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That Greece Might Still Be Free

William St Clair

4 Two Kinds of War

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1The Greeks who had actually carried out the killings that made the Revolution possible had little sympathy with the Greeks from overseas and their Frankish colleagues who assumed so readily that they would take over the leadership. They disliked their Western manners and Western clothes and the fact that so many of them were more at home speaking French, German, or Italian than Greek. They preferred squatting on the floor to sitting on chairs, they loved extravagant flowing clothes covered with embroidery. Their most prized personal possessions were daggers and firearms decorated, if they could afford it, with precious metal and jewels. To the local Greeks those from overseas were Franks almost as much as the Europeans by whom they were usually surrounded; and to be regarded with the same mixture of contempt and respect as travelling gentlemen.

2To most of the Greeks who lived in Greece it was by no means obvious that a national government or a regular army on the European model was necessary. The country had always been split geographically. The Moreotes or Peloponnesians felt themselves different from the Roumeliotes across the Corinthian Gulf, the islanders felt different from the mainlanders. Within these divisions there were innumerable smaller local loyalties. The inhabitants of Western Greece had little contact with those of Eastern Greece. Every island had its own character. There were age-old disputes between neighbouring communities. The mountains and seas of the Greek Archipelago divided the people so completely that virtually every town and plain had a distinct character of its own. Although the Turks had been disposed of, the regional and municipal institutions through which they had ruled the country still existed. Some of the local Greek leaders who had enjoyed great authority under the Turks were content that the institutions should remain unchanged. Many Greeks regarded these ’primates’ as little better than the Turks with whom they had recently been in full co-operation. But after the massacres of the Turks in the spring of 1821 the country had reverted to virtual anarchy. Although the primates kept a tight grip over some areas, much of the country was now in the hands of war lords whose strength stemmed from simple armed violence. The Mainotes left their mountain peninsula where the Turks had kept them shut in for hundreds of years and descended into the plains of the Peloponnese. They had few of the civic virtues of their putative ancestors, the ancient Spartans. They ruthlessly plundered the settled Greek villages and left a trail of destruction in the areas through which they passed. Houses were burnt and flocks seized. Cultivation of the land became intermittent. The klephts and armatoli, freed from the restraints which Turkish Government had imposed, were equally undisciplined. Power depended on money, and money could only be found by forced exactions from the peasantry or by plunder. Any Greek who could pay for a band of comrades became a ’captain’. He simply announced that he was willing to accept recruits and took as many men into his service as he could afford. Some captains had a handful of men, others a few hundred or even thousands. Many Greeks moved from master to master in accordance with their success. Within a few months of the outbreak of the Revolution the economy of the Peloponnese was ruined and food had to be imported. The ruin was caused almost entirely by the Greeks themselves.

  • 1 * Throughout the Revolution the Greeks remained proud of the titles conferred on them by the Turks. (...)

3At the time of Demetrius Hypsilantes’ arrival, Southern Greece was a patchwork of virtually independent communities, across which bands of armed men moved at will. Some villages and districts tried to isolate and defend themselves as best they could, hoping that somehow the troubles would pass them by. In other areas the local captains established their own bases for banditry and everywhere there were small bodies of armed men roaming about looking for targets. The leaders of the islands tried to keep themselves free from events on the mainland. A handful of captains had such large bands of armed men at their disposal that they were virtually independent chieftains prepared to operate over a wide area. Petro Bey,*1 who had signed the appeal to the peoples of Europe, was the undisputed leader of the Mainotes, Marco Botsaris led the Suliotes, semi-independent community of Albanians who had joined the Greeks, and Odysseus exercised a precarious sovereignty over much of Eastern Greece.

4The most formidable of the war lords was Colocotrones. For generations his family had been klephts in the Morea and several of his close relatives had been killed or tortured by the Turks. Colocotrones himself spent the early part of his life in violence, killing and robbing Turks and Greeks alike. Before the Revolution he tried to present himself as a Robin Hood defending the poor against their oppressors, but, for the most part, he was a simple bandit chief. At one time the Turks had driven him out of the Morea and he had served for a while with the British Army in the Ionian Islands. Thus, unlike many of the other Greek warlords who came to prominence during the Revolution, he had some knowledge of the world outside. He was able to make use of this knowledge while remaining all his life a Greek klepht. Colocotrones was admitted into the conspiracy while in the Ionian Islands and had crossed secretly to the Peloponnese before the outbreak of the Revolution. In the first weeks he and his small band of followers had been as quick and as ruthless as any in their killing and plundering of Turks. He was therefore sufficiently rich to maintain the biggest band of armed Greeks in the area, and at the time of Hypsilantes’ arrival in June 1821, had about 3,000 men at his call who would remain loyal to him if he could continue to provide them with pay and opportunities for plunder. He had some difficulty in restraining them from killing Hypsilantes, the primates, and the other captains, which they were constantly pestering to be allowed to do.

