Posts filed under 'Greece'

1943: Jerzy Iwanow (Georgios Ivanof)

2 comments January 4th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1943, Polish-born Greek resistance hero Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz was shot (or shot attempting to escape the Kaisariani execution ground, which amounts to pretty much the same thing) for a dramatic career fighting the occupation of Greece.

Iwanow (Polish) — or Georgios Ivanof — was the son of a Russian officer, but his parents divorced in his childhood, and mom married a Greek.

Jerzy was on his way to a cosmopolitan upbringing, mastering half a dozen languages and apparently just as many sports.

His athletic and linguistic prowess would both come in handy for derring-do missions (more Polish) in the Greek waters that saw him sink a German submarine and a destroyer with magnetic bombs. He even escaped the first two times he was captured.

Third time was a charm for the Nazis.

Sounds like celluloid material. As a matter of fact, a 1972 Polish film valorized Iwanow as Agent Nr. 1.

You can see the full movie on Veoh, if you’re prepared to install their viewing software.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Greece,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

c. 560 B.C.E.: Aesop, fabulist

2 comments December 28th, 2009 Headsman

On an unknown date around the 560s B.C.E., the storyteller Aesop is supposed to have been executed in Delphi by being hurled from the Hyampeia rock.

The semi-legendary fable-fashioner is not quite so irretrievable to history as, say, Homer, although assuredly many or all of the tales that have accrued under the heading “Aesop’s Fables” trace to origins other than this man.

Supposed to have lived from the late 7th to mid 6th centuries B.C.E., Aesop is first referenced by history’s first historian, Herodotus.

But by way of summation, we cannot improve upon Plutarch‘s succinct description of Aesop’s fate in his essay, “On God’s Slowness to Punish Evil”. (Available here; a different translation is free online here.)

I’m sure you know the story of how Aesop came here bringing gold from Croesus. He meant to make a magnificent offering to the god,* and also to give every inhabitant of Delphi four minas, but apparently he got angry and fell out with the locals; so he made the ritual offering, but sent the money back to Sardis, because he didn’t think that the people deserved a windfall. They then engineered a charge against him of temple robbery and executed him by pushing him from the famous cliff called Hyampeia.** Subsequently, the story goes on, divine wrath afflicted them with failed harvests and with all kinds of strange diseases, and as a result they used to visit all the festivals where Greeks were assembled and make an announcement inviting anyone who so wished to claim compensation from them for Aesop. Two generations later Idmon of Samos arrived at Delphi; not only was he not a relative of Aesop, but he was in fact a descendant of the people who had bought Aesop as a slave in Samos.† It was only when the Delphians had compensated him that their troubles ceased.‡ (We are also told that this incident was the reason for moving the place of punishment for temple robbers from Hyampeia to Aulia.)

There are many books and media under the Aesop’s Fables branding available for purchase, but you can also find the same content in the public domain at Gutenberg.org and elsewhere.

In any format, they’re timeless. “The Mischievous Dog”, for instance, could have been written especially for bloggers.

[audio:http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19616/mp3/19616-04.mp3]

* Referring to the sacred shrine occupied by the Oracle of Delphi, of course.

** When visiting Delphi, look for Hyampeia marked on your tourist map as “Phleboukos”, one of the Phaedriades surrounding the sacred site. Hyampeia/Phleboukos towers above the Castalian spring. It’s high.

† Besides being a slave, Aesop (at least, the Aesop as legend accumulated) was afflicted with other disadvantages suitable to elevate his mythological wisdom. According to The Life of Aesop:

AESOP (according to Planudes, Cameraius and others) was by Birth, of Ammorius, a Town in the greater Phrygia; (though some will have him to be a Thracian, others a Samian) of a mean Condition, and his Person deformed, to the highest degree: Flat-nos’d, hunch-back’d, blobber-lipp’d; a long mishapen Head; his Body crooked all over, big-belly’d, badger-legg’d, and his Complexion so swarthy, that he took his very Name from’t; for Aesop is the same with Aethiop. And he was not only unhappy in the most scandalous Figure of a Man, that ever was heard of; but he was in a manner Tongue-ty’d too, by such an Impediment in his Speech, that People could very hardly understand what he said.

