gigatos | September 9, 2021
Theodoros Kolokotronis (Ramovouni, Messinia, 3 April 1770 – Athens, 4 February 1843) was a Greek commander-in-chief and leading figure of the 1821 Revolution, chieftain, plenipotentiary and State Councillor. He acquired the nickname of the Old Man of the Moors. After his death he was honoured by the Greek State with the rank of Marshal.
Theodoros Kolokotronis came from a famous family that originated from the village of Rupaki (until 1670 it was called Kotsikas; it has not existed as a settlement since 1780) on the border between Messinia and Arcadia. In the census of 1461-63 conducted by the Ottomans, Roupaki is mentioned as having a pure Roman (Greek) population and had 21 houses. The surname of the family was originally Tzerginis, and in Messinia there were 60 families with the same surname, as he mentions in his memoirs. Demos Tzerginis, who was Theodore”s great-great-grandfather and lived during the Venetian occupation in the Peloponnese (1685-1715), had a son named Botchikas (adjective for small and blackish). Botchikas” son named John was the first of his generation to adopt the name Kolokotronis. According to family tradition, an Arvanite gave Yannis the nickname “Bithekouras” (in Arvanitic it means one who has a strong backside) and he was left with the name “Kolokotronis”, which is the exact metaphor of the original in his native language. Kolokotronis was born in Ramovouni, Messinia, although his family lived in Limpovisi, Arcadia, and he spent his childhood in the tower of Kastanitsa in Mani. He saw his father very rarely; the name Theodoros was new to his generation. It was given to him in honour of the Russian officer Theodor Orlov (Фёдор Григорьевич Orlov) who during the Orlovian revolution had become very popular, constantly telling the people about the ancient Greek glory. He was baptized by Ioannis Palamides of Stemnitsa, father of King Palamides. Theodore”s father, Constantine Kolokotronis, took part in the armed rebellion of the Orloffs, which was instigated by Catherine II of Russia in 1770 and was killed along with two brothers and the famous Panagiotaros in the tower of Kastanitsa by the Turks.
From a young age, Theodoros Kolokotronis followed his father on his various adventures. At the age of 15, in 1785, he moved with his mother and brothers to the village of Akovo where his uncle Anagnostis lived. He was appointed an armourer against the thieves who were ravaging the district of Leontario. Five years later in 1790 he married in Akovo the daughter of a prefect of Akovo, Ekaterini Karoutsos. He lived in Akovo for the next 7 years until 1797 as a family man and landlord, acquired land, a house and property. His first children were also born there. Kolokotronis” activity slowly spread, along with his fame, throughout the Peloponnese. In 1802 he had become so dangerous to the conquerors that the voevoda of Patras succeeded in having a Sultan”s firman issued which condemned him to death and assigned the execution to the prefects, who, if they failed to kill him, would be executed themselves.
Having gained experience at sea as a corsair, in 1805 Theodoros Kolokotronis took part in the naval operations of the Russian fleet during the Russo-Turkish War. In January 1806, while he was in the Peloponnese, a decree of persecution was issued against him. As a result of this, there followed months of adventurous and dramatic persecution by the Turks in many villages and towns of the Peloponnese.[citation pending] When the inhabitants of Verbena refused to assist the pursuing thieves, they destroyed the village. Kolokotronis mentions the event in his Narrative: “we sent to the Verbena to send us bread and fodder, and they replied: we have marbles and powder, and we went and spoiled them”. He finally managed, fighting, to escape by boat, leaving from an area to the west of the Laconian Gulf and passing to Russian-occupied Kythera, stopping at Elafonisos because of bad weather. From 1810 he served in the Greek military corps of the English army in Zakynthos, where he quickly distinguished himself for his action against the French and reached the rank of major.
In 1818 he was initiated into the Society of Friends and in January 1821 he returned to Mani where he began to prepare for the Revolution in the Peloponnese, knowing that the date of its commencement was 25 March. He was in Kalamata during the bloodless capture of the city on 23 March 1821 under Petrobeis Mavromichalis and the pompous doxology. The next day he moved to Megalopolis with Nikitaras and on the morning of March 25 they were at Kambos of Karytaina or Megalopolis. Kolokotronis stayed in the village of Tetepei while Nikitaras stayed in the “back villages” or Siabazika. It was set for 25 March for all the chieftains to be in their provinces in order to declare the Revolution, which they did.
In the Revolution
He participated in many military operations of the Struggle, such as the victory at Valtetsi (13 May 1821), the capture of Tripolitsa (23 September 1821), the destruction of the army of Dramalis at Dervenakia (26 July 1822), where he saved the Struggle in the Peloponnese, since the intelligence and the boldness of his strategic mind prevailed. These successes made him the commander-in-chief of the Peloponnese. During the Civil War, on several occasions[citation pending] he tried to soften the differences between the opponents, but nevertheless he did not avoid a rupture. After armed conflicts, he and his son were arrested and imprisoned in Nafplio.