5The local Greek population, whether klephts or peasantry, watched the Regiment Baleste with incomprehension. Apart from a few leaders such as Colocotrones, most had never seen a European army and they regarded the bayonets, uniforms, and parade drill manoeuvres with a mixture of admiration and contempt.

6Their own concept of fighting was quite different. In their battles against Turks, Albanians, and one another in the old days and during the first battles against armed Turks during the Revolution they had employed a highly stylized form of warfare. The limiting factor was the inaccuracy of the firearms and the poor quality of the gunpowder which could be obtained locally. Firing their weapons was a lengthy process and often as dangerous to themselves as to the enemy. They invariably fired from the hip and turned their back to the enemy as they pulled the trigger. When the terrain allowed they preferred to try to ambush the enemy in mountain passes or on rocky ground. They hid behind rocks and fired; when the enemy fired back they swiftly retreated behind other rocks, covering one another as they darted back. In more open ground, where there were no adequate rocks to hide behind, they prepared for a battle by building waist-high barricades of stones, from behind which they could fire. Much of their effort during a skirmish was devoted to undermining the enemy’s confidence by vigorous shouting of abuse and taunts from behind cover. We hear of Greeks being shot in the bottom while making obscene gestures at the Turks. Casualties were almost always light on both sides. Sometimes a battle went on for many hours with hundreds of men engaged but without anyone being killed. If someone was killed then it became a matter of pride to try to capture and strip the body. After a battle the heads of the dead were invariably cut off and taken in triumph to be piled into pyramids as a trophy. Prisoners could always expect to have their heads cut off unless they were thought to be rich and influential enough to be worth ransoming. Both Greeks and Turks paid their men a bonus for the number of heads they brought in after a battle and the Turkish commanders sometimes sent sackfuls of ears and noses to Constantinople as proof of their military success. These incentive schemes encouraged the men on both sides to prefer cutting up the dead to pursuing the live enemy: they also made prisoners more valuable if they were killed off.

7Occasionally a detachment of Turks could be entirely surrounded without means of retreat. In those circumstances they had little hope of escaping alive. Similarly, if a detachment of Greeks could be caught on open ground by Turkish cavalry, there was no defence. They had simply to run away as best they could and hope that the cavalrymen would be distracted from cutting them down by eagerness to strip the dead.

8These fighting techniques had a certain resemblance to the modes of fighting described by Homer – a point immediately noticed by the Europeans – but they were characteristic of guerrillas operating in mountainous regions. Most Europeans failed to realize that the Greek method of fighting was remarkably effective and that it was militarily sound for a small badly-armed force to employ hit-and-run tactics. They simply regarded the Greek methods as obsolete and barbarous; different from the methods used in Europe and therefore inferior. All societies tend to be conservative where their military customs are concerned. They often cling to methods that have been successful in the past which have been rendered obsolete by developing tactics and technology. It was generally realized, for example, that one of the main reasons for the drastic decline in the military effectiveness of the Turks was their insistence on employing the charge of uncoordinated soldiers in huge numbers, even although experience had shown, on dozens of battlefields, that trained European infantry standing in lines and regulating their fire could withstand them.

9But these differences in military techniques were relatively unimportant. With experience and good will the advocates of both methods could have grown to understand the advantages and disadvantages which both involved and planned their strategy accordingly. What the Europeans failed to understand was that the Greek method of fighting was part of a total scale of values quite alien to their own. In Europe the model of military virtue was the man who would stand his ground in the line of battle as his comrades were shot down around him and obey his orders to the end. For the Greeks, exposing oneself unnecessarily to the enemy’s fire was considered foolhardy and anti-social, not brave; it was also foolish to risk being surrounded – running away at a certain point in the battle was not cowardice but common prudence. When it was explained to the Greeks that in Europe it was a point of honour to disregard the enemy’s fire and that sometimes whole regiments stood shooting at one another in open ground until almost everyone on both sides was killed, their prejudices about the intrinsic stupidity of the Franks seemed to be confirmed. Perhaps most important of all, the Europeans did not understand that in the Ottoman lands fighting was regarded as a communal, almost a family, affair in which everyone of the religious community shared. The concepts of treating one’s enemy with respect, of extending rights to prisoners of war, of looking after the enemy wounded, and all the other conventions of European warfare were unknown. The Turks, it was often remarked, did not seem to regard the horrible cruelties of the Greek revolutionaries as unjust any more than they regarded it as unjust if the Sultan should decide to cut off their own heads without any apparent cause. Cruelty and violent death were everyday occurrences throughout the Ottoman Empire to which a fatalistic religion saw little objection, and death at the hands of Christian infidels, it was believed, led immediately to the arms of the black-eyed houris of Paradise.

