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Poliani, Messinia, Ottoman Empire
|Died||June 1, 1825
Papaflessas (Greek: Παπαφλέσσας; 1788–1825), born Georgios Dimitrios Flessas (Γεώργιος Δημήτριος Φλέσσας), was a Greek patriot, priest, and government official of the old Flessas Family. The prefix papa- (παπα-) in the name "Papaflessas" indicates his status as a cleric since the word means "priest" in Greek. He was ordained to the highest position of the priesthood, Archimandrites, in 1819. He served as Minister of Internal Affairs and Chief of Police in the government of Alexander Mavrocordatos. Papaflessas was killed during the Battle of Maniaki on May 20, 1825, fighting against the forces of Ibrahim Pasha at Maniaki, Messinia.
Georgios Dimitrios Flessas was his birth name. His monastic name was Gregory Flessas (Γρηγόριος Φλέσσας, Grigórios Fléssas) or Papaflessas, while the pseudonym he used later in his life was Gregory Dikaios (Γρηγόριος Δικαῖος, Grigórios Dhikéos).
Gregory "Papaflessas" Dikaios or Georgios Flessas or Flesias (Φλέσιας), was born in 1788 in the village of Poliani in Messinia. His father was Demetrios G. Flessas (Δημήτριος Φλέσσας), son of the klepht Georgios Dimitriou Flesaas (Γεώργιος Δημητρίου Φλέσσας), and his mother, the second wife of Demεtrios, was Constantina Andronaiou (Κωνσταντίνα Ἀνδροναίου) from Dimitsana. In 1809, he attended school at the renowned school of Dimitsana, from whence many Greek national heroes graduated. While in school, he published a satire and pinned it on the door of Dimitsana Pasha (the Turkish local governor at the time) signing it "Gregorios PHOS Kalamios" (Φῶς Καλάμιος τοὔνομα Γρηγόριος). Realizing he was in danger from his action he was sent in 1815 to become a priest or monk, taking the ecclesiastical name of Gregorios Flessas or Papaflessas. For a short time, he served in this capacity in the monastery of Velanidia, situated outside of the city of Kalamata, Messinia.
Gregorios was argumentative and defiant by nature and frequently at odds with his ecclesiastical superiors. Further, he was angry toward the Ottoman Turks because of family members killed by them. He also blessed a marriage of Mr. Zervas with his niece who was engaged to another man. At the time, engagement was equal to marriage and it was punishable by death if the engagement was broken. He was asked to leave the monastery of Velanidia.
In April 1816, he moved to the monastery of Rekitsa (Ρεκίτσα), located between Leontari and Mystras. He soon argued with his superiors and the monastery's administration. He also came into conflict with a local Turkish authority over the boundaries of the monastery property and even used armed men to protect his claims. This eventually was settled by court in Tripolitsa with the court finding in Papaflessas' and the monastery's favour. This angered the Turkish official who told the authorities that Papaflessas was a revolutionary and was arming the "ragiades" (slaves - the Turks used to call the Greeks that way) against the Turks. The Tripolitsa authorities sentenced Papaflessas to death and sent soldiers to the monastery to arrest and execute him. Armed Poliani fighters delayed the soldiers and Papaflessas were able to leave his homeland, saying as he did so that he would return either a Bishop or a Pasha and deal with them.
Papaflessas went to the island of Zakynthos, a haven for Greeks from the mainland who were under death sentence by the Turks. He obtained a reference letter from the Archbishop of Christianoupolis (Arcadia Kyparissia). While traveling by sea to Constantinople, Papaflessas was shipwrecked on Mount Athos during which the seal on his letter of recommendation broke. Reading the letter he was surprised to find that it called him dishonest, immoral and untrustworthy, causing him to discard the letter.
He arrived in Constantinople with the goal of studying Ancient Greek and theology and to become an Archbishop in the Patriarxeio of Agia Sofia. While studying Greek and the Periklis harangue, he also started meeting prominent "patriots". Because he was under death sentence by the Turks, and his reputation from Peloponnisos, he used the name "Dikaios". He soon joined the secret organization Filiki Eteria with the code name "Armodios" (A. M.), Ἁρμόδιος, and the number five (5).
In 1819, Gregorios was ordained to the highest priesthood position, Archimandrites, a rank next to the Bishop, by Patriarch Gregorios V of Constantinople and he was given the ecclesiastical “officio of Dikaios” (the Ecumenical Patriarch's representative), in order to be able to move freely in the Moldovlachia area and not to be bothered by the Turks. Papaflessas was sent to the northern part of the Ottoman Empire to inspire and spread hope among his countrymen for the nation's independence from the Turks.
