Greek Historiography of the Bavarian Rule

by Stathis Pavlopoulos (Panteion University, Athens)


The Bavarian rule in Greece covers a period of almost 30 years, officially beginning in 1833 with the arrival of Otto as the first King of Greece (January 25, 1833) and ending in 1862 with his expulsion. This period seemed very remote in the collective memory of contemporary Greek society until a decade ago, and only the emergence of the economic crisis re-generated a public debate on the common Greek-German past. Although the Bavarian Rule, due to its chronological distance, was not the most controversial topic in public discourse, it has left its mark. New publications during the years of the crisis, such as the book From Otto’s Reichenbach to Merkel’s Reichenbach: 180 years of Germanocracy in Greece [in Greek], published in 2014, offer us the opportunity to reflect on the use and especially the abuse of history in public discourse.

Looking back in time, the Bavarian Rule has left a significant mark in the Greek historiography of the 19th and 20th centuries. Various academic or non-academic publications attempted to describe the first years of the “new-born” Greek Kingdom. The main intention of this essay is to provide an overview and a general frame of this intellectual production. Due to the large number of these publications, the essay focuses on five milestones of the Bavarian Rule and points out some key characteristics and commonplaces of the historical narratives. The cases are derived mainly from the 19th century, with a couple of examples from the 20th century included. Needless to say that the purpose of this essay is not an extensive analysis of historiographic waves and trends, but only an attempt to stress different approaches and viewpoints.


Introductory points on the historiography of the Bavarian Rule

The first edition concerning Otto and his reign was published in 1834 with the title Othonias, and was a heroic poem for the first anniversary of Otto’s arrival. Ever since, more than 50 editions were published, the latest one in 2014. In historiography, the first treatment – as part of a general history of Greece ‒ was written by Amvrosios Frantzis and was published in 1841. It covers the first five years of the Bavarian Rule.

The most fruitful period for the historiography of the Bavarian Rule seems to be the end of the 19th century and especially the 1890s. More than 10 books were published at that period. Here we shall emphasise the work of Tryfon Evangelidis titled History of Otto, King of Greece (1832–1862). Based on the newest historical sources of Greek and foreign historians, which was published in 1893. The book is probably the first monograph with scholarly intentions on the Bavarian Rule. It is believed that at the same period the history of the Bavarian Rule was taught for the first time at the School of Philosophy of Athens, although there is a lack of sources on this issue.

There are no definite explanations for this increase in interest during the 1890s, although one can associate the issue with the political landscape of the period and the political revival of “Megali Idea”, of which Otto was a major devotee. At the end of the 19th century “Megali Idea” appears scaled-up and becomes a basic feature of the kingdom’s policies.

A general categorisation of the publications on the Bavarian Rule would possibly include:

  1. Anniversary texts (i.e. special editions for the 25th anniversary of Otto’s arrival or for the wedding anniversary of the royal couple). These editions cover the period between 1834 and 1861.
  2. Memoirs or works with testimonial character. Here one shall include Amvrosios Frantzis’s work Epitome of the history of Hellas reborn (1715-1837) and Anastasios Goudas’s Lifes in parallel: glorious men in the “Renaissance” of Greece (Athens 1875).
  3. Biographical editions about the private life of the royal couple, focusing on their infertility or their life after their expulsion. Such editions were mainly published after 1850.
  4. Scientific-historiographic publications:

– monographs such as the book by Tryfon Evangelidis;

– Bavarian Rule as part of works about the genealogy of the monarchy in Greece, such as Andreas Skandamis’s book Thirty years of Otto’s Reign, Athens 1961, 2 vols.;

– Bavarian Rule as part of General histories of Greece.


The milestones


1. The arrival

The arrival of Otto is a turning point for Modern Greek history: following a transitional phase after the War of Independence (1821), Greece entered a phase of evolution and development as a modern kingdom. In this process, the role of the foreign powers was significant. This role is explained in several ways by historiographic texts in a tone that varies from enthusiastic acceptance, sometimes expressed in religious terms (i.e. descriptions of King Otto as a messiah), to total rejection in a context that views foreigners as colonialists in general or as intruders who do not respect the local population.

Tryfon Evangelidis’s book, which is based on both Greek and German historical documents and sources, highlights the moment of Otto’s disembarkation of from the British frigate Madagascar: “Thousands of people with tears in their eyes and a holy pulse in their heart awaiting their ruler”.1

Dimitris Fotiadis, a famous 20th-century Marxist historian and politician, voices the exact opposite: “a youngster in golden clothing followed by an army of praetorians”; he also refers to an “occupation army”.2 In the use of these terms we can possibly detect a view of the Bavarian period through the lens of traumatic times such as the yoke of the Roman Empire or the German Occupation (1941–1944). Fotiadis’s text implies visible historical ancestors of the Bavarian Rule and forms a genealogy of the Greek domination by foreigners. The key phrase of Fotiadis’s narrative is telling: “Another saviour for the people, at this time for the Greek people, the generation of 1821”.3 Fotiadis appears to be aligned with the Marxist historiography of the 1960s, which was a period with a rich production of historical studies on the Greek War of Independence (1821). In these studies the role of the Greek rebel-warriors is especially emphasised.


