Subject: κλέφτης klepht[is] / palikari bandit
Culture: Roumeli Greek
Setting: banditry, Roumelia 18-19thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Gerolymatos 2002 p98-99
"During those periods when the [Balkan] region was not under the control of a single empire or divided among several strong kingdoms, the competition for scarce resources led to the development of a culture of violence among the mountain tribes. Force was often used to acquire or defend limited resources, and thus the circumstances favored robbery, theft, and the possession of arms. ... Ultimately, these societal trends led to the rise, by the time of the Ottoman conquest, of a military class guided by an ethos that extolled manliness, loyalty, courage, and strength above all else.
"[...] Throughout the Ottoman period, groups of bandits known as klephts in Greek-speaking areas and as hayduks or uskoks in Serbian and other Slavic-dominated communities earned their livelihood through plunder, pillage, and kidnapping. Their primary victims were local villages and traveling merchants, regardless of their religious or 'national' identity. In time, banditry expanded to such a degree that it posed a serious threat to the internal stability of the sultan's European possessions and a direct challenge to Ottoman authority in the region."
* Elgood 1995 p95
"In Greece the so-called klephts, or bandits, in the mountain villages (klephtochoria) robbed lowland Greek and Turk with indiscriminate enthusiasm, needing little encouragement from the Venetians who held the Ionian islands, from which they supplied money and arms for use against their Ottoman enemies. The mercenary's calling took them, and their region's arms, to all corners of the Ottoman empire."
* Gerolymatos 2002 p108
"The process of Ottoman decline, which began in the sixteenth century and accelerated throughout the following two hundred years, gradually became the catalyst for revolutionary activity .... This eventually transformed the Balkan desperado into a freedom fighter. [...]
"In these struggles, the klephts and the armatoli formed the mainstay of the armed forces of the Greek and Serb insurgents, and later of the Romanian, Bulgarian, and Albanian revolutionaries. In the Greek War of Liberation, they filled the role of irregular light infantry, which excelled at defensive guerilla-style operations, a method of warfare they had been practicing for centuries. The klephts especially preferred skirmishes of short duration on ground of their choosing."
* Mugnai 2022 p165
"Although not a military corps in the true sense of the word, the armatolís of Greece were another of the significant exceptions of non-Muslims allowed to bear arms. Armatolís or armatolikia corps were created in areas of Greece with high levels of brigandage, especially the klepht brigands of Epirus, or in regions that were difficult for Ottoman authorities to govern due to the inaccessible terrain such as the Agrafa mountains of Thessaly. In this region, the first armatolí were established in the fifteenth century and employed as territorial police force. Over time, the roles of the armatolís and klephts became blurred, with both reversing their roles and allegiances as the situation demanded, all the while maintaining the delicate status quo with the Ottoman authorities. According to some testimonies, most armatolís were former klephts who had received amnesty, and sometimes there were men serving in one district as armatolí and as bandit in another.
* Brewer 2001 p81
"Armatoli had for centuries been hired by the local Turkish authorities, initially to guard the mountain passes and later for the general maintenance of law and order. The main threat to law and order came from armed bands of klephts, who lived by brigandage in the mountains. Their numbers were constantly swelled by Greeks fleeing injustice, others fleeing justice, many simply seeking a more rewarding and adventurous life than that of a villager under a feudal Turkish overlord. However, there was no simple pattern of opposition between law-breaking klephts and law-enforcing armatoli. The armatoli were often recruited from klephtic leaders: who else had the necessary experience? Armatoli as well as klephts would rob rich and poor alike. Armatoli and klephts would sometimes join forces in campaigns of brigandage and jointly resist Turkish forces sent against them. The captain of either klephts or armatoli would be the leader of a band from his own extended family or at least from his own village. The favoured method of attack was to trap the enemy in a narrow pass or when crossing a river, create havoc by firing from above, and finally charge into the confusion."
* Mugnai 2022 p161 caption
".... By the 1820s the Greek warriors became a favourite subject of the Romantic painting. In early 1806, the expulsion of the bands of klepht brigands from the Peloponnese marked the relation between the Greek armatolis and the Porte. At the end of the previous year, a firman from the Sultan reached the Ottoman authorities in the Peloponnese ordering that all klepht bandits should be apprehended and brought to justice. The firman was accompanied by a formal epistle written by the patriarch Kallínikos IV, which reinforced the Sultan's order. The patriarch condemned any who failed to support the Ottomans against the klephts, while those who did give support were offered remission of sins. The operations began in early January 1806, and for the next three months the Ottoman troops harried the klephts all over the central and southern Peloponnese. The bands of klephts were constantly on the move, unable to retreat for safety to the mountains because these were covered with winter snow. The Ottomans employed 2,000 soldiers in the operation."
