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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter V. National Heroism: Revolution and Counter-Revolution

Fight for Faith and Motherland!

Alexandros Ypsilantis
Traduction de Mary Kitroeff

Texte intégral

1Title: Μάχου ὑπέρ πίστεως καὶ πατρίδος (Fight for Faith and Motherland!)

2Originally published: as a leaflet in Iaşi, 24 February 1822.

3Language: Greek

4The excerpts text used are from: Apostolos Daskalakis, Kείµενα-πηγαί τῆς ἱστορίας τῆς ἑλληνικῆς ἐπαναστάσεως (Αθήνα: 1966), pp. 141–144.

About the author

5Alexandros Ypsilantis [1792, Bucharest – 1828, St. Petersburg]: military leader. He was the offspring of one of the most distinguished Phanariot families. His grandfather Alexandros and his father Constantinos had been appointed by the Ottoman authorities as princes of the Danubian Principalities. The Sultan, however, was persuaded by the accusations of Napoleon’s ambassador Sebastiani that Constantinos was pro-Russian and dismissed him in 1805. Thereupon the family fled to Russia. The young Alexandros joined the Russian army and fought during the Napoleonic wars. After the battle of Dresden in 1813, where he lost his right hand, he was promoted to the rank of colonel, and in 1817 he became major-general. In 1820 he was approached by Emmanouil Xanthos, one of the leaders of the Philiki Etairia (Friendly Society), and agreed to join the secret society. Very soon he was given the title of ‘General Commissioner.’ In February 1821 Ypsilantis crossed the River Prut to Moldavia, thus raising the signal for an uprising. However, his troops were soon crushed by the Ottoman army at Drăgăşani in Wallachia. Ypsilantis then crossed the border into Austria, where he was immediately arrested and imprisoned. He was released in 1827, thanks to an appeal by the Tsar. Alexandros Ypsilantis demonstrated a flamboyant and enthusiastic patriotism, which, however, was not accompanied by military genius. His limited abilities caused his comrades to lose faith in him and eventually to abandon him. However, he was the first to give the signal for the Greek uprising which resulted in the creation of the modern Hellenic state. Consequently, Greek historiography has treated him as a national hero.


6The Napoleonic wars (1797–1814) proved profitable for Greek-Orthodox artisans, seamen and merchants who had settled in southeast Russia and the Danubian Principalities. The continental blockade imposed by the British offered to courageous entrepreneurs ample opportunities to be involved in smuggling. However, Napoleon’s defeat put an end to these favorable circumstances and drove these groups into bankruptcy. It was under these social and economic conditions that in 1814 in Odessa three bankrupt merchants— Nikolaos Skoufas, Andreas Tsakalof and Emmanouil Xanthos—founded the Philiki Etairia. The three merchants, like many others, found themselves in an awkward position. They were members of a bourgeois stratum which no longer found it sufficient to entrust intellectuals such as Korais or Rigas with the task of enlightening their compatriots in the areas under Ottoman rule. Influenced by French revolutionary ideas, they decided to become more active in order to liberate their motherland from the Ottoman ‘yoke’ and create a nation-state conforming to their aspirations.

7The Philikoi, as the members of the Society called themselves, managed to extend their network. They were all bound under oath to fight for the liberation of the motherland. In fact, as was the case with many revolutionary secret societies, the Philiki Etairia was also organized on a Masonic pattern. As soon as the uprising broke out, these networks proved very useful. However, the uprising also meant the end of the Philiki Etairia, since leadership was taken over by the military and the notables of the Morea (Peloponnese) and Rumelia. Nevertheless, on the eve of the uprising, the movement needed a prominent leader who could inspire faith in victory. Count Capodistrias, the foreign minister of the Tsar who was initially offered the leadership, suggested that Alexandros Ypsilantis should be the person. Thus, in October 1820 Ypsilantis, together with many among the leading figures of the Etairia, gathered at Ismail (Rus. Izmayil, in Bessarabia). According to the initial plan, Ypsilantis was to travel to Trieste and from there on to the Morea, where he would give the signal for the uprising. However, an uprising in the Principalities was considered more appropriate, on the grounds that Serbs and Bulgarians might also join in.

8On 6 March 1821 Ypsilantis, dressed as a Russian general, crossed the Prut river together with twenty comrades. When he arrived in Iaşi, he reassured Prince Mikhail Soutzos (Rom. Şuţu), a fervent supporter of the revolutionaries, that 70,000 Russians would soon follow. The boyars of Iaşi, encouraged by Soutzos, contributed funds for the creation of an army. However, when on 13 March Ypsilantis marched to Bucharest, his army numbered less than 2,000, the core of which was formed by the Ίερός Λόχος (Sacred Band), a special corps formed by students. In the meantime, Tudor Vladimirescu, a prominent military leader in Wallachia and a crucial prospective ally of Ypsilantis, had addressed to his compatriots a proclamation asking them to fight against the injustice of the boyars and clergymen. However, under the pressure of Philiki Etairia he soon issued a new proclamation encouraging the population to obey the boyars and pay their taxes. The peasants were disappointed. They had no reason to fight for the Greeks who had been ruling them for more than a century, nor for the boyars who had joined the Greeks. They began abandoning Tudor, who, they claimed, had not kept his promise of supporting a popular uprising. Eventually, instead of a joint military campaign, the Romanian troops turned against the Greeks. Tudor was arrested by Ypsilantis and sentenced to death. The Ottoman troops had already entered the Principalities and started hunting down the rebels. On 18 June, at Drăgăşani, the volunteers of the ‘Sacred Band’ were massacred.

