Massacres during the Greek Revolution

Massacres during the Greek Revolution
Eugène Delacroix's Massacre of Chios

There were numerous massacres during the Greek War of Independence perpetrated by both the Greek revolutionaries and the Ottoman forces. The war was characterized by a lack of respect for civilian life and prisoners of war on both sides of the conflict. Turkish, Albanian and Jewish populations identified with the Ottomans inhabiting the Peloponnese suffered massacres particularly where Greek forces were dominant, while massacres of Greeks took place especially in Ionia, Crete, Constantinople, Macedonia and the Aegean islands.[1] Settled Turkish, Albanian and smaller Jewish communities in the Peloponnese were destroyed, and settled Greek communities in the Aegean, Crete, Central and Southern Greece were wiped out.[2][3]


Massacres of Turks


British historian W. Alison Phillips, who wrote the history of the Greek revolution, noted in 1897:

Everywhere, as though at a preconcerted signal, the peasantry rose, and massacred all the Turks—men, women and children—on whom they could lay hands. In the Morea shall no Turk be left. Nor in the whole wide world. Thus rang the song which, from mouth to mouth, announced the beginning of a war of extermination... Within three weeks of the outbreak of the revolt, not a Muslim was left, save those who had succeeded in escaping into the towns.[4]

According to another historian of the Greek revolt, William St. Clair, upwards of twenty thousand Turkish men, women and children were killed by their Greek neighbors in a few weeks of slaughter.[5] William St. Clair also argued that: "with the beginning of the revolt, the bishops and priests exhorted their parishioners to exterminate infidel Muslims."[6] St. Clair wrote:

The Turks of Greece left few traces. They disappeared suddenly and finally in the spring of 1821 unmourned and unnoticed by the rest of the world....It was hard to believe then that Greece once contained a large population of Turkish descent, living in small communities all over the country, prosperous farmers, merchants, and officials, whose families had known no other home for hundreds of years...They were killed deliberately, without qualm or scruple, and there was no regrets either then or later.[7]

Atrocities toward the Turkish civilian population inhabiting the Peloponnese had started in Achaia on the 28th of March, just with the beginning of the Greek revolt.[8] On the 2nd of April, the outbreak became general over the whole of Peloponnese and on that day many Turks were murdered in different places.[9] On the third of April 1821, the Turks of Kalavryta surrendered upon promises of security which were afterwards violated.[10] Followingly, massacres ensued against the Turkish civilians in the towns of Peloponnese that the Greek revolutionaries had captured.

The Turks in Monemvasia, weakened by the famine opened the gates of the city, and laid down their weapons. Six hundred of them had already gone on board the brigs, when the Mainotes burst into the town and started murdering all those who had not yet reached to the shore or those who had chosen to stay in the town.[11] Those on the ships meanwhile were stripped of their clothes, beaten and left on a desolate rock in the Aegean, instead of being deported to Asia Minor as promised. Only a few of them were saved by a French merchant, called M. Bonfort.

A general massacre ensued the fall of Navarino on August 19, 1821. See Navarino Massacre.

The worst Greek atrocity in terms of the numbers of victims involved was the massacre following the Fall of Tripolitsa in 1822. Up to 30,000 Turks had been killed in Tripolitsa:

For three days the miserable inhabitants were given over to lust and cruelty of a mob of savages. Neither sex nor age was spared. Women and children were tortured before being put to death. So great was the slaughter that Kolokotronis himself says that, from the gate to the citadel his horse’s hoofs never touched the ground. His path of triumph was carpeted with corpses. At the end of two days, the wretched remnant of the Mussulmans were deliberately collected, to the number of some two thousand souls, of every age and sex, but principally women and children, were led out to a ravine in the neighboring mountains and there butchered like cattle.[12]

Although the total estimates of the casualties vary, the Turkish, Muslim Albanian and Jewish population of the Peloponnese had ceased to exist as a settled community.[2] Some estimates of the Turkish and Muslim Albanian civilian deaths by the rebels range from 15,000 out of 40,000 Muslim residents[13] to 30,000 only in Tripolitsa.[14] According to historians W.Alison Phillips, George Finlay, William St. Clair and Barbara Jelavich, massacres of Turkish civilians started simultaneously with the outbreak of the revolt,[6][9][15][16] while Harris J. Booras wrote that the massacres followed the brutal hanging of Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory V of Constantinople.[17]

