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‘A brighter Hellas’: rediscovering Greece in the 19th century

Yannis Makriyannis

Illustration of the town of Missolonghi under siegeVarious sieges at the town of MissolonghiYannis Makriyannis (1797-1864) was born in the small mountain-village of Avoriti in central Greece. During the Greek War of Independence he rose to the rank of general, leading his men to victory in numerous battles against the Turks.

In the late 1830s he commissioned a series of paintings from the Greek painter Panayotis Zographos depicting episodes from the war. The images in this section are reproduced from a large published edition of the series, held in the Foyle Special Collections Library.

The image shown here depicts the various sieges at the town of Missolonghi. In the autumn of 1822 the Turkshad reached the town. Mavrocordato was able to resist their assault during the first siege in winter, forcing the Turks to retreat. During the second half of 1825 the town was again under attack, and in the spring of 1826, Ibrahim, the son of the Egyptian viceroy, joined the siege.

In the face of defeat, the Ottoman Sultan had turned to Mehemet Ali, viceroy of Egypt, for help. The Egyptian leader had built up a powerful armed force, trained in the style of the most modern European military. In exchange for Crete, and control of the Morea for his son Ibrahim, Mehemet agreed to join forces with the Sultan.

In March 1825 the fortress of Navarino fell to Ibrahim’s forces, followed by Tripolitsa, Argos,and Calamata. In January 1826 Ibrahim provided reinforcements at Missolonghi where the Greeks resisted until April. Faced with starvation, they planned a mass exodus for the eve of Palm Sunday. As the inhabitants attempted their escape under the cover of darkness, the Turkish and Egyptian forces attacked. Only a minority managed to flee, while the remainder were captured or killed in the town.

A legend for the plate lists the parties involved in the sieges, identifying the Turkish and Egyptian forces and the town and Greek camp. In the legend Lord Byron is listed as among the brave philhellenes present during the first siege; however, the first siege took place before the poet had landed on Greek soil.

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