In the 19th century, the Filiki Eteria, also known as the Friendly Society or the Society of Friends, was founded as a secret society aimed at removing from power the Ottoman rule that the Greeks were under at that time and attempting to create an independent state for Greece. The name was derived from Greece, where “Filiki” means friendly while “Eteria” means culture, thus Friendly Society, as defined by Richard (2013, pg. 17). The society was founded in 1821, and Emmanuil Xanthos, Nikolaos Skoufas, Athanasios Tsakalov, and Alexander Ypsilantis were among the main members. The members of the society constituted of local heads of the clan as well as young Greeks who mostly came from Russia.
At the begin of it all, which was way before the society was initiated, there were approximately twenty members and it was not until about 1818 that substantial instigation of members into the society began. By the time of its initiation in 1821, the membership of this society had run up to thousands of members who were as a consequence of the society’s expansion throughout the whole of Greece. Its membership was diversified and it included members of the clergy, traders, revolutionary Serbs, as well as a good number of Ottoman officials.
The Friendly Society was covered in a lot of obscurities, mystery, and glamour and a lot of the key individuals some who were not even Greeks were rumored to be members of the society. It is believed that the Society was sturdily under the control of Freemasonry and the leaders of the Society who held the highest rank were known as the “invisible authority.” This team of leaders, the invisible authority, was later changed to the authority of twelve apostles whereby the leaders were twelve with each of them representing a distinct region. The Friendly Society’s members converged in what they called a temple. The Society, according to Xanthos (1996, ed) had four levels of initiations which included the shepherds, the priests, the brothers and the recommended. To be a fully accepted member of the society one had to go through a process of initiation that saw them go through an extensive prime oath which is known as the great oath. The society had a little talk on the initial founders of the organization, and all they did was carrying out the commands that were issued to them without questions. The members were not allowed to ask any questions, and they did not have any rights whatsoever to make autonomous decisions.
After the death of one of its founders and the leader of the society at the time, Nikolaos Skoufas, the Friendly Society was pretty much left without any leadership structure for quite a while. It was not until 1820 when Alexander Ypsilanti stepped in that the Secret Society was now under a structured leadership. Alexander helped to set the objectives for the society and this was fundamental in ensuring that the Society managed to take their plans to a different level. Alexander, upon taking up the leadership of the Society, applied the military expertise that he had and set up a military base in Wallachia which was known as the sacred band. The main aim of this secret military base was to train militia men who would then go against the Ottoman army in an attempt to fight for the independence of Greece. The authority of the twelve apostles was handed with the responsibility of trying to recruit as many people as they could into the Society. The following year after taking up leadership of the Friendly Society, on the 25th of March 1821 Alexander made a declaration stating that the Greek War towards gaining its independence had officially commenced. It is this day that is celebrated as the Independence Day of Greece not because the Greek went to war and won but because they made the decision to fight for their freedom on that day and the Friendly Society was the root of it all. It is through this declaration by Alexander that the Greek War of Independence popularly referred to as the Greek Revolution begun. The revolution was long and quite bloody but finally it was Independence Day in Greece through the signing of the Treaty of Constantinople in 1832.
The Friendly Society also looked to recruit as many Greeks as they could into the organization as a way of ensuring that the membership grew by the numbers as described by Xanthos (1996, ed). They understand that one of the ways through which they could win over their freedom and independence from the Ottoman Empire would be through the uniting of the people of Greece across all regions. The fact that the Society was open was probably the reason that people viewed it as an arm of the Freemasonry. Most of the activities of the organizations also remained top secret and members had to take an oath of silence, which makes sense as they probably did not want anyone knowing what they were planning to do in order to get the independence of Greece back.
Among the most notable activities of the Friendly Society begin with the recalling of Alexander so he could come and take over as the new leader of the organization. After taking over as the new leader, it was here that most of the activity of the Friendly Society began. Setting up the military base was also a significant activity of the Friendly Society as they were able to train an army that would go and face it off with the Ottoman army and this was what helped in the achieving of the independence of Greece.
It is therefore quite clear that the rebellion was as a consequence of the activities of the Friendly Society. The zeal to push on with the fight for independence was further fueled by the fact that the desire to attain some sort of freedom was a common interest among most of the Greeks at the time Stathis (2015, pg. 76) describes. The Greeks strongly felt that their sense of nationality had been stolen away from them and this further catalyzed their aspiration to put up a revolt and get their sense of Greek nationality back.
