Greeks in the Ottoman Empire

In the previous article (“The Crisis of the Ottoman Empire and the Evolution of the Situation of Gentiles”), it was told about the situation of Jews and Armenians in this country. Now we will continue this story and talk about the situation in Turkey of the Christian peoples of the European part of this empire.

European Christians in the Ottoman Empire

The position of European Christians (primarily the Slavs) was, perhaps, worse than that of the Armenians who professed Christianity. The fact is that, in addition to jizya and kharaj (poll and land taxes), they were also taxed with the “blood tax” – a set of boys according to the famous “devshirme” system. It is generally accepted that they all became janissaries.

This is not entirely true, because the children brought to Constantinople were divided into three categories. Most of them did become professional soldiers.


However, some who were deemed lazy and unsuitable for training were designated by the servants. Well, the most capable were transferred to the Enderun school, located in the third courtyard of the Topkapi palace complex.

Enderun, library of Ahmed III

One of the graduates of this school, who completed all 7 stages of training in it, was Piiale Pasha – either Hungarian or Croat by nationality, brought from Hungary in 1526. At 32, he was already the head of the internal security of the Sultan’s palace. Later he became the commander of the Ottoman fleet, the second vizier of the empire and son-in-law of Sultan Selim II.

Piiale Pasha, bust at the Istanbul Maritime Museum

But, as you understand, such a career was not at all typical for “foreign boys” (ajemi oglan): they had a much greater chance of dying in one of the countless wars, or vegetating all their lives in auxiliary jobs.

Greece as part of the Ottoman Empire

As you know, Constantinople fell in 1453. Then, in 1460, the last Byzantine city, Mystra, was captured by the Ottomans. In 1461, the Greeks of Trebizond were also ruled by the sultans. Other areas inhabited by descendants of the Hellenes (Peloponnese, Epirus, islands of the Mediterranean and Ionian Seas) still remained outside the sphere of Ottoman influence, but did not belong to the Greeks themselves. These were the possessions of Venice, with which the Ottomans waged a stubborn struggle for a long time both on land and at sea. Kerkyra and many of the islands of the Ionian Sea did not become Turkish.

After the fall of Constantinople, the majority of Orthodox Greeks did not flee to the Catholic West, but for quite a long time they faithfully served the Ottoman rulers. During the 1914 census, 1,792,206 Greeks were counted in the Ottoman Empire – about 8.5% of the total population of this country.

The Greeks lived not only in the European part of the empire, but also in Asia Minor (Anatolia), sometimes holding high government positions. The Greeks of Constantinople (Phanariots), who traditionally supplied the Porte with high-ranking officials, up to the governors of the provinces, were especially prosperous (Phanariots were especially often appointed to Moldavia and Wallachia).

The famous Greek “oligarch” of the Ottoman Empire was Mikhail Kantakuzen, who in the 16th century received the right to a monopoly trade in furs with the Muscovy. In Constantinople he was given the “speaking” nickname Shaitan-Oglu (“Son of the Devil”).

The Greeks were the natives of Lesbos, Khair ad-Din Barbarossa (one of the most famous admirals of the Ottoman Empire) and his older brother Oruj, who proclaimed himself Emir of Algeria and recognized the power of Sultan Selim I.

When the Venetians captured Morea in 1699, the local Greeks acted as allies of the Ottomans, which ended with the expulsion of the Catholic Europeans in 1718.

However, over time, the policy of the Ottoman sultans towards Christians changed for the worse – military failures and failures in foreign policy are always easier to explain by intrigues of internal enemies.

Therefore, at the end of the 18th century, the Greeks were already allies of the Russian co-religionists, which, in turn, led to the most severe repressions. In 1770, Albanians loyal to the Turks killed (in the same Morey) a huge number of civilians. The result was a new uprising in 1821 and the long-term struggle of the Greeks for independence, which ended with the formation of their own kingdom in 1832.

Greek uprising of 1821-1829

Peter Von Hess. The Hellenic Revolution of 1821

One of the symbols of that liberation war was the Turkish siege of Messolonga, which lasted for almost a year (from April 15, 1825 to April 10, 1826). By the way, it was in this city that Byron died in 1824.

E. Delacroix. Greece on the ruins of Messalonga, painting 1826 Museum of Fine Arts, Bordeaux

Russia abstained

In relation to Russia, the Ottomans then also behaved defiantly.

On Easter in April 1821, the Patriarch of Constantinople and seven metropolitans were hanged – an insult to Orthodox Christians around the world was simply unheard of. The body of the patriarch, by the way, was later found at sea and delivered to Odessa on a Greek ship under the British flag.

Russian ships were arrested with a load of bread.

Finally, the Turkish government did not even respond to the note of the Stroganov envoy, because of which he was forced to leave Constantinople.

