Konstantinos Kanaris

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Konstantinos Kanaris
Κωνσταντίνος Κανάρης
Constantine Kanaris.png
Konstantinos Kanaris, Prime Minister of Greece.
Coat of arms of Greece (Wittelsbach).svg
Prime Minister of Greece
In office
16 February 1844 – 30 March 1844
MonarchOtto I
Preceded byAndreas Metaxas
Succeeded byAlexandros Mavrokordatos
In office
15 October 1848 – 12 December 1849
MonarchOtto I
Preceded byGeorgios Kountouriotis
Succeeded byAntonios Kriezis
Royal Coat of Arms of Greece (1863-1936).svg
Prime Minister of Greece
In office
6 March 1864 – 16 April 1864
MonarchGeorge I
Preceded byDimitrios Voulgaris
Succeeded byZinovios Valvis
In office
26 July 1864 – 26 February 1865
MonarchGeorge I
Preceded byZinovios Valvis
Succeeded byBenizelos Roufos
In office
7 June 1877 – 2 September 1877
MonarchGeorge I
Preceded byAlexandros Koumoundouros
Succeeded byAlexandros Koumoundouros
Personal details
Bornc. 1790
Psara, Ottoman Greece
Died2 September 1877 (aged 87)
Athens, Kingdom of Greece
Military service
AllegianceFlag of Greece (1822-1978).svg First Hellenic Republic
State Flag of Greece (1863-1924 and 1935-1973).svg Kingdom of Greece
Branch/serviceHellenic Navy
Years of service1821–1844
Battles/warsGreek War of Independence

Konstantinos Kanaris, also anglicised as Constantine Kanaris or Canaris (Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Κανάρης; c. 1790[1] – 2 September 1877[2]), was a Greek admiral, Prime Minister, and a hero of the Greek War of Independence.[3]


Konstantinos Kanaris during the Greek War of Independence. Lithography by Karl Krazeisen, 1831.

Early life[edit]

Konstantinos Kanaris was born and grew up on the island of Psara, close to the island of Chios, in the Aegean. The exact year of his birth is unknown. Official records of the Hellenic Navy indicate 1795, however, modern Greek historians consider 1790 or 1793 to be more probable.[4]

He was left an orphan at a young age. Having to support himself, he chose to become a seaman like most members of his family since the beginning of the 18th century. He was subsequently hired as a boy on the brig of his uncle Dimitris Bourekas.

Military career[edit]

Kanaris gained his fame during the Greek War of Independence (1821–1829). Unlike most other prominent figures of the War, he had never been initiated into the Filiki Eteria (Society of Friends), which played a significant role in the uprising against the Ottoman Empire, primarily by secret recruitment of supporters against the Turkish rule.[5]

By early 1821, the movement had gained enough support to launch a revolution. This seems to have inspired Kanaris, who was in Odessa at the time. He returned to the island of Psara in haste and was present when it joined the uprising on 10 April 1821.[6]

The island formed its own fleet and the famed seamen of Psara, already known for their well-equipped ships and successful combats against sea pirates, proved to be highly effective in naval warfare. Kanaris soon distinguished himself as a fire ship captain.[7]

The burning of the Turkish flagship by Kanaris. Painting by Nikiforos Lytras, 1870.

At Chios, on the moonless night of 6–7 June 1822, forces under his command destroyed the flagship of the Ottoman admiral Nasuhzade Ali Pasha in revenge for the Chios massacre. The admiral was holding a Bayram celebration, allowing Kanaris and his men to position their fire ship without being noticed. When the flagship's powder store caught fire, all men aboard were instantly killed. The Turkish casualties comprised 2,300 men, both naval officers and common sailors, as well as Nasuhzade Ali Pasha himself.[8]

Kanaris led another successful attack against the Ottoman fleet at Tenedos in November 1822. He was famously said to have encouraged himself by murmuring "Konstantí, you are going to die" every time he was approaching a Turkish warship on the fire boat he was about to detonate.[9][10]

After the destruction of Psara. Painting by Nikolaos Gyzis, 1898.

The Ottoman fleet captured Psara on 21 June 1824. A part of the population, including Kanaris, managed to flee the island, but those who didn't were either sold into slavery or slaughtered. After the destruction of his home island, he continued to lead attacks against Turkish forces. In August 1824, he engaged in naval combats in the Dodecanese.[11]

The following year, Kanaris led the Greek raid on Alexandria, a daring attempt to destroy the Egyptian fleet with fire ships that might have been successful if the wind had not failed just after the Greek ships entered Alexandria harbour.[12]

After the end of the War and the independence of Greece, Kanaris became an officer of the new Greek Navy, reaching the rank of admiral, and became a prominent politician.

Political career[edit]

Statue of Konstantinos Kanaris in Kypseli, Athens.

