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    Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies

    After gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire early in the nineteenth century, Greece became a monarchy ruled by representatives of several European royal houses. Domestic politics and relations with neighbor states began a pattern of persistent turmoil.

    The Conditions for Revolution

    The modern state of Greece came into existence as a result of a protracted, bloody war against the Ottoman Empire between the years 1821 and 1832. The significance of the Greek War of Independence transcends the bounds of Greece and its history. It was the first major war of liberation after the American Revolution; it was the first successful war for independence from the Ottoman Empire; it was the first explicitly nationalist revolution; and it provided a model for later nationalist struggles.

    The Greek War of Independence was the result of several factors. The ideology of a specifically Greek national consciousness, which had earlier roots, developed at an accelerated pace in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. The uprising of 1821 followed other Greek efforts to confront Ottoman rule directly. The most important of these events was the Orlov Rebellion of 1778-79. Inspired by the belief that Russia's war with the Turks signaled that country's readiness to liberate all the Christians in the Ottoman Empire, a short-lived uprising took place in the Peloponnesus beginning in February 1778. Under the ostensible leadership of the Russian Orlov brothers, the venture quickly failed because of poor organization and the lack of a coherent ideology, rapidly degenerating into looting and pillaging by both sides, but it set a precedent for violent resistance to Ottoman rule. The Orlov Rebellion also prompted oppressive measures by the Sublime Porte (the Ottoman government) that increased resentment against the empire.

    The intellectual basis of nationalism came from the affluent and prominent diaspora Greeks of the eighteenth century. The two most prominent leaders of this group were Adamantios Korais and Rigas Velestinlis. Korais, primarily an educator, advocated the education of Greeks about their ancient heritage as the path toward emancipation. He played no active role in founding the modern Greek state. The fiery revolutionary Velestinlis wrote a blueprint for a new Greek state that would arise from the ashes of revolution against the empire. He was executed by the Turks in 1798.

    In 1821 Greece met three major requirements for a successful revolution: material conditions among the populace were adverse enough to stimulate mass support for action; an ideological framework gave direction to the movement; and an organizational structure was present to coordinate the movement. Greek intellectuals had provided the language and ideas necessary for a nationalist struggle. And episodes such as the Orlov Rebellion provided a collective memory of violent resistance that made action feasible. During the 1810s, the other two conditions developed, then all three converged in the early 1820s.

    The economy of the Ottoman Empire was seriously damaged by the general depression of commerce that followed the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. Near-famine conditions prevailed in most of the Balkan Peninsula, but the problem was not addressed at any level of Ottoman government, and resentment grew among the rural populace. The Greek movement also developed organizational leadership during the 1810s. The Filiki Etaireia, or Friendly Society, founded in Odessa in 1814, was the most important of many clandestine revolutionary groups that arose. Unlike other such groups, it was able to attract a substantial membership while remaining undetected by Ottoman authorities. The organization brought together men from many levels of society to provide an organizational base for the dissemination of revolutionary ideas and for coordinated action. By 1820, then, only a spark was required to set the revolution ablaze.

    Data as of December 1994

    NOTE: The information regarding Greece on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Greece OUT OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Greece OUT OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE should be addressed to the Library of Congress.

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    Revised 04-Jul-02
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