost every member had been an officer in his own service with experience in the European wars. After some dispute the command was given to Colonel Tarella, a Piedmontese exile. The morale of the company was high. This was the kind of war they knew; this was what they had come for. They would be the first into the town and would take the glory for the capture of the famous city of Nauplia.
On the appointed night the Regiment and the Sacred Company silently crept up to the fortress, and two hours before daybreak they were all in position under the walls with their scaling ladders ready, without disturbing the sleeping Turks. It was a military accomplishment of which any professional army would have been proud. But the Greeks could not be brought to understand European military methods so quickly. Many of them simply refused to move at night, and had to be driven towards the town. When the signal was given for the attack to begin, all order broke down and the Greeks reverted to their traditional fighting methods. Everyone began firing at the same time, largely at random. The Regiment Baleste panicked and began to fire uselessly at the wall. The Turks were immediately alerted and quickly manned the defences. The Regiment and the Sacred Company were left crouching among the rocks under the walls caught in crossfire between Turks and Greeks. At this point virtually all the Greeks ran back in accordance with their normal tactics and daybreak revealed the isolated Europeans with a large expanse of open ground between them and safety, all of which was in the clear field of fire of the guns and muskets of the Turks. About thirty Europeans were killed or wounded and many more of the Regiment as one by one or in small parties they dashed across the open ground. The attack was a complete failure.
Hypsilantes’ prestige and that of Europeans generally slumped again after this failure and another exodus of volunteers took place. The Sacred Company was disbanded. Virtually all the Germans left and many of the French, especially, as one of the others ruefully remarked, ’those who had bread to eat in their own country’. As before, the volunteers who remained were mainly those who had nowhere else to go, the Italian revolutionaries, the Polish exiles, and the French Bonapartists.
Baleste now decided that he had had enough. It was clear that the vision of Greece which had made him sacrifice his career to follow Hypsilantes was not going to be realized. During the abortive assault on Nauplia he had been seen running about in full view of the Turks waving the standard which he had taken from the hands of the dying standard bearer of the Regiment, and hitting all the Greeks he could find among the rocks to try to make them move forward. Baleste and a few of the other officers left to join the revolt in Crete, the place where he had been brought up. He was later killed in a skirmish and his head sent to Constantinople. The command of the Regiment passed to the Piedmontese exile Tarella.
The Regiment by now was in a terrible state. Hypsilantes’ money had long since run out, there was no pay and no help from the local population. Tarella, a harder and more desperate man than Baleste, somehow kept it together by making periodic raids on Greek villages and stealing food and animals. But the plague which had arisen from the unburied dead of Tripolitsa was now raging everywhere. Men of the Regiment died every day from malnutrition and disease. The wounded had little hope of recovery even from slight cuts, since these quickly became gangrenous. When the Regiment moved off, a few Greeks were given money to look after the sick and wounded who were left behind, but they stole their possessions and deserted them. A young doctor from Germany who arrived at this time with his head full of romantic philhellenic idealism committed suicide by taking poison. On another occasion Tarella, recognizing the uniform and weapons of one of his Italian officers for sale in the bazaar, went to look for him and found him crawling round the streets of the town in a delirious condition with his tongue so swollen that he could not speak. The respect which the Greeks had for European methods and the enthusiasm of the Europeans for the Greek cause both ebbed rapidly away.
Andreas Miaoulis on board of “Kos” at the Battle of Nauplia, by Peter Von Hess, 1822 / Wikimedia Commons
Even if Dania’s bold plan to capture Nauplia had come off, it is doubtful whether it would have enabled Hypsilantes to occupy the town in an orderly manner and restore his treasury as he had hoped. It is more likely that the same pattern would have occurred as was seen at the surrender of Acrocorinth a few weeks later. Hypsilantes moved to Corinth on 24 December with the remnants of the Regiment, his suite of Europeanized Greeks, and the remaining volunteers. New volunteers from Europe, fresh and full of confidence, continued to arrive. Colocotrones and other captains followed with their bands. As with so many of the fortresses of the Peloponnese, the Acrocorinth would have been impregnable if it had been properly maintained and provisioned during the years of peace before the Revolution. But its garrison was small, consisting of a few hundred troops, mostly Albanians, and it was full of refugees who had gone there for protection during the early days of the outbreak. By December starvation was imminent.
As at Tripolitsa and elsewhere there were confused negotiations for a surrender. As at Tripolitsa the Albanians within the fortress made a separate capitulation whereby they were to be allowed to leave and return to Albania although on this occasion most of them were killed on the way. The remaining Turks, trusting in Hypsilantes and his European code of honour agreed to surrender on condition that they would be taken in neutral vessels to Asia Minor. Complex negotiations settled the amounts of clothing and money that each class of Turkish family was to be permitted to take. The Regiment Tarella was to occupy the fortress and no other Greeks were to be permitted to enter. At the end of January 1822 the Regiment marched in and the starving population began to limp down the road to the sea where they were to await the arrival of the neutral ships. But the two hundred or so men of the Regiment and the European volunteers were far too few to prevent Greek justice taking its course. The armed bands of Colocotrones and the other captains burst into the fortress and plundered all they could find, killing any Turk they met. Only the Bey and his harem were saved – as was usual with important prisoners, since there was a hope of ransom – but he was tortured mercilessly (although ineffectually) to make him reveal where the treasure was hidden. As for the other inhabitants, long before they reached the coast the stripping and killing had begun. A German officer who was present describes how they staggered through a double rank of Greek women shouting and spitting at them. A Turkish couple, too starved and exhausted to carry their child any further, tried to hand it to a Greek. He immediately drew a long knife and cut off its head explaining, as the German officer tried to prevent him, that it was best to prevent Turks growing up. By the time the survivors reached the shore all control was lost, and when someone shouted a false alarm that Turkish soldiers from Nauplia were coming, almost all the prisoners, about 1,500 in all, were killed.