The Greeks felt strongly on how the Ottoman Empire was running the administration and forcefully impacting Western Revolutionary ideas on them. The fact that they seemed to be gaining less from their economy while the Ottomans clearly progressed ahead was also one of the reasons that more and more members were joining the Friendly Society as described by Alison (1897, pg. 20). The strategic planning of Alexander made the organization of the rebellion more realistic. The fact that Greece was also known as the cradle of western civilization also ensured that most of their activities and plans were being funded from abroad.
Contribution to the Greek War of Independence
Most of the Greeks attribute their independence to the part that was played by the Friendly Society into instigating the Greek War of Independence. Had the Friendly Society not stepped up and declare war for independence, then Greek might have been completely assimilated under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. To officially start off the war, Alexander made it across to Moldavia with a small group of the military where they were unfortunately defeated and driven back into Greece as Stathis (2015, pg. 74) describes.
However, this did not deter the plans of the organization on putting themselves together for the war and this yielded as intermittent rebellions broke out against the Turkish in many different regions and this sparked momentum among the Greeks to push on. After this, the Turks made several attempts at trying to get the Greek area regions that they had been driven out of, but they were not able to get the areas back.
The newly acquired independence was however not so stable as it was countered with a lot of internal wrangles and as a result of this, the Ottoman army was able to recapture the regions they had lot with the help of the Egyptians as Stathis (2015, pg. 104) describes. The Friendly Society however, did not give up and on the contrary their rich heritage raised tremendous sympathy throughout Europe. It was through the backing of the European nations who stepped in to act as mediators that there was hope for the formation of an independent Greek state.
According to Mark (1950, ed) a lot of other Greece sympathizers joined in and offered their help and financed the Greek War for Independence. The Turks however, turned down the offer by the European nations to sit down and come to a conclusive agreement on the course of issues and as a result of this, these superpowers sent out their naval armies so that they could go and fight the Egyptian Sea Powers. Doing this was one of the ways through which the Ottoman army was relentlessly crippled but they still pressed forward with the war, not wanting to give up.
The war was further lengthened by the outbreak of other wars in the course of the Greece War for Independence among them the Russo-Turkish war of 1828 and 1829. However, a settlement to all this was finally reached by the superpowers at a sit in that was held in London. This conference which was held on the 3rd of February 1830 declared Greece as an autonomous monarchical state that was under its own rule and fortification. As Alison describes in the war of Greek Independence (1897, pg. 20), two years later from this declaration of Greece as an independent state, new boundaries were drawn up that redefined the new state and the then Sultan of Turkey had come to terms with the loss and acknowledged Greece as an independent state.
Through what had been started by the Friendly Society, the Greek War for Independence had been successful as Greece was now an independent state. It was also a shaping occasion from a historical point of view for the Ottoman Empire to be losing to a small and impecunious country. It was a first actually for the great Ottoman Empire to go to war with a Christian state and for the state to win and establish them as autonomous and monarchical. In regard to the European superpowers coming in to help out Greece, theirs was a calculated move that they hoped to utilize later for their own good. Their condemning of the Ottoman Empire’s oppression towards the Greek was not that, they were humanitarians but more like they wanted the position that the Ottomans held to themselves. It was merely a fight for the stronger power to take over the Greeks only that the European superpowers were able to do so by “giving” them their independence and were probably attached to the city as they believed that civilization did arise from Greece. It was therefore important to preserve its heritage.
All in all, the Greeks to this day recognize the efforts towards the fight for their independence as a result of the Friendly Empire which hoped to create a free state away from oppression for the Greeks. Although the Friendly Society is still largely connected to Freemasonry and Carbonarism, it did not fail the people of Greece as it delivered their freedom and independence just like the founders of the organization had stated as their main aims. It was some of these leaders who were shrouded in the secrecy and mystery of the association that largely contributed towards pushing for the independence of Greece.
Mark Mazower, Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950
Richard Clogg. A Concise History of Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Stathis Kalyvas, Modern Greece: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015
Xanthos, E. Memoirs for the Friendly Society, (facsimile reprint of 1834 ed), Vergina, (Athens 1996).