"That Greece Might Still Be Free": Commemorating the Bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence from an International Perspective

Curated by Quinn Byington, William McClelland, and Zachary Quint


This exhibit commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence, which began with General Alexandros Ypsilantis’ (Greek: Αλέξανδρος Υψηλάντης) uprising against the Ottoman rulers in the Danubian Principality of Moldavia during the spring of 1821. While this uprising was unsuccessful, it sparked more widespread unrest in the Morea (Peloponnese) region of Greece, and it was this activity in the Greek homeland that turned into a revolution combating the rule of the Ottoman Porte. The War of Independence was a controversial topic in European international diplomacy at the time, as nations like Austria, Prussia, and Russia attempted to suppress all revolutionary activity across the continent in order to maintain the post-Napoleonic balance of power and uphold the monarchical system of government. In contrast, the revolution was widely popular in the public opinion of many European countries as well as the United States due to the contemporary revival of fascination with ancient Greece, called the Philhellenic movement. For this exhibit, we will explore the actions of the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the United States, Great Britain, and the Austrian Empire with regards to the start of the War of Independence, and we will also provide context about the reactions and contributions of the Greek diaspora and the Philhellenes. 

The Greek War of Independence spanned from 1821 until 1829, starting with Ypsilantis’ invasion of the Danubian Principalities and ending with the signing of the Treaty of Adrianople, in which the Ottomans agreed to Greek autonomy. By 1833, Greece would be an officially recognized kingdom under King Otto I, who had formerly been the prince of Bavaria. The first years of the war were characterized by unlikely Greek successes until about 1823, when differences in political ideology led to the formation of two separate Greek provisional governments and, following that, two consecutive civil wars. The Ottomans took advantage of this factionalism, and in 1826, the Turks took Athens. However, it was around this time that other European nations began to get officially involved, and with the help of the British, Russians, and French in particular, the Greeks defeated the Ottomans and secured their independence at Adrianople. 

This exhibit features many names for whom the native spelling does not use the Roman alphabet, and the curators, Quinn Byington and William McClelland, have thus made numerous decisions regarding transliteration. In most cases, we have transliterated Greek names according to the standard of modern Greek scholars - that is, κ (kappa) is written using “k”, φ (phi) is written as an “f” (with the exception of Phanariot, as the spelling with “Ph” is the most commonly used in relevant academic writing), and η (eta) is transliterated as “i”. We have chosen to do this out of respect for the study of modern Greece, as there is a long history of European and American scholars using a more Roman, Latinized system for Greek transliteration in order to evoke a connection to classical history rather than respecting Greece as a modern nation by using the same system as those who live in the region contemporaneously. 

Russian names, on the other hand, are transliterated to their English counterparts; for example, the Russian name Александр is written “Alexander” rather than its more direct transliteration, “Aleksandr.” This is done primarily for familiarity and ease of reading, as we expect most of our audience to be more familiar with the Anglicized names. As for Turkish names, the specific resource used for Ottoman Turkish transliteration used was Pashas, Begs, and Effendis: A Historical Dictionary of Titles and Terms in the Ottoman Empire by Gustav Bayerle. For most personal names of Ottoman Turkish origin, the most popular English transliterations were used.