Historian George Finlay claimed that the extermination of the Muslims in the rural districts was the result of a premeditated design and it proceeded more from the suggestions of men of letters, than form the revengeful feelings of the people.[18] William St. Clair wrote that: "The orgy of genocide exhausted itself in the Peloponnese only when there were no more Turks to kill."[19]

Central Greece

In Athens, 1,190 Turks, of whom only 190 were capable of bearing arms, surrendered upon promises of security. W. Alison Phillips noted that: A scene of horror followed which has only too many parallels during the course of this horrible war.[20]

Vrachroi, modern day Agrinio, was an important town in West-Central Greece. It contained, besides the Christian population, some five hundred Mussulman families and about two hundred Jews.[21] The massacres in Vrachori commenced with the Jews and soon Mussulmans shared the same fate.[9]

Aegean Islands

There were also massacres towards the Muslim inhabitants of the islands in the Aegean Sea, in the early years of the Greek revolt. According to historian William St. clair, one of the aims of the Greek revolutionaries was to embroil as many Greek communities as possible in their struggle. Their technique was "to engineer some atrocity against the local Turkish population",[22] so that these different Greek communities would have to ally themselves with the revolutionaries fearing a retaliation from the Ottomans.[22] In such a case, in March 1821, Greeks from the Samos island had landed in the Island Chios and attacked the Muslim population living in that island.[22]

Another similar massacre took place in the island Hydra, one of the most important Aegean islands. Besides the atrocities committed against the local Muslims in the island, two hybrid brigs captured a Turkish ship laden with a valuable cargo, and carrying a number of passengers. Among these was a recently deposed Sheik-ul-Islam, or patriarch of the Orthodox Muslims, who was said to be going to Mecca for pilgrimage. It was his efforts to prevent the cruel reprisals which, at Constantinople, followed the news of the massacres in Peloponnese, which brought him into disfavor, and caused his exile.[23] There were also several other Turkish families on board. British historian of the Greek revolt, W. Alison Phillips noted: The Hydriots murdered them all in cold blood, helpless old men, ladies of rank, beautiful slaves, and little children were butchered like cattle. The venerable old man, whose crime had been an excess of zeal on behalf of the Greeks, was forced to see his family outraged and murdered before his eyes...[24]

Massacres of Greeks

Attrocities against the Greek population of Constantinople, April 1821.


Most of the Greeks in the Greek quarter of Constantinople were massacred.[25] On Easter Sunday, 9 April 1821, Gregory V was hanged in the central outside portal of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Ottomans. His body was mutilated and thrown into the sea, where it was rescued by Greek sailors. One week later, the former Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril VI was hanged in the gate of the Adrianople's cathedral.[26] This was followed by the execution of two Metropolitans and twelve Bishops by the Turkish authorities.[27] By the end of April, a number of prominent Greeks had been decapitated by Turkish forces in Constantinople, including Constantine Mourousis, Levidis Tsalikis, Dimitrios Paparigopoulos, Antonios Tsouras, and the Phanariotes Petros Tsigris, Dimitrios Skanavis and Manuel Hotzeris, while Georgios Mavrocordatos was hanged.[28] In May, the Metropolitans Gregorios of Derkon, Dorotheos of Adrianople, Ioannikios of Tyrnavos, Joseph of Thessaloniki, and the Phanariote Georgios Callimachi and Nikolaos Mourousis were decapitated on the Sultan's orders in Constantinople.[29]

Aegean Islands

Soon after the outbreak of the revolution, Ottoman authorities began massacring Greek islanders, whose fleets were instrumental to the Greek cause. The Turks and Egyptians ravaged several Greek islands during the Greek Revolution, including those of Samothrace (1821), Chios (1822), Kos[citation needed], Rhodes[citation needed], Kasos and Psara (1824). The massacre of Samothrace occurred on September 1, 1821, where a Turkish fleet under the Kapudan Pasha Nasuhzade Ali Pasha killed most of the male population, took the women and children to slavery and burned down their homes.[30] The Chios Massacre of 1822 became one of the most notorious occurrences of the war.[31][32] Mehmet Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, dispatched his naval fleet to Kasos and on May 27, 1824 killed the population.[33] A few weeks later, the fleet under Husrev Pasha destroyed the population of Psara.[34]

