“The Modern Greek Enlightenment and Revolution” – An original history research paper by rootsnwingz

Historical Background

On the 29th of May 1453, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, was conquered after a long siege by the Ottoman armed forces, led by the twenty-one-year-old Fatih Sultan Mehmed II. The siege of Constantinople by the Ottomans signified the fall of Byzantium and the end an era, that is its millennium-long reign in the Mediterranean region. In addition, it meant that most of the geographical area that is today known as Greece, fell under Turkish rule.   The Ottoman occupation of Greece lasted for the following four hundred years, a period commonly referred to as Tourkokratia (Τουρκοκρατία) (Cogg C 1992, 3). The Tourkokratia is usually considered an oppressive time, mainly due to the imposition of religious restrictions, heavy, unjust taxation and the practice of Paidomazoma (Παιδομάζωμα) or Janissary levy, which translates from Greek as the gathering of children. This practice refers to the enforced obligation of each and every Christian family to surrender their best looking and most intelligent children to be raised as Muslim; the corps of the Janissaries would then conscript these Greek-in-origin youths and train them to be elite soldiers (Clogg C 1992, 14). Significantly, because of the Paidomazoma, Greeks were forced to fight alongside Turks and, most often, against fellow Christian populations.

However, the outbreak of the Greek Revolution, also known as the Greek War of Independence, did not begin until March 1821, after nearly four hundred year of atrocities, economic decline and oppression. The outbreak is celebrated on March 25th every year by tradition not because the revolution actually began that day. In the 18th and 19th century, we observe in Europe the growth of certain liberal movements, including revolutionary nationalism, Philhellenism and the Diafotismos (Διαφωτισμός), i.e. the modern Greek Enlightenment. Furthermore, in 1814, a secret organization, Philiki Etairia (Φιλική Εταιρεία), is founded. Driven by the ideas of the Enlightenment, the goal of these Greek revolutionaries was to overthrow Turkish rule.

In 1828, following seven years of violent revolts and battles, both on land and at sea, the Ottomans surrendered and were forced out of the Peloponnese and Central Greece. In May 1832, the Convention of London takes place, where Greece is finally recognized by the Great Powers (Russia, France, U.K.) as a free, independent, but monarchical, nation. The Greek Kingdom’s initial territory after the end of the revolution solely included the limited territorial gains of the war. Interestingly, Greece did not have jurisdiction over the entire geographical region it controls today until as late as 1947, that is after World War II.

Introduction of Topic & Methodology

            In a nutshell, my project consists of using primary sources in order: a) to assess to what extent the Diafotismos was an anti-imperial and anti-colonial ideology and b) to gain an in-depth understanding of how the transmission of its radical ideas contributed to the successful Greek uprising and revolution in 1821 against the Ottoman rule. These were my central initial research questions. Therefore, my intention is to take advantage of my knowledge of modern Greek and use the writings of the key intellectuals of the movement, i.e. Adamantios Korais and Rigas Pheraios, with the goal of forwarding my central argument, mainly that the Diafotismos was vital to the Greek uprising. Since there is notable overlap between the Greek Enlightenment and the Philhellenism in Western Europe, I also intend to use the writings of second-generation English Romantic poets, especially Lord Byron. The aim here is to better comprehend the Western powers’ attitude towards Greek nationalists as well as the Turkish rulers. In effect, the literary work of these intellectuals, both the philhellenes and the proponents of the Diafotismos, prepared the grounds for an uprising and influenced the outcome of the revolution. Finally, I will attempt to determine whether one can rightfully speak, in general, of a subaltern, anti-colonial Enlightenment. Secondary sources on the Philiki Etairia and its role are also implemented. Moreover, some secondary sources are used on the humanitarian intervention at the battle of Navarino to better comprehend the Western powers’ a) sympathetic attitude towards Greek nationalists and b) their problems with the Turkish rulers.

Thesis & Original Contribution

Essentially, Greece’s successful revolution was not an isolated event but more of a seven year long process. It can be attributed to numerous anti-imperial factors, both internal (e.g. Philiki Etairia, Diafotismos) and external (e.g. philhellenism, the decline of the Ottoman Empire, military and navy assistance, other European intellectual movements, complex diplomatic relations, etc.). So how important was the Diafotismos really? Would Greece have gained independence regardless? In this essay, I will argue that, as a matter of fact, the Modern Greek Enlightenment’s most important accomplishment and contribution to the War of Independence is that it served as the awakening instrument, which laid down the intellectual foundations for the Greek struggle of independence by exacerbating nationalism and by planting the seed of freedom. Beyond that, other factors led up to the ultimate success of the revolution and Greece’s recognition as an independent nation. In this light, my essay’s original contribution to the subject of Empire is the challenge to the notion of a general anti-imperial European Enlightenment movement, whereas its chief goal is to delineate the roles of philhellenism, Diafotismos and intervention within the framework of the Greek revolution.

