The Greek War of Independence of 1821 is the stuff of legend, as the outnumbered, poorly armed Greeks fought against an entire empire with a regular army that had conquered a big part of Europe and Asia Minor.
Enslaved for almost four centuries, Greeks said “no more” and launched an attack against the all-powerful Ottoman Empire. “Freedom or Death” was their motto and, indeed, many gave their lives to liberate Greece and establish the modern Greek state.
The heroes were many, but some of their leaders stood out in terms of determination and bravery, contributing greatly to the noble cause and eventual victory.
(April 3, 1770 – Feb. 4, 1843) Kolokotronis is the emblematic leader of the Greek revolution (1821–1829) against the Ottoman Empire. The Kolokotronis family was at constant war with the Ottomans since the 16th century. From 1762 to 1806, 70 members of the wider Kolokotronis family were killed by the conquerors.
Kolokotronis’ greatest success was the defeat of the Ottoman army under Mahmud Dramali Pasha at the Battle of Dervenakia in 1822. In 1825, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Greek forces in the Peloponnese. Kolokotronis was born at Ramavouni in Messenia from a family of rebels and grew up in Arcadia in the central Peloponnese. The Kolokotronis clan was powerful and respected in Arcadia in the 18th century.
After the war, Kolokotronis became a supporter of Greece’s first governor, Ioannis Kapodistrias and a proponent of alliance with Russia. When Kapodistrias was assassinated by a clan of Mani landowners on Oct. 8, 1831, Kolokotronis created his own administration in support of Prince Otto of Bavaria as king of Greece. However, he later opposed Otto and on June 7, 1834, he was charged with treason and sentenced to death. He was ultimately pardoned in 1835. Kolokotronis died in 1843 in Athens.
Born Georgios Iskos (Jan. 23, 1780 or Jan. 23, 1782 – April 23, 1827), Karaiskakis was a famous Greek klepht, armatolos and military commander. He was born in a monastery near the village of Mavrommati in the Agrafa mountains. At the age of 15 he formed his first band of klephts. He was agile, cunning, brave and reckless – and rose quickly through the ranks, eventually becoming a lieutenant of the Katsantonis band of thieves.
He was killed in action on his Greek name day, April 23, 1827, fatally wounded by a bullet in a battle in Faliro, with some historians claiming that he was killed with a British bullet for political reasons.
General Yannis Makriyannis
(1797–1864) Born Ioannis Triantaphyllou, he got his nickname from his tall figure (literally Long John in English). He was a Greek merchant, military officer, politician and author, best known today for his memoirs. He joined the Greek uprising after being initiated into the Filiki Eteria secret society and was arrested after he was sent to the Peloponnese in March 1821 to see developments. He was arrested by the Turks and tortured after his mission became known.
During the war, he reached the rank of general and led his men to notable victories. After the war, following Greek independence, he had a tumultuous public career, playing a prominent part in granting the first Constitution to the Kingdom of Greece and was later sentenced to death but pardoned.
Aside from being a source of historical and cultural information on the period, this work has also been called a “monument of Modern Greek literature,” as it is written in pure Demotic Greek. Indeed, its literary quality led Nobel laureate Giorgos Seferis to call Makriyannis one of the greatest masters of Modern Greek prose.
(1788 – April 24, 1821) Diakos was a Greek military commander, considered a venerable national hero in Greece. Born Athanasios Nikolaos Massavetas in Phocis, in the village of Ano Mousounitsa, he was the grandson of a local klepht. He was drawn to religion from an early age and was sent away by his parents to the Monastery of St. John The Baptist for his education. He became a monk at the age of 17 and, due to his devotion to faith and good temperament, was ordained a Greek Orthodox deacon not long afterward.
Local legend has it that while at the monastery, an Ottoman pasha paid a visit with his troops and was impressed by Diakos’ good looks. The young man took offense to the Turk’s remarks (and subsequent proposal) and killed the Turkish official. Diakos was forced to flee into the nearby mountains and become a klepht. Soon afterward, he adopted the pseudonym “Diakos” (Deacon). He fought in several battles and his bravery was praised.
Diakos was captured by the Ottomans and was sentenced to death because he had killed many Turks. His brutal execution by impalement also made him a martyr for the Great Cause.
(1788–1825) Born Georgios Dimitrios Flessas, he was a Greek patriot, priest and government official of the old Flessas Family. A member of the Filiki Eteria secret society, he took the nickname Papaflessas, literally meaning Priest Flessas. He was one of 28 children and rumor has it that he was a womanizer like his father. He was ordained to the highest position of priesthood, Archimandrites, in 1819.
In 1823, Papaflessas was named Minister of Internal Affairs and Chief of Police by the government of Prince Alexandros Mavrocordatos under the name Gregorios Dikaios, the name he had when he was in Filiki Eteria. He instituted many reforms, established the mail system and built schools in various towns. He created the title of Inspector General for schools and was the first one to establish a “political convictions certificate” to be given to the friends of the government. He also took part in many battles against the Turks.
Papaflessas sided with the government when civil war erupted in 1824. He took part in the campaign in Messenia and the rest of the Peloponnese to suppress the rebels against the government. During the civil war, he was initially on Theodoros Kolokotronis’ side, but later switched due to his personal ambitions.
Papaflessas was killed during the Battle of Maniaki on May 20, 1825, fighting against the forces of Ibrahim Pasha.
