"Four Hundred Years of Slavery"
Chapter 2 of The Greek War of Independence
by Peter H. Paroulakis
Chapter 2: Four Hundred Years of Slavery
HOW HARD IT IS to visualise the sufferings of generations of Greek families at the hands of Asiatic barbarism —— to fully perceive the debilitating impact of Turkish apathy and disregard for progress. It reduced the majority of the Greek population to a role of peasant husbandry.
Thousands of Greeks had died in the struggles waged around them as the Ottomans drove the Venetians from their strongholds on the mainland and islands of the Aegean. Many fled to the mercantile ports and towns of Europe to escape the persecution they knew must follow the Turkish occupation. Those who remained were reduced to poverty in their own homeland, forced into servility under the agas and their soldiers who took up residence throughout the country. The Turks wished to make collection of heavy personal taxes as easy as possible and to this end imposed humiliations designed to break the spirit of the Greeks.
Some historians have argued that many of the Greeks’ complaints were petty; hardly grounds for such prolonged hatred of the conqueror. They claim their suffering was not severe enough to justify the desire for liberation that became the dream of Greeks everywhere. They even criticise as excessive" the force used by the Greeks to achieve that liberty.
Today, mainly as a result of the American and French revolutions which fatally undermined the absolute power and authority of kings over their subjects, we would not tolerate any of the restrictions then suffered by the Greeks. Yet it is argued that the total denial of their natural rights by the Turks was an acceptable standard for the times, and therefore that the Greeks had no more cause to complain than other peasant populations of medieval Europe.
To the freedom-loving Greek, the combined effect of repressive Turkish policy and misrule made life barely tolerable. The miserable lot of mainland Greeks contrasted sharply with that of their countrymen who prospered in the Ionian Islands under European rule and on the nearby islands of Chios, Hydra, Spetses, . Psara and other places where Turkish inﬂuence had not yet intruded.
No less than the Jews, the Greeks were a fiercely independent people. They were not prepared to accept the loss of their identity or culture because of economic or political adversity. They could not regress to the level of serfs of eastern Europe and Russia. Yet their adversities were many and they suffered innumerable hardships.
There was nominal freedom of religious worship but no Christian church could proclaim its existence. Bells could not be rung nor crosses affixed to church buildings. Systematic training of the Christian clergy was restricted and Greek children were not permitted to attend schools.
In an attempt at more zealous religious persecution, Selim I - the grandson of Mohammed II - gave orders that all Orthodox churches were to be confiscated and converted into mosques and Christians were to be forced to adopt the Moslem faith.
However, concerned at this dangerous reversal of Mohammed’s policy, the Divan, the Turkish Council of State, persuaded him to modify his position. The policy of forced proselytism was abandoned, but Selim insisted that all churches made of stone were to be confiscated. The Greeks were allowed to retain or erect only those made of wood. An English visitor to Greece in 1679, Sir Paul Rycault, wrote:
of the tragic subversion of the sanctuaries of religion, the royal priesthood expelled
from their churches, and those converted into mosques; the mysteries of the altar
concealed in secret and dark places — for such I have seen in cities and villages where I have travelled, rather like vaults and sepulchres than churches, having their roofs almost levelled with the surface of the earth, lest the most ordinary projection
of structure, should be accused for triumph of religion, and to stand in competition
with the lofty spires of the Mahomedan mosques.
Justice for Greeks in a Turkish court was unobtainable without bribery. Extortion and personal outrages imposed by uncontrolled local authorities, as well as the constant fear of arbitrary imprisonment or death, created terror. There was no family or personal security for Greeks. The Sultan provided no rights or protection at all in return for the head tax called ‘kharaj’ which he relentlessly extracted from his new subjects.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking vision of those oppressive years was of grief—stricken parents whose young sons were dragged from their homes by the Sultan’s soldiers, and taken to Constantinople to be trained in Turkish military corps known as janissaries.
This terrible practice has been scarcely paralleled in human history. For how long could a people endure such heartbreak? Not only were their sons abducted; they were indoctrinated to become fanatic Moslems before being returned to Greece as soldiers to unknowingly enforce oppression against their own people.
In 1638, after nearly two hundred years and the abduction of about one million children, this inhumane practice was discontinued by Sultan Murad IV. Not through any act of mercy or compassion, but for the ignoble reason that the resulting depopulation of the country had reduced his tax revenues.
Despite all these trials, the spirit of the Greeks did not break. Their desire for freedom was never extinguished. The Greek language, religion and culture were preserved until increasing commercial activity and rising expectations led to the foundation of advanced schools and educational progress.