Philiki Etairia (Φιλική Εταιρεία)

“Greece represents the only case in modern European history of a national revolution organized by a secret society” (Mackenzie 1996, 157). Notably, in Greek, Philiki Etairia means Society of Friends. This major organization was founded in 1814 by three impoverished Greek merchants in the Russian port of Odessa who shared a common spirit of patriotism and hatred towards Turkish tyranny, Nikolaos Skouphas, Emmanouil Xanthos and Athanasios Tsakalov, with the purpose of unifying the struggle for independence and coordinating Greece’s insurrection and liberation (Mackenzie 1996, 160). These three founders were, in simple terms, fed up with the condition in their fatherland and dreamt of a free Greece. The Etairia was similar to its contemporary European secret societies in its structure for it “developed an elaborate ritual based on that of Freemasonry” and initially comprised of “four grades of membership and…a supreme authority, or Central Committee, whose membership was to remain secret” (Mackenzie 1996, 161).

philiki (Clogg C 1992,34)

At first recruitment efforts were fruitless because most people viewed the society’s goal as a mad and unattainable one, but expansion did eventually come along in 1818, when the base of the organization moved to Constantinople (Mackenzie 1996, 162). Secrecy was fundamental to the Philiki Etairia and they took its protection from exposure very seriously. Recruitments were conducted via twelve apostles, each of which was assigned to a different region of Greece. Newly recruited members had to take a “Great Oath” of silence and loyalty that did not permit any talk of the society and its operations, not even amongst family members or friends. Further, when one of the members, Galatis, threatened to reveal the conspiracy to the Turks, the founding fathers had him quietly assassinated (Mackenzie 1996, 162). Not all members had access to the same amount of information about Philiki Etairia. It all depended on money, influence and education. The most illiterate and poor civilians paid minimal dues and received only minimal information. In contrast, the “top two grades of priest and shepherd were restricted to wealthy and educated Greeks who for larger financial contributions were provided with much information” (Mackenzie 1996, 162). This can be summed up in the following way: the more one had to offer the society, the more secrets one was let in on.

To ensure permanent conversion and loyalty, anyone who disobeyed or betrayed the Philiki Etairia, would be punished; additionally, initiates had to swear the Great Oath dedicating themselves to their country; and finally, initiation rituals were adopted “that reflected a highly traditional, largely rural Greek society, such as blood brotherhood” (Mackenzie 1996, 163). A translation into English of the most important passages of the Great Oath follows:

            “I voluntarily swear before the true God that I want to be faithful to the Society in every respect and for all time. I will not reveal the least of the symbols, nor of the words, nor will I ever give them to understand that I know anything about these things in any way, neither to any relative, nor to my confessor, nor to any friend.

            I swear that I will nourish in my heart undying hatred towards the tyrants of my country, their followers and those who think like them, I want to carry out in all ways damage towards them and, when circumstances permit, their complete ruination.

            I swear that, just as I was received into the society, so I wish to receive brethren, I will use every means and every caution until I know whether he is indeed a devoted Hellene, and a defender of our unfortunate homeland, a virtuous and good man, worthy to keep the secret and to catechize someone else.

            I swear that I will always take care to be virtuous in my conduct, I will be reverent in my religion, without despising others, that I will always give a good example, that I will help, advise and assist the sick, the unfortunate and the weak, that I will respect the justice, customs, laws and rulers of the country in which I find myself.

            Finally, I swear to you, O holy and wretched Motherland! I swear by your long years of suffering. I swear by the bitter tears, which your wretched children have shed for such centuries! By my own tears, which flow at this minute! To the future freedom of my compatriots I dedicate all myself to you! In the future you will be the cause and object of my thoughts, your name the guide of my actions and your happiness the reward of my efforts! Let divine justice empty over my head all the thunderbolts of its justice, let my name be held in contempt and myself be the curse of anathema of my compatriots if I should forget for one moment their misfortunes and if I do not fulfill my duty and let death be the inevitable punishment for my sin, so as not to defile the sanctity of the Society with my participation” (Clogg 1976, 178-179).

The Great Oath speaks for itself. Evidently, it was something to be taken very seriously and anyone who swore it was bound to serve the society at any cost in the name of the country’s freedom.