2. The Regency

Especially notable is the total absence of monographs concerning the rule of the Regency (1833-1835). Narrations for the era of the Regency appear only in general histories of Greece or come from indirect sources.

Amvrosios Frantzis, in his work Epitome of the history of Hellas reborn (1715-1837) (3 vols.) published between 1839 and 1841, was probably the first to include the years of Bavarian Rule and the Regency. Frantzis, a distinguished member of the clergy, refers to the Regency in a sceptical and occasionally negative way. His main criticism focuses on the reforms concerning the status of the Greek Church and the monasteries that had taken place at that time. Anastasios Goudas, whose book was published in 1875 and followed the style of a memoir, appeared totally aligned with Frantzis’s view.

Dimitris Fotiadis describes the years of the Regency with widespread use of irony. Indicatively, he describes Joseph Armansberg as a man highly involved in intrigues and Georg von Maurer as a meticulous jurist eager to embed anti-popular measures and laws in Greek legislation. Regardless of these accusations, Fotiadis is extremely judgmental when it comes to Karl Eidek, whom he describes as an informer for Ludwig of Bavaria.

For researchers of the period, the rule of the Regency seems to have caused rivalries between local political forces and the Bavarians. In several texts there is a sense that the Regency Council overrode the traditional political forces and their native representatives. It is important to consider that these forces had increased their influence and authority during the War of Independence, and so the Regency appeared as a direct threat to their privileges. This view is commonplace in several narratives by authors with differing viewpoints profiles.


3. The Constitution of 1844

The uprising of September 3, 1843 that led to the Constitution of 1844 is the first major crisis during Otto’s rule, involving a direct and extended dispute of his authority and legitimization. Therefore it offers a case of great interest for Greek historiography. Anastasios Goudas attributed the whole incident to the conflicting national characteristics, as a struggle between different cultures: Greeks against Bavarians. Attempting to explain the reasons for the uprising he wrote: “a conspiracy that led to a general rebellion of the [Greek] nation against the Bavarians with the demand for a Constitution.”4 Although at first glance Goudas seemed to be enthusing about the “national” revolutionary actions ‒ one can assume a possible recall of the glorious days of the War of Independence (1821) ‒ that resulted in the restrictions to Otto’s power, at the same time he minimized their impact: “While pledging faith to the Constitution, Otto was imagining ways to destruct it.”5 For Goudas, the national victory was short-lived.

On the other hand, Tryfon Evangelidis in 1893 reversed the argument of Anastasios Goudas: the Constitution of 1844 was not a Greek national victory, but a Bavarian defeat: “They [the Bavarians] managed many fragmentary reforms but they failed on the whole” and he continued: “they failed to control the people and this resulted in impunity.”6 Finally, Dimitris Fotiadis contributed a more polemic and causal narration of the uprising, in a way that the incidents are considered a prelude of Otto’s expulsion in 1862.


4. The „Megali Idea“

It would not be an exaggeration to claim that “Megali Idea”, the plan for the expansion of the Greek Kingdom and the liberation of Orthodox populations across the Ottoman Empire, was the “heavy artillery” of Otto’s politics. It seems that by supporting the Megali Idea, Otto was acknowledged as a visionary King for the first time. Μegali Idea proved to be his Greek passport. “Otto is Greek”7 insisted Zacharias Papantoniou, the famous litterateur, in 1934, and he continued: “The King would go to [conquer] Constantinople with four soldiers only.”8 For the author, Otto was the archetype of 19th-century Romanticism, even more influential than “his father’s philhellenic poems”, as he claims.

The same holds for witness accounts such as the book by Theodoros Falez-Kolokotronis titled The last days of Otto’s Reign. Theodoros Falez-Kolokotronis, grandson of Theodoros Kolokotronis, the most famous rebel-warrior of 1821, had a rather negative view of Otto’s rule despite the fact that his father Gennaios Kolokotronis was the last prime minister during Otto’s rule. In fact, Theodoros Falez-Kolokotronis revealed his own involvement in the anti-dynastic struggle and the “Skiadika” rebellion of 1859. Yet, concerning the Megali Idea, Falez-Kolokotronis declared his affinity for the King: “Otto has been very bad in internal affairs, acting against the Constitutional Law and obstructing elections in the kingdom. Nevertheless, through the Megali Idea he kept our national pride alive.”9

A similar narration is found in Georgios Filaretos’s book Foreign Rule and Reign in Greece (1821–1897) published in 1897. Filaretos, a famous jurist and politician, tried to reconstruct a genealogy of foreign rule in Greece attempting to explain the development (or non-evolution) of the Greek State as an issue closely related to foreign powers and their strategic conflicts in Greece. Nevertheless, in his text Otto is presented as the “interpreter of the wishes of the nation.”10

