Echoes of Freedom: The Greek War of Independence (1821-1829)

25th of March

A tribute on the Greek War of Independence by the team at Greeklist.

1. The rise of a nation

The Greek War of Independence in 1821, fought against the Ottoman Empire, was a hard-won victory that birthed modern Greece. From the initial sparks of rebellion to the decisive battles and the establishment of the first independent Greek state, countless stories of heroism, sacrifice, and triumph unfolded across the land. The motto “Eleftheria i Thanatos“, meaning “Liberty or Death” echoed across the land.

As the anniversary approaches on March 25th, here is a small tribute on the events and heroes that lead to the liberation of Hellas.

Liberty or Death!, The Exodus of Messolongi
Liberty or Death!, The Exodus of Messolongi

2. The name “Hellas”

Hellas is the ancient Greek name for Greece and it’s still used by Greeks themselves to refer to their homeland. Nowadays “Hellas” appears in the official name of the country in Greek. In historical contexts, “Hellas” can also refer to the wider Hellenic world, encompassing not just the geographical territory of Greece but also Greek colonies and areas with significant Greek cultural influence during the ancient and Hellenistic periods.

3. Greek War of Independence: A brief history

Greece was always the centre of the mighty Byzantine Empire, but after the fall of Consantinople in 1453, Greeks had to endure a 400 year occupation by the Ottoman Empire. For centuries, embers of cultural identity smoldered, fueled by Orthodox faith and whispers of ancient glory. By the early 19th century, these embers ignited, fanned by  European & American revolutionary ideals and the yearning for freedom. Thus began the Greek War of Independence, a nine-year struggle that would reshape the map of Europe and rekindle the spirit of a nation.

Here is a brief view of the historical events:

  • Secret Societies and the Call to Arms:

By the early 19th century, secret revolutionary societies like the Filiki Eteria (“Friendly Society”) emerged, dedicated to liberating Greece from Ottoman rule. Inspired by the American and French revolutions, these clandestine groups meticulously planned an uprising. Many warriors were recruited and gave their oath to fight for liberty.

  • The Spark Ignited:

In 1821, the spark finally ignited. On February 21th, Alexander Ypsilantis raised the flag of revolt in the Danubian Principalities, igniting a chain reaction across Greece. This marked the beginning of the long and arduous struggle for independence, paved by the echoes of the fallen Byzantine Empire, the enduring spirit of “Romiosyne,” and the intellectual and cultural awakening that fueled the fire of revolution.

  • Early Decisive Battles:

The uprising began with a bang. Theodoros KolokotronisSiege of Tripolitsa and Andreas Miaoulis’ naval victories at Patras and Spetses were early morale boosters. The Battle of Mani (1821) saw fierce resistance against Ottoman forces, showcasing the Greeks’ resolve. However, defeats followed swiftly, such as the infamous Chios Massacre, a brutal reminder of the stakes involved.

  • Victories and Setbacks on Land:

On land, victories like the Battles of Dervenakia (1822) and Arahova (1823) pushed back Ottoman forces. However, defeats like the Battle of Peta (1822) highlighted the war’s brutality and the high cost of freedom.

  • International Intervention and Turning Points:

Internal conflicts plagued the Greek camp, hindering progress. Yet, the spirit remained alive. The Battle of Messolonghi (1826), though a heroic last stand, became a symbol of sacrifice and international attention. This, coupled with philhellenic movements and English hero  Lord Byron’s involvement, culminated in the pivotal Battle of Navarino (1827). This decisive naval victory, aided by European powers, crippled the Ottoman fleet and marked a turning point.

  • The Final Road to Independence:

With the Ottomans weakened and international support growing, the Treaty of Adrianople (1829) recognized Greek autonomy. Finally, the London Protocol (1830) officially established the independent Greek state.

Costume of a Greek Warrior
A Greek Warrior
Ottoman flaghsip destoryed by Konstantinos Kanaris
Destruction of an Ottoman flagship
The Oath of FIliki Eteria
The Oath of Filiki Eteria
Naval Battle of Navarino
Naval Battle of Navarino
The raise of the Greek Flag
The Siege of Tripolitsa
Battle of Dervenakia
Battle of Dervenakia
Greek women joining the fight
Greek women joining the fight

4. Greek War of Independence: The heroes

In the epic saga of Greece’s quest for liberty, countless heroes emerge, their deeds woven into the fabric of history. Here, we honour twelve of these legendary figures whose courage and sacrifice ignited the flames of independence, shaping the destiny of a nation:

