Megali Idea

Megali Idea

Megali Idea (modern Greek: Μεγάλη Ιδέα, "Great Idea") was an irredentist concept of Greek nationalism that expressed the goal of establishing a Greek state that would encompass all ethnic Greeks, since large Greek populations after the Greek independence in 1832, still lived under the Ottoman rule.

The term appeared for the first time appeared during the debates of Prime Minister Ioannis Kolettis with King Otto that preceded the promulgation of the 1844 constitution. This was a visionary nationalist aspiration that was to dominate foreign relations and, to a significant extent, to determine the domestic politics of the Greek state for much of the first century of its independent existence. If the expression was new in 1844, the concept was deeply rooted in the Greek popular psyche, nurtured as it was by the prophecies and oracles that had kept alive, hopes of eventual liberation from the Turkish rule. This is reflected on the following folk saying:

Πάλι με χρόνια με καιρούς, πάλι δικά μας θα 'ναι!
As times and years go by, they shall be ours again.

Megali Idea implied the goal of reviving the Byzantine Empire, by establishing a Greek state, which would be, as ancient geographer Strabo wrote, a Greek world encompassing mostly the former Byzantine lands from the Ionian Sea to Mikra Asia (Asia Minor) and Euxenus Pontus (Black Sea) to the east, and from Thrace, Macedonia and Epirus, north, to Crete and Cyprus to the south. This new state will have its capital in Constantinople.

The Megali Idea dominated the foreign policy and the domestic politics of Greece, from the War of Independence in the 1820s through the Balkan wars in the beginning of the twentieth century. It started to disappear after the defeat of Greece in the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) and the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922, followed by the exchange of population between Greece and Turkey in 1923.

Fall of Constantinople

Though the Byzantine Empire was Roman in origin, it became Hellenistic with time, owing to its location (in the Greek heartland) and following the fall of the Western Empire, it became the only European remnant of Rome. Byzantium held out against the invasions of the centuries with a vitality that the Western Roman empire lost, repelling the Visigoth, the Hun, the Saracen, the Crusader, the Mongol, and finally the Turk. Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium, fell to the Crusader in the early years of the 13th century; however, the Crusaders were supposedly fellow Christians, and so, this fall did not wipe the City from the provinces of Christendom; indeed, given time, the City was liberated. However, the City fell to a far different foe in 1453--the Muslim Turk--and this fall of Constantinople marked the nadir of Greek civilization; the city was comprehensively sacked and looted; the Hagia Sophia was defiled, desecrated, and turned into a mosque; some of its inhabitants were enslaved, or put to the sword; the final legacy of Ancient Rome, and the contemporary legacy of the Hellene, was rendered unto the extraordinarily firm hand of the Turk, under whose machinations both laboured for nearly 500 years. Following the conquest of Constantinople, the capture of the remainder of the Hellenic territories was easily accomplished by the Ottomans.

Greeks under the Ottoman rule

Greek independence

After the achievements of Greek War of Independence in 1821, the Great Powers granted to the Greek people independence. However, the new found Greek state emerging under John Capodistria after the Greek War of Independence, had large groups of ethnic Greeks outside its borders. The limited in size Greece was designed by the Great Powers, who had no intention for a larger Greek state to place of the Ottoman Empire.

The Great Idea encompassed a desire to bring these groups into the Greek state and subsequently revive the Byzantine Empire; specifically in the territories of Epirus, Thessaly, Macedonia, Thrace the Aegean Islands, Crete, Cyprus, parts of Anatolia, and the city of Constantinople, that would replace Athens as the capital.

Cretan revolt and Greco-Turkish War (1897)

In January 1897, violence and disorder was escalating on the island, thus polarizing the population. Massacres against the Christian population took place in Chania and Rethimno. The Greek government, pressured by public opinion, intransigent political elements, extreme nationalist groups (e.g. Ethniki Etairia) and the Great Powers reluctant to intervene, decided to send warships and personnel to assist the Cretan Greeks. The Great Powers had no option then but to proceed with the occupation of the island, but they were late. A Greek force of 1,500 men had landed at Kolymbari on 1 February 1897, and its commanding officer, Colonel Timoleon Vassos declared that he was taking over the island "in the name of the King of the Hellenes" and that he was announcing the union of Crete with Greece. This led to an uprising that spread immediately throughout the island. The Great Powers finally decided to land their troops and stopped the Greek army force from approaching Chania. At the same time their fleets blockaded Crete, preventing both Greeks and Turks from bringing any more troops to the island.

The Ottoman Empire, in reaction to the rebellion of Crete and the assistance sent by Greece, relocated a significant part of its army in the Balkans to the north of Thessaly, close to the borders with Greece. Greece in reply reinforced its borders in Thessaly. However, irregular Greek forces and followers of the Megali Idea acted without orders and raided Turkish outposts, leading the Ottoman Empire to declare war on Greece; the war is known as the Greco-Turkish War of 1897. The Turkish army was better prepared, due to the recent reforms carried out by a German mission under Baron von der Goltz, and the Greek army was in retreat within weeks. The Great Powers again intervened and an armistice was signed in May 1897.

The humiliating defeat of Greece in the Greco-Turkish war cost small territorial losses in small readjustments of the border line in northern Thessaly, but turned into a diplomatic victory. The Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia, and Italy), imposed a final solution on the Cretan Question: Crete was proclaimed an autonomous Cretan State. The four Great Powers assumed the administration of Crete; and Prince George of Greece (second son of King George I) became High Commissioner.