Criticism of the political abuse of Megali Idea was expressed only by Anastasios Goudas and by his later reader, Dimitris Fotiadis. Both considered the invocation of Megali Idea as a means to distract the people’s attention from major issues of the day. It’s interesting though that Fotiadis did not reject the whole spirit of Megali Idea, but mainly its aims for a restoration of the Byzantine Empire: “If the issue of Megali Idea was posed strictly as the liberation of our brothers in the Ottoman Empire, who could possibly object?”11


5. The expulsion

It seems to be a commonplace in Greek historiography that the expulsion of Otto came about a result of his despotic and unconstitutional behaviour. Otto received plenty of criticism especially for his interventions in the elections and in the ensuing parliament proceedings. However, there are approaches that point out the instrumental role of foreign powers ‒ especially that of Great Britain ‒ in Otto’s expulsion. Filaretos, whose book, as mentioned above, is a manifesto against foreign intervention in Greece, commented: “The British secret agents in Athens every day were digging a deeper tomb in which Palmerston wanted to bury the annoying neighbour of the Sultan.”12

Finally, we also find narrations that appear compassionate towards King Otto, like the one by Anastasios Goudas: “Taking into consideration all these [the uprisings against him] and in order to prevent bloodshed, the unlucky King left the Greek vessel to board the English one with the equanimity of a Christian believer indeed.”13 Goudas’s opinion appears to be in total agreement with Otto’s last announcement in 1862, where, in a self-critical mood, he declared that he decided to abdicate in order to prevent further infighting among the Greek people.



As usually happens in historiography, texts about Otto and the Bavarian rule are “children of their time”, marked by the ideologies and political conflicts of the period in which they were written. As mentioned above, such preconceptions are more intense in those works where historiography and testimony co-exist and conflate. Several times such texts reflect a feeling of disillusionment and frustration regarding Otto’s rule. The same frustration appears directed against the Regency through the construction of a dipole between Colonists (Greek people) and Colonialists (Bavarians). Georgios Filaretos in the late 19th century produced an enriched form of this dipole by adding the concept of “Foreigners”. However, we can also detect its presence in the Marxist historiography of Fotiadis during the 1960s, or even in recent publications about Germany and the Germans during the years of the Greek crisis.

Considerable time has passed since the 1840s, when these first historiographic texts were published. Nowadays the significant development of the academic historiography, especially from the 1970s onwards, has contributed greatly in our understanding of the Bavarian Rule. In this context we include the book by John Petropoulos titled Politics and the formation of state in Greek Kingdom (1833-1843), which has a complex and critical view of Bavarian Rule. Additionally, after the 1960s there is a significant production of texts covering the period of the Bavarian Rule as chapters of General Histories of Greece. Here we should mention the work of Georgios Aspreas Political History of Modern Greece, as well as Spyridon Markezinis’s Political History of Modern Greece. Bavarian Rule also forms an extended chapter in the 17-volume History of the Greek Nation (1977), one of the most comprehensive publications in the field.

Surely, the development of contemporary academic historiography and the enrichment of the historical tools available do not detract from the worth of earlier texts and sources. On the contrary, systematic research on these texts reveals the ways in which the past is filtered through different historical periods and of course its constant variations from time to time, from author to author.


  1.  Tryfon Evangelidis, Ιστορία του Όθωνος Βασιλέως της Ελλάδος (1832-1862). Κατά τας νεωτάτας πηγάς ξένων τε και ημέτερων ιστορικών (History of Otto, King of Greece (1832-1862). Based on the newest historical sources of Greek and foreign historians), Aristeidis Galanos publications, Athens 1894, p. 35.
  2.  Dimitris Fotiadis, Ο Όθωνας. Η Μοναρχία (Otto. The Monarchy), Politikes kai Logotechnikes Ekdoseis, 1965, p. 87.
  3.  Ibid, p. 83.
  4.  Anastasios Goudas, Βίοι Παράλληλοι των επί της Αναγεννήσεως της Ελλάδος διαπρεψάντων ανδρών (Lives in parallel: glorious men in the Renaissance of Greece), vol. 7, Athens 1875, p. 64.
  5.  Ibid, p. 64.
  6.  Evangelidis, p. 108.
  7.  Zacharias Papantoniou, Όθων και η ρωμαντική δυναστεία. Λουδοβίκος Α.΄ΌθωνΛουδοβίκος Β.΄ (Otto and the Romantic Dynasty. Ludwig I-Otto-Ludwig II), Dimitrakos Publishing House, Athens 1934, p. 15.
  8.  Ibid, p. 20.
  9.  Theodoros Gennaiou Kolokotronis, Αι τελευταίαι ημέραι της Βασιλείας του Όθωνος (The Last Days of Otto’s Reign), Athens 1881, p. 11.
  10.  Georgios Filaretos, Ξενοκρατία και Βασιλεία εν Ελλάδι (1821-1897) (Foreign Rule and Reign in Greece), Athens 1897, p. 89.
  11.  Fotiadis, p. 46.
  12.  Filaretos, p. 123.
  13.  Goudas, p. 89.