After 1820, the society’s priority changed from loyalty to recruitment. In other words, the primary goal now was to extend its network by enlisting the maximum number of members possible. As a result, the disparate and scattered Greece was quickly unified and its resources were effectively pre-mobilized (Mackenzie 1996, 164). Before the revolution had even officially begun, the Etairia had enlisted representatives from almost every social and regional group in Greece, from intellectuals and priests to merchants and the middle-class.

occupationsphilet(Clogg S 1973, 88)

            But, it is critical to note here that claiming that the Philiki Etairia was a purely national coalition in which class and regional interests were submerged in the interests of the fatherland is not entirely true because in the pre-modern and rural Greek society before the revolution, one’s loyalty was to family above all, not the country or nation and for most Greeks, the idea of fatherland was equivalent to the village or local region (Mackenzie 1996, 164). However, Greek communities outside Greece, i.e. in the diaspora, were not family based, but rather, they resembled national societies. Odessa, where the Etairia was founded, was one of those, which makes one realize that the Etairia’s first base there was not accidental because the Greeks of the diaspora who formed the society wished to create “a Greek nation-state that would accept them as redeeming sons” (Mackenzie 1996, 165). Therefore, in some cases, Greeks of the diaspora had more reason to be nationalists than Greeks within Greece. That is why one of the society’s primary goals was to unite all Greeks under a common nationalist cause: freedom. Hence the motto of the revolution: “Freedom or Death.”

Another interesting fact is that one of the Etairia’s most vital recruitments and leaders, Alexandros Ypsilantis, was not in accordance to the Central Committee. Ypsilantis was “a Greek patriot serving as aide-de-camp to Tsar Alexander I” and consequently his leadership was a sign of Russia’s political and military support as it was assumed by many that the Tsar stood behind him (Mackenzie 1996, 166).

At a meeting of the Etairia’s leaders at Ismail, Bessarabia, which took place in October 1820, the beginning of the uprising was scheduled for December 20th of the same year at Mani, in the Pelloponese, i.e. the southern peninsula of Greece, then known as Morea (Mackenzie 1996, 166). But suspicions of betrayal forced Ypsilantis to begin the revolts in the Danubian Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, i.e. today’s Romania, and the insurrection was postponed to the spring of 1821 (Mackenzie 1996, 167). The revolt in the Principalities unfortunately ended in failure for Ypsilantis’s forces, known as the “Sacred Battalion”, mainly because no help came from Russia, as had been wrongly expected. Interestingly enough, the Battalion included, besides 700 Greek students, 4500 men from Serbia, Moldavia and Bulgaria (Mackenzie 1996, 167). This means that contributors to the beginning of the revolution were not exclusively Greek, which bears some significance to the question raised by this paper: to what extent was the Greek success in the revolution a Greek victory? Regardless, “Ypsilantis had proven incompetent both as a political and a military leader” (Mackenzie 1996, 167).

By April 1821, the revolution had officially begun. Troops under Petrobey, the leader of the Maniot people, attacked unarmed Ottoman settlements throughout the Peloponnese, where the ground had been prepared among peasants, militiamen and rebels by the Philiki Etairia, killing 15,000 of the 40,000 Muslims there (Mackenzie 1996, 167). This victory was mainly owed to the successful resistance of rebel guerilla bands, but it is worth taking into account the fact that the Greek revolutionaries relied on European countries both for arms and funds (Mackenzie 1996, 167).   On a final note the Philiki Etairia played a critical role in coordinating the start of the national revolution; however, “once fighting developed in the Peloponnesus, the Etairia disintegrated and faded into insignificance as other groups competed for control” (Mackenzie 1996, 168).

 Diafotismos (Διαφωτισμός)

As mentioned in my introduction and historical background, the Modern Greek enlightenment in the 18th century was vital to the Greek uprising in the sense that it was an intellectual revival that served to motivate the Philiki Etairia to unify Greece in preparation for a revolution and awaken nationalism and establish awareness of the Hellenic identity. The wealthiest Greek merchants of the diaspora sustained the material base of this revival by endowing schools, libraries and subsidizing the publication of a “growing, and increasingly secular, body of literature aimed at a specifically Greek audience” (Clogg C 1992, 25). In addition, young Greeks now had the ability to pursue a higher education at universities abroad, where they would come into contact with the radical and progressive ideas of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and romantic nationalism but most importantly, they were made aware of “the extraordinary hold which the language and civilization of Ancient Greece had over the minds of their educated European contemporaries” (Clogg C 1992, 25). The Diafotismos was essentially the first nationalist movement to develop in Eastern Europe as well as “the first to emerge in a non-Christian context, that of the Ottoman Empire” (Clogg C 1992, 19). This essay will examine the writings of two eminent figures of the movement: Rhigas Velestinlis Pheraios and Adamantios Korais.