The Cause of Greece, the Cause of Europe
Map showing the original territory of the Kingdom of Greece as laid down in the Treaty of 1832 (in dark blue). / From Adam Carr, Wikimedia Commons
The news from Greece was reported throughout Western Europe, usually two months late. There was no means of following events in detail and reports had often to be revised later. The reaction of the public in the different countries of Europe is difficult to judge. The means by which opinion could be expressed were few. Newspapers had small circulations and were often subject to censorship. Parliaments where they existed were not representative. In all countries only a small proportion of the population were concerned with political questions.
It is clear, however, from the amount of writing on the Greek Revolution published in 1821 and 1822, that it roused intense interest in Britain, France, the Netherlands, the German states, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, and the United States. In Austria, Russia, and Italy the governments were even more authoritarian than elsewhere in Europe and the evidence for public interest in Greece harder to find. Yet it appears that in all countries where the classical tradition was strong, news of the Greek Revolution was eagerly sought.
Virtually none of the news emanating from Greece was free of distortion. The Turks had no great concern with international opinion, but their version of events was adequately put over with the help of the Austrians. News from Greece came almost exclusively from the Europeanized Greeks who had gone to join the Revolution and even at source it contained an element of propaganda. By the time it had passed through the Ionian Islands or through the Greek colonies in Europe several weeks later it had undergone a further transformation to make it more acceptable to Europeans.
Even more distorting was the great burden of literary and historical allusions which everything Greek and Turkish carried with it. In the absence of real knowledge about the way of life, traditions, customs, and ideas of the Modern Greeks, the Europeans relied on their prejudices. Theories about the identity of the Ancient and Modern Greeks, about the nature of ’regeneration’, about the similarity in outlook between Western Christians and Eastern Christians are implicit in much of the writing. All of these worked in favour of the Greeks. Similarly, inherited ideas about the Turks worked against them.
The notion that the Turks were a colourful backward people gradually being engulfed by a technologically superior Western civilization had not yet become general. Instead, older ideas that had lost their validity centuries before still held their power – that the Turks were a cruel, aggressive, barbarian race posing an active threat to Western civilization; and especially the idea that Christianity was bound to be in deadly conflict with Islam. Churchmen rediscovered and indulged an atavistic hatred against Turks and virulently demanded their expulsion or extirpation in the name of God. The features of Turkish life that were generally known had for centuries excited a fascinated horror: the Grand Seigneur in his Seraglio with his eunuchs, his harem, his slaves, and his janissaries; the custom of killing off one’s brothers; of seizing infants for training for the armies; the bastinado and other highly sophisticated Oriental tortures. Much of the Western image of the Grand Turk was out of date or inaccurate, but the romantic poets had given it a new lease of life. Every word that came to mind in talking of Turks – pasha, scimitar, ataghan, spahi, dervish, turban – carried a weight of dreadful associations.
The official opinion of the powers on the Greek Revolution, pressed most strongly by Metternich and the Austrian Government, that the Sultan was the legitimate sovereign of the Greeks and that they were wrong to rebel against him, struck many people as hypocritical and cynical. Support for the Greek cause could be construed as disloyalty to the governments. It also meant, however, that political groups opposed to the governments for other reasons were tempted to embrace the Greek cause simply because the governments took a different view. The factors working in the Greek favour were overwhelming.
Naval Battle at Navarino, by Ambrose-Louis Garneray, 1827 / Bernaki Museum, Athens
From Easter 1821 throughout the whole of Europe men in many walks of life were touched with a passionate sympathy for the Greeks and a desire to help them. The long years of repetition by poets and travellers had spread the ideas of philhellenism wide and deep, and suddenly it changed its character from being an intellectual, mainly literary concept, to a practical programme. When all allowance is made for the distortion of the news, the political situation in Europe, and other favourable factors, it remains an astonishing phenomenon. No country was unaffected. It was a European movement, springing up spontaneously in every society where European civilization was valued. The same sentiments occurred independently to men all over the Western world and drove them to action. It is not necessary to take the view that everyone who reiterated the themes of philhellenism believed implicitly in his own rhetoric. Yet the uniformity of all discussion of the Greek cause is one of its most significant features. Even those who opposed the efforts of the supporters of the cause seldom questioned the basis of the argument but only the political expediency of applying it.
There were important differences between the aims of philhellenism in different countries, but they were marginal additions to the solid nucleus of ideas which were common to all. The cause of Greece touched a nerve in people who had previously regarded themselves as outside politics. Many when they joined the philhellenic movement did not even realize that they were performing a political act. The cause seemed to be above politics. The idealism of youth was engaged and, for once, in a cause with which their elders could sympathize. It was said that the Swiss peasants, on their weekly journey into town asked eagerly for the latest news from Nauplia and never went home without dropping their contribution in the collecting box. In the beer houses of Germany, it was said, men who were never known to have been interested in events outside their village, talked eagerly about the war.
The exploits of the Greeks were extolled in verse. In France no less than nine books of philhellenic verse were published in 1821 and another eighteen in 1822. In Germany one poet, Wilhelm Müller, had a great success. His first book of Songs of the Greeks sold a thousand copies in six weeks in the autumn of 1821 and three more books of new songs followed shortly afterwards before the censor intervened. All over Western Europe and the United States newspapers and reviews published poems more or less in the style of Byron as well as selecting suitable passages from Byron’s works for quotation.
