Rhigas Velestinlis : The Proto-Martyr of the Greek Revolution

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Rhigas Velestinlis : The Proto-Martyr of the Greek Revolution.

Rhigas Velestinlis : The Proto-Martyr of the Greek Revolution

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Rhigas Velestinlis : The Proto-Martyr of the Greek Revolution.

Rhigas of Velestino (1757-1798), popularly known as Rhigas Pheraios, is one of the greatest national heroes of modern Greece for it was he who some thirty years before the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821 first conceived the possibility of a full-scale national revolution to free Greece from the domination of its Ottoman overlords. His aim was not simply an armed rebellion but a regeneration of his people, through education, literature and social and political awareness. To this end he wrote patriotic stories, poems, scientific lectures, he published maps and translations, and drafted a constitution, and he was the first Greek to insist that the popular language, or demotic Greek, should become the country's official language.

Born in Greece under turkish rule, Rhigas emigrated successively to Constantinople, Bucharest and Vienna. He recruited his supporters and laid his plans among the expatriate Greek communities, and he also had many contacts, through his successful activities as a businessman, in the Greek mainland and islands. But he was not to witness the realisation of his vision. On his way up to stir up the Greeks of the Mani he was betrayed, arrested in Trieste by the Austrian police, extradited to the Turkish authorities and executed, with seven colleagues, at Belgrade.

This book is the first comprehensive study of Rhigas's life and ideas in English, and includes 14 black and white illustrations.

Biography - Early life
He was born in a wealthy family of Aromanian ancestry[1] (a branch of which was known by the nickname Trushina),[2] in the village of Velestino, Thessaly, near ancient Pherae (from which Feraios derives). Educated at the Ampelakion School, Feraios became a teacher in the village of Kissos, and fought the local Ottoman presence. At the age of twenty, he killed an important Ottoman figure, and fled to the uplands of Mount Olympus, where he enrolled in the band of soldiers led by Spiro Zera.

He later went to the monastic community of Mount Athos, where he was received by Kosmas, prior of the Vatopedi Monastery; from there to Constantinople (Istanbul), where he was a secretary to the Phanariote Alexander Ypsilanti. Arriving in Bucharest, the capital of Wallachia, Feraios returned to school, learned several languages and eventually became a clerk for the Wallachian Prince Nicholas Mavrogenes. When war broke out between the Ottomans and Imperial Russia in 1787 (see Russo-Turkish War, 1787-1792), he was charged with the inspection of the troops in Craiova.

Here, he entered into close and friendly relations with an Ottoman officer named Osman Pazvantoğlu, afterwards the famous rebellious Pasha of Vidin, whose life he saved from the vengeance of Mavrogenes. He learned about the French Revolution and came to believe something similar could occur in the Balkans, resulting in self-determination for the Eastern Orthodox Ottoman population; Feraios developed support for an uprising by meeting with Greek bishops and guerrilla leaders.

After the death of his patron, Feraios returned to Bucharest to serve for some time as dragoman at the French consulate. At this time he wrote the famous Greek version of La Marseillaise, the anthem of French revolutionaries, a version familiar through Lord Byron's paraphrase as "sons of the Greeks, arise".

In Vienna
Around 1793, Feraios went to Vienna, the capital of the Austrian Empire and home to a large Greek community, as part of an effort to ask Napoleon Bonaparte for assistance and support. While in the city, he edited a Greek-language newspaper, Ephemeris, and created and published a proposed political map of Great Greece which included Constantinople.

He printed pamphlets based on the principles of the French Revolution, including Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and a New Political Constitution of the Inhabitants of Rumeli, Asia Minor, the Islands of the Aegean, and the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia — these he intended to distribute in an effort to stimulate a Pan-Balkan uprising against the Ottomans. He also published many Greek translations of foreign works, and collected his poems in a manuscript (posthumously printed in Iaşi, 1814).

He entered into communication with Napoleon, to whom he sent a snuff-box made of the root of a laurel tree taken from the temple of Apollo, and eventually he set out with a view to meeting the general of the Army of Italy in Venice. While traveling there, Feraios was betrayed by Demetrios Oikonomos Kozanites, a Greek merchant,[3] had his papers confiscated, and was arrested at Trieste by the Austrian authorities (an ally of the Ottoman Empire, Austria was concerned the French Revolution might provoke similar upheavals in its realm). He was handed over with his accomplices to the Ottoman governor of Belgrade where he was imprisoned and tortured. Immediately on arrest he attempted suicide.

Memorial plate in front of Nebojša Tower in which Rigas Feraios was strangled.
From Belgrade, he was to be sent to Constantinople to be sentenced by Sultan Selim III. While in transit, he and his five collaborators were strangled to prevent their rescue by Feraios' friend Osman Pazvantoğlu. Their bodies were thrown into the Danube River.

Feraios' last words are reported as being: "I have sown a rich seed; the hour is coming when my country will reap its glorious fruits".

Ideas and legacy
Feraios, writing in the Demotic instead of in classical Greek, aroused the patriotic fervour of his contemporaries and his poems were a serious factor in the creation of modern Greece.

His grievances against the Ottoman occupation of Greece regarded its cruelty, the drafting of children between the ages of five and fifteen into military service (Devshirmeh or Paedomazoma), the administrative chaos and systematic oppresion (including prohibitions on teaching Greek history or language, or even riding on horseback), the confiscation of churches and their conversion to mosques. Feraios wrote enthusiastic poems and books about Greek history and many became widely popular. One of the most famous (which he often sang in public) is the Thourio in which he wrote, "It's better to have an hour as a free man than forty years as a slave" («Ως πότε παλικάρια να ζούμε στα στενά…. Καλλιώναι μίας ώρας ελεύθερη ζωή παρά σαράντα χρόνια σκλαβιά και φυλακή»). He urged Greeks to leave the Ottoman-occupied towns for the mountains, where they might experience more freedom.

A statue of Rigas Feraios stands at the entrance to the University of Athens. There is also a statue of his in Belgrade at one end of the street that bears his name (Ulica Rige od Fere).

Softcover, 180 pages, 14 x 20.5 cms

Additional Information

Author C M Woodhouse
Pages 180
Cover Soft
Width (mm) 140
Height (mm) 205

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