Every year, on the 25th of March, millions of Greeks around the world meet with their families and friends to dine together. In Greece, military and student parades are held and similar parades also occur in hotspots of the Greek diaspora, such as New York. You may or may not have heard that the 25th of March is the Greek Independence Day. However, who were the oppressors of Greeks at that time? Who did they revolt against?
To begin with, it is important to highlight that, if the events surrounding this day had never occurred, the Hellenic Republic of Greece might have never existed. The 25th of March signals the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire that lasted between 1821 and 1830. The events changed drastically the political, social, and cultural situation in Greece and in the Balkan peninsula. They also influenced central and western Europe in various ways, including the arts, aesthetics, and even the architecture; with examples being some of the most important European capitals, like Vienna. The term “philellin” (φιλέλληνας), meaning a lover/friend of Greece, was coined at that time. But now let’s dive into the history.
The Greek Independence Day. The Concise History of The Greek Revolution
Once upon a time, 200 hundred years ago, an idea had started to flourish. An idea of a liberated Greece which would embrace the cultural and political ideas of its ancient past.
In the 18th century, affluent and well-educated Greeks who studied and lived in western Europe came into contact with the radical ideas of the European Enlightenment. Known also as the “Age of Reason”, the movement questioned the traditional ideas of that time. The Enlightenment thinkers embraced rationality and focused on scientific discoveries that could improve humanity.
“Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!”Immanuel Kant
These ideas had yet to reach Greece or – to be more precise- the areas that we consider Greece now and the ones were, traditionally, Greek tribes used to reside (e.g. the western coastal areas of Turkey). That was because Greeks had being living under the Ottoman rule since the fall of the Byzantine capital city of Constantinople in 1453.
Greek scholars abroad, such as Adamantions Korais, were intrigued by the ideas of Enlightenment. They despised the lack of education amongst the Greek orthodox clergy at that time and the distinct influence of the Ottomans (and sometimes of the Byzantines) on the Greek culture. Their vision was that of a democratic Greece, that would recapture the glory of the Golden Age of Pericles. They were Influenced by events such as the French Revolution and they dreamt of a Greek national revolution that would liberate the Greek state with the following establishment of a proper constitution.
These ideas, in addition to the unfortunate fates of influencers such as Rigas Feraios, soon influenced three young merchants from the Greek diaspora in Russia to found the “Friendly Society” (Φιλική Εταιρεία) in Odessa. It is worth mentioning that, within the captured lands, klephts and armatoloi, anti-Ottoman insurgents that resided in the Ottoman Empire, were, in the meantime, undermining the dominance of the Ottomans in the area.
With the help of wealthy Greek communities in Britain and the United States and the support of Western European aristocrats, such as the poet Lord Byron, who were fascinated by classical Greece, the vision turned into a plan. And the Greek War of Independence finally started in spring 1821 with the legendary general Theodoros Kolokotronis being one of the most prominent leading figures in the battles that occurred. And the rest is history.
The Greek Revolution in detail:
Note: History is a highly controversial subject. The influence of certain ideas, such as the Enlightenment, over the Greek Revolution are not widely accepted. The same goes for some of the narratives mentioned above. Please note that the importance of the role of certain people on the Greek Revolution is debated from time to time. For any further information regarding this topic, you can refer to the linked sources.