Posts filed under 'Greece'

1825: Odysseus Androutsos

Add comment June 5th, 2020 Headsman

On this date* in 1825, Greek revolutionary Odysseus (or Odysseas) Androutsos was summarily executed as a traitor by his comrades.

Fruit of Ithaca like the immortal hero of the same name, Androutsos joined the uprising that became the Greek War of Independence and repelled the numerically overwhelming forces of the cruel Ottoman governor Ali Pasha that had lately crushed Athanasios Diakos.

This upstart victory at the Battle of Gravia Inn might have been decisive in saving the independence bid from being destroyed in its cradle. In its day it established Androutsos as one of the major commanders of the revolution, good enough for unprincipled English rogue and Lord Byron crony Edward John Trelawny to fall in with long enough to marry Androutsos’s sister.**

According to the Scottish historian George Finlay — another British interloper in this war — many of the warlords who prosecuted Greek’s revolution are best viewed in the perspective of klephts or hajduks: an archetype combining anti-Ottoman insurgent and opportunistic brigand, making for themselves on treacherous terrain. “Odysseus never attached any importance to political independence and national liberty,” Finlay opines. “His conduct from the commencement of the Revolution testified that he had no confidence in its ultimate success. He viewed it as a temporary revolt, which might be rendered conducive to his own interests.”

Installed in eastern Greece, it was only natural that such a figure would consider cutting deals with the Ottomans. Androutsos’s brief and little-harmful defection was prosecuted as treason by his comrades — his execution on Athens’s Acropolis conducted by his former second-in-commannd, Yannis Gouras — but countrymen down the years have been quite a bit more understanding. The Greek government reconsidered its malediction and in 1865 reburied Androutsos with honors; his grave is never since to be found without the garlands of admiring posterity.

* June 5 is the Julian date, an exception from our normal Gregorian preference in the 19th century because, well, it’s a national hero of an Orthodox polity. Nevertheless, the Gregorian June 17 can be found mentioned here and there, including even on Androutsos’s cemetery stele.

** Trelawny dumped her when his Greek holiday had run its course, and he returned to England a bachelor.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Greece,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1935: Three Venizelist officers

Add comment April 24th, 2020 Headsman

Greek Venizelist generals Anastasios Papoulas and Miltiadis Koimisis, and major Stamatis Volanis, were shot on April 24, 1935, for a failed coup attempted weeks earlier.

The Liberal titan of the Greek polity over the preceding quarter-century, Eleftherios Venizelos had forged and politically dominated the post-monarchy Hellenic Republic. The last of his several turns as Prime Minister had ended two years previous amid the wrack of the Great Depression; now, Greece was led by the center-right government of Panagis Tsaldaris who seemed keen on midwifing the return of the deposed ex-king.*

The tense relations between monarchists and republicans were catalyzed by an unsuccessful 1933 assassination attempt on Venizelos …

… and this in turn drove the republican/Venizelist faction to contemplate more desperate measures. General Nikolaos Plastiras, who had the considerable credential of having led the successful 1922 rising against the monarchy, led a failed coup in 1933 and then from exile coordinated with a second putsch attempt on March 1, 1935. Venizelos himself had coordinated with the latter attempt in the preceding months and supported it when it was launched — triggering a furious backlash that included the release from prison of his would-be assassins.

More importantly, the coup failed to command critical mass of loyalty from the armed forces.

Although the casualties of this rising numbered in the single digits, the revenge upon it was wide-ranging.

Two officers committed suicide and three more were court-martialled and executed. Among them were the leading figures of Republican Defence, Generals A. Papoulas and M. Kimissis, who had done nothing during the evening of 1 March 1935 … their death sentence was an act of anti-Venizelist vengeance. Both Papoulas (a royalist before 1922) and Kimissis had in different ways been instrumental in the execution of the six prominent royalists in 1922 [after Greece attempted to seize parts of Asia Minor from the collapsing Ottoman Empire, with disastrous results -ed.]. Cavalry Major S. Volanis, who was left to rebel alone against the authorities of Thessaloniki, was also executed. Between 10 March and 14 May, when martial law was finally lifted, 1130 officers and civilians were tried. Sixty were sentenced to death, of whom fifty-five — including Venizelos and Plastiras — had already fled abroad, and two were pardoned. Fifty-seven were sentenced to life imprisonment and seventy-six were given light terms.