The subject had an apparently irresistible attraction for conventional poets. It allowed them to combine rich romance about slaves, viziers, pashas, camels, jewels, harems, and all the splendour and mystery of the East with the older conventions about the Ancient Greek heroes. The two main themes, the comparison between the Ancient and Modern Greeks and the struggle of the Christians against the Moslems, were present in almost all the poems, but the number of variations which can be made on these two ideas and still retain the reader’s interest is limited. It is a measure of the receptiveness of the public that the demand for such poems continued unabated. Between 1821 and 1827 at least one hundred and twenty-eight separate books of philhellenic verses are known to have been published in France alone. The cause of the Greeks was a subject which stirred the feelings of many men who never attempted another poem in their lives. They felt that they must rise above everyday speech in dealing with this exciting, almost sacred subject.
Few of the poems of 1821 and 1822 are worth recalling except as evidence of the state of public opinion. Only one major poet joined the fashion. Shelley’s Hellas, written in the autumn of 1821 and based on newspaper reports, contains in extreme form the ideas worked on by so many others. It epitomizes the deep sense of personal involvement in the Greek struggle which was so widely felt all over Europe. In the preface Shelley made the classic statement of philhellenism.
We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece. But for Greece… we might still have been savages and idolators… The human form and the human mind attained to a perfection in Greece which has impressed its image on those faultless productions whose very fragments are the despair of modern art, and has propagated impulses which cannot cease, through a thousand channels of manifest or imperceptible operation, to ennoble and delight mankind until the extinction of the race. The Modern Greek is the descendant of those glorious beings whom the imagination almost refuses to figure to itself as belonging to our kind, and he inherits much of their sensibility, their rapidity of conception, their enthusiasm, and their courage.
Pistols of the Greek War of Independence. The flintlock still ruled the arms world in 1822. / Bernaki Museum, Athens
In the drama itself all the other ingredients appear. The decay of Greece, the barbarism of the Turks, the hypocrisy of the governments. But the forces of evil are struck with terror when they see ’The panther, Freedom, fled to her old cover’. The final chorus is a paean for the longed-for regeneration:
The world’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn:
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.
A brighter Hellas rears its mountains
From waves serener far.
A new Peneus rolls his fountains
Against the morning star.
Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep
Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.
Another Athens shall arise
And to remoter time
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
The splendour of its prime;
And leave, if nought so bright may live,
All earth can take or Heaven can give.
It was only to be expected that the false news from Greece feeding the strong philhellenic tradition that already flourished should lead to demands for action. The cause of the Greeks seemed to be so overwhelmingly good and the reprisals of the Turks so obviously barbarous and cruel that admiration from afar was not enough. Surely the governments of the great powers of civilized Europe could do something to help the Greeks? And if the governments would do nothing, surely individuals could help?
In France the interest was intense. The press, enjoying a precarious freedom, was split. On the one hand the voice of the liberals declared that the heroes of ancient Greece had arisen from the dead.
If our voice could be heard, the barbarians who are massacring the Greeks, slaughtering priests, and prostituting Christian virgins to the frenzied soldiery, would soon be punished, annihilated, and driven back to the deserts of Africa and Asia; if our voice could be heard the standard of the Cross would fly over the roofs of Constantinople or over the Parthenon, and the Church of St. Sophia would soon be restored to its former use.
Other newspapers supporting the Government fulminated against the spirit of carbonarism having invaded the East.
The flood of books of verse in favour of the Greeks was matched by the publication of numerous pamphlets in the same style making ever more extreme claims on their behalf. Thirty pamphlets appeared in France during the first two years of the war. Some were thoughtful political tracts by journalists and ecclesiastics, some were by students, some were anonymous, some were fabrications of appeals said to come from Greece itself and some repeated the grandiloquent manifestoes which the Greeks were so fond of propounding. Many were intended simply to put pressure on the French Government to change its policy of support for Metternich’s doctrine of legitimate sovereignty, and there was a good deal of discussion about French national interest – the chance of restoring French influence in the Levant, the danger of allowing the Russians to assume the leadership of the Greeks, and the possibility of new markets for French goods. Almost all the discussion however paid lip service at least to the clichés of philhellenism.
M. de Pradt, for example, a former bishop who published a steady stream of pamphlets on international affairs (with four on the Greek War alone), caught the popular mood:
Land of the arts and the sciences, mother of heroes, teacher of the Universe, at last after six centuries of slavery, you are raising the stone which barbarous hands had placed on your tomb to seal the entrance. O generous enterprise! What human soul could refuse to ally himself to your noble efforts, and would not offer you the tribute of his prayers in consolation for being unable to offer the help of his arm!
The professors were among the first to give a lead. Professors of Ancient Greek Literature in particular felt that they were well fitted to speak on Modern Greece, and professors of philosophy and theology were never far behind. Just as the cause of Greece inspired men to write poetry who never wrote another verse, so it inspired to political activity others who for the rest of their lives were content to have their opinions set by government and church.
Portrait of Johann Gottfried Schweighäuser, professor of Greek literature, Strasbourg, 1821 / Wikimedia Commons
The professor of Greek literature at Strasbourg held a public meeting in July 1821 in support of the Greek cause at which he delivered a lecture on the services which the Ancient Greeks had given to civilization. The themes of his closing remarks were all familiar:
The Turks… have on several occasions threatened our own civilization with total destruction, and the Greeks have a proverb that wherever they put their feet the grass ceases to grow. This is the crushing yoke under which the motherland of civilization is now groaning. These men are the children of the heroes, the poets, the philosophers, the artists, to whom we owe our civilization. Because they wished to restore a nation, they are the prey to the most terrible massacres, they are in danger of having to flee over the seas with only the memory of their ancient glory and of their efforts to restore to their lands and islands the fruits which modern progress has perfected.
