Ottoman Greece

Ottoman Greece

Most of the territories today within modern Greece's borders were at least once part of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th century until its declaration of independence in 1821, a historical period also known as Tourkokratia (Greek: Τουρκοκρατία, "Turkish rule"). Some regions, however, like Corfu in the North-West or Mani in the South or were never part of the Ottoman administration.

The Byzantine Empire, the successor to the ancient Roman Empire who 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 at 1371 on the Maritsa River — where the Serb forces were led by the King Vukasin Mrnjavcevic, the father of Prince Marko and the co-ruler of the last emperor from the Serbian Nemanjic dynasty. This was followed by another Ottoman victory in the 1389 Battle of Kosovo.

With no further threat by the Serbs and the subsequent Byzantine civil wars, the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453 and 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 1500 most of the plains and islands of Greece were in Ottoman hands. The mountains of Greece were largely untouched, and were a refuge for Greeks to flee foreign rule and engage in guerrilla warfare.

Cyprus fell in 1571, and the Venetians retained Crete until 1669. The Ionian Islands were only briefly ruled by the Ottomans (Kefalonia from 1479 to 1481 and from 1485 to 1500), and remained primarily under the rule of the Republic of Venice.

Ottoman Greece was a multiethnic and multicultural society; apart from Greeks and Turks, there were many Jews, Italians (especially Venetians), Armenians, and various Balkan peoples (Serbs, Albanians, Gypsies, Bulgarians etc.). All these communities lived generally in harmony, but not without occasional conflicts. Despite losing their political independence, the Greeks remained dominant in the fields of commerce and business. The consolidation of Ottoman power in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries rendered the Mediterranean safe for Greek shipping, and Greek shipowners became the maritime carriers of the Empire, making tremendous profits. 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.

The years of Ottoman rule are traditionally viewed in a negative light, a dark time of cultural and economic decline. The Greeks remained committeed to their Orthodox Christian faith and resented the Ottoman state religion of Islam, considering it violent, oppressive and averse to the traditional Greek spirit of liberty and enjoyment . Islamic leaders in turn feared the influence of the "pleasure-loving" Greeks on the Muslims.

This period of Ottoman occupation 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 occupied Greece were the prokritoi (πρόκριτοι in Greek) called kocabasis 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 and Slavic.

Read more about Ottoman Greece:  Ottoman Rule, Ottoman Decline, Uprisings Before 1821, The War of Independence

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