The Role of the Greek Orthodox Church
Most significant in the preservation of the Greek spirit was the dedicated work of the Greek Orthodox Church, particularly in the earlier and more difficult periods of Turkish occupation. Some practices of the Ottomans themselves helped as well. When Constantinople fell the Sultan, Mohammed II, designed a policy to ensure the pacification of his newly acquired Christian subjects: he decided to retain the ancient Patriarchate and appointed a new Patriarch, an ecclesiastical leader, George Scholarios, who took the official name of Gennadios.
There was a particular reason for the selection of Scholarios as Patriarch. He was leader of an Orthodox group that strenuously opposed any reunion with the Catholic Church. His supporters held this view as a result of the invasion of Constantinople in 1204 by the Catholic Franks, and the religious intolerance of the Venetians who followed them in Greece. With the desecration of Constantinople by the Franks still close in their memory, many Greeks declared that they would rather see the Turkish turban in Greek lands than the mitre of Catholic bishops.
By appointing Scholarios, Mohammed II sought to exacerbate the hatred between the Eastern and Western Churches; his aim was to keep them from developing a harmonious relationship that might encourage military or diplomatic aid to the Orthodox faithful in Turkey. The Sultan invited the new Patriarch to his palace and laid down the principles and procedures of relations between them in areas under Ottoman control. He granted the Patriarch all his former ecclesiastical rights, as well as considerable new temporal rights and proclaimed freedom of Christian worship throughout Turkish dominions.
The Sultan’s position was also a result of constraints within Islamic law. Religious and social systems in the Ottoman empire were governed by Islamic law known as the ‘Shari’a’. It derived from the Koran and was administered exclusively by religious courts. As the Shari’a was not merely a compilation of criminal and civil law but a complex all—embracing code of ethics, morality and religious duties, it was impossible to apply its principles to Christians. The Sultan therefore had little alternative than to allow a large number of civil powers to rest with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. These included rights and privileges of a fiscal, administrative and judicial nature over the Christian subjects of the Ottoman empire.
The Patriarch was given the Greek title of ‘Ethnarch’, meaning leader of the nation, which was significant to Greek national aspirations. His Turkish title of ‘Millet Bashi’ also meant leader but the word had no nationalistic connotations to the Turks, Who recognised only religious groups.
The Turks often could not discern differences between linguistic or ethnic groups, such as those of Bulgaria, Moldavia and Wallachia, professing the Orthodox religion. The Greeks were, however, the leading group among them. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Constantinople, invariably a Greek, was considered the head of all the Christians in the Empire.
In effect the Patriarch became the secular as well as the spiritual ruler of all Orthodox Christians throughout the territories of the Sultan. In return for these religious and civic rights the Patriarch was to be responsible for the peace and good order of all Orthodox Christians. As an occupying force the Ottomans were greatly outnumbered by their conquered subjects, particularly in Greece and Asia Minor: the Sultan sought only peace and the smooth collection of his taxes. In time the privileges granted by the Sultan were extended even further. The Patriarchate came to represent not only the centre of Greek Orthodoxy but also Hellenism, and therefore embodied the spiritual and national aspirations of the Greek people.
In Phanari, the suburb of Constantinople where the Patriarchate was located, many Greeks took up residence to be near this centre of Greek administration and influence. Eventually, many prominent Greeks held senior Turkish government positions.
In 1855 Ali Pasha, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, wrote to Lord Clarendon, British Foreign Secretary that: ‘The Patriarchs dispose of such a collection of civil and religious rights that one may say that, subject to the public authority exercised only by the Turkish government, the Christians are rather administered, judged and directed by an authority which is Christian and not Moslem.’
The civil rights of the Patriarchate in Constantinople were rescinded only in 1925, by the Treaty of Lausanne, after the defeat of Greece in the war with Turkey in Asia Minor. Lord Curzon, Great Britain’s representative and President of the Conference at Lausanne, paid tribute to the role of the Patriarch: ‘In the last five hundred years this figure has grown to be one of the most venerated spiritual figures in the whole world.’
A Conference delegate from Yugoslavia recorded the importance of the Patriarchate to Slavic people under Ottoman rule: ‘For many centuries successive generations had appealed to the Patriarchate for succour and assistance, for consolation in times of trial, for guidance in regard to principles of conduct and of high Christian morality in daily life.’
Meanwhile a Turkish delegate demanded that the Patriarchate be expelled from Turkey for anti-government activities during the Asia Minor war.
Eleftherios Venizelos, a former Prime Minister of Greece who represented his country at the Conference, rebutted thistotally unfounded and mischievous accusation. Widely regarded as one of the most outstanding statesmen of modern Greece, Venizelos pointed out the loyalty of the Patriarch to the Turkish government for nearly five hundred years whilst ensuring the spiritual and material progress of his people: not once in this time had the Patriarch been accused by the Turkish government of having failed to fulfill his obligations.
