The Ottoman Empire once spanned three continents, but by the 19th century this lumbering behemoth was getting ragged around the edges as subject peoples started agitating (and sometimes fighting) for their freedom from harsh Turkish rule. Revolutionaries began the Greek War of Independence in 1821, but the journey would be long and bloody. Revolts against Ottoman rule broke out in various parts of the country and the first big home successes came in southern Greece, the Peloponnese, where insurrectionists won a decisive victory at the Battle of Valtetsi and then laid siege to Tripolista, the largest city and an important Ottoman administrative center.
In addition to many thousands of Turks, the city contained a large Jewish population and numerous Ottoman refugees from successful Greek attacks elsewhere in the Peloponnese. The somewhat inefficient siege lasted for months, punctuated by occasional sorties by Turkish cavalry and protracted negotiations between attackers and defenders. But on September 23 – shortly after cleverly giving a large Albanian contingent safe passage out of Tripolista and thus weakening the garrison – the attackers decided that Turkish defenders were deliberately prevaricating in the hope of delaying matters until Ottoman troops arrived to lift the siege. They found a weak spot in the walls and successfully stormed the town.
What followed the fall of Tripolista is almost too awful to contemplate. The Greeks looted with wild abandon and savagely slaughtered every non-Christian they could lay hands on – Turk and Jew alike – often inflicting terrible tortures on those suspected of concealing valuables. Limbs were amputated, screaming victims were slowly roasted over open fires and pregnant woman were slashed open. Heads were cut off, children were chased and killed like stray dogs and after two days the last remnants of Tripolista’s terrified population were rounded up and brutally massacred.
When: From September 23 1821
Where: Tripolista (now Tripoli), Peloponnese, Greece
Death toll: The most authoritative estimates suggest that upwards of 30,000 Turks and Jews were killed by rampaging Greeks after the fall of Tripolista.
You should know: Many moderate Greek leaders were horrified by the massacre at Tripolista, and it would not be long before the independence movement split into warring political and military factions, though Greece finally did achieve nationhood in 1832 after Russia, Britain and France intervened on behalf of the embattled Greeks.