March 25th is a day of honor and pride for all Greeks and an opportunity to honor a hero of 1821 whose efforts had been igndored over the years or at least have not been recognized as much as they should be.
Giannakis Gritzalis was born in 1791 in Psari Trifylias. His father died early and Giannakis and his brother Dimitris were raised by their mother Areti, who was the sister of the well-known klefti Giannakis Meliou, leader of the Dredes*. Before the revolution, Giannakis and his brother Dimitris lived in Constantinople and worked in the grain trade between Odessa and the Polis. In Odessa, the two brothers were probably initiated into the Filiki Eteria and Giannakis was probably a link between the city and the chiefs of the Peloponnese. As soon as the revolution broke out, Giannakis was in the Peloponnese and his contribution in the first years of the struggle was significant. He fought with self-sacrifice in Valtetsi, in the battle for the Fall of Tripoli and at the age of 32 he deservedly received the title of Commander of a thousand troops.
He was a loyal friend and colleague of Kolokotronis and for this reason he was imprisoned along with him during the civil war in December 1824. The legendary fighter Mitropetrovas, Giannakis’ father-in-law, was also imprisoned with him. The imprisonment of the fighters of 1821 left the way open for Ibrahim's landing in the Peloponnese with all the resulting painful consequences.
When the heroes, including Giannakis Gritzalis, were released at the end of May 1825, they fought with heroism and patriotism against Ibrahim's troops, proving once again their pure and unselfish love for their homeland.
The official state, however, punished them for their patriotism again and again.
When in 1833 the reins of the newly formed Greek state were taken over by Otto and the Regency, they tried to rule oligarchically, serving anything other than the interest of the Greek people who at that time lived financially impoverished, paying unbearable taxes. Only 1/6 of the Greeks had their own land and only 1/4 had their own animal. Those farmers who cultivated national land, paid so much taxes, that in the end they did not have even 30% of their production left.
As if this were not enough, the Regency took care to completely oust the old fighters from positions of power, while at the same time trying to remove them from the middle because they were dangerous to their interests and aspirations. Thus, Kolokotronis and Plapoutas are put of trial and sentenced to death on the charge that they were preparing a revolution against the still minor king, Otto.
Giannakis Gritzalis, who at that time lived in Psari, could not remain a spectator in this great injustice. He became the leader of the Messinian Revolution of 1834, which, as it had demands regarding the taxation system and state institutions that were included in the declarations of the revolutionaries, is considered the first social Revolution in modern Greek history. The Messinian Revolution began with the sudden occupation of Kyparissia. Gritzalis with a well-planned operation and 500 men, mainly Sulimohorites-Dredes, surprised the authorities of the area, arrested the Prefect, the Military Commander, and the Public Treasurer, and imprisoned them while protecting them from the wrath of the revolutionaries because they supported the false trial of Kolokotronis.
He then set up a ‘revolutionary committee’ and issued two proclamations. The first addressed the Greek people and mentioned the main purposes of the Revolution, which were the release of Kolokotronis and Plapoutas, the granting of a constitution, and the exemption of the citizens from heavy taxation. The second addressed Otto and informed him of the miserable government mechanisms that oppressed the people, the economic impoverishment of the rural population, and the abuses of executive and judicial power.
The Revolution, despite the reactions of the government, spread quickly to Messinia and Arcadia. For this reason and for the suppression of the rebellion, strong forces were deployed by the Kolettis government and chiefs were recruited from the Peloponnese.
Unfortunately, the rebels in the ensuing battles were defeated and disbanded, and its leaders were put on trial.
Giannakis Gritzalis courageously assumed all the responsibilities of the revolution and was sentenced to death by summary proceedings. Only two hours after his conviction (in order to prevent a pardon request), he was executed by firing squad on September 19, 1834.
The hero in the face of death was not afraid for a moment. He asked not to be blindfolded and shouted vigorously in front of the executive branch: “Brothers, I am dying unjustly. I sought the rights of the Greeks.”
His wife Giannoula was not allowed to take the body of her dead husband for burial, for fear that his funeral would cause a public disturbance. The unfortunate woman secretly collected her husband's body all alone.
The Messinian Revolution, which was in fact the forerunner of the Revolution of September 3, remained for many years in obscurity from the official historiography as a disobedience to the central government, along with the national struggles of the Dredes. The same goes for the story of Giannakis Gritzalis, a story that I had the honor to hear as a child, as a descendant of the hero on my grandmother, Stavroula Gritzali-Tsoutsa’s side.
Long live the heroes of 1821. Long live Giannakis Gritzalis. Long live Greece.
*The Sulimohorites or Dredes: In 1380, on the plateau of Dorio, in Northwestern Messinia, forty Arvanite families including two hundred women and children (Christian Orthodox) came and settled to guard the border.