Be sure to check The Life‘s account of Aesop’s demise, with the undiplomatic Aesop having enraged his hosts with his poor opinion of their digs … and the fables he tells in his defense falling very flat: “He was speaking on, but they pushed him off headlong from the Rock, and he was dashed to pieces with the Fall.”

‡ The Delphians’ search for compensation is directly described by Herodotus’ Histories, written little more than a century after Aesop’s death. Though the execution story itself could be apocryphal, its presence in Herodotus at least makes Greeks’ belief in the event as a real one of their recent past about as credibly documented as anything from 2500+ years ago.

That Aesop belonged to Iadmon is proved by many facts — among others, by this. When the Delphians, in obedience to the command of the oracle, made proclamation that if any one claimed compensation for the murder of Aesop he should receive it, the person who at last came forward was Iadmon, grandson of the former Iadmon, and he received the compensation. Aesop therefore must certainly have been the former Iadmon’s slave.

Evidently, Aesop’s reputation for sagacious wit was well-established in the 5th century B.C. Aristophanes makes respectful references to Aesop in his plays The Wasps, Peace and The Birds — in the latter, the birds’ ignorance is underscored because they haven’t read their Aesop.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Artists,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Greece,History,Myths,Popular Culture,Precipitated,Public Executions,Slaves,Summary Executions,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1178 B.C.E.: Penelope’s suitors, by Odysseus

Add comment April 16th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1178 B.C.E., according to some enterprising astronomers, the Greek hero Odysseus returned home to Ithaca from a 20-year absence and slaughtered the suitors who had taken up lodgings in his palace.

The date was asserted in 2008 based on astronomical clues in the text of Homer’s Odyssey.

This sort of putative historical specificity extracted from what could as well be read as literary devices — e.g., an eclipse — for a literary episode might gratify an advocate of “the higher naivete”, but the reader is well entitled to doubt.

Similarly, and more specifically for this venue, is the problem of whether the summary justice exacted by a Bronze Age chieftain meets the definition of an “execution”. This dubious case is resolved here by the unique subject matter.

Crafty quasi- (or altogether) mythical hero Odysseus (aka Ulysses), having left a generation before for the decade-long Trojan War which he finally resolved with the famous Trojan Horse strategem, then spent the next decade wandering about the sea en route to his home island.

When he gets there, he finds that 108 ill-mannered suitors have moved in, dissipated his fortune in merrymaking, and have ceaselessly dogged his faithful wife (and presumed widow) Penelope to remarry one of them.*

Together with his now-grown son Telemachus, Odysseus punishes them terribly .

“Dogs, did you think that I should not come back from Troy? You have wasted my substance, have forced my women servants to lie with you, and have wooed my wife while I was still living. You have feared neither God nor man, and now you shall die.”

They turned pale with fear as he spoke, and every man looked round about to see whither he might fly for safety, but Eurymachus alone spoke.

“If you are Ulysses,” said he, “then what you have said is just. We have done much wrong on your lands and in your house. But Antinous who was the head and front of the offending lies low already. It was all his doing. It was not that he wanted to marry Penelope; he did not so much care about that; what he wanted was something quite different, and Jove has not vouchsafed it to him; he wanted to kill your son and to be chief man in Ithaca. Now, therefore, that he has met the death which was his due, spare the lives of your people. We will make everything good among ourselves, and pay you in full for all that we have eaten and drunk. Each one of us shall pay you a fine worth twenty oxen, and we will keep on giving you gold and bronze till your heart is softened. Until we have done this no one can complain of your being enraged against us.”

