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Mani have always been free


MAINA also spelled MANI, peninsula of the southern Peloponnese (Peloponnisos), in the nomos (department) of Laconia, Greece. The area has been set aside as a historical district by the government. The rugged, rather isolated peninsula, 28 miles (45 km) long, is an extension of the Taygetus (Taiyetos) range. It is the home of the Maniates, an ancient people who are believed to be descended from Laconians. The peninsula maintains its unspoiled medieval character with many Byzantine churches and towers.

Homer was the first one to mention the cities of Mani: Messi, Vitilon (Itilo), Kardamili (or Skardamoula), Enopi, Gerinia as well as Pefnos, Avia, Githio, Kotronas etc. Some time later the history of Mani was associated with the history of Sparta when in 207 B.C. Navis, the tyran of Sparta, trying to save the people of Mani made them to leave for the Tainarou peninsula. There a peculiar political organization named "Society of Lakedemons" was founded.

According to Leon Sofos or Leo the Philosopher (Byzantine Emperor 886-912), Maina was called the castle of Mezapos. It is the first time that is reffered the name Maina. Also maniates were called Hellenes and were not christians until 9th century.

After the Francs conquered Constantinopolis in 1204 for the better supervising of the area they built three castles in Taigeto: one - near Githio under the name of Passava, another - the castle of Megalis Manis or Mainis on the western area of Taygetos and the third one - the castle of Lefktrou near Kardamili.

After the defeat of Prince Wilhelm Villardouinos in 1259 near Pelagonia by Michael VIII Palaeologus the three Peloponnesian castles of Mistra, Mani and Monemvasia passed to the new ruler. Very soon the rest castles of Mani followed the same fate. Michael later (1261) liberated the Byzantine capital which was occupied by Latins.

Gretzas Palaeologus and Korkodeilos Kladas never surrendered to the asian invaders of Mohammet II

Especially important events took place in Mani after the Turks have conquested Constantinopolis in 1453. Mani stayed always autonomous. Never was occupied by the barbarian invaders. The byzantine flags remained on the maniat towers. In May of 1460 sultan Mohammed 2nd the Conqueror has occupied the whole of Peloponnese. The brothers of Constantine Palaeologus, Thomas and Denetrius did not follow the heroic example of Constantine and Thoman fleed to Italy while Demetrius asked refuge in Mohammed's court. Gretzas Palaeologus fought the barbarians in Salmenico, near Aegion and Korkodeilos Kladas the leader in Mani fought also with success.

For 16 years from 1463 till 1479 the people of Mani defended their land and took the side of Venetians during the Turkish-Venetian war and prevented Turks from building guarding posts in the area. Kladas was honoured from Venetia and acquired the venetian citizenship. During this time the whole of Peloponnese revolted against the Asian invaders. Patra, Mystras, Korinthos, Sparta, Argos were liberated.

The hard Turkish-Venetian war ended shamefully and the Venetians left the Manian people to their fate. Also all the greek who had revolted in other cities were massacred and many of them found refuge in Mani. Korkodeilos Kladas never accepted the clauses of the agreement between the Turks and Venetians and not only refused the new Turkish offers but started the fight against them. He kept Mani autonomous and also went to Northern Epirus to fight also there, but he was captured in Chemara-Epirus and was cut to peaces by his torturers.

In 1571, turkish fleet was defeated in the Lepando (Nafpaktos) naval battle and again greeks in many places revolted again the oppressor. Maniates actively supported the Venetians and the brothers Melissinoi (with origin from the byzantine family of Melissinoi), Mitropolite Makarios and Bishop Theodoros were the first among these supporters.

In the 17th century the uprisings of people of Mani became more often. The agreement was achieved with Charles II Gonzalo, the prince of Never who dreamed of restoring the Byzantine state, and the maniat Petros Medikos. Charles II was descedant of Andronicus Palaeologus and came in contact with Pope, king of France and king of Spain, Philip III. This is the message which was sent by maniates to the prince of Never. But his plans failed because he never acquired military help but only promises.

In 1645 started in Creta war between Venetians and Turks. Mani supported the Venetians by offering them ships. In 1659 admiral Francisko Morozini with maniates as allies occupied Kalamata, which was a big city near Mani. In order to make Mani surrender the Turks tried their best to flatter the unstable character of a Manian pirate Limberaki Gerakari, who fought against the Stefanopoulos family. With his assistance turks built in Mani three fortresses: Kelefa, Zarnatas and Porto Kagio. Very soon the Maniot ports weakened and Gerakaris took the responsibilities of a general leader. But some time later his Maniot blood spoke and with his piratic ships he attacked the Turks. In the end he was caught and imprisoned by the Turks. Later he was sent again to fight against Greeks but fled to Italy where he died.

Again in 1685 maniates fought with venetians under Morozini against turks and succeeded to take all the fortresses and to oust all turkish forces not only from Mani but from Peloponnesse peninsula as well. Morozini fought against turks in Athens, in 1687 and destroyed with his bombings Parthenon of Acropolis.

As a result of many revolts against the Turkish yoke Mani welcomed new refugees from various areas including Asia the Minor and especially Crete when it changed hands from Venetians to Turks in 1669. The Cretean refugees settled villages with the Cretean names and enriched the Manian dilect with Cretean words and idioms.