* Kinross 1977 p441
"The idea of a Greek nation, as distinct from a Greek religion and language, was ... slow to materialize in concrete terms.
"When in the course of time it did so, encouraging the use of military force to attain national ends, its active roots among the Greek population were twofold. First there were the klephts, wild lawless bands which had long ranged the mountains to evade Turkish authority, living by banditry and violence. Their traditional profession of brigandage now rose in Greek esteem beyond that of mere rapacity to become acknowledged as an honorable and letigimate weapon against Ottoman tyranny. It thus developed into a patriotic focus of revolt in the Greek nationalist cause. The klephts operated in separate mountainous areas of the mainland -- in the Morea, Epirus, and Rumeli, besides Crete and other islands -- led by powerful hereditary chiefs who were to become political leaders of the revolution to come. The Turks had armed a Christian gendarmerie, the armatoli, against them, which often in fact came to take their side."
* Pavlowitch 1999 p36
"Klephts preyed on both Christians and Muslims, but popular imagery saw them as defending oppressed Greeks against Turkish oppressors. In an effort to control them and to ensure the safety of passes, the Ottoman authorities made use of local Christian irregulars, even though the boundaries between these armatoloi and klephts were porous."
Costume (Kilt, Belt, Amulets)
* Gerolymatos 2002 p112-113
"The popularity of the [Albanian] costume was enhanced during the Greek War of Liberation, since those who wore it could claim to fight for the Greek cause and draw pay from the various Greek governments. Today, the Albanian fashion statement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is instantly recognizable as the Greek national costume ...."
* Secret museum of mankind v4
"Traditional Greek dress varies somewhat according to district, but the chief features of the national costume are the white pleated fustanella, gold-embroidered vest, tassel-tipped shoes, and a leathern belt from which usually depend the yataghan and tobacco-pouch."
* Collection of Greek costumes 1989 p16
"PALIKARI: He is dressed in a foustanela (full-pleated skirt), characteristic costume of mainland Greece, particularly of Moreas (Peloponnesse) and Roumeli. Of note: the embroidered waistcoat and the selachi (cummerbund), in which daggers and a yataghan (scimitar) are secured. He carries a kariofili (rifle)."
* Etienne 1992 p86 caption (quoting Edmond About, Contemporary Greece 1855)
"Here, in a few words, is the costume of a palikar of Athens: a percale shirt with a large, folded-down collar; no tie; short cotton breeches, sometimes with stockings, always with gaiters done up to the knees -- very similar to the greaves of Homer's warriors; red Oriental slippers; a fustanella (a very wide skirt) gatehred at the waist; a belt and narrow garters of colored silk; a sleeveless vest; a red hat with a blue tassel; a wide leather belt from which are hung an embroidered handkerchief, a purse, a tobacco pouch, a writing case, and weapons. The vest and gaiters are almost always made of silk and are often embroidered with gold."
* Stone 1934 p259
"In the Balkans a great variety of guns were used besides those of Turkish and Arab types. The stocks are generally short and light and vary much in shape. The barrels vary as much as the Turkish. Many of the types are confined to very small areas as they were made locally, every province and almost every town having its own gunsmith. Most of these guns have miquelet locks, also of local make, these often have cocks of characteristic shapes, though European locks were frequently used."
* Elgood 2009 p177-178
"The Greek kariophili is clearly influenced by Europe and can be attributed to Epirus and the regions to the south. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish in the sources between this gun with its European stock and the Albanian T-shaped stock. Both Greeks and Albanians used the words 'arnautka', 'Lazarina' and various borrowed Turkish words for firearms, which is scarcely surprising since the two peoples lived side by side. Karadžić's dictionary defines the arnautka as a long gun. The Turks refer to it as such, and George Finlay, present during the 1821 war, refers to the 'long Albanian muskets'. Contemporary writers refer to 'les longs fusils albanais' or 'langen Arnauten flinten' or simply the 'Arnautka'. On mainland Greece the Greeks used the word 'kariophili' interchangeably with the adopted Turkish word 'tüfenk', meaning a long gun or musket, and these terms relate to a variety of butt shapes."
* Richardson 2015 p41
"The Greek kariophili, Serbo-Croat rasak ('horns' from the shape of the butt), has a narrow stock flaring to the butt where there is a deep hollow. The stocks of these guns are often covered with decorated brass sheet like the tançika."
* Elgood 2009 p90
"Kubur is a Turkish word with widespread Balkan usage meaning horse pistol in general. The kubur was carried in a holster called a kuburluk. Kubur transfers to Greek as koumpoura, meaning a pistol."