-Paschalis M. Kitromilides, Eleftherios Venizelos: The Trials of Statesmanship

The failure of their attempt and the wide purge that followed opened the path for the return of the monarchy that they had so feared: after a rigged plebiscite, Greece had her king back on November 30 of that same year. Venizelos died in exile a few months later.

* Chased into exile repeatedly throughout his reign — during World War I, by Venizelos’s Republic, and again during World War II — King George II was famous for his quip that “the most important tool for a King of Greece is a suitcase.” He’s the cousin of current British royal consort Prince Philip.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,History,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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1821: Patriarch Gregory V, in his vestments

Add comment April 10th, 2020 Headsman

The Ottoman Empire besmirched this date in 1821* by launching the Constantinople Massacre of Orthodox Greeks, prominently including the summary hanging of Patriarch Gregory V in his full clerical vestments — on Easter Sunday.


Gregory V approaching martyrdom, by Nikiforos Lytras.

On edge from the outbreak just days earlier of the rebellion that would become the Greek War of Independence, Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II came down on the Greeks within his empire like a ton of bricks. He demanded a religious fatwa licensing a general massacre, a demand that the Sheikh ul-Islam courageously refused. (It cost him his own life to do so.)

Trapped frightfully in the middle of this was the Patriarch, 75 years old and no revolutionary but with a delicate job to safeguard his flock. Fatwa or no — and Gregory’s own private mission to his Muslim counterpart had helped to block that dreadful order — his people stood at Mahmud’s mercy. With news of rebel advances reaching the Porte during Holy Week, Mahmud had the prelate seized during Easter liturgy, escorted outside, and hanged at the gate of the Patriarchate.


St. Peter’s Gate where Gregory suffered has never since been opened. (cc) image from Alessandro57.

On the same day, dozens of other Greek priests, merchants, and officials were summarily executed around Constantinople; one report described of that day that “[a]ll the Archbishops and Bishops who were in the Church on account of the celebration of Easter, were either executed or thrown into prison. The congregation fled out of the Church to the neighbouring houses of the priest, but many were murdered by the enraged populace.” This assault signaled the start of months of terrors ranging from official persecutions, harassment by Janissaries, pogroms, and frequent public executions of prominent Greek Christians that continued into the summer.

* It was April 10 by the Julian (O.S.) date that was still in use in the Orthodox world; by the Gregorian (N.S.) calendar, it’s April 22. We think the reasons to override our general preference for Gregorian dates in this era of history are self-explanatory, especially since the Patriarch has been canonized with a feast date of April 10.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Gibbeted,Greece,Hanged,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Summary Executions,Treason,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1452: Antonio Rizzo, cannonaded

Add comment December 8th, 2019 Headsman

From Charles Stanton in Medieval Maritime Warfare:


In the months preceding the final fall of Constantinople in 1453, the great Ottoman sultan Mehmed (II), the Conqueror, caused to be constructed in less than twenty weeks on the European bank of the Bosporus just north of the city a colossal castle which he called Bas-kesen, meaning ‘Decapitator’ or ‘Throat-cutter’. Later called Rumeli Hisar (‘Castle of the Roman Lands’), it stood opposite the Anadolu Hisar (‘Castle of Anatolia’), built in 1394 by his great-grandfather Bayezit I at the narrowest part of the strait (less than 1km across). It consisted of three main towers and fourteen smaller ones connected by inner and outer curtain walls, covering an area of 31,250 sq. m (almost 7.75 acres). The fortress still stands to this day, glowering down upon passing maritime traffic much as it did when it was completed on 31 August 1452.


The view from the still-standing fortress shows its commanding view over the narrow strait. (cc) image from Olga Petrovska.

