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The sea and nation-building: Between a privately-owned, privateering and “piratical” merchant fleet and a revolutionary national navy, 1821-1829



The sea and nation-building: Between a privately-owned, privateering and “piratical” merchant fleet and a revolutionary national navy, 1821-1829


13 March 2021


On the eve of the Greek Revolution, Greeks, as Ottoman, Ionian, Russian or other subjects, owned the largest fleet of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea and were the main carriers of the goods of the Ottoman Empire to the Western Mediterranean and northern Europe. The Ottoman Empire, an inland empire relied on its non-Muslim subjects for maritime trade and the manning of its navy. The Sublime Porte actively promoted the economic development of its non-Muslim subjects since the late 18th century to limit the influence of European nations in its domestic market and promote Ottoman trade. The agents of these maritime activities were predominantly the Greeks. Shipping directly connected with the Greek diaspora communities at the port-cities of Europe, apart from building an entrepreneurial system of transporting cargoes from East to West, carried also revolutionary ideas. The importance of the shipping activities in the Greek Revolution in the existing bibliography has focused its attention on the involvement of three islands in the formation of the first Greek navy: Hydra, Spetses and Psara. The present study, result of a three-year research in the Greek and European archives, reveals two stages of the formation of the Greek navy and a threesome activity in connection to the sea. Its first phase that lasted from 1821-1825 the Greek “navy” was a privately-owned revolutionary national fleet formed by 50-60 merchant cargo vessels from more than ten islands and coastal towns in 1821. During its second phase, from 1826 onwards the temporary revolutionary government financed the purchase of ships in order to form its national navy. Apart from the formation of a national navy of about 50-60 vessels, the main strength of the revolutionaries at sea was a privateering and/or piratical fleet of about 900 large merchant vessels in both the Aegean and Ionian seas that acted both as a belligerent, supplier and economic provider. In the meantime, Ionian vessels under British or other European flags acted as an ancillary merchant fleet involved in international trade also supplying the areas under revolt. What archives reveal is that legitimate and illegitimate sea trade financed the war at sea and contributed to the formation of the Greek Kingdom.

(Edited abstract from organiser’s website)

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