Souliotes (Greek: Σουλιώτες, also spelled Souliots or Suliots) were a warlike community from the area of Souli, in Greece, who became famous across Greece for their resistance against the local Ottoman Pashalik of Yanina ruled by the Muslim Albanian Ali Pasha. After their defeat in 1803, the Souliotes were forced to move to the rest of Greece, and many of them played a prominent role in the Greek War of Independence starting in 1821, under leaders such as Markos Botsaris and Kitsos Tzavelas.
The Souliotes' native language was Albanian but as part from the Rum millet they spoke also Greek. After their assimilation, a language shift to Greek occurred, while the Souliotic dialect became extinct.
The Souliotes were named after the village of Souli, a mountain settlement in Thesprotia, Greece. The name Souli is of uncertain origin. It has been suggested that it derives from the ancient Greek region of Selaida "Σελάϊδα" or "Soulaida" ("Σουλάϊδα"). Another view claims that it derives from the name of a Turk that was killed there. Yet another opinion based on etymology claims that the word derives from the Albanian term sul, which can be idiomatically interpreted as 'watchpost', 'lookout' or 'mountain summit'.
Souli is a community originally settled by refugees who were hunted by the Ottomans in Paramythia, Thesprotia, Greece. In time, immigrants from elsewhere, attracted by the privileges of autonomy in Souli, assimilated and were also named Souliotes. The Greek peasants who tilled Souliot land were distinguished by the name of the village in which they dwelt. Clan, class and territorial labels had significance in addition to religion.
Around 1730 Souli had not more than 200 men bearing arms. Inhabitants of the neighboring countryside would retire to the mountains to avoid Ottoman oppression and thus the Souliote population increased. Before the final war with Ali Pasha, the families of Souli were:
- Zervaioi, from Zerva, a village near Arta.
- Botzaraioi, originally from Dragani, today Ampelia, south of Paramythia.
- Drakaioi, from Martane, a village of the valley of Lamari, today in Thesprotia prefecture.
- Buzbataioi, from the Vlachochoria (Vlach Villages) of Mt. Pindus.
- Dagliaioi, from Fanari, near Preveza.
- Zavellaioi and Pasataioi, of unknown origin.
In early modern times the total population of Souli was about 12,000 After their expulsion, the population of the region was significantly reduced. In the last Greek census of 2001, the population of the community was 748. The seat of the community is in Samoniva. The core of Souli consists of four villages (Greek: Τετραχώρι), namely: Souli (also known as Kakosouli), Kiafa, Navariko and Samoniva, which are believed to have been founded some time around 16th century.
The Souliotes established an autonomous confederacy dominating a large number of neighbouring villages in the remote mountainous areas of Epirus, where they could successfully resist Ottoman rule. At the height of its power, in the second half of the 18th century, the Souliot state is estimated to have comprised up to 12,000 inhabitants in about 60 villages.
The Ottoman Turks attempted numerous times to conquer the territories of the Souliote Confederacy. The first conflicts between the Souliotes and the Ottomans date back to 1635, if not earlier. In 1731, Hadji Ahmed, pasha of Ioannina, received orders from the Sultan to subdue the Souliotes and he lost his army of 8000 men. In 1754, Mustafa Pasha lost his army to the Souliotes as well. In the following years, Mustafa Koka came in with 4000 soldiers and Bekir Pasha with 5000. In the end, both failed to defeat the Souliotes.
In 1759, Dost Bey, commander of Delvinë, was defeated by the Souliotes, and Mahmoud Aga of Margariti, the governor of Arta, suffered the same fate in 1762. In 1772, Suleyman Tsapari attacked the Souliotes with his army of 9000 men and was defeated. In 1775, Kurt Pasha sent a military expedition to Souli that ultimately failed. When Ali became pasha of Ioannina in 1788, he tried for 15 years to defeat the Souliotes. In 1792, his army of 3000 was defeated. Although he held hostages (such as Fotos Tzavellas, the son of Lambros Tzavellas), the Souliotes continued the struggle under the command of Georgios Botsaris, Lambros Tzavellas, and Dimos Drakos. Even women under the command of Moscho (Lambros Tzavellas' wife) participated in the battle. Eventually, 2000 Ottomans and 74 Souliotes were killed.