10The Greeks shared much of this scale of values. Their version of Christianity allowed them to regard all Moslems, men, women, and children, as abhorrent to God and deserving of total extirpation. As in so many wars, a martyr’s crown and eternal bliss were promised to anyone who was killed in fighting the enemies of the faith. As the war progressed, the similarities between the Greeks and the Turks became more apparent. The first symbolic act of both sides when they took possession of a mosque or a church was to ride in on their horses and foul the places which their enemies regarded as most holy. Members of the opposed religion had no rights and need only be spared if they had some commercial value. Men of fighting age were almost invariably killed as being the safest way of disposing of them. Women and girls had some value as slaves and concubines provided the market was not overloaded. Boys also had a value and were usually baptized or circumcised to emphasize their change of faith before being exposed for sale.

  • 2 See, for example, Brengeri, i, p. 469.
  • 3 Raybaud, i, p. 290.

11The Greeks were proud of their fighting techniques and affected to despise the discipline required by European methods as being unworthy of free men. Yet they were not ignorant of the intrinsic superiority in certain circumstances of regular forces. Some of the leaders who had served with the French and British armies had seen how small bodies of well trained and disciplined troops could cut their way through local troops many times their number; they had also seen the effects of European artillery both in the field and in storming defended positions. From the beginning, many Greeks realized that the Regiment Baleste with the help of the experienced European officers could be developed into an army which would be far more effective than their own unreliable bands of halfarmed individualists. Even among the ordinary Greek population the Europeans who arrived in Greece in the first months of the Revolution enjoyed immense prestige. It was instinctively felt that officers who had taken part in the great campaigns in Europe must have military secrets and techniques at their disposal which would easily defeat the Turks. Young men, full of philhellenic enthusiasm, were shocked soon after their arrival by receiving invitations from captains to join their bands instead of going to Hypsilantes.2 Offers came through from Ali Pasha whom Europe had been led to believe was a monster.3 There were even dark hints that a more satisfactory military career could be guaranteed if they joined the Turks. All these offers were turned down with indignation and amazement by the newcomers.

12The potential of the Regiment Baleste was dramatically demonstrated in August when a Turkish fleet appeared off Calamata and prepared to attack the town. The Greek inhabitants fled, prepared to abandon the place, but Baleste led his tiny force to the beach and, with a great show of flashing bayonets and calm proficiency, terrified the Turks and drove them off. Again, when Mavrocordato arrived at the siege of Patras in August, with a few pieces of artillery and two French artillery officers brought from Marseilles, the nature of the fighting changed appreciably. Although several thousand Greeks had been besieging Patras for some months they had not been able to prevent the Turks from making sorties almost any time they wanted. In August, when the Turks made a foray in force, they were fired upon with such effect by two fieldguns manned by the French officers that they were driven back in confusion to the safety of the castle. They lost about a hundred men and fifteen others were captured and beheaded. This was their greatest defeat so far. By the time the news reached Western Europe the Turkish loss was put at 1,200.

13The Greek leaders looked with admiration and dismay at these and other examples of European methods. They were in a dilemma. On the one hand, it was obvious to all that the success of the Revolution was by no means assured, all the resources that could be mustered from whatever source would be needed if independence was to be consolidated. On the other hand, the local Greek leaders wanted to ensure that it was they who would inherit the new country, not the incomers. An uneasy compromise was the result. The Greek leaders paid lip-service to the idea of national unity, they chose to ignore temporarily the conflicts of interest among themselves, and grudgingly acknowledged Hypsilantes’ claim to the leadership. But they refused to give him any active help. They refused him supplies and discouraged their men from joining his Regiment. Hypsilantes and the Regiment were forced to rely for their existence on the money which he had brought from Europe and this was rapidly running out.

