Massacres during the Greek War of Independence

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There were numerous massacres during the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829) perpetrated by both the Ottoman forces and the Greek revolutionaries. The war was characterized by a lack of respect for civilian life, and prisoners of war on both sides of the conflict. Massacres of Greeks took place especially in Ionia, Crete, Constantinople, Macedonia and the Aegean islands. Turkish, Albanian, Greeks, and Jewish populations, who were identified with the Ottomans inhabiting the Peloponnese, suffered massacres, particularly where Greek forces were dominant.[1] Settled Greek communities in the Aegean Sea, Crete, Central and Southern Greece were wiped out, and settled Turkish, Albanian, Greeks, and smaller Jewish communities in the Peloponnese were destroyed.[2][3]

Massacres of Greeks[edit]


Atrocities against the Greek population of Constantinople, April 1821.

Most of the Greeks in the Greek quarter of Constantinople were massacred.[4] On Easter Sunday, 9 April 1821, Gregory V was hanged in the central outside portal of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Ottomans. His body was mutilated and thrown into the sea, where it was rescued by Greek sailors. One week later, the former Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril VI was hanged in the gate of the Adrianople's cathedral.[5] This was followed by the execution of two Metropolitans and twelve Bishops by the Turkish authorities.[6] By the end of April, a number of prominent Greeks had been decapitated by Turkish forces in Constantinople, including Constantine Mourousis, Levidis Tsalikis, Dimitrios Paparigopoulos, Antonios Tsouras, and the Phanariotes Petros Tsigris, Dimitrios Skanavis and Manuel Hotzeris, while Georgios Mavrocordatos was hanged.[7] In May, the Metropolitans Gregorios of Derkon, Dorotheos of Adrianople, Ioannikios of Tyrnavos, Joseph of Thessaloniki, and the Phanariote Georgios Callimachi and Nikolaos Mourousis were decapitated on the Sultan's orders in Constantinople.[8]

Aegean Islands[edit]

"Holocaust of Samothraki" (1821) by François-Auguste Vinson

The Turks and Egyptians ravaged several Greek islands during the Greek Revolution, including those of Samothrace (1821), Chios (1822), Kos,[9] Rhodes,[9] Kasos and Psara (1824). The massacre of Samothrace occurred on September 1, 1821, where a Turkish fleet under the Kapudan Pasha Nasuhzade Ali Pasha killed most of the male population, took the women and children to slavery and burned down their homes.[10] The Chios Massacre of 1822 became one of the most notorious occurrences of the war.[11][12] Mehmet Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, dispatched his fleet to Kasos and on May 27, 1824 killed the population.[13] A few weeks later, the fleet under Husrev Pasha destroyed the population of Psara.[14]

Central Greece[edit]

Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1827, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux)

Shortly after Lord Byron's death in 1824, the Turks arrived to besiege the Greeks once more at Missolonghi. Turkish commander Reşid Mehmed Pasha was joined by Ibrahim Pasha, who crossed the Gulf of Corinth, and during the early part of 1826, Ibrahim had more artillery and supply brought in. However, his men were unable to storm the walls, and in 1826, following a one-year siege, Turkish-Egyptian forces conquered the city on Palm Sunday, and exterminated almost its entire population. The attack increased support for the Greek cause in western Europe, with Eugène Delacroix depicting the massacre in his painting Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi.


During the great massacre of Heraklion on 24 June 1821, remembered in the area as "the great ravage" ("ο μεγάλος αρπεντές", "o megalos arpentes"), the Turks also killed the metropolite of Crete, Gerasimos Pardalis, and five more bishops: Neofitos of Knossos, Joachim of Herronissos, Ierotheos of Lambis, Zacharias of Sitia and Kallinikos, the titular bishop of Diopolis.[15]

After the Sultan's vassal in Egypt was sent to intervene with the Egyptian fleet on 1825, Muhammad Ali's son, Ibrahim, landed in Crete and began to massacre the majority Greek community.[16]


In July 1821, the head of the Cypriot Orthodox Church Archbishop Kyprianos, along with 486 prominent Greek Cypriots, amongst them the Metropolitans Chrysanthethos of Paphos, Meletios of Kition and Lavrentios of Kyrenia, were executed by hanging or beheading by the Ottomans in Nicosia.