War of 1803 and capitulation
The Souliotes obtained all of their supplies from Parga, and also acquired support from Europe. Russia and France provided weapons and ammunition to them. For the European powers, the Souliotes were seen as an instrument to weaken the Ottoman Empire.
When the British politicians turned to the Ottoman Empire in order to strengthen their forces against Napoleon, the weapons and ammunition supplies were interrupted. Without support from outside and wearied by years of siege, the unity of the Souliot clans started to split.
The Botsaris family for political reasons left Souli and parleyed with Ali Pasha. However, the rest in Souli gathered together in Saint George's Orthodox Church and decided either to win or die.
The remaining Souliotes numbered at no more than 2000 armed men. The main leaders were Fotos Tzavellas, Dimos Drakos, Tousas Zervas, Koutsonikas, Gogkas Daglis, Giannakis Sehos, Fotomaras, Tzavaras, Veikos, Panou, Zigouris Diamadis, and Georgios Bousbos. They won all of the decisive battles, which forced Ali Pasha to build castles in neighboring villages so as to prepare himself for a long siege.
Although without food and ammunition, they could have held longer if not for a traitor named Pelios Gousis who helped the Ottomans to enter into the village of Souli, forcing a mass withdraw to the fortresses of Kiafa and Kougi, where they fought their last battle on December 7, 1803. They eventually capitulated and Ali Pasha promised to release them with all of their property and even weapons to the Ionian Islands.
On December 12, 1803, the Souliotes left Souli towards the coast of Epirus. A monk named Samuel remained in Kughi and set fire to the powder magazines with a massive explosion that cost him his life. In the meantime, the Ottoman army attacked the other Souliotes, neglecting the promises Ali Pasha had made to them.
In a famous incident on December 16, 1803, the so-called Dance of Zalongo, 22 Souliot women were trapped by enemy troops and committed suicide to avoid capture. According to tradition they did this by jumping off a steep cliff one after the other while dancing and singing.
Other Souliotes also reached the harbor of Parga, which was under Russian control at the time. They either settled down in Parga or set off for the Ionian Islands.
Life in exile
Many Souliotes entered service with the Russians on Corfu, where they became an important component of the Legion of Light Riflemen.
This was a regiment of irregulars organized by the Russians among mainland refugees; it not only included Souliotes, but also Himariotes, Maniots, klephts (Greek bandits) and armatoloi (Greek anti-klepht militias created by the Ottomans that actually supported the klephts). The formation of this unit was undertaken by the Russian colonel Papadopoulos (Greek in ethnicity). The regiment, initially named "Papadopoulos' Legion", later developed to a formidable army. Its organization was laid down by Papadopoulos in a leaflet in Greek titled "Explanations on the establishment of a legion of Epiro-Souliotes and Himaro-Peloponnesians in the service of His Imperial Majesty Alexander I ...". He recognized that Souliotes and the others were already naturally trained in irregular tactics and did not have to conform to the Western regular tactics. This unit was eventually named "Legion of the Light Riflemen".
With the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 and the détente between Russia and France, the Russian forces withdrew from the Ionian Islands and the French occupied them. The Souliotes and other components of Russian units entered service with the French in various units, such as the Battaglione dei Cacciatori Macedoni and the Régiment Albanais (Albanian Regiment), terms which did not have their later ethnic connotation, but were instead stylized terms that described the soldiers' general origins or mode of fighting. 
Colonel Minot, the commander of the "Albanian Regiment" appointed as battalion captains mostly the leaders of Souliote clans who enjoyed the respect of the soldiers. Among them were: Tussa Zervas, George Dracos, Giotis Danglis, Panos Succos, Nastullis Panomaras, Kitsos Palaskas, Kitsos Paschos. Fotos Tzavellas (had served under the Russians), Veicos Zervas.
During the Anglo-French struggle over the Ionian Islands between 1810 and 1814, the Souliotes in French service faced off against other refugees organized by the British into the Greek Light Infantry Regiment. Since the Souliotes were mostly garrisoned on Corfu, which remained under French control until 1814, very few entered British service.
