Why Greeks Do Not Celebrate the Battle of Navarino

The Battle of Navarino on October 20, 1827, was a great victory against Greece’s Ottoman rulers, yet it is an event that is not celebrated by Greeks, simply because it was a victory of international diplomacy and foreign intervention, and not of the brave Hellenic spirit.

Greece’s War of Independence (1821-1832) was important not only because Hellenes got rid of the Ottomans after almost 400 years of slavery, but because Greece established a  national identity, which was essential for the building of the modern Greek nation.

Myth is important for creating a national identity. Many national identities are based on myths, and the Greek War of Independence was full of myths and legends that shaped the modern history of the newly born nation.

Without the naval battle in Navarino Bay,  today’s town of Pylos; on the west coast of the Peloponnese, Greece, would probably not have won its independence. The crucial victory belongs to the allied naval forces from Britain, France and Russia that defeated the Ottoman and Egyptian armada trying to suppress the Greek War of Independence.

The decision to attack the Ottoman fleet at Navarino Bay, was made by British Admiral Edward Codrington, in cooperation with the French, and in consultation with Greece’s first governor, Ioannis Kapodistrias. The two powers wanted to secure Greek autonomy and bound Russia by treaty as a check on Russia’s expansionist tendencies. Russia wanted to take over Ottoman territories so, the weakening of the Ottoman Empire’s army was crucial.

The allied powers literally sank the Ottomans’ Mediterranean fleet, dealing a massive blow to the Empire. At the same time they saved Greece’s war against the ruling Ottomans at a critical moment. The occupying forces were soon forced to leave the Peloponnese, thus allowing Greeks to form the first government under Ioannis Kapodistrias in Nafplio, a year later.

By stressing the importance of the Battle of Navarino, Greeks would have to admit that without the help of great powers, what is now Greece would probably not exist. The interests of Britain, France and Russia were as important to the outcome of the independence war as the Orthodox Church, the Hellenic spirit and the bravery of many Greeks. However, for reasons of national pride and Greek Orthodox religion, history books tend to overlook the Battle of Navarino. No Greeks fought in that battle that was so crucial for the new country’s autonomy, therefore October 20 is not marked along March 25 as an important date in modern Greek history.