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Introducing Lieutenant General Manto Mavrogenous

The National Herald

Lieutenant General Manto Mavrogenous. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

There have been many heroic women who’ve made a decided mark in both ancient and Modern Greek history. A lot has been written about Manto Mavrogenous (1796-1848) who gave both her youth and fortune fighting for her country’s honor and freedom. Born in Trieste, now part of Italy, she was the daughter of Nicholaos and Zaharati, nee Hadzi Vatis. Her great uncle was Prince of Wallachia (Vlachia). A beautiful woman of aristocratic lineage, she studied ancient Greek philosophy and history and spoke fluent French, Italian, and Turkish.

In 1809, her family moved to Paros where she learned that her father was preparing for the Greek Revolution with an organization called ‘Filiki Eteria’. After her father’s death, she went to Tinos when the struggle started and then went to Mykonos, the island of her family’s origin, where she met with leaders to renew the revolutionary struggles. Having recruited a crew, she bought and equipped two ships that fought off pirates that continuously plagued the coasts of the Cyclades Islands. Then, in October,1822, the Mykononians attacked the Ottoman Turks and succeeded in freeing the island. From there she equipped 150 men to fight in the Peloponnese and another 50 men who took part in the ‘Siege of Tripolitsa’ that fell, finally, to the Greek rebels. She sent financial support to Samos when the island was being, again, threatened by the Turks, and spent money to aid medically and financially the men and families of the wounded.

Later, in 1822, she helped organize a fleet of six ships and an infantry of sixteen companies consisting of 50 men each who took part in the battle of Karystos and funded a campaign in Chios that, unfortunately, resulted in a dire massacre. When the Turkish fleet reappeared in the Cyclades islands, she sold all her jewelry to finance and equip 200 men to fight them. Two thousand men who had survived the siege of Missolonghi volunteered and joined the others and participated in Pelion, Phthiotis, and Livadia.

She moved to Nafplio in 1823 to assist and be better informed of the long struggles, being despised by her relatives and, especially, her mother for her daring and uncommon decisions. She met Demitrios Ypsilanti and became engaged to the man who long had admired her beauty and bravery. This union was strongly resented, especially by her chief enemy, Yiannis Kolettis, because it unified two powerful families. In May of that year her home was, suspiciously, burnt down and her fortune stolen. As a result, she went to Tripoli to live in Ypsilanti’s home where Papaflessas provided her with many essentials like food. After the ceremony that made the engagement official, she returned to Nafplio where she became depressed and deeply disappointed when she discovered she was never to be repaid the promised money she’d given for the various battles. Ypsilanti died, suddenly, and her enemy, Kolettis, began attacking her, relentlessly, a result of which she was exiled from Nafplio. She returned to Mykonos where, almost penniless and alone, she occupied her time in writing her memoirs.

When the wars ended, Ioannis Capodistrias, praising and recognizing her valor, her great generosity, and her fervent love for Greece, awarded her the rank of Lieutenant General and granted her a permanent dwelling in Nafplio. She owned an historic sword with the inscription, “Lord, judge those who judge me wrong, who war with me. Rule over kings.” It is said that the sword was once owned by Constantine, the Great. Manto Mavrogenous, touched by his sense of honor and generosity, gifted it to Capodistrias. Then, Mavrogenous moved to Paros to be with the few relatives she knew and who truly supported and loved her. There she lived and died (July 1848), impoverished, in a house located near the church, Panagia Ekatonpyliani that was founded by Saint Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. A film was made in 1971 that portrayed her heroic and fascinating life in which a Greek film star, Jennie Karezi starred. Also, Manto Mavrogenous’ image was depicted on a Greek Drachma coin in 1988-2001. In the plaza in the capital of Mykono there is a larger than life bust of her. And, in the port town of Paroikia, in Paros, the main square is named for her. Greece has named several streets across the country in her honor. It is hoped that, in this day and age of electronics, children have some knowledge of the legacy of this truly great patriot.