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Greeks Revolted More than 100 Times Before the War of Independence

Greek Revolt
Greece as personified by a woman, in the painting “Grateful Hellas” by Theodoros Vryzakis, 1858. Public Domain

The many Greek revolts leading up to the War of Independence started as early as 1481, with Greeks taking up arms against the Ottomans 123 separate times before 1821.

The first uprising took place on the Mani peninsula in 1481, when Korkodeilos Kladas and the fierce Mani fighters rose up against the Ottomans.

With encouragement — but not actual help — from the western powers of the time, the Greek rebels reached all the way to Epirus, liberating the region of Himara.

However, Epirus was soon taken back and the Greeks fled. Nine years later, the Ottomans arrested Kladas and skinned him alive as a barbaric punishment.

In the late 15th century the last scion of the Byzantine imperial house, Andreas Palaiologos, who had fled to Italy attempted to raise the flag of revolution in Turkish-occupied Greece.

Palaiologos traveled around Europe several times in search of a ruler who could aid him in retaking Constantinople but rallied little support. The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who had conquered Constantinople in 1453, died in 1481, and his two sons Cem and Bayezid fought a civil war over who would succeed him.

Seeing his opportunity, Andreas attempted to organize an expedition in southern Italy during the summer of 1481 to cross the Adriatic Sea and restore the Byzantine Empire.

The excursion was canceled in the autumn after Bayezid had successfully stabilized his rule. Although Palaiologos maintained hope of recapturing at least the Morea throughout his life, he never returned to Greece.

From 1492 and onward, the winds of revolution took the form of a crusade, after Charles VIII of France joined the cause as an ally.

Charles VIII was eager to assert his right to Naples and use it as a base for a crusade against the Ottoman Turks. He announced in a decree to all Christian nations on 22 November 1494 that his invasion of Italy represented the first step to driving out the Turks and freeing the Holy places.

However, a coalition of Christian states was at the same time allying themselves against Charles, who was forced to return to France.

Greek revolt in the 16th century and the Battle of Nafpaktos

From 1522 to 1533, there were several minor armed uprisings in various parts of Greece, all resulting in cruel massacres of the rebels:

In Rhodes, Metropolitan Efthymios and all the clergy and local administrators were slaughtered.

In Moreas (the Peloponnese), the knights of Malta who had joined the uprising in Methoni, fled when they saw the Ottoman forces arriving, leaving the Greeks to their fate.

The uprising in Epirus in 1565, resulting in the Turks kidnapping children to turn them into Ottoman soldiers, ended in a bloody defeat.

In October 1571, the Holy League, a coalition of the Catholic powers, including Spain and Venice, arranged by Pope Pius V, dealt a major blow against the Ottomans.

The Holy League fleet met with the Ottoman ships leaving the Nafpaktos (Lepanto in Venetian) naval base in a historical naval battle.

The Christian fleet destroyed 117 galleys and 20 galliots and some 50 other ships in that action. Approximately 10,000 Turks were taken prisoner, and many thousands of Christian slaves were rescued.

The Christian side suffered around 7,500 deaths; the Turkish side about 30,000. After that seminal battle, the Ottoman fleet was no longer a threat to the West.

The victory of the Holy League rekindled the hopes of the Greeks, as thousands of them belonged to the crews of the Christian ships.

However, local revolts in Parnassida, Thessaloniki, Patras and the Aegean were drowned in blood. The metropolitans of Patras and Thessaloniki were burned alive for the parts the played in revolts agains the Ottomans.

In 1585, new revolts in Acarnania and Epirus liberated Vonitsa, Xiromero, Arta and marched on to Ioannina. Yet they were also defeated, with many left dead on the battlefileds.

Greek Revolt
“The Battle of Lepanto,” by Andries van Eertvelt. Public Domain

17th century revolts against the Ottomans

From 1609 to 1624, the Duke of Nevers Charles Gonzaga, France, and the Greeks organized an ambitious plan to drive the Turks out of Greece and created a Christian Army to join the rebels.

The plan never materialized fully. However, during these fifteen years, the people of Mani revolted several times.

In 1616, the Metropolitan Dionysios of Trikki led the villagers in a campaign to Ioannina and captured the city. He was finally defeated, captured and skinned alive.

