Documentaries and Films on the Greek War of Independence

In the spring of 1821, the Greek populations who lived under Ottoman rule, revolted against their opressors. The Greek War of Independence lasted for eight years and it resulted in the creation of an independent Greek state. There are several books, articles, documentaries, and films that narrate the events of the Greek revolution. Here are some recommendations of films and documentaries you can watch this week, during the 200-year anniversary of the Greek War of Independence. Some of the videos are suitable for English-speakers but the majority are in Greek.

Keep in mind that the portayal of certail events and figures might differ from film to film and from documentary to documetary. These include the legend of rising the flag in the Agia Lavra monastery and the overall stance of the Greek Orthodox Church towards the rebels, along with the importance of the intervention of the three “Great Powers” (France, Britain, Russia) in the final outcome.

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Documetaries and Films on the Greek Fight for Freedom

“Greek history – Figures and Events of the Greek Revolution” | Video on 1821 [ENG]

This brief video by Benaki Museum focuses on the figures and events of the Greek Revolution of 1821.

“The Great Powers and the Greek Revolution” | Episode on the Greek War of Independence

This episode of the Greek-speaking historical tv-series “Μηχανή του Χρόνου” (Time Machine) focuses on the intervention of the “Great Powers” during the Greek War of Independence. The episode was aired in the Greek public tv-channel “NET”.

“1821” | Documentary Series on the Events of the Greek War of Independence

The documentary was filmed in Greek and broadcasted by the tv-channel “Σκάι”. “1821” received backlash by a percentage of the Greek population, because it presented some incidents as myths rather than as historical events (e.g. the Agia Lavra incident). It also talked about the frictions between the leaders of the Revolution that weakened the Greek forces and finally required the intervention of the “Great Powers”.

“’21: The Rebirth of The Greeks” | Documentary Series on the Events of 1821

Another, more recent historical Greek-speaking documentary, is the one presented by “MEGA” channel. One of the main differences between this and the previous documentary is that, in this case, the Greek Orthodox Church is presented as a supporter of the revolution.

“Greek history – The Lives of the Greeks during the Turkish occupation” | Video on Ottoman Greece [ENG]

This English-speaking video by Benaki Museum focuses on the everyday lives of Greeks during the Turkish occupation. The video received some negative comments for presenting the Ottoman rule in a positive light.

“Bouboulina” (1959) | Film on Greek National Heroine Laskarina Bouboulina

This 1959 film follows the life of the Greek national heroine and naval commander Laskarina Bouboulina from the island of Hydra.

“The Betrayed People: Manto Mavrogenous” (1983) | Biographical Film on Mantou Mavrogenous

This ’80s film is dedicated on the life of the Greek national heroine and Honorary Lieutenant General Manto Mavrogenous who spent her fortune on the Greek War of Independence.

“Souliotes” (1972) | Film on the Attack on Souli

One of the most well-known events related to the life of Greeks under Ottoman rule is the Zalongo incident that is depicted in this 1972 film.

greek war of independence

The Rebirth of Greece (in 10 Minutes) | 200 Years since the Revolution of 1821 (Greek War of Independence)

The history of Greece and the Greeks spans thousands of years. These include years of prosperity and decline, times of conquests, and revolutions. But there was a moment in time that is of great importance for modern Greeks. That was the spring of 1821, exactly 200 years ago: the Greek War of Independence.

Greek Drama Ep.3: Ancient Greek Stage Machinery (Mechane, Periaktos etc.) | Ancient Theatrical Tricks

Theatrical machinery – devices used for theatrical effects – are much older than you might think. They were used on stage since the beginning of the history of theater. Here are some of the tricks ancient Greeks used to help the audience get fully immersed into the play.

