March 25 is a national holiday celebrated throughout Greece. Today Greeks worldwide commemorate Greek Independence Day, which marks the start of the War of Independence. Every single individual who fought for Greece was a hero and today we put the spotlight on two Greek heroines Manto Mavrogenous and Laskarina Bouboulina, who became national heroes after fighting tirelessly for Greece’s independence.
Manto Mavrogenous, a heroine of the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829), was one of the few women who excelled in the war. She was baptised as Magdalene and she was born into a wealthy Greek family, in Trieste, in 1796. Her father, Nicholas Mafrogennis, was a merchant from the Cyclades, and her mother was a Mykonian noble woman named Zacharatos Antonios Hatzis Bati. She was multilingual and kept the records of her husband’s commercial activities. Her father also was a member of the Filiki Eteria, a secret society of the 19th Century, of which she became an active member in 1820.
With the outbreak of the Greek Revolution, she left Tinos, where she had been living after her father’s death in 1818, and moved to Mykonos where she led the rebellion of the island against the Turks. With ships, two of which she had equipped with her own expenses, she pursued the pirates who were ravaging the Cyclades. Later on, she fought several battles in Pelion, in Fthiotida and Livadia. Due to her financial support, her actions in general, as well as her letters to the philhellenic countries of France and England, she became legendary in Europe. Her portrait was printed and published in 1827 all over Europe.
For her involvement in the war effort, she was commended by Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first Governor of the new Greek state. She was given the honorary rank of General – her being the only woman to achieve such a status- and was offered a residence in the first capital of Greece, Nafplio. In 1825, when she lived in Nafplio, with her resources having been drained due to the war she was forced to sell her family’s property, to the Cycladic Islands.
The breach of faith of Dimitris Ypsiladis’ promise to marry her, the poverty she had suffered and her violent removal from Nafplio in 1826, under the command of Ioannis Kolettis, were severe blows to the heroine. Therefore, she returned to Mykonos after the revolution and after a few years died in Paros, very poor and forgotten.
Laskarina Bouboulina was from the island of Hydra but was actually born in the prison of Constantinople, where her mother was visiting her dying father, Stavrianos Pinotsis, who had been imprisoned by the Turks because of his participation in the Peloponnesian revolution of 1769-70. After her father’s death, she moved to Hydra for fours years and then to Spetses when her mother remarried a Spetsiot captain, Dimitrios Lazarou-Orlof. Bouboulina grew up with a love of the sea, marrying two sea-captains who both died, leaving her a lot of money.
Through wise investments, she increased her worth and bought several ships, including the Agamemnon, the largest warship in the 1821 revolution against the Turks. Bouboulina became a member of the underground organization, Filiki Etairia(Friendly Society) organizing and preparing the Greeks for the revolution against the Turks, the only woman in this organization. On March 13th, 1821, twelve days before the official beginning of the War of Independence, the first revolutionary flag was actually raised on the island of Spetses by Laskarina Bouboulina.
On April 3rd Spetses revolted, followed by the islands of Hydra and Psara with a total of over 300 ships between them. Bouboulina and her fleet of 8 ships sailed to Nafplion and took part in the siege of the impregnable fortress there. Her later attack on Monemvasia managed to capture that fortress. She took part in the blockade of Pylos and brought supplies to the revolutionaries by sea. She became friends with Theodoros Kolokotronis and was considered an equal with the rest of the generals when planning strategy. In the first two years of the war, she spent almost all of her fortune paying the crew of her ships and supplying a small army of Spetsiotis with food, weapons, and ammunition.
Following the war, she lived in the capital of the new Greek state, the town of Nafplion until the Greeks broke into factions and began to fight each other. She was arrested twice and finally expelled back to Spetses. Her fortune depleted and bitter with the Greek politicians who had squandered all they had gained from the Turks by fighting amongst themselves, Bouboulina died on 22nd May 1825, shot in a dispute with the Koutsis family after her son had eloped with one of their daughters. Bouboulina became a national hero, one of the first women to play a major role in a revolution. Without her and her ships, the Greeks might not have gained their independence.
*Source: History of Greece and Mykonos.gr