1821: The Greek War of Independence

March 25, 2023
By Thanos M. Veremis

The Revolution of 1821 is a continuation of the American and French vanguard. It also belongs to the works of the Enlightenment with Rigas Feraios, the author of the Hellenic Rule of Law, and Adamantios Koraes as pioneers.

Konstantinos Paparigopoulos, who composed the History of the Greek Nation to respond to Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer, is the point of reference for later Greek Romanticism, which believes that the basis of Greek identity is cultural and not biological.

The Greek Revolution began in a fragmented society based on the primacy of family and place of origin. The civil war among the Greek revolutionaries between the Rumeliotes and Hydraians on the one hand and the Peloponnesians on the other was an inevitable consequence of social fragmentation.

The Siege of Messolonghi, with the epic poetry it generated, is the most important moment of the Struggle when almost all regions of Greece managed to cooperate in its defense. The Exodus and its famous dead offered the foreign friends of the Struggle a unique example of heroism and self-sacrifice. Without the holocaust of Messolonghi there would not have been the Battle of Navarino which became the dawn of Greek Independence.

The arrival of Kapodistrias as the first Governor (something between a Prime Minister and a President) of the country was regulated by the decision of the National Assembly of Troizina in 1827, which strengthened the executive power with the seven-year term of the Governor and thus allowed the first leader of Greece to carry out the foundation of the Greek nation-state within three years of its activity. The prime ministership of Kapodistrias resulted in the creation of a unified centralized administration of a now modern state.

The operation of the fleet of the three islands, Hydra, Spetses, Psara, was more effective than the cooperation of the land forces. Coordination was assigned for a long time to Admiral Andreas Vokos Miaoulis, who did not lose a single naval battle and prevented the movement of the Ottoman states’ men and supplies to the Peloponnese from the sea.

The Greek language was the instrument of communication of the educated Balkans. Its secretariat included the texts of antiquity, but also the Christian Gospels. However, the European Ottoman territory was multilingual. Arvanite, Vlach, Slavic make up the mosaic of ‘Babylonia’ by Demetrius Byzantios, a comedy that takes place in Nafplio in 1827 when the news from Naumachia in Navarino is circulating. This comedy of miscommunication depicts the misunderstanding caused by the many idioms and multilingualism of the revolutionaries. Several years will pass until the education of the Greek state forms an exclusively Greek-speaking nation.

From the beginning of Turkish rule, the Greek language was strengthened thanks to the church and its schools, because it offered Christians access to the salvation of their souls through the sacred texts. The secular ideology of the scholars of the Enlightenment, led by Adamantios Korais (1748-1833), also recommended the study of the Greek language. Thanks to the Church and scholars, language remains the main element in the formation of Greek national self-awareness.

Nationalism became one of the ideologies that reintegrate the individual into the collectivity of the Nation. From the solidarity of the faction of the pre-modern society at the beginning of the Struggle, to the imagined community of the Nation which shares a common cultural tradition with its members, the transition to modernity is made by Ioannis Kapodistrias.

Kolokotronis’ interpretation of the phenomenon of the uprising of the Greeks was straightforward: “Our revolution does not resemble any of what is happening in Europe today. In Europe, the revolutions against the administrations are civil wars. Our war was nation against nation, it was [the uprising of] a people that never wanted to be recognized as slaves.”


Thanos M. Veremis is Emeritus Professor of Political History at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.


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