In 1659, a new revolution broke out on the Mani Peninsula that lasted until 1667, also ending in defeat, with many Maniots fleeing to the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

The revolution took place while the Morean War was taking place as part of the wider conflict between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire. The people of Mani allied with the Venetians against the Ottoman rulers.

Military operations ranged from Dalmatia to the Aegean Sea, but the war’s major campaign was the Venetian conquest of the Morea (Peloponnese) peninsula in southern Greece.

The Morean War was the only Ottoman–Venetian conflict from which Venice emerged victorious, gaining significant territory. Venice’s expansionist revival would be short-lived, as its gains would be reversed by the Ottomans in 1718.

At the same time, from 1660 and onward, many small uprisings took place in Greece — almost all instigated by the Venetians.

Greek revolt and Russia

From 1711 and onward, another great power was involved in the Greeks’ effort to get rid of the Ottomans.

In 1711, the all-powerful Tsar of Russia, Peter the Great, issued a proclamation calling upon the Greek people to revolt.

Peter also styled himself as the “Emperor of Russia,” feeding the imagination of Greeks who longed for the great days of the Byzantine Empire and Christian faith.

Peter’s name was even included in the Church’s liturgies, while prophesies spoke about salvation that “the blonde race will bring.”

Fifty-five years later, the grand plans of Russia’s Catherine the Great led to the uprising of 1766 and the Orlov revolt of 1770.

Tragically, the Greek rebels were abandoned yet again by a great power, and were forced to fight alone. They fought in Morias until the year 1779, succeeding in some battles and regaining some territories.

In 1780, the Turks set out to defeat the rebels in Morias. It was then that the great leader Konstantinos Kolokotronis resisted for a total of twelve days in Mani and then made a heroic exit. Most of his forces were killed.

His son, the 10-year-old Theodoros Kolokotronis, who eventually became one of the greatest leaders of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, was among the few that survived.

In 1788, Souli revolted, while, in the same year, the small fleet of Lambros Katsonis, a naval officer in the Russian army, started dealing blows to the Ottomans in battles at sea through 1790.

When in 1792 Russia and Turkey signed a peace treaty, Katsonis refused to lay down his arms and issued a proclamation, in which he denounced Catherine the Great.

In the proclamation, he also declared that Greeks would fight their own War of Independence alone.

The revolution of the Souliotes ended on December 1803 with a treaty that allowed them to leave the battlefield with their own weapons. However, Ali Pasha did not keep his promise and chased them.

A group of Souliotes was found in Riniasa by a group of Albanians, who slaughtered them. Despo Botsi, along with her ten daughters and grandchildren, fortified herself in Dimoulas.

The Albanians besieged the Souliotes, who resisted bravely. In the end, they blew themselves up, so as not to fall into the hands of the enemy alive.

The Souliot Kitsos Botsaris and his men continued the fight in western Greece until he himself fell into the trap of false promises by Ali Pasha and was killed.

Greek Revolt
“Theodoros Kolokotronis and his Men,” by Peter von Hess. Public Domain

Prelude to the Greek War of Independence

But a new revolutionary wind was blowing throughout Greece by 1806, as the Russians and the French army of Napoleon competed over who would join the Greeks against the Ottomans.

However, once again, the insurgents were abandoned to their fate and the Turks unleashed their fury on the rebelling Greeks.

In Morias, the Turkish rulers demanded the execution of the entire Kolokotronis family. Theodoros Kolokotronis and his compatriots fought for months in Morias.

In the end, Kolokotronis and his men were forced to move to the island of Kythera and from there, to flee to the island of Zakynthos.

Yet, at the same time, Nikotsaras, in Central Greece, and Giannis Stathas, who was forced to flee to Skiathos and construct a fleet of 70 boats, continued the fight. Their revolt forced the Sublime Porte to begin negotiations with the revolutionaries.

Throughout Greece, liberty became a cause instead of a wish.

Just a few years later, on March 25, 1821 the rebels took up arms for the 124th time. But this time, fate would not deny them their freedom.

This marked the beginning of the Greek War of Independence which led to liberation and the birth of the modern Greek State.


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