The Ottoman Empire conquered Byzantium including Greece and the Christian kindoms of the Balkans in the 15th centurty. As a result, Greece lived under Ottoman rule for four centuries. The Ottomans allowed the Greek to retain their Orthodox Christianity after the conquest. It was not until the French Revolution that the first real stirings for Greek independence began. The Ottomans were not involved in the Napoleonic Wars. The ideas generated by the Revolution did affect their Christian subjects in the Balkans. A Serbs revolt which was temporatily sucessful inspired the Greeks. The Greek revolt less than a decade after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It began in of all places Moldavia, but soon spread to the Peloponnese. From the beginning it was a bloody affair. The revolt was not clearly thought out or centrally led. Greek Christians targeted Muslims, including women and children. The Ottomans responded with massacres of their own. Ottoman excesses were widely reported in the Western press, creating great sympathy for the Greeks. The Greek attrocities were not well reported. The intervention of the Egyptian ruler Ali Pasha almost doomed the Greek rebellion, but the European powers intervened to guarantee Greek independence, eventually insisting that a monarchy be created to govern the country.
The Ottoman Empire conquered Byzantium including Greece and the Christian kindoms of the Balkans in the 15th centurty. As a result, Greece lived under Ottoman rule for four centuries. The Ottomans allowed the Greek to retain their Orthodox Christianity after the conquest. Islamic law had prescedence throughout the Empire, but the Greeks and other Christians were permitted to order their domestic affairs and interactions among fellow Christians. Theu could retain their culture and language.
It was not until the French Revolution that the first real stirings for Greek independence began. The Ottomans were not involved in the Napoleonic Wars as such, but the Russians made major advances.
Russia prevailed in another war with the Ottomans and received territorial concessions in the Treaty of Bucharest (1812). Other Russian conquests against Persia and in the Caucasus were confirmed in the treaties of Gulistan (1813) and Turkmanchai (1828). The ideas generated by the Revolution did affect their Christian subjects in the Balkans. A Serbian revolt was temporatily successful and inspired the Greeks.
The Congress of Vienna returned Europe to conservative monarchial rule after the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars had threatened the old order. This mean both conservative monarchy and the restoration of multi-national empires which controlled most of Europe. The Congress established a system that would guarantee European peace for half a century. It did not, however, include the Ottoman Empire in the settlement. The outbreak of national aspirations among the various national groups was generally ignored at the Congress by restablishing the rule of the Austrians, Prussians, and Russians over the various nationalities. The Ottoman Empire also ruled over many subject people.
The Holy Alliance was an outgrowth of the Congress of Vienna. It can be seen as the first international peace keeping orgamization because so many countries ascribed to it that it was much more than an alliance. Tsar Alexander I proposed a alliance of Austria, Prussia, and Russia to promote the Christian values of justice, love, and peace in European political life. The concern with peace was understandable after two decades of war. Justice of course was a term subject that meant something different to conservative mknarchists than the many subject people of Europe. The Alliance under the influence of Count Metternich became a bastion against the principles of the French Revolution. The three empires subscsribed to the Alliamce (September 26, 1815) Most other countries except Britain followed suit. The Alliance overlaps with the Quadruple and Quintuple Alliances to enforcevthe Congress of Vienna settlement. The other two countries were Britain and France (1818).
The Congress if Vienna did not address America. The Holy Alliance expressed some interest in Latin America affairs, especially the revolutions against Spain. This in part motivated the United Stattes enumciation of the Monroe Doctrine in U.S. President James Monroe message to Congress (1823). The United States had no means to oppose the great powers at the time, but the British were also opposed to European involvement. The independence movements in Latin America offered prospects for British trade. The Royal Navy's dominance at the time made European intervention impossible. The Holy Alliance was basically committed to defending the territorial integrity of of the Ottoman Empire. Allowing new states based on national identity to be formed out of the Ottoman Empire would set a dangerous precedence for the European empires (Austria, Prussia, and Russia). The Ottoman Empire and the Eastern or nationalities issue woukd prove increasingly difficult to deal with. Ottoman power was declining and the Empire would be called the "Sick Man of Europe" in the 19th century. The nationalities, in part because of the French Revolutions, were becoming increasingly restive and asertive. And the Holy Alliance's ability to act in unison was compromised by their rival imperialistic interests. The Holy Alliance is often seen as expiring with the death of Alexander (1825) who had been its moving force.