An immensely important liberal, humanist scholar of the Greek Enlightenment, Adamantios Korais (1748-1833) “played a key role in inculcating a ‘sense of the past’ to his fellow countrymen” (Clogg C 1992, 28) and envisioned a free and democratic Greece.

“Whoever has education is not afraid to ask for bread, not even if he is captured by barbarians. The schools have multiplied and are multiplying every day.” (Koraes 1964, 825) He spread this vision to the ruled Greek people through his literary work, especially through his writings about the critical importance of education as an agent of emancipation. In his autobiography, he says that after comprehending that the increase and spread of education in France gave birth to the love of liberty, he devoted himself to the education of his fellow countrymen (Clogg M 1976, 127). In 1798, he published Year One of Freedom, a pamphlet urging Greeks everywhere to revolt against the oppressors (Mackenzie 1976, 159). The entirety of his work, including his correspondence with other intellectuals, effectively prepared the ground for an uprising. He was influenced by the secular ideas of the French Revolution and “his impact among the Greek Orthodox literati of the Ottoman Empire was immense” (Trencsényi & Kopeček 2006, 141).

korais(Koraes 1964)

            In a letter to Dimitrios Lotos, the Protopsaltis of Smyrna, Korais wrote: “In a country where once the wisest laws of Solon reigned supreme, today ignorance, evil, brutality, insolence and shamelessness hold sway” (Clogg M 1976, 118). By the beginning of the 19th century, the small population of Greeks who were nationalist and resentful of the continuance of Turkish rule was growing but their efforts were inhibited by the elites of pre-independence Greek society, who “were for the most part too comfortably locked into the Ottoman status quo to identify with the national movement” (Clogg C 1992, 28).  From his correspondence with Neophytos Vamvas:

    “It is no longer the time for us to consider whether the revolution has broken out at the right time, or whether its leaders have done the right thing; the stupidity of the authorities …in brazenly declaring the total destruction of our race has given national form to the revolution. We are faced with the necessity either of victory, or of death” (Clogg S 1973, 82).

memoirekoraes(Koraes 1974, 133)

            In his Impromptu Reflections, Korais emphasizes the importance of education and philosophy as the only path to glory. In this publication, he comes to terms with many Greek philosophers and writers, such as Aristotle, Plutarch, Cicerone and Homer, in order to forward his own views concerning politics, linguistics, education and Greece’s subjugated and wretched situation.

“Philosophy’s function is to discover the true causes of things in order to liberate people from superstition and teach them virtue” (Koraes 1964, 903).

“There is no alternative left but to show the stable decision of the entire nation to free itself from barbarism and to move in the road of wisdom, which glorified its forefathers” (Koraes 1964, 924).

“We have to accelerate on the path to progression into this new educational stage in order to put an end to the empty words of misanthropists, to eradicate fear from the souls of philanthropists and to renew hope” (Koraes 1964, 924).

In the above reflections, Korais predicts the rebirth of Greece and urges everyone to participate so as to facilitate the process of freedom. Anyone who instead of being part of the admirable insurgence, prefers to remain in a lethargic state of ignorance and apathy is miserable, while he who attempts to get in the way is the wickedest (Koraes 1964, 943). He believed that everyone should contribute, not necessarily financially but by voluntarily listening to and aiding those who study and work to free Greeks from hunger via the arts and sciences. Illiteracy is essentially conveyed as a sin and enemies of education were not welcome, according to Korais, to participate in the revival efforts. In short, it seems that Korais wrote his reflections precisely because his morals did not allow him to remain a passive spectator. He felt the need to contribute to the ultimate goal of a renaissance and published the ideas discussed above to mobilize Greeks and unify them under a common cause and passion: liberty.

The Turkish Empire and the oppression of its subjugated peoples emerge through his writings as a war against truth and philosophy. Thus, a focus on education was necessary, in his view, if the ruled Greeks wished to succeed in combating Ottoman imperialism. “A true philosopher flatters neither his country nor his compatriots. He praises good and criticizes evil, exposing its agents for insisting on the war against philosophy” (Koraes 1964, 950). Throughout the reflections, Korais constantly reminds the Greek reader of his ancestors’ glory, righteousness and wisdom. He was convinced that philosophy was the cure that would relieve Greece of its prior anesthesia and help the people overcome any obstacle. In other words, from his perspective, education and philosophy were the central agents of enlightenment, that is they had the ability to reveal the real incentives for a general national reaction to the injustices of the Tourkokratia. Most Greeks were in the dark before the 18th century and Korais’s works effectively helped enlighten them about their obligation to unite, stand up and fight for their fatherland’s freedom.   The education of the nation therefore had a specific purpose. Clearly, this supports my main argument that before the outbreak of revolution the anti-imperial movement of the diafotismos laid down the intellectual foundations and prepared the grounds, upon which the Greek uprising and struggle of independence were built. For Korais’s goal is precisely that: to prepare and ‘enlighten’ the Greeks for the war that is to come.

