This Week in History: January 11th – January 16th

An ancient Greek drinking cup decorated with runners, which was one of the awards presented to Spyros Louis, the Greek winner of the Marathon in the 1896 first modern Olympic Games in Athens, is seen at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

January 11th:

On this day in 1916, French forces took formal military control of the Greek island of Corfu (a/k/a Kerkyra) in order to provide a safe haven for the growing number of refugees leaving the Balkans, specifically Serbia, during World War I. Thousands of Serbian soldiers, civilians, and government officials fled to Albania after German and Austro-Hungarian forces battered their country. Towards the end of 1915, a massive rescue operation involving more than 1,000 trips made by Italian, French and British steamers transported 260,000 Serb soldiers to Corfu, where they waited for the chance to reclaim their country.

January 12th:

On this day in 1873, Spyridon Louis, the first modern Olympics marathon (40 km) winner, was born in Marousi, Greece. Louis was not favored to win the Olympic title but his unexpected triumph gave Greece its only victory in a track & field athletics event at the 1896 Olympic games. Before becoming a national hero as a result of his Olympic medal, Louis helped his father sell and transport mineral water in Athens, which at the time lacked a central water supply. After the race, he became a police officer, but eventually lost his job when he was imprisoned for more than a year for falsifying military documents before being acquitted in 1927. In Greece, various sports establishments are named after Louis – including the Olympic Stadium built in Athens in anticipation of the 2004 Olympics. Today, the phrase “egina/ginomai Louis” (I became/I am becoming Louis) is known as a common Greek phrase meaning “to disappear by running fast.”

January 13th:

On this day in 1822, the design of the Greek flag was adopted by the First National Assembly at Epidaurus. The national flag of Greece, popularly referred to as the “blue and white” (Greek: Γαλανόλευκη) is officially recognised by Greece as one of its national symbols and has nine equal horizontal stripes of blue alternating with white (the colors of the famed Greek sky and sea). There is a blue canton in the upper hoist-side corner bearing a white cross; the cross symbolises Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the established religion of the Greek people of Greece and Cyprus. The shade of blue used in the flag has varied throughout its history, from light blue to dark blue, the latter being increasingly used since the late 1960s. According to popular tradition, the nine stripes represent the nine syllables of the phrase “Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος” (“Freedom or Death”), the five blue stripes for the syllables “Ελευθερία” and the four white stripes “ή Θάνατος”. The nine stripes are also said to represent the letters of the word “freedom” (Greek: ελευθερία). There is also a different theory, that the nine stripes symbolise the nine Muses, the goddesses of art and civilisation (nine has traditionally been one of the numbers of reference for the Greeks).