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history of Kolokotronis

THEODOROS KOLOKOTRONIS
(1770-1843)

Theodoros Kolokotronis is one of the greatest figures in the saga of Greek people’s Cause for freedom as well as of Modern Greek History.

He was born in 1770, the dire year of the premature Orlofian revolt for the Greek Nation, when Greeks paid a heavy blood tax in the aftermath of its failure. He himself says, “I was born in 1770, on April the 3rd, on the Easter Monday. The rebellion in the Peloponnese broke out in 1769. I was born under a tree on a mountain called Ramovouni, situated in old Messenia”.

His father, Konstantis Kolokotronis, fought against the Turks; his mother, Zambia nee Costakis, who was too restless to fit in the villages and forests of Arcadia, headed for Messenia while being in progressed pregnancy –“with the belly up to the mouth”, according to a local idiomatic expression– to meet old relatives and to take refuge at difficult times.

It was there on Mount Ramovouni that she gave birth to Theodoros (“the gift of God” for the enslaved Greeks), who has been regarded by the “shepherd dogs” of Malthe, his descendants for many years, among whom also Tasos Calambokis –the President of the Thessaloniki Peloponnesians’
Association today– is included. The mountains of Morias reared young Theodoros Kolokotronis. When the captain’s wife of their mother asked her children about when they meant to grow up and what they intended to do with the Turks oppressing their homeland, little Christos answered that he would bring her “seven Turkish heads”, John said he would bring one hundred of them and Theodoros uttered, “I won’t put slain heads into my bag because they stink; I’d rather oust the Turks from Morias as our father wanted”. He said so and did it. He was a disciple of the fearsome Zacharias. He had already
been an unfledged chieftain by 1785.

The immortal Greek folklore song provides us with his first brave action. It was the Easter feast of 1897. The song goes like this, “We’re well eating
and drinking and softly singing / why won’t we do something good; good to our souls? / People build up churches and also monasteries they do build /
and go up to guard the bridge of Tricha / through which the Voevoda with the chained men will pass / to cut off the chains and free the enslaved “, which was exactly what they did: they went and freed their brothers.

In 1806, cleverly evading persecution, he fled to Zakynthos, where he also summoned his wife, his three boys, Panos, Giannis and youngling Constantis
(the so-called Collinos), and two girls, out of whom Georgitsa assisted a friend of his, Ares Pharmakis. On returning to the Fioro di Levante (Flower
of the Levant, as the Venetians called Zakynthos), he becomes an officer in the British army and, then, “he stands at the Castle of Zakynthos/takes the binoculars and stares at Morias, /looks at the wide sea and at Morias far away…/is overwhelmed with grief and bursts into tears…. ”.

He took his vows as member of the Philiki Hetaeria before Reverend Anthemus, an Orthodox priest, at St. George, the Church of the Philiki , who
were preparing the Struggle without the aid of foreigners, knowing that “the greatness of nations is not counted by the hectare/ but by the fervour of
one’s heart and by the blood one sheds….”. When he blessed time came, it was the time when the caique setting sail for Morias was also bringing a
nation’s hopes and desires of many centuries with her.

Kolokotronis disembarked at Cardamoula, the well-known Cardamyle situated in the Messenian region of Mane, on the Epiphany Day. A Doxology liturgy was held outside the Aeropolis Church of the Taxiarchs and the flag of the revolted Greek patriots “for Christ Jesus’s Holy Faith and for the Freedom
of our dear Homeland” was hoisted. In the preface of his Memoirs, J. Makryiannis says: “Without virtue, painful concern for their dear homeland and
faith in their religion, nations do not exist”. The great time had come: the beginning of the Struggle was made with the blessings of the church. The revolutionaries entered and liberated the city of Calamata on the 23rd of March. Freedom measured hurriedly the enslaved land with the tremendous edge of the sword. An English historian wrote that “Tears of patriotism rolled down on the tough warriors cheeks”. In the aftermath of this religious and national rebaptism, Kolokotronis would lay matters fairly and squarely at the war council held in the Church of Aghii Apostoli (Holy Apostles), unfolding his plan to his co-warriors: the “snake” should be struck on the head - Tripolitsa (Tripolis), the heart of the Turkishoccupied Morias, had to be conquered at all costs.

