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Siege of Tripolitsa
Part of the Greek War of Independence
Fall of Tripolis.jpg
Commander Panagiotis Kephalas raising the Greek flag in Tripolitsa after the successful siege
DateApril - 23 September 1821
LocationTripoli, Peloponnese, Greece
Result Decisive Greek victory
Greek Revolution flag.svg Greek revolutionaries  Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Theodoros Kolokotronis
Dimitris Plapoutas
Panagiotis Kephalas
Kâhya Mustafa Bey
About 10,000 - 15,000 troops 8,000 Turkish and 3,000 Albanian troops
Casualties and losses
1001 8,000[1]
6,000-15,000 Muslim and Jewish civilians2[2][3]
1According to Theodoros Kolokotronis
2According to J. M. Wagstaff the civilian victims were "between 10,000 and 15,000",[4] "upwards of 10.000" according to St. Clair, historian of the Greek Revolt [5] 8,000 according to Encyclopedia Americana,[6] 6,000 according to The London Encyclopaedia [7]

Map showing the first phase of the Siege of Tripolitsa during the Greek War of Independence.

The Siege of Tripolitsa or the Fall of Tripolitsa (Greek: Άλωση της Τριπολιτσάς) to Greek rebels in the summer of 1821 marked an early victory in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire, which had begun earlier in that year.

It is further notorious for the massacre of its Muslim and Jewish population — the Massacre of Tripolitsa, which occurred after the city's fall to the Greek forces. As historian of the war W. Alison Phillips noted, "the other atrocities of Greeks paled before the awful scenes which followed the storming of Tripolitza".[8]

Background[edit | edit source]

Situated in the middle of Peloponnese, Tripolitsa was the pre-eminent town in southern Greece, as well as the administrative centre for Ottoman rule in the Peloponnese, thus making it an important target for the Greek revolutionaries. Many rich Turks and Jews lived there, together with Ottoman refugees driven there by the outbreak of the revolt, escaping massacres in the country's southern districts.[9]

It was also a potent symbol for revenge, its Greek population having been massacred by the Ottoman forces in the past: the latest of such events, a few months earlier, following the failed rebellion at Moldavia in early 1821; previous massacres of the town's Greeks occurred in 1715 (during the Ottoman reconquest of the Morea) and on Holy Monday, 29 March 1770, after the failed Orlov Revolt.[10][11][12]

The de facto commander in chief of the Greek forces, Theodoros Kolokotronis, now focussed on the capital of the province. He set up fortified camps in the surrounding places, establishing several headquarters under the command of his captain Anagnostaras in the nearby villages, notably Zarachova, Piana, Dimitsana and Stemnitsa, where local peasants provided his men with food and supplies.[13]

In addition, a fresh and compact force of Maniot troops under Petros Mavromichalis, the Bey of Mani, arrived and camped at Valtetsi so as to take part in the final assault to the Ottoman capital of Morea.[14]

The Turk-Albanian garrison was reinforced in May by some troops and cavalry sent by Hursid Pasha from the north, led by the Kehayabey Mustafa.

The rebels' decisive victory in the Battle of Valtetsi and several other victorious clashes in Doliana and Vervaina, meant that the Greek revolutionaries had effective control over the majority of the areas in the Central and Southern Peloponnese.

Siege[edit | edit source]

Although the siege had been going on for several months, its progress was slow, as the Greeks were unable to maintain a tight blockade and were often scattered by sorties of Turkish cavalry.[1]

However, conditions were worsening inside the walls for scarcity of food and potable water. Taking advantage of this, Kolokotronis began quiet negotiations with the leaders of the besieged, aiming at an orderly capitulation. He wisely convinced the Albanian contingent led by Elmas Bey[15] to make a separate agreement for safe passage to Argos, thereby greatly reducing the strength of the defenders. The deal itself was guaranteed by Dimitrios Plapoutas, the renowned Koliopoulos. The city was taken before the 2,500 Albanian had departed, but still they had a safe passage out of the Peloponnese a few days after the fall.[16]

Plan of the Siege of Tripolitsa. The detachments of Kolokotronis' division, which have surrounded the town are symbolized by the letter "O".