Could any sensitive and grateful man – especially the lover of letters and of the arts who owes to this country his most noble pleasures and sweetest inspiration – withhold his pity for the misfortunes that heap on them. Could any man suppress his desire to see reborn again in Greece the days of liberation of Marathon and Salamis, and if possible the blessed time when Plato listened to Socrates and when the songs of Homer and the choruses of Sophocles resounded through the court of Pericles and the temple of Phidias.
A demand soon developed for practical help to be sent to the Greeks. And since it was clear that the Government was not prepared to do anything to help, it was left to private initiative to make a contribution. The most obvious way of helping was to raise money for the purchase of arms. Numerous public meetings were held and subscriptions and collections taken. Committees in support of the Greek cause sprang up in many towns quite independently of one another. Professors, priests, and student leaders made collections and handed the money over to the local Greek communities for forwarding to Greece. It was a spontaneous and widespread movement of sympathy and charity even though in many places the response was short-lived.
From the beginning the call was also made for volunteers to fight in the holy war. The proclamations of the Greeks themselves begged for help and they were soon being repeated in pamphlets. The Appeal to the French People, for example, which was published by ’an ex-student of law’ in October 1821 has all the themes of philhellenism. ’Can you,’ he asked the people of France, The Cause of Greece, the Cause of Europe 57 ’be the only people who will not help the descendants of Themistocles, Alcibiades, and Demosthenes? Can you allow your brothers in religion to be massacred? Are you no longer the descendants of the Crusading St. Louis?’ The Voice of Greece is made to declare: ’Men of France, do not be deaf to my prayer, arm yourselves, go and join my son [Hypsilantes]… My children will erect monuments to you, they will raise altars to you, their children will adore you and forever hold your names in the greatest veneration!’ The student’s answer to this appeal is clear: ’Let us form sacred battalions, let us arm ourselves with invincible weapons, let us march, and let us go and purge the earth of these barbarians just as long ago Hercules purged it of the monsters which were ravaging it’.
The French student’s pamphlet contains all the elements that inspired volunteers all over Europe – the appeal to the Ancients, the appeal to Christianity, the appeal to be a latter-day crusader, the appeal to prospects of military advancement. The student reserves for his peroration a consideration which was distinctly French:
The Northern Powers no longer wait for us to advance. The perfidious Englishman trembles. But if, contrary to my expectation, he is bold enough to try and stop us, let us fall on him, and with the sword of God he will soon be crushed. Soon, as after the Pyramids, Marengo, and Austerlitz we will again come home in triumph.
Many Frenchmen felt that, somehow, by promoting the cause of Greece, they would atone for the disgrace of Waterloo; that somehow the war in Greece would give an opportunity of reasserting the old glories of France, uniting Royalists, Bonapartists, Orleanists, Liberals and all the other disparate sections of Restoration France with the nationalism that had been so strong and so comforting during the war years. The element of anti-British feeling was to persist throughout the war.
The French Government, from the beginning, took an ambivalent view of philhellenism. It could not help half believing that sending French volunteers to Greece must be in the French national interest, even if the Frenchmen concerned were those most bitterly opposed to the restored Bourbons. It calculated – correctly – that, despite their political views, Frenchmen would remain primarily Frenchmen. The French Government therefore was inclined to run several contradictory policies at the same time in the confident expectation that they could not all fail. It supported Metternich in theory and yet made little attempt to interfere with the help going to the Greeks; and it also gave help to the Turks, especially to the Sultan’s subject and ally, the Pasha of Egypt. At Marseilles, volunteers on their way to Greece with the connivance of the French authorities could see frigates being built in the shipyards for the Egyptians. The ambivalence of French policy became even more pronounced later.
Lord Byron in Albanian dress, by Thomas Phillips, 1813. / Venizelos Mansion, Athens (the British Ambassador’s residence)
In Britain, which had at the time perhaps the most liberal political system and the most unrestrained press in Europe, the cause of the Greeks at first made less impression than elsewhere. An immense amount of writing sympathetic to the Greeks appeared in the newspapers and reviews, but suggestions that practical help should be sent met with little response. As elsewhere, the leadership of the movement was first taken up by scholars. Dr. Lemprière, the author of a dictionary of classical antiquities, began to campaign in the autumn of 1821 for a subscription to be raised to help the Greeks. A committee was formed and a few prominent men made a contribution, including Lords Lansdowne, Aberdeen, and Elgin, all famous for their collections of Greek sculpture. But only a few hundred pounds was collected and the committee was soon disbanded after a consignment of arms had been sent.
But when in the middle of 1822 news arrived of the massacres of Chios, interest revived. About a dozen pamphlets on the Greek cause were published in addition to a vigorous campaign by several newspapers. All the familiar philhellenic arguments were reiterated:
Greece… that land, the fostering nurse of civilization, where the spirit of antiquity still seems to linger amidst its olive groves, its myrtle bowers, and the precious relics of its splendid edifices; where both sacred and profane history unite in forming the most interesting associations; where Socrates taught the lessons of his incomparable ethics, and a still greater than Socrates disclosed the mysteries of the ’unknown God’ to those that sat in darkness.
Much effort was expended in disputing the doctrine of the legitimacy of the Ottoman Government, in explaining the commercial advantages of helping the Greeks to independence, and in raising fears of allowing Russian and French influence to predominate.
