LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Journal of a Visit to Greece
Chapter III

Chapter I
Chapter II
‣ Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
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GREECE IN 1825. 237

The state of Greece did not afford very sanguine hopes for the ensuing campaign. Instead of preparations, the winter had been devoted, in the Morea, to civil war, and in the western part of Roumelia, to petty intrigue and dissensions among the chiefs; which was also the case in the nearest Turkish provinces in that quarter. In Eastern Greece alone offensive operations had been directed against Negropont.

In Roumelia, the inhabitants had been severe sufferers. Many of their towns and villages had been completely destroyed, and their lands laid waste by the enemy; and the little subsistence left them, was constantly subject to heavy contributions from passing troops.
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In the Morea, they were much more opulent and secure. Each village has a Protos (resembling a maire du village in France), and the priests have a certain authority. There are numerous convents, some of them possessing considerable lands. The largest and richest is Megaspiglia, near Calabrita, where there are 300 monks. It is a spacious edifice, beautifully situated, and built against the side of a precipitous rock. The religion of the lower orders consists in forms, and strict observances of long and frequent fasts; the higher orders have none at all. The knowledge of reading and writing is not very general among them; but schools are now fast establishing in the principal towns. The facility with which the children acquire these attainments, and the observation and knowledge displayed by those who have had the advantages of a foreign education, argue every thing in favour of the Greeks’ rapid advancement in civilization; and also improvement
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in character, should circumstances allow active philanthropists like
Lord Guilford and Colonel Stanhope, to devote to them their attention.

The Moreots, inhabitants of the Morea, bear visibly the marks of the greater slavery in which they have lived. They are inhospitable, untractable, stubborn, and cowardly; they are insensible to kindness, to which they are no way accustomed. In their mode of living they are generally temperate, but also penurious and dirty; and those among them who have property make little better appearance than their neighbours; policy obliging them, under the Turkish yoke, to conceal every appearance of wealth. Dishonest in their dealings, their natural acuteness and intelligence of disposition are exercised only to deceive. The necessaries of life are very reasonable in Greece. The peasantry have numerous flocks of sheep and goats, from which they make their butter and cheese. Their
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oxen are only used for labour. They grow and manufacture great quantities of silk, hemp and flax. The women are very industrious, and endure most laborious work. The generality of the lower orders are excessively ugly; but in Greece there are still some forms of Grecian grace, and countenances exquisitely beautiful.*

The general feature of the country is barren, rocky mountain, but intersected with wood, vineyards, and numerous and fertile valleys, forming some fine romantic scenery. The paths, for there are no roads, are execrable; being rugged, stony, and precipitous, and, in the winter, intersected with mountain torrents. Mules, and a country breed of small sure-footed horses, serve

* The far-famed heroine, Bobolina, though the reverse of beautiful or interesting, has met an untimely end, being shot by her countrymen, in one of the tumults that so frequently occur in the Island of Spezzia. The Costancia, celebrated by Mr. Blaquiere, still retains her martial costume, and behaved very gallantly on the approach of the Turks on Gastouni. August 25th, 1825.

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for the means of transport. Caravans of these laden with merchandize; the shepherd tending his flock by the way-side; a captain well-mounted, his standard borne before him, and followed by his bandit-looking soldiers; with sometimes a whole emigrating village, are the chief objects to be met with in journeying through Greece; but though the state of the country affords so little protection and restraint, travellers are seldom molested, and robbery rarely occurs. The villages are usually situated on high mountains, out of the road-side; and as the trouble of the ascent is seldom repaid by the accommodation they afford, bivouacking is far preferable when travelling with an escort. I therefore, generally chose a cool fountain or shaded stream, where we could light a fire, and kill and roast a sheep; and that, sometimes, after the fashion of the land, foraged by my men. We drank wine from a goat’s skin, at our repast; and in the same manner I slept, wrapt in my shaggy capote,
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surrounded by my men, with our horses grazing by our side.

The towns are indifferently built, chiefly of wood; the streets narrow, and badly paved. The inhabitants of the towns are fond of dress, and fête-days: the men assemble at the coffeehouses, smoke and converse, or often hold a noisy feast. The women are less strictly confined than the Turkish women are, though like them their chief diversion is frequenting the bath. The dress of the wealthy is very costly, but not particularly becoming; they visit each other at their houses, and entertain their guests with sweetmeats and coffee. None of them possess the least education; but, while sipping the favourite Eastern beverage, they can talk scandal with as much goût as our northern tea-parties have the credit of doing. They have nothing, however, resembling ce qu’on dit Societé; and their rude attempts at music, and their singing, are quite barbarous.
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There are no public amusements. “Greece is no land of social mirth. Field sports are lost to it.” There are excellent shooting and coursing; but I have never met any Greeks, except
Ulysses and Sessini’s sons, who took any pleasure in those diversions.