The main tower in the middle was 22m (72ft) high and 23.3m (76ft 5 in) in diameter, with 6.5m (21ft 4in) thick walls. Named the Halil Pasha after the sultan’s vizier who built it, it stood closest to the shoreline. On it, Mehmed had positioned what were described as ‘bronze tubes capable of discharging balls weighing over six hundred pounds’. He then gave the citadel’s commander, one Firuz Aga, the following explicit instructions:

Do not allow ships sailing from the Hellespont [Dardanelles] to the Black Sea or from the Black Sea to the Hellespont, no matter under whose flag they may be sailing — Genoese, Venetian, Constantinopolitan, Kaffatinian, Trapezundian, Amisinian, Sinopean, or even under my own flag, and no matter what class they are — triremes, biremes, barques, or skiffs — to sail through without first lowering their sails and paying the customs duties; only after they have done so will you permit them to proceed on their way. Use the cannon to sink the ship that does not comply and submit.

Early the following November two Venetian ships destined for the Dardanelles ignored the injunction and passed through the Bosporus without stopping as ordered. Luckily, they survived the consequent cannonade. A third, carrying grain for Constantinople a short time later, was not so fortunate. The earlier experience had evidently served to provide Firuz Aga’s gunners with the proper range. A single stone from one of the cannon ‘shattered the ship’. The crew of thirty, including the captain, a certain Antonio Rizzo, were subsequently captured and taken to the sultan in Didymoteichos (in Thrace, about 37km or 23 miles south of Adrianople — modern Edirne). ‘He gave orders to behead them all except the captain whose life was to be taken by a stake through the anus,’ recorded a fifteenth-century chronicler known only as ‘Doukas’, who claimed he himself saw Rizzo’s rotting corpse only ‘a few days later’. The impact on maritime warfare was just as dramatic. The advent of a true ship-killing weapon spelled the end of one age and the beginning of another.

In his watershed study Gunpowder and Galleys, early modern military historian John Francis Guilmartin concluded that the one technological innovation most responsible for ushering in a new age of warfare was ‘the use of effective heavy cannon’. It was, therefore, fitting that Mehmed II employed perhaps the largest cannon ever built up to that point to vanquish the first great naval power of the passing medieval period. In his campaign to conquer Constantinople, the Ottoman sultan engaged a Hungarian engineer named Orban to produce a sort of supergun which could smash the several-feet thick Theodosian Walls that had protected the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire for a millennium. ‘In three months’ time a terrifying and extraordinary monster was forged,’ testified Doukas. Mehmed’s Greek biographer, Michael Kritovoulos, provided precise dimensions: the barrel was cast in bronze some 20cm (8in) thick; it measured about 8m (26ft 8in) long, with a bore at the muzzle of 76m (30in) in diameter. In a test, the cannon discharged a 544kg (1,200-pound) stone ball which burrowed itself almost 2m (6ft) into the ground over 1.6km (1m) away. Doukas said that thirty wagons pulled by sixty oxen and 200 men were required to haul it from Adrianople to Constantinople where it was positioned to batter the walls south of the Blachernae Palace.

Not content with this ostentatious display of military power, Mehmed then brought to bear the full force of his powerful new fleet. The Byzantines had barred the entrance to the Golden Horn with a giant iron chain suspended on wooden pontoons between two fortified towers, one on each side. (This chain currently resides in the Turkish Naval Museum of Istanbul.)


(cc) image from Henri Bergius.

A squadron of ten Greek warships was stationed outside it, while another sixteen from Genoa, Venice and other western maritime cities guarded it from inside. Previous Ottoman assaults on this defensive cordon had failed, so the sultan circumvented it by building a road of greased wooden logs across Galata Hill behind the Genoese colony of Pera on the side of the Golden Horn opposite the city. He then, on 22 April, had seventy to eighty ‘biremes on wheeled cradles’ hauled over said byway and into the harbour behind the chain. The manoeuvre demoralized the defenders and enabled Mehmed’s naval forces to attack the city’s sea walls from the Golden Horn at the same time that his army assaulted the land walls. Inevitably, Constantinople fell on 29 May 1453. Vanquished were the last vestiges of Byzantine imperial power and its maritime thalassocracy remained only as a distant memory.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Byzantine Empire,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gibbeted,Greece,Gruesome Methods,History,Impaled,Ottoman Empire,Power,Public Executions,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1852: The assassin of Korfiotaki

1 comment September 25th, 2019 Headsman

From a New York Times report of Nov. 13, 1852, corroborated by other press by foreign and domestic.

