Greek Victory

Greek Victory

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Kingdom of Greece (Central Victory)

The Kingdom of Greece (Greek: Βασίλειον τῆς Ἑλλάδος, Vasílion tis Elládos) was a state established in 1832 at the Convention of London by the Great Powers (the United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire). It was internationally recognized by the Treaty of Constantinople, where it also secured full independence from the Ottoman Empire. This event also marked the birth of the first, fully independent, Greek state since the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans in the mid-15th century.

The Kingdom succeeded from the Greek provisional governments after the Greek War of Independence, and lasted until 1924. In 1924 the monarchy was abolished, and the Second Hellenic Republic was established. The restored Kingdom of Greece lasted from 1935 to 1941. The Kingdom was again dissolved in the aftermath of the Axis invasion, and the Hellenic State, a fascist puppet government, came to be.

Nike’s Birth in Greek Mythology

Nike, the winged goddess, was born to the Titan Pallas and the nymph Styx. Nike’s father, Pallas, was the Titan god that handled warcraft. He was the son of Titans Crius and Eurybia and during the Titanomachy, Pallas fought against the Olympians – a new and powerful generation of gods who were led by Zeus. In the course of the Titanomachy, Pallas ended up dying at the hands of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare.

The mother of Nike, the nymph Styx, was the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. Styx is generally depicted as the goddess of the River Styx – the river that separates the living world from the Underworld. Unlike her husband, Pallas, Styx chose the side of the Olympians during the Titanomachy. She even went as far as committing her children – the goddesses Kratos (strength), Bia (Force), Zelus (Emulation), and Nike to the services of Zeus.

I knew Hanukkah celebrated defeating the Greeks. Then I moved to Athens and the story got complicated.

ATHENS, Greece ( JTA ) — When my wife and I arrived in this capital city on Sept. 1 to serve as rabbinical emissaries to the Jewish community, I have to admit I was very excited about what the prospect of spending Hanukkah in Greece might be like. With nearly 90% of the Jewish Greek population wiped out during the Holocaust, the majority of survivors returned to settle in Athens, which now boasts close to 3,000 members in a warm and special community.

My experiences here so far, while smaller and more limited due to coronavirus restrictions, have provided me with a remarkable new understanding of the history of that period — one that is very different from what many of us are familiar with.

Growing up as a child in Israel, the narrative of the Jewish victory over the mighty and wicked Greeks is one that we learned from the youngest ages. That story, of course, created a certain sense of mystery — and perhaps even anger — toward the Greek nation.

But upon arrival in Greece, I quickly came to appreciate that the history is far more complex — and that Hanukkah is commemorated very differently here as a result.

The Jewish community of modern-day Greece largely belongs to the Romaniote heritage, known to be one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. Historians debate whether the community dates back to the fourth-century BCE or “only” the second century. Either way, these are a people with an ancient history and deep-rooted traditions. Part of that tradition is their identity as Greeks, which is at least as strong as their identity as Jews. For obvious reasons, the Jews of Greece feel no small degree of discomfort at their people being labeled as the evildoers in the Hanukkah story.

But the Greeks of the story are not the same as the Greeks of today. The regime that ruled over the Land of Israel and terrorized the Jewish people until the Maccabean revolt was the Seleucid Empire . Their territory stretched from the Mediterranean region (including Greece) and well eastward into Persia. Most of the empire’s soldiers were mercenaries or slaves from the countries they occupied.

The major cities of the empire were not centered in Greece but in Syria and Iraq. Its capital was the city of Antioch, located in modern-day Turkey. The Antiochus we know from the Hanukkah story, Antiochus IV, only received his “Greek citizenship” in his 30s. The early high commander sent to quash the Maccabean revolt was of Syrian origin, not Greek.

Greek Jews are deeply committed to embracing the more historically accurate version of the story. There are very practical implications of this shift. In many local prayer books, the term Yavan (Greece) is omitted from Al Hanisim , part of the Hanukkah prayers. Similarly, the local version of the song “ Maoz Tzur ,” which is recited alongside the lighting of the menorah , replaces Greeks with Syrians as the force that ganged up against the Maccabees.