The Greek revolt began less than a decade after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It began in of all places Moldavia. The Russians who were also Orthodox Christians hadbeen fighting the Ottomans with increasing success. And many Greeks began to see the Tsar asa potential liberator.
Greeks were notable traders and Greek communities had been planted in ancient times throughout the Mediterranean and Black Sea. One such center was Odessa which the Russians had earlier seized from the Ottomans. Greeks in Odessa began plotting for what they would be a Christian uprising throughout the Balkans (Bulgars, Greeks, Romanians,and Slavs) (1814). Agents of the plotters claimed that they had the support of Tsarist officials. They did not. A small force inspired and led by the Greeks crossed the border into Moldavia, an Ottoman province. The group was primrily interested in Greek independence, but hope they would be supported by the other Christoan people in the Balkans. This did not occur and the Ottoman forces crushed the Greek-led Christian force.
The Greek-inspired force in Moldavia inspired Greeks in the Peloponnese to action. Thus the Greek Revolt soon appeared in Greece itself. While the Moldavian revolt failed, the revolt in the Peloponnese spread quickly. From the beginning it was a bloody affair. The revolt was not clearly thought out or centrally led. The Peloponnese rising was largely a spontaneous peasant rising. It was not organizrd and there was not central direction. Some individuals ttempted to seize control of the rising, but with little success. It was not only chaotic, it was extrodinarily bloody. Christiam peasants in the Peloponnese attacked Nuslims without mercy. They viciously looted Muslim homes and killed men, men, women, and children. They were not well armed. Few had fire arms, but whatthey used farm scythes, clubs and other items to attack Muslims. The Christian population in the Peloponnese rose in such numbers that the relatively small Ottoman force was unable to control it.
Authorities estimate that there were about 50,000 Muslims living in the Peloponnese in March 1821 when the revolt broke out. Within only a few weeks the peasants had killed 20,000 Muslim men, women and children.
The force and extent of the Peloponnese Revolt was unexpected by the Ottomans. Sultan Mahmud II ordered the arrest of Greek Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregorios V. The Patriarch was generally seen as the head of the Orthodox Church throughout the Empire. Ottoman authorities did not see the Peloponnese revolt as a spontaneous occurance. The Sultan accused Gregorios of treason and complicuty in the revolt (April 10). Mahmud ordered the Patriarch hanged.
The Greek attrocities in the Peloponnese were not widely reported in the European press. The execution of the Patriarch was. The coverage generally left the impression of an effort by the Sultan to supress the Christian people of Greece. The hanging of a clergyman was seen as a particularly heunious act. The reaction in Russia was especially shocked as the Patriarch was a respected figure in the Orthodox Church. The Tsar did not, however, react forcefully. He withdrew him ambassador, but took no further action. While there were religious afinitities, a peasant rebellion of a national group was not the kind of political event with which the Tsar looked on sympathetically. The Holy Alliance with Austria and Prussia was still very imporant to Tsar Alexader I. In addition the Tsar was at the time having to contend with the increasingly restive Poles.
The initial Greek revolt was in the Peloponnese, but it soon spread north crossing the Isthmus of Corinth. Uprisings were reported in central Greece (April). Soon there was disorders in Athens itself (May). Muslims in Athens retreated to the Acropolis to defend themselves fom Greek mobs.
