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Most of Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th century until its declaration of independence in 1821, a historical period also known as Tourkokratia (Greek: Τουρκοκρατία, "Turkish rule").

The Byzantine Empire, which had ruled most of the Greek-speaking world for over 1100 years, had been fatally weakened since the sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204.

The Ottoman advance into Greece was preceded by victory over the Serbs to its north. First the Ottomans won at 1371 on the Maritsa River — where the Serb forces were led by the King Vukasin Mrnjavcevic, the father of Marko Kraljevic and the co-ruler of the last emperor from the Serbian Nemanjic dynasty. This was followed by another Ottoman victory in the 1389 Battle of Kosovo.

With no further threat by the Serbs, the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453 and advanced southwards into Greece, capturing Athens in 1458. The Greeks held out in the Peloponnese until 1460, and the Venetians and Genoese clung to some of the islands, but by 1500 most of the plains and islands of Greece were in Ottoman hands. The mountains of Greece were largely untouched, and were a refuge for Greeks to flee foreign rule.

Cyprus fell in 1571, and the Venetians retained Crete until 1670. The Ionian Islands were only briefly ruled by the Ottomans (Kefalonia from 1479 to 1481 and from 1485 to 1500), and remained primarily under the rule of Venice.


Ottoman rule

Map of the Ottoman Empire at the death of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1566.

The consolidation of Ottoman rule was followed by two distinct trends of Greek migration. The first entailed Greek intellectuals, such as Johannes Vissarion, Georgius Plethon Gemistos and Marcos Mousouros, migrating to Western Europe and influencing the advent of the Renaissance (though the large scale migration of Greeks to the West, most notably Italian university cities, began far earlier, following the Crusader capture of Constantinople[1]).

The second entailed Greeks leaving the plains of the Greek peninsula and resettling in the mountains, where the rugged landscape made it hard for the Ottomans to establish either military or administrative presence.[2]



The Ottomans divided Greece into six sanjaks, each ruled by a Sanjakbey accountable to the Sultan, who established his capital in Constantinople in 1453. Before this division occurred, the Ottomans implemented the millet system, which segregated peoples within the Ottoman Empire based on religion.

The conquered land was parcelled out to Ottoman nobles, who held it as feudal fiefs (timars and ziamets) directly under the Sultan's authority. The land could not be sold or inherited, but was reverted to the Sultan's possession when the fief-holder died.


The economic situation of the majority of Greece deteriorated heavily during the Ottoman era of the country. Heavy burdens of taxation were placed on the Christian peasantry, and many Greeks were reduced to subsistence farming whereas during prior eras the region had been heavily urbanized. The exception to this rule was in Constantinople and the Ionian islands, where many Greeks lived in prosperity. Greeks heavily resented the declining economic situation in their country during the Ottoman era.[3]


The Sultan regarded the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church as the leader of all Orthodox, Greeks or not, within the empire. The Patriarch was accountable to the Sultan for the good behavior of the Orthodox population, and in exchange he was given wide powers over the Orthodox communities, including ethnic Greeks. The Patriarch controlled the courts and the schools, as well as the Church, throughout the Greek communities of the empire. This made Orthodox priests, together with the local magnates, the effective rulers of Greek villages. Some Greek towns, such as Athens and Rhodes, retained municipal self-government, while others were put under Ottoman governors. Some areas, such as the Mani Peninsula in the Peloponnese, and parts of Crete (Sfakia) and Epirus, remained virtually independent. During the frequent Turkish-Venetian Wars, the Greeks sided with the Venetians against the Ottomans, with a few exceptions.[4] The Orthodox Church assisted in the preservation of the Greek heritage, and during the 19th century, adherence to the Greek Orthodox faith became increasingly a mark of Greek nationality.

As a rule, the Ottomans did not require the Greeks to become Muslims, although many did so in order to avert the economic hardships of Ottoman rule.[citation needed] Under the millet logic, a converted Greek, although retaining culture and language, was classified simply as "Muslim". In the eyes of the Christians, however, they were deemed Turks. Some Greeks either became neo-martyrs, such as Saint Efraim the Neo-Martyr or Saint Demetrios the Neo-martyr while others became Crypto-Christians (Greek Muslims who were secret practitioners of the Greek Orthodox faith) in order to avoid heavy taxes and at the same time express their identity by maintaining their secret ties to the Greek Orthodox Church. Crypto-Christians ran the risk of being killed if they were caught practicing a non-Muslim religion once they converted to Islam.