To show the extent to which the Patriarch would go to try to comply with his dual responsibility, Venizelos referred to an incident to illustrate his argument:
About a hundred years ago the Patriarch Gregory the Fifth was hanged, after the Greek insurrection of 1821, but that execution did not take place because the Ottoman government held the Patriarch personally responsible for the insurrection. Quite the reverse was the case; the Head of the Greek Orthodox Church was so earnest in the loyalty due from him to the government that he even went so far as to pronounce excommunication against such Ottoman subjects as might take part in the rising.
He was hanged on the strength of the idea, which was current at the time, that he represented symbolically the total mass of the Greek nation, for whose actions he was responsible in this capacity of Millet Bashi, or head of the Greek nation, and was recognised as such by the Ottoman government.
Even at the height of hostility between Greek and Turk no accusation of disloyalty or anti—government activities could be held against the Patriarchate. Despite Turkish protests it remains in Constantinople to this day as an inspiring spiritual institution and the world centre of Orthodoxy.
There is no doubt the policy of the Ottomans towards their Christian subjects was successful in the days of their military ascendancy in Europe. But in the long term it proved fatal. The Church became the most vital factor in preserving the national and cultural continuity of the Greek race. It was the basis of the Greeks’ growing enlightenment and progress.
While Turkey was still climbing to the zenith of its power, armed resistance by the subjugated Greeks was inconceivable. They had to adapt their religious and cultural life to survive in adverse conditions. Throughout Greece in the liturgy and sermons of the churches, and in countless secret schools conducted at night in basements of houses and little chapels on rocky hillsides above the villages, the local priests of the Greek Orthodox Church taught their faith and spoke the Greek language. Although their teaching was rudimentary, they kept the language from dying out: retention of an oppressed people’s language is a key to the survival of their national identity.
The priests also gave the children training in national ideals. They related the heroic exploits of their forefathers and, most importantly, gave spiritual courage to the childrens’ parents and families. In these ways the priests had considerable influence over the parish communities in which they lived.
The Greek nation and Greek people everywhere owe an immense debt to these thousands of dedicated men of the Church. Their faith, devotion and courage paved a road to freedom, independence and the eventual acquisition of religious and civil rights which would no longer depend on the arbitrary whim of a foreign despot.
After the capture of Constantinople the Turks gradually extended their dominion over the rest of the Balkans, the Aegean islands and large areas around the Black Sea. During the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520—1526) the Ottoman empire reached its greatest size. Rhodes was captured from the Knights of St John in 1522. Shortly afterwards Suleiman conquered nearly all of Hungary and invaded Austria. The Ottomans reached the walls of Vienna in 1529, and in 1547 captured Budapest.
The Western nations were alarmed by the extent of the Ottoman successes in Europe. In 1571 Spain, Venice and the Papal States combined their fleets to decisively defeat the Turkish navy in a famous sea battle off Lepanto, now known as Nafpaktos, a port in the Gulf of Corinth. However, despite this defeat, Turkish military might remained a threat to Europe for a further hundred years.
Decline of the Ottoman Empire
In 1685 a second Turkish siege of Vienna was broken by the Polish King John Sobieski, in a victory which signalled the start of the War of the League of Augsburg. The combined forces of Austria, Poland, Venice and Russia pushed the Turks out of Austria and across the plains of Hungary to the Balkan frontiers. While the Turks were under pressure to the north, in 1687 the Venetians overran the Peloponnese and part of the Greek mainland. During this offensive their commander Morosini caused irreparable damage to the Parthenon. He had ordered his troops to bombard the Acropolis at Athens, known to contain a Turkish arsenal. The Parthenon suffered a direct hit which blew out the side walls and most of the roof. Only a miracle preserved the western facade of this classical masterpiece, erected in the time of Pericles, from total destruction.
The Augsburg war ended in 1699 when the Turks were forced to sign the Peace of Carlowitz on disadvantageous terms. The Ottoman empire ceded Hungary, Transylvania and Croatia to the Austrians, Podolia to Poland, and the Peloponnese and Dalmatia to the Venetians. Russia received the strategic port of Azov on the Black Sea. The peace treaty marked the beginning of a long retreat by the Ottomans from Europe, and heralded the start of their military and political decline. The Venetians, also a declining power, were not able to maintain control over the Peloponnese; the Turks regained it after a short struggle in 1714.
A result of the Augsburg war was the emergence of Russian military and political influence in the Balkans. This great northern power was soon to inflict several humiliating defeats on the Turks, to the incidental benefit of the commercial and political progress of the Greeks. Such a result, of course, was not intended by the Russians. Their interest was to hasten the military decline of the Turks which would present an opportunity to acquire new territories. Importantly for the Greeks, the Russians attempted to subvert the Ottoman position through their own religious affinity with the Orthodox peoples of the Balkans.
