The siege and overthrowing of Constantinople opened the floodgates for the Ottoman peoples to relocate and reside in the City, as well as conquer the surrounding areas, beginning with the Peloponnese and Attiki, and eventually all of Greece. To be successful with this, however, they needed to put an end to the Venetian control over these areas; places they have had a presence in since 1204. The Venetian lands slowly, one by one began to pass into Ottoman hands, whereas by the beginning of the 17th century the Ottomans took over and occupied all the once-Venetian places. Specifically, they lost the Cycladic Islands, Cyprus, Crete (1669) and the Ionian Islands (1797).
While by the end of the 17th century, the Ottomans controlled nearly all the Greek lands, the Venetians managed to regain some, such as the Peloponnese and Athens in 1687. This recovery was followed by the heavy bombardment of the Acropolis, which resulted in the destruction of a significant portion of the famed Parthenon temple. The conflict between the Ottomans and the Venetians over control of the Greek lands ended in 1699 with the signing of the Treaty of Karlowitz, where the agreement had the Venetians retain control of the Peloponnese, the island of Aegina and the city of Lefkada. The Ottomans would reign over mainland Greece and the islands of the Aegean Sea. Soon after, they took over the lands bequeathed to the Venetians as well, and thus began the long, drawn-out Ottoman occupation of all of Greece.
The Ottoman occupation lasted for nearly four centuries, where the Greek people were treated like slaves by their captors. They worked as serfs on what was their land, and paid tribute to the Ottoman Empire by paying a poll tax and giving up part of the land’s crops. Among the many taxes, the one that placed the heaviest burden was the Paidomazoma, which took on the name “the blood tax”. The Ottomans, in one effort to break the Greek state of mind, would take the Greek children from a young age and trained them in military and combat tactics, converting them into janissaries (nomenclature given to Ottoman soldiers and guards).
It would be same Greek boys, who years later as Ottoman janissaries, would fight against the Greeks, their own kind. Aside from the “blood tax”, other concessions forced upon the indentured Greeks included the mandatory signing of islands and islamization. Mainly because Christianity gave the Greek people courage and strength during tough times, and also helped them develop as a people, the Ottoman Empire engaged in a systematic campaign of islamization, through coercion tactics, in an effort to quash Christianity.
The unequal distribution of wealth within the occupied areas resulted in the creation of three classes of society.
• The highest class atop this pyramid is the aristocratic, which included the Patriarchate and the high clergy, the state elders, who held sway over large tracts of land, and the Phanariots, who were higher echelon leaders and elite who took part in managing state affairs. The Ottomans granted certain privileges to these groups of Greeks, in order to achieve the greatest and tightest control of the land, and commissioning to them religious and liturgical tasks, which gave them elementary powers and rights.
These few privileges the Phanariots had did enable them to slowly and methodically climb the ladder of autocratic positions, which benefited the Greek people in the lower classes; both during the years of enslavement and the ensuing centuries before their liberation. Beyond the recognition of the place the Orthodox Christian Church had in Greece, the religious privileges granted to the Patriarchate gave them the status of being the head and leader of the Greek people, and the first Patriarch to take this title under the new Ottoman rules was Gennadios Scholarios.
• The second class of citizens were among the traders, merchants and ship owners, a group known as the urbanites, who took a cut from the taxes and other monies extracted from the poorer class, the peasants and farmers.
• By far, the largest part of the population was the third class; the poor, the peasants and the farmers, who bore the heaviest tax burden and barely made ends meet.
The living conditions of the indentured Greeks, especially those of the lower class, fueled their desire for resistance, which culminated in the formation of two groups; the Kleftons and the Armatolons. The Kleftons called upon those who took refuge in the hills and mountains, and organized small, targeted ambushes and attacks against their occupiers. While the Armatolons appeared some time later, as the rival to the Kleftons early on, but later joined forces as they shared a common goal; freedom. Together these two loosely armed and organized groups led the uprising against the occupation and played an important and inspirational role for later Greeks during the War of Independence in 1821.
These uprisings grew in size and frequency over the decades of the 17th and 18th centuries. They laid the foundation for the inevitable and upcoming Greek Revolutionary War. Up until 1770, countless of these ambushes and attacks took place, but they lacked in organization and adequate armaments. The first significant uprising was named after the Russian brothers Orloff, who were Philhellenes and supported the Greeks’ cause materially and in spirit. This rebellion took place during the Russo-Ottoman War, which lasted from 1770-1774.
The enslaved Greeks, influenced by the Russian opposition, fought with them side-by-side and they sparked other Klefton and Armatolon groups to organize attacks and skirmishes of their own…all of this however still left the Greeks without a single victory. Nevertheless, they succeeded in getting their religious freedom and right to travel about the Mediterranean Sea, under the protection of the Russians. These new freedoms were granted under the agreements of the Kucuk-Kaynarca Treaty, which marked the end of the Russo-Ottoman War.
Just four short years after the signing of that treaty, a new war broke out between the two superpowers. The second Russo-Ottoman War gave the Greek people yet new hope and opportunities to continue their struggle towards freedom. The most noteworthy rebellion was that of Suleyman against the pasha Ali, in 1789. The historical significance of this battle is the loss of 50 of Suleyman’s men, who fell off Mt. Zaloggou in 1803. The military campaign of Lambrou Katsonis in the Aegean (such as the naval battle at Andros) were effective for a time, but eventually suppressed by the Ottomans.