The worst persecutions of Christians took place under the reign of Selim I, known as Selim the Grim, who attempted to stamp out Christianity from the Ottoman Empire.[citation needed] Selim ordered the confiscation of all Christian churches, and while this order was later rescinded, Christians were heavily persecuted during his era.[5]

Taxation and the "tribute of children"

"Young Greeks at the Mosque" (Jean Léon Gérôme, oil on canvas, 1865); this oil painting portrays Greek Muslims at prayer in a mosque).

Greeks also paid a land tax and a tax on trade, but these were collected irregularly by the inefficient Ottoman administration. Provided they paid their taxes and gave no trouble, they were left to themselves. Greeks, like other Christians, were also made to pay the jizya, or Islamic poll-tax which all non-Muslims in the empire were forced to pay instead of the Zakat that Muslims must pay as part of the 5 pillars of Islam. Non-Muslims did not serve in the Sultan's army, but young boys were forcibly converted to Islam and made to serve in the Ottoman military.

These practices are called the "tribute of children" (devshirmeh) (in Greek παιδομάζωμα paidomazoma, meaning "child gathering"), whereby every Christian community was required to give one son in five to be raised as a Muslim and enrolled in the corps of Janissaries, elite units of the Ottoman army. There was much passive resistance, for example, Greek folklore tells of mothers crippling their sons to avoid their abduction. Nevertheless, entrance into the corps (accompanied by conversion to Islam) offered Greek boys the opportunity to advance as high as governor or even Grand Vizier.

Opposition of the Greek populace to taxing or paidomazoma resulted in grave consequences. For example, in 1705 an Ottoman official was sent from Naoussa in Macedonia to search and conscript new Janissaries and was killed by Greek rebels who resisted the burden of the devshirmeh. The rebels were subsequently beheaded and their severed heads were displayed in the city of Thessaloniki.[6] The "tribute of children" was met with various reactions ranging from contempt to support. In some cases, it was greatly feared as Greek families would often have to relinquish their own sons who would convert and return later as their oppressors. In other cases, the families bribed the officers to ensure that their children got a better life as a government officer.[7]

The White Tower is all that remains of a series of walls and towers built during Ottoman times around the city of Thessaloniki.


The incorporation of Greece into the Ottoman Empire had other long-term consequences. Economic activity declined to a great extent (mainly because trade flowed towards cities like Thessaloniki, İzmir, and Constantinople), and the population declined, at least in the lowland areas (Ottoman censuses did not include many people in mountainous areas). Ottoman Turks settled extensively in Thrace. After their expulsion from Spain in 1492, Sephardic Jews settled in Thessaloniki (known in this period as Salonica or Selanik), which became the main Jewish centre of the empire. The Greeks became inward-looking, with each region cut off from the others — only Muslims could ride a horse, which made travel difficult[citation needed]. Greek culture declined, and outside the Church few people were literate. The Greek language broke up into regional dialects, and absorbed large numbers of Ottoman Turkish words. Greek music and other elements of Greek folk-culture were, to a great extent, influenced by Ottoman trends.

Leonardos Philaras (c. 1595 – 1673) was a Greek scholar born in Athens in 1595[8], he was an early supporter of Greek liberation from Ottoman Ottoman rule and spent much of his career in persuading Western European intellectuals to support Greek Independence[9].

Ottoman decline

After the unsuccessful Ottoman siege of Vienna, in 1683, the Ottoman Empire entered a long decline both militarily against the Christian powers and internally, leading to an increase in corruption, repression and inefficiency. This provoked discontent which led to disorders and occasionally rebellions. As more areas drifted out of Ottoman control, the Ottomans resorted to military rule in parts of Greece. This only provoked further resistance. Moreover, it led to economic dislocation, as well as accelerated population decline. Another sign of decline was that Ottoman landholdings, previously fiefs held directly from the Sultan, became hereditary estates (chifliks), which could be sold or bequeathed to heirs. The new class of Ottoman landlords reduced the hitherto free Greek peasants to serfdom, leading to further poverty and depopulation in the plains.[citation needed] However, the overall Greek population in the plains was reinforced by the return of some Greeks from the mountains during the 17th century.

