1. Secret societies
The creation of secret (illegal) organizations which called themselves «Societies» and aimed to cause the gradual detonation of national revolutionary movements was a phenomenon which blossomed particularly in the Balkan region at the end of the 18th century. This phenomenon found suitable ground and had a profound effect among the people who lived under the domination of the Ottoman Empire.
These societies derived from the French Revolution and based their structure on the prototypes set by the Jacobin clubs and mainly the freemasons’ lodges. In the Greek world the first masons’ lodge was established in 1782 in Corfu,1 and was called «Agathoergia»; it later joined the «Filogeneia» lodge and thus occurred the «Most Galen Great East» of Corfu which spread throughout the Eptanisa. A branch of this lodge was the «Union of Agia Mavra» (Lefkada) to which Panayiotis Karagiannis, who in 1813 introduced Emmanuil Xanthos2 to freemasonry, belonged.
These societies also spread throughout the Danubian Principalities because of their slack dependence on the Ottoman administration and to other areas of Europe where the economic development of the Greek element (particularly of the Greek communities within the Austro-Hungarian dominion) was evident. These societies, expressed the intellectual pursuits of their members but, in many cases, they concealed conspiratorial activity and liberating intentions.
Among the most important society movements in the areas mentioned above was the Greek society «Alexander» which was founded by the prince of Wallachia Alexandros Mourouzis in 1777, the «Society of Friends» which was founded in 1780 in Bucharest (Rigas Ferraios may have been a member), the «Ellinodakikos Literary Society» which was established in 1780 in Bucharest and developed important activity, and the «Phoenix» society which was founded by the prince of Wallachia Alexandros Mavrokordatos, so called Firaris (i.e. fugitive) in 1787 and had a Masonic structure.
The Bulgarian historian and academic Nikolai Todorov has noted that the revolutionary organization of the Filiki Etaireia was not an immediate successor or holdover of any of its predecessor movements as these societies never reached the level of a revolutionary liberating organization.3
Important philhellene and associational activity developed in Paris at the beginning of the 19th century, particularly among the circle of the Cypriot scholar Elisabeth Loukamis-Chenier. 1809 saw the establishment of the «Greek Society» of Paris and the Ellinoglosson Xenodohion, a member of which was one of the co-founders of the Filiki Etaireia, Athanasios Tsakalof.
Within Greece the «Filomousos Society» of Athens was founded in 1813; it had educational aims and inspired eminent members of the Greek community in Vienna and Munich to organize the «Filomousos Society of Vienna»4 which produced important activity and many important figures of the Greek Diaspora such as Ioannis Kapodistrias5 were among its members.
In Italy the Carbonari movement formed the Italian version. In Russia the movement of the Decembrians was organized into clubs, members of which belonged to masonic lodges and were later transformed into patriotic revolutionary organizations such as the «Union of Salvation» (1816), «The Welfare Association» (1818), the «Northern Association (1821) and the «Southern Association» (1821).6
2. Founding of the Etaireia
The founding core of the Filiki Etaireia did not come from the circles of eminent Greeks of the Diaspora despite the fact that the ideological preparation for the revolution had occurred among the circles of the bourgeoisie, the intellectuals and the Greeks of the Diaspora from Phanari who had been inspired by liberalism.
Its founders were three simple merchants, of small financial and social scope, Athanasios Tsakalof, Nikolaos Skoufas and Emmanuil Xanthos. The three men met at the end of November 1813 in Odessa and became close friends. The subject which dominated their meetings for many months was the political situation in Europe after Napoleon’s defeat and the refutation of the Greeks’ expectations for their national restoration.
We have no further information about the meetings between the three friends which possibly took place at Krazni street,7 at the home of Grigorios Maraslis, as the conspiratorial character of the entire operation and the fear of incriminatory evidence falling into the hands of the authorities led to the non-survival or destruction of many historical documents connected the activity of the Filiki Etaireia as a whole.
Regarding the date of the founding of the Filiki Etaireia, in his memoirs Emmanuil Xanthos mentions September 1814. Attempts have been made to further corroborate this date through a relevant manuscript belonging to the Monastery of Panagia Styliani on Nisyros, published by Ach. Diamantaras, which mentions: «the raising of the Holy Cross was the first day of the establishment of the Great Brotherhood».8
The founding group was referred to as the Authority by its members. Participants, instead of signing with their real names used initials formed by characters of the Greek alphabet prefixing the letter A from the word AUTHORITY.
The establishment of the Etaireia coincides with the opening of the Congress of Vienna (1 October 1814), a time during which the Great Powers made decisions at the expense of enslaved people throughout Europe after having cultivated hopes and visions for their national self-determination following the outbreak of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s advance.