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Ancient Greek Stage Machinery:

  1. Mechane
  2. Periaktos
  3. Ekkyklema
  4. Theologeion
  5. Anapiesma (Trap)
  6. Vronteio & Keravnoskopeion
  7. Other Theatrical Tricks

Mechane/ Deus ex Machina

You may know this machine with its latin name “Deus ex Machina”. “Mechane” or “Aiorima” was a crane used in ancient Greek drama. Ancient Greek tragedies would often require the intervention of a god or goddess in times of crisis. The divine character would hang over the stage with the help of the mechane and provide a solution to the tragic character’s problem. Euripides, the most alternative tragedian, used the aiorima for a non-divine character – Medea. Since then, mechane has been used to land any type of character on stage, if the plot requires them to fly around.  

Periaktos

Periaktos -often seen in plural as periaktoi – was a wooden device that rapidly changed the theatrical scenes. It had the shape of a triangle with three different backgrounds painted on each side. The periaktos would rotate, changing the set of each scene. This device gained popularity during the Renaissance period and that is when theatrical designers, such as Nicola Sabbatini, were admired for their work.

Ekkyklema

Ancient tragedies often delt with the darkest side of the human psyche. The plot usually included violent crimes, including murder. But depicting such devious scenes was not allowed. That is why they would use a wheeled platform called ekkyklema to remove and reintroduce characters on stage. For example, a character would be rolled out of the scene before his murder and pushed back in while laying on the ground.  

Theologeion

Theologeion was a stage trick similar to mechane. It was a raised platform which was very well disguised as part of the scene. Actors who played divine characters would climb up these platforms and spoke the word of god from above.

Anapiesma (Trap)

Anapiesma was the ancient Greek version of the stage trap we know today. It was a concealed opening under the stage floor, where actors and props would be hidden before they appeared on stage. Such traps are used even today.

Vronteio & Keravnoskopeion

In ancient Greek drama, weather changes often symbolized the mood of the gods and goddesses. Storms would take place when a character committed hybris. Tragedians would employ two devices to mimic the sounds and lightnings of a stormy weather: vronteio and keravnoskopeion. The first was a metal box full of rocks that was shaken to produce loud noises. The second was a type of periaktos that had a side with a mirroring effect. It was used to reflect the sunlight in a way that resembled a lightning.

Other Theatrical Tricks

Ancient Greeks constructed their theaters amphitheatrically. The goal was that everyone could see and hear whatever happened on stage. The locations were chosen carefully, and Greek theaters still have incredible acoustic. The acoustic did not only occur naturally but also with the construction of obstruction behind the stage. This happened in order to enhance the physical phenomenon of reflection, which causes echoes.

If you enjoyed watching this video, feel free to like, share, and subscribe. Stay tuned because, next week, we will be covering the plot of our first tragedy.

medea (play)

Greek Drama Ep.7: Medea by Euripides (Theatrical Play)

Medea (Μήδεια) is one of the most controversial female heroines to have ever existed. In modern Greek, her name is given to women who end the lives of their children. We know Medea from ancient Greek mythology and specifically the Argonautica. But the character is widely known thanks to the theatrical play with the same name, presented by Euripides in 431 BC.

Greek Drama Ep.6: The Concepts of Hybris, Nemesis, and Catharsis

Hybris, nemesis, and catharsis are three important aspects of every ancient Greek tragedy. Hybris and nemesis were mentioned way before the birth of Greek theatre; we know the terms from ancient Greek mythology. And catharsis is a concept that was introduced in drama. But what is the meaning of these three theatrical terms?

Greek Drama Ep.5: Antigone by Sophocles

Antigone by Sophocles is one of the most well-known ancient Greek theatrical plays. It belongs to a collection of tragedies – the Theban plays – since it takes place in the Greek city of Thebes. It was written by the great tragedian Sophocles and was presented at the theatrical competition of Dionysia in 441 BC. It is based on the myth of Oedipus but Sophocles manages to make the story even more tragic. It focuses on the subject of written vs. unwritten rules and absolute power.

