Klephts (Greek κλέφτης, pl. κλέφτες - "kleftis", "kleftes", which originally meant just "thieves" ), were bandits and warlike mountain folk who lived in the Greek countryside when Greece was a part of the Ottoman Empire. Due to the development of Turkish-Greek relations, though the word still means literally "thieves", it assumed a positive meaning for Greeksof that era.

Klephts under Ottoman rule were generally men who were fleeing vendettas or taxes, debts and reprisals from Ottoman officials. They raided travellers and isolated settlements and lived in the rugged mountains and back country. Most klephtic bands participated in some form in the Greek War of Independence.

The terms kleptomania and kleptocracy are derived from the same Greek root, "κλέπτειν", "to steal".


After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and then Mistra in the Despotate of the Morea, the majority of the plains of Greece fell entirely into the hands of the Ottoman Empire. The only territories that did not fall under Ottoman rule were the mountain ranges (populated by Greeks and inaccessible by Ottoman Turks), as well as a handful of islands and coastal possessions under the control of Venice. This situation lasted until at least 1821 (although there were some parts of Greece that still remained in Ottoman hands until the 20th century) and this period of time in Greece is known as the "Τουρκοκρατία" or "Turkocracy."

Ottoman conquests were divided up into pashaluks (provinces); in the case of the lands that form modern Greece, these were Morea and Roumelia, which were further sub-divided into feudal chifliks (Turkish "çiftlik" (farm), Greek "τσιφλίκι"). Any surviving Greek troops, whether regular Byzantine forces, local militia, or mercenaries had either to join the Ottoman army as janissaries, serve in the private army of a local Ottoman notable, or fend for themselves. Many Greeks wishing to preserve their Greek identity, Orthodox Christian religion, and independence chose the difficult but liberated life of a bandit. These bandit groups soon found their ranks swelled with impoverished and/or adventurous peasants, societal outcasts, and escaped criminals.

"Wild" klephts and "tame" klephts

Klephts can be likened to the legendary Robin Hood, living in isolation and seeking freedom. It would be incorrect to think of the klephts in quite the same terms as modern urban gangsters such as Al Capone. The klephts had more in common with the early Mafia of the Sicilian Vespers, or other outlaws like Pancho Villa and Rob Roy and mixed the politics of national liberation with quests for personal revenge, enhancement of clan status, and personal profiteering, although their main cause was often merely survival in the barren mountains of Greece and Albania.

Many klephts would spend part of their lives in service to Ottoman landowners, some of whom were Turkish colonists and others native Greeks who had either kept their position after the Turks invaded, or were from Phanariot families who received grants of land from the sultan. Klephts who worked in this capacity were referred to as "tame klephts" while those who were independent were known as "wild klephts."

Famous klephts

*Athanasios Diakos
*Geórgios Karaïskákis
*Markos Botsaris
*Odysseas Androutsos
*Theodoros Kolokotronis
*Antonis Katsantonis


The famous Greek dish Klephtico (or Kleftiko) slow cooked lamb (or other meat) can be translated as 'stolenmeat'. The Klephts, not having flocks of their own, would steal lambs or goats and cook the meat in a sealed pit to avoid the smoke being seen.


ee also

* Hajduk

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  • klepht — [kleft] n. [ModGr klephtēs, robber < Gr kleptēs: see KLEPTOMANIA] 1. a member of the Greek patriot bands who held out after the Turkish conquest of Greece in the 15th cent. 2. a brigand …   English World dictionary

  • klepht — noun Usage: often capitalized Etymology: New Greek klephtēs, literally, robber, from Greek kleptēs, from kleptein Date: 1820 a Greek belonging to any of several independent guerrilla communities formed after the Turkish conquest of Greece •… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • klepht — klephtic, adj. /kleft/, n. a Greek or Albanian brigand, exalted in the war of Greek independence as a patriotic robber; guerrilla. [1810 20; < ModGk kléphtes, var. of ModGk, Gk kléptes thief, rogue; see KLEPTOMANIA] * * * …   Universalium

  • klepht — n. robber, brigand, bandit; Albanian or Greek robber praised in the war of Greek independence as a patriotic robber …   English contemporary dictionary

  • klepht — [klɛft] noun 1》 a Greek independence fighter, especially one who fought the Turks in the 15th century. 2》 historical a Greek brigand or bandit. Origin from mod. Gk klephtēs, from Gk kleptēs thief …   English new terms dictionary

  • Klepht — ♦ Greek term for a brigand, having often the same positive connotations as the Serbian term hajduk. (Fine, John V.A. Jr. The Late Medieval Balkans, 624) Related terms: Hajduk …   Medieval glossary

  • klepht —   n. brigand.    ♦ klephtic, a.    ♦ klephtism, n …   Dictionary of difficult words

  • klepht — n. 1 a member of the original body of Greeks who refused to submit to the Turks in the 15th c. 2 any of their descendants. 3 a brigand or bandit. Etymology: mod. Gk klephtes f. Gk kleptes thief …   Useful english dictionary

  • Zacharias (klepht) — Zacharios Pentalakos or as he was more commonly known Zachariaos Barbitsiotis (22 October 1759 July 20, 1804, Greek: Ζαχαρίας Μπαρμπιτσιότης) was a Greek klepht in the Peloponnese operating during the time of Ottoman Greece, with most of modern… …   Wikipedia

  • klephtism — klephtˈism noun • • • Main Entry: ↑klepht …   Useful english dictionary

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