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Armatolos. Water Colour by Carl Haag.

Klephts (Greek κλέφτης, pl. κλέφτες - kleftis, kleftes, which originally meant just "thieves"), were Greek bandits and warlike mountain folk who lived in the 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 Greeks of 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 (kleptein), "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 to the 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, such as Macedonia and Epirus, that still remained in Turkish 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 tsifliki). 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.

Famous klephts

Klephtic Songs

Klephtic songs (Κλέφτικα τραγούδια in Greek) is a Greek folk music genre (especially popular in Epirus and Peloponnese) whose main theme is the life of the Klephts.

Dvorak, the czech composer, wrote a song-cycle named "Three Modern Greek Poems", the first one is called "Koljas - Klepht Song" and tells the story of Koljas, the klepht who killed the famous Ali Pacha.


The famous Greek dish Klephtiκo (or Kleftiko) slow cooked lamb (or other meat) can be translated as 'stolen meat', or 'in style of the Klephts'. 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.

See also



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