Ulysses again glared at him and said, “Though you should give me all that you have in the world both now and all that you ever shall have, I will not stay my hand till I have paid all of you in full. You must fight, or fly for your lives; and fly, not a man of you shall.”

The suitors fight back, and most of the resulting deaths occur in the fray. But it’s about as one-sided as the contest on any proper scaffold.

As eagle-beaked, crook-taloned vultures from the mountains swoop down on the smaller birds that cower in flocks upon the ground, and kill them, for they cannot either fight or fly, and lookers on enjoy the sport — even so did Ulysses and his men fall upon the suitors and smite them on every side. They made a horrible groaning as their brains were being battered in, and the ground seethed with their blood.

And if many of the doomed die with their boots on, there are at least a couple of specific instances that clearly have a summary-execution character.

Leiodes then caught the knees of Ulysses and said, “Ulysses I beseech you have mercy upon me and spare me. I never wronged any of the women in your house either in word or deed, and I tried to stop the others. I saw them, but they would not listen, and now they are paying for their folly. I was their sacrificing priest; if you kill me, I shall die without having done anything to deserve it, and shall have got no thanks for all the good that I did.”

Ulysses looked sternly at him and answered, “If you were their sacrificing priest, you must have prayed many a time that it might be long before I got home again, and that you might marry my wife and have children by her. Therefore you shall die.”

With these words he picked up the sword that Agelaus had dropped when he was being killed, and which was lying upon the ground. Then he struck Leiodes on the back of his neck, so that his head fell rolling in the dust while he was yet speaking.

The minstrel Phemius, whose services had been procured by force, has better luck pleading for clemency when Telemachus intervenes before Odysseus can give him the chop. But the explorer’s son has no use at all for twelve corrupt handmaids who have abetted the suitors’ predations. I like this version in the chilling verse form quoted by Dr. Samuel Haughton in an 1866 paper on hanging that weirdly goes on to produce the physics necessary to demonstrate the intuitively obvious point that this must have required the main rope to anchor to pillars between each suspended noose, rather than all twelve on a single line.

…leading forth
The women next, they shut them close between
The lofty wall and scullery, narrow, straight,
And dreadful, whence no prisoner might escape.
Then, prudent, thus Telemachus advised:
 The death of honour would I never grant
To criminals like these, who poured contempt
On mine and on my mother’s head, and lay
By night enfolded in the suitors’ arms.
 He said, and noosing a strong galley rope
To a huge column, led the cord around
The spacious dome, suspended so aloft,
That none with quivering feet might reach the floor.
As when a flight of doves entering the copse,
Or broad-winged thrushes, strike against the net
Within; ill rest, entangled, there they find;
So they, suspended by the neck, expired
All in one line together. Death abhorred!
With restless feet awhile they beat the air,
Then ceased.

On whatever date imagined, or strictly as fiction, this whole bloodbath fixes the climax of one of seminal works of the western literary canon.

The excerpts quoted here are from the Internet Classics Archive; multiple versions of both The Odyssey and The Iliad are available on Gutenberg.org … they’ve even done The Odyssey as a TV miniseries.

* This site claims that there’s at least one alternate tradition in which the famously virtuous Penelope — wasn’t.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Fictional,Greece,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Myths,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Not Executed,Pelf,Power,Put to the Sword,Scandal,Sex,Shot with Arrows,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,Uncertain Dates

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1952: Nikos Beloyannis, the man with the carnation

2 comments March 30th, 2009 Headsman

Before dawn on this date in 1952, four Greek Communists were shot outside Athens for treason.

Nikos (Nicholas) Beloyannis (or Mpeloyannis), the most prominent among them, spent a goodly portion of his adult life in prison for his subversive opinions — first at the hands of the interwar Greek nationalist government, then the Nazi occupation, then the British.

His many years’ service to communism was, unbeknownst to him, even then being horse-traded away as Stalin and Churchill carved up post-World War II spheres of influence.

Uncle Joe ceded Greece to the West — so the reds were left dangling during the Greek Civil War, and guys like Nikos got fitted for left martyrology.