A series of battles given at Vlachokerasia, Ai Thanasis (St. Athanasius) at Carystena, Sykia, the Pousi of Lala, Levidi, Valtetsi, Vervena, Doliana and Grana became the strong headlights scattering the darkness of the endless Passion Week of the slaves and illumining the way for the fall of Tripolitsa. The date on the calendar was September 23rd and our national bard grasped the atmosphere prevailing and wrote from the idyllic Hill of Stranes, “I hear the dull sound of gunshots / I hear the clatter of clash-ing swords / I hear woods/ I hear axes / I hear teeth gnash… ” At last, after that bloody battle the human mind would dread even to think of, freedom came after 358 years, identified to religion, from the same background, with a cross reflecting a light that was stronger than both sun’s glare and stars’ glow as well as with a “fiery shine all over / its lips, its fore-head / light on the hand, light on the foot / and ev-erything round it basking in a blinding light”.

However, the Struggle would not stop there. The fall of Tripolitsa simply justified the plan of Kolo-kotronis, who was again the leading figure in the siege and conquest of the citadel on the Acrocorin-thus. The first dissensions and rivalries menacing among the politicians and army officers may have been unveiled during the first National Assembly, but Kolokotronis showed a conciliatory attitude.

1822 is the year justifying, for yet another time, another plan contrived by Kolokotronis’ strategic mind, as sharp as razorblade. “We’ll enclose Dra-malis in the Argive camp like a mouse in a trap”, he said to the war council he had convoked, adding that “We’ll squeeze him in between the sea and the mountains so tightly that his troops and their horses will have nothing to eat in a very short time. We won’t leave him in peace at any time. We’ll gnaw away on him slowly until he has got fed up, exhausted and paralysed while, at the same time, our own folks are flocking to us and when they have grown in num-bers, then God is great”. Indeed, the Greek warriors grew in numbers and God was great. The Greeks had won at Valtetsi by Friday July 26th and, what is more, on the feast day of St. Paraskevi, making Dramalis’ multitudinous troops scatter in a flight to Dervenakia. The anonymous bard sang the glorious victory, chanting that “The beys of Roumeli and the pashas of Morias/ lie, bodies without heads, at Der-venakia”. The fall of Nafplion followed on Novem-ber the 30th, on the feast day of Apostle Andrew. Nevertheless, what was avoided in the 1st National Assembly was not avoided in the second one. The poison of discord floating in the air like an autumn cloud brought about civil conflict, which was like a thorn sprang up in our country’s winter to lead to shame: Kolokotronis was thrown to jail together with all the revolutionaries who had taken sides with him at the Monastery of Ai Lias on Hydra.

Ibrahim disembarked at Mothocorona, found Morias in shambles, conquered it, capturing and killing Greeks, burning inhabited areas, cutting down trees as well as putting everything to fire and sword, and, finally, headed for the town of Mes-olonghi. For a while,, the Struggle appeared to be lowering its flag. George Gennadius, the pure-heart-ed scholar and Teacher of the Nation, in the context of a speech he delivered at Anapli (Nafplion), said among other things, “Our motherland is being de-stroyed. Our Struggle is being refuted. Our freedom is breathing its last. Help is needed to come soon. Our brave men must rush wherever a new peril calls on them to”.

Kolokotronis, who had been released from prison in the meantime, was again on the lead of the new developments. This time, he would not only chase Ibrahim’s Mamelukes, but he had to face the renegades as well. His orders were “Put the renegades to fire and sword”, thus anticipating and averting the complete devastation of Morias. By employing a guerrilla war and giving battles, Kolokotronis fought Ibrahim forcefully at Drambala, Tripolis, Myli, Tricorpha, Diaselo, Ghiota, Vervaena, Davies, Paeania and anywhere else he would run into him, scattering away the bitter memories of the recent past. At the same time, he requested the convocation of the 3rd National Assembly.

The registration act by virtue of which Liberty re-turned to its cradle was signed by the naval battle in the emerald sea of the Navarinon Bay. Kolokotronis had said prophetically prior to the beginning of the Struggle, “Greeks, God has signed our Liberty and will not go back on his promise”.
The enslaved Greek motherland was liberated and her people were celebrating. Kolokotronis re-joiced with the arrival of Governor Capodistrias while the assassination of the latter made him plunge into a profound grief, weeping inconsolably for this tragic event.