I have yet to determine exactly when these traditions began, but they are certainly ancient. The Talmud references several locations in the Syrian state (Aram Tzuba) that places them within the Seleucid Empire. These discoveries reflect how Jewish traditions can differ greatly from place to place — particularly in relation to how the Jewish community perceives the nation in which it is located.

Being part of a network of Orthodox emissaries spread out around the Jewish Diaspora, my wife and I have gained incredible insight into local cultures and traditions, bringing richness, understanding and new meaning into our holiday celebrations. This year, in addition to our traditional potato latkes, we will be making the special Greek Hanukkah doughnuts with honey, loukoumades .

As I look forward to this Hanukkah, which I know will be unique in so many ways, I welcome the chance to embrace a new perspective on a story that I thought I had always known. This year, I’ll be rejoicing not about a victory over the Greeks, but about the enduring and resilient triumphs of the Jews over darkness — no matter our adversaries.

Siege of Orleans

The French won the siege of Orléans, France, in May 1429 largely because of Joan of Arc, a teenage peasant whose visions of God led her to fight in the Hundred Years' War. The English seemed to be winning their nearly six-month siege of the city but when St. Joan appeared in the city, rallying the citizenry, suggesting tactical decisions and participating in battle, the French retook the banks of the Loire River and defeated the invaders. The win boosted the morale of the dispirited French, who had been badly beaten at Agincourt, France, by Henry IV. Many say the battle saved the France from centuries of English rule.

26-30 Ancient Greece Facts

26. Kettlebells date all the way back to Ancient Greece. A 143 kg kettlebell was found in Athens with an inscription that reads, “Bibon heaved up me above the head by one hand”. – Source

27. The Battle of Salamis is believed to be one of the most significant battles in human history. Some historians believe that a Persian victory would have hamstrung the development of Ancient Greece, and by extension western civilization. – Source

28. In Ancient Greece, homoerotic practices were widely present and integrated into religion, philosophy and military culture. – Source

29. The tradition of birthday candles began in Ancient Greece when people brought cakes adorned with lit candles to the temple of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. The candles were lit to make them glow like the moon, a popular symbol associated with Artemis. – Source

30. Phalaris, a ruler in ancient Greece was so disgusted by the Brazen Bull execution device that he used it on its own creator before throwing him off a cliff to his death. – Source

The Battle of Thermopylae

The Greek alliance originally wanted to confront the Persian forces in Thessaly, the region just to the south of Macedon, at the Vale of Tempe. The Battle of Marathon had shown that Greek forces would be able to defeat the Persians if they could force them into tight areas where their superior numbers no longer mattered. The Vale of Tempe provided them with this geographical advantage, but when the Greeks got word that the Persians had learned of a way to go around the vale, they had to change their strategy.

Thermopylae was chosen for a similar reason. It was directly on the path of the Persians’ southward advance into Greece, but the narrow pass of Thermopylae, which was protected by mountains the west and the Gulf of Malias to the west, was just 15m wide. Taking up a defensive position here would bottleneck the Persians and help to level the playing field.

The Persian forces were accompanied by its massive fleet, and the Greeks had chosen Artemisium, which lies to the east of Thermopylae, as the place to engage with the Persian contingency of ships. It was an ideal choice because it gave the Greeks the chance to stop the Persian army before they could advance south to Attica, and also because it would allow the Greek navy the chance to prevent the Persian fleet from sailing to Thermopylae and outflanking the Greeks fighting on land.

By the end of August, or perhaps beginning of September 480 BCE, the Persian army was nearing Thermopylae. The Spartans were joined by three to four thousand soldiers from the rest of the Peloponnese, cities such as Corinth, Tegea, and Arcadia, as well as another three to four thousand soldiers from the rest of Greece, meaning a total of around 7,000 men were sent to stop an army of 180,000.

That the 300 Spartans had significant help is one of the parts of the Battle of Thermopylae that has been forgotten in the name of mythmaking. Many like to think these 300 Spartans were the only ones fighting, but they weren’t. However, this does not take away from the fact that the Greeks were severely outnumbered as they took up their positions at Thermopylae.

The Greeks and Persians Arrive

The Greeks (7,000 men) made it to the pass first, but the Persians arrived shortly thereafter. When Xerxes saw how small the Greek force was, he allegedly ordered his troops to wait. He figured the Greeks would see just how outnumbered they were and eventually surrender. The Persians held off their attack for three whole days, but the Greeks showed no signs of leaving.