On the other hand, the position of educated and privileged Greeks within the Ottoman Empire improved in the 17th and 18th centuries. As the empire became more settled, and began to feel its increasing backwardness in relation to the European powers, it increasingly recruited Greeks who had the kind of administrative, technical and financial skills which the Ottomans lacked.[10] From about 1700 Greeks began to fill some of the highest offices of the Ottoman state. The Phanariotes, a class of wealthy Greeks who lived in the Phanar district of Constantinople, became increasingly powerful. Their travels to Western Europe as merchants or diplomats brought them into contact with advanced ideas of liberalism and nationalism, and it was among the Phanariotes that the modern Greek nationalist movement was born. Many Greek merchants and travelers were influenced by the ideas of the French revolution and a new Age of Greek Enlightenment was initiated at the beginning of 17th century in many Ottoman occupied Greek cities and towns.

Greek nationalism was also stimulated by agents of Catherine the Great, the Orthodox ruler of the Russian Empire, who hoped to acquire the lands of the declining Ottoman state, including Constantinople itself, by inciting a Christian rebellion against the Ottomans. However, during the Russian-Ottoman War which broke out in 1768, the Greeks did not rebel, disillusioning their Russian patrons. The Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji (1774) gave Russia the right to make "representations" to the Sultan in defense of his Orthodox subjects, and the Russians began to interfere regularly in the internal affairs of the Ottoman Empire. This, combined with the new ideas let loose by the French Revolution of 1789, began to reconnect the Greeks with the outside world and led to the development of an active nationalist movement.

Greece was only peripherally involved in the Napoleonic Wars, but one episode had important consequences. When the French under Napoleon Bonaparte seized Venice in 1797, they also acquired the Ionian Islands. The islands were elevated to the status of a French dependency called the Septinsular Republic, which possessed local autonomy. This was the first time Greeks had governed themselves since the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Among those who held office in the islands was John Capodistria, destined to become independent Greece's first head of state. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Greece had re-emerged from its centuries of isolation. British and French writers and artists began to visit the country, and wealthy Europeans began to collect Greek antiquities. These "philhellenes" were to play an important role in mobilizing support for Greek independence.

The War of Independence

A secret Greek nationalist organization called the "Friendly Society" or "Company of Friends" (Filiki Eteria) was formed in Odessa in 1814. The members of the organization planned a rebellion with the support of wealthy Greek exile communities in Britain and the United States. They also gained support from sympathizers in Western Europe, as well as covert assistance from Russia. The organization secured Capodistria, who became Russian Foreign Minister after leaving the Ionian Islands, as the leader of the planned revolt. On March 25 (now Greek Independence Day) 1821, the Orthodox Bishop Germanos of Patras proclaimed a national uprising.[11][12] Simultaneous risings were planned across Greece, including in Macedonia, Crete, and Cyprus. With the initial advantage of surprise, aided by Ottoman inefficiency and the Ottomans' fight against Ali Pasha of Tepelen, the Greeks succeeded in capturing the Peloponnese and some other areas. Some of the first Greek actions were taken against unarmed Ottoman settlements, with about 40% of Turkish and Albanian Muslim residents of the Peloponnese killed outright, and the rest fleeing the area or being deported.[13]

The Ottomans soon recovered, and retaliated in turn with similar savagery, massacring the Greek population of Chios and other towns. This worked to their disadvantage by provoking further sympathy for the Greeks in Western Europe, although the British and French governments suspected that the uprising was a Russian plot to seize Greece and possibly Constantinople from the Ottomans. The Greeks were unable to establish a coherent government in the areas they controlled, and soon fell to fighting amongst themselves. Inconclusive fighting between Greeks and Ottomans continued until 1825 when the Sultan sent a powerful fleet and army from Egypt to ravage the Aegean Islands and the Peloponnese.

The Battle of Navarino, in October 1827, which marked the effective end of Ottoman rule in Greece.

The atrocities that accompanied this expedition, together with sympathy aroused by the death of the poet and leading philhellene Lord Byron at Messolongi in 1824, eventually led the Western Powers to intervene. In October 1827, the British, French and Russian fleets, on the initiative of local commanders but with the tacit approval of their governments destroyed the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Navarino. This was the decisive moment in the war of independence. In October 1828, the French landed troops in the Peloponnese to stop the Ottoman atrocities. Under their protection, the Greeks were able to regroup and form a new government. They then advanced to seize as much territory as possible, including Athens and Thebes, before the Western Powers imposed a ceasefire.