On September 25, 1852, in Athens, Greece, the unnamed assassin of Korfiotaki, one of King Otto of Greece‘s cabinet ministers, was executed under circumstances peculiarly horrible. Another murderer was guillotined under his eyes in order to lend and additional horror to his punishment. Nevertheless he managed, by some slight [sic] of hand, to throw off his chains, to draw a long knife, and to throw himself upon the executioner. The latter however dealt him a stunning blow just in time which knocked him backwards on the drawn knife of one of the executioners assistants. Between them both they speedily finished the condemned. The ceremony proper took place. His lifeless body suffered decapitation. The crowd had taken his side in his fight with the executioner and encouraged him by a volley of bravos, while the latter was saluted with a shower of hisses and execrations.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,Guillotine,History,Murder,Posthumous Executions,Public Executions,Put to the Sword

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1943: Amos Pampaloni, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin inspiration

Add comment September 21st, 2019 Headsman

Italian artillerist Amos Pampaloni, the real-life model for the title character of the novel and film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, miraculously survived execution on this date in 1943.

It occurred at the outset of the Cephalonia Massacre on September 21, 1943, which began a dayslong slaughter on that Greek island by German soldiers of their former Italian comrades. With some 5,000 victims, it’s one of the largest POW massacres of the Second World War.

Captain Pampaloni was among 500-odd officers deployed with the 12,000-strong Acqui Infantry Division. This formation had been part of fascist Italy’s invasion of Greece in 1940-41; after victory in that campaign, the Acqui Division occupied several Greek islands over the succeeding years, where German troops were also stationed.

The Pact of Steel uniting these powers melted abruptly in early September of 1943, when the Allies forced Italy into an armistice. For Italian forces standing in the field cheek-by-fascist epaulette, this forced a sudden and dangerous reckoning. Some units had barely even heard of the new situation before they were under German guns; in a best-case scenario, they had to decide within a few hours or days between radically different attitudes towards their up-to-now comrades-in-arms.

The Acqui on the Ionian island of Cephalonia (Kefalonia) was a case in point. In the days following the Italian armistice, the much larger German force presented its commanders an ultimatum to decide among three alternatives:

  1. Continue fighting alongside the Germans
  2. Fight against the Germans
  3. Surrender, disarm, and repatriate

While the last of these might seem the obvious course, disarming was contrary to the Italian high command’s ambiguous order neither to initiate hostilities with Germans, nor to cooperate with them. Moreover, the Cephalonia division got some reports in those confused days that the Germans weren’t always repatriating units that surrendered. The soldiery was polled on the options, and went for resistance.

Unfortunately the Italians were thoroughly outgunned in this fight, and the Allies refused to permit dispatching reinforcements from Italy that might easily be captured by the Germans. Within days the Acqui had been roughly brought to heel.

Outnumbered and suffering under accurate mortar fire, Pampaloni decided to surrender. The captain protested that it was against the rules of war when his men were systematically robbed of their wallets and watches, only to be told by the German commanding officer that those rules applied to prisoners, not to traitors.

The officer then shot the captain through the back of the neck, and the rest of his men, including the wounded, were mown down with machine gun fire. Miraculously still alive, Pampaloni remained conscious as a German soldier removed his own watch from his apparently lifeless body.

Captain Pampaloni was not, in fact, the only soldier from his company to survive. “The mule handlers were spared, because every mule responds best to his own master,” he said. “Ten minutes after the massacre the German soldiers left, singing.”

Captain Pampaloni went on to fight for a year with the Greek resistance on the mainland. Having witnessed the brutality of the conflict on Cephalonia, he was still shocked by the sight of partisans slitting the throats of German prisoners with their daggers — ammunition was too precious to be wasted on executions.

Cefalonia – crimine di guerra 1 from Va.Le. Cinematografica 78 on Vimeo.

Cefalonia – crimine di guerra 2 from Va.Le. Cinematografica 78 on Vimeo.

