Orlov Revolt (1770–1771)

The ceiling of Panagia Faniromeni, Zakynthos town. Originally painted by Nikolaos Doxaras and assistant Stefano Pasigetis 1753–1762
The ceiling of Panagia Faniromeni, Zakynthos town. Originally painted by Nikolaos Doxaras and assistant Stefano Pasigetis 1753–1762

Orlov Revolt (1770–1771)

The Orlov Revolt was a Greek uprising primarily centred in the Peloponnese. It erupted in February 1770 following the arrival of the Russian Admiral Alexey Orlov, commander of the Imperial Russian Navy during the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774) to Mani. The revolt was a major precursor to the Greek War of Independence and was part of Catherine the Great’s so-called Greek Plan. Eventually, it was suppressed by the Ottoman Empire. Many Ionian Islanders participated in this war including Zakynthians; however, none of the war was fought on Zakynthian soil. Increasingly, the participation of Zakynthians (who were effectively Venetian subjects) in wars outside of Zakynthos took on a national character which went against the wishes of the Venetian rulers and often resulted in reprisals. In fact, Venice in accordance with their purported neutrality did their best to reduce the participation of Zakynthians in the Orlov Revolt and made overtures of peace to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Following a long period of peace, on 23 October 1768 the Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia in response to supposed aggressive Russian foreign policy and interference in Crimea, an Ottoman vassal at the time. Hoping to weaken the Ottoman Empire and establish a pro-Russian independent Greek state, Russian emissaries had been sent to Mani in the mid-1760s to make a pact with the strongest local military leaders. At the same time, notable Greeks approached various Russian agents discussing the project for the liberation of Greece. In preparation of war, Russian agents promoted Greek rebellion to support military actions in the north. Several Greeks serving in the Russian army were either sent to Mani or worked with other Russian officers to ferment insurrection in the Morea. The organization of the Greek rebellion was put under the command of the brothers Alexei and Grigroy Orlov.[45]

In return for the supply of men and arms, the Greek rebels expected massive Russian aid of around 10,000 soldiers and military equipment. Another Orlov brother, Fyodor was sent to coordinate rebels in Morea which was considered the most important strategic area in mainland Greece given some of its important ports. The eventual expeditionary force of four ships, a few hundred soldiers and inadequate arms supplies greatly disappointed the Greeks. Nevertheless, combined Russian-Greek forces attempted a campaign, with the establishment of local armed groups in Mani and Kalamata. Mutual distrust developed between the Greek and Russian leaders. Initially an army of 1,400 men was formed but additional reinforcements from Crete arrived shortly after.

In the meantime, many Zakynthians and Kefalonians had crossed over to the Morea. The Zakynthian Captain Palikoukias of the ship Atta furnished with 20 cannon and a paid crew of 80 sailors had lowered the flag of St Mark of Venice and raised the Russian flag. The Zakynthians also chartered two ships and disembarked Lechena, around Gastouni. The Venetian provveditores of the islands expressed alarm at the fanaticism of the locals for the Orlov Revolt to his superiors in Venice. By early March, the Greek rebels were initially successful and managed to defeat Ottoman forces in Laconia and eastern Messenia in southern Morea. In the north-west of the Morea in Elis, Zakynthian and Kefalonians managed to control the area after a force of around 2,000 Zakynthians led by Vassilieos Makris, Nikolaos Fourtounis, Xanthopoulos and Thrakiotis sieged Pyrgos and then conquered Gastouni and most of Elis. They set up a government administration along similar lines as the Venetian Republic. Nikoalsos Fourtounis was appointed provveditore of Pyrgos and Gastouni. Along with a Kefalonian force, the Zakynthians the besieged Patras. The siege last 20 days until the reinforcement of Turk-Albanians arrived. In response, many of the Zakynthians and Kefalonians left the area including Gastouni. When they returned to Zakynthos and Kefalonia many requested a pardon from the authorities as their participation in the Orlov Revolt was considered a crime. Following pressure from the Ottomans, Venice attempted to pursue the Zakynthian and Kefalonian leaders. The leader, Vassileios Makris escaped punishment but was pursued later in 1776 for his leadership of the Zakynythian force in the siege of Patras. However, the case against Makris and others like Nikolaos Fourtounis was finally heard in 1781 and they were eventually pardoned.

The broader Orlov Revolt however failed to effectively spread – the fortresses of Navarino, Methone and the administrative center of the Morea, Tripolitsa (modern Tripoli) remained under Ottoman control. Meanwhile, a Greek revolt started in Crete. However, again the support promised by the Russian emissaries never arrived and the Cretan leaders were left to his own devices. They managed to organize a band of 2,000 well armed men who descended from the mountains onto the plains of western Crete. The Cretan uprising was soon suppressed by the numerically superior Ottoman army. With the assistance of Greek islanders, the Russian fleet scored a major victory against the Ottoman navy in the Battle of Cesme but this did not help the Greek army in Morea. A Zakynthian ship under the command of Padouveros participated in this battle. The revolt was soon crushed. The Ottoman Empire hired Albanian mercenary troops and they defeated the Russo-Greek expedition at Tripolitsa. Ultimately, the Orlov Revolt was a failure which cost a huge number of lives. The Greeks were effectively forgotten in the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji that followed the cessation of hostilities between the Ottoman and Russian Empires. Consequently, they became increasingly distrustful of the Russians as a result. However, some connections to Russia remained strong in part because of the influence of prominent Greeks in Russia such as Count Mocenigo of Zakynthos who served as Russian Ambassador in Tuscany.


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