9An important aspect of these events was Ypsilantis’ failure to secure support. His appeals to the Tsar remained unanswered. Instead, the Tsar, when informed about the revolt, urged Capodistrias to write a letter repudiating Ypsilantis. To make things worse, Patriarch Gregorios V pronounced an anathema against all rebels. It has been suggested that this anathema was a tactical move on the part of the Patriarch in order to save the Greek-Orthodox population of Constantinople (Istanbul) from retaliation. Yet he was able to save neither them nor himself.

  • 1 The inhabitants of Souli, a complex of villages on the mountains of Epirus.

10In the proclamation, entitled ‘Fight for Faith and Motherland!’, that Ypsilantis issued when he crossed the Prut, he appealed to all male ‘Hellenes’ (referring to the Hellenized population of the Balkans, transcending ethnic differences) to join the uprising. He reassured them that the enlightened nations of Europe would support them in the fight against the barbaric tyrants. Moreover, he claimed that the Hellenes would prove themselves worthy of the glory of their ancestors only if they embarked on a heroic struggle “in the name of faith and motherland.” The proclamation made it clear that the uprising would seek to liberate “the Ionian and Aegean coasts,” thus making practically no reference to the local population. Instead, he addressed the “Serbs and the Souliots”1 on equal terms, demonstrating his belief that only Hellenes formed a concrete nation in the region, whereas the rest were nothing more than ethnic groups with a local identity. Finally, he stressed that a ‘Great Power’ was going to support the movement, clearly referring to Russia. However, both the enthusiasm and the self-confidence of the text attest more to the self-sacrificing patriotism of the members of Philiki Etairia than to any strong political affiliations or military preparations.

11As a matter of fact, the events of 1821 did put an end to Phanariot rule in the Principalities. In 1822 Grigore IV Ghica was appointed Prince of Wallachia and Ion Sturdza Prince of Moldavia. However, Ypsilantis’ activity gave the signal to the southern part of the Balkans, where in mid-March 1821 in Kalamata, Patras and Tripoli, the Ottoman garrisons as well as the local Muslim population were slaughtered. The warfare ceased only with the acceptance on the part of the Ottomans of an independent Hellenic state in 1829, ratified by the Treaty of Adrianople (Tur. Edirne), after a Russian-Ottoman war. In the end, the support from the ‘Great Power’ which Ypsilantis promised did help the Greeks to achieve their freedom, albeit belatedly.

12The proclamation ‘Fight for Faith and Motherland!’ is considered as one of the fundamental documents of the Greek War of Independence and has been included in all collections on the subject. Equally, Greek nationalist historiography has treated the Philiki Etairia as the driving force which led to the liberation of the nation. Interestingly, however, both the social preconditions of its appearance and also its failure to inspire solidarity among the local population have been downplayed in the relevant narratives. Instead, the massacre of the Sacred Band has been presented only as an act of self-sacrifice and has been accorded a prominent place in the pantheon of the War of Independence. Moreover, the mythical dimensions of the secret character of the Philiki Etairia resulted in its use as a symbol of revolutionary activity to describe a number of similar movements, from the nationalist activities of the Society of Constantinople in 1908–12 (see Georgios Boussios, The political program of Hellenism in Turkey) to the resistance movement during WWII.


Fight for Faith and Motherland!

14The time has come, O Hellenes! Our brothers and friends are everywhere ready. The Serbs, the Souliots and the whole of Epirus are armed and await us. Let us join together then with enthusiasm! Our Motherland is calling us!

15Europe, its eyes fixed upon us, wonders at our inertia. So let all the mountains of Greece echo with the sound of our battle trumpet, and the valleys with the fearful clang of our weapons. Europe will admire our valor, while our tyrants, shaking and pale, will flee before us. The enlightened peoples of Europe are occupied with enjoying their prosperity and, filled with gratitude for the benefactions bestowed upon them by our forefathers, desire the liberation of Greece.

16If we show ourselves worthy of our ancestral virtue and of the present century, we are hopeful of achieving our own defense and that many of these who are freedom-lovers will come to fight with us. Make the move, O friends, and you will see a mighty power defending our rights! You will see many among our enemies who, moved by our just cause, will turn their backs on the enemy and unite with us; let them declare themselves sincerely, and the Motherland will embrace them! Who, then, is hindering your manly arms? Our cowardly enemy is ailing and weak. Our generals are experienced, and all our fellow-countrymen are filled with enthusiasm! Unite, then, O brave and magnanimous Hellenes! Let national phalanxes be formed, let patriotic legions appear, and you will see those old giants of despotism falling by themselves before our triumphant banners. All the shores of the Ionian and Aegean seas will echo; the Greek ships, which in times of peace knew both how to trade and to fight, will sow horror and death, by fire and by sword, in all the harbors of the tyrant.