’You are solemnly and indispensably bound’, wrote Lord Erskine in an open letter to the Foreign Secretary, ’by a duty paramount to that of a statesman, to make an instant effort to engage the nations in alliance with this country to overthrow the cruel dominion of unprincipled, incorrigible barbarians, over a Christian people struggling for freedom and independence’.
In much of the writing on behalf of the Greeks there lies the unspoken belief that Britain, as the most powerful country in the world, the victor of Waterloo, had only to give the word and the dreadful war could be brought to an end. An unattractive assumption of superiority pervades the appeals. It was said that the countries which did nothing to stop the massacres of the Greeks were themselves equally guilty with the Turks. When the Foreign Secretary in trying to defend British neutrality in Parliament remarked that there had been atrocities on both sides, he was branded as pro-Turkish. It was seriously argued on a number of occasions that it was the Turks not the Greeks who should be blamed for the massacre at Tripolitsa since the Greeks ’may justly impute to the oppression of their The Cause of Greece, the Cause of Europe 59 conquerors not only the degradation of their persons but the debasement of their minds’.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion, in reading the English pamphlets, that the authors were more inspired by hatred of Turks and Moslems than by concern for the Greeks. They cheerfully demanded the wholesale expulsion of the millions of Turks settled in Europe. Thomas Hughes, a Church of England clergyman who had visited Greece before the Revolution and had written a book of travels, was perhaps the most violent, calling in two pamphlets for the extermination of ’the most weak, contemptible, vice-stained tyrants that ever polluted the earth on which they trod, vilifying and degrading the fairest part of the creation’. He quoted with approbation Lord Bacon’s opinion that whereas no nations are wholly alien one to another, there are some races whom it is a human duty to ’suppress’ since they ’have utterly degenerated from the laws of nature’ and ’have in their very body and frame of estate a monstrosity…, they are common enemies of mankind… disgraces and reproaches to human nature’.
But the English pamphleteers were their own enemies. Far from encouraging the widespread sympathy for the Greeks, they put people off by their extremism. The one balanced pamphleteer of the Greek Revolution, Sheridan, included in his list of causes of the relative indifference of the British towards the Greeks at this time ’the language of their partisans’. Many men who would willingly have contributed money were ashamed to be allied with such unattractive purveyors of hatred. The sums raised in London were small and only a handful of volunteers set off to join the Greek army.
Engraving of James Monroe as president, 1821 / Bureau of Engraving and Printing
In the United States, too, the philhellenic movement made a strong start in 1821. At the same time as the Appeal to the Nations of Europe was allegedly issued from ’the Spartan Headquarters’ at Calamata, another version was sent to the United States:
To the Citizens of the United States: Having formed the resolution to live or die for Freedom we are drawn toward you by a just sympathy since it is in your land that Liberty has fixed her abode, and by you that she is prized as by our fathers… We esteem you nearer than the nations on our frontiers… Free and prosperous yourselves you are desirous that all men should share the same blessings; that all should enjoy those rights to which all are by nature equally entitled. It is you who first proclaimed these rights; it is you who have been the first again to recognize them in rendering the rank of men to the Africans degraded to the level of brutes… You will not assuredly imitate the culpable indifference or rather the long ingratitude of the Europeans. No. The fellow citizens of Penn, of Washington and of Franklin will not refuse their aid to descendants of Phocion and Thrasybulus or Aratus and Philopoemen.
This Appeal was widely circulated in the United States at the instigation of Edward Everett, a professor at Boston. Although the reference to the ending of black slavery in some northern states drew attention to the uncomfortable fact that, in the United States, ’all men’ meant some white males.
Yet among the sentiments which were common to philhellenic movements everywhere the Appeal identified and exploited a distinguishing national ingredient.
The Americans, confidently secure, even smug, in their own constitutional liberty could not conceal a feeling of superiority towards the unhappier political systems of the European nations. Throughout the war the American supporters of the Greek cause tended to feel that they alone were fitted to teach the Greeks about true liberty. In July 1821, at a dinner of Americans in Paris at which Washington Irving and Lafayette were present, the toast was given: ’The land of Minerva, the birthplace of Arts, Poetry, and Freedom – civilizing her conquerors in her decline, regenerating Europe in her fall. May her sons rebuild in her clime the home of Liberty’. In 1824, at a benefit concert for the Greeks held in Cincinnati, an American general proclaimed, ’Humanity, policy, religion – all demand it. We must send our free-will offering. The Star-Spangled Banner must wave in the Aegean’.
But it was in Germany during the early years of the war that philhellenism made its greatest impact. The response to the cause of the Greeks was more widespread in Germany than in any other country; the passions aroused were more deeply felt; and, as proof of this, greater efforts were made to provide practical assistance. German philhellenism, like philhellenism elsewhere, consisted of the two or three simple ideas common to all philhellenic movement plus national additions.
Nowhere in Europe was the classical tradition stronger. The enthusiasm for the Ancient Greeks in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had prepared the ground well. The political connotations of the classics were stronger than elsewhere because their impact was still recent. During the last years of the war against Napoleon a powerful idealistic and nationalist spirit had developed. The war had been fought for ’Freedom’, a concept of intoxicating freshness and one closely connected with the newfound Ancient Greeks. The ’Freedom’ had been mainly thought of as freedom from the foreign rule of the French, but many who took part in the last successful campaigns had dreamed of political freedom, of constitutional government, and they had been encouraged to do so by their leaders. The hopes of these liberals had been sadly disappointed in the years after Waterloo. In one German country after another a chilling authoritarianism reasserted itself. The political liberties were withdrawn, the promised constitutions never implemented or stripped of their meaning. Only in the small South German states did recognizably free institutions survive, and they were being steadily eroded. The Governments of Prussia and Austria, fearful of any sign of revolution, resorted to ever sterner measures to suppress the remnants of liberalism and so created a growing body of discontents. Most of the forty or so governments which composed the German Confederation agreed with the views of the two large countries, or were too weak to resist pressure to conform.