The Greeks had almost total control of the Peloponnese. Muslims were routinely butchered by the Greeks. There are harrowing accounts as to what happened to the Muslims in the towns and villages taken over by the Greeks. When Petras fell to the Greeks the only Muslims who survived were those who managed to reach the town's fortress where a small garison managed to hold out. The Greeks beseiged
the small town of Monemvasia (August). when food ran out they surrendered and the victorious Greeks then killed all the survivors. Greek insurgents soon affter slaughtered the 2,000-3,000 Muslims of Navarino. The last major Greek victory in 1821 occurred at Tripolitsa where the Ottoman governor lived. The city had a population of 35,000 Turks, Albanians, Jews and others. When the Greeks took the city they went on a 2-day killing spree (October). Estimates suggest that the Greeks slaughtered 10,000 men, women, and children in addition to 2,000 prisoners. Reports also desribe widespread raping. The Greeks tortured individuals thought to have money and other valuables to get them to reveal the locatiom of their valuables. Bodies were thrown down wells and thousands of Greeks died when diseases spread. . The taking of Tripolitsa in October was the final Greek success for the year 1821. The onlt Ottoman presence left in the Peloponnese was a fortresses in Patras and Nauplia and two vety small forts..
The Ottomans responded with massacres of their own. As with the Greeks, many of these actions were not centrally directed. The first actions were taken against the easily accessable Greeks in Constantinople. The famed Janissaries were at odds with the Sultan and busied themselves by attacking Christians and not just Greek Christians. The sultan brought in loyal troops from from the Turkish Anatolian hearland. They were used to supress the Janissaries. One of the first Ottoman military offensives occurred at the Agean Island of Chios where about 100,000 people lived (early 1822). The Ottomons landed on the islands. The Ottoman military force backed by Muslim civilians attacked the Greek population. Some of the Ottoman officers tried to restrain their men and civilians, but about 25,000 Greeks were slaughtered. Some od the islanders managed to escape on boats that came from the mainland to rescue them and others were able to bribe their way to safty. Finally the Ottomons rounded up the survivors who were sold Anatolian slave markets. A noted Delacroix work depicts the Ottoman action (figure 1).
The Greeks becam their revolt without any kind of organized military. One advantage they had was a naval superority. Greece has a long established sedaring tradition. Many Greeks had extensive experiences at sea. Many Ottoman ships were manned by Greek sailors who after the Greek revolt began left their Ottoman ships in karge numbers. The Ottomans had to recruit Tirks, often individuals with no maritime experience.
The Greek revolt continued to expand. The Greeks captured areas along the western coast north of the Peloponnese. They also took Athens and Thebes. This left the Greeks in control of large areas of the country, including west and east-central Greece as well as most of the Aegean islands. As a result of their success, the Greeks formally declared independence, "We, descendants of the wise and noble peoples of Hellas, we who are the contemporaries of the enlightened and civilized nations of Europe, we who behold the advantages which they enjoy under the protection of the impenetrable aegis of the law, find it no long possible to suffer without cowardice and self-contempt the cruel yoke of the Ottoman power which has weighed upon us for more than four centuries - a power which does not listen to reason and knows no other law than its own will, which orders and disposes everything despotically and according to caprice."
A major weakness of the Greek insurgents was the lack of unity. Here the major problem was the absence of any kind of united political organization. The revolt had begun as a spotabeous peasabt uprising. Greek intelectuals and political groups then joined the movement. It proved difficult, however, to create any common front because their was no consensus as to the kind of Greek state that should emerge after independence. Here the political factions were very complicated. Some wanted to create a state that would tolerate Muslims while others wanted to expel all Muslims. The Notables who had held positions underv the Ottomans wanted posts in the new government. Important military commanders wanted politicalmpower in the new government. Ship owners who had played an important rolecwanted political rewards. Liberal intellectuals often highly nationalistic influenced bu the French Revolution wanted a representative parliament and some had anti-clerical attitudes. Conservatives tended to be more religiously oriented, seeing the strugle less in national terms and more of a conflict between Christian Orthodoxy and Islam. They pushed for an authoritarian role for Orthodox Church. The absebce of a unified rebel organization severly hurt the struggle. Three jnstable and short term provisional governments were forned and quickly collapsed.
