Greek Independence Day

The History of Hellenic Independence

March 25, Greek Independence Day

Prior to the Golden Age, the Cretans under King Minos and the Spartans under Kings Lycourgas, Leonidas and Menelaus, with others, protected the liberty of Hellenism from oppressive forces.

In the 4th-5th centuries B.C., the people of Greece flourished through a Golden Age. During that time, Pericles, Plato, Aristophanes and other great names prospered, and Athens gave rise to the world’s first democracy, which later inspired the United States Founding Fathers. After the Golden Age of Athens, Alexander the Great, from the northern Greek state of Macedonia, conquered the world from Greece through India, spreading Greek culture throughout the near and Middle East.

The Immigration from Peloponnese, Crete and other Aegean and Ionian Islands to southern Italy was known for centuries as Magna Graecia. This immigration influenced the Roman elites in the western empire and remained dominant in the eastern empire. In 330 A.D., the Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, established a separate capital for the eastern empire in the Greek City of Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople. Christianity was declared the official religion of the empire and the First Ecumenical Council was convened. In 476 A.D., the western empire ended when the Huns conquered Rome. Greek culture and language, Orthodox Christianity, Roman political institutions, and a dominant Greek population held the eastern empire strong for another thousand years until May 29, 1453, when the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople and all of Greece. For 368 years of Ottoman occupation, the Hellenic people were second-class citizens, subjected to heavy tax burdens, brutal slavery, and oppressions. They could not ride horses, and their first-born sons could be forced to convert to Islam and serve in the Sultan’s “Janissary” units. In Constantinople, the famous Greek Orthodox Church of Agia Sofia was converted to a mosque. The Greek Orthodox Church continued to exist, though, and preserved Greek culture and learning until the time of rebellion.

In the 1700′s, St. Catherine the Great of Russia ousted the Turks from the Black Sea Coast, creating numerous towns with Greek and Byzantine names, including Odessa. She offered Greeks financial incentives and free land to settle these regions. Many took her offer, namely, A. Tsakalof, E. Xanthos, and N. Skoufas, three businessmen who founded the Philiki Etairia (Friendly Society) in Odessa in 1814. The Philiki Etairia branched throughout Greece, where members met in secret in planning for liberation. These leaders believed that armed force was the only way to strive for liberation, and they made generous monetary contributions towards the freedom fighters. Meanwhile, the Phanariotes, such as A. Mavrokordatos and A. & D. Ypsilantis, were wealthy Greek families of Constantinople who dominated commerce in the Ottoman Empire and weakened it from within. On March25,1821,Bishop Germanos of Patras courageously raised the Greek flag at the monastery of Agia Lavras in the Peloponnese, and declared “Eleftheria i Thanatos” (Freedom or Death). March 25th was a significant date: it is the feast of the Annunciation in the Greek Orthodox Church, when the Virgin Mary freely chose to bear Christ, who would free humanity of their sins.

During the first year of the war, the Greeks captured Monemvassia, Navarino (Pylos), Nafplion, Tripolitsa, Messolongi, Athens, and Thebes. Mavromichaelis, governor of Mani, sieged strategic Turkish garrisons and homes. Turks retaliated in other areas of Greece, especially on the island of Chios, where 25,000 civilians were massacred. T. Kolokotronis, noted as the most important figure in the Greek revolution, sieged Tripolis and forced its surrender, defeated the army of Dramalis and inflicted major blows to Ibrahim’s army. Other important leaders during the revolt were G. Karaiskakis, C. Kanaris, General Makriyannis, M. Mavrogenous, L. Boumboulina, A. Miaoulis, Nikitaras, Papaflesas (Grigorios Dikaios), and many more. Help came from aristocratic young philhellenes, such as Shelley, Goethe, Schiller, Hugo, de Musset, and Lord Byron.

The Ottomans took over the Peloponnese once again by 1827. However, A combination Russian, French and British fleet destroyed the Turko-Egyptian fleet in the Bay of Navarino in October 1827. When Sultan Mahmud II defied the odds by proclaiming a holy war, Russia sent troops into the Balkans and engaged in another Russo-Turkish war with the Ottomans. With Russian troops at the gates of Constantinople in 1829, the sultan finally accepted Greek Independence by the Treaty of Adrianople. The Protocol of London formally recognized Greek Independence in 1830. Greece endured many more struggles until 1947, when her current borders were achieved.

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