The Tears of Chios

*** In some places, use Constantinople instead of the Turks

Chios, an island unknown by many, despite its having played a key role in the establishment of the Greek nation which set the model for the formation of European nation states following the fall of empires after the wars of the 18th century and the revolutions in France, Italy …..

This article presents a brief and somewhat selective overview of the history of Chios in the hope that it will whet the appetite of the reader and inspire them to investigate further the fascinating history of an island that will undoubtedly come to enchant them.

  • An island apart
  • A land of milk and honey
  • A reluctant ‘revolutionary’
  • The Chios Massacre
  • Theodore and Mbael Bent visit Chios
  • Reunification with Greece

An island apart

Aside from its geographic location in the eastern Aegean, less than 10km from the Turkish mainland, Chios has always been an island apart.
Despite its size, the fifth largest island in the Aegean Sea, it has managed to slip under the radar of all but the most inquiring of tourists. But for those who seek it out, it offers rewards-a-plenty from its vast wealth of history, atmospheric mediaeval villages, stunning landscapes and the exceptional hospitality of the islanders.

Ruled in turn by …..

Even today, Chios feels a world away from the Greece most visitors are accustomed to. Its tiny airport receives just a handful of flights each day, and reaching the island by sea usually involves an overnight ferry and arrival at an unsociable hour of the morning. The ravages of mass tourism have never blighted the island and, except at the height of summer when American émigrés and their descendants, Greek visitors and Turkish tourists arrive in manageable numbers, the villages of the island are seldom overrun and maintain an air of local life difficult to find elsewhere in the Aegean. The majority of the population resides in Chora, Chios’ lively main town, while the island’s villages are relatively sparsely populated.

*****and the mastic villages, the Mastichochoria,

*** a degree of autonomy not seen elsewhere in Turkish-occupied land

A land of milk and honey

Throughout history Chios has been an island of plenty and, as early as the 3rd century BC, its soil was providing quantities of wine sufficient for export to the four corners of the Greek world and beyond.

Under the Genoese and later the Ottoman Empire, the island’s fertility fostered a merchant class which prospered under relaxed regulatory and religious freedom.

*** Turks arrived 1566

**** Chian entrepreneurs throughout Europe and the Ottoman Empire
*** Ralli brothers formed in London became significant company on the London Stock Exchange

The silk industry, which developed during Genoese times, reached its zenith in the 18th century when locally-grown silk was woven for export throughout the Ottoman empire (“From Genoa to Constantinople: The Silk Industry of Chios”. In The Mercantile Effect, Art and Exchange in the Islamicate World during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Edited by Sussan Babaie and Melanie Gibson)

The plains south of the main town produced the oranges, lemons and citrons much favoured in Constantinople ????etc upon which a wealthy local population flourished.

However, the most important product was one often referred to as the Tears of Chios. Over the centuries, the Chians had developed a variant of the mastic tree (, a shrub-like plant common throughout the mediterranean region. But only in the soil and micro-climate of southern Chios does this strain produce the quality and volume which led it to become the mainstay of the island’s economy and the primary reason for the island’s favoured status. The mastic gum, harvested from incisions in the tree’s bark, was prized by the Sultans of Constantinople, their courts and especially their harems. Its production was strictly controlled by the Turkish authorities on Chios. So precious was this commodity that all production had to pass through official channels; execution awaited anybody found to have any quantity of illicit mastic gum .

*** Ottomans allowed a high degree of autonomy and the island was largely allowed to self-govern
*** almost complete control over its own affairs ***reword
*** semi-autonomous
*** No duty was payable on products exported to the Ottoman Empire

Paradoxically, the island’s fertility and wealth also sowed the seeds of the great tragedy which was visited upon the island in 1822 when the true tears of Chios flowed.

A reluctant ‘revolutionary’

The ****** Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Turks had begun, falteringly, in 1821, but had gathered pace in the Peloponnese as the leading families, former brigands, and the shipping islands of Hydra, Spetses and Psara, joined the revolutionary cause. It was soon realised that, if the revolution were to succeed, the support of the richer and more productive islands, of which Chios was the prime example, was essential.