* Elgood 2009 p138
"The yataghan is a short sword or long knife, worn at a rakish angle in the bensilah around the waist. This Turkish word appears with minor linguistic variations and spellings across the empire: for example, Serbo-Croat jatagan, or Greek giatagani. The Turks sometimes refer to the miniature yataghan as the yataghan bičagi (bichaq) or yataghan knife. The Bosnians sometimes call the yataghan dugi nož, literally 'long knife'."
* Calizzano 1989 p93
"Cette arme excessivement efficace [le Yatagan, utilisée dans les Balkans] fut produite dans des versions de longueur variable, si bien qu'elle apparaît tantôt comme une dague, tantôt comme une épée. On connait également certains modèles a baïonnette.
"La ligne de la lame est très particulière: tout d'abord droite, elle se plie immédiatement selon une courbe qui s'inverse dans le dernier segment, et se termine par une pointe aiguë orientée vers le dos. Le tranchant, unique, s'étend sur le côté concave de la lame; celle-ce s'insère dans la poignée, dépourvue de garde, moyennant plusieurs rivets qui maintiennent les plaquettes sur la soie.
"Sur de nombreux exemplaires, on peut remarquer deux lamelles de métal tendre (laiton, argent, or) qui, placées sur chaque face, suivent la ligne du dos sur quelques centimètres en partant du talon, et occupent environ un tiers de la largeur de chaque face. Leur but est non seulement décoratif mais aussi défensif, puisque le metal plus tendre dont elles sont constituees permet de réduire l'angle d'incidence nécessaire pour arrêter une autre lame venant glisser sur elles. Elles font ainsi office de <<garde à friction>> grossière et partielle. Le fourreau est en bois doublé de cuir ou en métal repoussé <<en suite>> avec la poignée. Le pommeau comporte, ici aussi, deux larges cretes en forme d'apophyse osseuse et est réalisé dans le même matériau que la poignée (corne, ivoire, os, métal)."
* Elgood 2009 p141
"There is no evidence of the Greeks making yataghan blades, though their silversmiths certainly mounted them and Greeks used them, and they seem to have imported a great many blades from Sarajevo. ...
"[...] Greeks refer to a black-hilted yataghan or dagger as mauromanika, meaning 'a black sleeve'. Its mystical importance was witnessed by Cockerell when sailing to Smyrna in a Greek vessel. A great storm threatened, and when a waterspout appeared next to the boat the helmsman in despair slumped to his knees, crossing himself. The pilot ordered him back to the helm: 'Drawing out a knife with a black handle (a very important point, I understand) he with it made also a cross in the air, and then stuck it into the deck and pronounced: 'In the beginning was the word.' Whereupon, or very shortly after, the water spout did disperse and our pious Greek took to himself all the credit for having saved us from a considerable danger.'"
* Elgood 2009 p280 (quoting Samuel Howe, 1825)
"[E]very Greek soldier thinks it necessary that he should have a pair of pistols and a yataghan stuck in his belt. The yataghan is a short, crooked sword, curved inward like the blade of a scythe, and is one of the clumsiest weapons in the world."
* Elgood 2009 p116
"Across the Balkans educated men wore a penknife, called in Greek a sougias, a personal item, often decorated with silver, secured by a silver chain to the belt or sash."
* Pitt Rivers Museum online > Peasant knife (1941.10.83)
"Knives like this were a widespread part of traditional male dress in early 19th century rural Greece, where knife-fighting accounted for 48% of all violent assaults recorded by the courts. Duelling emerged from a need for men to maintain their honour (timi) and reputation (fama) in a public culture where men indulged in boastful banter and back-biting gossip. Often, the cause of fights was one man insulting another by calling his wife a prostitute or suggesting that she was being unfaithful. The ability to control his wife's sexual activity was viewed as a reflection on a man's masculinity and, consequently, his status. The anxieties of men concerning their precarious honour and reputation motivated these violent incidents and created a culture of knife-carrying.
"Honour duels usually took place in a local taverna and onlookers were forbidden to intervene until one combatant had drawn blood. The intention was to dishonour, slash the face, and wound, rather than kill. Once blood had been drawn, the victor spat on the victim, satisfaction was deemed to have been had, and the onlookers intervened to separate the men. A man who bore the facial scar of such a defeat was said to have undergone systolis ('diminishment'). The victor usually went gladly into police custody, in order to have a second opportunity to publicly assert his honour in the courtroom.
"Greece was one of the last countries in Europe to outlaw the carrying of knives, only doing so in the 1830s when the Greek state and Orthodox Church combined forces to discourage men from bearing arms. The Church publicly excommunicated convicted violent criminals and the government ran a campaign promoting the idea that the carrying of knives was an 'un-European' practice. The carrying of knives in public was gradually abandoned and today they are worn only as part of traditional dance costumes."