In 2021 Greece celebrates 200 years from the Fight of Independence against the Ottoman Empire that led to the establishment of the modern Greek state. Following the fall of Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453, the Greeks kept fighting the Ottoman rule. On 25th of March 1821 Greeks declared the beginning of a new uprising that through hardships and courageous events led to the First Hellenic Republic.
Figure 1. An Ottoman flagship on fire by a Greek fire boat, in the gulf of Eressos on Lesvos island
Only a few decades earlier, the French would abolish feudalism through the French Revolution that shaked Europe and worked as a catalyst of political and geopolitical events that would change Europe radically. The Napoleonic Wars would challenge the balance of power in the continent and lead to conflicts among the regional powers. In the Nordics, Denmark-Norway was aiming to maintain neutrality between the British and French who were pushing for King Frederik’s VI alliance.
Figure 2. Kongens Nytorv under the English Borbandment the 4th and 5th September of 1807.
In 1807, the British navy bombarded Copenhagen in an attempt to neutralize the Dano-Norwegian fleet. The bombardment caused significant loss of life and major destruction to the city. The fleet was besieged and transferred to the United Kingdom. Denmark’s finances got deteriorated and the economy defaulted in 1813. In 1814, King Frederik’s VI was forced to cede Norway after 400 years of union. In the years to follow Frederik VI exercised his rule in a reactionary manner. After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Kingdom of Denmark aligned largely with Holy Alliance’s policy to restrain liberal movements in Europe. In addition, economic ties between Denmark and the Ottoman Empire wouldn’t allow for official Danish support on the Greek Fight of Independence.
Philhellenism and Danish Philhellenes
The revolution of the Christian Greeks against an oppressive Islamic ruler gained sympathizers in the West. As the cradle of the Western civilization, Classical Greece ideals played a major role in awakening a spirit of support and sympathy towards the just cause of the Greeks. The ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution inspired a vision of freedom to the European people. The liberal ideas steadily proliferated across the continent. It was the beginning of the Philhellenic Movement that played a considerable role in the Greek revolutionary efforts.
In the start of the Greek Fight for Independence, the European powers were reluctant to support the revolutionaries. However, individuals across Europe and the United States act privately in favor of the Greek people. Some travel to Greece to fight alongside the Greeks. Others organize committees in their countries to create public awareness despising the censorship of the local authorities. Many run fund-raising campaigns to assist financially. The Philhellenes boost the moral of the fighting Greeks.
Figure 3. Scandinave Crec – The Philhellenic Movement in Denmark ISBN: 9789606812088
The expression of Philhellenism varied in size and intensity in the Western world, nevertheless the speed it spread is astonishing along with its spontaneous and massive characteristics. French, German, English, Italian and Swiss Philhellenes set the tone, however the Philhellenic movement appears in other north-european countries as well.
In Denmark, the support to the Greeks takes various forms. Danish volunteers, such as Kroyer, travel to Greece and join forces with the revolutionary Greeks. Artists such as Adam Friedel create awareness about the events on the field and the leading figures of the revolution. Despite the censorship of the authorities, Danish newspapers such as Hesperus and Freia publish information on the Greek Revolution developments while philologists write touching poems that highlight the sacrifice of the Greeks for freedom. The Danish people could relate to the Greeks and sympathize with them. Only a few years prior to 1821, Danish themselves had suffered tragic events after the Napoleonic Wars and experienced economic hardships as well as tough illiberal ruling. In the eyes of the Greeks, the Danish Philhellenes could see themselves fighting for common values and a brighter future.