However, aside from a handful of revolutionary zealots, Chios was reluctant to sacrifice its cherished and favoured position enjoyed over the centuries of Ottoman rule and, of course, given its proximity to the Turkish mainland, any revolutionary activity was certain to have disastrous consequences for the islanders. The primates of the island had already rejected a demand to join the uprising after being confronted by the Hydriote Admiral, Iakovos Tombazis, leading the first expedition of the newly-formed Greek fleet ***note*** shortly after the revolution began in April 1821.

In contrast, the neighbouring island of Samos had supported the revolution early on and had been active in attacks on Turkish vessels in the narrow straits separating it from the Turkish mainland.

Samos-born revolutionary leader, Georgios Paplomatas, who had adopted the grandiose nom-de-guerre Lykourgos Logothetis, had been appointed commander-in-chief of Samos. Together with the Chian, Antonios Bournias, they formulated a plan to drag the wealth and abundance of Chios into the revolutionary sphere.

The Chios Massacre

On March 11th, 1822, a force of several thousand men under Logothetis’ command landed on Chios and quickly overran the Turkish defenders before advancing on, and besieging, the main town. Battles between the Turks in the Kastro and the insurgents not limited to Turks – looting of Greek property and killing of fellow Greeks by Logo’s men****

The Sultan in Constantinople, fearing the prospect of a chain reaction among the Greek settlements and islands of the region, decided to make an example of the Chians, despite the reluctance of the majority of them to support the rebellion of Logothetis and his insurgents.

On March 30th, 1822 *** check these dates – Long says April 11 ??? Gregorian???**** , the Sultan’s fleet arrived off Chios and 7000 soldiers were landed on the island. The killing and the looting began. Over the ensuing days, 30,000 (??? check numbers in Gordon) more Turks arrived, attracted by blood lust and greed for the spoils to be had from looting the wealth of the island. On the orders of the Turkish governor, male inhabitants were put to the sword and women and children were shipped off the island to be sold in the slave markets of Smyrna and beyond.

*** Long says – Around 2,000 women, children and priests seek sanctuary in the Byzantine Nea Moni monastery in the mountains – founded by Constantine Monamacus in 1042-1048. Eventually the doors to Nea Moni burst open and all inside are slaughtered or burnt alive when the building is set on fire – many of their skulls and bones being displayed to this day at the monastery.

Shortly after the arrival of the Turkish troops, Logothetis and his band scurried to the west coast to escape to the safety of Psara where he was initially accused of ???? but was subsequently released. Logothetis was later accused by the Hydriotes of precipitating the massacre – “Your expedition against Chios has brought the greatest harm to the [Greek] Race.” *** note with ref.

The killing continued as more and more irregulars, Islamists??? And lotters poured into the island from Cesme on the Turkish coast. By ??? the kiling has abated to less than 10 killings a day, owing mostly to scarcity of victims and lack of plunder still available for looting. On Psara, a plot was hatched to deliver a blow to the Turkish fleet in a bid to stop it being further reinforced. On June 18th 1822, a daring and courageous operation against the Turkish fleet was enacted while the Turkish Admiral Kara Ali was celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Two fire-ships were directed against the unsuspecting fleet. One of them, captained by Psariote Konstantine Kanaris, attached itself to Kara Ali’s flagship before the fuses were set and the crew escaped in a small boat before the conflagration. 2000+??? aboard the flagship were killed including many captains of the Turkish fleet who were on board for the Eid celebration. Admiral Kara Ali was one of those who died in the fire and subsequent explosion. His body was conveyed to the Kastro of Chios where it lies in the Turkish cemetery today.

Constantine Canaris of Psarra, (already distinguished by his conduct at Erisso,) and George Pepinis of Hydra,

Following the sinking of Kara Ali’s flagship and his death, an orgy of yet more violence and death was visited upon the remaining islanders, largely those of the formerly protected Mastic Villages (mastichochoria). Thousands more innocent victims were claimed as Turkish troops and irregulars on the island learned of the events on the night of Eid.