The French consul M. Méchain reported on 15 September 1821 that the local pasha, Küçük Mehmet, carried out several days of massacres in Cyprus since July 9 and continued on for forty days, despite the Vizier's command to end the plundering since 20 July 1821. On October 15, a massive Turkish Cypriot mob seized and hanged an Archbishop, five Bishops, thirty six ecclesiastics, and hanged most of the Greek Cypriots in Larnaca and the other towns. By September and October 1822, sixty two Greek Cypriot villages and hamlets had entirely disappeared and many people, including clerics, were massacred.[17][18][19]


Historian David Brewer writes that in the first year of the revolution, a Turkish army descended on the city of Patras and slaughtered all of the civilians of the settlement, razing the city.[20] The forces of Ibrahim Pasha were extremely brutal in the Peloponnese, burning the major port of Kalamata to the ground and slaughtering the city's inhabitants; they also ravaged the countryside and were heavily involved in the slave trade.


Greek villages in Macedonia were destroyed, and many of the inhabitants were put to death.[21] Thomas Gordon reports executions of Greek civilians in Serres and Thessaloniki, beheadings of merchants and clergy, and seventy burnt villages.[22]

In May 1821, the governor Yusuf Bey ordered his men to kill any Greeks in Thessaloniki they found in the streets. Haïroullah Effendi reported that then and "for days and nights the air was filled with shouts, wails, screams." The Metropolitan bishop was brought in chains, together with other leading notables, and they were tortured and executed in the square of the flour market. Some were hanged from the plane trees around the Rotonda. Others were killed in the cathedral where they had fled for refuge, and their heads were gathered together as a present for Yusuf Bey.[23]

In 1822, Abdul Abud, the Pasha of Thessaloniki, arrived on 14 March at the head of a 16,000 strong force and 12 cannons against Naousa. The Greeks defended Naousa with a force of 4,000 under the overall command of Zafeirakis Theodosiou and Anastasios Karatasos. The Turks attempted to take the town on 16 March 1822, and on 18 and 19 March, without success. On 24 March the Turks began a bombardment of the city walls that lasted for days. After requests for the town's surrender were dismissed by the Greeks, the Turks charged the gate of St George on 31 March. The Turkish attack failed but on 6 April, after receiving fresh reinforcements of some 3,000 men, the Turkish army finally overcame the Greek resistance and entered the city. In an infamous incident, many of the women committed suicide by falling down a cliff over the small river Arapitsa. Abdul Abud laid the town and surrounding area to waste. The Greek population was massacred.[24][25][26] The destruction of Naousa marked the end of the Greek revolution in Macedonia in 1822.

Massacres of Turks and Muslim Albanians[edit]


According to historian William St. Clair, during the beginning of the Greek revolution upwards of twenty thousand Turkish men, women and children were killed by their Greek neighbors in a few weeks of slaughter.[27] William St. Clair also argued that: "with the beginning of the revolt, the bishops and priests exhorted their parishioners to exterminate infidel Muslims."[28] St. Clair wrote:

The Turks of Greece left few traces. They disappeared suddenly and finally in the spring of 1821 unmourned and unnoticed by the rest of the world....It was hard to believe then that Greece once contained a large population of Turkish descent, living in small communities all over the country, prosperous farmers, merchants, and officials, whose families had known no other home for hundreds of years...They were killed deliberately, without qualm or scruple, and there was no regrets either then or later.[9]

Atrocities toward the Turkish civilian population inhabiting the Peloponnese had started in Achaia on the 28th of March, just with the beginning of the Greek revolt.[29] On 2 April, the outbreak became general over the whole of Peloponnese and on that day many Turks were murdered in different places.[29] On the third of April 1821, the Turks of Kalavryta surrendered upon promises of security which were afterwards violated.[29] Followingly, massacres ensued against the Turkish civilians in the towns of Peloponnese that the Greek revolutionaries had captured.

The Turks in Monemvasia, weakened by the famine opened the gates of the city, and laid down their weapons. Six hundred of them had already gone on board the brigs, when the Mainotes burst into the town and started murdering all those who had not yet reached to the shore or those who had chosen to stay in the town.[30] Those on the ships meanwhile were stripped of their clothes, beaten and left on a desolate rock in the Aegean, instead of being deported to Asia Minor as promised. Only a few of them were saved by a French merchant, called M. Bonfort.

A general massacre ensued the fall of Navarino on August 19, 1821. See Navarino Massacre.

The worst Greek atrocity in terms of the numbers of victims involved was the massacre following the Fall of Tripolitsa in 1822:

For three days the miserable inhabitants were given over to lust and cruelty of a mob of savages. Neither sex nor age was spared. Women and children were tortured before being put to death. So great was the slaughter that Kolokotronis himself says that, from the gate to the citadel his horse’s hoofs never touched the ground. His path of triumph was carpeted with corpses. At the end of two days, the wretched remnant of the Mussulmans were deliberately collected, to the number of some two thousand souls, of every age and sex, but principally women and children, were led out to a ravine in the neighboring mountains and there butchered like cattle.[31]