Worse still, fighting broke out aming the Greek insurgents. Greeks on the Aegean island of Psara began fighting other Greeks on Samos. This and other issues adversely affected the discipline and cohesion among the Greek fleet which had been their one real advantage. Even so, a new Ottoman admiral proved a failure and was unable to take advantage of the Greek disoeder. Fighting between Greeks contunued to increase (1824). This almost cost the Greeks their newly won independence.
The intervention of the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali (Ali Pasha) almost doomed the Greek rebellion.Infighting mong the Greeks gave Sultan Mahmud II time to prepare a renewed offensive against the Greeks. And the Greeks lost valuable time in which they could prepared a united command.
Mahmud II decided to seek an alliance with his governor of Egypt, Muhammad Ali and his son Ibrahim.
Ali was nominally a subordinate to the Sultan. Ali had, however, turned Egypt into a quasi independent country. He had alsp spent lavishly on an army which he equipped with modern arns.
He also had built a sizeable navy. Sultan Mahud dangled Crete before Muhammad Ali. He also offered Ibrahim the Peloponnese. Mahmud also promised concessions in Syria. Ibrahim landed in Greece with his Egyptian army (1825). His navy was able to establish control of the Greek coast and Aegean islands. Ottoman forces retook Athens, the Peloponnese, as well as Missolonghi in the west. Despite the military disaster, feuding politicans claiming to be the Greek presidents and rival assemblies squabeled for control of the shrinking Greek states. Missolonghi wasa particularly important symbol. This was where Lord Byron died (1824). The Greeks there held out for months against a beseiging force. The struggle was widely reported in European newspapers and the Greeks depicted as heroic warriors. Ibrahim delr severely with the Greeks in the areas he occupied. Large areas of gGreece were devestated. The Ottomans reoccupied most of Greece and had defeated major Greek forces. The organized oppistion was largely reduced. Ottoman authorities claimed to have won the War (July 1827).
The Ottomans had in fact largely won the military campaign. They had, however, lost the propaganda campaign. Lord Byron had played a role in making the Greek struggle for independence a romantic struggle in the eyes of many Europeans. Ottoman excesses were widely reported in the Western press, creating great sympathy for the Greeks. The Greek attrocities were not well reported.
The Western public had followed the struggle for Missolonghi cloesly. It became a heroic resistance to "barbaric" Turks in the eyes of the Europeans. The fall of Missolonghi brought about a new wave of support for the Greek cause throught Europe. Increasingly the European public came to believe that Greece was to an important part of European civilization to be allowedcto disappear again into the Ottoman Empire. And there was more than justsympathy. London financiers approved loans to the Greeks. The Greek cause was aided by of money and volunteers from abroad. European Government began to pressure the Greeks to put aside their differences. Here Austria was notably absent.
The European powers intervened to guarantee Greek independence. Ibrahim's tactics resulted in a joint demonstration by Britain, France and Russia. They demanded that the Ottomans accept an armistice and that Ibrahim withdraw his forces from the Peloponnese. As this was to be his reward, he refused. In response the joint British, French and Russian fleet entered Navarin Bay. There they fought the Battle of Navarino with Ibrahim's Egyptian navy (October 1827). It was the last last important naval battle with sailing ships. Ibrahim's navy was completely destroyed. Without naval support, the Ottomon position in Greece was untenable. France landed troops in the Peloponnese (October 1828). French protection gave the Greeks the opportunity to reorganize a military force and form a government. Greek forces moved north and retook Athens and Thebes as well as other territory. At this point the European powers imposed a ceasefire.
Greek freedom figters created a Republic and elected Count Ioannes Kapodistrias (John Capdistriaas) the first president in 1827. A republican government of course is not what the European powers wanted for Greece. Republican rule in Europe was still associated with the French Revolution and not acceptable to the Great Powers who after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo (1815) had turned Europe back to monarchial rule. Disorder followed the end of War of Independence. There was public disatisfaction with the limited borders of newly independent Greece. Kapodistrias tried to rule dictitorially and was assasinated (1831). Civil war broke out.