Action in Resistance
Returning to Constantinople from his successful mission Papaflessas again came to the attention of the Turkish authorities and had to flee. At the end of 1820, he sailed to Kydonia of Asia Minor and catechised all scholars of the Big School (as it was called there) while awaiting the arrival of war supplies from Smyrna. From Smyrna he received military supplies and the assurance of additional ammunition if needed.
Papaflessas traveled to several areas seeking support for a revolution against the Ottoman Empire. At the Saint George monastery he called a meeting of Greek authorities and High Priests to discuss if the time was right to start the a revolution. After heated arguments the meeting was postponed for a later time in the monastery of Agia Lavra.
In January 1821 meetings took place with Papaflessas recounting his supplies and assurances of support coming from Russia. Concerns about the practicalities of war and the uncertainty of the promises of military support lead the other participants to propose to secretly jail Flessas in the monastery of Agia Lavra in order to avoid problems for the nation. But Papaflessas had armed supporters and no one dared arrest him. The synod decided to get further information and the opinion of neighbouring countries before starting a revolution.
Flessas' problem was with the upper class (landowners) in the villages and municipalities, including the top echelon of the clergy, who did not trust Papaflessas, and his mission was received with a great deal of scepticism and fear. He felt safer to approach first farmers and peasants and the poor class of people who were easily magnetized by his speeches looked upon him as the messiah of their freedom.
After the meeting he went to Kalavryta and met with Nikolaos Souliotis and Asimakis Skaltsas in order for them to write a letter in the first 10 days of March 1821 to Oikonomos Eliopoulos. Then he retreated to Kalyvia Kalamata waiting for news from Souliotis and Skaltsas and the arrival in Almyros, a small port near Kalamata, of the boat with the war supplies. From Kalyvia he went secretly to Gardikion (now Amfeia) near his hometown Poliani and learned that the small boat of Mexis Poriotis arrived in Almyros. Papaflessas immediately called his brothers.
In March 1821, he received news the ship with military supplies had arrived. He gathered about 400 men with mules and donkeys from the Poliani area and went to Almyros Kalamata. In order to unload the boat they had to have the authorization of the area's harbourmaster, the famous Mavromichalis, who was in the pay of the Turks security force. The harbourmaster demanded a large bribe to cover up what the Greeks were unloading.
Papaflessas sent 45,000 grosia to Mavromichalis who accepted it but still did not sign the proper papers. He wanted half of the supplies in the boat to have them as reserves to fight the Greeks when they start the revolution against the Turks. This was agreed to and the supplies were transported to the monastery of Velanidia, where Papaflessas served as a monk, summoning prominent "kleftes" chieftains from the area. By purpose or accident some of the gunpowder was dropped at a local well and the next day the stablemen of the local Pasha found and reported it. The Pasha summoned all the prominent Greeks and clergy from the Kalamata area and jailed them.
Papaflessas arranged his men to cover various strategic positions in the area. When a Turkish sympathizer tried to leave the city he was killed, starting the war of Independence on March 21, 1821. In Mani a gathering of the captains of the rebels had decided to start the revolution on March 25, 1821, but received news on the 22nd that the fighting had already begun. The Greek War of Independence officially started on March 25, 1821, and brought a great change to the Church of the free kingdom. The clergy had taken a leading part in the revolution.
Papaflessas during the Revolution (1821–1825)
In 1823, Papaflessas was named the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Chief of Police by the government of Prince Alexander Mavrocordato under the name Gregorios Dikaios, the name he had when was in Filiki Etairia. He instituted many reforms, established the mail system and built schools in various towns. He created the title of Inspector General for schools and he was the first one to establish a "political convictions certificate" to be given to the friends of the Government. He took part in many battles against the Turks and he sided with the government when the civil war started in 1824. He took part in the campaign in Messinia and the rest of the Peloponnese to suppress the rebels against the Government. During the civil war, he was initially on Theodoros Kolokotronis' side, but later switched sides due to his personal ambitions.
When Ibrahim Pasha invaded the Peloponnese in 1825 (with an army consisted mostly by Egyptians), Papaflessas was still Minister of Internal Affairs. Realizing the great danger the nation was facing with the Ibrahim's invasion, he demanded the government grant amnesty to Kolokotronis and other political prisoners. This demand was refused and he appeared before the Executive Branch and Parliament to tell them he would go to Messinia alone to organize a resistance against Ibrahim, determined to return victorious or die in the battlefield.