Numerous summary executions disgraced the German victory. (There’s a monument to the victims in Verona.) Our man Amos Pampaloni faced his on the first day of the general massacre; according to a 2001 profile in the Guardian,

Outnumbered and suffering under accurate mortar fire, Pampaloni decided to surrender. The captain protested that it was against the rules of war when his men were systematically robbed of their wallets and watches, only to be told by the German commanding officer that those rules applied to prisoners, not to traitors.*

The officer then shot the captain through the back of the neck, and the rest of his men, including the wounded, were mown down with machine gun fire. Miraculously still alive, Pampaloni remained conscious as a German soldier removed his own watch from his apparently lifeless body.

Captain Pampaloni was not, in fact, the only soldier from his company to survive. “The mule handlers were spared, because every mule responds best to his own master,” he said. “Ten minutes after the massacre the German soldiers left, singing.”

Captain Pampaloni went on to fight for a year with the Greek resistance on the mainland. Having witnessed the brutality of the conflict on Cephalonia, he was still shocked by the sight of partisans slitting the throats of German prisoners with their daggers — ammunition was too precious to be wasted on executions.

In the novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Pampaloni’s fictional imitator survives thanks to a noble comrade who hurls his body in front of the fusillade.

Pampaloni didn’t appreciate Mandolin all that much, owing to its hostile depiction of the Communist partisan movement that he joined after surviving his execution. For those seeking alternative literatures, there’s also a 1960s novelization of the Greek resistance on Cephalonia by Marcello Venturi; written in Italian (as Bandiera bianca a Cefalonia), it’s long out of print in English as The White Flag.

* Prior to the Italian armistice, the Italian forces on the island were working on an arrangement to obey German command structures; hence, the brutal treatment of Italian prisoners who could be conceived as not merely prisoners of war, but traitors or rebels unprotected by any law of war. A German directive had explicitly demanded as much: “because of the perfidious and treacherous behaviour on Kefalonia, no prisoners are to be taken.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Executions Survived,Germany,Greece,History,Italy,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1771: Daskalogiannis

Add comment June 17th, 2019 Headsman

The Crete patriot Ioannis Vlachos — better known as Daskalogiannis — lost his skin to the Turks on this date in 1771.

Statue of the D-man at Anopolis, Crete. (cc) image by AWI.

A wealthy shipping magnate, Daskalogiannis led the Cretan arm of the nationalist Orlov Revolt, which also featured on the Peloponnese. This affair is named not for any Greek but for the Russian admiral Alexei Orlov, who brought his fleet into the Mediterranean to engage the Turks during the 1768-1774 Russo-Turkish War, inspiring the Greek rising in the process.

Unfortunately for the rebels, some initial successes failed to catalyze a national revolution and Russian aid for the breakaway regions came up considerably short of what was pledged. While Orlov’s navy still harried Constantinople, Daskalogiannis for several months maintained a sort of autonomous redoubt from the mountain fastnesses around Sfakia with about 1,300 followers. By early 1771, he was forced to surrender himself at a gorgeous old Venetian fortress, then was taken to Heraklion and a horrific execution by flaying alive.

He’s commemorated in many street names in Crete, the name of the Chania International Airport, and a number of poems and folk ballads.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Flayed,Greece,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Torture,Treason,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1821: Athanasios Diakos, Greek War of Independence hero

Add comment April 24th, 2019 Headsman

Greek independence hero Athanasios Diakos died by Ottoman impalement on this date in 1821.*

Though he acquired his nickname Diakos (“deacon”) from a youthful spell in a monastery, this fellow Athanasios (English Wikipedia entry | Greek) while the Turks still governed Greece made his way as a klepht — Greece’s version of the Balkan hybrid outlaw/guerrilla archetype, similar to the hajduk figures among the South Slavs. All of these outlaw types took to the mountains where they could subsist as brigands and mercenaries beyond the reach of the Porte, and seek opportunities where they might to strike at Ottomans. Many of the Greek persuasion, Diakos included, adhered to the Filiki Eteria secret society that aspired to liberate Greece.

