May 29, 1453 - January 1, 1836
May 29, 1453:
Sultan Mehmed II led the assault on Constantinople. Though defended by a mere 10,000 soldiers, Constantinople was one of the most heavily fortified cities in the world. Even the army under the sultan, estimated at 100,000 – 150,000 men, took 50 days to take the Christian outpost.
The first attack on the city was led by the Bashi-bazouks. Beginning at 1:00 AM, they attacked the weakest points of the city’s defenses. Though they were outnumbered and outmatched by the Byzantines, they fought with all of the passion and ferocity that a religious war could provide. However, it was not enough. By 3:00 AM they were called to retreat.
The second assault was from the Anatolian Turks led by Ishak. More organized than the first, they used their cannon to blast holes through the city walls. Additionally, trumpets and other noise-making devices were used to break the concentration of their opponents. These Anatolian Turks were the first infidels to enter the city of Constantinople. Again, this was not enough. The Christian defenders, themselves fighting with a religious ferocity and inspired by the defense of their homeland, repulsed the Turks. After a massacre, the attack was called off at dawn and the Turks went back to the drawing board.
Before the Greeks could reorganize and prepare for the third assault it was upon them. Mehmet’s beloved Janissaries launched arrows, missiles, stones and javelins at their hated enemy – the infidel. Unlike the two attempts before, the Janissaries maintained order and unity. Fighting hand-to-hand at the stockades, both sides gave everything they could. However, the Christians had made one seemingly critical mistake. A port by the name of Kerkoporta was left undefended. Once again the Turks entered Constantinople. Once again Turks were repulsed. The battle continued.
The Siege of Constantinople was more than a mere land battle. Many Turkish ships were placed in the Golden Horn and off of the Marmora shore to help in the assault. Many of these sailors came ashore to aide the land-based portion of the Turkish military. However, when the signal was sent, hordes of troops poured off of the ships, taking down harbor walls and began the rape of Constantinople.
Not satisfied with merely renaming the city Istanbul, Mehmed built mosques, palaces, monuments and aqueducts. Since Constantinople was now an Islamic city, special regulations were placed on the Greeks still practicing their faith. Forced to live in special communities called millets, forced to wear distinguishing attire, forbidden to bear arms, the Greeks became second-class citizens in what was once their own city. Constantinople had fallen, and with it, the Greek and Byzantine nation.
March 25, 1821 – July 21, 1832:
The desire for a Greek nation had never been destroyed even by centuries of domination by the Ottoman Empire. Aided by the Greek Orthodox Church, the Greek language itself, and the administrative agreements of the Ottomans, the desire for the Greeks to become Greek transcended economic and social classes. Further aided by their economic progress, the impact of Western revolutionary philosophy and the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, the establishment of Greece seemed imminent. It was no surprise when, on March 25, 1821, Greeks began to revolt all across the Peloponnese and several Greek islands. Within a year the Greek patriots, or rebels depending on who you ask, had gained a strong enough control over the Peloponnese to declare their official independence from the Ottomans, though it is still celebrated on March 25. Not one to merely sit back and watch their empire fall apart, the Turks attempted three times to invade the Peloponnese between 1822 and 1824 but were repulsed every time. Though not yet de jure, the Greek had obtained de facto independence for the first time in four centuries.
One major problem for the Greeks, though, was the existence of internal rivalries. By 1823 the problems had become so bad that a civil war was declared between guerilla leader Theódoros Kolokotrónis and Geórgios Kountouriótis, the head of the 1822 government forced to flee to Hydra in December of the same year. Though this “disagreement” was settled by the end of the second civil war in 1824, the entire idea of Greece was threatened by the arrival of Egyptian forces under Ibrahim Pasha. With the aide of Egyptian sea power, the Turks were able to successfully invade the Peloponnese. By June 1827 Missolonghi, Athens and the Athenian acropolis had been captured as well.
All was not lost for the Greeks and their dream of a Greek nation, though. Luckily, it was in the best interests of the Great European Powers to aide in the establishment of a Greek nation. With that in mind, they offered to mediate a peace between the warring factions. Emboldened by their recent military success, the Turks refused this offer, prompting the British, French and Russians to send a combined naval fleet against the Egyptians at Navarino. Although severely crippled by the loss of their navy and further complicated by the Russo-Turkish War of 1828, the Turks continued their fight.
By 1830 the Turks were forced to the negotiating table once again, ending with the London Protocol of 1830, declaring Greece an independent nation under their protection. By 1832 the borders of the independent Greek nation were set south of Volos and south of Arta. Further, Prince Otto of Bavaria had accepted the Greek crown and, after the Treaty of Constantinople, the Turkish sultan recognized Greek independence.
January 1, 1836:
King Otto knew that he had quite a bit to do if Greece were to become a viable political entity. A Greek state of approximately 800,000 citizens was finally created, but the Greeks were not united by any stretch of the imagination. Hundreds of thousands more still lived under Turkish rule in the northern part of Negroponte, Macedonia, Anatolia, Rhodes, Crete . . . the list went on and on. Some day, he vowed, he would unite all of the Greeks under one banner. His banner.
The economy was in shambles. The literacy rate in his nation hovered around 25%. Crime was rampant. The army was almost non-existent. Infrastructure was medieval, to be extremely generous. His countrymen were little more than farmers. While most of Europe busied itself with scholarly pursuits, Greece, the home of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and many others concerned itself with picking olives. It was pathetic.
The reality of the situation did little to dampen the spirits of the Greeks, though. Walking to market many talked of the struggle against the mighty Ottomans. Many more talked of the glory that would be the Greek kingdom. The Greek Church proclaimed that the favor of God Himself was upon the Greek nation. Some even equated the rebirth of the Greek nation with the rebirth of the Byzantine Empire. If only that were the case.
What Greece needed now was strong leadership. Otto believed that he could provide it. With so many roads seemingly open before him, it was hard to decide which one to take. In the end, though, he would have to make a decision. No matter what it was, it would affect the live of millions of people.
A physical map of Greece in 1836:
A political map of Greece and a look at the Greek budget:
A political map of Greece and a look at the Greek budget:
Next: And Miles to Go Before I Sleep