Papaflessas gathered 3,000 poorly armed men and went to the province of Pylia, Messinia, searching for the best spot to face Ibrahim's army coming out of the city of Pylos. He selected the hills of Maniaki in order for him to have a better view of the enemy's movements and there Papaflessas established three lines of defence. On June 1, 1825, Ibrahim's forces led by well-trained French officers attacked Papaflessas' defence lines. Most of the Greek troops lost their nerve, abandoned their positions, and fled. Papaflessas continued to fight the Egyptians with a small force of 800-1000 men loyal to him and his cause.
Papaflessas knew that in choosing to face Ibrahim he would die on the battlefield. Papaflessas's defenses were ultimately broken by the heavy bombardment of Ibrahim's artillery and the repeated attacks of his infantry and cavalry. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting ended with the death of the last defender.
After Papaflessa's death from a bullet in the chest, Ibrahim ordered that his body be cleaned of blood and dirt and tied to a tree. After a few minutes of looking at his foe, Ibrahim walked up to the corpse and kissed it on the cheek as a sign of extreme respect. In speaking of Papaflessas after his death, it is said that Ibrahim told his officers: "If Greece had ten heroes like him, it would not have been possible for me to undertake the military campaign against the Peloponnese".
Papaflessas remains a key revolutionary figure in Greek history and places and events have been named in his honour. Such instances include an annual international athletics meeting in Kalamata called Papaflessia and a municipality in the Peloponnese called Papaflessas.
- Μεγάλη Ελληνική Εγκυκλοπαίδεια του "ΠΥΡΣΟΥ" τομ. ΚΔ σελ. 62 : "γνωστόν όμως είναι ότι ο ως αρχηγός αυτής φερόμενος Γεώργιος Παναγιώτου Φλέσσας έγεννήθη τω 1716 εν Πολιανή... Το επώνυμο Φλέσσας έλαβε ο κλάδος αυτός [sc. της οικογενείας] εκ τού Φλιασίου πεδίου, όπου κατοίκησε, προς διάκρισιν των άλλων συγγενών Δικαίων, των εχόντων το αυτό επώνυμο."
- Φώτιος Χρυσανθόπουλος. "Βίος του παπά Φλέσα" Συγγραφείς μεν υπό Φωτάκου εκδοθείς δε υπό Σ. Καλκάνδη. Εν Αθήναις: Τύποις Νομιμότητας, 1868, σελ. 1 και 2 : "Ό Δημήτριος Φλέσσας κατήγετο εκ μιας των έξοχωτέρων οικογενειών της επαρχίας Μεγαλουπόλεως και έγεννήθη εις το χωρίον Πολιανή του δήμου Άμφείας. Δίκαιοι δε ώνομάζοντο όλοι οι απόγονοι της οικογενείας ταύτης και μετωνομάσθησαν Φλεσσαίοι από της λέξεως Έφεσίους αναφερομένης εις τας πράξεις των Αποστόλων, και μη ορθώς προφερόμενης εν τη εκκλησία της πατρίδος των Έφλεσίους, είτα Φλεσίους, και μετά ταύτα Φλεσσαίους (chapter I)... Το έτος 1816, μετά την εξοδόν του από το σχολείον, εγένετο μοναχός (με το εκκλησιαστικό όνομα Γρηγόριος Φλέσσας Παππάς ή Παπαφλέσσας) και εμόναξεν εις το μοναστήριον της Βελανιδιάς... . Με αυτό το όνομα (Γρηγόριος Δίκαιος) γνώρισε τον Αναγνωστόπουλο και εμυήθει στην Φιλική Εταιρεία με το ψευδώνυμο "ΑΡΜΟΔΙΟΣ" και εχειτοτονήθει αργότερα Αρχιμανδρίτης από τον Γρηγόριον τον Ε' με το εκκλησιαστικό "ΟΦΦΙΚΙΟ" του Δικαίου που σημαίνει αντιπρόσωπος του Πατριάρχη."
- Νίκος Παναγιωτόπουλος, Το Μανιάκι, τα Ταμπούρια και ο Παπαφλέσσας, εφημερίδα Θάρρος, 19 May 2007, issue 32370 (Greek)
- Δημήτρης Καμπουράκης, "Μια σταγόνα ιστορία", Εκδόσεις Πατάκη, 2002 ISBN 960-16-0621-1 (Greek)