Central Greece

Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1827, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux)

Shortly after Lord Byron's death in 1824, the Turks arrived to besiege the Greeks once more at Missolonghi. Turkish commander Reşid Mehmed Pasha was joined by Ibrahim Pasha, who crossed the Gulf of Corinth, and during the early part of 1826, Ibrahim had more artillery and supply brought in. However, his men were unable to storm the walls, and in 1826, following a one year siege, Turkish-Egyptian forces conquered the city on Palm Sunday, and exterminated almost its entire population. The attack increased support for the Greek cause in western Europe, with Eugène Delacroix depicting the massacre in his painting Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi.


During the great massacre of Heraklion on 24 June 1821, remembered in the area as "the great ravage" ("ο μεγάλος αρπεντές", "o megalos arpentes"), the Turks also killed the metropolite of Crete, Gerasimos Pardalis, and five more bishops: Neofitos of Knossos, Joachim of Herronissos, Ierotheos of Lambis, Zacharias of Sitia and Kallinikos, the titular bishop of Diopolis.[35]

After the Sultan's vassal in Egypt was sent to intervene with the Egyptian fleet on 1825, Muhammad Ali's son, Ibrahim, landed in Crete and began to massacre the majority Greek community.[36]


On July 1821, the head of the Cypriot Orthodox Church Archbishop Kyprianos, along with 486 prominent Greek Cypriots, amongst them the Metropolitans Chrysanthethos of Paphos, Meletios of Kition and Lavrentios of Kyrenia, were executed by hanging or beheading by the Ottomans in Nicosia.

The French consul M. Méchain reported on 15 September 1821 that the local pasha, Küçük Mehmet, carried out several days of massacres in Cyprus since July 9 and continued on for forty days, despite the Vizier's command to end the plundering since 20 July 1821. On October 15, a massive Turkish Cypriot mob seized and hanged an Archbishop, five Bishops, thirty six ecclesiastics, and hanged most of the Greek Cypriots in Larnaca and the other towns. By September 1822, sixty two Greek Cypriot villages and hamlets had entirely disappeared.[37][38]


Historian David Brewer writes that in the first year of the revolution, a Turkish army descended on the city of Patras and slaughtered all of the civilians of the settlement, razing the city.[39] The forces of Ibrahim Pasha were extremely brutal in the Peloponnese, burning the major port of Kalamata to the ground and slaughtering the city's inhabitants; they also ravaged the countryside and were heavily involved in the slave trade. When Ibrahim Pasha retook Tripoli in June 22, 1825, he massacred the entire Greek population, destroyed the city and tore down its walls.[40]


Greek villages in Macedonia were destroyed, and many of the inhabitants were put to death.[41] Thomas Gordon reports executions of Greek civilians in Serres and Thessaloniki, beheadings of merchants and clergy, and seventy burnt villages.[42]

In May 1821, the governor Yusuf Bey ordered his men to kill any Greeks in Thessaloniki they found in the streets. Haïroullah Effendi reported that then and "for days and nights the air was filled with shouts, wails, screams." The Metropolitan bishop was brought in chains, together with other leading notables, and they were tortured and executed in the square of the flour market. Some were hanged from the plane trees around the Rotonda. Others were killed in the cathedral where they had fled for refuge, and their heads were gathered together as a present for Yusuf Bey.[43]

In 1822, Abdul Abud, the Pasha of Thessaloniki, arrived on 14 March at the head of a 16,000 strong force and 12 cannons against Naousa. The Greeks defended Naousa with a force of 4,000 under the overall command of Zafeirakis Theodosiou and Anastasios Karatasos. The Turks attempted to take the town on 16 March 1822, and on 18 and 19 March, without success. On 24 March the Turks began a bombardment of the city walls that lasted for days. After requests for the town's surrender were dismissed by the Greeks, the Turks charged the gate of St George on 31 March. The Turkish attack failed but on 6 April, after receiving fresh reinforcements of some 3,000 men, the Turkish army finally overcame the Greek resistance and entered the city. In an infamous incident, many of the women committed suicide by falling down a cliff over the small river Arapitsa. Abdul Abud laid the town and surrounding area to waste. The Greek population was massacred.[44][45][46] The destruction of Naousa marked the end of the Greek revolution in Macedonia in 1822.

