Winner of the Duff Cooper Prize • One of The Economist's top history books of the year
From one of our leading historians, an important new history of the Greek War of Independence—the ultimate worldwide liberal cause célèbre of the age of Byron, Europe’s first nationalist uprising, and the beginning of the downward spiral of the Ottoman Empire—published two hundred years after its outbreak
As Mark Mazower shows us in his enthralling and definitive new account, myths about the Greek War of Independence outpaced the facts from the very beginning, and for good reason. This was an unlikely cause, against long odds, a disorganized collection of Greek patriots up against what was still one of the most storied empires in the world, the Ottomans. The revolutionaries needed all the help they could get. And they got it as Europeans and Americans embraced the idea that the heirs to ancient Greece, the wellspring of Western civilization, were fighting for their freedom against the proverbial Eastern despot, the Turkish sultan. This was Christianity versus Islam, now given urgency by new ideas about the nation-state and democracy that were shaking up the old order. Lord Byron is only the most famous of the combatants who went to Greece to fight and die—along with many more who followed events passionately and supported the cause through art, music, and humanitarian aid. To many who did go, it was a rude awakening to find that the Greeks were a far cry from their illustrious forebears, and were often hard to tell apart from the Ottomans.
Mazower does full justice to the realities on the ground as a revolutionary conspiracy triggered outright rebellion, and a fraying and distracted Ottoman leadership first missed the plot and then overreacted disastrously. He shows how and why ethnic cleansing commenced almost immediately on both sides. By the time the dust settled, Greece was free, and Europe was changed forever. It was a victory for a completely new kind of politics—international in its range and affiliations, popular in its origins, romantic in sentiment, and radical in its goals. It was here on the very edge of Europe that the first successful revolution took place in which a people claimed liberty for themselves and overthrew an entire empire to attain it, transforming diplomatic norms and the direction of European politics forever, and inaugurating a new world of nation-states, the world in which we still live.