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Lecture will be presented by Dr Alasdair Grant
Volunteers from across Europe and the United States joined the fight for Greek independence during the 1820s. They were attracted by the lure of Greece’s classical past and in many cases disillusioned or out of work after the defeat of Napoleon. These people are known as the ‘philhellenes’, meaning simply ‘lovers of Greece’. In the context of the Revolution, the term ‘philhellene’ came to refer specifically to people who supported the Greek cause, whether in a military capacity in Greece or as civilians organizing assistance at home or abroad.
Scots played an important role in the European and North American movement to support the cause of Greek independence in the 1820s (known as ‘philhellenism’), contributing military officers, historians of the conflict, and educators. These educators belonged to a circle of dissenting Presbyterians, especially strong in Edinburgh, who advocated philanthropic aid rather than government intervention in Greece. This approach, purely charitable at first sight, was also entirely in tune with Britain’s imperialist interests in the eastern Mediterranean.
It was shaped by figures such as the dissenting minister Rev. Dr Thomas M’Crie, the Church of Scotland and later Free Church minister the Very Rev. Dr Henry Grey, and the dissenting Presbyterian and radical social reformer Agnes Renton. Perhaps most remarkable of all was Edward Masson, an educator, attorney, publicist and later Free Church preacher who worked in Greece for much of his life and whose writings revived the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century position that Orthodoxy shared the fundamental principles of the Protestant Reformation.
This lecture explores the philhellenic writings and initiatives of these figures during the period between the outbreak of the Revolution and the end of the Crimean War, evaluating their significance within their wider Scottish, British imperial, and Greek contexts. It argues for the existence of a distinct, dissenting Presbyterian missionary philhellenism that was in turn linked with Britain’s political and colonial interests in the eastern Mediterranean.
Dr Alasdair Grant is curator of the University of Edinburgh’s Leventis Foundation-funded exhibition ‘Edina/Athena: The Greek Revolution and the Athens of the North, 1821–2021’, which explores the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire, the contemporary discourse of Edinburgh as the ‘Athens of the North’ or ‘Modern Athens’, and the Scots who linked these two contexts. He is also a Research Associate at the University of Hamburg, working on eighth-century Armenia as part of a project on rebellion in the early Islamic world.
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