The final part of his reflections is addressed to foreign readers rather than Greeks. In essence this is a call for all wise men in Europe to support any movement that empowers Greece’s education, for it was their obligation to show that they are not ignoring a whole nation fighting to free itself in order to become the natural successor of Greek wisdom and culture.

Aside from the Impromptu Reflections and his correspondence, perhaps the most significant part of his work was the War Call (Σάλπισμα Πολεμιστήριον), a wildly passionate grievance in response to tyranny and a patriotic call for the struggle for freedom. In this publication, Korais personifies Greece and makes her call out in pain to her children due to her sufferance. Below, I have translated the most important passages of this document:

“So, imagine that you have your mother Greece standing in front of your eyes, dressed in black rags and injured in all her body parts by the barbaric tyrants, barefoot and almost completely naked, crying because of the miserable situation she was put in due to the Turks’ viciousness.   Now, picture her running towards us, her children, showing us her torn up rags and her wounds, staining us with her blood, wetting us with her tears, holding on to each and everyone of us personally and asking us all to seek revenge with these words:

‘My dear children, … there has never been anyone happier and brighter than me. My first children, your ancestors, were the most enlightened and brave humans in the world. They were the ones who first invented, heard and pronounced the sweet name of freedom. They were the first to discover and develop the arts and sciences. Greece was the first to give birth to poets, rhetoric, philosophers and generals.’

‘However, when they began to compete with each other and replaced their love for their country with wealth and materialistic pleasures, then the enthusiasm for freedom was lost and instead lies, jealousy, fraud and flattery took over. It consequently became impossible for them to maintain their freedom. For freedom does not inhabit a place, where virtue and ethics are absent. Thus the Greeks had to concede first to Alexander’s successors, then the Romans, who however were wise enough to recognize the wisdom of the Greeks and learned from them rather than exploit and oppress them.’

‘But the Byzantine throne was replaced by the toughest, most barbaric and tyrannical of all, who made the poor Greeks melancholically reminisce about the Roman rule. A barbaric nation, a nation of a different language and religion, in short the Turkish nation, fell on me like a hurricane, put out whatever light had survived my glory days and scattered my children, your brothers. So the inhumane Muslim nation fell on me like a wild wolf and you can see to what it has reduced me, how it tore up my bright dress and how it made my tender flesh bleed.’

‘Thus, I ask you today, as your unhappy mother, how can you not seek revenge for all those atrocities? How can you go on hearing my cries, seeing my tears knowing that this tyranny could put me out of my misery once and for all? Before today I had not bothered you with my complaints for there was nothing you could do to avenge the Turks. But now, the time for revenge has arrived. It is in your hands to speed up the revenge process, to heal my wounds and replace my rags with my former glory. What do you say? Do my cries and tears move your ears; do the wounds and blood move your eyes? Or is there nothing left in your heart, not even a flicker of love for your old and miserable mother?’

“Whoever does not feel compassion for Greece and her pain is neither a real descendant of the ancients nor does he have the right to be called Greek. That person is unworthy, a coward who deserves to be treated like a beast animal by the cruel Turks.

“Like thieves and robbers they stole her ancestral glory; they exploit us like horses and burden us with taxes, abusing the efforts of our hands and the sweat running down our face. We take care of the land and they take our crops; we plant food and they eat it; and on top of everything they don’t even allow us to quench our thirst. They offend our honor and mock our religion. All the horrible curses that God used to terrorize the Judaists fell on the poor Greeks’ heads. Because of the Turks, our common motherland, the country of arts and science, of philosophers and heroes has today become a place of illiteracy and tyranny.

“But the real danger is what is to come. The Turks are well aware that today, more than ever, we can feel the burden of their tyranny. They know we hate them more than death itself. Open your eyes and reflect on what the gravest danger faced today by our nation is. The Turkish Empire is merciless for it has learnt to feed on blood, and they day when the sultan simply decides to commit a complete genocide of the Greeks may not be that far away.

“You need to understand that of all the evils and miseries that could fall upon a human, the worst is slavery because a slave has no virtue or honor and on top of all the pain caused by the tyrant, he suffers additionally due to the contempt of foreign nations and the embarrassment of being considered and treated like a wild animal. My friends and brothers do not fear the Turks for they are not what they used to be three hundred years ago. They know how to kill peaceful and unarmed people in public but in war confronted with the faces of brave men, they become more cowardly than women and run away like rabbits.

