Theodoros Kolokotronis portrait
|Native name||Θεόδωρος Κολοκοτρώνης|
O Geros tou Moria (The Old Man of Morea)|
Ο Γέρος του Μοριά
|Born||3 April 1770|
|Died||4 February 1843(aged 72)|
|Place of birth||Ramavouni, Morea, Ottoman Empire|
|Place of death||Athens, Greece|
|Buried at||First Cemetery of Athens ( )|
United States of the Ionian Islands
|Rank||General of the Army/Field Marshal (in wartime), Lieutenant General (post-war)|
|Spouse(s)||Aikaterini Karousou (Αικατερίνη Καρούσου)|
Kolokotronis' greatest success was the defeat of the Ottoman army under Mahmud Dramali Pasha at the Battle of Dervenakia in 1822. In 1825, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Greek forces in the Peloponnese. Today, Kolokotronis ranks among the most revered of the protagonists of the War of Independence.
Kolokotronis was born at Ramavouni (Ραμαβούνι) in Messenia, and grew up at Libovisi (Λιμποβίσι) in Arcadia. The Kolokotroneoi (original clan name: Tzeryinis (Τσεργίνης)—Çirgin) were a powerful and respected clan in Arcadia in the 18th century. Their legendary pride and insubordination is commemorated in a well-known folk song of that time:
Ahorse they go to church,
Ahorse they kiss the icons,
Ahorse they receive communion
From the priest's hand.
His father, Constantine Kolokotronis, took part in an armed rebellion, the Orlov Revolt, instigated by the administration of Catherine the Great of Russia. He was killed in 1780 in an engagement with Turkish troops, along with two of his brothers George and Apostolis. Theodoros joined the ranks of a Peloponnesian guerrilla band, and by age fifteen was the leader (καπετάνιος, kapetanios "captain, warlord") of his own band. He had a brief stint at sea as a corsair, then in 1805 he took service on a series of ships in the Russian fleet in the Russo-Turkish War. After 1810 he served in a corps of Greek infantry in British service on Zakynthos, then a British possession, and was awarded the brevet rank of brigadier for his service against the French. From his service in the regular Russian and British forces, Kolokotronis gained valuable insights that he would later use in his career. In the Heptanese (a French protectorate from 1807 to 1815, known as the Septinsular Republic) he also came in contact with the revolutionary ideas of the era and was influenced by them:
According to my judgement, the French Revolution and the doings of Napoleon opened the eyes of the world. The nations knew nothing before and the people thought that kings were gods upon the earth and that they were bound to say that whatever they did as well done.
War of Independence
Kolokotronis returned to the mainland just prior to the outbreak of the war (officially, 25 March 1821) and formed a confederation of irregular Moreot klepht bands. These he tried to train and organize into something resembling a modern army. In May, he was named archistrategos or Commander-in-Chief. He was already 50 years old by this time, a fact which contributed to his sobriquet O Geros tou Morea or "The Elder of Morea," whereby Morea was another name describing the Peloponnese. Kolokotronis' first action was the defense of Valtetsi, the village near Tripoli where his army was mustering. Later, he was also the Commander of the Greek forces during the Siege of Tripolitsa.
He next commanded Greek troops in the siege of the coastal town of Nafplion. He took the port, and the Ottoman garrison in the town's twin citadels was running low on supplies, but the disorganized Greek provisional government at Argos, just to the north, could not complete negotiations for its surrender before a large Ottoman force began marching southward to crush the revolutionaries. Panicked, government officials abandoned Argos and began evacuations by sea at Nafplion. Only an under-strength battalion under Demetrios Ypsilantis remained to hold Larissa castle, the fortress of Argos.
Kolokotronis gathered the klephts together to march to the relief of Ypsilantis. This was quite a feat in itself, considering the near-collapse of the government and the notoriously quarrelsome nature of the klephtic bands. Even the troublesome Souliotes lent a hand. The Ottoman army from the north commanded by Mahmud Dramali Pasha, after taking Corinth, had marched to the plain of Argos. The castle of Larissa was an excellent position, commanding the whole plain. To leave such a stronghold straddling Ottoman supply lines was far too dangerous. Dramali would have to reduce the fortress before moving on. Scaling the cliffs, breaching the castle's stout walls and overcoming its resolute defenders would be no easy task.
Yet, there was one weakness Dramali was unaware of: Larissa, unlike the famous Acropolis in Athens, had no spring and consequently fresh water had to be supplied from cisterns. Unfortunately for the Greeks, it was July and no rains were falling to fill the cisterns. Ypsilantis bluffed the Ottomans as long as he could, but towards the end of the month had to sneak his men out in the middle of the night. Dramali's men plundered the castle the next day, and he was now free to march them toward the coast to resupply (the Greeks had pursued a scorched earth policy, and the large Ottoman force was eating through its food supplies rather quickly). Ypsilantis' defense had bought Kolokotronis and the klephts valuable time.