14The first essential from a military point of view, if the Revolution was to survive, was to capture the towns and castles in the Peloponnese that were still in Turkish hands. There were not many of them and all had been besieged in desultory fashion since the early days of the Revolution. Having virtually no artillery, the Greeks’ main hope of compelling a surrender was to starve the Turks out, but usually they were unable to maintain a close blockade. Some of the fortresses continued to be supplied by sea, either by the Turkish fleet or by European merchant vessels. Others were blockaded by land and by sea but the blockade was not continuous. At siesta time Greeks and Turks slept and there was no question of activity on either side at night. But the Turkish castles were badly equipped to withstand a siege. They had not been stocked with provisions during the years of civil peace, their walls were in poor repair, and the cannon were often unserviceable.

15By August 1821 the small town of Monemvasia was at its last extremity. The Turks were driven to eat cotton seed and seaweed and were stricken with a terrible disease. They even made desperate sorties to pick up dead bodies for food. They were determined not to surrender to the Mainotes encamped outside and for good reason. The Greeks had shortly before brought ashore sixty men and women who had been captured at sea and killed them one by one in sight of the Turks behind the walls. Then Hypsilantes sent one of his officers, who had come with him from Trieste, to conclude a capitulation. He agreed that the lives and property of the Turks would be spared and that they should be taken by sea to Asia Minor. When the gates were opened, however, he was unable to restrain the Greeks. The town was plundered and many Turks were killed. About five hundred Turks were taken in Greek ships and landed on an uninhabited island off the coast of Asia Minor. Those who survived this second period of starvation were rescued by a French merchant.

  • 4 Examiner, 1821, p. 632.
  • 5 Phrantzes, quoted by Finlay, Greek Revolution, i, p. 263.

16The surrender of Monemvasia was the only case during the first year of the Revolution in which the majority of the Turkish population succeeded in escaping extermination. When the news reached Western Europe it was proclaimed4 as a triumph of Liberalism and Christianity. In fact, it was the solitary example where the ideas of the Europeanized Greeks prevailed over the ideas of the local Greeks. More typical was the surrender of Navarino which occurred a few days later. The Turks there, who were also at the last extremity of starvation, offered to surrender on the same terms as Monemvasia, trusting that Hypsilantes’ men would be able to save them. Baleste himself was present, and, knowing what had happened at Monemvasia, refused to be a party to the surrender agreement or to commit Hypsilantes. The Greeks, however, offered a convention whereby they would be granted a secure passage to Africa. They had neither the intention nor even the means of doing this and one of the Greek negotiators boasted later that he destroyed the copy of the agreement so that no evidence should remain. When the gates were opened the Greeks rushed in and the whole population of between 2,000 and 3,000 were killed with the exception of about 160 who managed to escape. Some of the Turks were left to starve on an uninhabited island in the harbour. A Greek priest5 who was an eyewitness described the scene as the Turkish women were stripped and searched to see if they were concealing any valuables. Naked women plunged into the sea and were shot in the water. Children of three and four were thrown in to drown, and babies were taken from their mothers and beaten against the rocks.

Map 2: Fortresses in Southern Greece remaining in Turkish hands after the outbreak of the Revolution

17It seemed probable that the next town which would fall to the Greeks would be Tripolitsa. Situated in the middle of the Peloponnese, it was the biggest town in Southern Greece. It had a population of about 35,000 Turks and Albanians, many of whom had taken refuge there at the time of the outbreak of the Revolution. It had been the headquarters of the Turkish governor of the Morea and was therefore stocked with arms and money. Many rich Turks and Jews were also known to live there.

18Hypsilantes and the Provisional Government of which he was head had gained nothing from the surrenders of Monemvasia and Navarino. Everything of value in these towns had been looted by the Greeks. Hypsilantes’ own treasury was by now running very low and he was having difficulty even in maintaining the Regiment. The Greeks of Calamata who had been saved from the Turkish fleet by the Regiment refused to supply it with food.

19Hypsilantes’ hopes turned therefore to Tripolitsa. If Tripolitsa could be captured, its wealth, which was immense by Greek standards, could be used to replenish the national treasury and to pay and expand the Regiment. The city was surrounded by thousands of Greeks all waiting for their chance to share in the spoils. Colocotrones had the biggest contingent and there were numerous captains with smaller bands. But although the siege had been going on for several months its progress was slow. The Greeks were unable to maintain a continuous blockade and were often scattered by sorties of Turkish cavalry. They were even unable to prevent some of their number from selling provisions to the Turks. It seemed the kind of situation where European military methods and especially European artillery would be most useful. Hypsilantes therefore decided to summon the Regiment and the numerous European volunteers who were congregating at Calamata and elsewhere. Many Greeks now had their first sight of Europeans in action.

