bro·mance [ˈbrōˌmans/] – a close but nonsexual relationship between two men. (Wikipedia)
During the Greek War of Independence, a bromance was building between men around the world and Greece. Men devoted their whole lives to Greece, in a strange love affair of epic proportions. Their love became known as Philhellenism, and the involvement of these Philhellenes during the Greek War of Independence was extremely important. Their desire to save Greece from the Turkish was instrumental in the Greek War of Independence, but it’s the underlying reason as to why they got involved and the impact they had upon the war that is most interesting.
A bit of context: the Greek War of Independence took place between 1821 and 1832 and was the final chance that the Greeks had in freeing themselves from the Ottoman Empire’s 400-year rule in Greece. But why did war break out in 1821? During the years leading up to the outbreak of war, resentment for the Turkish grew due to their oppressive rule that resulted in poor living conditions and widespread starvation of the Greek people. It took 400 years of suffering for the Greeks to make their move, and it became extremely obvious to many people across Europe that there was no way the Greeks could win on their own.
Enter the Philhellenes! With the outbreak of war came the Philhellene, whose fascination with Ancient Greece propelled their involvement, making them poster-boys for the 19th century obsession with antiquity. There is much debate as to what, apart from a love of Greece, defines a Philhellene. Some believe a Philhellene must have fought during the war, while others, myself included, have a more liberal approach, believing a Philhellene was someone who had any affiliation with the cause. Using this definition opens up a huge array of facets to explore, such as literary Philhellenes, who wrote various books, poems (Hellas by Percy Shelley) and plays (The Ruins of Athens, scored by Beethoven) that were inspired by the Greek struggle against the Turkish. These works in turn motivated many to become involved in Philhellenism. Nonetheless, these Philhellenes, whether actively fighting or taking a back-seat approach by writing pamphlets or organising donations, made a difference for Greece.
So what did the Philhellenes actually do and did they make a difference? As mentioned before, the spread of the idea of Philhellenism played an important role in the war. During the beginning of the war Philhellenism in Germany (still at this point the various Germanic states), was spread through the universities. Students began publishing pamphlets, professors gave lectures and donations were collected in universities to support the Greek cause, despite directly disobeying government orders. This differed in America, where the government was influenced by public support of Philhellenism to become involved, rather than fight it. In America, the religious aspect of the war bolstered their support – to them, it was a war between Christianity and Islam. This created widespread interest, from the smallest newspaper – The Albany Argus – to the largest political platform – Congress.
Yet this begs the question – If there were no interest in the war, would people be passionate about saving Greece from the tyranny of the Turkish, and be compelled to fight? Probably not.
Despite this great support from America and Germany, there were also a great number of men who went to Greece to fight and dedicate their lives to the cause, with a large number making the pilgrimage after the widely publicised 1822 massacre of Greeks at Chios. Consistently, the Philhellenes fought to secure Greece’s freedom, but to what end? If we look at the death of Lord Byron, who died in 1824 after only 2 years in Greece, you would think he achieved very little. However Byron’s poetry and death served as a constant reminder, pushing Greeks and Philhellenes alike to continue fighting (particularly his poem The Isles of Greece). Whereas British historian and Philhellene Thomas Gordon, who lived through the entirety of the war, made his contribution leading various successful battles that resulted in wins for the Greeks, rather than inspiration. Whose contribution was greater is unclear, as they both made a great impact on the war.
Yet the Philhellenes showed their true love in 1827. After the decision was made for an armistice in Greece, which would render the efforts of the Greeks and Philhellenes up to that point a waste of time. Yet the Philhellenes ignored this decision and continued fighting for the Greeks, albeit illegally in the eyes of the British Government. Their continued efforts came to a defining moment at the Battle of Navarino, which resulted in the Philhellenes and Greeks destroying the majority of the Ottoman Empire’s naval fleet, and the death of thousands of Turkish, with minimal loss to the Greek side. The Philhellenes had proven themselves.
Naval Battle at Navarino painted by French artist Ambrose Louis Garneray in 1827 (Wikipedia)
For the Philhellenes, their bromance with Greece was all that mattered, and as was evident at Navarino, that devotion to the cause was key to the success of the movement. Philhellenism during the Greek War of Independence played an integral role during the war, and it took the bolstering of support and actual fighting to help Greece reach their independence. The Philhellenes continued effort and love for Greece led to Greece securing their freedom.
Dakin, Douglas. British and American Philhellenes During the War of Greek Independence, 1821-1833. Thessaloniki: Εταιρεία Μακεδονικών Σπουδών, 1955.
Dimaras, Alex. “The Other British Philhellenes.” In The Struggle for Greek Independence, edited by Richard Clogg. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1973, pp. 200-223.
Gordon, Thomas. History of the Greek Revolution, and of the Wars and Campaigns arising from the struggles of the Greek Patriots in emancipating their country from the Turkish Yoke. Vol. 1 & 2. London: William Blackwood, 1844.
St. Clair, William. That Greece Still Might Be Free: The Philhellenes in the War of Independence. London: Oxford University Press, 1972.
Notes on Hyperlinks:
The hyperlinks of The Albany Argus and Congress link to two interesting American primary sources. The Albany Argus paper, dated 9 November 1821 has a poem on the second page about Greece, and is just one of many examples of Philhellenism in that paper. Additionally the Congress link is a link to a speech given to Congress in 1824 by Daniel Webster, and is an interesting read on the political understanding of what the role of America was in the Greek War of Independence.