The British disbanded the remnants of the Souliot Regiment in 1815 and subsequently decommissioned their own two Greek Light Regiments. This left many of the Souliotes and other military refugees without livelihoods.
In 1817, a group of veterans of Russian service on the Ionian Islands traveled to Russia to see if they could get patents of commission and employment in the Russian army. While unsuccessful in this endeavor, they joined the Philike Etaireia ("Company of Friends"), the secret society founded in Odessa in 1814 for the purpose of liberating Greek lands from Ottoman rule. They returned to the Ionian Islands and elsewhere and began to recruit fellow veterans into the Philike Etaireia, including a number of Souliot leaders.
The training experience of this period, as part of a regular army, would also serve its cause in the Greek revolution, where Souliotes along with the other warlike groups would form the movement's military core.
Participation in the Greek War of Independence
When there were clear signs for the beginning of a Greek insurrection against Ottoman rule, Ali Pasha saw an opportunity to make Epirus into an independent state. On December 4, 1820, Ali Pasha and the Souliotes formed an anti-Ottoman coalition, in which the Souliotes contributed 3,000 soldiers. Ali Pasha gained the support of Souliotes mainly because he offered to allow the return of the Souliotes in their land and partially because of Ali's appeal based on shared Albanian origin. Οn December 12, the Souliotes liberated the region of Souli, both from the Lab Albanians, who controlled the area from 1803, and the Cham Albanians who fought together with the Ottoman troops of Pasho bey. They also captured the Kiafa fort. On the other hand, the coalition with Ali Pasha was successful and controlled most of the region, but when his loyal Muslim Albanian troops were informed of the beginning of the Greek revolts in the Peloponnese they abandoned it and joined the Ottomans. However, when the Greek War of Independence broke out this coalition was terminated and they participated in several conflicts. On the other hand, Ali Pasha's plans failed and he was killed in 1822. In September 1822, HMS Chanticleer was dispatched to Fanari, Preveza, to supervise evacuation of the Souliotes after their capitulation.
The Souliote leaders Markos Botsaris and Kitsos Tzavellas became distinguished generals of the Independence War. However, several Souliotes lost their lives, especially when defending the city of Missolongi. Lord Byron, the most prominent European philhellene volunteer and commander-in-chief of the Greek army in Western Greece, tried to integrate the Souliotes into a regular army. Scores of Souliotes were attached to Lord Byron in 1824, attracted by the money that he was known to bring with him.
In 1854, during the Crimean War, a number of Greek military officers of Souliote descent, under Kitsos Tzavelas, participated in a failed revolt in Epirus, demanding union with Greece. Until 1909, the Turks kept a military base on the fortress of Kiafa. Finally in 1913, during the Balkan Wars, the Ottomans lost Epirus and the southern part of the region became part of the Greek state.
Members of the Souliote diaspora that lived in Greece played a major role in 19th and 20th politics and military affairs, like Dimitrios Botsaris, the son of Markos Botsaris, and the World War II resistance leader Napoleon Zervas.
In Ottoman-ruled Epirus, national identity did not play a role to the social classification of the local society; while religion was the key factor of classification of the local communities. The Orthodox congregation was included in a specific ethno-religious community under Graeco-Byzantine domination called Rum millet. Its name was derived from the Byzantine (Roman) subjects of the Ottoman Empire, but all Orthodox Christians were considered part of the same millet in spite of their differences in ethnicity and language. According to this, the Muslim communities in Epirus were classified as Turks, while the Orthodox (Rum), like the Souliotes, were classified as Greeks.
Among them were also the Souliotes, who had rather a strong local identity. The Souliotes were of Albanian origin (Albanian: Suliotët), while the dialect they initially spoke is classified as one of Cham Albanian dialects of Tosk Albanian. It has been recognized, though, that speaking Albanian in that region “is not a predictor with respect to other matters of identity”. Souliotes identified entirely with the Greek national cause. Moreover, religiously, they belonged to the Church of Constantinople, part of the larger Greek Orthodox Church.