  • 6 Humphreys, First Journal, p. 28; Raybaud, i, p. 397.

20Two mortars and a few other pieces of artillery had been hauled with great difficulty from the coast and it was confidently expected that they would soon make an impression on the 12-foot-high wall which was the extent of Tripolitsa’s fortifications. A plausible Italian called Tassi6 volunteered to direct the fire. He claimed that he had been Napoleon’s chief engineer and casually let it be known that he was a personal friend of Castlereagh and Metternich. The Greeks were taken in and entrusted him with the precious mortars. He assumed the title of ’Engineer-in-Chief’. But when he made his preparations to fire the first shot, it was obvious to the other Europeans that he knew nothing whatsoever about artillery. When the fuse was lit the mortar exploded. Tassi was nearly lynched on the spot. It emerged that he was not an officer but a saddler who had lived at Smyrna and had bankrupted himself by financial speculations.

21The prestige of the Europeans suffered another blow when Hypsilantes’ letter summoning the volunteers to Tripolitsa arrived at Calamata. There were about forty men of various nationalities in the town waiting to join the ’Greek Army’. Hypsilantes addressed his letter to Colonel Staraba, a Sicilian exile, who was the only one known to him by name, asking him to inform the other European officers of his wishes. This innocent action caused a great clamour. Several Frenchmen and Germans declared that they would never consent to serve under the command of an Italian (although this was not intended) and began to pick quarrels with the Italian volunteers. The Italians took offence at the insult and an affray broke out which lasted several hours. The Greeks looked on in amazement.

  • 7 Brengeri, i, p. 469.

22They were even more amazed when the letter was produced and it became clear that the whole episode was the result of a misunderstanding. The Italians demanded ’satisfaction’. A duel was arranged and a Frenchman was wounded and had to return to France. Such occurrences were common. The words ’Honour’ and ’Satisfaction’ were for ever on the lips of the volunteers, but it was a concept of honour which few Greeks could comprehend. ’Instead of fighting for the liberation of Greece,’ said one of the Italian officers, ’we were constantly killing each other on the slightest provocation’.7

  • 8 Gordon who saw the aftermath dared not describe the horrors in his history (i, p. 245). He did, ho (...)

23Tripolitsa fell to the Greeks on 5 October 1821. There were only about twenty Europeans present manning the artillery. Some fifty others on their way from Calamata did not arrive in time. Hypsilantes and the Regiment had been reduced to a desperate condition even before this. His money had run out, the fine uniforms of the Regiment were in shreds, many of the soldiers were now barefoot and near starvation for lack of supplies. Hypsilantes on a sudden impulse decided to march them to Patras on the strength of a rumour that it was about to fall. He seems to have realized that events were now beyond his control. While he was absent, Colocotrones and the other captains began to negotiate with the Turks for a capitulation. The Albanians made a separate agreement and were allowed to leave for Epirus with their arms, thus greatly reducing the strength of the defenders. Individual rich Turks began to offer to buy their way to safety and other groups within the walls made arrangements with Greek leaders that they had known before the Revolution. The armed Greeks who were waiting for their plunder began to notice cart-loads of goods coming out of the town at night, and the Greek leaders were constantly going to and fro for negotiations with the Turks. Whether or not any formal capitulation was signed is largely irrelevant. On 5 October the Greeks broke in and for two days the town was given over to the mob. Upwards of ten thousand Turks were put to death. European officers who were present described the scenes of horror. Prisoners who were suspected of having concealed their money were tortured. Their arms and legs were cut off and they were slowly roasted over fires. Pregnant women were cut open, their heads cut off, and dogs’ heads stuck between their legs. From Friday to Sunday the air was filled with the sound of screams and laughter before Colocotrones called a halt. One Greek boasted that he had personally killed ninety people. The Jewish community was systematically tortured. About two thousand prisoners, mainly women and children, were stripped and driven to a valley outside the town and then killed. The heap of bones could still be seen years later. For weeks afterwards starving Turkish children running helplessly about the ruins were being cut down and shot at by the exultant Greeks. The dead lay where they fell. An intolerable stench soon arose and flocks of scavenging birds settled on the town. Wild dogs roamed through the smouldering ruins feeding on the putrid corpses. The wells were poisoned by the bodies that had been thrown in. Soon plague broke out and spread so virulently that during the rest of the war the Peloponnese was never free of it.8

