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.
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.