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Philhellenes Who Fought in Greek War of Independence

Greek War of Independence
Depiction of Philhellenes who came to Greece in 1822 by Rene Puaux. Credit: Wikipedia

Philhellenes who fought in the Greek War of Independence will be honored by a museum that will open its doors soon in Greece, in celebration of the bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence.

The new “Museum of Philhellenism,” which will record the evolution of the entire Philhellenic movement across the world in the times of the Greek Revolution will open its doors in less than a month, in early March.

The announcement was made by Attica Regional Governor George Patoulis and the representative of the Society for Hellenism and Philhellenism (EEF), Konstantinos Velentzas.

The new museum will feature more than 2,000 works of art and items from the collection of Konstantinos Velentzas which have been inaccessible to the general public up until now.

The exhibits include paintings of the Greek War of Independence by European painters of the early nineteenth century, as well as bronze, porcelain, fabric, wood and paper artifacts, weapons from the War, over 250 first-edition philhellenic books, scores of philhellenic music, and letters written by Greek fighters and philhellenes.

Among the vast collection, there will be some personal belongings of Lord Byron, the beloved British romantic poet who died in Greece 1824 after fighting for for the liberation of Greece from the Ottoman Empire.

Philhellenism prior to the Greek Revolution

Hundreds of foreign volunteers came to the aid of the Greek people who thirsted for freedom after almost 400 years of Ottoman rule. They became brothers in arms in the eyes of the fighting Greeks, and heroes to those who were eventually liberated.

Liberal-minded, educated, and prosperous middle and upper-class Europeans had a romantic notion of Ancient Greece, its philosophy, its art and architecture and the ideal democratic state that Athens had been long ago.

In this heady atmosphere, the Greek uprising in 1821 constituted a source of inspiration and awoke many romantic expectations in the hearts of many in the West.

Writings of Scythian traveler Anacharsis

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the philosophy of Scythian traveler Anacharsis became very popular in France through the writings of Jean-Jacques Barthélemy.

Anacharsis, who lived in the 6th century BC, traveled to Athens around 530 BC to become the first foreigner to receive the privileges of Athenian citizenship at the time of Solon the great legislator.

Barthélemy’s fanciful “Travels of Anacharsis the Younger in Greece,” published in 1788, was a learned imaginary travel journal, one of the first historical novels, which a modern scholar called “the encyclopedia of the new cult of the antique” in the late 18th century.

The book had a great impact on the growth of philhellenism in France: the volume went through many editions, was reprinted in the United States and was translated into German and other languages.

The book later inspired European sympathy for the Greek War of Independence and spawned sequels and imitations throughout the 19th century.

In Great Britain, many well-known philhellenes supported the Greek Independence Movement such as Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas Moore, Leigh Hunt, Cam Hobhouse, Walter Savage Landor and Jeremy Bentham.

Philhellenes fight for Greece

Byron was among hundreds of Europeans — many of them veterans of the Napoleonic Wars — and Americans, who joined the struggle for independence, inspired by ancient Greek ideals.

The volunteers were shocked to find most modern Greeks illiterate and ignorant of their glorious past, but they helped the Greek guerrillas with funds, arms, equipment and expertise in both combat and medical matters.

Former opponents in the Napoleonic Wars, many found themselves fighting shoulder to shoulder in Greece’s war of liberation.

Among the Philhellenes was Carl Rodolfo Brom, who later helped establish Germany’s first unified naval fleet.

As early as May of 1821, chieftain Petrobey Mavromichalis addressed a letter to the citizens of America asking for support and help. Jonathan Peckham Miller accordingly joined the forces in Greece and fought as a volunteer in many battles. When he left the Greek army he was promoted to the rank of colonel.

Heroic American fighter George Jarvis

Another American philhellene volunteer was George Jarvis, who fought with unimaginable courage against the Ottomans on the plain of Tripoli. As a result of an attack by the Ottomans, Jarvis had sustained a major injury to his leg and could not move.

The Greek fighters believed that they had no alternative but to abandon him where he lay. The Ottomans soon surrounded him, ready for the kill. Jarvis, however, refusing to bow down, managed to get to a position on the battlefield that allowed him a clear rifle shot at anyone who tried to approach him.

This act seems to have moved his comrades-in-arms, who returned and rescued him. This  story of heroism was told by Jonathan Peckham Miller in his book on the Greek Revolution entitled “The Condition of Greece in 1827 and 1828.”

In the book, Miller relates the story of Jarvis, the son of diplomat Benjamin Jarvis, who fought in thirteen naval and army battles and at some point, Lord Byron was under his command in Messolonghi until the death of the latter.

Samuel Gridley Howe was a Harvard school of medicine graduate who decided to leave America to come to Greece. He arrived in 1825 and served in the Greek army, first as a regular volunteer soldier and then as a doctor-surgeon.

Howe fought the Ottomans in several battles and soon became one of the most well-regarded of all philhellenes. In 1827 he returned to America and raised $60,000, which he donated to Greece a year later to help in the building of the new nation.

George Wilson from Rhode Island was another American who fought as a gunman in the Greek fleet, notably in the great battle against the Turkish navy in Nafpaktos Bay.

James Williams, an African-American from Baltimore, who was a cook in Lord Cochran’s Greek fleet, also fought at Nafpaktos.

The Greek War of Independence was won at last thanks to the military intervention of Britain, France and Russia, which defeated the Ottomans and Egyptians in the decisive naval battle of Navarino in 1827.

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