The Execution of Beloyannis, by Peter de Francia.

“The man with the carnation” — it was his signature prop at the mass show trial where he drew a death sentence for “conspiring to overthrow by force the present regime in Greece.”

The trial, and the outcry that greeted its swift and questionable resolution, helped establish an enduring international reputation among fellow-travelers.

(From The Man With The Carnation, released after the fall of the Papadapoulos dictatorship.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Greece,History,Martyrs,Politicians,Power,Shot,Treason,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1798: Rigas Feraios, Greek poet

Add comment June 13th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1798, the Greek revolutionary Rigas Feraios and five co-conspirators were strangled by their Ottoman captors on the Danube River en route to Constantinople to prevent their rescue.

A Vlach by blood, Feraios was a hero — and ultimately a martyr — of Greek independence years before the revolution against Ottoman rule that would deliver it.

A Renaissance man for the Greek Enlightenment, Feraios had a variegated youthful career knocking about the Ottomans’ Balkan possessions and absorbing the revolutionary Zeitgeist abroad in Europe.

Settling in Vienna in his mid-thirties, he brandished his pen in the service of an imagined pan-Balkan, pan-Hellenic uprising to shake off the Turkish yoke. He edited the first Greek newspaper, published a map* and constitution for the imagined realm of the “Inhabitants of Rumeli, Asia Minor, the Islands of the Aegean, and the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia”, and churned out blood-stirring poetry in Demotic, the vernacular tongue — most memorably, the Thourio, i.e., “War Hymn”.

… and a little taste of the gist, in English:

How long, my heroes, shall we live in bondage,
alone,like lions on ridges, on peaks?
Living in caves, seeing our children turned
from the land to bitter enslavement?
Losing our land, brothers, and parents,
our friends, our children, and all our relations?
Better an hour of life that is free
than forty years in slavery.

This sort of fire-breather is not the sort of man the Ottomans were keen on seeing involve himself with Bonaparte, most especially now that the French kingpin had started outfitting Oriental adventures. The Turks’ Austrian allies nabbed Feraios in Trieste en route to confer with Napoleon’s Italian subalterns about interfering in the Balkans.

Shipped to the governor of Belgrade, Feraios was to be sent to Constantinople for adjudication by Sultan Selim III. A Turkish buddy of the poet’s, however, happened to be blocking the way with a sizable force of his own who’d been administering a rebel statelet carved out of Ottoman territory. Tipped that this gentleman was keen to liberate the Turks’ unwelcome prisoners if they tried to pass, the local authorities had them summarily strangled and their bodies dumped in the Danube.


A Rigas Feraois monument in Belgrade. (Author’s photograph, in terrible light.)

* Including Constantinople. The dream of “Greater Greece” would persist long, and die hard.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Greece,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Strangled,Summary Executions,Torture,Treason

Tags: , , , , , ,

325: Licinius, Constantine’s last obstacle

3 comments April 1st, 2008 Headsman

On an uncertain date in the spring of 325, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great had his onetime co-emperor — and now prisoner — Licinius executed for a purportedly treasonable plot.

In the system of tetrarchy whereby the Roman world was divided in two, each half governed by an Augustus with a lieutenant Caesar, Constantine and Licinius had established themselves as masters of the west and the east, respectively.

History, which records Constantine as the vessel of Christianity’s political triumph, recommends religious faction as the cause of the strife between them: the two had jointly promulgated the Edict of Milan establishing religious toleration, but their realms had become poles of the two hostile religions — rising Christendom gathering under Constantine’s banner; the pagan world it would supplant dominant under Licinius. The latter is said to have reneged his toleration, though not necessarily to the extent of a full persecution.

Whether we can accept religious policy as a cause sufficient to throw the Roman world into civil war, or suspect more prosaic rivalries over land and power, the two were at one another’s throats before long. Conflicts, invariably won by Constantine, and truces stabilizing an increasingly one-sided balance of power, punctuated the fraying relationship during the decade before Licinius’ decisive defeat.