24Thousands of Greeks enriched themselves with plunder and retired to their villages, leading a few Turkish women as slaves. Heaps of bloodstained clothing, arms, furniture, everything of value that could be found was put on sale. The price of slaves fell so low that they could not be sold, and all but the youngest women were killed off. The proceeds were divided amongst the various captains. But the greatest share of the booty went to Colocotrones. Fifty-two horses carried off the money, arms, and jewellery from the Turkish governor’s palace which Colocotrones carefully preserved for himself. He became immensely rich, his money was sent to a bank in the Ionian Islands. He now had the resources to maintain himself and a band of men as an independent force for years to come.

25Hypsilantes and the Greek national treasury gained nothing from the fall of Tripolitsa. What was worse in the long run, the prestige of his so-called government and of European military methods suffered a cruel blow. The captains now become openly hostile, refusing supplies to the Regiment and saying that the Franks should go home since no one had invited them to come to Greece. To keep alive, the Regiment began to make forays into the Greek countryside, seizing animals and food from the peasants, and thus increased the dislike in which they were held. Even so, men of the Regiment died of starvation and exposure with no help from the victorious Greeks. The plague claimed its victims. European volunteers sold their weapons in a desperate attempt to find money to buy their way back to Europe. Soon splendid uniforms were on sale in the bazaars, and rough Mainotes could be seen sporting golden epaulettes and European war medals over their rough sheepskin coats.

26Probably a hundred Europeans saw either the fall of Tripolitsa or its immediate aftermath. For many, it was their first and last experience of the Greek War. Men who had taken part in numerous bloody campaigns in Europe found they had reached the limit of their tolerance. Those who had the money to pay for a passage and still had a homeland to return to made their way back to Europe. For some, their only military experience in Greece had been in fighting against the Greeks themselves to try to save a few Turks from the general massacre. Others, who had taken under their personal protection Turkish women and boys whom they had found starving in the ruins, sadly abandoned their protégés, well aware that they would not survive long. For those who had no home to go back to the prospects were terrible. They had only two choices, either to stay with Hypsilantes in hope that their comrades would support them until something turned up, or alternatively to enter the service of Colocotrones or one of the other captains. This second alternative amounted to a betrayal of their ideals and of their sense of military honour. It also meant embracing a life for which they were not fitted. They had somehow to learn a difficult language; to adapt themselves to live off the roughest of food consisting often merely of wild herbs; to live among men who never washed and who took pride in the amount of body lice they carried; and to accept the haphazard plundering and killing associated with the life of a brigand. Only a few had the stamina for this.

  • 9 This surprising detail is asserted emphatically by Brengeri, ii, p. 41, and there is no reason to (...)

27Baleste himself was disgusted and disillusioned by the events at Tripolitsa. Having seen the preambles at Monemvasia and Navarino, he felt that he understood the forces that were really at work. He proposed to Hypsilantes that the only course which could now save Greece would be to kill Colocotrones and the other captains and take their accumulated plunder into the national treasury. He suggested a plan to Hypsilantes for using the Regiment and the volunteers to do this, but Hypsilantes refused to contemplate it.9

28Yet despite the exodus of many disgusted volunteers, more and more began to arrive. The older hands laughed at their polished boots, dress uniforms, and the ignorant stories they brought from Europe. The newcomers were shocked to find some of their friends whom they had last seen in officers’ messes and ladies’ salons in Europe now settling down to live like bandits surrounded by concubines and slaves. They could not shed their European habits so quickly. In particular they simply could not understand how the Regiment had proved so ineffective. They saw with contempt the puny fortifications and primitive arms with which the Turks had defended themselves at Tripolitsa. These officers were certain from their own wide experience that with a few hundred disciplined European troops they could capture any fortress still held by the Turks; with a few hundred such troops they could clear the whole of Greece.