Konstantinos Kanaris was one of the few with the personal confidence of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first Head of State of independent Greece. After the assassination of Kapodistrias on 9 October 1831, he retired to the island of Syros.[13]

During the reign of King Otto I, Kanaris served as Minister in various governments and then as Prime Minister in the provisional government (16 February – 30 March 1844). He served a second term (15 October 1848 – 12 December 1849), and as Navy Minister in Alexandros Mavrokordatos' 1854 cabinet.

In 1862, he was among the rare War of Independence veterans who took part in the bloodless insurrection that deposed the increasingly unpopular King Otto I and led to the election of Prince William of Denmark as King George I of Greece. During his reign, Kanaris served as a Prime Minister for a third term (6 March – 16 April 1864), fourth term (26 July 1864 – 26 February 1865) and fifth and last term (7 June – 2 September 1877).[14]

Kanaris died on 2 September 1877 whilst still serving in office as Prime Minister. Following his death his government remained in power until 14 September 1877 without agreeing on a replacement at its head. He was buried in the First Cemetery of Athens, where most Greek prime ministers and celebrated figures are also buried. After his death he was honoured as a national hero.


Silver urn containing the heart of Konstantinos Kanaris at the National Historical Museum, Athens.

In 1817, Konstantinos Kanaris married Despoina Maniatis, from a historical family of Psara. They had seven children:

  • Nikolaos Kanaris (1818–1848), killed during a military expedition in Beirut
  • Themistoklis Kanaris (1819–1851), killed during a military expedition in Egypt
  • Thrasyvoulos Kanaris (1820–1898), admiral
  • Miltiadis Kanaris (1822–1901), admiral, member of the Greek Parliament for many years, Naval Minister three times in 1864, 1871, and 1878
  • Lykourgos Kanaris (1826–1865), naval officer and lawyer
  • Maria Kanaris (1828–1847), married A. Balabano
  • Aristeidis Kanaris (1831–1863), officer killed in the uprising of 1863
Greek one drachma coin featuring the portrait of Konstantinos Kanaris.

Wilhelm Canaris, a German Admiral, speculated that he might be a descendant of Konstantinos Kanaris. An official genealogical family history that was researched in 1938 showed however, that he was of Italian descent and not related to the Kanaris family from Greece.[15]


Greek honours[edit]

Foreign honours[edit]


To honour Kanaris, the following ships of the Hellenic Navy have been named after him:[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Αργολικη Αρχειακη Βιβλιοθηκη Ιστοριασ και Πολιτισμου (Argolis' File-Library of History and Civilisation).
  2. ^ Note: Greece officially adopted the Gregorian calendar on 16 February 1923 (which became 1 March). All dates prior to that, unless specifically denoted, are Old Style.
  3. ^ Woodhouse, p. 129.
  4. ^ Αργολικη Αρχειακη Βιβλιοθηκη Ιστοριασ και Πολιτισμου (Argolis' File-Library of History and Civilisation).
  5. ^ Αργολικη Αρχειακη Βιβλιοθηκη Ιστοριασ και Πολιτισμου (Argolis' File-Library of History and Civilisation).
  6. ^ Αργολικη Αρχειακη Βιβλιοθηκη Ιστοριασ και Πολιτισμου (Argolis' File-Library of History and Civilisation).
  7. ^ Woodhouse, p. 138.
  8. ^ Αργολικη Αρχειακη Βιβλιοθηκη Ιστοριασ και Πολιτισμου (Argolis' File-Library of History and Civilisation).
  9. ^ "June 6, 1822: Revenge of the Chios Massacre". Greek City Times. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Constantine Kanaris - The Avenger of Chios". Chios Radio. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  11. ^ Αργολικη Αρχειακη Βιβλιοθηκη Ιστοριασ και Πολιτισμου (Argolis' File-Library of History and Civilisation).
  12. ^ Brewer, David The Greek War of Independence, London: Overlook Duckworth, 2011, page 244.
  13. ^ Woodhouse, p. 152.
  14. ^ Αργολικη Αρχειακη Βιβλιοθηκη Ιστοριασ και Πολιτισμου (Argolis' File-Library of History and Civilisation).
  15. ^ Bassett, Richard (2005). Hitler's Spy Chief: The Wilhelm Canaris Mystery. Cassell. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-304-36718-4. His name was of Italian origin, as was later shown in an elaborate family tree.
  16. ^ History of HS Kanaris (F-464), including a list of the five ships of the Hellenic Navy named after Konstantinos Kanaris.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Andreas Metaxas
Prime Minister of Greece
16 February 1844 – 30 March 1844
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Prime Minister of Greece
15 October 1848 – 12 December 1849
Succeeded by
Antonios Kriezis
Preceded by
Prime Minister of Greece
6 March 1864 – 16 April 1864
Succeeded by
Zinovios Valvis
Preceded by
Zinovios Valvis
Prime Minister of Greece
26 July 1864 – 26 February 1865
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Prime Minister of Greece
7 June 1877 – 2 September 1877
Succeeded by