Greek leaders were in constant contact with the Ottoman defenders in negotiations, but without much coordination. The successive petitions of the remaining Ottoman defenders for a truce were, in the end, regarded by the besiegers as a temporizing ruse, in an ultimately hopeless anticipation of Ottoman reinforcements.[citation needed] In anticipation of the fall of the city, by September 22, about 20,000 Greeks had gathered around it.[16] On September 23, the Greek army broke in through a blind spot in the walls, and the town was completely overrun quickly.[17] The fortified citadel in it surrendered three days later for lack of water.[18]

Massacre of civilians[edit | edit source]

In the three days following the capture of the city, Muslim and Jewish inhabitants of Tripolitsa were exterminated. The total number of Muslims killed during the sack was estimated by Thomas Gordon, who arrived in the city shortly after its fall, at 8,000.[19] Beyond the 2,500 Albanian troops vouched for in advance; a tiny contingent of Turkish cavalry escaping to Nauplion; a few women who were taken as slaves; along with the harem of Hurshid Pasha; and a few notable Turks held for ransom were spared.[20]

Describing the massacres that occurred following the capture of Tripolitsa, historian W. Alison Phillips noted that:

"For three days the miserable inhabitants were given over to lust and cruelty of a mob of savages. Neither sex nor age was spared. Women and children were tortured before being put to death. So great was the slaughter that Kolokotronis himself says that, from the gate to the citadel his horse’s hoofs never touched the ground. His path of triumph was carpeted with corpses. At the end of two days, the wretched remnant of the Mussulmans were deliberately collected, to the number of some two thousand souls, of every age and sex, but principally women and children, were led out to a ravine in the neighboring mountains and there butchered like cattle."[21]

Kolokotronis says in his memoirs:[22]

"Inside the town they had begun to massacre. ... I rushed to the palace ... "If you wish to hurt these Albanians," I cried, "kill me rather; for, while I am a living man, whoever first makes the attempt, him will I kill the first." ... I was faithful to my word of honor ... Tripolitsa was three miles in circumference. The [Greek] host which entered it, cut down and were slaying men, women, and children from Friday till Sunday. Thirty-two thousand were reported to have been slain. One Hydriote [boasted that he had] killed ninety. About a hundred Greeks were killed; but the end came [thus]: a proclamation was issued that the slaughter must cease. ... When I entered Tripolitsa, they showed me a plane tree in the market-place where the Greeks had always been hung. I sighed. "Alas!" I said, "how many of my own clan — of my own race — have been hung there!" And I ordered it to be cut down. I felt some consolation then from the slaughter of the Turks. ... [Before the fall] we had formed a plan of proposing to the Turks that they should deliver Tripolitsa into our hands, and that we should, in that case, send persons into it to gather the spoils together, which were then to be apportioned and divided among the different districts for the benefit of the nation; but who would listen?"

There were about one hundred foreign officers present[citation needed] at the scenes of atrocities and looting committed in Tripolitsa, Friday to Sunday. Based on eyewitness accounts and descriptions provided by these officers, William St. Clair wrote:

"Upwards of ten thousand Turks were put to death. Prisoners who were suspected of having concealed their money were tortured. Their arms and legs were cut off and they were slowly roasted over fires. Pregnant women were cut open, their heads cut off, and dogs' heads stuck between their legs. From Friday to Sunday the air was filled with the sound of screams... One Greek boasted that he personally killed ninety people. The Jewish colony was systematically tortured... For weeks afterwards starving Turkish children running helplessly about the ruins were being cut down and shot at by exultant Greeks... The wells were poisoned by the bodies that had been thrown in..."[1]

"The Turks of Greece left few traces. They disappeared suddenly and finally in the spring of 1821 unmourned and unnoticed by the rest of the world....It was hard to believe then that Greece once contained a large population of Turkish descent, living in small communities all over the country, prosperous farmers, merchants, and officials, whose families had known no other home for hundreds of years...They were killed deliberately, without qualm or scruple, and there was no regrets either then or later."[23]

The massacre at Tripolitsa was the final and largest in a sequence of massacres against Muslims in the Peloponnese during the first months of the revolt. Historians estimate that upwards of twenty thousand Muslim men, women and children were killed during this time, often with the exhortation of the local clergy.[24][25][26]

Steven Bowman believes that, although the Jews were murdered, they were not targeted specifically, in fact: "Such a tragedy seems to be more a side-effect of the butchering of the Turks of Tripolis, the last Ottoman stronghold in the South where the Jews had taken refuge from the fighting, than a specific action against Jews per se."[27]

During the siege, eight Greek Orthodox prelates of Peloponnese were incarcerated inside the city, and five of them died before the fall.[28]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

The capture of the city of Tripolis had a salutary effect in the morale of the revolutionaries. After this event, Greeks saw that their way towards victory was possible, the entire Peloponnese bearing hardly any trace of Ottomans anymore.