During these three days, a few things happened that would have an impact on the Battle of Thermopylae as well as the rest of the war. First, the Persian fleet was caught in a wicked storm off the coast of Euboea that resulted in the loss of around one-third of their ships.

Second, Leonidas took 1,000 of his men, mainly people from the nearby city of Locris, to guard the relatively unknown passageway that circumvented the narrow Pass of Thermopylae. At the time, Xerxes did not know this back route existed, and Spartan King Leonidas knew his learning of it would doom the Greeks. The force stationed up in the mountains was set to serve not only as a line of defense but also as a warning system that could alert the Greeks fighting on the beaches in the event the Persians found their way around the narrow pass. With all of this done, the stage was set for the fighting to begin.

Day 1: Xerxes is Rebuffed

After three days, it became clear to Xerxes the Greeks were not going to surrender, so he began his attack. According to modern historians, he sent his army in waves of 10,000 men, but this did not do much. The pass was so narrow that most of the fighting took place between just a few hundred men in close quarters. The Greek phalanx, along with their heavier bronze armor and longer spears, stood strong despite being so hopelessly outnumbered.

Several waves of 10,000 Medes were all beaten back. In between each attack, Leonidas rearranged the phalanx so that those who had been fighting would be given a chance to rest and so that the front lines could be fresh. By the end of the day, Xerxes, likely irritated that his soldiers could not break the Greek line, sent the Immortals into battle, but they too were rebuffed, meaning that the first day of battle would end in failure for the Persians. They returned to their camp and waited for the next day.

Day 2: The Greeks Hold but Xerxes Learns

The second day of the Battle of Thermopylae was not all that different from the first in that Xerxes continued to send his men in waves of 10,000. But just as on the first day, the Greek phalanx proved to be too strong to beat even with a heavy barrage from Persian arrows, and the Persians were once again forced to return to camp having failed to break the Greek lines.

Greek hoplite and Persian warrior fighting each other. Depiction in ancient kylix. 5th c. B.C.

However, on this second day, in the late afternoon or early evening, something happened that would turn the tables of the Battle of Thermopylae in favor of the Persians. Remember that Leonidas has dispatched a force of 1,000 Locrians to defend the second route around the pass. But a local Greek, who was likely trying to win over Xerxes’ favor in an attempt to receive special treatment after their victory, approached the Persian camp and alerted them to the existence of this secondary route.

Seeing this as his opportunity to finally break the Greek line, Xerxes sent a large force of Immortals to find the pass. He knew that should they be successful, they would be able to get in behind Greek line, which would have allowed them to attack from both the front and back, a move that would have meant certain death for the Greeks.

The Immortals traveled in the middle of the night and reached the entrance to the pass sometime before daybreak. They engaged with the Locrians and defeated them, but before the fighting began, several Locrians escaped through the narrow pass to warn Leonidas that the Persians had discovered this critical weak point.

At Artemisium, the Athenian-led navy was able to inflict heavy damages on the Persian fleet by luring them into tight corridors and using their more agile ships to defeat the Persians. However, once again, the Persian numbers were too great and the Greek fleet was in trouble. But before retreating, an envoy was sent to Thermopylae to see how the battle was transpiring, for they did not want to abandon the fight altogether and leave the right flank of the Greek force at the pass exposed.

Day 3: The Last Stand of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans

Leonidas got word that the Persians had found the route around Thermopylae at dawn on the third day of battle. Knowing full well that this meant their doom, he told his soldiers it was time to depart. But not wanting to expose those retreating to the Persian advance, Leonidas informed his troops that he would remain with his force of 300 Spartans, but that all others could leave. Nearly everyone took him up on this offer except for around 700 Thebans.

Much legend has been attributed to this decision made by Leonidas. Some believe it was because during his trip to the Oracle before the battle began he was given a prophecy that said he was going to die on the battlefield if he did not succeed. Others attribute the move to the notion that Spartan soldiers never retreated. However, most historians now believe he sent off most of his force so that they could rejoin with the rest of the Greek armies and live to fight the Persians another day.

This move ended up being a success in that it allowed around 2,000 Greek soldiers to escape. But it did also result in the death of Leonidas, as well as his entire force of 300 Spartans and 700 Thebans from the initial tally of 7,000 men.