  • Theodoros Kolokotronis: The legendary general with a fiery spirit, Kolokotronis led the Greek forces with unmatched ferocity, turning the tide of battle against the Ottoman oppressors with his strategic brilliance and unwavering courage.
  •  Georgios Karaiskakis: The shadow warrior of the mountains, who danced amidst the rugged terrain, his guerrilla tactics striking fear into the hearts of Ottoman armies, embodying the resilience and determination of the Greek resistance.
  • Dimitris Plapoutas: The steadfast shield of the revolution, stood resolute on the battlefield, his valorous deeds inspiring his fellow Greeks to fight on, forging a legacy of bravery and sacrifice in the crucible of war.
  • Andreas “Miaoulis” Vokos: The master of the Aegean, commanded the Greek fleet with unwavering determination, his strategic brilliance guiding his ships through tumultuous waters, carving a path to freedom against the Ottoman armada.
  • Alexandros Ypsilantis: The early herald of liberation, sounded the call to arms across distant lands, his visionary leadership igniting the flames of revolution, uniting Greeks in a fervent struggle for independence.
  • Laskarina Bouboulina:The sea-born heroine, navigated treacherous waters with indomitable spirit, her bold exploits and fearless leadership earning her a place among the legends of Greek maritime history.
  • Markos Botsaris: The lion-hearted warrior of the mountains, roared defiance against the Ottoman oppressors, his valorous deeds immortalised in the annals of Greek history, inspiring future generations to stand tall in the face of adversity.
  • Mando Mavrogenous: The guardian angel of liberty, wielded her wealth and influence as a beacon of hope, her unwavering support bolstering the spirits of the Greek patriots, as they fought for their rightful place in history.
  • Athanasios Diakos: The fearless son of Greece, fought with unwavering courage until his last breath, his defiance in the face of tyranny echoing through the ages, a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Greek people.
  • Georgios Kountouriotis: The master of the deep blue, commanded the seas with a steely resolve, his leadership and naval prowess securing vital victories for the Greek cause, ensuring the nation’s survival in the face of adversity.
  • Nikitas Stamatelopoulos (Nikitaras): The thunderbolt of the revolution, unleashed his fury upon the Ottoman forces with unmatched ferocity, his battlefield heroics inspiring awe and admiration among his fellow Greeks, as they fought tooth and nail for their freedom.
  • Georgios Dikaios (Papaflessas): The priest turned warrior, rallied fighters with charisma, fiery speeches and unorthodox war tactics. Though his legacy is debated, his dedication to the Greek revolution etched his name in history.
  • Theodoros Kolokotron
    Theodoros Kolokotronis

    Alexandros Ypsilantis
    Alexandros Ypsilantis
  • Constantine Kanaris
    Constantine Kanaris
    Georgios Karaiskakis
    Georgios Karaiskakis
    Laskarina Bouboulina
    Laskarina Bouboulina

    Papaflessas
    Papaflessas

5. International Champions of Liberty: Philhellenes and Lord Byron

The flames of the Greek War of Independence weren’t fueled solely by internal heroes. “Philhellenes,” captivated by ancient Greek ideals and the fight for freedom, emerged from across Europe. This diverse group, from writers like Alexander Pushkin to painters like Eugène Delacroix, offered crucial support. Lord Byron, however, became the movement’s iconic face. He poured his passion and wealth into the cause, funding the fight, raising international awareness with his writing,  even joining the struggle personally and losing his life for the cause.

Beyond their individual contributions, these Philhellenes pressured European powers and shaped global opinion, playing a pivotal role in securing Greek independence and etching their names alongside Greece’s own heroes.

Lord Byron
Lord Byron in a Greek costume

6. The Savior of Hellas: Ioannis Kapodistrias

Stepping onto the stage not as a warrior but as a bright diplomat and leader, Ioannis Kapodistrias arrived in Greece in 1828 to take charge as Greece’s Governor. The revolution was won but the nation’s future was precarious. This respected statesman across Europe, who was quickly nicknamed as the “Savior of Hellas”, embarked on a monumental task: building a nation from the ashes of war. He established administrative structures, laying the groundwork for a functioning state. Education, neglected during the conflict, blossomed under his watch, with schools opening across the country.

Recognizing the importance of a thriving economy, he implemented economic reforms, encouraging agriculture and trade. However, his greatest challenge may have been uniting a nation fractured by internal conflicts. His calm demeanour and focus on pragmatism helped bridge divides, fostering a sense of unity and purpose. While his reign was tragically cut short by assassination in 1831, Kapodistrias’s impact on Greece was undeniable. He laid the foundation for a modern state, ensuring that the sacrifices of the revolution wouldn’t be in vain. His legacy as a nation-builder continues to resonate, reminding us of the power of leadership, vision, and a commitment to progress.

Ioannis Kapodistrias
Ioannis Kapodistrias

7. The territory of liberated Greece in 1832

The first Greek state, established in 1830 after several years of war with the Ottoman Empire, encompassed a smaller territory than modern Greece. Its boundaries roughly followed the Peloponnese peninsula, including most of its mainland and surrounding islands. It also stretched northwards to include parts of Sterea Hellas, reaching around the Gulf of Evia and incorporating the Cyclades Islands.

Notably, major regions like Thessaly, Macedonia, Epirus, and Crete remained under Ottoman control until later acquisitions and expansions in the following decades. This initial territory, though smaller than today’s Greece, marked a significant milestone in the nation’s rebirth and served as a foundation for its future growth and unification. After countless conflicts and wars, many territories were liberated, until 1947 where Greece adopted its final borders up today.

8. From the Revolution to modern Greece

The initial years were marked by instability as diverse factions vied for power. Kings and Prime Ministers rose and fell. After the tragic death of Ioannis Kapodistrias, Greece was ruled by absolute monarchy by King Otto, who was placed in the throne by the Great Powers (France, England Russia). Though the Greek people fought for reforms with the First Constitution of Greece being signed in 1843. The following years, the political system was constantly changing from absolute monarchy, to constitutional monarchy, to republicanism, to dictatorship and finally to constitutional democracy in 1974. Visionary leaders like Prime Minister Charilaos Trikoupis modernised the state with large scale works and others like Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos led Greece to expand its borders. Defeats like the Greco-Turkish Wars in 1897 and in 1922 or victories during the Balkan Wars and the heroic defence against the Italian Invasion in 1940 left their mark on the Greek nation.

September 3rd 1843
September 3rd 1843,  the day when the Greek people demanded a constitution

9. The legacy of the Greek Revolution

The legacy of the Greek Revolution reverberates to this day. It stands as a testament to the power of collective action, the enduring spirit of freedom, and the unwavering belief in national identity. While the challenges faced by modern Greece are far from over, the echoes of “Eleftheria i Thanatos!” (Freedom or Death!) continue to inspire, reminding all that the fight for liberty is a constant struggle, and the flame of hope, once ignited, can never be truly extinguished.

Libearty or Death

If you are planning on visiting Athens for the celebration of March 25th, here is our complete guide!

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