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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 29 April 2017
22 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 29 APRIL 2017 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Romania’s Phanariote and Greek Revolution connection BILLY COTSIS The warmth of the people and the picturesque rural towns of Romania reminded me of Greece when I visited. Add in a similar religion and a shared history of Ottoman occupation and it is easy to understand that Romania is not too dissimilar to Greece. Under the Ottomans, there were areas of that empire that were either self-governed or controlled outright by Greeks. In fact, the early Ottomans are more benign than many have given them credit for. Greeks prospered as they generally had a good handle on commerce and merchant trading. In Constantinople, Greeks continued the level of schooling and education that was standard during the Byzantine epoch. In an area of the great city called Phanor, you could find thousands of Greeks. A class of bureaucrats emerged. They became known as the Phanariotes; they would become the rulers of the Romanian provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia. Wallachia, known locally as Valahia, was formed in the late medieval period, probably in the early 1200s, and is sandwiched between the Carpathian Mountains and the Danube. Along the Danube and its hinterland, Byzantine Greek settlements and forts were found there in the fifth and sixth centuries AD. Over the next 700 years, the area was fought over by Avars, Pechenegs, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Byzantine Greek forces and Mongols before the Ottomans arrived in 1417. Wallachia and Moldovia were ruled by a prince and below him were the boyars - both roles conferred by the sultan. Their territories were feudal and the vast majority of the population were peasants bound to work on the land. Wallachia was closer to the road to Constantinople and the Black Sea, making Greek influence a certainty. Moldavia was to the north, contained fewer Greek speakers and was prone to influence from Russia. I should also point out that a number of ancient cities are found on the Black Sea coast; the city of Constanta (ancient Greek colony Tomis) contained a sizeable Greek minority until last century, with 29 per cent of the population at one stage. Today Greek speakers in Constanta number in the hundreds. Wallachia and Moldavia were host to a number of noble families. One of these was the Byzantine nobility of the Cantacuzino (Kantakouzenos). Not content with having accelerated Byzantine decline in the 1300s through a series of disastrous wars; a branch of the family had made their way to the region upon the fall of Constantinople hoping to continue their noble existence. In 1593, Michael the Brave, who was half-Greek through his mother Theodora Cantacuzino, came to power in Wallachia with the blessing of the Ottomans. Within a few months he had turned against the sultan and declared Wallachia independent, with the support of neighbouring Catholic kingdoms. In 1600 he managed to gain control of Moldavia and Transylvania. This was the first time a unified Romania was created. The name by the way, can be seen as a reference to Rome, and also to Rûm, a medieval name for the Greek speakers. Unfortunately, Michael was unable to hold them for long and he was assassinated in 1601 as he sought to regain control of Transylvania. Despite his willingness to break free of the Ottomans and unite Romania, Michael passed a law that officially tied peasants to the estates of nobility. Hence, romantics should always tread with caution when elevating rulers, for the peasants became more impoverished. The Cantacuzino family helped George Doukas ascend to the title of Prince of Wallachia between 1673 – 78 before a falling out. Doukas was replaced by Șerban Cantacuzino who reigned for a decade. Serban was notable for planning a coalition with Catholic powers to invade Constantinople, though it never came to fruition. It would have been interesting to see how the coalition would have fared with a surprise attack. Upon his death or possible murder, he was replaced by Constantin Brâncoveanu, who lasted until 1714. He was related to the Cantacuzino clan, however, it is difficult to ascertain how 'Greek' he was. What he did have in common with his predecessor was the willingness to stir up a possible campaign against the sultan. He also approached Russia, which became known in Constantinople. The sultan quickly brought his reign and life to an end. His immediate replacement was Stefan Cantacuzino who would be executed in Constantinople two years later. There is a theme covering the Cantacuzino reign. They never seem to have made it to a natural end in their lives! The sultan, having had enough of the Romanian/ Greek intrigue from Wallachia and also Moldavia, put an end to the local prince system which was nominally elected by local Boyar nobility. Probably a fine idea except he brought in Greeks from the Phanar area of Constantinople. Clearly a lesson was not learnt. Nicholas Mavrocordatos was the first Phanariote to rule, and proved to be loyal. He unsuccessfully fought the invading Hapsburgs and sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire proper. He quickly returned to Bucharest and killed those Romanians whom he felt were traitors only to be captured and held prisoner on behalf of the Austrians. His brother John then reigned until Nicholas was returned to power in 1719 when the Ottomans concluded peace with the Haps- burgs. Nicholas ruled until 1730 and his son took his place until 1769. The key elements of rule by Mavrocordatos was the promotion of Greek culture; from Constantinople they brought into the principalities as much Greek influence as they could muster. This included Greek fashion, increased promotion of the language, costumes, and Hellenic style customs, while building a number of Greek Orthodox churches. Nicholas wrote the first Greek novel, Philothea Parerga (The Leisures of Philotheos). Importantly, he abolished serfdom and sought to have his people as educated as possible. It should be noted that the Greek culture was already noticeable prior to the Phanariote era: they simply elevated it to a level that was just below local culture. By the late 1700s, Russia had gained a strong foothold in the Romanian lands due to their temporary occupation and almost continual state of war with the Ottomans. This helped the Phanariotes even further: by the end of the century they were starting to support the emergence of the secret revolutionary society Philiki Eteria.
22 April 2017
6 May 2017