Xerxes, confident he would now win the Battle, waited until the late afternoon to give his Immortals the chance to make it through the pass and advance on the remaining Greeks. The Spartans withdrew to a small hill near the pass, together with the few other Greek soldiers who had refused to leave. The Greeks fought the Persians with all their remaining strength. When their weapons broke, they fought with their hands and teeth (According to Herodotus). But the Persian soldiers vastly outnumbered them and finally the Spartans were overwhelmed with a volley of Persian arrows. At the end, the Persian lost at the very least, 20,000 men. The Greek rearguard, meanwhile, was annihilated, with a probable loss of 4,000 men, including those killed on the first two days of battle.

After Leonidas was killed, the Greeks attempted to recover his body, but they failed. It wasn’t until weeks later that they were able to get it, and when they returned it to Sparta, Leonidas was enshrined as a hero. Meanwhile, receiving word that the Persians had found a way around the Pass of Thermopylae, the Greek fleet at Artemisium turned around and sailed south to try and beat the Persians to Attica and defend Athens.

This story of Spartan King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans is one of bravery and valor. That these men were willing to stay behind and fight to the death speaks to the spirit of the Spartan fighting force, and it reminds us of what people are willing to do when their homeland and very existence are threatened. Because of this, the Battle of Thermopylae has remained in our collective memories for well over 2,000 years. Below is a bust of a Greek hoplite found at the Athena temple in Sparta. Most believe it is made from Leonidas’ likeness.

2. Ancient Greeks had no qualms about the practice of slavery

In a society where individual freedom was valued so deeply, keeping slaves was rather a common practice. In modern times, we are averse to even hear the word ‘slave’ but this was not so in ancient Greece. In fact Greeks believed that slavery contributed a lot towards economic and social stability.

There were famous men who actually justified this practice. Among them was the famous philosopher Aristotle. According to him, slaves were born to serve the rulers. He propagated the doctrine of natural slavery. The master philosopher went on to say that it was important to enslave men and women who could not live a fruitful life if not guided and controlled by the rulers. He saw them as property that could be traded and owned.

The Significance of Marathon

Battle of Marathon: famous clash between a Persian invasion force and an army of Athenians in 490 BCE. Its signicance is greatly exaggerated.

It often said that the battle of Marathon was one of the few really decisive battles in history. The truth, however, is that we cannot establish this with certainty. Still, the fight had important consequences: it gave rise to the idea that East and West were opposites, an idea that has survived until the present day, in spite of the fact that “Marathon” has become the standard example to prove that historians can better refrain from such bold statements.

Presenting Marathon – Then and Now

The Spartans were the first to commemorate the battle of Marathon. Although they arrived too late for the fight, they visited the battlefield, inspected the dead, and praised the Athenians. The story is told by Herodotus, note [Herodotus, Histories 6.120.] the author of our main source for the fight. The very first question we ought to ask is why he chose to tell it. After all, his ambition was to record “great and marvelous deeds”, and the late arrival of the reinforcements was neither great nor marvelous. The Spartan presence at Marathon, however, served to present the battle that had been, or ought to have been, a fight by all Greeks.

That “Marathon” had been more than a normal battle, was hardly a new idea. Prior to Herodotus’ writing, monuments had already been erected, which presented the warriors as the equals of the heroes of the Trojan War. Other monuments, like the one mentioned by Pausanias, presented the dead as defenders of democracy: Pausanias mentions an Athenian “grave in the plain with are stones on it, carved with the names of the dead in their voting districts”. note [Pausanias, Guide for Greece 1.32.3. Three fragments of the inscriptions of Pausanias’ monument were recently excavated in Astros on the Peloponnese, where the Athenian billionaire Herodes Atticus (second century CE) owned a villa. He apparently removed the inscriptions from the monument seen by Pausanias. The names were indeed arranged by voting districts, which means that the original tomb was a monument of the Athenian democracy. Greek archaeologist G. Spyropoulos has suggested that the famous funeral mound in the plain was erected at the same time. This would explain why the dead were buried in a tumulus: a very aristocratic type of burial that had come to an end after the reforms of Solon (594 BCE), had no parallels in classical Athens, cannot have been used in 490, but may well have been deemed suitable in the Roman age, when the aristocratic associations were no longer remembered.] A monument erected in Delphi presented the ten tribes and lauded the democratically elected Miltiades, but conspicuously ignored the polemarch Callimachus.