However, the identity of the founders of the Filiki Etaireia but also the act of its foundation itself have become the subject of contestation and disagreement both among the individuals who recorded their personal accounts-versions of events at the time and the historians who attempted to record them over subsequent years. The first relevant conflict was between Panayiotis Anagnostopoulos and Emmanuil Xanthos who argued over the situation of the third founder of the Etaireia after Skoufas and Tsakalof. On the one hand Anagnostopoulos presented his opinion through the writings of Filimon, supporting that the three inspirators of the initial plan in Odessa were Tsakalof, Skoufas and himself, and mentions that Xanthos was initiated by Skoufas in 1817. Xanthos responded in an anonymous letter known as «Xanthos’ apologia» on 1 October 1837, in a report to the National Assembly on 15 December 1843 and in his Memoirs on the Filiki Etaireia which he published in 1845. He supported that he was the third pole of the initial triad and that Anagnostopoulos was added to it later.
In one of his articles C. Svolopoulos9 disputes a series of basic components of given opinion on the foundation of the Filiki Etaireia in Odessa in 1814 as, first of all, a particular act of establishment never existed or, at least, has never been found. Within the same framework, he disputes 14 September as the date for the Etaireia’s foundation.10 Moreover, the names which played a leading part in the Etaireia form another point of contention. Svolopoulos believes that the initiative for the initial processing of the idea for its establishment belonged to Tsakalof and Skoufas without it being possible to define its original inspirator. Svolopoulos supports that during their stay in Odessa they exchanged their thoughts with two more Greek patriots from their professional circle, Anagnostopoulos and Xanthos. It is not even necessary – always according to Svolopoulos – for the three of them to have met in person. When the two first concluded the processing of the initial idea in Moscow and defined the exact rules of activity of the Etaireia, they decided to take action.
3. Teaching – Indoctrination – Hierarchy
The teachings of the Etaireia which have survived in numerous copies consisted of five sections. The first section included the teaching of the initiation into the Etaireia’s secret. The «first oath», the «confession» and the revelation of the cause came under this section. The second section included the process of the Great Oath which was the most impressive part of the Teaching as recorded by Ioannis Filimon.11 The third section includes the interpretation and instructions regarding the drafting of the dedicatory letter including the points of dedication and sanctioning. After his indoctrination and if he fulfilled the requirements for moving onto the next step (mainly regarding reading and writing abilities) the ordinate gave the great oath and was sanctioned as a priest. He was then obliged to send a letter to any other person in another city.12 The ceremonial nature of the initiation (which was also described in detail by Filimon) was simplified during the course of the years, particularly after 1820 at which time numerous initiations into the Etaireia took place.
Four ranks were initially sanctioned in the hierarchy of the Etaireia which later became seven: 1) Brothers or Vlamides,13 2) Recommended, 3) Priests, 4) Shepherds, 5) Arch Shepherds, 6) Dedicated and 7) Leaders of the Dedicated. The first two ranks in the Etaireia were the lowest and concerned simple members, while from the third upwards they concerned executives. Illiterate members were enlisted to the first rank. The initiators initially asked the catechumen if they could bear the secret in fear of their life, “for what he was about to learn concerned the fate of the nation itself”.14
In order to safeguard the Society’s secrecy its members – mainly from the rank of priests and above – used a special coded alphabet which consisted of 22 characters (see auxiliary catalogues).
In their correspondence they used a coded metonymic dictionary. Thus, the enemy was referred to as the «thorn», the members of the society as «clouds», the English as «iron men», the Phanariot Greeks as «wine drinkers» etc. Equivalently, names of various places were replaced by coded numbers.15
4. Propogation of the Society
Three years after its establishment the Filiki Etaireia numbered only a handful of members. The transferral of its headquarters to Constantinople however led to a period of intense activity. Already «from the beginning of 1817», as mentioned by the Bulgarian historian Nikolai Todorov, «the Society began placing greater importance on the creation of a broader collaboration between the Serbs, Greeks and Bulgarians, which reached the point of making plans for a simultaneous revolt in Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria».16 The Filiki Etaireia saught to collaborate with other Balkan nations in order to achieve a coordinated revolt led by the Serbs against Ottoman domination. The leader of the Serb revolutionaries Karageorge Petrovitch had fled his homeland after the defeat of his movement in 1813 and had settled in Bessarabia. In the spring of 1817 Karageorge passed secretly, with the help of the Filiki Etaireia, into Serbian territory in order to gain control of his country and, if the Porte did not recognize him he would take on the leadership of the revolutionary movement which would break out in the area according to the plans of the Society in a coordinated revolt throughout the Balkans. While in Serbia he stayed at the house of his friend Viyica Vulicevic who was kniez (ruler) of the Smederevska province. Viyica however betrayed Karageorge who was murdered on the night of 12 June 1817 in Vulicevic’s house by followers of his opponent Milos Obrenovic and his head was sent to the Porte.17
Karageorge’s death signalled the end of attempts by the Filiki Etaireia to collaborate with the Serbs on plans for a coordinated revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The Society attempted to approach Milos Obrenovic for the realization of this aim but was unsuccessful due to the latter’s vacillation.18 After the assumption to the leadership by Alexandros Ypsilantis attempts for communication with the Serbs became even more systematic but these were once more rebutted by Obrenovic.