Prior to the massacre, Chios had a population of around 100,000-120,000. By the middle of May????, only 20,000 Chians remained; 25,000 *** check Gordon*** had been killed, 45,000 women and children had been sold into slavery and countless thousands had left the island for sanctuary elsewhere, such as the island of Syros where their mercantile spirit propelled the island … ****. The paradise that had been Chios was now a scene of death, destitution, destruction and ruin.

The Chios Massacre saw over 60% of the island’s 100,000-120,000 inhabitants indiscriminately slaughtered or sold into slavery, with tens of thousands more leaving the island, never to return. The Massacre shocked Europe and the civilised world, and heightened awareness of the on-going Greek War of Independence, leading to Philhellenes such as Lord Byron coming to join the ranks of the Greek revolutionaries.

Delacroix painting Scènes des massacres de Scio (**** Scenes from the Massacres of Chios).

King George IV of Britain ???ambassador??? expressed to the Turkish Government, “the grief with which [he] has perused these afflicting details” and how “the atrocity … and the tidings of it has inflicted a sensible wound on the King’s mind and filled the British Nation with horror and disgust”. [See: The Massacres of Chios Described in Contemporary Diplomatic Reports, Ed. Philip Argenti (London, 1932); Public Records Office: F.O. (Turkey) 195, vol. 33. no. 6

In time, the international outrage at the Chios Massacre subsided as other events in the Greek Revolution, and internationally, took the attention away from the island.

The Greek War of Independence would struggle on for another ??? years until finally in ????
*** and the TREATY OF BERLIN established the basis for the future governance of Chios and other Greek islands????

For 50 years, the pitiful plight of the island and its economy was forgotten by the world. In the British parliament, after King George’s outrage?? In 1822?? Was the last intervention by the Britsih government … no further mention was made of Chios until, in 1883, after the British traveller ….

Theodore and Mabel Bent Visit Chios

In 1883, Theodore and Mabel Bent visited the island of Chios which was then under Ottoman-Turkish control.

Just 2 years earlier, Chios had been hit by a massive earthquake which had reduced much of the island to ruins and had decimated the lives of the inhabitants and the island’s economy. Almost 60 years before the earthquake, in 1822, still within living memory at the time of the Bents’ visit, and engrained in the island’s consciousness, Chios had been subjected to the most horrific massacre at the hands of the ruling Ottoman Empire.

Travelling through Chios, Theodore was shocked and appalled by the conditions he saw, and by the stories the locals recounted of continuing misrule by the Turks since the time of the Chios Massacre..

On his return to England, Theodore published an article, centred upon both tragedies, strongly criticising the Turks. He approached Pandeli Ralli , a member of the British Parliament and the grandson of a wealthy Chiote merchant who had emigrated from Chios in the early 19th century. Ralli’s father, Toumazis, and his 4 brothers, had established the trading firm of Ralli Brothers in London in 1818, which, over the course of the next 150 years, grew to become one of the most prominent companies in the City of London, the financial centre of world commerce.

the to a member of the distinguished Ralli family from Chios. Together with his 4 brothers,
When Theodore got home he spoke to Mr. Pandeli Ralli M.P. about this affair,
also Lord Edmund Fitzmaurice. Mr. P. Ralli asked a question in Parliament and
Lord Granville told Lord Aberdeen to enquire about it. The Pasha was moved
to Smyrna

Questions Asked in the UK Parliament
Read the extract from ‘Hansard’, the official record of the UK Parliament
Pandeli Ralli raised Theodore’s concerns in the British Parliament leading to the Foreign Secretary, Earl Granville, ordering an investigation into the affair, which ruffled the feathers of many a Turkish official and led to the deposing of the governing Pasha of Chios. Unsurprisingly, Theodore’s exposé led to an outburst of animosity against him from the Turks, and his subsequent archaeological endeavours in the Turkish-controlled regions of Greece were severely hampered. Read Theodore’s explosive report.

Reunification with Greece




*** In August of 2012, wildfires spread across the island of Chios, scorching 31,480 acres of land, and destroying more than half of the island’s mastic orchards.