Although King Otho tried to function as an absolute monarch, as Thomas Gallant writes: he 'was neither ruthless enough to be feared, nor compassionate enough to be loved, nor competent enough to be respected.' By 1843 public dissatisfaction with him had reached crisis proportions, and several plots were hatched.
On 3rd September 1843, led by Kallerges and Makriyannis, the troops in the infantry barracks mutinied and marched to the open square outside the palace. It was one o'clock in the morning. The king ordered the troops back to their barracks, promising to consider their request for a constitution; but they were not inclined to disperse. Then the crowds swelled, civilian leaders arrived, and artillery was brought up. The king agreed to dismiss all foreigners from his service except for those who had assisted in the War of Independence, and to produce a constitution. The crowd insisted that the king personally thank the leaders of the mutiny, which he did, no doubt reluctantly. Finally, at three o'clock in the afternoon, the troops marched past the palace shouting 'Long live the constitutional king Otto …'. The revolution was a victory for the old leaders of the National Revolution.
In the new constitution, Otho retained considerable power, but agreed that his successor must be of the Christian Orthodox religion. There was a two-chamber parliament, the vouli and gerousia. The square outside the palace was renamed Syntagma —lataia (Constitution Square). Makriyannis praised 'the blessed people of our capital, who were all involved, yet no one even had a nosebleed.' This apparent social harmony was not to last. [Read more about the peaceful revolution in Athens.]
Bribery and Corruption become characteristics of Greek Governments
Unfortunately, the prime ministers who followed paid scant attention to the constitution. In 1844 Ioannes Kolettis became prime minister. This former brigand set the tone for what was to follow by using a mixture of bribery and intimidation to govern. Political life was organised through a system of patronage. People would attach themselves to a political leader and offer him their loyalty and support as their patron, in return for favours such as jobs, government permissions, etc. For their part, the politicians regarded public office as a means of enriching themselves and their clients. The system came to be known as clientism. Kolettis also employed the bands of listes to ensure that if elections had to be held, they produced 'acceptable' results. His example was soon copied by other leading politicians, leading to a system of government in which politicians and criminals cooperated with each other to their mutual advantage (a type of governmental system not as rare as one might imagine, and by no means extinct today in the capitalist Western world).
The 'Great Idea'
Ever alert to the need to manipulate public opinion, Kolettis took up and publicised the 'Great Idea'; the liberation of all lands of the Greeks and the recovery of Constantinople. Even King Otho espoused it enthusiastically, probably as a cheap means of gaining some legitimacy in the eyes of his subjects. Kollettis could say to the National Assembly in January 1844: 'There are two great centres of Hellenism. Athens is the capital of the kingdom. Constantinople is the great capital, the City, the dream and hope of all the Greeks.' The idea that Athens was only a temporary capital probably held back the development of the city and its institutions. David Holden writes: 'It is hard nowadays for foreigners to take the Great Idea seriously, so patently absurd does it seem.' But it was no more absurd than a united Italy or Germany would have seemed at the beginning of that century. Ń typical nineteenth century romantic nationalist dream, it seems absurd only because it was never realised.
Such grandiose schemes came up against the reality of national powerlessness in the infamous Don Pacifico incident of 1847, when the house of this Portuguese Jew was burned down by an indignant crowd after he had insulted the Good Friday funeral procession of the dead Christ. His demand for a ridiculous amount of compensation from the government was rejected. Pacifico then used his birth on Gibraltar to claim British citizenship, and appealed to the chauvinistic British Foreign secretary, Lord Palmerston. In a classic example of 'gunboat diplomacy' the British navy blockaded Greek ports for three months. After a threat to bombard Athens, Otho capitulated to this bullying. [Read about the Don Pacifico Incident in Athens]
In October 1853, hostilities broke out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. When Turkish forces were withdrawn from Greece's northern borders, in accordance with the 'Great Idea', Otho invited Greeks to cross the border to liberate their brothers still in bondage. The prisons were opened and klefts and other prisoners streamed across the mountains into Thessaly and Epirus with the aim of extending the boundaries of the small Greek state. Naturally, many of them decided to opt for the much less risky choice of staying inside the kingdom and resuming their vocation as brigands. Unwilling To see the ottoman Empire broken up and fall under Russian control, Britain and France sent a naval force To Piraeus, and imposed upon Greece a government compliant to their policies; while larger allied force landed in the Crimea. The Anglo-French force remained in Greece throughout the duration of the Crimean War, until February 1857. Thirty British and twenty-three French sailors and soldiers died in Greece during that time. They had brought with them a cholera epidemic, which swept Attica and killed many thousands.