St Basil the Great: The Greek Santa Claus

In most Western Christian cultures, children await for the arrival of the Santa Claus on the night of Christmas Eve. Depicted usually with a red outfit originating from a coke advertisement, Santa or Saint Nicholas is not the only person bringing gifts on Christmas. In Austria, Switzerland, and other neighboring countries, the gifts are brought by Christkind. In Italy, there is Babbo Natale and the Befana. In other countries there is the Christmas gnome and the Christmas goat… but what about Greece? Who brings the presents in Greece?

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Saint Basil of Caesarea is the Greek Father Christmas

In Greece, the most influential religion is Greek Orthodoxy, which is part of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Greek Orthodoxy has its roots in Early Christianity in the Near East and the Byzantine Empire – which is described as the medieval history of Greece. The traditional gift-bringer in Greece could only be an influential figure from Byzantine history.

Basil of Caesarea, known also as Saint Basil the Great, was the bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia – which is located in modern-day Turkey. He was an important theologian and one of the three Cappadocian Fathers. He had a huge influence on monasticism and the opposition against Arianism and other heresies. One of the most unique looking churches is the world, the Orthodox Cathedral on the Red Square of Moscow, Russia, is dedicated to St Basil.

He is usually depictedwith a medium complexion and dark brown eyes and hair, bearing few similarities to Santa Claus. Since he followed an ascetic lifestyle, he always looks very thin with protruding cheekbones. It is believed that he came from a wealthy family, but he always took care of those in need. This is why he is the holiday gift-bringer in Greece, although it is not clear when this tradition started.

It is important to note that gifts in Greece are exchanged on New Year’s Day, also known as “Saint Basil’s Day”, since St Basil was born on January 1st (330 AD). However, Hollywood has greatly influenced our perception of certain traditions, with many Greek families exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, instead of January 1st. Not only that, but Saint Basil, called «Άγιος Βασίλειος» in Greek, has been represented in a historically inaccurate way, when it comes to his clothes, silhouette, complexion, and general appearance.

When it comes to the exchange of gifts, the tradition varies. Children are sometimes told that St Basil enters the house through the chimney, however, fireplaces are not common in Greece nowadays. That is why parents usually say that St Basil leaves the presents at the doorstep of its house and leaves. Parents can be very creative with the stories they share and, sometimes, they tell their children that the Byzantine gift-bringer comes through the… radiators.

Children in Greece are rarely asked to leave a treat for St Basil, as in other cultures, and it is not clear how the gift-bringer travels around the world. An interesting fact here is that the story of the western Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, arriving on a flying sleigh probably originates in ancient Greece and the myth of the flying chariot god, Helios (the Sun). However, in the Greek Orthodox tradition, it is prophet Elias, not St Basil, who chose this method of transportation.

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Santa’s Companions

Now, before we end this video it is important to acknowledge the presence of the malevolent companions of Father Christmas, who are present in almost every Christian culture. In central Europe, for example, there is Krampus, a horned monster that could be described as the anti-Santa. He and his minions punish naughty children by giving them coal instead of presents. In the Greek tradition, there are several such malevolent creatures, with the difference that, instead of punishing the kids who misbehave, they try to sabotage Christmas preparations.

These creatures are no other than the “kallikantzaroi”, who are notorious in Greece and some neighboring countries for misplacing items, stealing or spoiling food, and playing tricks on people. They can be compared to the “goblins” of other European cultures. As you might remember from another video by Helinika, these tricksters live under the surface of the Earth and resurface only between the 25th of December and the 7th of January, when the “Blessing of the Waters” takes place. “Kallikantzaroi” also aim at cutting down the “Tree of Earth”, which supposedly holds the planet together.

I hope you found the video helpful. If you did, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe for more videos like this. Now, I am really curious to hear about similar stories from your culture, if you do celebrate Christmas. Who brings presents in your country and are there any myths about tricksters roaming around? Leave a comment down below!

Why Is The 17th of November a Commemoration Day in Greece?