“So fight oh brave children of the Ancient Greeks for the effort is minimal compared to the glory of kicking the Turks out of Greece, which will be even greater than the heroes of the Thermopylae and Marathonas. So fight the cruel and inhumane Turks like brave soldiers of freedom protecting your sacred nation and religion. Draw the blood of the enemy, who picks up arms against freedom and attempts to take away your life. Death to whoever tyrannically tightens the chains of the Greeks preventing them from breaking free. But show mercy to the quiet Turk who asks for salvation by requesting to leave or who accepts to stay in Greece on the condition that he will obey fair and just laws. Let our revenge be terrible, but let it also be fair. Let us show the wild Turks that unlike them, we only armed ourselves because of the craving for freedom and not because of an undying thirst for power and murder. Let them learn from our humanity and philanthropy that in order to put an end to day-to-day brutality and injustice, we were temporarily forced to spill some Turkish blood.

            “Our tyrant is a coward who is wrongfully occupying a foreign throne, surrounded by an entourage of women and sycophants, weakened both in mind, body and spirit, he does not even dare to go out his palace’s door. The time has come compatriots to unite and fight for our motherland, for our wives and children, for our faith and for every present and future generation of Greeks. Prove that you are worthy descendants of your ancestors and fight for your name to be remembered forever” (Koraes A 1964, 64-70).

The other figure of the Diafotismos examined in this essay, Rigas Velestinlis Pheraios (1757-1798), actually developed plans for a coordinated revolt in the Balkans and instead of envisioning a revival of Ancient Greece like Korais, he dreamed of a rebirth of the Byzantium. As mentioned above, the diafotismos was an anti-imperial movement, so Velestinlis ideally wanted a new Byzantium based on Greek culture but instead of having an emperor in power, decisions would be made by republican institutions similar to the French ones (Clogg C 1992, 29). In contrast to Korais, he was more revolutionary and more of an agitator. His reactionary writing and radically revolutionary manifesto and activity led to his arrest in Austria, a Turkish ally, and “in June 1798 the Pasha of Belgrade had Rhigas executed … and sent his head to the Sultan” (Mackenzie 1996, 160). As a result, he is considered the first victim, the protomartyr, of the Greek Revolution and is celebrated in Greece until the present day as a national hero.

His most famous and in my view greatest work is the War Hymn (Θούριος Ύμνος), which he wrote as a call to arms for all Balkans subjugated by the Ottoman Empire:

“How long, brave men, shall we live in the straits,

alone, like lions, on mountain ranges?

How long shall we live in caves, see bushes,

And flee from the world because of our bitter enslavement?

How long shall we lose our brothers, fatherland and parents,

Our friends, our children and all our relatives?

Better an hour of free life

Than forty years of slavery and imprisonment.

What does it profit you to live and be a slave?

Think how they sear you each hour in the fire.

Even if you are a boss, a dragonman, a vizier,

The tyrant unjustly tries to destroy you.

You work all day at whatever he tells you to;

Yet he still tries to drain your blood.

Come now with fervor

To take the oath on the cross,

To choose able, patriotic men

Who can give us advice about everything.

The law should be the first and only guide

And should become the leader of our country.

Then with hands raised to the sky

Let us say this to God from our hearts:

“O king of the world! I swear to Thee

never to heed the tyrrant’s opinion,

neither to work for him, nor to be beguiled by him

nor to yield to his promises.

As long as I live my sole and steadfast aim

Will be to make him vanish.

Faithful to my country, I will break the yoke,

Ever standing at my leader’s side.

And if I break my oath, may lightning strike and burn me till I vanish like smoke” (Pheraios 1962, 6).

Both of the extremely significant members of the diafotismos intelligentsia undeniably helped gather momentum for the movement for Greece’s independence. Essentially, they orchestrated an intellectual revival characterized by a “very considerable increase in book publishing, the increasingly secular nature of Greek culture, the introduction of the learning of the Western Enlightenment into the Greek world by means of translations, the development of schools and academies with more advanced curricula, the growth of an awareness of Greece’s past glories” (Clogg S 1973, 19). On the other hand, it is not fully clear to what extent the nationalist ideas of the diafotismos enjoyed broad circulation among the great mass of the scattered Greek population (Clogg S 1973, 20). Regardless, the diafotismos was an intellectually and politically mature movement, which brought the Greek and western European world into contact and thus accelerated “the modernization of Greek education and led finally to the road of regeneration and liberation” (Clogg S 1973, 77).


