The Greek War of Independence, which began in 1821, resembles the stuff of legend.
Despite all odds, the outnumbered, poorly armed Greeks fought against the Ottomans, an entire empire with a standing army which had conquered a large part of Europe and Asia Minor.
Enslaved for almost four centuries, Greeks finally said “no more” and launched an attack against the all-powerful Ottoman Empire.
“Freedom or Death” was their motto and, indeed, many gave their lives to liberate Greece and establish the modern Greek state.
The heroes were many, but some of their leaders stood out for bravery, contributing greatly to the noble cause and Greece’s eventual victory.
Theodoros Kolokotronis, the iconic leader of the Greek War of Independence
(April 3, 1770 – Feb. 4, 1843). Kolokotronis is the iconic leader of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.
Kolokotronis was born in Ramavouni in Messenia into a family of rebels and grew up in Arcadia in the central Peloponnese. The Kolokotronis clan was powerful and respected in Arcadia in the eighteenth century.
The Kolokotronis family had been in a constant state of war with the Ottomans since the sixteenth century, engaging in various acts of resistance.
From 1762 to 1806, seventy members of the wider Kolokotronis family were killed by the conquerors.
Kolokotronis’ greatest military success was the defeat of the Ottoman army under Mahmud Dramali Pasha at the Battle of Dervenakia in 1822.
In 1825, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Greek forces in the Peloponnese.
After the war, Kolokotronis became a supporter of Greece’s first governor, Ioannis Kapodistrias, and a proponent of an alliance with Russia.
When Kapodistrias was assassinated by a clan of Mani landowners on Oct. 8, 1831, Kolokotronis created his own administration in support of Prince Otto of Bavaria as king of Greece.
However, he later opposed Otto, and on June 7, 1834, he was charged with treason and sentenced to death. He was ultimately pardoned in 1835. Kolokotronis died in 1843 in Athens.
Georgios Iskos, later took on the surname Karaiskakis,
lived from Jan. 23, 1780 or Jan. 23, 1782, to April 23, 1827.
Karaiskakis was a famous Greek klepht, armatolos and military commander.
He was born in a monastery near the village of Mavrommati in the Agrafa mountains. At the age of fifteen he formed his first band of klephts, or Greek insurgents who fought against the Ottomans.
He was agile, cunning, brave and reckless – and rose quickly through the ranks, eventually becoming a lieutenant of the Katsantonis band of thieves.
He was killed in action on his Greek name day, April 23, 1827, fatally wounded by a bullet in a battle in Faliro, with some historians claiming that he was killed by a British bullet for political reasons.
Greek General Yannis Makriyannis
(1797–1864) Born Ioannis Triantaphyllou, he got his nickname from his tall figure, which literally translates to “Long John” in English.
Makriyannis was a Greek merchant, military officer, politician and author, best known today for his memoirs.
He joined the Greek uprising after being initiated into the Filiki Eteria secret society and was arrested after he was sent to the Peloponnese in March 1821 to observe developments there. He was arrested by the Turks and tortured after his mission became known.
During the war, he reached the rank of general and led his men to notable victories. After Greek independence was gained, he had a tumultuous public career, playing a prominent part in granting the first Constitution to the Kingdom of Greece. He was later sentenced to death but was pardoned.
Aside from being an invaluable source of historical and cultural information on the period, Makriyannis’ memoirs have also been called a “monument of Modern Greek literature,” as they are written in pure Demotic Greek. Indeed, its literary quality led Nobel laureate Giorgos Seferis to call Makriyannis one of the greatest masters of Modern Greek prose.
Athanasios Diakos, one of Greece’s greatest military commanders
(1788 – April 24, 1821) Diakos was a Greek military commander, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest military heroes of Greece.
Born Athanasios Nikolaos Massavetas in Phocis, in the village of Ano Mousounitsa, he was the grandson of a local klepht.
He was drawn to religion from an early age and was sent away by his parents to the Monastery of St. John The Baptist for his education.