Until the emergence of Imperial Russia as a military and political power in these regions the Greeks had played only a minor part in world events. They had been able to do nothing more than watch as helpless spectators, long accustomed to seeing their destinies decided from afar. The first opportunity to shape their own future occurred in 1768 when the Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, declared war on the Sultan and incited the Greeks to revolt against his rule. She promised that Greece would once more be a part of a new Orthodox Christian Byzantine empire, based in Constantinople under the control and patronage of Orthodox Russia.
The Orloff Revolt
On the Empress’ instructions the brothers Dimitri and Alexei Orloff, who were commanders of her Turkish expedition, approached George Papazolis. a Greek officer in the Russian army. They unveiled a plan to urge the Greeks to revolt and support the Russian flag. Undetected by the Turks, Papazolis travelled throughout Greece making arrangements with Greek leaders, the great primates and mountain brigands, to rise up in arms as soon as the Russian ﬂeet appeared in Greek waters. He was received with great enthusiasm, even though the Greeks were motivated by the more practical commercial, cultural and political benefits that would result from a change of rule from the Sultan than any dream of full independence.
In 1770 a force comprising a handful of warships and a few hundred men arrived at Navarino in the Peloponnese. The Russian expedition leader was unable to persuade the Greeks that he seriously intended to provide substantial military support, and in the event, only the mountain people of the Mani district in the southern Peloponnese raised the flag of revolt. The Russians’ only success was the temporary capture of the port of Navarino. Their small force was finally put to flight by a large Albanian army at Tripolis in the central Peloponnese, and the uprising collapsed.
The failure of the expedition, which had been nothing more than a diversionary tactic for the Russians to assist their main military effort against the Turks in the Black Sea areas to the north of Greece, was a great blow to the Greeks. Apart from seeing their aspirations for an improved life under the Russians dashed, their involvement brought savage reprisals from the Turks. Many thousands of Greeks, including important local leaders, were executed. Thousands more fled to Europe. Albanian mercenaries sent to combat the uprising ravaged the Greek countryside for nearly a decade, causing immense damage to the commerce and agriculture of Greece before they were expelled by Turkish forces.
The Treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji
The Russians persisted with their war against the Sultan. After several military successes and a decisive naval victory at Tchesme near the island of Chios they forced the Turks to sign the Treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji in 1774 on humiliating terms. The Treaty deprived Turkey of important Balkan and Black Sea territories. It contained conditions allowing Russia to intercede openly on behalf of Orthodox Christians in Ottoman dominions, and also to exercise political influence in the Moldavian and Wallachian principalities.
In Article 7 of the Treaty, the Sultan was forced to agree ‘to give his continued protection to the Christian religion and Church and allow the representatives of Russia in Constantinople to make representations on their behalf This clause was used time and again by Russia to persuade Turkey’s Christian subjects to look to her for protection from their ruler.
In 1783, Catherine again declared war on the Sultan. Her forces captured the Crimea and gained complete control of the Black Sea. Russia also forced a commercial convention on the Turks which authorised the Greeks to ﬂy the Russian flag on their trading vessels, resulting in increasing numbers of Greek merchant ships in the ports of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
The slow but steady reversal of the Ottoman empire’s expansion across Europe severely damaged an imperial system dependent on military expansion and colonisation. Loss of its European conquests meant a severe loss of trade and tax revenues. Successive sultans were unskilled and apathetic leaders, unable to control the vast areas and diverse peoples living within their empire. Nor could they mount effective opposition to the Great Powers, particularly the Russians who were intent on dismembering the Ottoman empire for their own territorial advantage.
The consequence of the Sultans’ gradual withdrawal from the direct supervision of affairs of state encouraged corruption, intrigue and rebellion. In several of the more remote areas of the crumbling empire, local government fell into the hands of ambitious pashas. This was most apparent in outlying posts such as Egypt, where Mehmet Ali acted almost entirely independently of the Sultan; and in’. Ioannina, the capital of Epirus, where the Albanian Ali Pasha exercised absolute control over most of northern Greece. In addition the janissaries had begun to acquire considerable power and independence. In 1804 their excesses in Serbia provoked a major revolt against the Turks.
This administrative failure of the Sultans also led to a number of minor Greek revolts, the most famous of which concerned the exploits of Lambros Katsonis, a former Greek officer in the Russian army who had fought in the Greek campaign in 1770 and also in the Crimea. Assisted by wealthy Greek merchants from Trieste he purchased a powerful American corvette armed with cannon. In 1788, blindly determined to see Greece liberated, he set sail for Greek waters to harass Turkish shipping.