Many Greek Orthodox Christians looked on the Russians as their patrons. But it was the British and French who intervened to save the Greeks and guarantee the creation of an indpendent Greek state. The Russiansd did move gainst the Ottomans (1828). The Russians made gains and the War was ended with the Treaty of Adrianople (1829). But Balkan politics are anything but simple. Muhammad Ali in Egypt had assisted his Ottoman overseers in Greece, but later became an increasing threat. The Russians provided assistance to the Ottomans against Ali. This was followedc with a Russo-Turkish alliance (1833). This greatly concerned Britain and France. The Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia, Austria, and Prussia), however, managed to reach agreement on Egypt, the statis of which had become a serious issue. The London Treaty (1840) ptovided international support for the Ottoman Empire's territorial integrity.
They refused at accept the Greek Republic as the legitimate government of Greece. They approved the London Protocol of 1830 which declared Greece to be an independent kingdom under their protection. Britain, France, Russia and Bavaria signed a treaty guaranteeing Greek indeoendence. Even so the new state was disappointing to many Greeks. The boundaries left large numbers of Greeks still under Ottoman domination. The new Greek state was made up of Athens, central Greece and the Peloponnese. Areas the Greeks had wanted (Thessaly, Macedon, Thrace and Epirus) were left under Ottoman control, These and other areas of the Blakans had experienced considerable population movement. As a result, there were populations of non-Greeks. Areas with largely Greek populations (Crete, the Dodecanese islands and the region around Smyrna) were also not included in the new Greek state.
The Greeks finally achieved their independence. The new Greek state was recognized by the European powers (1832). There was an independent Greek state, but the European powers that helped created it claimed the right to participate in Greek affairs. In particular they wanted Greece to be a kingdom. They even chose the new king. Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was offered the Greek crown, but he declined. Next they chose the son of Ludwig I of Bavaria, Otto of Wittlesbach. He was still a teenagers when he became King Otto of Greece. He did not prove to be a popular choice, but the threat of Great Power intervention kept him on the throne. Otto was only 17 years of age so a Bavarian regency was established to rule the war-devestated county. The Bavarians ruled imperiously, imposing high taxes and attempted to set up a centarlized bureacracy. Some of the German influence in Greece, such as in Greek art and academia, probably originate with the Bavarian monarchy. Greeks complained that they paid higher taxes than they paid under Ottoman rule. Also King Otto who was a Roman Catholic refused to convert to Orthodoxy. And for his wife he declined to marry a Greek which would have neen well received. He instead married a German princess from Oldenburg (1837). The wedding was even held in Germany. The new queen proved unpopular.
A bloodleess revolt occurred in 1843. Otto was compeled to dismiss his Bavarian advisers and accept a democratic constitution. His unpopularity inceased when in 1854 supported France and England when war broke out in the Crimea. An army revolt and subsequent national assembly deposed Otto in 1862. The Great Powers acquised.
The Greek War of Independence was only the first step in the Balkan struggle for independence. The struggle was complicated, however, by Great Power disagreements as the how the Ottoman territory should be divided up. For a while to avoid conflict among themselves, the Greast Powers adscribed to the principle of preserving tghe territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire. Gradually the conflict between Russia and Austria became increasingly pronounced in the Balkans. Another major problem became conflicts between the emerging Balkan sttes. During the five centuries of Ottoman rule, there was considererable population mixing as well as shifts un population. Thus the questiin of how to draw borders became a very difficult one. The various Balkin conflicts might seem obscure to many readers. It should be remembered, however, that it was in the Balkans as an out-growth of the Russian-Austrian rivalry that the spark that set off World War I occurred.
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Main specific 19th century war essay page]
[Return to Main military style page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]