Noteworthy is the reference of Kolokotronis in his memoirs concerning the occupation of Tripolitsa:
When I came to Tripolitsa, I was shown Platanos in the bazaar where they were selling the Greeks. I sighed and said, “Behold, how many of my family and of my nation are being slaughtered there,” I ordered, and they cut it off.
The Sultan asked for Egyptian help to suppress the Revolution, so his son Mehmet Ali and heir to the Egyptian throne, Ibrahim, landed in the Peloponnese in 1825. Sfaktiria and Navarino fell into the hands of the Egyptians and then Kolokotronis was released to face Ibrahim along with Petrobey Mavromichalis. Without a large army, he started the Thieves” War again, which lasted until 1828, when General Maison”s troops arrived in Greece on the orders of Charles I of France to rescue Greece from the Egyptian troops (the French Moria Campaign).
The Third National Assembly of Ermioni is called the National Assembly with part of the plenipotentiaries of Greece, which took place from 18 January 1827 to 17 March 1827 in Ermioni, Argolida. Kolokotronis participated as a proxy in the last one, the Fifth Session of March 17, 1827.
The strategic character of Kolokotronis should be emphasized, as he commanded the troops in a genius way, using the tactics of theft warfare, so that the troops could cope with the numerical superiority of the enemy. Indicative of the difficulty of the 1821 struggle is the following excerpt from his memoirs:
Ibrahim once told me why I do not stand to fight (in front). I answered him, let him take five hundred or a thousand, and I will take as many more, and then we will fight, or if he will, let us both come and fight. He answered me neither. And if he would accept it, I did so with all my heart, for I said if I lost, let me go; if I lost him, I would save my nation.
He also attached great importance to the destruction of the enemy”s resources (food and fodder), as well as to the provision of food for his troops. He acknowledged many times the work and importance of the Greek cattle breeders, who with their thousands of animals provided food for the support of the fighters and the Revolution in general.
Until the end of the Revolution, Kolokotronis continued to play an active role in the military and political affairs of the time.
He was an ardent supporter of Kapodistrias” policies and was at the forefront of the events leading to the enthronement of Otto [impeachment pending].
In 1832, not recognizing the administrative committee [unclear], he had auctioned off the production from the national lands and called for the retention of the tithe, while he had power in the countryside.
In 1833, however, his disagreements with the Regency led him, along with other fighters, to the prison of Akronafplia in Nafplio again on charges of high treason. Thus, on 25 May 1834, together with Plapoutas, he was sentenced to death. He was pardoned after Otto came of age in 1835, when he was named general and received the title of “Councillor of State”. In the last years of his life, Kolokotronis dictated to Georgios Tercetis his “Memoirs”, published in 1851 under the title Diresis events of the Greek race from 1770 to 1836, which are a valuable source for the Greek Revolution. Theodore Kolokotronis died on the morning of February 4, 1843, of a stroke, having returned from a feast at the royal palace, where he had been for the last few years adjutant to Otto.
Kolokotronis was buried with all solemnity in Athens. The coffin with his dead body was followed by a procession of thousands of people on a solemn route that passed through Ermou and Aeolou streets to the Metropolitan Church of Agia Irini, where the funeral service was held. Around him were all his remaining living comrades-in-arms, such as Georgios Kountouriotis, Tzavelas, Dimitris Plapoutas, Rigas Palamidis, Makrigiannis, Yatrakos, Deligiannis, etc. A Turkish flag was placed at his feet to symbolize his great victories over the Ottomans throughout the revolution. The two sons of the “Old Man of Moria”, Gennaius and Kolinos, who were devastated and broke down in tears when the eulogies were being delivered, while the latter lost consciousness.
The following passage is a reference point of Theodoros Kolokotronis” speech at Pnyx (1838):
When we decided to make the Revolution, we did not consider how many of us there were, nor that we had no chariots, nor that the Turks were raiding the castles and cities, nor did any wise man tell us: “Where are you going here to fight with wheat-cart bats?”, but , like a rain, the desire of our freedom fell on all of us, and all of us, both the clergy, and the preachers, and the captains, and the learned, and the merchants, young and old, all agreed to this cause and made the Revolution.
Trial of 1834
Before Otto”s arrival in Greece, Mavrokordatos and Kolettis, considering Kolokotronis as an obstacle to their plans to cover their positions of power, slandered him and sent a letter to Munich saying that he was preparing troops in order to prevent Otto from entering Greece. When Kolokotronis realized this, he put on his uniform and helmet and went to Nafplio to receive Otto and pay his respects. Then he left to a farm he had outside the city as he writes:
As much as I could I did my duty. I saw my homeland free, I saw what I and my father and grandfather and all my generation and all Greeks longed for. And so I decided to go to an orchard that I had outside Anapli. I went, I sat down and spent my time farming. And I enjoyed watching the little trees I planted grow.
During his apology, when asked what he does for a living, he answers:
Military. For 49 years I have held a rifle in my hand and fought for my country.I fought night and day for my country. I was hungry, I was thirsty, I never slept a wink. I saw my relatives dying, my brothers and sisters being tyrannized and my children dying before me. But I did not coward. I believed that God had put his signature on our freedom and that he would not take it back.