Within a few months he had built up a small fleet of fifteen armed vessels and began to cruise the Aegean Sea destroying Turkish vessels and small fortifications. After having successfully disrupted trading routes, he was confronted by the Turkish navy. He forced the Turks to retreat into the Dardanelles, which he blockaded at the mouth. Turkey’s French allies eventually persuaded him to end his naval campaign after Catherine declared peace with the Sultan and Katsonis no longer enjoyed her protection. He retired to the Crimea in 1804. But his heroism and the contempt he showed Turkish authority foreshadowed the unsubdued spirit of independence that, in a generation, was to burst into violent revolution throughout Greece.
Klephts and Armatoloi
What made Turkish control in Greece particularly difficult was the existence of thousands of brigands, known as klephts, hiding in inaccessible mountain ranges throughout the country. From the earliest days of the Ottoman occupation in the fifteenth century the existence of these klephts had been recorded. They interrupted communications and regularly pillaged lowland villages for their supplies. In an attempt to counter their influence successive Turkish governments recruited bands of militia who were often more rapacious and violent than the klephts. These men, known as armatoloi, were mainly of Greek origin and were generally
sympathetic to the klephts they were supposed to repress.
The way of life of the klephts became, over the centuries, idealised to generations of Greeks. Captains and their well-armed bands lived a nomadic life. Toughened by the harsh environment they maintained their stamina and condition by unceasing exercise. They were accurate shots with their old-fashioned muskets, many of which were beautifully inlaid with gold and silver. They travelled in the dark of night. During the day they hid in remote concealed hideouts known as limeria, where food was often brought to them by shepherds.
Frequently the bands would raid a village and return to the mountains where they held banquets, feasting on stolen sheep and wine. Around blazing fires theywould dance and sing their wild songs. Even today in Greece the klephtic dances are popular, so deeply is their legend enshrined in Greek folklore.
Those they robbed were not always Turkish. Rich Greeks, known as kodja bashees, were often attacked. If a Greek was rich under the Turks the klephts felt he must be a sympathetic and willing party to their hated rule.
The Greeks regarded these outlaws with great respect, often supplying them with food and shelter. Despite their reputation for violence, most oppressed Greeks saw them as living symbols of resistance to Turkish domination and of their dream of liberty and independence. In the years preceding the revolution, mothers used to pray that their sons might grow up and join the mountain bands - one day returning to rid their country of the hated oppressor.
In 1821 it was such men, among them Kolokotronis, Diakos, and Androutsos, who led the Greeks to the early victories that sustained the long struggle until independence was finally achieved.
Ali Pasha and the Suliotes
Much more threatening to stability, however, in the eyes of the Sultan, were the activities of the Albanian Ali Pasha in Epirus. Having gained control of the Pashalik of Ioannina in 1788, he consolidated his position and extended his influence in western Greece as far as the Peloponnese. A man of great ambition, he used every device of cunning and treachery to achieve his ends. His efforts disrupted the Sultan’s authority and created great unrest throughout Greece, particularly among the Epirote peoples of Suli who were in constant revolt.
The story of the struggle of these mountain dwellers, the Suliotes, against Ali Pasha, who tried to crush their independent communities, became legendary throughout Greece. The Suliotes served as a symbol of heroism and defiant independence, having revolted twice in support of Russia, in 1770 and 1785. Their descendants proved to be among the greatest soldiers of the revolution, and Mark Botsaris, a notable Suliote, became one of Greece’s finest leaders.
In 1790 Ali sent three expeditions of Albanians against the mountain villages of the Suliotes. They were all turned back in defeat. NeXt he offered the Suliotes peace, and asked them to help subdue an uprising by Turks loyal to the Sultan at nearby Argyrokastro.
To appease Ali the Suliotes sent a token force of seventy men under their commander Lambros Tzavellas and his son Foton. However as they approached Argyrokastro they were disarmed by Ali’s men and thrown into castle dungeons at Ioannina. Ali then sent another army to Suli in the hope of taking the villagers by surprise.
One of Tzavellas’ men had, however, escaped unnoticed, and was able to warn the Suliotes, who made ready to greet Ali’s army. In darkness the Turks arrived. As they approached intent on slaughtering the sleeping villagers, they were attacked from all sides and suffered heavy losses before retreating in panic to Ioannina.
Ali’s next move was to offer safe passage to the Suliotes if they undertook to all leave Epirus for the Ionian Islands. Forced to leave his son behind as a hostage, Tzavellas agreed to return to Suli to persuade the people to leave Epirus. But when he reached home he denounced Ali and urged the Suliotes to resist to the last man. He then sent a famous letter to Ali threatening him with assassination if he should kill his son Foton or any of the other captives. Such was Tzavellas’ reputation that Ali returned all his Suli prisoners safely to their mountain homes.
Ali persisted with another expedition against the Suliotes. He suffered a major defeat and was lucky to escape with his life, but Tzavellas was killed in this campaign. In 1805 Ali Pasha began a new campaign which was again distinguished by treachery. This time he finally broke the resistance of the Suliotes, who were forced out of their mountain homes into the fortresses of Suli.