In response to the revolts in the Peloponnese in 1821, the Turks attacked and massacred several villages. On Easter Eve 1822, they hanged the Greek Patriarch in front of the church in Constantinople (Mackenzie 1996, 167). As in all wars and conflict, there was good and evil on both sides and Christian atrocities roughly equaled the Ottoman ones. However, “only the Turkish atrocities were published in Europe and Russia, arousing a philhellenic movement and helping provoke eventual European intervention on behalf of the Greeks” (Mackenzie 1996, 167).   Note here that since they only knew about the Turkish brutalities it was acceptable for them to argue that their eventual decision to intervene was made on humanitarian grounds. Philhellenism explains why the Western powers were ultimately sympathetic towards the Greek cause and condemned the Turkish rulers. Since there is not enough space to come to terms with all of Philhellenism’s proponents, I shall discuss the most important and passionate one: Lord Byron.

lordbyron (Levine 2000)

            George Gordon Byron was a cosmopolitan, romantic poet born in London in 1788, who died in 1824 due to a severe fever after fighting alongside the Greeks in the struggle for independence in Missolonghi, which was heavily besieged. That is why Greece commemorates him as a national hero. The central ethical questions of his poems can be summed up as: why and how to live (Levine 2010, xviii). The ultimate answer to the question was given by his one his final life decisions, i.e. his move to Greece to support and die for the cause of freedom.

In my view, the poem that is the most relevant to this essay’s discussion is the poem he wrote in Greece the year he died. The poem, which is entitled On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year, can be read and interpreted as his reasoning for why he chose to fight in Missolonghi and as a justification and glorification of death on the battlefield in the name of freedom. The final half of the poem follows below:

“The Sword – the Banner – and the Field –

Glory and Greece around us see!

The Spartan borne upon his shield[1]

Was not more free!


Awake! (not Greece-she is awake!)

Awake, my Spirit! Think through whom

Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake

And then strike home!


Tread those reviving passions down,

Unworthy Manhood; -unto thee

Indifferent should the smile or frown

Of Beauty be.


If thou regret’st thy youth, why live?

The land of honourable Death

Is here: – up to the Field! And give

Away thy Breath.


Seek out- less often sought than found-

A Soldier’s Grave, for thee the best;

Then look around and choose thy ground

And take thy Rest”

(Levine 2010, 713-714)

Evidently, Lord Byron believed that there is no death more honorable than a soldier’s one, particularly when he is fighting for his fatherland’s freedom. He also implies that his youth would have gone to waste had he not gone to fight for a cause that he believed in above all else. And what is life worth if you waste and regret your youth? Interestingly, Byron’s last poem appears to be somewhat prophetic; in other words, it seems as if he knew he was going to die when he wrote it.

In effect, Byron’s philhellenic work definitely served to glorify the Greek cause and in turn increase the chances of a European intervention, but unlike the diafotismos, philhellenism did little to incentivize and mobilize the Greeks[2]. However, his writings on the Greek struggle found an echo in European societies. The fact that Lord Byron was such a high-profile personality outside of Greece and that he so fervently followed his beliefs with drastic actions and, eventually with the sacrifice of his own life, was indubitably a vital factor in the outcome of Greece’s War of Independence; an outcome that was inextricably tied to the military and navy support offered by the world’s Great Powers in 1827, and specifically, in the Battle of Navarino.

The Battle of Navarino

As mentioned above, philhellenism effectively publicized Ottoman atrocities and played a crucial role in slanting foreign intervention policy in the direction of the Greek cause. Consequently, in 1827, following six years of bloodshed, Britain abandoned its neutral stance in order to fight a humanitarian war for the Greeks, while the Russians (who, nevertheless, also had imperialistic motives for they benefited from the potential fall of the Ottoman Empire, which is why they began a war with the Turks following the end of the Revolution) and French also sent ships to Navarino Bay, where the most decisive naval battle of the Revolution was to take place.

The British fleet was led by Admiral Codrington who believed that intervention after seven years of horror and barbarity was an absolutely more humane way of settling affairs than letting the Greeks and Turks battle it out (Bass 2008, 138).   The squadrons were to enforce the prevention of supplies to the Turks if they did not agree to an armistice, which they did not. Therefore, on September 11th, without even waiting for the Russian and French fleets to arrive, Codrington followed the joint Turkish-Egyptian fleet into Navarino Bay (Bass 2008, 139). The French fleet did not sail into the bay until a week after, while the Russian fleet did not appear until as late as October 13th. The Allied forces were to force the Ottoman fleet out of the bay and back to Turkey but instead on October 20th they gathered outside the bay for the final confrontation and destruction of the Turkish fleet. This change of attitude occurred because a part of the army aboard the Ottoman fleet went on a rampage on the Peloponnese, which signified a breach of the promise made by the Turkish admiral Ibrahim (Bass 2008, 142). In this final confrontation there were 1,298 Allied guns versus over 2,000 Ottoman guns (Bass 2008, 143). The battle took place at a very tight range and as a result very many brave men died on both sides. By the evening of that same day the Turkish fleet had been almost entirely wrecked. “Of about 18,575 Ottoman sailors, at least 6,000 were killed” (Bass 2008, 148). The humanitarian, yet bloody, intervention in Navarino finally put an end to all the atrocities of the Tourkokratia and of the War of Independence and “made some form of independent Greece inevitable” (Clogg C 1992, 41).