Framing the Battle

Herodotus chose not to present the battle in the same way. Knowing that the Persians had returned in 480 and had tried to conquer Greece, he interpreted the battle as a first attempt to do the same, which made the fight important for all of Greece. This is unlikely to be a correct judgment: the Persian army was too small for conquest and occupation, and most historians have rejected this.

What they did not reject, was the context in which Herodotus presented the violent actions. His Histories presuppose an elaborate model of action and reaction, which is Herodotus’ way to express historical causality: Cyrus conquered the Greek towns in Asia (action), they revolted (reaction), a war broke out in which Athens and Eretria supported the rebels (action), Persia restored order and decided to subdue the allies (reaction), the Persians came to Attica (action), where the Athenians defeated them at Marathon (reaction), so the Persians returned with a bigger army to avenge themselves.

This pattern of action and reaction is unlikely to correspond to historical fact. After all, the first action and the first reaction are separated by a considerable period, and the campaign of 490 was not aimed at the conquest of Greece. So, while Herodotus’ sequence of the events between 500 and 479 is probably correct, we may have some doubt about the causal connections. The Halicarnassian may in the end turn out to be right, but that is not now at issue: what needs to be stressed is that the framework in which we place the battle of Marathon, was created by Herodotus.

This framework also presents the struggle between the Greeks and the Asians as going back to times immemorial. The very first part of the Histories is a slightly ironic account of some ancient legends about women being carried away, but Herodotus continues by pointing at “the man who to the best of my knowledge was the first to commit wrong against the Greeks”, king Croesus of Lydia. The restriction “to the best of my knowledge” suggests that Herodotus believed that the conflict had started earlier. Herodotus is not just the father of history, he is also the father of the idea that East and West are eternal opposites.

Even more importantly, he is the first author to make this antagonism something more than a geographical opposition. The Asians were the slaves of the great king, and they went to war because the ruler ordered them to, while the Greeks were citizens of free cities, who obeyed the law and went to defend their liberty. This is borne out by the words of the Spartan exile Demaratus to Xerxes:

Over the Greeks is set Law as a master, whom they fear much more even than your people fear you”. note [Herodotus, Histories 7.103.]

This speech is, of course, one of Herodotus’ own compositions: not only are “tragic warners” in the Histories invariably speaking on behalf of the author, but the topic under discussion, the tension between the rule of a leader and the rule of the law, is typical for the political debate in democratic Athens. note [Compare the famous, equally fictitious constitutional debate in Herodotus, Histories 3.80-82.]

Herodotus’ framing of the Persian Wars as a struggle between a monarchical Asia and a free Greece explains his authorial choices. He might have mentioned the Spartan visit to the battlefield very briefly, but inserted a long digression, because the incident, although completely irrelevant for the battle, was useful to convert Marathon into a panhellenic event.

Nineteenth-Century Theories

Greece versus Asia: although popular in the classical age, this theme lost relevance in the Hellenistic age. Once Rome had seized power, the main opposition was that between the barbarians outside the Empire and the civilized Mediterranean city dwellers. When Christianity became popular, the main antagonism was between pagans and orthodox believers. In the Early Middle Ages, new self-identifications and oppositions arose: the scholars of Constantinople believed that Islam was the archenemy of the Byzantine Empire, whereas in the Carolingian Empire, scribes believed in an antagonism between Islam and those who were called “Europenses”. The first reference to Europeans as a cultural unity is the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754.

For centuries, the inhabitants of western Europe associated their culture with Rome and Christianity. In the eighteenth century, however, the famous German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann created the modern paradigm that Rome had merely continued Greek culture, and that Athens was the real origin of western civilization.

This new idea was successful, and in the early nineteenth century, the belief that Athens was the cradle of a freedom-loving, rational European civilization, was fully accepted. It was freedom, philosophers argued, that had at Marathon been defended by the Athenians. Because their victory had inspired other Greeks to resist Xerxes, Marathon had been an important battle: in Marathon, the foundations of western civilization had been laid. The British philosopher John Stuart Mill judged that “the battle of Marathon, even as an event in English history, is more important than the battle of Hastings”.