Ali surrounded the fortifications intending to starve the inhabitants into submission. He finally achieved his ends when his forces entered the town of Koungi through a secret pass revealed by an Albanian shepherd. Their stronghold breached, the Suliotes were forced to flee. In a desperate rearguard action a monk by the name of Samuel, with fifteen Suliotes, halted Ali’s pursuit from a small monastery, enabling their companions to escape towards the coast.
Surrounded by Ali’s soldiers Samuel was eventually forced to surrender. When asked by Ali’s secretary ‘what punishment he deserved for being so foolish as to surrender to Ali,’ Samuel fired his musket into the powder magazines. The explosion blew the whole monastery apart and lifted it from the foundations, killing the remaining handful of Suliotes and many of Ali’s officers and men.
The Suliotes fled to the west-coast town of Parga hoping to escape by sea, the forces of Ali pressing their pursuit, eager for revenge. But even in retreat the fierce, free spirit of the Suliotes burned brightly against the darkness of oppression.
The Suliotes had fled in two groups and the first group of 1500 reached safety. But the second group, totalling about eight hundred, mainly wives and small children of fallen Suli warriors, were pursued closely by the Turks. A group of about sixty were finally trapped at the hill of Zalongo and there, amidst the grandeur of the peaks of Epirus, was enacted one of the most dramatic and heart-rending events in the history of modern Greece.
As the Turks clambered up the slopes towards them, the doomed women climbed to a high craggy outcrop known as the rock of Stefani. Bidding their beloved children farewell, they threw them headlong into the ravine far below.
Then began what would become known as the dance of Zalongo when the women joined hands to perform their traditional circle dance. One by one as the great human chain turned, wearing their traditional velvet, crimson and gold embroidered costumes, they leaped to their deaths. Last to remain was Helena Botsaris, daughter of the Suliote Chieftain, who stood alone for a brief moment on the edge of the cliff. A last supreme effort and the tiny crimson and gilded figure hurtled into the abyss. When the Turks arrived Zalongo was forlorn and bare.
Such events were not connected with any planned revolutionary activity, but were the direct result of Turkish oppression and misrule. They showed the will to be free had not diminished in the hearts of Hellenes. The tragedy at Zalongo demonstrated an implacable hatred of the occupying Turks that could sustain a prolonged war. The heroism and determination of the Suliotes was used as an example over and over again to inspire groups of revolutionary fighters to victory against vast numbers of Turkish army regulars.
Growth of Greek Commercial Power
After the harsh and difficult early centuries of occupation, the Greeks gradually adapted to new trading opportunities. They had limited possibilities of cultivating their own land, seventy per cent of which was owned by Turks who numbered less than ten per cent of the population. But Greeks were able to trade abroad with few restrictions. Their main setback came during the Venetian occupation from 1699 to 1718 when customs regulations were introduced to disadvantage Greek traders in favour of those from Venice and Rome. From the seventeenth century onwards Greeks became active in trade and slowly encroached on Mediterranean markets formerly controlled by Venice. They also gained a near monopoly of trade within the provinces of the Ottoman empire. They were able to do this as the Turks had little interest in commerce; also Greeks had access to the wealthy merchant houses of refugees who had earlier fled oppression in Greece and could now be found in every major port from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.
Involvement in commerce did not produce many rich traders in Greece. In general, mercantile houses and shipping activities there were minor compared to those of the French and Italians, but trade grew and compensated for the lack of other opportunities in Greece. Some sailing vessels transported goods from Chios and Asia Minor to ports of Europe. In Greece commercial development in Patras, Nafpaktos and Athens led to the presence of a number of European agents and consuls.
Since the sixteenth century the rights to trade in Ottoman ports, known as ‘capitulations’, were granted almost exclusively to French merchants. These rights were renewed continuously until 1774 when the Treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji allowed Russia to become the foreign power most inﬂuential in the Ottoman dominions. The French then lost their favoured trading position.
Russia’s influence in the Balkans was consolidated during the Napoleonic wars when she allied herself with England and Austria to destroy the influence of France in the Near East and the Mediterranean. Russia was anxious to gain further prestige and influence in the Danubian principalities and in Greece so she obtained from Turkey a capitulation securing for Greek merchants the right to trade in Turkish and Russian ports under the Russian flag. Greek traders, hardly believing their good fortune, were quick to take advantage of this opportunity.
Nor were the Greeks adversely affected by the new Russo—Turkish war of 1787. This time, having learned from experience, they ignored the call of Catherine to join her, preferring to take advantage of Turkey’s diplomatic blunders and apathy in matters of trade. By this approach they dramatically increased their prosperity.