Although the total estimates of the casualties vary, the Turkish, Muslim Albanian and Jewish population of the Peloponnese had ceased to exist as a settled community.[2] Some estimates of the Turkish and Muslim Albanian civilian deaths by the rebels range from 15,000, 20,000 or more out of 40,000 Muslim residents[32][33] to 30,000 only in Tripolitsa.[34] Massacres of Turkish civilians started simultaneously with the outbreak of the revolt.[28][29][35][36]

Historian George Finlay claimed that the extermination of the Muslims in the rural districts was the result of a premeditated design and it proceeded more from the suggestions of men of letters, than from the revengeful feelings of the people.[37] William St. Clair wrote that: "The orgy of genocide exhausted itself in the Peloponnese only when there were no more Turks to kill."[28]

Central Greece[edit]

In Athens, 1,190 Turks, of whom only 190 were capable of bearing arms, surrendered upon promises of security. W. Alison Phillips noted that: A scene of horror followed which has only too many parallels during the course of this horrible war.[38]

Vrachori, modern day Agrinio, was an important town in West-Central Greece. It contained, besides the Christian population, some five hundred Musulman families and about two hundred Jews.[39] The massacres in Vrachori commenced with the Jews and soon Musulmans shared the same fate.[29]

Aegean Islands[edit]

There were also massacres towards the Muslim inhabitants of the islands in the Aegean Sea, in the early years of the Greek revolt. According to historian William St. Clair, one of the aims of the Greek revolutionaries was to embroil as many Greek communities as possible in their struggle. Their technique was "to engineer some atrocity against the local Turkish population",[40] so that these different Greek communities would have to ally themselves with the revolutionaries fearing a retaliation from the Ottomans.[40] In such a case, in March 1821, Greeks from Samos island had landed in the Chios and attacked the Muslim population living in that island.[40]

The crews and passengers of Turkish ships captured by Greek cruisers were often put to death: two hydriot brigs captured a Turkish ship laden with a valuable cargo, and carrying a number of passengers. Among these was a recently deposed Sheikh-ul-Islam, or patriarch of the Orthodox Muslims, who was said to be going to Mecca for pilgrimage. It was his efforts to prevent the cruel reprisals which, at Constantinople, followed the news of the massacres in Peloponnese, which brought him into disfavor, and caused his exile.[41] There were also several other Turkish families on board. British historian of the Greek revolt, W. Alison Phillips, noted (drawing from Finlay): The Hydriots murdered them all in cold blood, helpless old men, ladies of rank, beautiful slaves, and little children were butchered like cattle. The venerable old man, whose crime had been an excess of zeal on behalf of the Greeks, was forced to see his family outraged and murdered before his eyes...[42]

Massacres of Jews[edit]

Steven Bowman claims that despite the fact that many Jews were killed, they were not targeted specifically: "Such a tragedy seems to be more a side-effect of the butchering of the Turks of Tripolis, the last Ottoman stronghold in the South where the Jews had taken refuge from the fighting, than a specific action against Jews per se."[43] However, in the case of Vrachori,[29] a massacre of a Jewish population occurred first, and the Jewish population in the Peloponnese regardless was effectively decimated, unlike that of the considerable Jewish populations of the Aegean, Epirus and other areas of Greece in the several following conflicts between Greeks and the Ottomans later in the century. Many Jews within Greece and throughout Europe were however supporters of the Greek revolt, and many assisted the Greek cause. Following the state's establishment, it also then attracted many Jewish immigrants from the Ottoman Empire, as one of the first European states in the world to grant legal equality to Jews.[43]

Further reading[edit]

  • General Makriyannis, Ἀπομνημονεύματα (Memoirs), Athens: 1907 (preface by Yannis Vlahogiannis; in Greek).
  • Paroulakis, Peter H. (2000). The Greek War of Independence. Hellenic International Press. ISBN 978-0-9590894-1-7.