The Morea possesses many rich and extensive plains, where the currant grape was formerly much grown, though they are at present chiefly laying waste; but the valleys among the mountains are well cultivated, and produce abundance of grain. Copper mines are slightly worked near Calabrita, and stratas of silver have been discovered. The climate of the Morea is very unwholesome. The plain of Livadia, in Roumelia, is exceedingly fertile and extensive: rice was grown there, but it is now a waste. Roumelia is still more mountainous than the Morea; and the climate more wholesome; though in the winter the cold is severe. Its inhabitants are more hospitable, less cunning,
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and less cowardly, in proportion as they have been more free. They bore arms under the Turks, which was not generally the case in the Morea, and are superior in their personal appearance.

The Islanders are the finest people. Under the Turks they were treated with great privileges, and were left to their own government, on paying an annual tribute, and furnishing a complement of sailors to the Porte. They are proud, and their seamen are expert, hardy, and active, but turbulent and cruel. Hydra and Ipsara are well fortified, and, with Spezzia, furnish the Greek navy. Many of the Islanders, particularly the Hydriot, as the family of the Conduriotti, Buduris, Miaulis, and the Tombazi, possess large fortunes, and have made great sacrifices in the common cause; their commerce being now entirely neglected for war. The Greeks have no frigates; only three ships; and their whole number of armed brigs amounts to no more than forty. Neither had they any regular troops: an artillery corps, commenced
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Lord Byron, at Messolunghi, being the only attempt to form any since the disastrous battle of Peta, lost by the combined cowardice and treachery of the Greeks, to which so many gallant officers were sacrificed. The numerous capitani or military chiefs, usually possessed a small district or town; and inferior captains of bands of thirty or forty men, in proportion as these chiefs were more or less powerful, gathered round them. The soldiers are not under much command; but, in outward show, great deference is shown by them to their captains, though living together on familiar terms. They are faithful to those whom they acknowledge as their chieftains, but they are constantly changing from one captain to another, on the most trifling subject for discontent. They are very regularly paid, at the rate of twenty-five piastres a month and rations. A capote, which they almost constantly carry with them, serves for their bed in town or camp. Their arms are, a gun, long in the barrel, and with a very short
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stock; with one or two pistols, and a sabre or an ataghan in their girdle, often mounted in silver. The arms of the captains are generally silver, gold gilt and curiously worked; their dress, with belted waist and“kirtled to the knee,” has a gay appearance, but there is no uniformity in it; and the snowy camise is not often seen among them. When good, however, the dress is very martial and becoming: the turban is partially worn, chiefly by the Bulgarians, who are brave, but much addicted to drinking and quarrelling. The Moreots are the worst soldiers; but those who inhabit the country of the ancient Spartans are less cowardly than the rest; and, as accomplished thieves, are not in the least degenerated from their ancestors. The Roumeliots are the best; they bear cheerfully the greatest privations, and, as is justly observed by Lord Byron, “on foot are not to be subdued by fatigue.” No discipline exists among them. The only officer under a
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captain is a chiaus, or sort of quarter-master, for the dispensation of provisions. Of the brave Suliotes few are remaining, and those are not much interested in the contest; but, like hireling troops, get all they can, and fight as little as they can help; nor are they singular, for the Greeks are all averse to hard fighting.
Marco Botzari, however, the bravest and best character the revolution has yet produced, was worthy of Greece’s best days, consequently an exception. His gallant attack at night, on the Turkish camp, was considered by the other captains as a rash and foolish exploit. These irregulars are not to be induced to storm any works of defence: they say,“We are not engineers, and do not understand fighting against stone walls.” But the fact is, that few of them possess the necessary courage for an assault. Their manner of engaging, like that of the Turks, is desultory; and, as the Greeks rarely attack, confined to the mountains. They have a
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horror of cavalry. A single Delhi, “with his cap of terror on,” will strike a panic among a large body; and as the Turkish troops are never without, they will not enter a plain or open country in presence of the enemy. They are fond (particularly the Suliotes) of entrenching themselves behind stone walls, which they pile up, making loop-holes at the head of some pass or mountain-top; these they call tambours, and show great judgment in their disposition of them, according to the feature of the ground, (though they have no idea of a flank fire,) and they will then defend their post with great firmness; but otherwise, in an engagement, when one party shows a determination to advance, the other retreats, and vice versâ. Their intelligence and acuteness particularly fit them for all the stratagems de la petite guerre, as they possess a natural genius for espionnage; and the mountainous feature of the whole of Liberated Greece admits of no other operations than in a
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war of posts. The Albanians and Roumeliots are good marksmen, and, supported by regulars, would make excellent light troops: unencumbered with baggage or artillery, a large force will continue marches through the rocky and mountainous paths, for days together, of 25 and 30 miles; quartering themselves on the villagers, killing their sheep and pressing their horses and mules. But though they will occasionally make these marches, they pass the greater part of their time in sleep, stationary in some village, or encamped behind their tambours; and usually spend the winter months in towns. The Greeks can seldom collect a disposable force of above 6000 men at the utmost; though every able man in town and country, and of every occupation, bears arms. “In the East all arm,” including the priests of the lower orders, who mingle without distinction with the soldiers; but they will only assemble to defend their own immediate district, regardless of their neighbours, and un-
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mindful that the safety of each, separately, can but be ensured by the mutual and united support of the whole. There is, indeed, little difference between the peasant and the soldier; and the former, in defence of his town or village, and fighting, pro aris et focis, makes, perhaps, the best soldier of the two. The population of the Morea is about 600,000; that of the principal Islands, Hydra, Ipsara, and Spezzia, 60,000; and of their remaining possessions in Roumelia, about 100,000.