Mid-Nineteenth Century Athens
By 1855 Athens was a small town of 20,000 inhabitants and 2,000 dwelling houses. The population remained heterogeneous, differences of origin and status still being distinguished by dress. The most prominent citizens, gathered around the court, were from well-educated, sophisticated Phanariot families, rich merchants from Syra and Hydra, and uneducated foustanella-clad chieftains famous from the war. Below these were the traders and artisans who served them, many from the islands. Athens was the capital city of a country of only 800,000; while 2,500,000 Greeks still lived outside the kingdom, and for all of them, 'the city' remained not Athens but Constantinople. Most Greek trade was conducted in Smyrna and Thessaloniki. Syra was the most important port in the kingdom. Nevertheless, Merchants of the Greek Diaspora were increasingly beginning to open offices in Athens, send their sons to Athens University, and even act as public benefactors.
¬y the end of Otho's reign, some of the most distinctive forms of Athenian life had already begun to emerge. Edmund About was struck with the outdoor life of the Athenians. In the centre of the town, the branching of the streets of Aeolos and Hermes, the citizens were to be found sitting before the coffee-houses, or standing up in the middle of the street, discussing politics and, smoking cigarettes. Students would collect in groups before the University and debate on the lawns. The shops of the grocer, the barber, or the chemist he called 'the drawing-rooms for the use of the people.' The bazaar was the most frequented part of the town. 'In the morning, all the people, of what ever rank, go themselves to market. If you wish to see a senator carrying kidneys in one hand, and salad in the other, go to the bazaar at eight in the morning. ..They walk from shop to shop, getting information as to the price of apples and onions, or giving an account of their vote the day before to some money-changer, who stops them as they go by. At eight o'clock in the evening, in summer, the bazaar has really an enchanted aspect, It is the hour when the workmen, the servants, the soldiers, come to buy their provisions for supper. The more dainty divide among seven or eight a sheep's-head for sixpence; the frugal men buy a slice of pink watermelon, or a large cucumber, which they bite like an apple. The shopkeepers, from the midst of their vegetables and their fruits, call the buyers with loud cries; large lamps, full of olive oil, throw a fine red light on the heaps of figs, pomegranates, melons, and grapes.'
About was surprised by the widespread practice of sleeping out on the streets in cloaks from the middle of May till the end of September. The women, who went out rarely, and never to the bazaar, slept on terraces or on the roofs, if they were flat. The streets were lighted with oil, except on the nights on which the moonlight was expected. If the night was cloudy, people were in danger of breaking their necks.
The hackney-coaches of Athens were rickety, dirty, and in bad repair; seldom with window glass. They were all to be found together in a muddy place called the square of the carriages, the present Monastiraki Square, where one would be besieged by eager coachmen. An agreement had to be made with them for each ride, for there was no fixed fare.
The fashionable world of Athens had for its principal diversion the walk on the road to Patissia. People would show themselves there in winter, from three to five; in summer, from seven to nine. On a bare open space was a little wooden rotunda where a band played every Sunday. The people would stand around to listen, and watch the King and Queen ride out with the high society. [Read reports of other travellers to Athens during this period in Travellers' Greece: Memories of an Enchanted Land.]
The Overthrow of the Bavarian Dynasty
The signs of the impending end of Otho's reign were evident for some year before he was driven from the throne. The students of Athens University followed the popular struggle for national liberation in ltaly with particular enthusiasm, and were dismayed by Otho's support for the Austrians. Fired by the idealism of the French Revolution, they became increasingly indignant at examples of oppression by the foreign court. In addition, a new generation of politicians, such as Deligeorgis, were beginning to demand modernisation.
In May 1860 the students demonstrated. In February 1861 someone tried to assassinate Queen Amalia. In February 1862, the garrison of Nauplia staged a brief mutiny. Then the chieftains in Arcarnania and Patras declared themselves in rebellion. In October, while the royal family were touring the country, Athenians rioted and broke open the prison. When the king returned by sea to Piraeus he was refused admittance. When the commander of the port tried to let him in, he was killed by his own men. Accepting the inevitable, Otho sailed away in a British ship. The garrison in Athens announced the formation of a provisional government under the Hydriote Dimitris VÔulgaris, and called for a National Assembly to be elected to frame a constitution
In Athens order began to break down. The Minister of War occupied the Palace while mutineers took over the nearby Villa Ilissia. Forces loyal to other politicians took the Acropolis and the National Bank respectively. On 1st July about forty people were killed in confused fighting before an armistice was arranged and the army pulled out of the city. Then the party leader Voulgaris employed the brigand chief yriakÔs to menace the capital. Large bands of brigands gathered on Mount Pendeli, and then moved en masse to the Tourkovounia hills before being dispersed by cavalry. During that year, when arrangements were being made for Prince George of Denmark to take up office, the brigands became convinced that the new king, on taking the throne, would grant an amnesty for all illegal acts committed before his arrival in the country, which led to a feverish burst of lawlessness. Read about the brigands in Attica.]
© John L. Tomkinson