That bold, often repeated statement, is based on three assumptions. The first is that the Athenians were fighting for the independence of Greece. The pre-Herodotean monuments prove that this was not the perspective of the participants: Athenian democrats fighting against a Persian army that wanted to bring back the tyrant (sole ruler) Hippias. As indicated above, it was Herodotus who introduced the panhellenic element.

The second assumption is that the political independence of Greece guaranteed the freedom of its culture. In 1901, the great German historian Eduard Meyer wrote in his Geschichte des Altertums (“History of Antiquity”) that the consequences of a Persian victory in 490 or 480 would have been serious.

The end result would have been that some kind of religion … would have put Greek thought under a yoke, and any free spiritual life would have been bound in chains. The new Greek culture would, just like oriental culture, have been of a theocratic-religious nature.

The argument is, more or less, that the great king would have replaced democracy with tyranny, so that the free Athenian civilization would have vanished in a maelstrom of oriental despotism, irrationality, and cruelty. Without democracy, no Greek philosophy, no innovative Greek literature, no arts, no rationalism. In this sense, the Greek victory in the Persian Wars was decisive for Greek culture.

The third assumption is that there is continuity from ancient Greece to nineteenth-century Europe. This sociological statement has never been properly tested, even though there is an obvious counterargument: after the fall of Rome, people did not recognize this continuity. The “Europeans” were not recognized as a cultural unity until 754, and when they were, they were Frankish Christians fighting Iberian Muslims, not Greeks fighting Asians. Some scholars (e.g., Anthony Pagden) have tried to solve this problem by arguing that, in spite of the fact that nobody had noticed it, the spirit of freedom had always been there, just like the spirit of monarchism had always remained alive in the East, influencing individual behavior. This type of argument is called “ontological holism”, and is better known from Marx’ idea that history was forged by the struggle between classes, or the notorious idea that history was a war between races. Class struggle, race war, or the clash between free Europe and tyrannical Asia are abstractions that do not really exist.

A more sophisticated way to refute the counterargument is the idea, best known from Jacob Burckhardt’s famous Geschichte der Renaissance in Italien ("Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy", 1867), is that the Renaissance was a rebirth of Roman civilization and that Winckelmann was the first scholar who understood that Roman civilization had been a continuation of Athenian civilization. This cannot be discarded out of hand, because social scientists have never developed the tools to test such bold statements about continuity.

Meyer’s View Assessed

Today, the German scholar Max Weber is best known as the father of sociology, but he started his career as an ancient historian. In 1904/1905, he published the two “Critical Studies in the Logic of Cultural Sciences”, in which he investigated the epistemological foundations of the study of the past. The second essay deals with “Objective Possibility and Adequate Causation in Historical Explanation”, and has become rightly famous. As it happens, one of Weber’s examples is Meyer’s analysis of the meaning of Marathon, which is shown to be the result of a counterfactual argument: if the Persians had won, the preconditions would not have been met for the rise of Athenian civilization. But, Weber argued, this was nothing but speculation. Counterfactual arguments are usually fallacious.

For example, how did Meyer know that the Persians, after a victory in the Persian Wars, would have put an end to democracy? We must pause for thought when we read that Herodotus explicitly states that the Persian commander Mardonius supported Greek democracy. note [Herodotus, Histories 6.43.] Another point is that very few historians, right now, will accept that the ancient Near East was “of a theocratic-religious nature”: it was in Persian Babylonia that astronomers developed the scientific method. Plato and Aristotle might have lived in a Persian Athens. Likewise, Eric Dodds’ The Greeks and the Irrational (1951) meant the end of the idea that Greek culture represented a more rational view of life.

So, Meyer’s reading of the Persian War has been decisively challenged. We cannot make bold statements about the meaning of Marathon. Unfortunately, not everybody is aware that there are limits to what we can understand about the past: over the past years, several books have appeared that pretend that there is a direct continuity from Marathon to our own age. Historians and social scientists have something really important to discuss.

[Originally published in the Marathon Special of Ancient Warfare (2011).]