On the other hand, it also marked the first strong point of discord in a previously apparently cohesive force, since the atrocities committed during the siege were at the time strongly decried and criticized by some Phanariote figures of the Greek War of Independence such as Dimitrios Ypsilantis[14] and Alexandros Mavrokordatos,.[29]

The residual bitterness over the ultimate disposition of the spoils,[30] along with generalized anarchy following the fall of the city, emphasized the divergent perspectives between the Peloponessian chieftains (military faction) and the intellectual mentors of the uprising (political faction). In time, these would develop into an internal conflict, and, later on, civil wars, within the same struggle for independence.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 St. Clair, p. 43.
  2. Cited by Hercules Millas, « History Textbooks in Greece and Turkey », History Workshop, n°31, 1991.
  3. W. Alison Phillips, The War of Greek Independence, 1821 to 1833, p. 61.
  4. J. M. Wagstaff, War and Settlement Desertion in the Morea, 1685-1830, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 3, No. 3, Settlement and Conflict in the Mediterranean World. (1978), p. 301.
  5. St. Clair, p. 43
  6. Thomas Gamaliel Bradford, Encyclopedia Americana, Desilver, Thomas, & Co Encyclopedias and dictionaries, (1835), p. 20.
  7. Thomas Curtis, The London encyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionary of Science, Art, Literature and Practical Mechanicsm, (1839) p. 646.
  8. Phillips, p. 59.
  9. St. Clair, p. 45.
  10. Nafziger, George F. and Mark W. Walton, Islam at war: a history, (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003), 76.
  11. Brewer David, The Greek War of Independence. The Struggle for Freedom from Ottoman Oppression and the Birth of the Modern Greek Nation, The Overlook Press, New York, (2001), p.111-112 (ISBN 1-58567-395-1).
  12. Brunet de Presle et Alexandre Blanchet, Grèce depuis la conquête romaine jusqu’à nos jours, Firmin Didot (1860) p. 387-388
  13. Kolokotronis, p. 82.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Stratiki, p. 83.
  15. Finlay, p. 266
  16. 16.0 16.1 Kolokotronis, p. 89.
  17. Stratiki, pp. 84-86.
  18. Finlay, p. 268.
  19. Finlay, p. 269.
  20. Finlay, p. 269
  21. Phillips (1897), p. 61
  22. Kolokotronis (Edmonds) pp. 156-159.
  23. William St. Clair, That Greece Might Still Be Free - The Philhellenes in the War of Independence
  24. William St. Clair (1972) p. 12
  25. Finlay, p. 172
  26. Phillips (1897), pp. 57-61
  27. Bowman, Steven, "History of the Jews in Greece". University of Massachusetts
  28. The Cambridge history of Christianity (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. 2006. pp. 230. ISBN 978-0-521-81113-2. http://books.google.com/books?id=vBy7CTYVBeMC&pg=PA230&dq=orthodoxy%2Bpatriarch%2B1821%2Bgregory&hl=el&ei=z23VTbDiL8vLswaU_dD-Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CFUQ6AEwCTgK#v=onepage&q=orthodoxy%2Bpatriarch%2B1821%2Bgregory&f=false. 
  29. Diamantouros, pp. 224-228.
  30. Finlay pp. 267-271.

Sources[edit | edit source]

  • Phillips, Alison W. The War of Greek Independence, 1821 to 1833. London, 1897.
  • General Makriyannis, Απομνημονευματα (Memoirs). Athens, 1907
  • William St. Clair. That Greece Might Still Be Free The Philhellenes in the War of Independence. London: Oxford University Press, 1972. ISBN 0-19-215194-0
  • Stratiki Poti. To Athanato 1821. Ekdosis Stratiki Bros. Athens, 1990.
  • Kolokotronis, Theodoros. Memoirs. Ekdosis Vergina. Athens, 2002.
  • Digitised online copy of Elizabeth M. Edmonds' English translation, Kolokotrones, the Klepht and the Warrior, Sixty Years of Peril and Daring. An autobiography. London, 1892.
  • Diamantouros, Nikiforos. The beginning of the constitution of the modern state of Greece. Athens, 2002.
  • Finlay, George. History of the Greek revolution, Volume 1. William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1861. Online copy

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