17What Hellenic soul will be indifferent to the appeal of the Motherland? In Rome, a friend of Caesar’s, waving the bloody mantle of the tyrant, roused the people. What will you do, O Hellenes, to whom the Motherland, naked, shows her wounds, and with broken voice implores the help of her children? Divine Providence, O friends and fellow-countrymen, having taken pity on our misfortunes, has looked favorably upon our circumstances, so that with little effort we will enjoy all manner of happiness with freedom. If, therefore, out of culpable stupidity we are indifferent, the tyrant, becoming more savage, will multiply our sufferings, and we will become forever the most unfortunate of all nations.

18Turn your eyes, O fellow-countrymen, and behold our wretched state! See here the violated churches! There, our children seized for the shameless hedonism of our barbarous tyrants! Our houses stripped bare, our fields plundered and ourselves wretched slaves!

19It is time to throw off this insufferable yoke, to liberate the Motherland, to topple the crescent from the clouds, so as to raise the symbol by which we are always victorious, I mean the Cross, and thus avenge the Motherland and our Orthodox Faith for the impious scorn of the heathens.

20Among ourselves, the noblest is he who bravely defends the rights of the Motherland and who works for it in a beneficial way. The nation assembled will elect its elders and to this highest parliament all our acts shall yield.

  • 2 Reference to the Spanish War of Independence (1808–1814).

21Let us move, then, with one common spirit. Let the wealthy give up part of their own fortune, let the holy shepherds encourage the people with their own example, and let the educated advise what is beneficial. Those fellow-countrymen serving as officers and politicians in foreign courts, giving thanks to the power each one serves, let them rush to the brilliant stage which has already opened up and let them contribute to the Motherland the debt they owe; and as brave men let us arm ourselves, without wasting time, with the unconquerable weapon of bravery, and I promise you in a short time victory, and, following that, everything that is good. What paid and flaccid slaves dare stand up against a people fighting for its independence? The heroic struggles of our forefathers are witnesses. Spain, the first and only one to rout the invincible phalanxes of the tyrant, is a witness.2

22With unity, O fellow citizens, with respect for our holy religion, with obedience to the laws and our generals, with boldness and steadfastness, our victory is certain and inevitable, and will crown with evergreen laurels our heroic struggles; will carve, with indelible characters, our names on the temple of immortality, for the example of future generations. The Motherland will reward her obedient and true children with the prizes of glory and honor, while those who disobey and turn a deaf ear to this present appeal she will disown as bastards and Asiatic seeds and will give over their names, as those of other traitors, to the anathema and curses of our descendants.

  • 3 The sites of battles between the ancient Greeks and the Persians, in 480 and 490 BC respectively.
  • 4 The regime of the Thirty Tyrants was imposed on Athens after its defeat by Sparta in the Peloponne (...)
  • 5 Peisistratus (600– 527 BC) was an Athenian general who, having achieved distinction in the war aga (...)
  • 6 Athenian generals who defeated the Persians, the first at Marathon, the second in Salamis.
  • 7 Spartan king who died heroically with his troops in the battle of Thermopylae.

23Let us then once again, O brave and magnanimous Hellenes, invite liberty to the classical land of Greece! Let us hold a battle between Marathon and Thermopylae!3 Let us fight on the tombs of our fathers, who, in order to keep us free, fought and died there! The blood of the tyrants is acceptable to the shades of Epameinondas the Theban and Thrasybulus the Athenian, who routed the thirty tyrants4; to the shades of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who crushed the yoke of Peisistratus5; to that of Timoleon, who restored liberty in Corinth and Syracuse; and all the more so to those of Miltiades and Themistocles,6 of Leonidas7 and his three hundred men, who cut down innumerable times the countless armies of the barbarian Persians, whose most barbarous and cowardly descendants we stand poised today with very little effort to annihilate completely.

24To arms, then, friends, the Motherland calls us!

2524 February 1821

26In the general camp at Iaşi.

27Alexandros Ypsilantis


1 The inhabitants of Souli, a complex of villages on the mountains of Epirus.

2 Reference to the Spanish War of Independence (1808–1814).

3 The sites of battles between the ancient Greeks and the Persians, in 480 and 490 BC respectively.

4 The regime of the Thirty Tyrants was imposed on Athens after its defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesean war (431–404 B.C.).

5 Peisistratus (600– 527 BC) was an Athenian general who, having achieved distinction in the war against the Megarians (570–565 BC), seized power five years later and ruled as tyrant for 33 years. He was succeeded by his two sons, Hippias and Hipparchus. The second was later assassinated by Harmodius and Aristogeiton.

6 Athenian generals who defeated the Persians, the first at Marathon, the second in Salamis.

7 Spartan king who died heroically with his troops in the battle of Thermopylae.


Mary Kitroeff (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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