The mass movement of refugees caused new problems in Mani. The limited area of good aribal lands led to a rough fight for obtaining a "place under the sun" and not just quarrels but real local wars took place between families, clans and different villages. The era of vendetta started in Mani. It seemed that only a new Turkish invasion could save the country. Many Manian people began to serve as hirelings in the army of the Doge while some others became pirates. They were not simply pirates, they tried to fulfill their patriotic duties and it should be mentioned that for example to a great extend the Turkish fleet near Hania was destroyed by the Manian pirates. The example of two Manian families is mostly characteristic. One family of Yatrianon from Itilo in 1670 moved to Livorno in Italy and the another one the family of Stefanopoulos in 1676 settled in Corsica in Cargese (Caryai). They kept their language, religion, ethnical customs and until nowadays are called "Greeks".

In 1715 after the Venetians left Peloponnese, Mani remained a free land. The Turks decided to leave the situation in Mani unchanged and the area would have been ruled by a bay, as the case was in Moldovlahia. The people of Mani were told to pay 4.000 groshes a year which they rarely did. During this period there were many civil wars between the strong maniat families. Those wars were a good practice for manites who remained this way good and intrepid soldiers.

In 1763 came to the russian throne Aikaterini II, who was an ambitious woman. She murdered her husband Petros III, and with her lover Gregorius Orloff wanted to extend her empire. She promised to help Greeks (Hellenes) to be liberated from Ottomans and sent the brothers Orloffs with only 1000 russian soldiers and few ships.

In 1770 Greeks revolted in the whole area of Peloponnesse (Moreas). Konstantinos Kolokotronis (father of Theodoros), Androutsos (father of Odysseas), Panagiotes Venetsanakis, Lampros Katsonis, Zacharias fought turks and used Mani as their base of operations. Russians left Peloponnesse without helping and 12000 Turkoalbanians under Hatzi Osman suppressed the revolution and pillaged, massacred, burnt hundreds of cities and villages. Women and children were sold as slaves in Egypt and Syria.

But Maniates men and women fought bravely, defeated the enemy and Hatzi Osman was killed, with two thirds of his army. Turkoalbanians were so savage and atrocious that was sent by sultan, regular turkish army under the command of Hashan pasha, in 1779 who exterminated all of them, also with the help of greek klephts of Konstantinos Kolokotronis.

A year after Hashan pasha with 10000 men besieged Konstantinos Kolokotronis and Panagiotes Venetsanakis with 150 men and women, in two towers in Kastania. They fought 12 days and finally most of them were killed. The prisoners of war were tortured and cut in peaces. The wife of Konstantinos Kolokotronis was dressed like a warrior and fought her way carrying her baby who was Theodoros Kolokotronis the future leader of the great revolution of 1821. After the war of 1770 the Maniates were forced to pay to the Sultan 15.000 groshes ever year.

From 1776 till 1821 eight Beys consequently ruled Main. They were: Tzanetos Koutifaris (1776-1779), Mikhailbeis Troupakis (1779-1782) or Mourtzinos, Tzanetbeis Kapetanakis Grigorakis (1782-1798), Panagotis Koumoundouros (1798-1803), Antonbeis Grigorakis (1803-1808), Constantinos Zervakos or Zervobeis (1808-1810), Theothorobeis Grigorakis (1811-1815), Petrobeis Mavromichalis (1815-1821).

In 1792, when Russians made treaty with Turks, Lampros Katsonis said: Aikaterini did her treaty but Katsonis didn't do his treaty with the enemy. Katsonis, Androutsos and Zacharias fought ottomans in Porto Kagio.

In this popular song of 18th century we see the tragical fate of Greeks or Hellenes or Romeoi as they are reffered to in the song, through the black centuries of ottoman occupation. We also see that the song refers to the two cities-symbols for the race of greeks which are Athens and Constantinople (Polis).

Maniates known for their martial qualities were the first to join the liberation movement of 1821. The society «Filiki Eteria» sent their representatives Perrevos and Xrisospathis to organize the Maniates. On the 17-th of March 1821, 12000 Maniats gathered in the church of Taxiarchs (Archangels) of Areopoli and declared war against the Ottoman Empire. The flag of the revolution was white with a blue cross in the centre. On top of the flag there was a sign: «Victory or Death». Maniates wrote «Victory» not «Freedom» because Mani was always free. On the bottom of the flag was an ancient inscription: «With the shield or on the shield».

On 23 March 1821, Petrompeis Mavromichales, Kolokotronis, Papaflessas liberate the city of Kalamata. Most soldiers of the army were Maniates.

On 11th January 1822, Ilias Mavromichales, son of Petrompeis (leader of Mani), was killed at Karistos Evoia. Turks cut his head and sent it to sultan.

Historical significance had a battle at Vergas (21 June 1826) where the Egyptian leader Ibrahim lost 2/3 of his army and his defeat was really very disgraceful when women of the village Dirou armed only with sickles and cudgels managed to throw the rest of his army into the sea.

The history of Mani that suffered so much and fought so bravely is reflected in the architecture of its castles, villages and house-towers (Pirgospita). Their Orthodox churches of the 9-th, 10-th and 11-th centuries are the most ancient on the Peloponnese. Most of these simple structures were built of stone and are part of the wild Maniot landscape.

Bibliogralhy Daskalakis Apostoles, Mani and Ottoman Empire
Klephtes - Map of Mani
Byzantine churches - Maniat towers.
Tower of Mourtzinos - Ilias Mavromichales,
Kyriakoulis Mavromichales,
Petrompeis Mavromichales' tower
Konstantinos Kolokotronis' death
People of Mani - Maniat tower
Petrobeis Mavromichalis - Mani - 1800 - Maniat tower