CULTURE

The soldiers, civilians and sailors who changed the course of history

One of the people who comes out very well in your book is Theodoros Kolokotronis, the former mercenary of the British who was a driving force for liberation, despite all the reversals and missteps along the way. I think Kolokotronis was one of those individuals who changed the course of history. This is not a fashionable view of history. One is supposed to look at long-term movements and trends and influences. But I believe that there are individuals in history without whom and without whose decisions things would have turned out very differently. And I believe Kolokotronis was such a man. On the side of the foreigners involved, would you place Byron in the same category? In a different way. Certainly one must include Byron, but Byron’s contribution in bringing the Greek cause to the attention of the world was unwitting. His practical achievements in a mere hundred days or so in Mesolongi were very limited. The attack on Nafpaktos failed, Byron never went to the congress at Salona (Amfissa). But Byron was an extraordinary figure combining the prestige of a member of the House of Lords, an internationally acclaimed poet and a scandalous philanderer – combining those traits with a very genuine commitment to the Greek cause which he demonstrated in many ways, not least by his financial contribution. And other major figures of the struggle? Some other people who were crucial to the cause – one would have to say George Canning, who was foreign secretary from 1822 to 1827 and prime minister briefly in 1827, dying before the Battle of Navarino. It was thanks to Canning that the alliance of Britain, Russia and France was brought together and had sufficient support from Canning while he was alive to bring about the destruction of the Ottoman fleet at Navarino. Unfortunately for Codrington [the British officer who led the allied fleet], Canning was no longer there to support him in the controversies that followed Navarino. On the Greek side, I would pick Makriyiannis, not just for the man himself but as representative of the best and most conscientious and dedicated of those Greeks who, with no previous military experience, put their own lives on the line, grew into a role as commander of troops and were the essential backbone of the Greek cause. I would like also to mention Samuel Gridley Howe [an American surgeon]. He too served the Greek cause selflessly as a young doctor with the Greek forces and his account of the war is one of the most lively and warmly human accounts that we have. On the Greek side, many others made a huge contribution, but none, I think, as decisive as Kolokotronis. Mavrokordatos was essential in putting together the framework of the successive provisional governments of Greece at war. Kolletis was a determined supporter of the government during the two civil wars of 1824 and his ruthlessness was probably decisive in bringing those civil wars to an end, much as one deplores the fact that Kolokotronis ended the civil wars in prison on Hydra. One should also mention, I think, Miaoulis as the greatest of the naval commanders. It is really extraordinary that the Ottoman fleet was unable to neutralize the islands of Hydra, Spetses and Psara and, therefore, never gained total command of the seas. And it was thanks to Miaoulis, Tombazis and others that the Greek fleet remained active, sometimes intermittently, until the end of the struggle. One of the very interesting personalities appearing in your book is that of Adamantios Korais, who moves from being an early herald of Greek liberation to his skepticism over the timing of the struggle’s start and, in the end, is virulently critical of the country’s first leader, Ioannis Capodistria. He must have been pleased, on the one hand, that Greece was independent, but it seems those feelings were swamped by his disapproval of Capodistria. The main basis of his criticism of Capodistria seems to be that Capodistria failed to establish and respect a proper Constitution. One can agree with Korais that acting constitutionally is always desirable, but I think he was out of touch with the real situation in Greece, which was one of enormous confusion and conflict.