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. Continue reading