Ottoman Greece

Most of the areas which today are within modern Greece's borders were at some point in the past part of the Ottoman Empire. This period of Ottoman rule in Greece, lasting from the mid-15th century until the successful Greek War of Independence that broke out in 1821 and the proclamation of the First Hellenic Republic in 1822 (preceded by the creation of the autonomous Septinsular Republic in 1800), is known in Greek as Tourkokratia (Greek: Τουρκοκρατία, "Turkish rule"; English: "Turkocracy").[1] Some regions, however, like the Ionian islands, various temporary Venetian possessions of the Stato da Mar, or Mani peninsula in Peloponnese did not become part of the Ottoman administration, although the latter was under Ottoman suzerainty.

The Eastern Roman Empire, the remnant of the ancient Roman Empire which ruled most of the Greek-speaking world for over 1100 years, had been fatally weakened since the sacking of Constantinople by the Latin Crusaders in 1204.

The Ottoman advance into Greece was preceded by victory over the Serbs to its north. First, the Ottomans won the Battle of Maritsa in 1371. The Serb forces were then led by the King Vukašin of Serbia, the father of Prince Marko and the co-ruler of the last emperor from the Serbian Nemanjic dynasty. This was followed by another Ottoman draw in the 1389 Battle of Kosovo.

With no further threat by the Serbs and the subsequent Byzantine civil wars, the Ottomans besieged and took Constantinople in 1453 and then advanced southwards into Greece, capturing Athens in 1458. The Greeks held out in the Peloponnese until 1460, and the Venetians and Genoese clung to some of the islands, but by the early 16th century all of mainland Greece and most of the Aegean islands were in Ottoman hands, excluding several port cities still held by the Venetians (Nafplio, Monemvasia, Parga and Methone the most important of them). The mountains of Greece were largely untouched, and were a refuge for Greeks who desired to flee Ottoman rule and engage in guerrilla warfare.[2]

The Cyclades islands, in the middle of the Aegean, were officially annexed by the Ottomans in 1579, although they were under vassal status since the 1530s. Cyprus fell in 1571, and the Venetians retained Crete until 1669. The Ionian Islands were never ruled by the Ottomans, with the exception of Kefalonia (from 1479 to 1481 and from 1485 to 1500), and remained under the rule of the Republic of Venice. It was in the Ionian Islands where modern Greek statehood was born, with the creation of the Republic of the Seven Islands in 1800.

Ottoman Greece was a multiethnic society. However, the Ottoman system of millets did not correspond to the modern Western notion of multiculturalism.[3] The Greeks were given some privileges and freedom, but they were also suffering from the malpractices of its administrative personnel over which the central government had only remote and incomplete control.[4] Despite losing their political independence, the Greeks remained dominant in the fields of commerce and business. The consolidation of Ottoman power in the 15th and 16th centuries rendered the Mediterranean safe for Greek shipping, and Greek shipowners became the maritime carriers of the Empire, making tremendous profits.[5] After the Ottoman defeat at the Battle of Lepanto however, Greek ships often became the target of vicious attacks by Catholic (especially Spanish and Maltese) pirates.[5]

This period of Ottoman rule had a profound impact in Greek society, as new elites emerged. The Greek land-owning aristocracy that traditionally dominated the Byzantine Empire suffered a tragic fate, and was almost completely destroyed. The new leading class in Ottoman Greece were the prokritoi[6] (πρόκριτοι in Greek) called kocabaşis by the Ottomans. The prokritoi were essentially bureaucrats and tax collectors, and gained a negative reputation for corruption and nepotism. On the other hand, the Phanariots became prominent in the imperial capital of Constantinople as businessmen and diplomats, and the Greek Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch rose to great power under the Sultan's protection, gaining religious control over the entire Orthodox population of the Empire, Greek, Albanian-speaking, Latin-speaking and Slavic.