Upon his deposition, Licinius was allowed to live, courtesy of the offices of his wife, Constantine’s half-sister — legacy of bygone imperial marital politics — but his confinement in Thessalonica didn’t last long.

Fifth-century Greek historian Socrates Scholasticus describes the former emperor’s allegedly treasonable end:

Accordingly he having taken him alive, treated him with the utmost humanity, and would by no means put him to death, but ordered him to take up his abode and live in tranquillity at Thessalonica. He having, however, remained quiet a short time, managed afterwards to collect some barbarian mercenaries and made an effort to repair his late disaster by a fresh appeal to arms. The emperor being made acquainted with his proceedings, directed that he should be slain, which was carried into effect. Constantine thus became possessed of the sole dominion, and was accordingly proclaimed sovereign Autocrat.

Writing much later, Gibbon had a more skeptical interpretation of this convenient execution:

[Licinius’] confinement was soon terminated by death, and it is doubtful whether a tumult of the soldiers, or a decree of the senate, was suggested as the motive for his execution. According to the rules of tyranny, he was accused of forming a conspiracy, and of holding a treasonable correspondence with the barbarians; but as he was never convicted, either by his own conduct or by any legal evidence, we may perhaps be allowed, from his weakness, to presume his innocence. The memory of Licinius was branded with infamy, his statues were thrown down, and by a hasty edict, of such mischievous tendency that it was almost immediately corrected, all his laws, and all the judicial proceedings of his reign, were at once abolished. By this victory of Constantine, the Roman world was again united under the authority of one emperor, thirty-seven years after Diocletian had divided his power and provinces with his associate Maximian.

It was upon Licinius’ tomb that Constantine built that legacy so fundamental to the western world down to the present day. That same pregnant year of 325, he would summon the Council of Nicea, establishing Christian orthodoxy in a pact with temporal power; soon after, he built up Constantinople, to which he then relocated his court and transferred to the future Byzantine Empire such brio as still persisted in the listing hulk of Rome.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Greece,Heads of State,History,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Political Expedience,Power,Roman Empire,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason

1957: Evagoras Pallikarides, teenage guerrilla poet

3 comments March 14th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1957, Cypriot guerrilla Evagoras Pallikarides was hanged by British colonial authorities for gun possession.

As it was throughout the Empire in the middle 20th century, independence was the order of the day in Cyprus. But it was not simply whether there would be self-rule in Cyprus: the form and terms of independence were themselves hotly contested.

Cyprus would be a fresh battleground between those bitter rivals Turkey and Greece, each asserting an interest in their ethnic cousins on the island; overlapping that, it would be a battleground between the institutional Communist opposition AKEL, which opposed military action for separatism, and the nationalist EOKA, demanding not simply independence but enosis, union with Greece as part of the pan-Hellenic project so inflammatory to the Turks.

From 1955 to 1959, EOKA conducted a four-year campaign of bombing, assassinations and military engagements.

As a 17-year-old, Palikarides — already facing trial and likely prison time for his resistance activities — disappeared to join an EOKA guerrilla cell. A poetic young soul, he bid his classmates farewell with this note left to explain his absence on their first morning without him:

Old classmates. At this time, someone is missing from among you, someone who has left in search of freedom’s air, someone who you might not see alive again. Don’t cry at his graveside. It won’t do for you to cry. A few spring flowers scatter on his grave. This is enough for him …

I’ll take an uphill road
I’ll take the paths
To find the stairs
That lead to freedom

I’ll leave brothers, sisters
My mother, my father
In the valleys beyond
And the mountainsides

Searching for freedom
I’ll have as company
The white snow
Mountains and torrents

Even if it’s winter now
The summer will come
Bringing Freedom
To cities and villages

I’ll take an uphill road
I’ll take the paths
To find the stairs
That lead to freedom