He became a monk at the age of seventeen and, due to his devotion to faith and good temperament, was ordained a Greek Orthodox deacon not long afterward.
Local legend has it that while at the monastery, an Ottoman pasha paid a visit with his troops and was impressed by Diakos’ good looks. The young man took offense to the Turk’s remarks (and subsequent proposal) and killed the Turkish official.
Diakos was forced to flee into the nearby mountains and become a klepht. Soon afterward, he adopted the pseudonym “Diakos” (Deacon). He fought in several battles and his bravery was praised.
Diakos was captured by the Ottomans and was sentenced to death because he had killed many Ottoman fighters throughout the Greek War of Independence. His brutal execution by impalement also made him a martyr for the cause of Greek freedom.
Papaflessas, a priest and freedom fighter
(1788–1825) Born Georgios Dimitrios Flessas, Papaflessas was a Greek patriot, a priest and a government official from the ancient Flessas family.
A member of the secret society Filiki Eteria, he took the nickname Papaflessas, literally meaning Priest Flessas.
He was one of twenty-eight children — and rumor has it that he was a womanizer like his father had been. He was ordained to the highest position of priesthood, Archimandrites, in 1819.
In 1823, Papaflessas was named Minister of Internal Affairs and Chief of Police by the government of Prince Alexandros Mavrocordatos under the name Gregorios Dikaios, the name he had when he was in Filiki Eteria.
As a Minister, he instituted many reforms, established the mail system and built schools in various towns.
Papaflessas created the title of Inspector General for schools and was the first one to establish a “political convictions certificate” to be given to the friends of the government. He also took part in many battles against the Turks.
Papaflessas sided with the government when civil war erupted in 1824. He took part in the campaign in Messenia and the rest of the Peloponnese to suppress the rebels against the government.
During the civil war, he was initially on Theodoros Kolokotronis’ side, but later switched due to his personal ambitions.
Papaflessas was killed during the Battle of Maniaki on May 20, 1825, fighting against the forces of Ibrahim Pasha.
(1793 or 1795 – Sept. 2, 1877) Kanaris was a Greek Prime Minister and admiral after he fought bravely in the Greek War of Independence.
Kanaris was born and grew up on the island of Psara, close to the island of Chios in the Aegean. He gained his reputation in June of 1822 in the Battle of Chios, when the Greek naval forces under his command destroyed the flagship of Turkish admiral Nasuhzade Ali Pasha (or Kara-Ali Pasha) in revenge for the Chios Massacre.
The admiral was holding a celebration aboard his ship. But meanwhile, Kanaris and his men managed to place a fire ship next to it. When the flagship’s powder store caught fire, all the men aboard were instantly killed.
The Ottomans lost 2,000 men, including naval officers and common sailors, as well as Kara-Ali himself. Kanaris led further successful attacks against the Turkish fleet in Tenedos in November 1822 and on Samos in August 1824.
Kanaris was one of the few freedom fighters who had won the trust of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first Head of State of independent Greece. Kanaris served as minister in various governments and then as Prime Minister in the provisional government, from March 11-April 11, 1844.
He served a second term (Oct. 27, 1848 – Dec. 24, 1849) and as a Navy Minister in Mavrokordatos’ 1854 cabinet.
Manto Mavrogenous, a heroine of the Greek War of Independence
(1796 – 1848) This great lady was a heroine of the Greek War of Independence, a wealthy woman who decided to spend her entire fortune for the Hellenic cause.
Under her encouragement, her European friends contributed money and guns to the revolution.
Strangely, her contribution to the Greek revolution and her bravery are mostly praised by foreign historians, while Greeks underplayed the importance of her role.
Mavrogenous was born in Trieste, then part of the Austrian Empire, now part of Italy. She was the daughter of merchant and Filiki Eteria member Nikolaos Mavrogenis and Zacharati Chatzi Bati.
She was well-educated, multi-lingual and influenced by the Age of Enlightenment.
In 1809, she moved to Paros with her family, where she learned from her father that Filiki Eteria was preparing what would become known as the Greek War of Independence.