The merchants of Hydra, Psara, Spetses and Kassos began to replace their small coastal caiques with modern fleets. Their combined skills of seamanship and business gave them control of the Black Sea trade and large profits transporting grain crops to Europe during the Napoleonic wars. The new Black Sea port of Odessa became a centre for many Greek merchants whose products, particularly the contents of their huge grain stores, were exclusively transported by the shipping magnates of the islands.
In every great city of the Ottoman empire —— at Constantinople, Smyrna and Salonika — and in the European ports of Odessa, Trieste, Leghorn and Venice vast Greek merchant houses became established. Their increasing prosperity
usurped the Levantine merchants who had previously enjoyed the bulk of international trade in the Mediterranean.
In 1816 within the Mediterranean and Black Seas there were an estimated six hundred Greek vessels carrying more than 17,000 seamen. Their armaments included cannon supplied by the Russians to protect them from Barbary Coast corsairs.
The Sultan granted a charter incorporating the mercantile Greeks of Turkey into one trading company, under the name of ‘The European Merchants’, which owed its privileges directly to the Sultan and not to any foreign powers. This company existed until the start of the revolution, and through the influence of the Phanariote Dragoman Constantine Morousis, the merchants were exempt from paying head tax. In return they paid the Sultan a fixed annual tribute. As a further benefit of the charter, Turks were forbidden to reside on their islands.
In fact, Greeks were enjoying increasing administrative autonomy. From the middle of the eighteenth century, they were permitted a system of local government in which community leaders known as primates were drawn from among the heads of successful land—owning families. The primates were also authorised to collect taxes on behalf of the Sultan since Turkish tax collectors were reluctant to enter some parts of Greece. In this way the fierce local inhabitants retained a semblance of independence in such isolated areas as the Mani, Sphakia in Crete, Suli and Agrapha (which, in Greek means ‘not recorded’). In the islands of Chios, Syra, Hydra, Kassos and Psara, there was also a high degree of local autonomy and very few resident Turks.
By the eighteenth century a group of wealthy and influential Greeks, known as Phanariotes because they lived in the suburb of Phanari in Constantinople where the Patriarchate was situated, had begun to acquire important civil posts in the service of the Sultan. They had a virtual monopoly on four very important offices of State. Two of these offices were Dragoman of the Porte and Dragoman of the Fleet (in effect private secretaries to the Prime Minister and the Naval commander—in—chief). The other positions were in Moldavia and Wallachia, now known as Rumania, where Greeks became hereditary bospodars or governors. They were able to create Greek-dominated administrations with considerable trading and political benefits.
Wealth Leads to Education
Thus the Greeks slowly improved their circumstances in the Ottoman empire as they increased their political and local government influence and expanded their contacts with foreign commercial and trading centres. Such material progress also helped improve their educational and cultural standards of living.
In foreign trade centres rich Greeks soon founded schools, hospitals and other charitable organisations for their families and for the benefit of an increasing number of fellow countrymen who also wished to share in this new prosperity. Many graduates of these schools attended universities in France and Italy to take advantage of the scientific and artistic achievements of the outstanding scholars of Europe. Some returned to Greece to set up colleges of higher education there.
Among the most famous foreign schools for Greeks was one in Venice, directed for many years by the writer Spyridon Vlandis, and a School of Science and Philology in Vienna under the direction of Anthimos Gazes who was later to fightin the forefront of the Greek revolution. There were also advanced Greek language schools in the ports of Leghorn and Trieste and at Bucharest and Jassy, the capitals of the Danubian principalities. In Vienna, in December 1790, the Poulios brothers published the first Greek—language newspaper. It was called Eﬁmerz's. Many other Greek journals and literary works were later published in these centres of learning.
The College of Bucharest was founded in 1810 by Czar Alexander of Russia. Its first professor, Larnbros Photiades, was widely renowned and admired in Greek educational circles. His efforts, and those of his pupils, led to the establishment of new schools in Greece where European languages, philosophy, mathematics and natural science were taught. His most famous pupil, Vardalakis, who was also a graduate of the University of Pisa, went on to establish a respected college at Chios which had more than eight hundred students and a large library.
Schools appeared quickly throughout Greece. In Thessaly the citizens of a manufacturing Village, Ambelakia, were members of a large trading co—operative that exported considerable quantities of dyed cotton yarn across Europe through their mercantile agency in Vienna. They made the village a centre of education in science and commerce, which was later endowed by the merchant Stephen Doumkas with a substantial library. Surrounding districts benefited from this alliance of science and industry.
