How did the Greek rebels of 1821 fence?


(Φώτο: Λουντοβίκο Λιπαρίνι: “O Κλέφτης”)
(Φώτο: Λουντοβίκο Λιπαρίνι: “O Κλέφτης”)

By George E. Georgas, fencing and HEMA instructor.

Lots of people have been coming to me, asking how did the Greek rebels of 1821 fight. Did they follow a specific school of fencing or did they just do whatever came to mind like an untrained farmer?

For a long time I searched and studied without reaching a conclusion, until I looked straight at the source – the memoirs of the heroes of the revolution. Makrigiannis for example had received his arms when he was still a teenager. He had a sword (pala) and a yatagan. He learned how to fence from here and there (he doesn’t mention anything specific) until a short while before the end of the revolution, when he was trained by fencing instructors sent by the great powers of the time that had gotten involved. Captain George Giorgas in Kalamata is mentioned by sources as the best swordsman of the area, whose enemies were afraid to approach him, and so killed him with a rifle. The Kolokotronis family traditionally trained its men to use arms using the surviving methods of the Greek stratioti of the Renaissance and the Ottoman hoplomachia, which was in turn borrowed by the Balkans, creating a mixed school (Martak), depending on the weapons they were using. Later, in the start of the 18th century, the Ottomans abandoned the old school and brought their own Italian fencing instructors.

Let us return to Kolokotronis. He too was trained in the European schools of sabre fencing, specifically in the French school that was the most popular during that time. Thus we come to the conclusion that before the revolution the Greeks had a mixed martial training, using both the old way of fencing from the stratioti and the Ottomans that was improved when some warlords were trained by Europeans. What remained unchanged until approximately 1937 was the use of the machaira and the knife. An American roamer used to say that the Greco / Romioi were using those weapons as much and as well as the French did with the foil. I hope many questions were answered.


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