Realization of Megali Idea and the big disaster

Eleftherios Venizelos

Balkan Wars

A major proponent of Megali Idea was Eleftherios Venizelos, who expanded Greek territory in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 — southern Epirus, Crete, and southern Macedonia were attached to Greece. Thessaly, and part of southern Epirus, had been annexed in 1881.

World War I

Victory in World War I seemed to promise an even greater realization of the Megali Idea, as Greece won Smyrna, Imbros, Tenedos, Western and Eastern Thrace.

Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922)

A major defeat followed in 1922, however, when the Turkish revolutionaries defeated and expelled the Greeks from Anatolia during the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922). The Treaty of Lausanne saw Greece lose Eastern Thrace, Imbros and Tenedos, Smyrna and the possibility of staying in Anatolia. To avoid any further territorial claims, both Greece and Turkey enganged in an "exchange of populations": During the conflict, 151,892 Greeks had already fled Asia Minor. The Treaty of Lausanne moved 1,104,216 Greeks from Turkey, Bulgaria 40027 Greeks, 58522 of Russia (because of the defeat of Vrangel) and 10,080 from other sources (Dodecanese or Albania, for example). In exchange, 380,000 Turks left the Greek territory to Turkey and 60,000 Bulgarians from Thrace and Macedonia were moved to Bulgaria.

The immediate reception of refugees to Greece cost 45 million francs, then the League of Nations organized a loan of 150 million francs for the settlement of refugees. In 1930, Venizelos even went on an official visit to Turkey, where he proposed that Mustafa Kemal be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Interwar period

Although the Great Idea ceased to be a driving force behind Greek foreign policy, some remnants continued to influence Greek foreign policy throughout the remainder of the 20th century.

Thus, after his coup d'état of 4 August 1936, Ioannis Metaxas proclaimed the advent of the "Third Hellenic civilization" after the civilization of the ancient Greek and Byzantine Civilization . The attack by Italy from Albania and the Greek victories enabled Greece to conquer during the winter 1940-1941, the northern Epirus, which was then administered as a province of Greece- this region was populated almost 80% by ethnic Greeks- before the German offensive of April 1941.

World War II

The occupation, resistance and the civil war helped to put the Great Idea in the background. The annexation of the Dodecanese islands in 1947 is considered unrelated, being just the result of the Italian defeat in war.


Cyprus, occupied by the United Kingdom, became the "apple of discord" in Greco-Turkish relations. In 1955, a Greek army colonel of Greek Cypriot origin George Grivas began a campaign of civil disobedience whose purpose was primarily to drive the British from the island, then move for Enosis with Greece. The Greek Prime Minister, Alexandros Papagos, was not unfavourable to this idea. The British played the Turkish Cypriots against Greek Cypriots, resulting in the polarisation of opinion between the dominant Greek population and the minority Turks.

The problems of Cyprus had an impact on the continent itself. In September 1955, in response to the demand for enosis, an anti-Greek riot took place in Istanbul. During the Istanbul Pogrom 4,000 stores, 100 hotels and restaurants and 70 churches were destroyed or damaged . This led to the last great wave of migration from Turkey to Greece.

The Zürich Agreement of 1959 culminated in independence of the island in the British Commonwealth . The inter-ethnic clashes from 1960 led to the dispatch of a peacekeeping force of the United Nations in 1964.

The Cypriot situation was revived by the dictatorship of the colonels. The latter presented his coup d'état of April 21 1967 as the only way to defend the traditional values of the Hellenic-Christian civilization.

"Youth of Greece ... you recall, in your heart and your faith, the deep sense of sacrifice. It dates back to Leonidas, "Come and take them!", to Constantine XI, "I do not wish to give the City.", and Metaxás, "No!". It is in the "Stop or I draw! ", April 21, 1967 . "

The oil crisis 1973 worsened Greek-Turkish relations. Oil was discovered near Thasos. Turkey and Greece competed for oil exploration rights, leading to violence on the island between the rival communities. The situation of colonels was deteriorating. Student protests in November 1973 resulted in the Junta sending tanks to reclaim a local polytechnic. The Megali Idea was then used again to divert attention from internal problems.

Against the backdrop of the oil crisis in the Aegean, Brigadier General Ioannidis arranged, in July 1974, to overthrow Cypriot President Makarios, and proceed to enosis with Greece. This led to an immediate reaction from Turkey. Turkey invaded the north part of the island, where the majority of the Turkish minorities were located. The two countries moved to a general mobilization and there was a well-founded fear of an imminent war with Turkey.


Another instance was the fact that Greece explicitly recognised the present Greco-Albanian border (and, implicitly, Albanian rule over northern Epirus) only after the fall of communism in the Balkans. But the delay in recognising the existing borders with Albania is more certainly associated with the nearly total isolation of Albania during the Cold War and especially the state of belligerency that had existed between the two states since the Second World War.


In a stabilized Europe, Great Idea has disappeared. The main reasons of the Greek-Turkish disputes about the borders are based mainly on the economy (oil or fishing). The most notable incident took place at Imia/Kardak.

The relations between Greece and Turkey are improving after the Greek aid sent to 1999 İzmit earthquake and the Turkish aid sent to 1999 Athens earthquake.



  • Özhan Öztürk (2005). Karadeniz (Black Sea): Ansiklopedik Sözlük. 2 Cilt. Heyamola Yayıncılık. İstanbul. ISBN 975-6121-00-9

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