With the onset of the Greek War of Independence in early 1821, Diakos jumped right into the fight. Picturesquely, he met a much larger Turkish detachment in battle at Thermopylae where he made like Leonidas and with a handful of companions heroically held out against impossible odds at the Alamana Bridge.

Captured wounded, Diakos spurned the temptation of an officer’s commission in the Turkish army should he but switch sides with words that remain legendary in his homeland to this day: “I was born a Greek, I shall die a Greek.” He was impaled at the city of Lamia, fearlessly musing, “Look at the time Charon chose to take me, now that the branches are flowering, and the earth sends forth grass.”


The Apotheosis of Athanasios Diakos, by Konstantinos Parthenis (1933).

He’s a very famous and beloved figure in Greece, albeit much less so in parts beyond. The village where Diakos was allegedly born has been renamed for him full stop.

* The narratives I’ve seen run a bit hinkie between the Battle of Alamana on April 22 and the great klepht’s death on April 24 since there’s a two-day gap and everyone seems to agree that he was ordered for execution “the next day”. I’m sticking to the agreed death date here, which is universal, but as best I can discern the timeline alternatives for accounting the missing day appear to break down between the notion that Diakos was impaled on the 23rd and lingered on his spike overnight before death, and that it was not until the 23rd that the Ottoman commander had the opportunity to interrogate him and decide his fate and thus “the next day” was the 24th. I haven’t located a source that appears dispositive on this issue.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Greece,Gruesome Methods,Guerrillas,History,Impaled,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1800: Kyra Frosini, Ioannina socialite

Add comment January 11th, 2019 Headsman

The Greek socialite Kyra Frosini was executed in Ioannina on this date in 1800 as an adulteress.

Euphrosyne Vasileiou, to use her proper name, was the niece of the Bishop of Ioannina who made use of the frequent business absences of her wealthy Greek husband to carry on a torrid affair with the son of the Ottoman governor. This set her up to be the most famous prey in a dragnet when that legendary governor, Ali Pasha, decided that a morality crackdown was in order.

She was arrested along with 17 other women on January 10, and the very next night all save one were drowned at Ali Pasha’s order in Lake Pamvotida. It’s not known for certain why Ali Pasha did this, although it’s generally presumed that Kyra Frosini was the primary target for reasons surely ultimately tracing in some fashion to the sensitivity of her liaison.

Her death incensed the Greek community and it adhered itself in legend more than fact to that country’s growing national aspirations. She’s been the subject of various artistic products ever since, from verse to opera to screen; you’ll need Greek for the dialogue in this 1959 Grigoris Grigoriou product but the closing plummeting-into-water scenes translate visually.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drowned,Execution,Greece,History,Mass Executions,Ottoman Empire,Sex,Women

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1917: Dragutin “Apis” Dimitrijevic, of the Black Hand

3 comments June 26th, 2017 Headsman

A century ago today* Dragutin Dimitrijevic — better known by his code name “Apis” — was shot on the outskirts of Salonika (Thessaloniki) along with two lieutenants in his legendary Serbian terrorist organization, the Black Hand.

Not to be confused with mafia extortionists of the same name, the Black Hand was the cooler brand name of Ujedinjenje Ili Smrt — “Union or Death” in the Serbo-Croatian tongue, referring to the network’s objective of aggrandizing the small Kingdom of Serbia with their ethnic brethren who, circa the fin de siècle, still answered to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

This national aspiration would midwife the First World War.

Though it wasn’t formed as an institution until 1911** — it had its own constitution and everything — some of the Black Hand principals had entered the chessboard dramatically by conspiring in the 1903 assassination of the unpopular King Alexander Obrenovic and his consort Queen Draga. This operation is remembered as the May Coup and numbered among its leaders our very man, Apis. (English Wikipedia link| Serbian) Apis caught three bullets in the chest during the murderous palace invasion, but the hand wasn’t the only thing tough about him.

In victory, these conspirators grew into a powerful faction of a more bellicose state, the most militant exponents of Pan-Serbism — a spirit perforce directed against the Austrian polity, which called South Slavs subjects from Trieste to Montenegro. Belgrade, then as now the capital of Serbia, was at this point a border city, with the bulk of the future Yugoslavia lying to its north and west, in Austria-Hungary.

