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.

On this day..

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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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.

On this day..

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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