The Germans knew less of the real conditions of Modern Greece than any of the other nationalities of Western Europe. Unlike the British and French, few of them had been taken to the Mediterranean by the wars. There were only a handful of travellers from Germany who made their way to Greece during the half century before the Revolution. Literary philhellenism, on the other hand, was there as elsewhere a well established genre. Kotzebue’s ’Ruins of Athens’ for example, to which Beethoven composed the music, is concerned with the theme of Minerva deserting the Parthenon to found a new temple of the Muses in Europe. Hölderlin’s Hyperion, which first appeared in 1797, was curiously prophetic. It was the story of a German going to fight in a Greek War against the Turks. To Hölderlin it was not so much Greece that was being ’regenerated’ as Germany in Greek dress. When the Greek Revolution broke out, this idea took on a new urgency. If the ’regeneration’ of Greece meant violent revolution would not the regeneration of Germany mean the same? The Governments of Austria and Prussia, which saw a potential jacobin in every man who questioned monarchical absolutism, could not ignore the connection. Liberals tended to be philhellenes and philhellenes to be liberals.
Lithograph mocking the new restrictions on the press and free expression imposed by the Carlsbad Decrees, 1829 / Wikimedia Commons
In the German states, as elsewhere, the philhellenic movement of 1821 and 1822 was mainly inspired in the universities, and it was partly for this reason that it aroused such suspicion in the governments. The students of Germany, conscious of having played a leading part in the expulsion of the French, had made themselves into an important political force on the return of peace. They had demanded constitutional liberty and unification of Germany and had established an organization of students’ unions covering the whole of Germany. In 1819, however, following the assassination by a student of Kotzebue, a Prussian minister whose name had become associated with reactionary policies (and incidentally the author of The Ruins of Athens), the Carlsbad decrees, applied all over the German Confederation, abolished the students’ national union, reinstituted strict censorship, and imposed a range of other measures against the universities. It was only to be expected that the governments would treat with suspicion any new political movement originating in the universities which could provide an opportunity for evading the Carlsbad decrees. Philhellenism, since it would provide an excuse for collecting money and for establishing connections all over the country, could perhaps be exploited for internal political purposes.
At Easter 1821 the professor of philology at Leipzig in the Kingdom of Saxony, Wilhelm Traugott Krug, issued a pamphlet under the title Greece Regenerated, which questioned the official doctrine that the Greeks were wrong to revolt against their legitimate sovereign. It was hardly a novel idea but the pamphlet seems to have aroused a great deal of interest simply because a professor had dared to question the government on such an important matter of policy.
Krug’s pamphlet was only the first of many professorial pronouncements all over Germany. The theology professor at Leipzig published a pamphlet called The Cause of Greece, the Cause of Europe. Yet another quotation of the familiar sentiments will show how universally they were being repeated all over Europe:
Would that the Greeks might rise from their political torpor, and with youthful vigour and glorious prospects re-enter the rank of European nations. This is the fervent wish of one who regards the event not only as a European but as a man and a Christian… The Greeks have a powerful demand both on our gratitude and compassion. Though more than two thousand years have elapsed since Greece flowered, the Greeks of the present day are yet descendants of those whose immortal works still delight and form our minds; the descendants of those whose wisdom and science have become the common property of the world.
Another Leipzig professor drew the parallel between the German and Greek Wars of Independence and hinted at the Germany he wanted to see. Remarks such as the following tended to reinforce the suspicion that the advocates of freedom for the Greeks had half their minds on the freedom of the Germans:
We Germans see in the Greeks the image of ourselves. Our minds are taken back instinctively in an obscure way to the time when we were delivered from the French yoke… The politician cannot see without a feeling of longing, the Amphictyons meeting again, and the estates assembling and deliberating in the interests of Greece. Already he thinks he can hear the harmonious speech of a new Demosthenes, of an Aeschines, or of an Isocrates. One wonders into whose hands Greece will fall if by herself or with the aid of another power, she recovers her liberty. Whatever the prince who raises claims to the throne of Greece it must be desired that the people have a liberal constitution with a system of representative estates, after the model of the American or the English or the present Polish constitution.
Such sentiments were regarded as dangerously radical by the Austrian and Prussian Governments and all who took their lead from them.
From the beginning, calls went out for volunteers to fight. In June 1821 a prominent politician made a speech in the parliament of the Grand Duchy of Hesse at Darmstadt saying that Germany would be oppressed by blood guilt if help was not sent to the Greeks. By August, in several of the smaller German states the call had been made. In Aschaffenburg in Bavaria Baron Dalberg announced that he was forming a Corps of Volunteers. In the imperial city of Hamburg the following notice was taken round from door to door:
Proclamation to the Youth of Germany. The fight for Religion, Life and Freedom calls us to arms! Humanity and Duty challenge us to hurry to the aid of our brothers, the noble Greeks, to risk our blood, our lives for the Sacred Cause! The reign of the Moslems in Europe is nearing its end; Europe’s most beautiful country must be freed, freed from the monsters! Let us throw our strength into the struggle! Seize your weapons, honourable youth of Germany, let us form a Greek-German Legion and soon bring support to our brothers! Officers with experience of service are ready to lead us! – God will be with us, for it is a sacred cause – the cause of Humanity – it is the fight for Religion, Life and Freedom, the fight against monsters! Our undertaking will be favoured by the Almighty. Then, victorious and crowned with glory, blessed by our Greek brothers and all Christendom and with the glorious knowledge that we have broken the chains of slavery of millions of our brothers, we shall see our German Fatherland again. Those interested should apply at once to Grosse Backerstrasse, No. 62, where they can find out more details. Deserters will not be accepted. A society will collect contributions for the support of this undertaking sacred to humanity. Hamburg, August 1821.