“We do not say that this war is declared yet, but we believe that it is inevitable. If Serbia wants to live in honour, she can do so only by this war,” Apis predicted to a newsman in 1912. “This war must bring about the eternal freedom of Serbia, of the South Slavs, of the Balkan peoples. Our whole race must stand together to halt the onslaught of these aliens from the north.”

I, (name), by entering into the society, do hereby swear by the Sun which shineth upon me, by the Earth which feedeth me, by God, by the blood of my forefathers, by my honour and by my life, that from this moment onward and until my death, I shall faithfully serve the task of this organisation and that I shall at all times be prepared to bear for it any sacrifice. I further swear by God, by my honour and by my life, that I shall unconditionally carry into effect all its orders and commands. I further swear by my God, by my honour and by my life, that I shall keep within myself all the secrets of this organisation and carry them with me into my grave. May God and my brothers in this organisation be my judges if at any time I should wittingly fail or break this oath.

-Black Hand induction oath

On the pregnant date of June 28, 1914, the Black Hand grasped at its historical destiny to redraw that noxious border when a cell of Bosnian Serbs whom Apis — a mere captain at the time of the 1903 coup, he by now commanded Serbian military intelligence — had dispatched for the purpose assassinated the Austrian heir presumptive Archduke Franz Ferdinand during his visit to the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

Their objective was the same as it had ever been, to avenge themselves upon their occupier. Moreover, Serbia had allied herself with Russia, and Vienna’s inevitable declaration of war over the provocation could be expected to draw Russia into a Great Power war, perhaps with the effect of shaking loose Austria’s Balkan provinces.

It did that, and it drew in the whole of Europe besides.

Apis’s assassins shattered the Habsburg empire and made possible a postwar Yugoslavian kingdom. That the Black Hand itself was one of the Great War’s casualties in the process was the littlest of ironies.

Its aggression had long placed it in a delicate relationship with the state which could never really be expected to acclimate to a permanent network of enragees looking to author wars and political murders.

By 1917 the Prime Minister Nikola Pasic saw an opening to move against Apis. Perhaps he feared resumed Black Hand subversion if Serbia negotiated a peace with Austria, or wanted to get rid of the guy who could tell exactly how much he, Pasic, knew about the Archduke’s assassination before it happened.

It was an effective ploy, no matter the reason. Alleging a bogus Black Hand plot to kill Serbia’s prince regent, a Serbian military investigation rolled up Dimitrijevic along with one of his original May Coup cronies, Ljobomir Vulovic and the alleged would-be assassin Rado Malobabic, a man who really had been involved in planning the Archduke Franz Ferdinand hit. Dimitrijevic was known to remark privately that whatever the charge sheet said, he was really being executed for that fateful day in Sarajevo.

The three condemned men stepped down into the ditches that had been dug for the purpose, and placed themselves in front of the stakes. Dimitrijevic on the right, Vulovic in the middle, and Malobabic on the left. After being blindfolded, Dimitrijevic and Vulovic cried: “Long live Greater Serbia!”

Malobabic succumbed after the first five shots, while the two others suffered longer, twenty shots having to be fired at each of them. No one was hit in the head. The execution was over at 4.47 in the morning.

Witness’s account of the execution

* Different sources proposing numerous different dates in June and even July can be searched up on these here interwebs. We’re basing June 26 on primary reportage in the English-language press (e.g., the London Times of June 28, 1917, under a June 26 dateline: “The Serbian Prince Regent having confirmed the death sentences passed on Colonel Dragutin Dimitriovitch, Major Liubomir Vulovitch, and the volunteer Malobabitch for complicity in a plot to upset the existing regime, these were executed this morning in the outskirts of Salonika”). The sentences were confirmed on June 24, and both that date and its local Julian equivalent June 11 are among the notional death dates running around in the wild.

** The Black Hand from 1911 was the successor to Narodna Odbrana (“National Defense”) which formed in 1908 in response to Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Greece,History,Infamous,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Serbia,Shot,Soldiers,Terrorists,Wartime Executions,Yugoslavia

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