The Filiki Etaireia had to redefine its aims and reconsider its alliances. It was thus decided that they should try to win over chieftains from Greece who had participated in various revolts and had relative experiences. The two last ranks within the hierarchy of the Society, the «dedicated» and the «leaders of the dedicated» were instituted for this purpose. The «apostles» were also used for the first time; these were representatives of the Society whose aim was to attract members from remote areas.
Of great importance for the Society at a critical point in its history was the initiation of three chieftains from the Peloponnese: Panayiotis Papageorgiou or Anagnostaras, Helias Chrysospathis and Panayiotis Dimitrakopoulos in 1817 in Odessa. These three chieftains, as well as Ioannis Hadji-Farmakis, a chieftain from Macedonia were the first military men from mainland Greece who entered the Society and caused the Society’s shift toward operational, revolutionary mainland Greece.
During the same period, the Society’s apostles expanded the conspiratorial network both throughout Greece and in the Balkans, as the idea of a Balkan-wide revolt had never been abandoned. Georgakis Olymbios was appointed apostle for Serbia and Dimitris Vatikiotis, an officer in the Russo-Turkish war (1806-1812), was appointed apostle for Bulgaria. Vatikiotis commanded voluntary factions of Bulgarians who were active along the Danube together with Russian troops and initiated the leaders of these factions to the Filiki Etaireia. His untimely death however in 1819 created great difficulties in the collaboration between the Bulgarians and the Society. The following year the chieftain Savvas Kaminaris who was in contact with the Bulgarians, presented Alexandros Ypsilantis with a plan which incorporated revolutionary uprisings in Serbia and Bulgaria but also by the Greeks in Constantinople. Both Kaminaris’ plan and collaboration with the Bulgarians were never realized because the members of the Etaireia were primarily interested in the revolt of the Serbs, their actions lacked coordination while the decision taken at the general meeting of the Filiki Etaireia’s most eminent members held in October 1820 in Izmail to identify the Peloponnese as the centre of the Revolution was also decisive.19
Since 1818, when its headquarters had been moved to Constantinople the merchant Panayiotis Sekeris had entered the Society and had offered considerable financial support and solved, for a time, one of the Society’s most serious problems, the search for funds.
Of particular importance was also the initiation of Petrobey Mavromichalis on 2 August 1818 in the Mani by the merchant Kyriakos Kamarinos, as well as the activities of the archimandrite Gregorios Dikaios who was made a member of the Authority by Panayiotis Anagnostopoulos with the initials A.M.
The Filiki Etaireia had a great degree of infiltration in the Peloponnese and the islands of the Ionian Sea where it initiated a large number of local potentates as these areas had strong communal structures, relatively homogenous populations and a small presence of Muslims. As mentioned by G. Frangos in his historical and sociological study on the Filiki Etaireia, the eminent citizens of the Peloponnese and the aristocrats of the Ionian Islands were in a position to benefit from an organization which, they believed, would help them expand or reinstate their traditional authority and privileges. Regarding the professional composition of the members of the Filiki Etaireia, G. Frangos,20 based on information which comes from their correspondence, mentions that 23 categories and subcategories can be identified. The largest category was the merchants to which corresponded 53,7% of the members of the Society. The second category included the members whose professions required a higher level of education (doctors, lawyers, teachers, students and the Phanariot Greeks). The third professional category which formed 11,7% of the composition of the Society were the dignitaries, mainly from the Peloponnese. Clerics of all ranks formed the 9,5% of members. Also, military men – mainly ex armatoloi and klephts – who had served or still served in foreign armies formed the fifth category and corresponded to 8,7%. Finally, the farmers, who were the largest population group in the Greek speaking areas, formed only the 0,6% of the members of the society. Greek farmers and their counterparts throughout the Balkans, adherent to traditional social structures still stayed clear of the processes for national restoration which influenced urban communities and communities of the Diaspora to a greater degree.
5. The Diaspora and the Filiki Etaireia
A noteworthy element of the Filiki Etaireia was that beyond the borders of the Ottoman Empire, its activities were confined to the Diaspora communities in the Danubian Principalities and south-eastern Russia. These areas had attracted the last wave of immigrations from the Ottoman Empire prior to 1821. During the period between 1797 and 1815 only a handful of Greeks emigrated to join older communities in Central and Western Europe. The leaders of the Society failed to initiate members from London, Paris, Marseille or Amsterdam, cities with thriving merchant communities.21 Recent immigrants who represented almost every area of Greece were initiated in Rumania and Russia.