As everywhere, it was the professors who set the pace. Professor Thiersch in Munich had actually been admitted to the Greek secret conspiracy, the Friendly Society, in 1814. In August 1821 he issued a call for German volunteers which was published throughout Bavaria suggesting that the volunteers could be paid from the lands they captured from the Turks. In Leipzig Krug issued a second pamphlet declaring that to fight for the Greeks would be to obey the first commandment. His scheme for private help appeared to be thoughtful and practical.
The private help would take the following form. Individuals with experience of fighting should go to Greece with the express or tacit permission of their governments and should there join the ranks of those fighting. This would in itself be a considerable help, for the Greeks are especially short of experienced soldiers and leaders. In particular they have few officers trained in artillery and military engineering. There are in Germany, as in most European states, many men with experience of fighting, who are inactive and unemployed but who long for activity and employment, and since they do not find this at home and are dissatisfied with their lot they are a nuisance or even a danger to their governments. These men would like to go to Greece, partly for love of the Greek cause, partly for the chance to do something, partly also perhaps from other considerations which may be less worthy but are not necessarily wholly disreputable. They would like to go to Greece and help to increase the Greek fighting forces provided they are given the means to do so. Without assistance most of them cannot go as the writer knows from countless examples. For this reason I suggest that the private help should also, wherever governments permit, take the form of societies of those who are deeply in sympathy with the great cause. These societies should find means of supporting the cause and ascertain who is ready to go and fight. The societies should not simply collect money to help the volunteers but should also establish contacts in Greece itself in order to prepare a favourable reception for them; and to procure suitable appointments, either with the forces already in existence or by forming new forces… Obviously permission to go should not be given to men who are under age or who are lacking in military knowledge. There can therefore be no question of our students going.
At Gotha in Thuringia Professor Jacobs and at Heidelberg in Baden Professor Voss put themselves at the head of the movement. Even in Prussia itself, at Berlin, Professor Zeune started a collection. In Switzerland and in Denmark it was again the professors of classics and theology who led the call for a practical expression of the sympathy for Greece which was so universally felt.
Prussian Crown Prince Frederick William III / Preußen-Museum Minden, Germany
The Prussian Government had been prepared to tolerate philhellenism as long as it was mainly a literary theme or a subject for philosophical debate. The censor had allowed a good deal of sympathetic writing about the Greek Revolution within Prussia itself and even the Crown Prince had declared himself a supporter of the cause. But now there could be no disguising the political nature of the movement, dispersed and disorganized though it was. The Prussian Government took fright and decided to suppress this latest manifestation of liberal opposition. Permission was refused to circulate in Prussia any call for volunteers, and, as so often in German history, the professors caved in at the first touch of official pressure. Professor Krug was reprimanded by the Saxon Government, ordered to refrain from political activity, and his pamphlet was suppressed. Professor Zeune in Berlin was also reprimanded, and the money he had collected was confiscated and given to the poor fund. Throughout Prussia the censor tightened his grip. A query was submitted whether philhellenic poetry came within the terms of the ban as well as pamphlets. The answer came back that the Greek Revolution was inimical to the policy of Europe, the cause was being exploited for political purposes, and that poetry must be rigorously controlled.
In September and October 1821 the Prussian Government, with help from the Austrians, began to whip the other governments of Germany into line. A sharp protest was delivered to the Bavarian Government for permitting the publication of Professor Thiersch’s manifesto. In other circumstances, their diplomatic note said, the best way of dealing with Thiersch’s pamphlet would have been to ignore it, but the heads of many young German students had been seized with the madness, it was an evil influence on youth, it was stirring up revolutionary sentiment, and Thiersch should not go unpunished. He was accused of a long list of treasonable offences, but especially for plotting revolution and consorting with revolutionaries abroad under the excuse of being interested in freeing the Greeks. The Bavarian Government did not prosecute Thiersch or even revoke his call but the effect was much the same as if they had. Many supporters of the Greeks were frightened off, others continued their activities but more discreetly.
Most of the German governments agreed to follow the official Prussian and Austrian line and the professors obediently retracted what they had said about Greece. Zeune made a public statement in the newspapers that he could no longer be associated with receiving collections. Krug withdrew more graciously by issuing a third pamphlet which confined itself to asserting how united Europe was in the cause of the Greeks; the practical advice on how to help was deliberately omitted. Only in the smaller states of South West Germany did the supporters of the cause hold out. Baden, Württemberg, Hesse-Kassel, Hesse-Darmstadt, and the imperial city of Frankfurt were disinclined to take orders from the authoritarian Prussians. In this small area of Germany, the philhellenic movement was permitted to grow and the committees of Darmstadt, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt found themselves thrust into a position of leadership.
The Prussian ambassadors, reporting back to Berlin on their lack of success in these territories, drew an alarming picture of the philhellenic movement as a hotbed of revolution. Dalberg was described as a hypocrite with the name of humanity on his lips but revolution in his heart. From Frankfurt it was reported how the priests were inveigling women into the movement and preaching a crusade from the pulpit. The number of foreigners visiting the city was remarked on: the liberal banker Lafitte from Paris, a Frenchman travelling under a pseudonym who had been Robespierre’s secretary during the Terror and was now claiming to be a papier-mâché salesman, another known revolutionary posing as a wine merchant, Italians thought to be carbonari and so on. Frankfurt was said to be keeping the ashes of revolution alight.
