History of Greece in the Ottoman Period

Αργειε νάλθη εκείνη η μέρα
και ήταν όλα σιωπηλά,
γιατί τάσκιαζε η φοβέρα
Και τα πλάκωνε η σκλαβιά.

Mehmed II with Gennadios II Scholarios , Patriarch under the Ottoman rule

Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire from the 14th century until its declaration of independence in 1821. The Ottoman Turks first crossed into Europe in 1354. The Byzantine Empire, which had ruled most of the Greek-speaking world, including the Greek peninsula and the Aegean, for 900 years, had been fatally weakened since its sack by the Crusaders in 1204. It was unable to resist this new invader.

Having defeated the Bulgarians in 1371 and the Serbs in 1389, the Ottomans advanced south into Greece proper, taking Athens in 1458. The Greeks held out in the Peloponnese until 1460, and the Venetians and Genoese clung to some of the islands, but by 1500 most of the plains and islands of Greece were in Ottoman hands. The mountains of Greece were left untouched and were a refuge for the majority of Greeks to flee foreign rule. Cyprus fell in 1571, and the Venetians retained Crete until 1670. Only the Ionian Islands, ruled by Venice, were never brought under Ottoman rule.

Ottoman rule

When the Ottomans arrived in Greece, two Greek migrations occurred. The first migration entailed the Greek intelligentsia migrating to Western Europe and influencing the advent of the Renaissance. The second migration entailed Greeks leaving the plains of the Greek peninsula and resettling in the mountains. Greece being mostly mountainous, the Ottomans could not conquer the entire Greek peninsula since they did not create either a military or administrative presence in the mountains.

The Ottomans divided Greece (mostly the plains of the peninsula) into six sanjaks, each ruled by a Sanjakbey accountable to the Sultan, who established his capital in Constantinople in 1453. Before this division occurred, the Ottomans implemented the millet system, which segregated peoples within the Ottoman Empire based on religion. The millet system contributed to the ethnic cohesion of the Greek people living in the plains. Basically, the Ottoman Empire existed primarily to fight wars. Once an area was conquered, the Ottomans lost interest in it. They called their non-Muslim subjects rayah - subjects. The conquered land was parcelled out to the Sultan's followers, who held it as feudal fiefs (timars and ziamets) directly from him. The land could not be sold or inherited, but reverted to the Sultan when the fiefholder died. So long as this system applied, the Greek peasants were in some ways better off than they had been under Byzantine rule.

The Ottomans did not require the Greeks to become Muslims, although many did so. Provided they paid their taxes and gave no trouble, they were left to themselves. Non-Muslims did not serve in the Sultan's army, so the burden of conscription was lifted from the Greek peasants. The exception to this was the "tribute of children," whereby every Christian community was required to give one son in five to be raised as a Muslim and enrolled in the corps of Janissaries (yenicheri or "new force"), an elite unit of the Ottoman army. This impost aroused surprisingly little opposition, probably because service with the Janissaries offered Greek boys the only path to advancement in the Ottoman system. Greeks also paid a land tax and a tax on trade, but these were collected irregularly by the inefficient Ottoman administration. Overall, the Greeks living in the plains during Ottoman occupation were either Christians who dealt with the burdens of foreign rule or Crypto-Christians (Greek Muslims who were secret practitioners of the Greek Orthodox faith). Many Greeks became Crypto-Christians in order to avoid heavy taxes and at the same time express their identity by maintaining their secret ties to the Greek Orthodox Church. However, Greeks who converted to Islam and were not Crypto-Christians were deemed Turks in the eyes of all Orthodox Greeks.

The Sultan regarded the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church as the leader of the Greeks within his empire. The Patriarch was accountable to the Sultan for the Greeks' good behaviour, and in exchange he was given wide powers over the Greek community. The Patriarch controlled the courts and the schools, as well as the Church, throughout the Greek communities of the Empire. This made the priest the effective ruler of the Greek village. Some Greek towns, such as Athens and Rhodes, retained municipal self-government, while others were put under Ottoman governors. Some areas, such as the Mani Peninsula in the Peloponnese, remained virtually independent along with the Sphakiots of Crete, and the Souliots (or Souli) of Epirus. For their part, the Patriarchs regarded the tolerant rule of the Ottomans as preferable to rule by the Catholic Venetians, who threatened the Orthodox faith in a way the Ottomans did not. When the Ottomans fought the Venetians, the Greeks generally sided with the Ottomans. Yet, the Greek Orthodox Church, an ethno-religious institution, helped the Greeks from all geographical areas of the peninsula (i.e. mountains, plains, and islands) to preserve their ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and racial heritage.

The incorporation of Greece into the Ottoman Empire had other long-term consequences. Economic activity and population declined. Large numbers of Albanians, Romanians (known as Vlachs) and Bulgarians settled in various parts of the country. Turks settled extensively in Thrace. Later, Jewish refugees from Spain were settled in Thessaloniki (known in this period as Salonica or Selanik), which became the main Jewish centre of the empire. The Greeks became inward-looking, with each region cut off from the others - only Muslims could ride a horse, which made travel difficult. Greek culture declined, and outside the church few people were literate. The Greek language absorbed large numbers of Turkish and Slavic words. Greek music and other elements of Greek folk-culture were also influenced by the Turks.

Ottoman decline

After about 1600, the Ottoman Empire entered a long decline, both militarily against the Christian powers, and internally, leading to increased corruption, repression and inefficiency. This provoked discontent, leading to disorders and occasionally rebellions. Some areas drifted out of Ottoman control altogether. The Ottomans resorted to military rule in parts of Greece, which provoked further resistance, and also led to economic dislocation and accelerated population decline. Another sign of decline was that Ottoman landholdings, previously fiefs held directly from the Sultan, became hereditary estates (chifliks), which could be sold or bequeathed to heirs. The new class of Ottoman landlords reduced the hitherto free Greek pesants to serfdom, leading to further poverty and depopulation in the plains. However, the overall Greek population in the plains was reinforced by the descent of Greeks from the mountains, which occurred by the end of the 16th century up until the 17th century.