Russian society and the closest circle of Alexander I demanded that the emperor protect Orthodoxy and co-religionists. Alexander said nothing. In 1822, at the Verona Congress, he explained his position as follows:

“Now there can no longer be a policy of English, French, Russian, Prussian, Austrian: there is only one policy, a common one, which must be adopted jointly by peoples and states in order to save all. I must be the first to show loyalty to the principles on which I founded the union. One case presented itself to that – the uprising of Greece. Nothing, no doubt, seemed more in keeping with my interests, the interests of my peoples, the public opinion of my country, as a religious war with Turkey; but in the unrest of the Peloponnese I saw signs of revolution. And then I abstained. “

The British assessed this stupid “fair-heartedness” of the Russian emperor correctly and adequately:

“Russia is leaving its leading position in the East. England should take advantage of this and occupy it. “

This was stated in 1823 by the British Foreign Secretary Charles Stratford-Canning.

Lord Stratford Canning, портрет из книги «The life of the Right Honourable Stratford Canning, viscount Stratford de Redcliffe», 1888 г.

At first, the uprising in Greece developed quite successfully, but with the help of the Egyptian troops of Ibrahim Pasha, the Ottoman authorities practically defeated the rebels, whose situation became completely desperate.

Navarino battle

And only in 1827 the “great powers” (Russia, Great Britain and France) intervened, which sent a united fleet to the shores of Greece, which defeated the Ottoman-Turkish squadron in the Navarino battle.

Ambroise-Louis Garneray. “Naval battle at Navarino”

Edward Codrington, a participant in the Battle of Trafalgar, in the rank of Rear Admiral, led the allied fleets of Great Britain, France and Russia, the portrait is kept in the National Historical Museum of Greece

The British squadron then had 3 ships of the line, 3 frigates, 4 brigs, a sloop and a tender.

The French sent 3 ships of the line, 2 frigates, a brig and a schooner under the command of Admiral Henri-Gaultier de Rigny (future Minister of Foreign Affairs of France).

François Gabriel Guillaume Lepaulle. Portrait of Admiral Henri-Gaultier de Rigny, 1836

Russian Rear Admiral L.P. Geiden (Westphalian, who joined the Russian service in 1795) brought 4 battleships and 4 frigates.

E.I. Botman. Portrait of Admiral Login Petrovich Heyden, 1877

The total firepower of the united allied squadron was 1,300 artillery pieces.

At the disposal of Ibrahim Pasha, who headed the Turkish and Egyptian ships, there were 3 ships of the line, 5 two-deck 64-gun frigates, 18 small frigates, 42 corvettes, 15 brigs and 6 fire ships. From the shore, they were supported by 165 guns of the Navarino fortress and the island of Sfakteria. Different authors estimate the total number of guns from 2,100 to 2,600.

Charles-Philippe Lariviere. Portrait of Ibrahim Pasha, 1846

The enemy fleet was blocked in the bay and completely destroyed, which caused the displeasure of King George IV, who did not want the Ottomans to be unduly weakened (and, therefore, Russia strengthened). On the margins of the decree awarding Codrington the Order of the Grand Cross of the Bath, the monarch allegedly wrote:

“I send him a ribbon, although he deserves a rope.”

The allies in this battle did not lose a single ship.

In 1828, Russia entered the war with Turkey, which ended in victory the following year.

On September 2 (14), 1829, a peace treaty was signed between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in Adrianople, under which Greece received autonomy. On behalf of Russia, it was signed by Alexei Fedorovich Orlov, the illegitimate son of one of the younger brothers of the famous favorite of Catherine II – Gregory.

F. Kruger. Portrait of A.F. Orlov, 1851

And at the London Conference of 1832, an agreement was reached on the creation of an independent Greek state.

Enosis movement

Even after the emergence of the Greek kingdom, many Greeks remained on the territory of the Ottoman Empire, and the ideas of Enosis (the movement for reunification with the historical homeland) were increasingly spreading among them.

It should nevertheless be said that not all Ottoman Greeks shared these ideas: there were those who were quite satisfied with the situation in the Ottoman Empire.

Alexander Karathéodori (Alexander Pasha-Karathéodori) from an old Phanariote family in 1878 became the head of the foreign affairs department of the Ottoman Empire and represented Turkey at the Berlin Congress of 1878.

Constantine Muzurus served as the Ottoman governor on the island of Samos, the ambassador of the Port to Greece (since 1840) and in Great Britain (since 1851).

Banker Christakis Zografos, a native of Epirus in 1854-1881, was one of the largest creditors of the Ottoman state, he had awards from three sultans.

Christakis Zografos

Galatian banker Georgios Zarifis was the personal treasurer of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.

Georgios Zarifis, photo 1881

There were 26 Greeks in the Turkish Parliament in 1908, and 18 in 1914.

However, against the background of the spread of the ideas of Enosis, the Ottoman authorities trusted the Greeks less and less.

And in the Greek kingdom, hatred of the Ottomans, who hindered the formation of Magna Graecia, was very great.

In the 20th century, this country fought three times with Turkey: during the First Balkan War of 1912-1913, during the Second Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922. (after which about one and a half million people were forced to move from Turkey to Greece, this will be discussed later) and in the hostilities on the island of Cyprus in 1974 (We will talk about them in the next article devoted to the situation of Bulgarians in the Ottoman Empire and Muslims in socialist Bulgaria, as well as the “Cyprus syndrome” by Todor Zhivkov).

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