“We Greeks rose up against the tyrants, and all of Europe is wondering who we are”

“We Greeks rose up against the tyrants, and all of Europe is wondering who we are”

“The Liberal Revolution: Short Notes on the Greek War for Independence of 1821”

Prof. Aristides Chatzis’s short notes will be posted here regarding the Revolution of 1821.

Aristides Chatzis is Professor of Philosophy of Law and Institutional Theory at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and member of the KEFiM’s Academic Board. His books Liberalism (2nd edition 2017), Arguments of Freedom (2017) and Institutions (2018) are published by Papadopoulos Publishing. His monograph on the liberal character of the Revolution of 1821 will be released in the US. in early 2021. He gives thanks to KEFiM for its support.

“We Greeks rose up against the tyrants, and all of Europe is wondering who we are”

As you know, the leader of the Society of Friends and the Greek Revolution was Alexander Ypsilantis. His fate is well known. The Revolution began in the Danubian Principalities and ended tragically. Ypsilantis surrendered to the Austrians and remained imprisoned for six whole years in the German city of Terezín, which is now part of the Czech Republic. He came out of the prison sick and poor in November 1827 and died two months later, in late January 1828, in Vienna, as his former friend, John Kapodistrias, assumed the rule of the new free state. Alexander Ypsilantis did not manage to visit the liberated Greece, but his last wish was for his heart to be buried there. His friend, the scholar, Georgios Lassanis, who had been arrested, imprisoned and released with him, took up the difficult and macabre mission. The heart of Alexandros Ypsilantis is now embedded in the small church of the Pammegiston Taxiarchon Michael and Gabriel, Stisichorou 6, behind the Maximos Mansion. You will find the exact location to visit, here.

However, Alexander Ypsilantis, before being arrested, sent his brother, Dimitrios, to the Peloponnese to lead the rebellion there. Dimitrios Ypsilantis arrived in Astros on June 19th 1821 and immediately met with the Kodjabashis, among them being Theodoros Kolokotronis. They were all gathered in Arcadia to besiege Tripoli. Ypsilantis thought he would immediately be accepted as his brother’s representative, a proxy of the “general commissioner of authority” and would be recognized as a political and military leader of the Revolution in the Peloponnese. But, of course, the powerful kodjabashis had no intention of giving him power. Kolokotronis writes:

“Ypsilantis was trying to do things that the lords did not want, and so they argued […] he wanted to act as the Commissioner of the General Commission, the Lords did not want this and so he was displeased and left for Kalamata.”

Dimitrios Ypsilantis had various disadvantages that prevented him from playing the role of leader. He was weak and did not have a strong personality. He was a mild and civilized man, but also a brave soldier.
But when he arrived in the Peloponnese he was initially very popular. The people treated him as the prince who came to save them from the Turks and the Kodjabashis. And he tried to play this role, but unsuccessfully.

So, when the agreement with the Kodjabashis failed in Vervena (in the mountains of Arcadia), Ypsilantis was still very popular. And then something unexpected happened:
“In Vervena there were 5000 soldiers, who took up arms in order to kill all the lords. They came and besieged us in Petrobey’s place, where we were.”

Things started to heat up. The warriors were outraged and there was a risk of conflict and lynching of the Kodjabashis. Kolokotronis tried to end the conflict because of course he was particularly popular among the warriors. He went outside and said to them these words:

“Greeks, what are you looking for? Come here. And they came and lifted me up. They told me: we want to kill the lords, because they sent Ypsilantis away. I said to them: Hear me out first, and after that I’ll help you kill them. I got up on a rock so everyone could hear me and told them: Why do we want to cause our own demise? We took up arms against the Turks and that how we became known throughout Europe, that we Greeks rose up against the tyrants, and all of Europe is wondering who we are. The Turks are still in the castles and the cities, and we are in the mountains, and if we kill the lords the kings will say that we did rise up for freedom but to kill each other, that we are bad people, and they might help the Turks, and we’ll have a heavier oppression that what we already had. I’ll write and have Ypsilantis sent back. So, I calmed them down. The lords and Mavromichalis sent Anagnostaras to bring back Ypsilantis, and everyone returned to their place.”

The conflict will, of course, continue. Ypsilantis will not be able to establish himself as the leader of the Revolution. Some honorable positions will be given to him, but when the time of the first Constitution comes, he will miss any opportunity to be promoted to a truly powerful post. He will become the first President of the Hellenic Parliament, an honorary position that will neutralize him politically.

He will of course be glorified in the battlefields. We will talk on another occasion about his military action. He became world famous when he defeated the Turks in the last battle of the Revolution, the battle of Petra, in September 1829. So, a small town in Michigan, USA, essentially a small merchant station called Woodruff’s Grove, decided to changed its name the same year to Ypsilanti (“in honor of Demetrius Ypsilanti, a hero in the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire” according to the official history of the city). Ypsilanti currently has 21,000 people and is home to the Eastern Michigan University, a state-owned public university. What is not well-known is that the entire township, with about 55,000 people, has the same name: Ypsilanti Township. But it’s to honor his brother, Alexander Ypsilantis, the man who declared the Greek Revolution on February 22, 1821.














[In the first picture are the two brothers, Alexandros (left) and Dimitrios (right). In the second picture you see a picture of the bust of Dimitrios Ypsilantis at Ypsilanti, Michigan. Behind it are the Greek and American flags. The excerpts from the memoirs of Theodoros Kolokotronis: Interpretation of the Events of the Greek Race from 1770 to 1836. Dictated by Theodoros Konstantinos Kolokotronis. Editing by Georgios Tertsetis (1846), p. 74-76.]

[Aristides Chatzis, The Liberal Revolution, Note 2]