As for the accusations, he denies all of them and says:
After the murder of the governor the country was divided in two. I did everything I could to stop the civil strife. When I learned of the king”s election, I sent him, together with my friends, a report showing our loyalty. When he came to Annapli, I scattered my people and I retired to my orchard to rest.
The prosecutor was the Scottish philhellene Eduardo Mason, who, according to the German historian Carl Mendelssohn-Bartoldy, was “a staunch opponent of the Russian party” and “had passionately defended the murderer of Kapodistrias, Georgios Mavromichalis”. Of the five members of the Chamber, Dimitrios Soutsos, Dimitris Voulgaris and Phokas Fragoulis were convinced of the conviction of Kolokotronis and Plapoutas, while Athanasios-Anastasios Polyzoidis, who was also the president of the trial, and Georgios Tercetis considered him innocent. Polyzoidis during the meeting of the judges said to the other three “I consider your decision totally unjust. ∆It is not based on evidence, but on a false basis and is an insult to this sacred name of truth.” The three judges did not change their minds and invited him to sign the sentence. After he refused the Minister of Justice who was present ordered the gendarmes to seize him and bring him up to the bench. Even there he refused to read the sentence and then the minister gave it to the clerk to read. The conviction was passed by 3 votes to 2. On hearing the death sentence of both Kolokotronis and Plapoutas Kolokotronis will continue to play with his rosary and makes his cross and says “Lord have mercy. Remember me, Lord, when you come in your kingdom.” .Then he took smoke out of his snuff box and smoked. However, due to the uproar caused by the verdict throughout Nafplio, the sentence was changed to 20 years imprisonment three days after the trial. However, when Otto came of age in 1835, the king signed the release of both Kolokotronis and the other fighters.
The Turks chased his family, which was forced to leave the tower -Theodoros was ten years old at the time- and find refuge in Milea in the Messinian Mani.Kolokotronis had been married since 1790 to Ekaterini Karoutsos, daughter of the prefect and Morogiannis of Akovo, Dimitrios Karoutsos. His children with Catherine were Gennaios (John), who became a military officer and later prime minister, Constantine, Panos, who was assassinated in 1824, and Helen, wife of Nikitas Dikaios. Kolokotronis had another son, Panos Kolokotronis, who was also born out of wedlock to Margarita Velissaris, daughter of Angelos Velissaris. He became an officer and commander of the Evelpidon school.
The public acceptance that Kolokotronis had gained thanks to his strategic abilities in the early years of the Revolution and especially with his victory over Dramalis in 1822 was enhanced in the following years with his involvement in the civil conflicts and his emergence in later years as a leading figure of one of the opposing factions in Greece, until his amnesty by Otto and his integration into the royal milieu marked the end of these chronic rivalries. In the circle of Kolokotronis were several writers, such as Ambrosios Frantzis, Fotakos, etc., called pejoratively ”Kolokotronis” by his critics, who wrote the history of the revolution, attributing a leading role to Kolokotronis, who, however, was the target of criticism by the precritics who were engaged in recording the revolutionary events. Already in the middle of the 19th century, with the contribution mainly of Tercetis and others, who preserved anecdotes of his life, a picture of Kolokotronis with basic characteristics of popular wisdom and cunning had begun to emerge, which was consolidated during the rest of the century in numerous expository biographies and other accounts of the Revolution. At the same time, the figure of Kolokotronis began to be seen as a personification of the Greek nation, based on the mythical image he had presented in his Narrative as an unremitting resistor of Ottoman power, adopting a heroic conception of his thieving activities and motivations, a development reflected in the embellishment of widespread depictions of him.
This common acceptance of Kolokotronis was disturbed in the interwar period, when Yannis Vlachogiannis restated the accusations of the Rumelians against the Moravian thieves, but only temporarily, thanks to the apocalyptic apologetics in favour of Kolokotronis by Peloponnesian scholars and the widespread dissemination of Spyros Melas” fictional biography, The Old Man of Moria, of 1931. The adoption of different attitudes by Kolokotronis at various moments of his life towards royalty, foreigners and the Kotzabasis allowed for his occasional ideological invocation. Militant, non-academic leftist historiography adopted the portrait of Kolokotronis that had been crafted by traditional historiography, modifying it into that of the disobedient popular fighter, especially during the years of resistance and the civil war, and during the post-civil war period of persecution of the communists for their relations with Russia.
The figure of Kolokotronis has been widely used in Greece on coins, in education and in the field of art, but also for the naming of various tokens and has been depicted in many Greek cities in busts and statues, the most famous of which are the bronze equestrian statues of him, created by Lazaros Sochos and erected in Athens and Nafplio in 1901 and 1904 respectively. In a vote organised by the SKAI television station to determine the “greatest Greek” in 2008, Kolokotronis came third in votes, confirming the national appeal of his personality.