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Dorians and Ionians
Classical Greece
Philip and Alexander
New empires
Ottoman empire
     Turks in the Balkans
     Greek independence

Kingdom of Greece
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Turks in the Balkans: 14th - 15th century

The advance of the Ottoman Turks into the Balkans begins with their capture of Gallipoli in 1354. By 1389 they are in control of Serbia, and by 1393 of Bulgaria. Greece is evidently their next prey. But a reprieve is provided by the arrival of Timur in Anatolia in 1402.

The Turks are soon back in the Balkans, and the task of defending central Europe against them falls chiefly upon the Hungarians. One Hungarian warrior in particular, Janos Hunyadi, takes the lead.


The victory of Janos Hunyadi at Belgrade in 1456 draws a line beyond which, for the next few decades, the Turks will not push westwards. But the confrontation also has the effect of allowing them virtually a free hand east of that line.

Constantinople, as impregnable as ever, is now securely transformed into Istanbul. From this strategic base it is easy for the Turks to settle unfinished business in the region between the Aegean and Hungary. Greece is occupied in 1458-60, Bosnia in 1463-4. The Balkans, for the next century and a half, win respite only when the Turks are occupied on their eastern frontier.


Greek independence: 1821-1832

Early in the 19th century there are several schemes by Greek aristocrats to raise an insurrection for the liberation of Greece. Prominent in these plots are the Ypsilantis family, one of whom - Alexandros Ypsilantis - becomes in 1820 the leader of a group calling itself Philiki Etaireia (Friendly Band).

The Philiki Etaireia has been founded in 1814 by Greeks living in the Russian port of Odessa on the Black Sea. Like the contemporary Carbonari in Italy, their specific purpose is to rid their homeland of foreign oppressors. But these Greeks operate on a grander scale. They intend to march south through the Balkans with Russian support.


In March 1821 Ypsilantis moves with a small force into Moldavia. His expedition fails when he is defeated by the Turks near Bucharest in June, but the attempt has provoked impromptu uprisings in several parts of Greece, beginning on or around March 25 (now Independence Day). The massacre of several thousand Muslims by Greek insurgents is followed by Turkish reprisals, including the hanging of the Greek patriarch in Constantinople.

These chaotic beginnings are typical of the warfare which follows over the next few years. Neither side can gain a lasting advantage. Turkish armies are baffled by guerrilla tactics in the mountainous regions of Greece.


The Greeks complicate their own task by local bouts of civil war, and from 1824 there is another threat. The Turkish sultan demands support from his viceroy in Egypt, Mohammed Ali, who sends his son Ibrahim Pasha with a fleet and army. During 1824 Ibrahim and the Egyptians subdue much of the Peloponnese. But they too, like the Turks, are unable to suppress entirely the Greek resistance.

Meanwhile the struggle is attracting wider attention. As a fight for liberty, by the distant descendants of Europe's first democrats, this is the most romantic of the independence movements now flaring up around the world. In 1823 Lord Byron arrives.


A large loan is raised for the Greek cause in London in 1823 and the new foreign minister, George Canning, adopts a pro-Greek policy. The eventual result is an alliance between Britain, Russia and France - and the arrival in Greek waters in 1827 of fleets of the three nations.

Their immediate purpose is merely to show a glimpse of the iron fist and to threaten an economic blockade. But in October, more by accident than design, they encounter the Egyptian and Turkish fleets at Navarino. In the resulting battle the Muslims lose sixty ships and some 8000 men, with very light allied casualties. It is the main turning point on the route to Greek independence.


The war drags on for another five years (the Turks hold Athens until 1832), during which time there are intense international negotiations as to the nature of an independent Greece.

It is eventually agreed, in the 1832 treaty of Constantinople, that Greece will include the Peloponnese, the mainland up to a line between Árta and Vólos, and the Cylades (but not the other islands of the Aegean, the Ionian islands or Crete). Turkey relinquishes all sovereignty over this area. The king is to be the 17-year-old prince Otto of Bavaria, who delights everyone on his arrival by wearing Greek national costume and spelling his name Othon.


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