Further evidence on the language of the Souliotes is drawn from the Greek-Albanian dictionary composed in 1809 mainly by Markos Botsaris and his elders. Titos Yochalas who studied the dictionary concluded that either the mother tongue of the authors was Greek or the Greek language had a very strong influence on the local Albanian dialect, if the latter was possibly spoken in Souli. Another written account on the language they used is the diary of Fotos Tzavellas, written during his captivity by Ali Pasha (1792-1793). This diary is written by F. Tzavellas himshelf in simple Greek with several spelling and punctuation mistakes. Emmanouel Protopsaltes, former professor of Modern Greek History at the University of Athens, who published and studied the dialect of this diary, concluded that Souliotes were Greek speakers originating from the area of Argyrkokastro or Chimara. Nevertheless, the Souliotes are also described with peculiar terms such as "Albanian-speaking Greeks", while, some contemporary accounts of early 19th century report that the Souliotes were speaking "a little Illyrian" (Byron) or that their maternal language was Greek and knew also Albanian.
- Antonopoulou (akin to the Botsaris clan; from Vervitsa/Tropaia)
- Kapralaioi (resettled in Messenia)
- Setaioi (resettled in Messenia)
- Douskaioi (resettled in Messenia)
- Dentaioi (resettled in Messenia)
- Zygouraioi (resettled in Kastoria)
- Tzavaraioi (resettled in Messenia and Arcadia)
- Zervaioi (resettled in Boeotia)
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...foreigners required to be housed at a short notice, prepared to squat illegally whenever necessary, needing to be taught Greek,..."
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"Η παρουσία αύτη φαινομένων της ελληνικής συντάξεως εις το αλβανικόν ιδίωμα του Λεξικού είναι δυνατόν να ερμηνευθή κατά δύο τρόπους:
- α) Ότι η μητρική γλώσσα του Μπότσαρη και των συνεργατών του ήτο η Ελληνική, ...
- β) Είναι δυνατόν επίσης δυνατόν η επίδρασις της ελληνικής γλώσσης να ήτο τόσον μεγάλη επί της Αλβανικής της ομιλουμένης πιθανώς εις την περιοχήν του Σουλίου ..."
- a) The mother tongue of Botsaris and his coworkers was the Greek ...
- b) It is also possible that the influence of the Greek was so heavy on the Albanian possibly spoken in the area of Souli, ..."
- Protopsaltes G. Emmanouel, The diary of captivity of Fotos Tzavellas 1792-1793), in “Mneme Souliou”, edited by the “Athens Society of the Friends of Souli”, 1973, vol. 2, pp. 213-225, in Greek. The text of the diary is in pp. 226-235.
- Protopsaltes G. Emmanouel, Souli, Souliotes, Bibliotheke Epirotikes Etaireias Athenon (B.H.E.A.), No 53, p. 7, Athens, 1984. In Greek.
- Arnakis C. George, The role of religion in the development of Balkan nationalism, in Jelavich, B. and Jelavich, C., The Balkans in Transition: Essays on the Development of Balkan Life and Politics since the Eighteenth Century. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1963 p. 141. : " ... a common language was not sufficient to cement an alliance between Muslim Albanians and Albanian-speaking Greeks, such as the Souliotes, ..."
- Byron to Hobhouse, letter from 8, St James’s Street, London, November 2nd 1811:“… The Suliotes are villainous Romans & speak little Illyric.”
- Rizos-Nerulos Iakōbos, Histoire de l'Insurrection Grecque, Paris, 1834, p. 156
- Kapralos, Ch. Αρκαδικοί θρύλοι. p. 160. Η οικογένεια του Αντωνόπουλου (Μποτσαραίοι) κατάγονται από το Σούλι σύμφωνα με κάποια παράδοση.
- Kapralos, Ch. Αρκαδικοί θρύλοι. p. 70. Μα και οι Καπραλαίοι, προερχόμενοι από την Ήπειρο, έμειναν στη Μεσσηνία για κάποιο χρονικό διάστημα.
- Tzavaras, Ath.: "Agapite Aderfe Vasileie", Ekdosis Exantas, Athens 1999.
- The National Historical Museum. Euthymia Papaspyrou-Karadēmētriou, Maria Lada-Minōtou, Ethniko Historiko Mouseio (Greece). Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece, 1994. ISBN 960-85573-0-5