The 17th of November commemorates the people who lost their lives in the Polytechnic Uprising that occurred in Athens in 1973. It also marks the beginning of the end of the Greek Junta, also known as “the Regime of the Colonels” that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. The 17th of November is not a national holiday in Greece but rather a profession-specific holiday and a day of rememberance.

The day is dedicated to freedom and Democracy and it is a reminder to never take these two for granted. It is also a call to stand against police brutality, militarism, and authoritarianism. The 17th of November is often described as a result of the prolonged political crisis that was rooted back to the Greek Civil War. From this perspective, the holiday is a reminder of the great dangers of extreme political and ideological division within a society.

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The Greek Junta/ Regime of the Colonels:

On April 21 1967, colonels George Papadopoulos and Nikolaos Makarezos seized power in a coup d’état. There were several other military officers that had conspired to this plan, including general officer Stylianos Pattakos. The coup leaders started arresting politicians and authority figures, as well as citizens who they suspected were sympathizers of the left. It is estimated that over 10.000 people were arrested in one day.

Once Greece was at the hands of the colonels, articles of the Greek Constitution were suspended, civil liberties were restricted, politicians were exiled, and citizens were tortured and imprisoned. During the seven years of the Junta, four different dictatorships governed the country.

The first years were characterized by strong propaganda to gain the trust of the citizens who maintained a neutral position. The ideology was spread through schools and churches. Public works that were promised in the past were completed. Farmers’ debts were written off and forgotten. At the same time, economic scandals rose and the public dept almost doubled by 1973.  

The Regime of the Colonels ended with the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in July 1974, leading to the establishment of the Third Hellenic Republic and the complete democratic transformation of the country. The regime was blamed for mismanaging the situation in Cyprus, while a great percentage of the public was outraged with the actions the colonels took to stop the polytechnic uprising.

It is worth mentioning that the Greek Junta was closely associated with the “Truman Doctrine”, an American foreign policy that aimed at halting the Soviet geopolitical expansion during the Cold War. Greece had experienced a civil war some years beforehand between those who supported left and those who supported right ideologies. Various external organizations have been blamed over the years for supporting the Greek Junta, including “Ordine Nuovo”, a far right paramilitary organization in Italy.

The Polytechnic Uprising:

University and high-school students in Athens were some of the first to reject the military regime. In 1973, massive student demonstrations were organized in the Greek capital, which stands as a global symbol of Democracy to this day.

Law students barricaded themselves in the Law School of the University of Athens in February 1973, an act that was followed by police brutality, inspiring more students to take an active stance against the Junta. On November 14 of that year, students at the Athens Polytechnic went on strike and occupied the University demanding “Bread-Education-Liberty”. Some of the students aimed at abolishing capitalism, while the great majority reportedly demanded the restoration of Democracy and Greece’s exit from the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO).

Non-students who wanted to protest against the regime started gathering at the Polytechnic University and a radio transmitter was set up to inspire the people to join them. In November 16, protesters showed their presence on the streets of Athens and the police responded with bullets. At least 24 people were reportedly shot dead during the protests. Other reports mention that the deaths were at least 40.

In the early hours of November 17, the anti-junta movement escalated when a military tank crashed the Polytechnic’s gates. People were reportedly clinging on the gates shouting slogans against the regime. It is also reported that the city of Athens was in complete darkness, since all the streetlights had been shut down. The area was lit only by the generators of the University. What happened after the crash remains a mystery and a highly controversial subject in Greece.

The official investigation that followed the fall of the Junta declared that there were no deaths during the Polytechnic incident. However, 24 deaths have been officially recorded in the protests that occurred outside the University. Moreover, it is estimated that the injured civilians between November 15 and November 17 were thousands. Several conspiracy theories have emerged throughout the years from both sides.

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The 17th of November Today:

The 17th of November is a rememberance day in Greece, schools are closed, and commemorative services are held in the campus of the Polytechnic University. The commemoration day ends with a demonstration from the campus to the embassy of the United States. The demonstrations often get violent.

What are the Greeks celebrating on March 25?

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.

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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.

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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.