March 25, 2011

Birth of a Nation-State: The Establishment of Modern Greece

Effie Karageorgos
March 25, 2011
Neos Kosmos

On 25 March 2011, 190 years has passed since the beginning of the Greek revolution against the Ottoman Empire.

It is important at this time to remember both the forces within and outside of Greece that led to the famous ‘Ελευθερία ή θάνατος!’ (Freedom or death!) declaration on this significant date in Greek history. From the mid-15th century, the powerful Ottoman Empire overran early Greek (Byzantine) territories weakened by various wars, including the Fourth Crusade.

The harsh treatment of Orthodox Christians under Ottoman rule put them in a low position in society, and one that inspired frequent revolts. This increased during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when Greek shipping merchants became wealthier under spreading industrialization, leading to increased courage against the Ottoman navy and the financing of more Orthodox Christian schools teaching predominantly Greek values. Added to this, ideas about freedom originating in the French Revolution and the Enlightenment were reaching Ottoman Greece, particularly through descendants of those who had migrated to Western Europe before the invasion. This increased courage led to the 1814 formation of Φιλική Εταιρεία (Society of Friends), a secret organization with the aim to liberate Greece.

By 1821, they were ready to plan a large scale revolution in the Peloponnese, the Danubian Principalities and Constantinople. Although various separate revolts occurred from February 1821, the modern Greek nation celebrates their initial drive towards freedom on 25 March, when historians claim Germanos of Patras raised the Greek flag at the Peloponnese monastery of Aghias Lavras in the most important battlefield of the revolution, the Peloponnese.

Eventually the relentless Greek fighting for independence forced the European powers of France and Britain to pay attention. Britain and France, in particular, were prompted by public opinion, particularly of Romantic painters and other intellectuals, such as Eugene Delacroix and Lord Byron – who died while fighting on the Greek side. By 1826 they were ready to combine forces with Russia to help end the war.

The weakened state of the Ottoman Empire by the 19th century had forced them to employ Egypt to fight for them in 1825, in exchange for Greek territory. The Egyptian navy’s push towards Hydra in October 1827 was to prove the end of the long war for independence. Britain, France and Russia sent a joint fleet to meet the Egyptians before they reached the island, meeting them in Navarino. The ensuing battle lasted for a week, and ended in an Egyptian defeat. This encounter only added to the numerous gains made by Greek revolutionaries that won the war.

By 1829, Greece had defined borders and a new government, establishing the modern Greek state as we recognise it today.