29A month after the fall of Tripolitsa Hypsilantes and the Regiment Baleste were at Argos with about two hundred European officers who were waiting for the commissions and commands which the newspapers had led them to expect. Dania, a Piedmontese revolutionary in exile who had been a cavalry officer, drew up a scheme to try to restore the situation. His idea was that Hypsilantes and the Regiment would capture Nauplia by assault in the European style, occupy it themselves in such a way as to prevent looting, and so ensure that the wealth of the fortress should be used to replenish the national treasury. It was a bold scheme. Whereas Tripolitsa was a sprawling town on an inland plain surrounded with a single low wall, Nauplia was strategically situated on the coast, still on occasion being supplied by sea, and protected by a series of fortifications that are among the wonders of Venetian military architecture. Looking at the topography of the place one marvels at the daring of the plan and doubts whether it could ever have been carried out. But the European officers were experienced soldiers and from the subsequent history of Nauplia it seems likely that Dania’s scheme was indeed feasible. It did, however, depend for its success on a degree of discipline and co-ordination which was unlikely to be achieved. The plan involved three main elements: ships were to attack the seaward side; the Regiment and the Europeans were to creep secretly up under the walls; and Colocotrones’ Greeks were to make a mock diversionary attack elsewhere. While the Turks were distracted, the Regiment was to scale the walls with ladders and take the place by bayonet assault. Dania calculated that the Turks would be so terrified by the sudden unexpected appearance of a regiment of European troops in close order that they would be unable to resist. To make surprise doubly sure Dania arranged for the assault to be made at night several hours before daybreak since it was well known that neither Turks nor Greeks ever ventured out in the dark.

30In the middle of December all the preparations were made. The many European volunteers waiting for commissions agreed to form themselves into a ’Sacred Company’. It was made up of Italians, Germans, French, Poles, and a sprinkling of other nationalities. Almost every member had been an officer in his own service with experience in the European wars. After some dispute the command was given to Colonel Tarella, a Piedmontese exile. The morale of the company was high. This was the kind of war they knew; this was what they had come for. They would be the first into the town and would take the glory for the capture of the famous city of Nauplia.

31On the appointed night the Regiment and the Sacred Company silently crept up to the fortress, and two hours before daybreak they were all in position under the walls with their scaling ladders ready, without disturbing the sleeping Turks. It was a military accomplishment of which any professional army would have been proud. But the Greeks could not be brought to understand European military methods so quickly. Many of them simply refused to move at night, and had to be driven towards the town. When the signal was given for the attack to begin, all order broke down and the Greeks reverted to their traditional fighting methods. Everyone began firing at the same time, largely at random. The Regiment Baleste panicked and began to fire uselessly at the wall. The Turks were immediately alerted and quickly manned the defences. The Regiment and the Sacred Company were left crouching among the rocks under the walls caught in crossfire between Turks and Greeks. At this point virtually all the Greeks ran back in accordance with their normal tactics and daybreak revealed the isolated Europeans with a large expanse of open ground between them and safety, all of which was in the clear field of fire of the guns and muskets of the Turks. About thirty Europeans were killed or wounded and many more of the Regiment as one by one or in small parties they dashed across the open ground. The attack was a complete failure.

  • 10 Persat, p. 100.

32Hypsilantes’ prestige and that of Europeans generally slumped again after this failure and another exodus of volunteers took place. The Sacred Company was disbanded. Virtually all the Germans left and many of the French, especially, as one of the others ruefully remarked,10 ’those who had bread to eat in their own country’. As before, the volunteers who remained were mainly those who had nowhere else to go, the Italian revolutionaries, the Polish exiles, and the French Bonapartists.

33Baleste now decided that he had had enough. It was clear that the vision of Greece which had made him sacrifice his career to follow Hypsilantes was not going to be realized. During the abortive assault on Nauplia he had been seen running about in full view of the Turks waving the standard which he had taken from the hands of the dying standard bearer of the Regiment, and hitting all the Greeks he could find among the rocks to try to make them move forward. Baleste and a few of the other officers left to join the revolt in Crete, the place where he had been brought up. He was later killed in a skirmish and his head sent to Constantinople. The command of the Regiment passed to the Piedmontese exile Tarella.

  • 11 Wilhelm Boldemann from Grabow in Mecklenburg. LeFebre, p. 9, specifically says he committed suicid (...)

