The Orlov revolt[a] (Greek: Ορλωφικά, Ορλοφικά, Ορλώφεια) was a Greek uprising in the Peloponnese and later also in Crete that broke out in February 1770, following the arrival of Russian Admiral Alexey Orlov, commander of the Imperial Russian Navy during the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774), to the Mani Peninsula. The revolt, a major precursor to the Greek War of Independence (which erupted in 1821), was part of Catherine the Great's so-called "Greek Plan" and was eventually suppressed by the Ottomans.
The Ottoman Empire had its longest period of peace between 1739 (Treaty of Belgrade) and 1768 - three decades when it did not engage any of its European rivals. Europe was caught up in costly and bloody conflicts while the Ottomans stayed out and tended to economy and politics, and rebuilding social and administrative organization. This peaceful period came to an end on 23 October 1768, when the Porte declared war on Russia. Causes included aggressive Russian foreign policy, Russian interference in Crimea (an Ottoman vassal), and the power struggle in Poland-Lithuania. There were insignificant events in 1768–69, as both sides prepared for a long campaign.
Meanwhile, Greek rebels were readied. Wishing to weaken the Ottoman Empire and establish a pro-Russian independent Greek state, Russian emissaries had been sent to Mani in the mid-1760s to make a pact with the strongest local military leaders, and at the same time notable Greeks approached various Russian agents, discussing plans for the liberation of Greece. In preparation for war, Russian agents promoted Greek rebellion to support military actions in the north. Russian artillery captain Grigorios Papadopoulos (or Georgios Papasoglu), a Greek, was dispatched to Mani. Georgios Papazolis, another Greek officer of the Russian army, cooperated with the brothers Grigory and Alexei Orlov in preparations for a Greek insurrection in the Morea during the Russian military operations against the Ottoman Empire in 1769. The organization of the Greek rebellion was put under brothers Orlov, with Alexei as the Russian fleet commander.
Some Greek notables joined the Russian side, and promised them men and supplies, while in return they expected massive Russian aid (10,000 soldiers and military equipment). Russia planned to incite Orthodox Christians to revolt, and sent agents to Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Crete and the Morea. Another Orlov brother, Fyodor Orlov, was sent to coordinate rebels in Morea, deemed the most important strategic area in mainland Greece (due to its ports). Russia assembled a war fleet for deployment in the Mediterranean, described as "one of the most spectacular events of the 18th century", which caught the Ottomans off-guard. The first fleet contingent (out of two) departed in August 1769 and arrived in the Aegean in December. This expedition of four ships, a few hundred soldiers and inadequate arms supplies greatly disappointed the Greeks. Nevertheless, combined Russian-Greek forces attempted a campaign.
Progress of the revolt
Among the Greek leaders that were approached were Panagiotis Benakis, a notable from Kalamata, the local metropolitan bishop Anthimos, and Cretan shipping magnate John Vlachos "Daskalogiannis". The arrival of the Russian fleet in Mani in February 1770 saw the establishment of local armed groups in Mani and Kalamata. However, the small Russian expeditionary force could not convince a part of the local Greeks to take arms. The Russian manpower was much fewer than expected and mutual distrust developed between the Greek and Russian leaders. Initially an army of 1,400 men was formed, but additional reinforcement of Cretans arrived the following days. The Greek forces were divided into major units (called legions) with the help of a small number of Russian officers and soldiers. The "Eastern Spartan Legion" in Laconia, with 1,200 men, was organized by P. P. Dolgorukov and led by Georgios "Yiorgakis" Mavromichalis, while the "Western Spartan Legion" in Messenia was led by G. M. Barkov and Antonios Psarros.
The Greek rebels were initially successful and managed to defeat Ottoman forces in Laconia and eastern Messenia in southern Morea. The revolt however failed to effectively spread, thus the fortresses of Navarino, Methone and the administrative center of Morea, Tripolitsa (modern Tripoli), remained in Ottoman hands. The rebels did manage to control the fortress of Mystras, where they set up a local government.
Meanwhile, the Greek revolt in Crete was led by Daskalogiannis. Soon after Sfakians refused to pay taxes and revolted in great numbers. However, the support promised by the Russian emissaries never arrived at Crete and Daskalogiannis was left to his own devices. He managed to organize a band of 2,000 well armed men who descended from the mountains onto the plains of western Crete. They attacked and killed local Turks in an unsuccessful effort to convince other Cretans to join them in their quest to overthrow the Ottomans. The Cretan uprising was soon suppressed by numerically superior Ottoman units. In April the revolutionaries managed to capture the fortress of Navarino however the uprising was already doomed and the Russian fleet abandoned the region in following June.
With the assistance of Greek islanders, the Russian fleet was able to score a major victory against the Ottoman Navy in the Battle of Cesme, but this did not help the Greek army in Morea. As the Russians failed to bring the forces they promised, the revolt was soon crushed. Greek reinforcements from Macedonia and Olympus region faced opposition in their descent to Morea and thus were unable to assist the revolutionaries. Hard-pressed by the arising necessity to fight a major war with Russia on its northern borders, the Ottoman Empire hired Albanian mercenary troops and they defeated the Russo-Greek expedition at Tripolitsa.
The Muslim Albanian mercenaries hired by the Ottomans remained in the Peloponnese for several years after the suppression of the revolt, and they allegedly "ran wild", pillaging the country and massacring Greeks, thus taking fearfull revenge for the Christian forces that massacred Muslim civilians and destruction of property during the uprising. Referred to by the local Greek populace as "Turk-Albanians", those forces had also destroyed many cities and towns in Epirus during 1769–70. In Patras nearly no one was left alive after the Turkish-Albanian invasion. The city of Mystras was left in ruins and the metropolitan bishop Ananias was executed despite having saved the life of several Turks during the uprising. A great number of local Greeks was killed by the Albanian groups, while several children were sold to slavery.
The Ottoman government was unable to pay the wages the Albanian mercenaries demanded for their service, thus the latter were ravaging the region. In 1774 the Russo-Turkish War ended with the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca which granted general amnesty to the population. Nevertheless attacks by Muslim Albanian mercenaries in the region continued not only against the Greek population but also against Turks. The extensive destruction and lack of control in the Peloponnese forced the central Ottoman government to send a regular Turkish military force to suppress those Albanian troops in 1779, and eventually drive them out from Peloponnese.
From the Russian point of view, Count Orlov's mission was a success, damaging the Turkish fleet, directing Turkish troops south, and contributing to the victory that led to the signing of the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji.
From the Greek point of view, the affair was a failure which cost a huge number of lives (both in battle, and in the Turkish reprisals that followed). The Greeks were effectively forgotten in the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji, and they became increasingly distrustful of the Russians as a result. However, Greek ships gained the right to sail under Russian flag and Russia the right to protect the Orthodox population in the Ottoman empire.
While Greek connections to Russia remained strong (in part because of the influence of prominent Greeks in Russia such as Count Demetrio Mocenigo of Zante that served as Russian Ambassador in Tuscany), many among the next generation of Greek leaders (such as Alexander Mavrocordatos) would look to Britain and France for alliances.
In popular culture
The revolt was a crucial event for the further development of Philhellenism as an important literary movement in the Western world. As such, the protagonist in Friedrich Hölderlin's novel Hyperion participates in a 1770 revolt inspired by the Orlov Revolt.
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