Introduction: Under the Flag of Insurgency: The Greek Revolution in International and Imperial History

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Abstract

From their beginnings, the revolutionary events that shook the Greek lands of the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s were neither contained nor constrained by national or imperial borders. What Ottoman contemporaries termed the ‘Greek mischief’ (fesad) and later historiography would call the Greek war of independence, became a protracted inter-imperial crisis as soon as it commenced.1 The present bicentennial of the Greek Revolution makes it all the more relevant to reassess and rethink this history from more than just a national perspective. Of course, a sizeable literature on the border-crossing dynamics of these events already exists. Historians have long debated the transnational appeal of the Greek cause. They have thoroughly unpacked the international involvement in the war of independence, whether it be with an emphasis on diplomatic or military events.2 The Greek revolutionaries, for their part, drew on crucial support networks that spanned the world and explicitly situated their struggle in a pan-European political setting. Maurizio Isabella, Konstantina Zanou and the late Richard Stites have shown this in excellent recent works.3
Border-crossing cooperation was not limited to the revolutionaries or the elite circles of high diplomacy. Contemporary imperial actors (whether they were Ottoman, Prussian, French, Russian, Austrian or British) also reacted to the upheaval of the 1820s and tried to manage it collectively. Historians have not probed the depths of this empire-crossing aspect of the Greek revolutionary struggle with the same vigour as the traditional themes of ideology, mobilization and diplomacy. Therefore, this special issue situates the Greek Revolution in its inter-imperial context and provides new insight into the upheaval as a shared crisis of empires.
Scholars have mainly discussed the international dynamics of the Greek Revolution in terms of liberal nationalism and nascent humanitarianism.4 This emphasis has failed to explore the importance of the insurgency as an inter-imperial security concern rather than an event that was limited to the Greeks or Ottomans. The articles gathered here touch upon overlooked topics, such as the following: international and maritime law, imperial cooperation and competition, intra-imperial rivalries, anti-revolutionary policing, colonial administration and the international slave trade. Weighty historiographical frames emphasizing national ‘reawakening’ or the ‘onset of modernity’, which sometimes border on the anachronistic, have obscured these themes that were of immediate concern to contemporaries—and which shaped events in the 1820s to a significant degree.5 Even before its beginning in 1821, the ‘Greek Question’ provoked geopolitical concerns in Europe's imperial capitals over the expansionism of rivals. Public outrage and revolutionary sympathy from philhellenes spread as far away as the Americas.6 Yet, in the most direct manner, the uprising caused grave security concerns to humble sailors, colonial officials and low-ranking diplomats. The present issue analyses these immediate concerns to situate the Greek Revolution in a new, inter-imperial framework. As such, it shows that the revolution was: (1) a concern of multiple empires, (2) a cause for imperial cooperation, and (3) a driver of innovations in colonial rule and international law.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-180
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Modern European History
Volume21
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2023

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