  1. ^ Peacock (1982), pp. 219–220
  2. ^ a b St. Clair (1972), p. 2
  3. ^ Fisher (1965), pp. 881–882
  4. ^ Fisher (1965), p. 882
  5. ^ Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Cyril VI
  6. ^ The history of the Greek Orthodox Church
  7. ^ University of Athens, Επίτομο Λεξικό της Ελληνικής Ιστορίας
  8. ^[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ a b c St. Clair (1972)
  10. ^ Lacroix (1853)
  11. ^ Christopher A. Long - The Series of Events
  12. ^ Argenti (1932)
  13. ^ Hellander (2008), p. 540
  14. ^ Brewer (2001), pp. 235–236
  15. ^ Dr. Detorakis, Theocharis "Brief Historical Review of the Holy Archdiocese of Crete"
  16. ^ Peacock (1982), p. 220
  17. ^ F. Pouqueville, F., Histoire de la regeneration de la Grece, comprenant le precis des evenements depuis 1740 jusquen 1824. París, Firmin Didot Pére, 1825, vol. 3, pp 252.
  18. ^ Cobham (1908), pp. 454–455
  19. ^ Luke (1921)
  20. ^ Brewer (2001), p. 66
  21. ^ Clare (1876), p. 358
  22. ^ Gordon (2000), pp. 176–177
  23. ^ Mazower (2006), pp. 126–129
  24. ^ Fleming (2007), p. 217
  25. ^ Dakin (1973), p. 66
  26. ^ Vasdravelis (1968), pp. 123–124, 136
  27. ^ St. Clair (1972), p. 1
  28. ^ a b c St. Clair (1972), p. 12
  29. ^ a b c d e f Finlay (1971), p. 146
  30. ^ Phillips (1897), p. 55
  31. ^ Phillips (1897), p. 61
  32. ^ Jelavich (1983), p. 217
  33. ^ Heraclides, Alexis (2011). The essence of the Greek-Turkish rivalry: national narrative and identity. Academic Paper. The London School of Economics and Political Science. p. 15. "On the Greek side, a case in point is the atrocious onslaught of the Greeks and Hellenised Christian Albanians against the city of Tripolitza in October 1821, which is justified by the Greeks ever since as the almost natural and predictable outcome of more than ‘400 years of slavery and dudgeon’. All the other similar atrocious acts all over Peloponnese, where apparently the whole population of Muslims (Albanian and Turkish-speakers), well over twenty thousand vanished from the face of the earth within a spat of a few months in 1821 is unsaid and forgotten, a case of ethnic cleansing through sheer slaughter (St Clair 2008: 1-9, 41-46) as are the atrocities committed in Moldavia (were the "Greek Revolution" actually started in February 1821) by prince Ypsilantis."
  34. ^ Bouboulina Museum, Spetses Greece (Publisher: Greek Island Spetses; Accessed: 2007-04-18).
  35. ^ Jelavich (1983), pp. 229–239
  36. ^ Phillips (1897)
  37. ^ Finlay (1971), p. 152
  38. ^ Phillips (1897), p. 101
  39. ^ Phillips (1897), p. 57
  40. ^ a b c St. Clair (1972), p. 79
  41. ^ Phillips (1897), p. 66
  42. ^ Phillips (1897), p. 67
  43. ^ a b Bowman, Steven. "History of the Jews in Greece" (PDF). University of Massachusetts. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-20.


  • Argenti, Philip P., ed. (1932). The Massacres of Chios Described in Contemporary Diplomatic Reports. London: John Lane the Bodley Head Ltd.
  • Booras, Harris J. (1934). Hellenic Independence and America's Contribution to the Cause. Tuttle Co.
  • Brewer, David (2001). The Greek War of Independence: the Struggle for Freedom from Ottoman Oppression and the Birth of the Modern Greek Nation. Overlook Press. ISBN 1-58567-172-X.
  • Clare, Israel Smith (1876). The Centennial Universal History. Philadelphia: J. C. Mccurdy & Co.
  • Cobham, Claude Delaval (1908). Exerpta Cypria. Cambridge University Press.
  • Dakin, Douglas (1973). The Greek struggle for independence, 1821-1833. Batsford.
  • Finlay, George (1971) [1861]. H. F. Tozer (ed.). History of the Greek Revolution and the Reign of King Otho. London. ISBN 9780900834127.
  • Fisher, H. A. L. (1965). A History of Europe. London: Edward Arnold.
  • Fleming, Katherine Elizabeth (2007). Greece: a Jewish history. Princeton University Press.
  • Gordon, Thomas (2000) [1844]. History of the Greek Revolution. 1. London: Adamant Media Corporation.
  • Hellander, Paul D. (2008). Greece. Lonely Planet. ISBN 9781741046564.
  • Jelavich, Barbara (1983). History of the Balkans: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-27458-6.
  • Lacroix, Louis (1853). "Samothrace". Iles de la Grèce. Firmin-Didot.
  • Luke, Harry (1921). Cyprus under the Turks, 1571-1878. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers Ltd. ISBN 1-85065-072-1.
  • Mazower, Mark (2006). Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950. Vintage.
  • Peacock, Herbert Leonard (1982). A History of Modern Europe (7th ed.). Heinemann Educational Publishers.
  • Phillips, W. Alison (1897). The War of Greek Independence, 1821 to 1833. London.
  • St. Clair, William (1972). That Greece Might Still Be Free - The Philhellenes in the War of Independence. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-215194-0.
  • Vasdravelis, John C. Vasdravellis (1968). The Greek Struggle for Independence: The Macedonians in the Revolution of 1821.