Tripolizza is the largest town in the Morea: its population was once 40,000. It is surrounded by a stone wall, and has a small fort; but its defence is in the long and narrow defiles and mountain passes, that must be traversed to gain access to the plain, in the middle of which it is situated. The greater part of the town has been burnt and destroyed by the Greeks themselves; and most of the towns of Greece have shared the same fate: the best houses being de-
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stroyed for no more sensible reason than that once they had been inhabited by Turks. Napoli di Romania is a strong fortress; the houses are very high, the streets narrow and dirty, and it is very unhealthy. Navarino, from possessing an excellent and spacious harbour, is a place of great importance: it is indifferently fortified, and badly supplied with water. The town of Patras is entirely destroyed; the castle is a place of no strength, and commanded by an adjacent hill. The fortress of Corinth is in this warfare a place of little importance. Napoli di Romania is a strong place; but none of the fortresses had a week’s provision, and the was in a most dilapidated and almost useless state. The Greeks manufacture a coarse gunpowder, but have no founderies. The position of Messolunghi in Roumelia is excellent for defence, being situated on a jet of land, and surrounded by shoals and shallow lagunes. The town is a badly built and unhealthy place; the
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streets, in winter, being complete canals of mud. It has been fortified by the Greek themselves, and is sufficiently strong against the Turks. The defence made there chiefly by the Suliotes, under
Marco Botzari, before the present fortifications existed, was most gallant. When they were only protected by a ditch of about twenty feet, and a slight parapet of new-made earth thrown up in the face of an overpowering force, Marco Botzari passed two months of bad weather, with no covering but his cloak; his food, bad bread and bad water; and his nights spent in constant vigil behind this fragile defence. On the assault of the Turks, wherever the danger was most pressing, the voice of Botzari was heard, animating his friends, and striking terror into his enemies, to whom he was personally known. Great credit is due to Mavrocordato, for the skill he displayed in protracting their treaty to surrender, till at last relieved.

Lepanto is a small town, and might be easily
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taken. Salona is not fortified; it was once a very large and fine town, but is at present nearly destroyed. The Acropolis of Athens is a strong fortress, well provisioned; and since the Greeks have had possession, they have discovered water in it, from the want of which the Turks capitulated. Thebes, Megara, Livadia, and all the towns in that plain, are entirely destroyed. A Prefect is now appointed to the principal town of every district, an office of which the military chiefs and primates are very jealous; having been accustomed to be regarded by the inhabitants as their rulers and arbiters, in all their concerns, though generally extortionate and unjust. The choice and creation of Prefects was an important measure towards the improvement of the situation of the people; but Greece unhappily affords very few persons possessing integrity and virtue enough to fill any office for the amelioration of her condition. In the large towns a commandant and com-
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missary of police have also been appointed, and custom-houses and officers along the coast. The decima, the tax enacted by the Government, is raised by farming out the villages and towns, which are generally purchased by the chiefs and primates in whose district they are situated; but, in the greater part of the country, the Government had not yet assumed sufficient power to collect its revenues.

The state of Greece bore some resemblance to the feudal times, and the mountain-chieftain and his followers, to the clans of our own Highlands; but distinguished by qualities the very opposites of the chivalric sense of honour, the good faith, and bravery of Scotland’s mountaineers.