Elisabeth Ypsilantis, was a Greek aristocrat from Northern Epirus and Moldavia. She was the mother of Alexander Ypsilantis, and was known as the “First Lady of the Friends” (Philiki Etairia). She donated money towards the revolution and it was in her home that members of society met on 16 February, 1821 to plan the revolution.
Another woman who gave her all to the Greek revolution was Domna Visvizi from Ainos in Eastern Thrace. Together with her husband, Hatzi-Andonis, she donated money and property to the cause. She continued these efforts after his death.
She also captained the Kalomoira, a warship with a crew of 160 men and 16 cannons. Oddyseas Androutsas was to write a letter to her to thank her for supplying his men with food and ammunition during a campaign on the Greek mainland.
Maria Spanou (Spanomaria)
Maria Spanou was born in Chroupitsa in Kastoria in Western Macedonia in the 1790s, the daughter of a tailor.
The Greek revolution in the south sparked an uprising in the Kastoria region in the 1820s. Maria’s older brother, Evangelos, was one of the leaders of that revolt. When Evangelos was killed in the fighting, another brother, Stergios, took command. When he too was killed in the fighting, Maria took command and fought the Ottoman forces at Orestida and Kastoria.
The Kastoria revolt was doomed because of lack of external support and local fears that a war would ruin the prosperity of the region.
Spanomaria fled with her family to Nigrita in Central Macedonia.
Kyrra Vassiliki and Ali Pasha
Keeping the peace for the Ottoman empire in Epirus was the Albanian Ali (Tebelen) Pasha (governor) who enjoyed largely autonomous powers from his appointment to the Pashalik of Ioannina in 1788, until his assassination by the Turks in 1822 who considered him a rebel to the Ottoman cause.
Ali Pasha, who impressed Lord Byron as an able but cruel leader, was no supporter of the Greek cause either but was a warlord bent on creating an autonomous state in the north that straddled Greek and Albanian communities.
While a klepht in his youth, Ali Pasha was tasked with dealing with klephts of Epirus, chief of which were the warrior klephts of the Souli region, south of Ioannina. It was Ali Pasha’s Albanian forces and mercenaries who eventually subjugated the independent villages of the Souli. It was from this campaign that the Zalongo legend sprang. Twenty-two women of the Souli village of Zalongo preferred to hurl their children and themselves over a cliff in a circular dance, rather than fall into the hands of Pasha’s forces in 1803.
One of the Pasha’s wives was Kyra Vassiliki. Her name and that of one of Ali Pasha’s victims, Kyra Frosini, lives on in the stories of Yiannina.
Kyra Vassiliki was born Vassiliki Kontaxi at Plisivitsa near Igoumenitsa. When she was 12, she sought an audience with Ali Pasha to plead for her father’s life. The pasha pardoned her father and then married Kyra Vassiliki. He allowed her to keep her Christian faith.
By virtue of her beauty and intelligence, she became his favourite and was a close confidant.
She used her influence to good effect protecting Greek interests when possible.
Kyra Vassiliki joined the Filiki Eteria in 1818 after she was directly recruited by Nikoalaos Skoufas, one of the founders of the organisation. She was also known for her charitable work and paid for restoration work at some of the monasteries on Mount Athos.
When Ottoman Turk forces finally took Ioannina in 1822, Kyra Vassiliki fled with her husband to the island on Ioannina’s Lake Pamvotis (now called Kyra Frosini) where he was killed by Turkish assassins believing he was negotiating for peace with his Ottoman overlords.
Kyra Vassiliki was arrested and taken to Constantinople as a prisoner. She was later pardoned and allowed to return to Greece.
In 1830, the Greek state gave Kyra Vassiliki a medieval tower to live in near Katochi, close to Missologhi in Western Greece.
Alexandre Dumas’ classic 1844 novel “The Count of Monte Cristo” drew on the story of Kyra Vasiliki and Ali Pasha. The daughter, Haydee, as a key character in the book.
Kyra Frosini Vasiliou
One of the most infamous examples of Ali Pasha’s cruelty, was his treatment of Kyra Frosini (1773-1801). The manner of her death scandalised Europe and drew attention to Greece in the years before the Revolution.
One legend has it that Kyra Frosini, was the Bishop of Ioannina’s niece and had grown up absorbing the principles of the European enlightenment. She married an Ioannina merchant, Dimitris Vasiliou. With her learning, love of arts and literature and modern views, she became a focus of Ioannina’s cultural life.
Kyra Frosini attracted the attentions of Ali Pasha’s son, Muktar, and the two became lovers. On 10 January, 1801, Ali Pasha ordered her arrest because of complaints from his daughter-in-law and other Turkish women in the city scandalised by her behaviour.