Greek Victory - History

Oxi Day and Warriors of Greece in World War II

At 3:00 am on October 28, 1940 in the early days of World War II when all of Europe was already under Axis occupation an ultimatum was presented to the Greek government by Fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini demanding that Greece immediately allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain unspecified strategic locations or otherwise face war. An answer was expected within three hours, but that timeline made no difference—the answer would be the same no matter how long they were given. On that cherished day in Greek history Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas strongly rejected Italy’s request with a single laconic word: “OXI” (NO in English). In response to this refusal an embarrassed and enraged Mussolini ordered his troops already standing by in Albania, then an Italian protectorate, to attack at once. The much larger, more modernized, better equipped and fully prepared Italian Army crossed over the Greek border at 5:30 am thereby plunging Greece into World War II.

When the over-confident Italian army entered Greece they expected an easy victory but instead met an enemy who was preparing to deliver a response that would devastate the Italian battle plan. As the columns of Italian infantry and tanks advanced through the valleys into Greece, the Greek forces converging from all over northern Greece went into action. Every able-bodied Greek man came down from the surrounding mountains, where they had been monitoring the troop movements, and attacked from all sides, stopping the invasion dead in its tracks.

In one of the most amazing episodes in military history, the Greek Army trapped the Italian 3rd Alpine Division in the mountains and shocked the Italian High Command by annihilating the unit and taking over 5,000 prisoners. By the middle of November the Greek Army had stopped the Italians from going any further into Greece and then went on the offensive driving the Italian Army out of Greece and back up into Albania. The panic-stricken Italian army was retreating in a disorganized rout.

At the end of December the victorious Greek Army had not only completely repulsed the Italian invasion but had gone on to cross over the border pushing the Italian forces out of the southern third of Albania completely and vowing to continue marching all the way to Rome! On December 28, Mussolini had to acknowledge that his grandiose vision to show Hitler how Italy could easily conquer Greece was a complete failure and he was forced to ask for German assistance before the Greeks could do any more damage or advance further. Hitler, furious that Mussolini had attempted to invade Greece against his orders now had to rescue the defeated Italians.

This amazing Greek victory over the Italians became known as The Epic of 1940 to the Greeks and to the rest of the world as the first ever defeat of the Axis powers that gave them reason to hope that the aggression could actually be halted.

At the end of the war, German officers on trial at Nuremburg had commented that if the invasion of Russia had taken place on schedule early in the spring of 1941 instead of at the end of June, they would have succeeded in conquering the Soviet Union before the harsh winter of 1941 which proved to be the only thing capable of stopping the German advance. Field Marshall Keitel, who was the Nazi Chief of Staff of the German army said bitterly, “The unbelievably strong resistance of the Greeks delayed by at least two or more vital months the German attack against Russia if we did not have this long delay the outcome of the war would have been different on the Eastern Front and in the war in general and others would have been accused and would be occupying this seat as defendants today.”

After the war there were 10% fewer Greeks alive than when the war started and the overall devastation of the country took years to recover from, but this small country showed the world at a time when it mattered most that freedom is not free, but worth fighting for.

The sacrifices made by the Greek nation ultimately changed the course of history and contributed to preventing the evils of Fascism and Nazism from dominating the world.

Oxi Day is celebrated every year in Greece and throughout the many Greek communities around the world on October 28.

"Until now we used to say that the Greeks fight like heroes. Now we shall say: The heroes fight like Greeks."
-Winston Churchill (From a speech he delivered from the BBC in the first days of the Italian invasion of Greece during WWII that was ferociously repulsed by undermanned, poorly equipped but patriotic, hard-core Greek guerilla fighters)

"For the sake of historical truth I must verify that only the Greeks, of all the adversaries who confronted us, fought with bold courage and highest disregard of death."
-Adolph Hitler (From a speech he gave at the Reichstag, 4 May 1941) after his previously unbeaten storm troopers suffered tremendous casualties in their battle for Greece.

"The word heroism I am afraid does not render the least of those acts of self-sacrifice of the Greeks, which were the defining factor in the victorious outcome of the common struggle of the nations, during World War II, for the human freedom and dignity. If it were not for the bravery of the Greeks and their courage, the outcome of World War II would be undetermined."
-Winston Churchill (speech to British Parliament, 24 April 1941)

"You fought unarmed and won, small against big. We owe you gratitude, because you gave us time to defend ourselves. As Russians and as people we thank you."
-Moscow, Radio Station when Hitler attacked the U.S.S.R.

