At the beginning of the 19th century, the Ottoman empire extended far into Central Europe, occupying nearly all of the Balkan Peninsula. Three decades later, it would lie fragmented, thanks to the efforts of Greek patriots who, after a bloody struggle, forced their Turkish rulers to acknowledge Greece's independence. Classics scholar David Brewer tells that story in this comprehensive account, the first on the subject to appear in many years.
The Turkish empire, Brewer writes, was "one of the most impressive that the world has ever seen," the product of generations of conquest and control. By 1800, however, it had declined in power and influence, and, lacking wealthy client states to feed its treasury, the Ottoman government inaugurated a severe program of taxation on such essential Mediterranean goods as sheep, olives, honey, and grapes, compounding the injury by drafting young Greeks to serve in the imperial army. Resistance grew, especially as Ottoman functionaries such as the Ali Pasha (whom Lord Byron, the British poet and champion of Greek freedom, called "a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties") carved out bits and pieces of Greece as private fiefdoms. Inspired by the American and French revolutions, the Greeks finally revolted, touching off a terrible war that would cost hundreds of thousands of lives, involve the major European powers (which, as in later troubles in the Balkans, proved ineffectual), and hasten the downfall of the Ottoman empire.
Brewer takes an evenhanded view of the struggle, noting acts of heroism, cruelty, and treachery on both sides. Students of modern European history will find his study of a largely forgotten conflict to be of much interest, especially given recent events in the region. --Gregory McNamee
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1821, Greek revolutionaries began a War of Independence fueled by longstanding grievances against their Turkish occupiers and Enlightenment ideals. In 1833, Greece became the first nation-state to win its independence from the Ottoman Empire, the centuries-old nemesis of Christian Europe. This volume is former Oxford classics scholar Brewer's detailed narrative of this achievement. Brewer effectively employs historical analogies to place the struggle within an understandable context. For example, he likens the popular support of Europeans, if not their governments, for the Greek struggle to 20th-century support during the Spanish Civil War, and he describes the effect on European public opinion of a vivid painting by Delacroix, based on the Turkish capture and pillaging of Mesolongi, a Greek fortress town, as similar to that of Vietnam War-era photographs that aroused antiwar passions. Brewer comprehensively describes the military campaigns, but he is most engaging when examining the internal and external political factors that influenced the war's outcome. Both the difficulties in forging a coherent Greek effort (despite deep divisions among Greek factions) and the complex set of historical relationships that informed the political stances of European governments are set out in close detail. The latter factor was pivotal, as it was the joint intervention of England, France and Russia that finally forced the Ottomans to accept Greek independence. At times, the details are too dense; although it is no fault of Brewer's, the betrayals, massacres, impalements, decapitations and mutual depredations of the combatants will leave readers profoundly depressed. Nonetheless, Brewer's effort will be worthwhile for those interested in European history. Illus. and maps.
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