The most famous school was at Ioannina in Epirus. It was founded late in the seventeenth century with a donation from a wealthy Greek merchant, Giones, and won prominence under the patronage of Ali Pasha. Under the direction of Athanasios Psalidas, a physician and former pupil of the German philosopher Kant, the school became the most eminent institution of learning in Greece. Its reputation was also enhanced as a result of substantial donations by the Zosimatos brothers of Leghorn in Italy. Lord Byron, who Visited Greece in 1809, noted how: ‘Ioannina in Epirus is universally allowed amongst the Greeks to be superior in the wealth, refinement, learning and dialect of its inhabitants. In a reference to Psalidas, whom he met in Ioannina, Byron was clearly impressed by the high repute of the scholar. Byron also recognised that in his flourishing school the best Greek was spoken, with the possible exception of Phanari in Constantinople with its very old traditions and schools.’
In Athens, at Tripolis the capital of the Peloponnese, and throughout the islands of the Aegean where commerce had flourished, schools were founded. Smyrna on the Asia Minor coast was endowed with a fine school by the Economou family who were merchants of considerable standing. A hundred kilometres north of Smyrna was Aivali, an important trading town which exported olives and oil to Europe. There, a famous school was founded by a native of Mytilene called Benjamin, also with financial help from the Economou family. This school flourished to such a degree that Byron, in his commentary on Greek education, wrote:
In Aivali there is an institution for a hundred students and three professors. The
principal professor named Benjamin is stated to be a man of talent, but a free
thinker, he was born in Lesbos, studied in Italy and is master of Hellenic, Latin and some Frank languages besides a smattering of the sciences
As a result of reforms under Sultan Selim III, Greeks were encouraged to found schools throughout the Turkish dominions. Morousis helped set up printing presses to publish articles and textbooks for this purpose, notably at Scutari onthe eastern shore of the Bosphorus, opposite Constantinople.
One of the most remarkable schools was founded in 1825 by the Philhellene Lord Guildford on the island of Corfu, one of the Ionian Islands under the Protectorate of the British government. Subjects included law, theology, humanities, science, and the fine arts. An extensive library of more than twenty thousand books was donated mainly by Lord Guildford himself, and the school was filled with students from the Ionian Islands
Byron summed up his observations of Greek education in 1809:
The whole number of the Greeks, scattered up and down the Turkish Empire and elsewhere, may amount, at most, to three millions; and yet, for so scanty a number, it is impossible to discover any nation with so great a proportion of books and their authors as the Greeks of the present century.
General Thomas Gordon, who fought on the side of the Greeks during the revolution, elaborated on the ramifications of this mass literacy in his Histom/ 0f the Cree/e War of Independence:
Amid the influx of wealth and the spreading of education, the long lost voice of patriotism began to be heard, and the past glories of Hellas were a theme not alone familiar to the scholar in his closet, but which tingled in the ears of the klepht on the mountainside, of the mariner on the Main and the tradesman behind his counter. The study of ancient classic writers drew the attention of young men entering the world to the history of their forefathers and roused a train of sentiments, promoted no doubt by the visits and researches of European travellers.
Many travellers recorded their impressions of Greece gained from short visits to Athens during grand tours in the early nineteenth century. General Gordon remarked that:
Many of these looked down with cold disdain upon the forlorn condition of a people, for whose ancestors they professed an extravagant veneration, unanimously concurring that the Greeks were not entitled to be independent because of their great moral and intellectual debasement.
Indeed it was in response to such comments that Lord Byron addressed the following:
M. Fauvel, the French Consul at Athens, has frequently declared in my hearing that the Greeks do not deserve to be emancipated; reasoning on the grounds of their national and individual depravity! While he forgot that such depravity is to be attributed to causes which can only be removed by the measure he reprobates.
At present, like the Catholics of Ireland and the Jews throughout the world, and such other cudgelled and heterodox people, they suffer all the moral and physical ills that can inflict humanity. Their life is a struggle against truth; they are vicious in their own defence. They are so unused to kindness, that when they occasionally meet with it they look upon it with suspicion.
They are ungrateful, notoriously abominably ungrateful — this is the general cry. Now in the name of Nemesis! For what are they to be grateful? Where is the human being that ever conferred a benefit on Greece or Greeks? They are to be grateful to the Turks for their fetters, and to the Franks for their broken promises and lying counsels. They are to be grateful to the artist who engraves their ruins and to the antiquary who carries them away; to the traveller whose janissary flogs them, and to the scribbler whose journal abuses them. This is the amount of their obligations to foreigners.
Gordon wrote: ‘Others, Lords Guildford and Byron in the forefront, addressed to the Greeks words of hope and comfort, and endeavoured to foster their regeneration.’
Greeks of this period began to think of themselves as Hellenes and not merely as ‘Romaioi’, the term by which they were collectively known during the Byzantine period. It was this recently emerged awareness of a national identity that rapidly accelerated their desire for independence. A Greek armed with an education and aware of his heritage could not regard himself as inferior to backward and illiterate Turks, no matter how powerful or omnipotent the Sultan might be. The spirit of Hellenism, so long departed from its birthplace, slowly revived and began to breathe life into the sleeping land.