He and many other revolutionaries welcomed the newly-arrived king Otto but was slandered to the Regency as an undermining element of the new royal regime; thus, he is obliged to drink a second bitter cup by being arrested, dragged to trial and thrown to jail. All those plotters ignored the vers-es of the poet writing “Unless brave men like him had not shed their own blood, chieftains like them would not be wearing a crown”. When the gendar-merie officer went with his squad to have him ar-rested in executing a royal decree, the sagacious Elder said to him, “Why should you need such a numerous army? They could have sent me instead a letter by just a hairy dog running errands with a lantern placed in his mouth to illumine the way of both of us and, then, I would go to Anapli”. What a Socratic stoicism this remark was! It was an at-titude reminding of the Divine Nazarene. The giant of freedom was thrown into a damp, dark, sunless dungeon as though he were a criminal. This pro-fane action reminds of the eulogies sung at church on Good Friday: “Those who were nourished with manna give their Lord gall and vinegar to drink”, as it happens, unfortunately, everywhere all the time. Yet, Kolokotronis was aware of this attitude and had predicted it. When Anagnostis Zapheiropoulos, his secretary, said to him, “Come on Kolokotronis, toil and our homeland will award you”, Kolokotro-nis replied, “You’ll see: our homeland will exile me before everyone else”. However, fortunately, there are some persons of high stature who rise to the occasion and save both institutions and ideas, like Anastasios Polyzoidis and George Tertsetis, the two judges who made history by standing up against Regency’s Commissioner and a puppet of a minister; in a stentorian voice, the President de-clared: “I’d rather have my hand cut off than sign”, while Tertsetis said: “No, you are not going to make me an accomplice to the murder of two heroes”. It was the great moment where Nikitaras, the “Turks Eater” and Kolokotronis’ nephew, put off his fez and shook Polyzoidis’ hand, saying in tears, “Mr. Chairman, you’ve just wrenched the laurels of my victory at Dervenakia from my hands”. Another gen-eral kissed the two judges’ hands, saying to them, “I am kissing you hands as if they were holy icons because you haven’t stained them with the blood of an innocent man. I’m kissing the hands of Jus-tice”. The death penalty of Kolokotronis may have not been signed, but the imprisonment of Koloko-tronis and Plapoutas was continued until the day on which king Otto became of age and had them both released from prison.

Three days after he had been released from prison, the fatigued Elder gathered his family and headed for Athens, where King Otto summoned and decorated him, saying, “Greece is till in need of your services”. At this, the Giant of the Struggle promised in tears to give all the help his homeland needed. His speech to pupils gathered at the Pnyx Hill was monumental and should be studied by all pupils and students today. Should he be addressing them today, he would go on saying the same things: “It is up to you to build up and adorn this country, which we freed so that such a vision would be im-plemented. You must place concord, religion and prudent freedom as the foundation of our state”.

Before departing from this vain world, Koloko-tronis wrote his will for his children and was blessed to see Collinos, his younger son, married to the grand daughter of Caradja, the Prince of Moldovla-chia, saying the unparalleled phrase, “Now the fur coat has become an in-law with the cloak, the fez with the top hat, the Sovereign of the Vlachs with a vlach of an old man!” When Kolokotronis was float-ing along the Acherucian Lake to pass over to the Realm of Angels, Al. Soutsos delivering the obitu-ary speech in a trembling voice, said, “Oh, Greeks, a great man is dead” and Kolokotronis was great indeed. How can this giant of Modern History fit in a 12-minute-lasting clepsydra? Eustathius Stathopou-los, the inspired and unforgettable teacher coming from the brave men-bearing Arcadia, sketches Kolokotronis as “a moderately-tall, big-headed man with long hair, crooked nose, wide nostrils, thick eyebrows, wrinkled forehead, very thick mous-tache, strong muscled, impressive neck, swarthy sun-tanned face, shining, sparkling eyes plunged unto deep sockets as well as with a thunderous awesome voice” in his book Theodoros Kolokotro-nis (The Giant of Morias); the Giant of all Greece my humbleness would add, since he was a man of a multisided personality: religious but not a Puritan, a patriot as few Greek are, a shrewd-minded general, a polariser of moderation and compromise, a brave candid, sincere and benign man, chased by both populist politicians and chieftains. He was a Man with a capital M and a magnanimous heart since he forgave the murderer of his brother as if he himself were another Saint Denis. He was a makeshift ora-tor and always allegoric. An historian distinguished by Tertsetis’s pen. He was a soothsayer as well as an anatomist. He was a sagacious, merry, frugal, condescending, attentive, practical man. History could call him Great and the Church might canonise him as a Saint.

Periandrus said, “Praise yourself when you are alive and bless yourself when you are dead”. The-odoros Kolokotronis has always been lucky in en-joying this two-fold adage of the wise Corinthian. Whichever honour we may offer Theodoros Koloko-tronis, it is very little and our debt to him cannot be reimbursed.

The Thessaloniki Association of Pelopon-nesians, presided by tireless Tasos Calambokis from Malthe, Messenia, has paid off a great debt to this general of the victory for Freedom by hav-ing a statue of him placed on Ramovouni and by organising the “Meeting of the Peloponnesians of Diaspora”. Kolokotronis, having remained immortal through his life and work, has been teaching us how slaves become free men through the ages. May you be IMMORTAL.

Stathis Paraskevopoulos President of Historic Writers’ Association December 2008 - Kiparissia Messinia