Massacres of Jews

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Jewish populations in the Peloponnese had become in disfavour with the Greeks by apparently supporting the Ottomans, and during the Greek War of Independence thousands of Jews were massacred alongside the Ottoman Turks by the Greek rebels, with the Jewish communities of Mistras, Tripolis, Kalamata and Patras completely destroyed. A few survivors moved north to areas still under Ottoman rule.[47] St. Clair notes that some amongst the clergy incited murder of Jewish populations as they had of Turkish ones.[48]

Steven Bowman claims that despite the fact that many Jews were killed, they were not targeted specifically: "Such a tragedy seems to be more a side-effect of the butchering of the Turks of Tripolis, the last Ottoman stronghold in the South where the Jews had taken refuge from the fighting, than a specific action against Jews per se."[49] However, in the case of Vrachori[9] a massacre of a Jewish population occurred first, and the Jewish population in the Peloponnese regardless was effectively decimated, unlike that of the considerable Jewish populations of the Aegean, Epirus and other areas of Greece in the several following conflicts between Greeks and the Ottomans later in the century. Many Jews within Greece and throughout Europe were however supporters of the Greek revolt, using their wealth (as in the case of the Rothschilds) as well as their political and public influence to assist the Greek cause. Following the state's establishment, it also then attracted many Jewish immigrants from the Ottoman Empire, as one of the first states in the world to grant legal equality to Jews.[50]

Prisoners of war

Both sides routinely slaughtered prisoners of war, despite guarantees. The Turks would typically offer captured Greeks the option of conversion to Islam or death[citation needed](, and most Greeks chose the latter being deeply attached to their religion. Turkish prisoners of war were typically at the mercy of the commanders that captured them, there exist examples of massacres of prisoners after they were promised guarantees of safety, such as the garrison of Kalamata, and of remarkably humane treatment such as the Turkish garrison of the Acropolis of Athens which was saved by Karaiskakis[citation needed](.

The most famous Greek prisoner of war who was killed by the Turks was Athanasios Diakos. After a fierce battle, the severely wounded Diakos was taken before Omer Vryonis, a Turkish commander, who offered to make him an officer in the Ottoman army if he converted from Christianity to Islam[citation needed](. Diakos refused the offer, replying "I was born a Greek, I shall die a Greek" [citation needed]("Εγώ Γραικός γεννήθηκα, Γραικός θε' να πεθάνω"). The next day, he was impaled.


By 1826, the once elite corps of Janissaries, who were descended from Christian children (but by this time also included large numbers of Turkish conscripts) that were once collected in the Devshirme system and forced to become soldier-slaves,(but the system was corrupted later) were almost universally hated throughout Turkey because they had become a hereditary caste of corrupt Turkish soldiers. When they noticed that the sultan Mahmud II was forming a new army and hiring European gunners, they mutinied, but the Sipahis forced them to retreat to their barracks in the city of Thessaloniki[citation needed]. In the ensuing fight, the Janissary barracks were set in flames by artillery fire resulting in a massive number of casualties. Survivors were either exiled or executed and their possessions confiscated[citation needed] by the Sultan.