Kanaris was born and grew up on the island of Psara, close to the island of Chios in the Aegean. He gained his reputation on the night of June 6/June 7, 1822 in the Battle of Chios, when the Greek naval forces under his command destroyed the flagship of Turkish admiral Nasuhzade Ali Pasha (or Kara-Ali Pasha) in revenge for the Chios Massacre. The admiral was holding a celebration, while Kanaris and his men managed to place a fire ship next to it. When the flagship’s powder store caught fire, all men aboard were instantly killed. The Ottomans lost 2,000 men, naval officers and common sailors, as well as Kara-Ali himself. Kanaris led further successful attacks against the Turkish fleet in Tenedos in November 1822 and in Samos in August 1824.
Kanaris was one of the few freedom fighters who had won the trust of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first Head of State of independent Greece. Kanaris served as minister in various governments and then as Prime Minister in the provisional government, from March 11-April 11, 1844. He served a second term (Oct. 27, 1848 – Dec. 24, 1849) and as a Navy Minister in Mavrokordatos’ 1854 cabinet.
(1796 – 1848) She was a heroine of the Greek War of Independence, a rich woman who spent all her fortune for the Hellenic cause. Under her encouragement, her European friends contributed money and guns to the revolution.
Strangely, her contribution to the Greek revolution and her bravery are mostly praised by foreign historians, while Greeks underplayed the importance of her role.
Mavrogenous was born in Trieste, then part of the Austrian Empire, now part of Italy. She was the daughter of merchant and Filiki Eteria member Nikolaos Mavrogenis and Zacharati Chatzi Bati. She was well-educated, multi-lingual and
influenced by the Age of Enlightenment.
In 1809, she moved to Paros with her family, where she learned from her father that Filiki Eteria was preparing what would become known as the Greek Revolution. When the uprising started, she moved to Mykonos, the island of her origin, and invited the leaders of Mykonos to join the revolution.
Mavrogenous left her family and moved to Nafplio in 1823, in order to be in the core of the struggle. When the war ended, Ioannis Kapodistrias awarded her the rank of Lieutenant General and granted her a dwelling in Nafplio, to where she moved.
Miaoulis was born in Euboea to an Arvanite family and settled on the island of Hydra. A corn merchant captain, he amassed great wealth and was chosen to lead the islands’ naval forces when they rose against the Sultan. Between May 1825 and January 1826, Miaoulis led the Greeks to victory in skirmishes off Modon, Cape Matapan, Suda and Cape Papas.
Miaoulis died on June 24, 1835, in Athens. He was buried in Piraeus near the tomb of Themistocles, founder of the ancient Athenian Navy.
(1788–1825) Androutsos was born in Ithaca in 1788; however, his family was from the village of Livanates in Phthiotis prefecture. His father was Andreas Androutsos, a klepht, and his mother was from Preveza.
After losing his father, Androutsos joined the Turkish army of Ali Pasha and became an officer; however, in 1818 he joined the Filiki Eteria, which was planning the liberation of Greece
In May 1821, Omer Vryonis, the commander of the Ottoman army, advanced with 8,000 men, after crushing the resistance of the Greeks at the river of Alamana and killing Athanasios Diakos. The Ottomans then headed south into Peloponnese to crush the Greek uprising.
Androutsos, with a band of about 100 men, took up a defensive position at an inn near Gravia, supported by Panourgias, Diovouniotis and their men. Vryonis attacked the inn but was repulsed with heavy casualties (over 400 dead). Finally, he was forced to ask for reinforcements and artillery but the Greeks managed to slip out before the reinforcements arrived. Androutsos only lost two men in the battle and earned the title of Commander in Chief of the Greek forces in Roumeli.
Androutsos’ glory did not last long. In the following year, 1822, he was accused by political opponent Ioannis Kolettis of being in contact with the Turks and was stripped of his command. Finally, in 1825, the revolutionary government placed him under arrest in a cave at the Acropolis of Athens. The new commander, Yiannis Gouras, who once was Androutsos’ second in command, had him executed on June 5, 1825.
(11 May 1771 – 22 May 1825) Bouboulina was a Greek naval commander, a true heroine of the War of Independence. She was born in a prison in Constantinople, but her origins were from the Arvanite community of the island of Hydra. She was the daughter of a captain from Hydra. Boubloulina married twice, first to Dimitrios Yiannouzas and later to the wealthy ship owner and captain Dimitrios Bouboulis, taking his surname.
Allegedly Bouboulina joined the Filiki Etairia. She bought arms and ammunition at her own expense and brought them secretly to Spetses in her ships, to fight “for my nation.” She also organized her own armed troops, composed of men from Spetses. She used most of her fortune to provide food and ammunition for the sailors and soldiers under her command.
On March 13, 1821 Bouboulina raised on the mast of her ship her own Greek flag, based on the flag of the Comnenus dynasty of Byzantine emperors. Bouboulina sailed with eight ships to Nafplio and began a naval blockade. Later she took part in the naval blockade and capture of Monemvasia and Pylos.
Bouboulina arrived at Tripolis in time to witness its fall on Sept. 11, 1821 and to meet general Theodoros Kolokotronis. Their children, Eleni Boubouli and Panos Kolokotronis, later married. During the ensuing defeat of the Ottoman garrison, Bouboulina saved most of the female members of the Sultan’s household.