The Greek Independence War – A History
Today marks the 200th Anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Greece. Here is the story of how it happened.
The 25th of March 2021 marks the two hundredth anniversary of an event that changed the course of European history. The fall of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) in the year 1453 marked the end of the Byzantine Empire. The following centuries the Ottomans expanded their territory further into Europe (reaching and besieging Vienna twice). For the Greeks there were only two options left. Continue to live under Ottoman rule, that in the end lasted 400 years, was the first one. The second choice was to emigrate to other regions of Europe. There were plenty of people that decided to follow the one or the other path.
Meanwhile in Europe, after the start of the French Revolution in the year 1789, the French Emperor Napoleon started expanding through Europe, but was defeated by a coalition of European States e.g. Great Britain, Russia, and Prussia. In the aftermath the Viennese system was established declaring its purpose to avoid uncontrolled war. Nothing should happen in Europe without the consent of the great powers.
Inspired by the events of the French Revolution, the Greeks decided to start their own Revolution to end what they considered Ottoman oppression. They founded the Filiki Eteria, a secret organization to prepare for the purpose. One of its members, Alexander Ypsilantis, was a General in the service of the Russian Empire. He started the Revolution in Wallachia, a geographical region in Romania. His intention was to provoke the locals to join him in his fight and also get help from the nearby Russian Empire. His operation failed, but one more revolt broke out in the Peloponnese Peninsula that officially started on March 25th. The revolt was promoted by the Greek Orthodox Church, the same institution that preserved Greek culture through the period of Ottoman rule. During the next months, several bloody battles indicated the brutality of the war. In Constantinople, the Ottomans slaughtered parts of the Greek minority, called Phanariotes as an act of revenge. That action enraged the Russian Emperor who felt obliged as a protector of all Orthodox Christians.
Beside these events, in Europe thousands of Philhellenes (Europeans who loved ancient Greece) decided to join the Revolution. The thought to liberate the place, where Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle lived, inspired them. The most famous of them, the British Lord Byron contributed all his money for this purpose. He also died in Greece while being besieged in Mesolongi.
Greek national heroes like Papaflessas, Kolokotronis and Bouboulina helped to lead the revolt against the Ottomans. The Ottomans requested help from Egypt, which was an Ottoman tributary state. Egypt sent a professional army under the guidance of Ibrahim Pascha. He changed the course of the war in favor of the Ottomans and it was possible that the rebellion would fail.
In Navarino, an allied fleet of Great Britain, France and Russia appeared to negotiate a solution in the form of autonomy for the Greeks. There the Ottomans attacked the allies and that caused the Naval Battle of Navarino that marked the end of Ottoman rule.
The Greek state was finally recognized in the year 1830. Many other regions gained their independence from the Ottomans in the following years. This created a gap of power which was one of the factors that led to the imbalance and mistrust between the European powers that resulted in the First World War.