On the other hand, the position of educated and privilged Greeks within the Ottoman Empire improved in the 17th and 18th centuries. As the Empire became more settled, and began to feel its increasing backwardness in relation to the European powers, it increasingly recruited Greeks who had the kind of administrative, technical and financial skills which the Ottomans were too proud to learn themselves. From about 1700 Greeks began to fill some of the highest offices of the Ottoman state. The Phanariots, a class of wealthy Greeks who lived in the Phanar district of Constantinople, became increasingly powerful. Their travels to western Europe as merchants or diplomats brought them into contact with advanced ideas of liberalism and nationalism, and it was among the Phanariots that the modern Greek nationalist movement was born.

Greek nationalism was stimulated by agents of Catherine the Great, the Orthodox ruler of the Russian Empire, who hoped to acquire the lands of the declining Ottoman state, including Constantinople itself, by inciting a Christian rebellion against the Ottomans. But during the Russian-Ottoman war which broke out in 1768, the Greeks did not rebel, disillusioning their Russian patrons. The Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji (1774), however, gave Russia the right to make "representations" to the Sultan in defence of his Orthodox subjects, and the Russians began to interfere regularly in the internal affairs of the Empire. This, combined with the new ideas let loose by the French Revolution of 1789, began to reconnect the Greeks with the outside world and led to the development of an active nationalist movement.

Greece was only peripherally involved in the Napoleonic Wars, but one episode had important consequences. When the French under Napoleon seized Venice in 1797, they also acquired the Ionian Islands, which were elevated to the status of a French dependency called the Septinsular Republic, with local autonomy. This was the first time Greeks had governed themselves since the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Among those who held office in the islands was John Capodistria, destined to become independent Greece's first head of state. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Greece had re-emerged from its centuries of isolation. British and French writers and artists began to visit the country, and wealthy Europeans began to collect Greek antiquities. These "philhellenes" were to play an important role in mobilising support for Greek independence.

The War of Independence

Remember Greeks, the freedom of classical Greece, the Battles of Marathon and Thermopylae, let us fight for those who died for our freedom. Let us fight for the shadows of Epaminondas and Thrasyboulos, .. of Harmodius and Aristogeiton... for Miltiades, Themistocles, Leonidas who killed a large number of the Barbarian Persians before they died. Alexandros Ypsilantis

A secret Greek nationalist organisation called the Friendly Society (Filiki Eteria) was formed in Odessa in 1814 (Nicolaos Skoufas, Athanasios Tsakalof and Emmanouil Xanthos). With the support of wealthy Greek exile communities in Britain and the United States, the aid of sympathisers in western Europe and covert assistance from Russia, they planned a rebellion. They secured as the leader of the planned revolt Capodistria, who after leaving the Ionian Islands had become Russian Foreign Minister. On March 25 (now Greek Independence Day) 1821, the Orthodox Metropolitan Germanos of Patras proclaimed the national uprising. Simultaneous risings were planned across Greece, including in Macedonia, Crete and Cyprus. With the initial advantage of surprise, and aided by Ottoman inefficiency, the Greeks succeeded in liberating the Peloponnese and some other areas.

The Slaughter of Chios, Eugene Delacroix

The Ottomans soon recovered, and retaliated with great savagery, massacring the Greek population of Chios and other towns. This worked to their disadvantage by provoking further sympathy for the Greeks in western Europe, although the British and French governments suspected that the uprising was a Russian plot to seize Greece and possibly Constantinople from the Ottomans. The Greeks were unable to establish a coherent government in the areas they controlled, and soon fell to fighting among themselves. Inconclusive fighting between Greeks and Ottomans continued until 1825, when the Sultan sent a powerful fleet and army from Egypt to ravage the Aegean islands and the Peloponnese.

The destruction of the Ottoman fleet at Navarino, Carneray

The Navarino Sea Battle

Messolongi, 1826

Comte van Heyden, Sir Edward Codrington, Comte de Rigny

The atrocities that accompanied this expedition, together with sympathy aroused by the tragic death of the poet and leading philhellene Lord Byron at Missolonghi in 1824, eventually led the western powers to intervene. In October 1827 the British and French fleets, on the initiative of local commanders but with the tacit approval of their governments, attacked and destroyed the Ottoman fleet at Navarino. This was the decisive moment in the war of independence. In October 1828 the French landed troops in the Peloponnese to stop the Ottoman atrocities. Under their protection, the Greeks were able to regroup and form a new government. They then advanced to seize as much territory as possible, including Athens and Thebes, before the western powers imposed a ceasefire.

A conference in London in March 1829 proposed an independent Greek state with a northern frontier running from Arta to Volos, and including only Euboia and the Cyclades among the islands. The Greeks were bitterly disappointed at these restricted frontiers, but were in no position to resist the will of Britain, France and Russia, who were largely responsible for Greek independence. By the Convention of May 11, 1832 Greece was finally recognised as a sovereign state. Capodistria, who had been Greece's unrecognised head of state since 1828, was assassinated in October 1831. To prevent further experiments in republican government, the powers insisted the Greece be a monarchy, and the Bavarian Prince Otto was chosen to be its first King.

Greek War of Independence

History of modern Greece

Siege of Missolonghi

Lord Byron in Greece

The Byron Chronology, 1823-4 Greece and Missolonghi

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