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  • Russia and the Greek Revolution
  • Yanni Kotsonis
Lucien J. Frary, Russia and the Making of Modern Greek Identity, 1844–1844 304 New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. ISBN-13 978-0198733775. $100.00.

We do not have an obvious need for studies of Russian involvement in Greece in the decades surrounding the Greek Revolution of 1821. What became the Kingdom of Greece in 1832 was a small territory on the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula, while Russia had strategic interests spanning three continents. The existing works of Grigorii Arsh, Norman Saul, I. M. Smilianskaia, Olga Petrunina, and Avgusta Stanislavskaia are careful and good. Together they cover the geostrategic, cultural, and institutional-religious importance of the region in this period, roughly 1770 to the 1840s. Russia became a Black Sea naval power under Catherine II and acted intermittently to extend that power in the Mediterranean. Russian armed forces intervened in the Morea (Peloponnese), where they stimulated the Orlov Rebellion of 1770–71; in the Ionian Islands in 1799–1807, where they evicted the French Republic and established the Septinsular Republic; and in different parts of Italy from the 1790s on, where they sparred with revolutionary and imperial France.1 We need a reason for further engagement. [End Page 661]

Things do become interesting when we consider that Greek speakers at the time were extremely active in multiple regions of the world, pertained to flows and loci sooner than states and nations, and had very little respect for borders. The examples are myriad, from the Italian states to which Greek speakers and Orthodox migrated to study, soldier, and trade to France after 1789, where they joined the army and commanded forces in the Caribbean, at Waterloo, in Algeria, and later still in the Franco-Prussian War. In the Ottoman Empire after Greek independence Greeks owned most of the merchant marine, and the Greek-speaking, Orthodox Phanariotes continued to manage major aspects of the state, its moneys, and its foreign relations. They manned the fleets and irregular forces that defended the Porte against foreign attack, rebellions, and revolutions, Greek ones included.2

Russia, too, was a powerful magnet and had been since the time of Ivan III. A generation of scholars trained by the estimable Theofanis Stavrou have been documenting these movements with an emphasis on the 18th and 19th centuries. Lucien Frary is one of those scholars, and his book goes far in tracing networks of Greeks in connection with Russia from the time of the Greek Revolution to the 1840s. Most of Russia's Mediterranean diplomatic missions were manned by Greeks. Greek merchants were based as often in Odessa and Azov as in Cephalonia, Syros, or Piraeus, and behind references to Russian shipping were often Greek captains (and their Albanian crews) from all around the eastern Mediterranean.3 The Russian navy and the corsairs sponsored by Russia were stacked with Greek commanders. Lambros Katsonis was the most famous of the corsairs, and the military leader of the Greek Revolution in the 1820s, Theodoros Kolokotronis, had a spell as a pirate under the Russian flag before 1810. The regular army also attracted hundreds of Greek soldiers and officers like the Ypsilantis brothers, who later organized the Greek uprising of 1821—to the chagrin of Nicholas I.4 Greek theologians populated Russian seminaries and went on regular missions to St. Petersburg. Presumably the Russian emperors valued their language skills and trusted their Orthodox religion, while for a time their oath to the tsar trumped fears of nationalist parochialism. [End Page 662]

What to call these people was not at all obvious and the multiple labels invite query. In Russia the terminology still includes greki (the catchall), pontiitsy (from the Black Sea region), ellintsy (from the country, Greece), and in earlier centuries grechane, with further subcategories for certain spaces in today's Caucasus region and Ukraine. In the Ottoman Empire, they called themselves Romans (Romioi), as many Greeks do today, while Turkish-speakers called them Rum, all in reference to the Eastern Roman Empire and the Orthodox Church it spawned. It was the category under which the Ottomans organized the Orthodox millet, no matter what language they spoke. Greeks arriving in the Balkans...


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