When the uprising started, she moved to Mykonos, the island of her family’s origin, and invited the leaders of Mykonos to join the revolution.
Mavrogenous left her family and moved to Nafplio in 1823, in order to be in the heart of the struggle. When the war ended, Ioannis Kapodistrias awarded her the rank of Lieutenant General and granted her a dwelling in Nafplio.
Andreas Miaoulis, a famed admiral
(20 May 1768 – 24 June 1835) Miaoulis was an admiral and politician who commanded Greek naval forces during the Greek War of Independence.
Miaoulis was born in Euboea to an Arvanite family and settled on the island of Hydra.
A corn merchant ship captain, he amassed great wealth and was chosen to lead the islands’ naval forces when they rose against the Ottoman Sultan.
Between May 1825 and January 1826, Miaoulis led the Greeks to victory in many skirmishes off Modon, Cape Matapan, Suda and Cape Papas.
Miaoulis died on June 24, 1835, in Athens. He was buried in Piraeus near the tomb of Themistocles, founder of the ancient Athenian Navy.
Odysseas Androutsos fought for Greek freedom
(1788–1825) Androutsos was born in Ithaca in 1788; however, his family was from the village of Livanates in Phthiotis prefecture.
His father was Andreas Androutsos, a klepht, and his mother was from Preveza.
After losing his father, Androutsos joined the Turkish army of Ali Pasha and became an officer; however, in 1818 he joined the Filiki Eteria, which was already plotting the liberation of the country through the Greek War of Independence.
In May 1821, Omer Vryonis, the commander of the Ottoman army, advanced with 8,000 men, after crushing the forces of the Greek resistance at the river of Alamana and killing Athanasios Diakos. The Ottomans then headed south into the Peloponnese to crush the Greek uprising.
Androutsos, with a band of about 100 men, took up a defensive position at an inn near Gravia, supported by Panourgias, Diovouniotis and their men. Vryonis attacked the inn but was pushed back with heavy casualties, as over 400 of his forces were killed. Finally, he was forced to ask for reinforcements and artillery but the Greeks managed to slip out before the reinforcements arrived.
Androutsos only lost two men in the battle and earned the title of Commander in Chief of the Greek forces in Roumeli.
Androutsos’ glory did not last long. In the following year, 1822, he was accused by political opponent Ioannis Kolettis of being in contact with the Turks and was stripped of his command.
Finally, in 1825, the revolutionary government placed him under arrest in a cave at the Acropolis of Athens. The new commander, Yiannis Gouras, who once was Androutsos’ second in command, had him executed on June 5, 1825.
Laskarina Bouboulina in the Greek War of Independence
(11 May 1771 – 22 May 1825) Bouboulina was a Greek naval commander, a true heroine of the Greek War of Independence.
She was born in a prison in Constantinople, but her origins were from the Arvanite community of the island of Hydra.
She was the daughter of a captain from the island, and had an extraordinarily unorthodox life for a woman at the time.
Boubloulina married twice, first to Dimitrios Yiannouzas and later to the wealthy ship owner and captain Dimitrios Bouboulis, taking his surname.
Bouboulina allegedly joined the Filiki Etairia to fight for Greek freedom. She bought arms and ammunition at her own expense and brought them secretly to Spetses in her ships, to fight “for my nation.”
She also organized her own armed troops, composed of men from Spetses. She used most of her fortune to provide food and ammunition for the sailors and soldiers under her command.
On March 13, 1821 Bouboulina raised her own Greek flag raised on the mast of her ship, based on the flag of the Comnenus dynasty of Byzantine emperors. Bouboulina sailed with eight ships to Nafplio and began a naval blockade. Later she took part in the naval blockade and capture of Monemvasia and Pylos.
Bouboulina arrived at Tripolis in time to witness its fall on Sept. 11, 1821 and to meet general Theodoros Kolokotronis.
Two of their children, Eleni Boubouli and Panos Kolokotronis, later married. During the ensuing defeat of the Ottoman garrison, Bouboulina saved and freed most of the female members of the Sultan’s household.