"I am sorry because I am getting old and I shall not live long enough to thank the Greek People, whose resistance decided World War II."
-Joseph Stalin (From a speech of his broadcast by the Moscow radio station on 31
January 1943 after the victory of Stalingrad and the capitulation of German 6th Army Field Marshal Von Paulus)

"If the Russian people managed to raise resistance at the doors of Moscow to halt and reverse the German torrent, they owe it to the Greek People, who delayed the German divisions during the time they could bring us to our knees."
-Georgy Constantinovich Zhoukov (Field Marshal of the Soviet Army: Quote from his memoirs on WWII)

"Regardless of what the future historians shall say, what we can say now, is that Greece gave Mussolini an unforgettable lesson, that she was the motive for the revolution in Yugoslavia, that she held the Germans in the mainland and in Crete for six weeks, that she upset the chronological order of all German High Command's plans and thus brought a general reversal of the entire course of the war and we won."
-Sir Robert Antony Eden (Minister of War and the Exterior of Britain 1940-1945, Prime Minister of Britain 1955-1957 - Paraphrased from a speech of his to the British Parliament on 24/09/1942)

"It would not be an exaggeration to say that Greece upset the plans of Germany in their entirety by forcing her to postpone the attack on Russia for six weeks. We wonder what would have been the Soviet Union's position without Greece."
-Sir Harold Leofric George Alexander (British Field Marshal during WWII Paraphrased from a speech of his to the British parliament on 28 October 1941)

"I am unable to give the proper breadth of gratitude I feel for the heroic resistance of the People and the leaders of Greece."
-Charles de Gaul (From a speech of his to the French Parliament after the end of WWII).

"The war with Greece proved that nothing is firm in the military and that surprises always await us."
-Benito Mussolini (From speech he delivered on 10/5/1941)

"Your soldiers instead of fleeing frantically, as they did in France and Poland, were actually shooting at us from their positions!"
-A German officer of the Luftwaffe declaring to Greek LtGen. Dedes, commander of Greece’s Eastern Macedonia division that the Greek Army was the only one in which the Nazi Stuka dive bomber fighter planes did not cause panic.

"Greece is the symbol of the tortured, bloodied but live Europe. Never a defeat was so honorable for those who suffered it."
-Maurice Schumann, Minister of the exterior of France 1969-1973, member of the French Academy 1974 (From a message of his he addressed from the BBC of London to the enslaved peoples of Europe on 28 April 1941, the day Hitler occupied Athens after a 6-month war against Mussolini and six weeks against Hitler).

"On the 28th of October 1940 Greece was given a deadline of three hours to decide on war or peace but even if three days or three weeks or three years were given, the response would have been the same. The Greeks taught dignity throughout the centuries. When the entire world had lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster raising against it the proud spirit of freedom."
-Franklin D Roosevelt, US President 1933 - 1945

"The heroic struggle of the Greek people. Against Germany 's attack, after she so thunderously defeated the Italians in their attempt to invade the Greek soil, filled the hearts of the American people with enthusiasm and moved their compassion."
-Franklin D Roosevelt, US President 1933 – 1945

On 10 April 1941, the undermanned, poorly-equipped, starving but still ferociously fighting Greek army finally ran out of ammunition. The last remaining free country in Europe to defy the Nazi war machine alone was done. The Germans expressed their great admiration to the battle-hardened Greek soldiers, declaring that they were honored and proud to have as their adversary such courageous warriors and requested that the Greek Commandant inspect the German army in a demonstration of honor and respect! The German flag was raised only after the complete, honorable withdrawal of the proud Greek Army. For the rest of the war any German solider who fought against the Greeks was authorized to wear a black armband on their uniform to signify their role in Germany’s toughest battle of World War II.

Europe’s Resistance Days Against Axis Forces During World War II:
Greece: 219 days
Norway: 61 days
France: 43 days
Poland: 30 days
Belgium: 18 days
Netherlands: 4 days
Yugoslavia: 3 days
Denmark: 0 days
Czechoslovakia: 0 days
Luxembourg: 0 days

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Watch the video: Greek Victory (August 2022).