I’ll climb the stairs
I’ll enter a palace
I know it will be an illusion
I know it won’t be real

I’ll wonder in the palace
Until I find the throne
Only a queen
Sitting on it

Beautiful daughter, I will say,
Open your wings
And take me in your embrace
That’s all I ask …

Pallikarides fought for a year before being apprehended with a gun illegally in his possession — a hanging crime under British anti-terrorism laws, but as Pallikarides was just the ninth (and last) EOKA man executed, it seems plain that law was not receiving draconian enforcement. At least one author claims that the authorities threw the book at him on the gun charge because of a murder they believed he committed as a guerrilla but could not prove.

The fact that he turned 19 a fortnight before his execution likewise did not avail him clemency — as the young rebel predicted in court:

I know you will hang me. Whatever I did, I did as a Cypriot Greek fighting for liberty.

As youthful martyrs to nationhood are wont to become, Pallikarides (along with his poetry) lives on as a potent symbol to Greek Cypriots. Shortly after Cyprus achieved independence in 1960, his name and visage were affiliated with a Cyprus football club, Evagoras (which later merged with another club to become AEP Paphos).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Cyprus,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Greece,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Terrorists,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

401 B.C.E.: Clearchus of Sparta

2 comments December 15th, 2007 Headsman

Around this time in the late autumn or early winter some weeks following the Battle of Cunaxa, the general of a Greek mercenary army — along with most of its other commanders — was treacherously seized by a Persian satrap and summarily beheaded.

In the train of the Peloponnesian War‘s devastation, sturdy Greek hoplites with bills to pay found a lucrative gig backing a Persian prince‘s bid to seize the throne.

The prince marched the Hellenes deep into Persia before falling in battle at Cunaxa in Mesopotamia, a discomfiting scenario alike for the stranded but still-potent invading army and the somewhat outclassed Persians.

The seizure around this day of the veteran soldier and former tyrant of Byzantium Clearchus — lured under color of friendship — aimed to crush the Greeks’ morale, but instead feathered the laurels of “the Ten Thousand”. This “marching Republic” hastily self-organized and proceeded upon an astonishing escape, intrepidly fighting its way north over the ensuing year to the Black Sea, and thence to hearth and home.

The Greeks’ perseverance offers one of classical antiquity’s stock testimonies to the resilient polis — and at this stage, practically the last breath of that dying spirit. More to the immediate point, it illustrated strikingly the Persian army’s vulnerability to the phalanx, exploited to decisive effect in the century to come by Alexander the Great.

One of the replacement generals, Xenophon, immortalized the Greeks’ march in the Anabasis.

After the generals had been seized, and the captains and soldiers who formed their escort had been killed, the Hellenes lay in deep perplexity — a prey to painful reflections. Here were they at the king’s gates, and on every side environing them were many hostile cities and tribes of men. Who was there now to furnish them with a market? Separated from Hellas by more than a thousand miles, they had not even a guide to point the way. Impassable rivers lay athwart their homeward route, and hemmed them in. Betrayed even by the Asiatics, at whose side they had marched with Cyrus to the attack, they were left in isolation. Without a single mounted trooper to aid them in pursuit: was it not perfectly plain that if they won a battle, their enemies would escape to a man, but if they were beaten themselves, not one soul of them would survive?

Haunted by such thoughts, and with hearts full of despair, but few of them tasted food that evening; but few of them kindled even a fire, and many never came into camp at all that night, but took their rest where each chanced to be. They could not close their eyes for very pain and yearning after their fatherlands or their parents, the wife or child whom they never expected to look upon again. Such was the plight in which each and all tried to seek repose.

The tale’s motif was borrowed for a 1965 novel of a New York gang struck leaderless making its way out of hostile territory, later adapted for a cult 1970’s film:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,Heads of State,History,Mass Executions,Mercenaries,No Formal Charge,Persia,Politicians,Power,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Uncertain Dates,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1922: Six Greek former ministers of state

11 comments November 28th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1922,* on the morning after a revolutionary tribunal held them liable for treason in the catastrophic Greek loss of Smyrna, six former high-ranking political and military officials of the Greek government were shot in Athens.

