Nationalism and "Independence" for the Greeks

In 1821, Greeks on the Peloponnese Peninsula rebelled, inspired by news of an uprising in Moldavia, which was also under Ottoman rule. A small group led by a Greek, which included some Russians, had crossed the border into Moldavia where they raised the flag of Greek independence and hoped that the Romanians and Bulgarians of Moldavia would rise with them for their own independence. The revolt in Moldavia was crushed, but revolt in the Peloponnese spread.

Rebels in the Peloponnese lacked good organization and discipline. For the most part they were Christians smiting their enemies without mercy. Leaders emerged who tried to invoke restraint and to stop looting, but they had little effect. Greek peasants armed with scythes, clubs and slings, grabbed what valuables they could and killed wherever possible, including small clusters of Muslims fleeing their homes. Of the estimated 50,000 Muslims living on the Peloponnese Peninsula in March 1821, an estimated 20,000 were killed within a few weeks – men, women and children.

In Constantinople on April 10 the Ottoman sultan, Mahmud II, had the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregorios V, seized. Gregorios was accused of having intrigued with the uprising and having committed perjury and treason. Gregorios was hanged with Mahmud believing it was his right to order the execution. Christians across Europe were aware of the uprising in the Peloponnese but not of the atrocities of the revolutionaries, and they were shocked by the hanging of Gregorios. Common Russians wanted to avenge the death of the patriarch, but Russia's Tsar Alexander had other matters to consider and merely withdrew his ambassador from Constantinople. Alexander was still allied with Austria against revolutions, especially nationalist revolutions, and the tsar was not ready to break with that alliance. And neither was Britain's foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh.

In April the Greek revolt spread northward toward central Greece and Athens. In May, Muslims in Athens were defending themselves from the Acropolis. In the Peloponnese various towns and cities fell, including Petras, where all Muslims who did not make it to the safety of the walls of the town's fortress were killed. In August in the Peloponnese, Muslims of the small town of Monemvasia were besieged and chose to surrender rather than endure more hunger, and when they surrendered they were slaughtered. A few days later, between 2,000 and 3,000 Muslims in Navarino were massacred. Tripolitsa was a city of 35,000 Turks, Albanians, Jews and others in the middle of Peloponnese. There the Ottoman governor resided, and there Greeks massacred for two days. An estimated 10,000 people, including women and children, were killed, as were 2,000 who had been taken prisoner. It is reported that Muslim women were raped and that Muslims were tortured for information of the whereabouts of their money. Water wells became polluted and disease spread that caused the death of thousands of Greeks. The taking of Tripolitsa in October was the final Greek success for the year 1821. Turks remained only at the fortresses in Patras and Nauplia and two lesser fortresses.

Meanwhile in Constantinople, Janissaries soldiers were in revolt against the sultan and venting their anger upon Christians, and Christians were being slaughtered. The sultan transported soldiers from Anatolia and defeated the insurgents, killing 200 Janissaries. In early 1822, Muslims struck again against Christians. A Turkish military force joined by crowds of impassioned civilians landed on the island of Chios in the eastern Aegean Sea, an island with a population of about 100,000. There were Turkish officers who tried to restrain sections of the invading force. Nevertheless the invaders slaughtered around 25,000, some of the Greeks escaping by boats that came to their rescue, and some wealthy islanders paid Turkish commanders huge sums for protection. The slaughter stopped when Turks rounded up Greek survivors for sale in the slave markets of Asia Minor.

The Greeks had the advantage of superiority at sea. They were experienced mariners. Greek sailors who had been working on Ottoman ships abandoned those ships, leaving the Turks to recruit inexperienced dock-laborers and peasants. In 1822 the Greeks captured the coastal region in the west just north of the Peloponnese Peninsula, and farther east they took Athens and Thebes. The Greeks were now in control of west and east-central Greece as well as the Aegean islands.

In 1822 the Greeks declared independence.