6. Quest for a leader
On 22 September 1819 the members of the Society’s Authority signed a common declaration which set out the leading group’s future course and duties, because the necessity for a central commander who could set out a specific course of action especially after Skoufas’ death had become of paramount importance. The final paragraph of this declaration contained an authorization to Emmanuil Xanthos to reveal the Authority to Ioannis Kapodistrias and offer him the leadership of the Society.22
Despite Kapodistrias’ warm welcome to Xanthos he declined to take on the leadership of the Society.23 After Ioannis Kapodistrias’ refusal Xanthos, on impulse, visited Alexandros Ypsilantis, the member of an eminent Phanariot family, and suggested that he become leader of the Filiki Etaireia.
Ypsilantis accepted the leadership24 without hesitation and on 12 April 1820 he co-signed with Ioannis Manos and Xanthos a document with which he was named General Commissioner of the Authority. The signing of this document signalled the opening of a new chapter in the history of the Filiki Etaireia which under the guidance of its new leader entered the final phase of its endeavour which was the liberation of the genus.
7. The Filiki Etaireia during the Revolution
In February 1821 Alexandros Ypsilantis declared the Greek Revolution in Moldavia with his famous proclamation "Fight for Faith and Country". The proclamations of the Filiki Etaireia, created by scholars from within Ypsilantis’ circle, contributed largely to the disambiguation of the Greek self-conscience as they made constant references to concepts and terms which helped re-establish a national identity.25
Chronologically, the revolution coincided with the liberation movement of the Vlach chieftain Theodoros Vladimirescu which had broken out during the same time in Wallachia. Ypsilantis collaborated with Vladimirescu but during the course of events and while the revolution had taken a dramatic turn, Vladimirescu was accused by the Greeks as a traitor who had collaborated with the Turks and was executed by Ypsilantis’ men.
The failure of the revolution in Moldowallachia26 damaged the reputation of the Filiki Etaireia and discredited its work to a great degree. The dislodgement of the leadership of the Filiki Etaireia by the power mechanisms created after the declaration of the Revolution was incorporated into the framework of the intense altercation between the military men - Peloponnesian nobles and the politicians - Hydrans which led to the civil conflict of 1824.
Alexandros Ypsilantis died alone and forgotten, almost by all, a few days after his release following years of incarceration in the prisons of Munkacs and Terezín.
8. Internal disputes
Dark pages within the history of the Filiki Etaireia are the executions of Nikolaos Galatis and Dimitrios Koutmas, the merchant Kyriakos Kamarinos, who was thrown into the Danube by members of the Society in 1820 in order to prevent him from presenting Petrobey Mavromichalis with a letter from Ioannis Kapodistrias in which the latter made it clear that he was not in any way involved with the Filiki Etaireia (a fact which would diminish the Society’s kudos and lead to the departure of Petrobey and other chieftains from its circles) and the attempted suicide of Nikolaos Spiliadis who, fearing that he would have the same fate as Galatis, attempted to kill himself on 29 January 1821 but was miraculously saved.
There were also internal disputes which set the precedent for political developments after the outbreak of the Revolution. More specifically, a year before Ypsilantis’ assumption of the leadership of the Society, Alexandros Mavrocordatos, while accompanying his uncle Ioannis Karatzas, ex prince of Wallachia, who had fallen out of favour with the Sultan, arrived in the town of Pisa in Italy. While there he stayed with the bishop of Hungro-Wallachia, Ignatios. Events connected to Alexandros Mavrocordatos’ and Constantinos Karatzas’ initiation are mention in a letter from Theodoros Negris from Iaşi to the Authority on 12 April 1819: «… during their initiation count Mavrocordatos and prince Karatzas were adequately equipped...”. Despite their initiation into the Etaireia, both Alexandros Mavrocordatos and bishop Ignatios were opposed to the proposed date for the declaration of the revolution and openly criticized Alexandros Ypsilantis’ personality and actions. The group which consisted of Mavrocordatos, Ignatios and Theodoros Negris was named “the Circle of Pisa” and was, throughout the struggle for independence, the opposing force to the Ypsilantis faction.27
9. Assessment of the efforts of the Etaireia
The Filiki Etaireia managed to open the way for the Revolution and the establishment of the Greek state. Within the climate fertilized by secret societies throughout Europe and the dissemination of revolutionary ideas, the Etaireia became organized and spread its network within the Ottoman dominion and beyond.28
It was a Greek organization with Balkan projections which matured on Russian territory; it looked mainly to Russia for help. Without its own war machine it passed into history as the great Greek conspiratorial organization which prepared the Greek Revolution.