To his dismay, Dramali found himself cut off from his supply fleet, which had intended to land at Nafplio but was successfully blockaded by the Greek fleet under Admiral Andreas Miaoulis. Dramali reluctantly decided upon a retreat toward Corinth through the Dervenaki Pass, through which he had just come unmolested. This was exactly what Kolokotronis had been hoping for. In August 1822 his quicker-moving guerrilla forces trapped the Ottomans in the pass and annihilated them. A devastated Sultan Mahmud II in Constantinople was forced to turn to Muhammad Ali, ruler of the nominally Ottoman pashaluk of Egypt, for help.
The Greeks resumed the siege against the fortresses at Nafplio, which fell in December. Kolokotronis is said to have ridden his horse up the steep slopes of Kastro Palamidi to celebrate his victory there; a statue in the town square commemorates the event. He is attired in something resembling the costume of a hussar topped with a plumed Corinthian helmet, which he was fond of wearing, and which foreign Philhellenes were even fonder of seeing him in. (While he seems to have enjoyed dressing like a western European cavalryman cum ancient Greek hoplite, he is also frequently depicted wearing the more traditional fustanella and other traditional accoutrements).
From December 1823 to February 1825, he took part in the civil wars among the various Greek factions; when his party was finally defeated, he was jailed in Hydra with some of his followers in March 1825, and was released only when an Egyptian army under the command of Ibrahim Pasha invaded the Morea. His eldest son, Panos Kolokotronis, killed during the second civil war.
Ibrahim was fresh from fighting the Wahhabi rebels in Arabia, and so was used to fighting guerrillas. His troops were armed with the most modern equipment and trained by European experts. The sultan had promised his father the island of Crete as an appanage for young Ibrahim if he could crush the rebels. With his eye on the prize, he burned his way through the Peloponnese, gaining much territory but arousing much hostility in western European public opinion, which in the long run proved disastrous for the Ottomans.
The island of Sphacteria and Navarino had already fallen into Ibrahim's hands, and to make matters worse for Kolokotronis, he still had to be on guard against the machinations of Petros Mavromichalis even as he was bracing himself against the new threat. Kolokotronis used guerrilla tactics to wear Ibrahim's forces down; but given his limited resources, was unable to prevent the widespread destruction that Ibrahim left in his wake. Still, in 1825, in recognition of his military acumen and many services to the Greek cause, he was appointed commander-in-chief of Greek forces in the Peloponnese.
After the war, Kolokotronis became a supporter of Count Ioannis Kapodistrias and a proponent of alliance with Russia. When the count was assassinated on 8 October 1831, Kolokotronis created his own administration in support of Prince Otto of Bavaria as a King of Greece. However, later he opposed the Bavarian-dominated regency during his rule. He was charged with treason and on 7 June 1834 sentenced to death; but he was pardoned in 1835. Theodoros Kolokotronis died in 1843 in Athens one day after his son's Konstantinos (Kollinos) wedding.
In the twilight of his life, Kolokotronis had learned to write in order to complete his memoirs, which have been a perennial favorite in Greece, and have been translated several times in English and other languages. Kolokotronis' famed helmet, along with the rest of his arms and armor, may today be seen in the National History Museum of Greece in Athens. In addition to the Nafplio statue mentioned earlier, there is another to be seen in Athens, in the forecourt of the Old Parliament building on Stadiou Street, near Syntagma Square.
Kolokotronis is also the name of military barracks near Tripolis. Κοlokotronis was so famous in popular culture that one can find references about him in strange places, like a gravure sculpted by knife on a stony sterna inside a cave in one of the holes in mount Ntaouli opposite the village Lyrkeia in the valley of river Inarhos. A portrait of Kolokotronis by Karl Krazeisen depicted on the obverse of the Greek 5000 drachmas banknote of 1984-2001.
In popular culture
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- Brewer, David L. The Greek War of Independence: The Struggle for Freedom from Ottoman Oppression and the Birth of the Modern Greek Nation. Woodstock & New York, Overlook Press: 2001.
- Kolokotronis, Theodoros. Memoirs from the Greek War of Independence, 1821–1833 Argonaut Publishers: 1969.
- Kolokotronis at the Arcadia Page at the University of Patras (Greek)
- Hellenic Parliament The speech of Kolokotronis at Pnyx (Greek)
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