The long-running national conflict between liberals and monarchists had boiled over during World War I, setting the stage for increasingly bitter internecine conflict played out against the backdrop of a misbegotten foreign adventure.

Greece’s territorial aspirations after World War I.

As the Ottoman Empire — Greece’s neighbor and historical rival — collapsed in the aftermath of the world war, Athens under liberal colossus Eleftherios Venizelos set her sights on a vast pan-Hellenic domain spanning Constantinople, western Anatolia, and the Black Sea coast.

In 1919, backed — even pushed — by the British, Greece occupied Smyrna, a multiethnic economic hub in Asia Minor. But cruelty towards the Turkish population sparked immediate resistance which soon blended insensibly into the burgeoning Turkish National Movement, already on the path towards its destiny of forging the modern state of Turkey.

As the Greek army pressed outwards from Smyrna, it became drawn into full-fledged war. In 1920, the Greek government turned over (as it was often wont to do) and under the ascendant monarchists whose irredentism was not to be upstaged “fantasy began to direct Greek policy” — like a quixotic scheme to march on Constantinople rather than hold a defensible position. Greece’s European allies and sponsors began to cut bait.

September 14, 1922: Smyrna burns.

Far from threatening Constantinople, the Greeks suffered one of their greatest disasters — the “Catastrophe of Asia Minor”, when Ataturk drove them back to, and then out of, Smyrna, emptying the once-cosmopolitan city of thousands of Greek (and Armenian) refugees fleeing a sectarian carnage. Some swam out of the burning city only to be refused aid by ships of nations unwilling to be drawn into the affair politically.

In the dismayed Greek capital, anti-monarchist officers who had been purged by the new government revolted and rounded up the opposition’s leadership. “The Six” who faced public trial for treason included three former Prime Ministers:

With two other ministers of state and a general, they comprised all but one member of the offending monarchist government, a bloody thoroughness the New York Times compared to Robespierre. Western governments temporarily broke off relations.

After the day’s bloody deeds, Venizelos returned from exile to conclude the war on Turkish terms, including “population exchange” — fragrant euphemism — to solidify each government’s demarcation as a nation-state and ratify the destruction of Smyrna (renamed Izmir) as a multiconfessional melting pot.

Today, Smyrna is largely forgotten by those to whom it is not intensely remembered — and among the latter, its meaning is ferociously contested. To Turks, a chapter in their founding expulsion of foreign occupation; to Greeks, the calamitous end of the ancient Hellenic presence in Asia Minor; to each, a touchstone for one another’s atrocities; to others of a less parochial frame of mind, a parable of the perfidy of an entire enemy faith, or a subplot in the great game for Ottoman oil, or as Henry Miller conceived it writing in the antechamber of the second World War, the avatar of a stunted and cynical moral sense among European powers that would lead them to their next great reckoning:

Even the most ignorant yokel knows that the name Attila is associated with untold horrors and vandalism. But the Smyrna affair, which far outweighs the horrors of the first World War or even the present one, has been somehow soft-pedalled and almost expunged from the memory of present day man. The peculiar horror which clings to this catastrophe is due not alone to the savagery and barbarism of the Turks but to the disgraceful, supine acquiescence of the big powers.

Smyrna, like the Boxer Rebellion and other incidents too numerous to mention, was a premonitory example of the fate which lay in store for European nations, the fate which they were slowly accumulating by their diplomatic intrigues, their petty horse-trading, their cultivated neutrality and indifference in the face of obvious wrongs and injustices.

*Greece did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1923, the last European country to do so — so the date in Greece on the day of the execution was actually November 15.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Greece,Heads of State,Mass Executions,Notable Jurisprudence,Politicians,Power,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Next Posts


Calendar

November 2020
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!