34The Regiment by now was in a terrible state. Hypsilantes’ money had long since run out, there was no pay and no help from the local population. Tarella, a harder and more desperate man than Baleste, somehow kept it together by making periodic raids on Greek villages and stealing food and animals. But the plague which had arisen from the unburied dead of Tripolitsa was now raging everywhere. Men of the Regiment died every day from malnutrition and disease. The wounded had little hope of recovery even from slight cuts, since these quickly became gangrenous. When the Regiment moved off, a few Greeks were given money to look after the sick and wounded who were left behind, but they stole their possessions and deserted them. A young doctor from Germany who arrived at this time with his head full of romantic philhellenic idealism committed suicide by taking poison.11 On another occasion Tarella, recognizing the uniform and weapons of one of his Italian officers for sale in the bazaar, went to look for him and found him crawling round the streets of the town in a delirious condition with his tongue so swollen that he could not speak. The respect which the Greeks had for European methods and the enthusiasm of the Europeans for the Greek cause both ebbed rapidly away.

35Even if Dania’s bold plan to capture Nauplia had come off, it is doubtful whether it would have enabled Hypsilantes to occupy the town in an orderly manner and restore his treasury as he had hoped. It is more likely that the same pattern would have occurred as was seen at the surrender of Acrocorinth a few weeks later. Hypsilantes moved to Corinth on 24 December with the remnants of the Regiment, his suite of Europeanized Greeks, and the remaining volunteers. New volunteers from Europe, fresh and full of confidence, continued to arrive. Colocotrones and other captains followed with their bands. As with so many of the fortresses of the Peloponnese, the Acrocorinth would have been impregnable if it had been properly maintained and provisioned during the years of peace before the Revolution. But its garrison was small, consisting of a few hundred troops, mostly Albanians, and it was full of refugees who had gone there for protection during the early days of the outbreak. By December starvation was imminent.

  • 12 LeFebre, p. 21.

36As at Tripolitsa and elsewhere there were confused negotiations for a surrender. As at Tripolitsa the Albanians within the fortress made a separate capitulation whereby they were to be allowed to leave and return to Albania although on this occasion most of them were killed on the way. The remaining Turks, trusting in Hypsilantes and his European code of honour agreed to surrender on condition that they would be taken in neutral vessels to Asia Minor. Complex negotiations settled the amounts of clothing and money that each class of Turkish family was to be permitted to take. The Regiment Tarella was to occupy the fortress and no other Greeks were to be permitted to enter. At the end of January 1822 the Regiment marched in and the starving population began to limp down the road to the sea where they were to await the arrival of the neutral ships. But the two hundred or so men of the Regiment and the European volunteers were far too few to prevent Greek justice taking its course. The armed bands of Colocotrones and the other captains burst into the fortress and plundered all they could find, killing any Turk they met. Only the Bey and his harem were saved – as was usual with important prisoners, since there was a hope of ransom – but he was tortured mercilessly (although ineffectually) to make him reveal where the treasure was hidden. As for the other inhabitants, long before they reached the coast the stripping and killing had begun. A German officer12 who was present describes how they staggered through a double rank of Greek women shouting and spitting at them. A Turkish couple, too starved and exhausted to carry their child any further, tried to hand it to a Greek. He immediately drew a long knife and cut off its head explaining, as the German officer tried to prevent him, that it was best to prevent Turks growing up. By the time the survivors reached the shore all control was lost, and when someone shouted a false alarm that Turkish soldiers from Nauplia were coming, almost all the prisoners, about 1,500 in all, were killed.


1 * Throughout the Revolution the Greeks remained proud of the titles conferred on them by the Turks. Even Mavrocordato and Hypsilantes liked being addressed as ‘Prince’ – a title granted to their families for services to the Ottoman Empire.

2 See, for example, Brengeri, i, p. 469.

3 Raybaud, i, p. 290.

4 Examiner, 1821, p. 632.

5 Phrantzes, quoted by Finlay, Greek Revolution, i, p. 263.

6 Humphreys, First Journal, p. 28; Raybaud, i, p. 397.

7 Brengeri, i, p. 469.

8 Gordon who saw the aftermath dared not describe the horrors in his history (i, p. 245). He did, however, relate his experiences to Dr. Thomas whom he met at Zante soon afterwards and they were reported to London. Colonial Office Records 136/1085 reproduced as an Appendix to Humphreys, First Journal.

9 This surprising detail is asserted emphatically by Brengeri, ii, p. 41, and there is no reason to doubt it.

10 Persat, p. 100.

11 Wilhelm Boldemann from Grabow in Mecklenburg. LeFebre, p. 9, specifically says he committed suicide. Others say he was left to die of neglect.

12 LeFebre, p. 21.

Table des illustrations

Légende Map 2: Fortresses in Southern Greece remaining in Turkish hands after the outbreak of the Revolution
Fichier image/jpeg, 213k


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