In arresting Kyra Frosini, Ali Pasha also arrested 17 other women of Ioannina. Legend has it that Ali Pasha was also in love with Kyra Frosini and offered the ultimatum of accepting him or death.
Her proud refusal to reject him, sealed her fate and those of the other women who had been arrested with her.
Their execution was by drowning in the waters of Lake Pamvotis. The place where she and the other women were thrown with weights tied to them still carries her name and, ironically, the lake island on which Ali Pasha was to be killed a year later is now also named in her honour.
READ MORE: Serbs in the Greek revolution
The women of Souli
The people of the mountainous Souli region enjoyed an autonomy under the Ottoman overlords. Originally refugees from Ottoman incursions into Epirus and Albania in the 16th century, their status over the years as klephts or warrior brigands did not encourage subservience to anyone.
Ali Pasha, himself a brigand in his past, was tasked by Constantinople to bring the Souliotes to heel.
As tough as the men of Souli were, so were the women. They accompanied the men to battle helping with transport of supplies and looking after the wounded . When necessary they took part in the fighting.
Claude-Charles Fauriel, who recorded Greek songs of the era on paper for Western audiences, noted that the women would publicly berate any man who retreated in battle or who failed to do his duty.
The wife of a man found to be a coward could be publicly shunned and had had an acceptable reason to desert him.
On December, 1803,at Riniasa, Despo Botsari, the wife of George Botsari, took matters into her own hands,when she saw an approaching Turkish force about to take the tower of Dimoula. She blew the arsenal in the tower taking her own life and her family’s in the process.
Women took a hand in the defence of the monastery at Seltsou with stones, clubs and literally fought tooth and nails . They were led by the youngest Souliote Capetanissa Lena Botsari. When all was lost, they also threw themselves and their children into the cold waters of Achelous River.
One of the most notable female commanders of the women of Souli was Moscho Tzavela, who was born in 1803. She married Lambros Tzavelas and their was Fotos.
Moscho Tzavela, who was described as being a “slight woman with a beautiful face and a sparkling glance”, was in charge of a force of 400 female rebels who took part in the victory over Ali Pasha’s mainly Albanian forces at the Battle of Kiafa on 20 July, 1792. The Pasha lost up to 3,000 men while the Greeks lost only 74 fighters in that battle.
Moscho fled to Parga after the Souliotes were eventually overcome. She moved to the Ionian islands where she died in 1803.
The women of Missolonghi
One of the key images of the Greek War of Independence is Eugene Delacroix’s painting “Greece on the ruins of Missolonghi” of 1826. The painting shows a woman in despair amidst the ruins of the famous Greek town that has succumbed after near year-long siege (15 April, 1825 to 10 April, 1826) on land and sea by superior Turkish forces.
The painting proved to be symbolic of the brutal aftermath of the siege and and helped to galvanise European opinion in support of the Greek Revolution.
The town had successfully defended against two earlier sieges, in 1822 and 1823. When it fell in 1826, people in the salons of Europe already knew Missolonghi because England’s poet superstar of that era, Lord Byron, had died there of fever in 1824. He had come to Greece to help in the war against the Turks.
The Turks threw all their resources to ensure that the third siege would succeed. The Ottoman commander, Reşid Mehmed Pasha, assumed command knowing it was: “Either Missolonghi falls or your head”.
He led a force of 20,000 (later joined by 10,00 Egyptians) against a town of 9,000 people of whom 7,000 were considered strong enough to take part in its final defence – of these 4,500 were women and children.
Women helped the soldiers in the town to shore up the defences by transporting materials and equipment. They also saw to the wounded during the fighting.
The year-long siege created a famine that inspired a desperate plan to break the siege and link up with the forces led by Georgios Karaiskakis who was supposed to attack the Turkish rear when the breakout occurred.
The plan proved a disaster. Karaiskakis was unable to attack. Just as the Greeks began to pour out of the town gate on 22 April, a voice called out for the Greeks to retreat behind the walls and confusion followed. The Turks poured in and the sack of the town began.
Many of the women of Missolonghi perished alongside the men, were captured or killed themselves to avoid capture.
Just 1,000 Missolonghites survived the Exodus from the town to fight on.
One of them was Giftogiannaina. No one knew the role she played at Misslonghi until years later, when she was in her 90s. She knew her time was coming and told her friends to: “Take this key for my chest and you will find a good costume of mine. With this I want you to bury me and then you will fulfil my wish.”
When she died, they opened the chest to find the costume was the battle dress of a fighting man, the outfit she wore in the exit of Missolonghi and it is what she wore to her grave.