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One of the most accessible books of modern Greek history is by D. George Kousoulas called simply Modern Greece (Charles Scribner’s, 1974), and it begins with how the Greeks, despite nearly 400 years of subjugation to the Ottoman Turks, managed to start a revolution.
It began with the Greek Orthodox Church, which the Turks allowed to function as a way of keeping its Orthodox subjects in check, and also to drive a wedge between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Only it served to unite the Greeks and keep their faith and identity alive.
It continued with trade: the Turks thought trade was beneath them. So the Greeks were allowed to continue their age-long mercantile history, which created a communications network, and which sustained a merchant navy that could be converted to a fighting navy. On land, many of the hardy klephts and armatoli who sometimes served as mercenaries for local chieftains like Ali Pasha later became the Greek fighting force on land.
These converged with the idealism of philhellenes abroad like Byron and Shelley, and the elite Greeks both abroad and within the Ottoman Empire, the so-called Phanariots who were often the high-level administrators of the Empire and who nurtured the ideal of an ancient Greece reborn and even created their own language for it—katharevousa.
The proponents of revolution became the Philiki Eteria, the hardy revolutionaries of the mountains and the sea became its soldiers and sailors, and legend goes that “on March 25, 1821, the feast day of the Annunciation, the metropolitan of Old Patras, Germanos, raised the standard of revolution at the monastery of Aghia Lavra, near Kalavrita in the Peloponnisos.”
Legend or not, the revolution was born and it led to the first regime of modern Greece in 1828.
Hard to believe how a small country, for nearly 400 years kept in both actual and cultural poverty and bondage to the Turks, managed in a few short years to throw off its yoke and fought relentlessly for nearly a hundred years more to become a unified nation. It hasn’t been easy: Greece has had more than its share or wars and upheavals and regimes.
But somehow the spirit and ideal of Greece has never died. The glory of ancient Greece lasted no more than a few hundred years, more than 2000 years ago—and yet, along with the Orthodox faith, it is still vibrantly alive and has sustained our small nation with a never-wavering belief in the destiny of all Greeks, both in the homeland and abroad.
The 200 years of Greek independence are a milestone in human history because the ideals of Greece are a cultural touchstone of western civilization. Byron died fighting for Greece and wrote about the undying Greek spirit:
The mountains look on Marathon–
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
I dreamed that Greece might still be free;
For standing on the Persians’ grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.