navarino(Modern Greek Literary Gems)


To sum up, the diafotismos and the Filiki Etairia prepared and unified Greeks under the common purpose of gaining their freedom, whereas Philhellenism helped publicize Turkish barbarism in the Western world and gather support from the Great Powers on behalf of the Greeks. All three of these factors were essential to the final outcome and independence of Greece for the revolution would not have even begun without the diafotismos, while it would have been prolonged or ended in favor of the Ottomans had the Allied Forces not chosen to interfere. Atrocities, as emphasized in this essay, were inflicted on both parties, so simply consider what would have happened if there had been a Philottoman movement just as influential as Philhellenism. The western world could had been convinced that the Greeks were in fact more inhumane during the revolution and the Allied Powers could have just as easily sided with the Turks. However, Russia had imperialist incentives to destroy the neighboring Ottoman empire so in the Russian’s case philhellenism played less of a role since the decision to intervene was based on diplomatic reasons rather than humanitarian ones.

Finally, it is clear from the writings of Korais and Feraios used above, that the diafotismos was a nationalist, intellectual, pro-freedom and anti-imperialist movement. However, in comparison to parallel, contemporary Enlightenment movements, the diafotismos was specifically tailored to the grievances and sufferings of the Greeks and to the coordination of an uprising, while in general, the Age of Enlightenment in Europe refers to a scientific and philosophic revolution; a rebirth of humanity and of the notion of reason as the basis for any legitimate authority. Significantly, a lot of Enlightenment thinkers criticized the legitimacy of colonialism, on the grounds that Europeans had no real obligation to civilize the rest of the world. Could you claim that your civilization is superior to mine and force it upon me, when simultaneously you believe that each individual is capable of self-reason and deserves free will? The antithesis or contradiction is apparent. Although the principles of enlightenment are essential to the anti-colonial viewpoint, they are not always sufficient. So, one can talk about anti-imperial enlightenment but at the same time “anti-colonialism requires more than just a universalistic ethic that recognized the shared humanity of all people” (SEP). Enlightenment, put simply, is a relatively weak critique of colonialism. For instance, “given the tension between the abstract universalism of natural law and the actual cultural practices of indigenous peoples, it was easy to interpret native difference as evidence for the violation of natural law” (SEP). Enlightenment, in this case, permits colonization and even the exploitation of the colonized. So although the diafotismos condemned the Ottoman Empire and its imperialism, there was considerable conflict and debate about colonialism between the divergent philosophies of the Enlightenment of the 18th century. It would therefore be erroneous and inaccurate to speak of a general subaltern anti-colonial and anti-imperial Enlightenment.

Sources Cited:

  • MacKenzie, David. Violent Solutions: Revolutions, Nationalism, and Secret Societies in Europe to 1918.  University Press of America, Inc., 1996.
  • Pappageotes, George; Emmanuel, Philip; Emmanuel, Artemis (editors).       Modern Greek Literary Gems. R.D. Cortina Co., Inc., 1962.                                              In-text parenthetical citation: (Pheraios)
  • Clogg, Richard. A Concise History of Greece. Cambridge University Press, 1992. In-text parenthetical citation: (Clogg C)
  • Clogg, Richard (editor). The Movement for Greek Independence 1770-1821. Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1976.                                                                     In-text parenthetical citation: (Clogg M)
  • Clogg, Richard (editor). The Struggle for Greek Independence.       Archon Books, 1973.   In-text parenthetical citation: (Clogg S)
  • Levine, Alice (editor). Byron’s Poetry and Prose: Authoritative Texts. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010.
  • Bass, Gary J. Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention. Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.
  • Koraes, Adamantios. Άπαντα τα πρωτότυπα έργα (All the original works). Dorikos, 1964. Passages from this collection were translated into English by myself.
  • Trencsényi, Balázs and Kopeček, Discourses of collective identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770-1945): texts and commentaries. Central European University Press, 2006.

[1] Spartans who died in battle would be carried home on their shield. For them dying in this manner was the ultimate glory.

[2] But, some Philhellenes did indeed contribute directly to the uprising by buying weapons and outfitting troops using their own money (Bass 2008, 48).

For a quick summary of my essay’s thesis with some cool images and graphics, check out this powerpoint I made for presenting the paper to the class: The Greek Enlightenment & Revolution Presentation


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