A conference in London in March 1829 proposed an independent Greek state with a northern frontier running from Arta to Volos, and including only Euboia and the Cyclades among the islands. The Greeks were disappointed at these restricted frontiers, but were in no position to resist the will of Britain, France and Russia, who were largely responsible for Greek independence. By the Convention of May 11, 1832, Greece was finally recognized as a sovereign state. When the Ottomans finally granted the Greeks their independence, a multi-power treaty was formally established in 1830. Capodistria, who had been Greece's unrecognized head of state since 1828, was assassinated in October 1831. To prevent further experiments in republican government, the Western Powers insisted that Greece be a monarchy, and the Bavarian Prince Otto, rather than someone with a Greek origin was chosen to be its first king.


  1. ^ Treadgold, Warren. History of Byzantine State and Society. Stanford University Press, 1997.
  2. ^ Vacalopoulos, p. 45. The Greeks never lost their desire to escape from the heavy hand of the Turks, bad government, the impressment of their children, the increasingly heavy taxation, and the sundry caprices of the conqueror. Indeed, anyone studying the last two centuries of Byzantine rule cannot help being struck by the propensity of the Greeks to flee misfortune. The routes they chiefly took were: first, to the predominantly Greek territories, which were either still free or Frankish-controlled (that is to say, the Venetian fortresses in the Despotate of Morea, as well as in the Aegean and Ionian Islands) or else to Italy and the West generally; second, to remote mountain districts in the interior where the conqueror's yoke was not yet felt.
  3. ^ Paroulakis, pp. 10-11.
  4. ^ For example, during the Ottoman conquest of the Morea in 1715, local Greeks supplied the Ottomans and refused to join the Venetian army due to feared future reprisals by the Ottomans. (Stavrianos, L.S. The Balkans since 1453, p. 181).
  5. ^ Paroulakis, p. 11.
  6. ^ Vasdravellis, I. Οι Μακεδόνες κατά την Επανάστασιν του 1821 (The Macedonians during the Revolution of 1821), 3rd improved edition, Thessaloniki: Society of Macedonian Studies, 1967.
  7. ^ Shaw, p. 114.
  8. ^ Hutton, James (1946). The Greek anthology in France and in the Latin writers of the Netherlands to the year 1800 Volume 28. Cornell University Press. p. 188. OCLC 3305912. "LEONARD PHILARAS or VILLERET (c. 1595-1673) Philaras was born in Athens of good family and spent his childhood there. His youth was passed in Rome, where he was educated, and his manhood" 
  9. ^ Merry, Bruce (2004). Encyclopedia of modern Greek literature. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 442. ISBN 0313308136. "Leonardos Filaras (1595-1673) devoted much of his career to coaxing Western European intellectuals to support Greek liberation. Two letters from Milton (1608-1674) attest Filaras’s patriotic crusade." 
  10. ^ Hobsbawm, pp. 181-185.
  11. ^ "Greek Independence Day.". Retrieved 2009-09-09. "The Greek revolt was precipitated on March 25, 1821, when Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the flag of revolution over the Monastery of Agia Lavra in the Peloponnese. The cry “Freedom or Death” became the motto of the revolution. The Greeks experienced early successes on the battlefield, including the capture of Athens in June 1822, but infighting ensued." 
  12. ^ McManners, John (2001). The Oxford illustrated history of Christianity. Oxford University Press. p. 521-524. ISBN 0192854399. "The Greek uprising and the church. Bishop Germanos of old Patras blesses the Greek banner at the outset of the national revolt against the Ottomans on 25 March 1821. The solemnity of the scene was enhanced two decades later in this painting by T. Vryzakis….The fact that one of the Greek bishops, Germanos of Old Patras, had enthusiastically blessed the Greek uprising at the onset (25 March 1821) and had thereby helped to unleash a holy war, was not to gain the church a satisfactory, let alone a dominant, role in the new order of things." 
  13. ^ Jelavich, p. 217.


  • Hobsbawm, Eric John. The Age of Revolution. New American Library, 1962. ISBN 0451627202
  • Jelavich, Barbara. History of the Balkans, 18th and 19th Centuries. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983. ISBN 0521274583
  • Paroulakis, Peter H. The Greek War of Independence. Hellenic International Press, 1984.
  • Shaw, Stanford. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey: Volume I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
  • Vacalopoulos, Apostolis. The Greek Nation, 1453-1669. Rutgers University Press, 1976.
  • Finkel, Caroline, Osman's Dream, (Basic Books, 2005), 57; "Istanbul was only adopted as the city's official name in 1930..".

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