The results of the attempts to stop recruiting in Europe will be described later. The governments, however, had another important weapon besides suppression at home. It was decided to close the ports. Austria and its puppet governments in Italy put a stop to the exodus of expatriate Greeks from ports in their territories. The Pope co-operated by closing the ports in the Papal States. Only Marseilles, of all the ports of southern Europe, remained open owing to the ambivalent attitude of the French Government. From the autumn of 1821 young men from every corner of Europe, inspired by the rhetoric of professors and churchmen, packed their bags and set out for Marseilles, determined to play their part in the holy war for the regeneration of Greece.
1 * Throughout the Revolution the Greeks remained proud of the titles conferred on them by the Turks. Even Mavrocordato and Hypsilantes liked being addressed as ‘Prince’ – a title granted to their families for services to the Ottoman Empire.
2 See, for example, Brengeri, i, p. 469.
3 Raybaud, i, p. 290.
4 Examiner, 1821, p. 632.
5 Phrantzes, quoted by Finlay, Greek Revolution, i, p. 263.
6 Humphreys, First Journal, p. 28; Raybaud, i, p. 397.
7 Brengeri, i, p. 469.
8 Gordon who saw the aftermath dared not describe the horrors in his history (i, p. 245). He did, however, relate his experiences to Dr. Thomas whom he met at Zante soon afterwards and they were reported to London. Colonial Office Records 136/1085 reproduced as an Appendix to Humphreys, First Journal.
9 This surprising detail is asserted emphatically by Brengeri, ii, p. 41, and there is no reason to doubt it.
10 Persat, p. 100.
11 Wilhelm Boldemann from Grabow in Mecklenburg. LeFebre, p. 9, specifically says he committed suicide. Others say he was left to die of neglect.
12 LeFebre, p. 21.
13 Many contemporary writers give examples of the transformation of the news, e.g. Aschling, Raybaud, and Waddington. Sir William Gell published his Narrative of a Journey in the Morea in 1823 specifically to combat the false newspaper stories.
14 Examiner, 2 July 1826, quoting Sismondi.
15 Elster, Fahrten, pp. 219 ff., recalling a quotation from Goethe’s Faust.
16 See Note 8 to Chapter 26.
17 See Irmscher, Arnold, and Gaston Caminade, Les Chants des Grecs et le Philhellénisme de Wilhelm Müller, Paris, 1913.
18 Translated from Constitutionnel, 26 July 1821, quoted by Dimopoulos, p. 60.
19 Translated from de Pradt, De la Grèce dans ses Rapports avec l’Europe, Brussels, 1822.
The pamphlet literature published in Western Europe during the Greek War of Independence is huge. All but a tiny proportion of these works were intended to promote the Greek cause. A full bibliography is gradually being built. Copies of most of the titles are not to be found outside a handful of libraries and the sentiments of such works are predictably uniform. It might be useful, in any case, as an indication of public opinion, to have the following table of the numbers of pamphlets which are known to have been published in the three main European languages. I have included only political pamphlets and appeals published as separate works in their own right, excluding histories, memoirs, biographies, books of verse and articles in magazines and newspapers. When a pamphlet went into a second edition or was translated I have counted these as if they were new works. The great majority (except in England) had apparently one edition only, although one or two especially influential works went to as many as four editions. It is difficult to draw more than very general conclusions from the figures. The practice of conducting political argument by pamphlet was not equally developed in the countries concerned and they cannot be directly compared. In addition it is easier to be confident that the English and French figures are nearly complete, since many of these were printed for national distribution in London or Paris, than it is with respect to the German pamphlets, which were published independently for small circulation in several cities. Nevertheless, the figures do seem to illustrate a few points about the state of public opinion. They seem to confirm, for example, the success of the censor and the disillusionment with philhellenism in the German-speaking countries which occurred after the return of the early volunteers; and the astonishing revival of philhellenism which occurred in France alone in 1825 and 1826. They also seem to lend weight to the view that philhellenism was not as strong in England as in Continental Europe.
20 J.-G. Schweighauser, Discours sur les Services que les Grecs ont rendus à la Civilisation, Paris, 1821.
21 Giraud de la Clape, ex-étudiant en droit, Appel aux Français en faveur des Grecs, Paris, 1821.
22 For the early philhellenic movements in Britain see Penn and Dakin.
23 Rev. T. S. Hughes, An Address to the People of England in the Cause of the Greeks, London, 1822.
24 Thomas Lord Erskine, A Letter to the Earl of Liverpool on the Subject of the Greeks, London, 1822.
25 Address in behalf of the Greeks, Edinburgh, 1822.
26 Rev. T. S. Hughes, Considerations upon the Greek Revolution, London, 1823.
27 Charles Brinsley Sheridan, Thoughts on the Greek Revolution, London, 1824.
28 Quoted in Booras, p. 159, and elsewhere.
29 Larrabee, p. 55.
31 For the politics of philhellenism in Prussia and elsewhere in Germany, see Irmscher.
32 From the English translation, The Cause of Greece, The Cause of Europe, published anonymously in London in 1821.
33 Translated from Karl Iken, Hellenion, Leipzig, 1822.
34 Quoted by Barth and Kehrig-Korn, p. 95.
35 Translated from the second edition of Wilhelm Traugott Krug, Griechenlands Wiedesgeburt, Leipzig, 1821.
From That Greece Might Still Be Free: The Philhellenes in the War of Independence