  1. ^ Peacock, Herbert Leonard, A History of Modern Europe, (Heinemann Educational Publishers; 7th edition edition, September 1982) p. 219-220
  2. ^ a b William St. Clair, That Greece Might Still Be Free - The Philhellenes in the War of Independence, Oxford University Press London 1972 p.2 ISBN 0192151940
  3. ^ Fisher, H.A.L, A History of Europe, (Edward Arnold, London, 1936 & 1965) p. 881-882
  4. ^ W. Alison Phillips, The War of Greek Independence, 1821 to 1833, London, 1897, p. 48
  5. ^ William St. Clair (1972) p. 1.
  6. ^ a b William St. Clair, That Greece Might Still Be Free - The Philhellenes in the War of Independence, p.12
  7. ^ William St. Clair, That Greece Might Still Be Free - The Philhellenes in the War of Independence
  8. ^ George Finlay, History of the Greek Revolution and the Reign of King Otho, edited by H. F. Tozer, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1877 Reprint London 1971, p. 146 SBN 900834 12 9.
  9. ^ a b c d George Finlay, History of the Greek Revolution and the Reign of King Otho
  10. ^ Ibid.
  11. ^ W. Alison Phillips, p. 55
  12. ^ W. Alison Phillips, The War of Greek Independence, 1821 to 1833, p. 61.
  13. ^ Jelavich, Barbara. History of the Balkans: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Cambridge University Press, 1983, p. 217.
  14. ^ Bouboulina Museum, Spetses Greece (Publisher: Greek Island Spetses; Accessed: 2007-04-18).
  15. ^ Jelavich, Barbara (1983). History of the Balkans, 18th and 19th Centuries. New York: Cambridge University Press, 229-234. ISBN 0-521 27458-3.
  16. ^ W. Alison Phillips, The War of Greek Independence, 1821 to 1833
  17. ^ Harris J. Booras. "Hellenic Independence and America's Contribution to the Cause" Tuttle Co. 1934 p.24
  18. ^ George Finlay, History of the Greek Revolution and the Reign of King Otho, p. 152
  19. ^ William St. Clair, p. 12
  20. ^ W. Alison Phillips, p. 101
  21. ^ W. Alison Phillips, The War of Greek Independence, p. 57
  22. ^ a b c William St. Clair, p. 79
  23. ^ W. Alison Phillips, The War of Greek Independence, p.66
  24. ^ W. Alison Phillips, p. 67
  25. ^ Fisher, H.A.L, A History of Europe, p. 882
  26. ^ Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Cyril VI
  27. ^ The history of the Greek Orthodox Church
  28. ^ University of Athens, Επίτομο Λεξικό της Ελληνικής Ιστορίας
  29. ^
  30. ^ Lacroix, Louis, Iles de la Grèce, chapter «Samothrace», Firmin-Didot (1853)
  31. ^ Christopher A. Long - The Series of Events
  32. ^ The Massacres of Chios Described in Contemporary Diplomatic Reports, edited and with an introduction by Philip P. Argenti (London: John Lane the Bodley Head Ltd., 1932)
  33. ^ Paul D. Hellander, Lonely Planet Greece, pg 530
  34. ^ Brewer, D. The Greek War of Independence: The Struggle for Freedom from Ottoman Oppression and the Birth of the Modern Greek Nation. Overlook Press, 2001, ISBN 158567172X, pp. 235-236.
  35. ^ Dr. Detorakis, Theocharis "Brief Historical Review of the Holy Archdiocese of Crete"
  36. ^ Peacock, A History of Modern Europe, p. 220
  37. ^ Claude Delaval Cobham, Exerpta Cypria, Cambridge University Press (1908) p. 454-455
  38. ^ Sir Harry Luke Cyprus under the Turks, 1571-1878 C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd (September 30, 1989) ISBN 1850650721
  39. ^ David Brewer, "The Greek War of Independence." Overlook TP 2003 p.66.
  40. ^ La Grande Encyclopédie, s.v. Tripolis
  41. ^ Clare, Israel Smith, The Centennial Universal History, Philadelphia J. C. Mccurdy & Co (1876) p. 358.
  42. ^ Gordon, Thomas, History of the Greek revolution vol 1, Adamant Media Corporation (2000), p. 176-177
  43. ^ Mazower, Mark, Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950 (Vintage, 2006), p. 126–129
  44. ^ Fleming, Katherine Elizabeth, Greece: a Jewish history, Princeton University Press (2007) p. 217
  45. ^ Dakin Douglas, The Greek struggle for independence, 1821-1833, Batsford (1973) p. 66
  46. ^ John C. Vasdravellis, The Greek Struggle for Independence: The Macedonians in the Revolution of 1821 (1968), p. 123–24, 136
  47. ^ The Virtual Jewish History Tour - Greece
  48. ^ William St. Clair, p.198
  49. ^ Bowman, Steven, "History of the Jews in Greece" University of Massachusetts
  50. ^ Bowman, Steven, "History of the Jews in Greece" University of Massachusetts


  • Finlay, George (1877). A History of Greece (Edited by H. F. Tozer). London. 
  • Finlay, George (1861). History of Greek Revolution. London. 
  • Gordon, Thomas (1844). History of the Greek Revolution. London. 
  • Paroulakis, Peter H. (2000). The Greek War of Independence. Hellenic International Press. ISBN 978-0959089417. 
  • St. Clair, William (1972). That Greece Might Still Be Free - The Philhellenes in the War of Independence. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192151940. 

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