The Greek Revolution of 1821 is the most important event in the contemporary Greek History because it led to the creation of the Greek national state. It is the first revolution that managed to create an independent national state in south-eastern Europe.
The end of the 18th century marked the beginning of the formation of a movement that led to the Greek Revolution, it was called Filiki Eteria (Society of Friends). Filiki Eteria cultivated the idea that the Greeks could rebel against the sultan and form their own national state. In 1814, three merchants from the colonies, Nikolaos Skoufas from Arta, Emmanuel Xanthos from Patmos and Athanasios Tsakalov from Ioannina founded in Odessa, that back then was part of Russia and now is an Ukrainian city, Filiki Eteria, a secret organisation that had as a goal to prepare the Greek Revolution.
Filiki Eteria was founded at a time when European monarchies had taken measures against social and national uprisings. To remain secret both from the ottoman authorities and the control mechanisms of the European empires, Filiki Eteria was organised like other secret revolutionary groups. The leaders were only few people, unknown to the rest of the members.
The Greek Revolution erupted in the beginning of 1821, simultaneously in Moldavia and Walachia (the Danube principalities), in Peloponnese and in Constantinople. In Moldavia and Walachia, it failed, while in Southern Greece it managed to confront the ottoman army and control Peloponnese, Central Greece and quite a few islands in the Aegean.
The start of the Revolution in Greece did not happen in one day neither did it start simultaneously in all areas, although the 25th of March was set as the date for the general revolt. Some areas preceded while others followed after the 25th of March. So, the start of the Revolution was done in stages and climaxed in a period longer than two months while separate revolts happened also later. However, the first revolutionary events from the 21st to the 31st of March, when Peloponnese first and part of Eastern Greece right after revolted, consist the start of the Revolution in Greece.
The Revolution in Greece started from Peloponnese. Within few days, from the 21st to the 28th of March, it expanded to all the provinces. In essence, only the fortresses of Tripolitsa and its surrounding areas and Lala had remained under the authority of the Turks. All the provinces moved towards the Revolution with equal eagerness.
first city that was freed was Kalamata on the 23rd of March 1821. The Greek warlords met right after and decided to found a revolution committee which was named “Messinian in Kalamata Senate” and took over the coordination of the Revolution. On the same day, the Messinian Senate issued a declaration addressed to the European royal courts, the original is saved up to today. With this declaration, the Messinian Senate stated to the other Christian nations the decision of the Greek nation, after centuries of unbearable slavery, to break free and asked for their contribution.
The Great Powers initially treated the Greek Revolution negatively. On the contrary, the Philhellenes and their movement embraced it with enthusiasm. In 1825, the Ottoman Empire organised a counterattack that brought the Revolution to danger. The danger became even bigger because of the internal disputes among the rebels that led to two civil wars. However, the Great Powers, because they expected to be benefited by the new order of things, intervened in the end to save the Revolution. First Governor of the new Greek State was Ioannis Kapodistrias.
The Philhellenes helped the Greek Revolution in many ways.
The Revolution prevailed in areas where relatively few Muslims lived and were far from the big ottoman military camps. In Epirus, Thessaly, Macedonia and Chios the rebels didn’t manage to last and the ottomans managed to supress the revolutions by the summer of 1822.
The most important events during the first two years of the Revolution was the fall of Tripolitsa (there were the headquarters of the ottoman command and the army of the Peloponnese) and the battle of Dervernakia. There, Theodoros Kolokotronis succeeded one of the most critical victories because with that the rebels stabilised their sovereignty in the Peloponnesian.
During the Revolution, four social groups took part in the political developments: the elders and the senior clergymen of each province, the warlords of the Revolution, foreign politicians – the Phanariots coming from Constantinople, merchants and scholars from other parts of the Ottoman Empire and also from the Ionian Islands and Europe who went to the rebelling areas to take part to the Revolution- and finally the grand merchants and the shipowners of the Aegean, in essence the elders of the islands.
The Revolution found Hydra in a state of immense wealth with gold coins coming from the successful trade of wheat during the Napoleon wars.
Their fleet numbered 186 small and big ships with total tonnage of 27,736 tons double the size of that of Spetses who had a force of 64 ships with 15,907 tons tonnage while Psara had 35-40 ships and Kasos 15. Meanwhile, the crews had gained great battling expertise from the encounters with the Algerian pirates so Ibrahim was right to call Hydra “Little England”.
The elders, since 1820 at least, were initiated by Filiki Eteria to the secret of the Revolution. When the Revolution was declared in the Peloponnese, on the 24th of March 1821, the elders of Hydra and Spetses were informed with a letter by the elders of Peloponnese that the Revolution started earlier because the secret was betrayed by the “Turk devotees” and asked for their help to defy the enemy at sea.
The people of Spetses raised the flag of the Revolution on the 26th of March but the elders of Hydra were hesitant to revolt, remembering the catastrophes that they suffered during the previous unsuccessful rebellion of 1770 and bearing in mind the military supremacy of the enemy. In the end, they declared the Revolution on the 14th of April 1821 by the Admiral Antonios Oikonomou and the people of Hydra overcoming the hesitations of the elders.
Hydra, along with Spetses and Psara, played a crucial role to the outcome of the Revolution of 1821 giving their merchant and naval fleets, fighters and money, to service of the Revolution.
Hydra’s fleet along with the fleets of Spetses and Psara, ruled the seas during the seven-year fight, contributing crucially to the liberation of Greece, sacrificing human lives, ships and money and revealing great leaders and fighters.
The fleet of the Revolution had ships mainly from the islands of Hydra, Spetses, Psara and Kasos. The ottoman fleet had more and bigger ships with better equipment. However, their crews lacked experience and during winter the ottoman fleet was going back to the base. The Greeks using fire ships managed a lot of damage and gave fear to the ottoman navy.
The fire ships (bourlota) were old small ships that the Greeks filled with explosives and were easily set to fire. The sailors tied them next to the ottoman ships at night and set them to fire. Then they fled with small boats and the fire spread from the fire ships that were burning or exploding.
The Greek Revolution of 1821 and the independent state that it created led the way for the other Balkan nations too like the Serbs, the Bulgarians, the Albanians and others who wanted to create their own national states. This lasted almost a century and led to the division of the Ottoman Empire that concluded in 1923 when Turkey was formed.
Wanting to honour the 200 years from the Greek Revolution of 1821 and the bravery of the Greeks we created the Sail to Freedom, a unique and spectacular event inspired by the nautical supremacy of Greece and the Greek women who took part in the Revolution, like the lady captain Laskarina Bouboulina. In a symbolic sail, dozens of sailing ships and motor boats will sail towards the Statue of Liberty baring the Greek flag and the flags of the Revolution honouring the Greek captains and sailors of 1821 while a charismatic Greek aerial dancer, Katerina Soldatou, will give her best performance to honour the Greek heroes of 1821, “flying” among the masts of the taller sailing boat of the armada like the Greek captains and female captains of the Revolution dashed against the Ottoman Empire.