Introduction – Bavarian Rule

by Lina Louvi (Panteion University, Athens) and Jörg Zedler (University of Regensburg)

The 1821 Greek War of Independence ended formally with the May 7, 1832 treaty, thanks to which the newly born free Greek state acquired its definitive international legal status. Great Britain, France and Russia, which had significantly contributed to the successful final outcome of the war of independence, finally offered the crown of Greece to Otto, the seventeen-year old second son of the philhellene King of Bavaria Ludwig I.

After the civil war that followed the assassination of Greece’s first governor Ioannis Kapodistrias in 1832, it had become obvious to all warring parties that only a foreign monarch could ensure the end of the self-destructive strife between the new state’s opposing groups. All parties accepted Otto as a guarantor of internal peace, security and the rule of law. By then, various alternatives for the choice of ruler, which had been proposed earlier in favor of one or another foreign power, had lost their significance. At that stage, Bavaria and a member of the Wittelsbach family was accepted by all as the best option. The crucial point is: why did the Great Powers decide in favor of a German, and in particular, a Bavarian prince? There is no clear-cut answer to this question. An indirect explanation lies in the fact that any support that originated solely from one of the three foreign powers would trigger animosity and jealousy amongst them. Furthermore, the intense involvement in the party mechanisms of Greece, already created during the war of independence and oriented toward the three foreign powers, rendered impossible the disentanglement of state power from petty partisan goals.

The offer was accepted with joy by the Bavarian king as it underlined in the best possible way his ties with Greece. Ludwig I had always been amongst the few supporters of the Greek War of Independence. Although he refused any democratic idea or ideal, he used the rich symbolism of Ancient Greece as an important element in his policies of state formation in Bavaria. Neoclassicism constituted a precious support for the Bavarian king in his quest to consolidate power. Not least thanks to this symbolism, he was able to harmoniously combine the idea of a large and glorious history and the grace and beauty of ancient Greek architecture with authoritarian principles, providing a common national conscience and an identity for all Bavarians.

The absence of the Greek state in the signing of the May 1832 treaty meant that none of its representatives could participate in any modification or rejection of its various provisions. This may be the reason why Greeks considered the new kingdom as a Bavarian protectorate under the suzerainty of the three reat Powers. At the same time, the hiring of Bavarians in the Greek administration may well explain, and do justice to the subsequent reactions of Greeks against the phenomenon later named “Bavarocracy” (Vavarokratia, Βαυαροκρατία). This form of bureaucracy allegedly arose out of the needs of state building, since the Greeks required managerial and technical assistance from the West.

King Ludwig of Bavaria was authorized to designate a tripartite regency, which would rule for about two years, until the coming of age of Otto on the June 1, 1835. He also provided an army of 3,500 Bavarian soldiers and allowed the participation of Bavarian officers in the task of organizing the Greek army. By the same treaty, the three Powers were to be guarantors of any Greek public loan.

For the subsequent two and a half years, real power would be exerted by the three regents: count Joseph Ludwig von Armansperg was in charge of overall supervision, Georg Ludwig von Maurer (lawyer and member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences) was in charge of matters concerning justice, religion and education, while arl Wilhelm von Heideck was responsible for the army and the navy. Karl von Abel was appointed secretary and was to participate in the regency in case one of its members was absent (Armansperg had asked for his collaboration). The three regency members mentioned were important political personalities who held former positions of significance in Bavaria. Armansperg was the leader of the constitutional party, despite the fact he had clashed with King Ludwig for political reasons, and was chosen because of his experience in economics, his political shrewdness and his diplomatic talents. Maurer was ex-Minister of Justice and amongst the prominent Bavarian jurists. Heideck was a well-known philhellene, was well informed about the Greek situation and, although he was only a colonel at this time, seemed capable of organizing the army and the customs authorities effectively.

The chief aim of the Bavarians was to offer the newly formed Greek state the preconditions for its progress and to provide Otto with the means (money, army), so as to firmly establish his rule in a country which did not have any royalist sentiments. At the same time, the Bavarian rulers chose Athens as the capital city, so as to stress that the new kingdom would pursue a modern policy. The choice of Athens was made so as to symbolically tie the new state to the glory of the ancient world, to the center of Arts and Letters. It was also selected in order to play down the importance of Constantinople and the Byzantine past in the minds of the Greeks. Thus, the new state had to be a continuation of ancient Greece. Neoclassicism would play, in this respect, a pivotal role in strengthening the national identity of the Greeks. In the image of ancient Greece would cover, dissimulate and absorb their multilayered and non-homogeneous legacy.

However, the ambiguities of the treaty with regards to matters such as the installments of the public loan, as well as the constitution and the religion of the king, were a source of substantial political problems throughout the reign of Otto. The treaty’s uncertainties triggered reactions from the political parties and society at large. The Greeks were rapidly disappointed by the authoritarianism of the regency which was in charge while Otto was underage. The Greeks wanted, by any means, Otto himself to take over the reign, in hoping that he would solve all of the problems that had arisen.

In their efforts to create a modern state and to unify all parties under the auspices of the king, the regency faced reactions which were indicative of the huge gap between Bavarian rulers and Greek society. One expression of the widespread social discontent was the revolts in the Peloponnese and in Central Greece (Sterea), triggered chiefly by issues related to the church and the regular army. The decision of the Bavarians to disband the irregular troops which had participated in the revolution and to hire mercenaries from various German states was considered a provocation by Greek society. The proclamation of an “autocephalous” Greek Church, independent from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, as well as the closure of monasteries, was another thorny issue causing grievances and reactions on the part of most Greeks. At the same time, the regency tried to abolish the institutional framework within which the political parties were functioning. It transpired very quickly that the regency was not able to materialize its initial goals; its attempt to weaken the parties was monumentally counterproductive. The regency became an instrument in the hands of one party in its effort to diminish the power of another. This meant, in practice, that the regency delegated power to party mechanisms. Otto’s coming of age, however, did not alter the situation considerably. This was the case despite the close guidance that the young king obtained from the Austrian Ambassador Anton count Prokesch von Osten, who was a trusted friend of Ludwig I. The young king was quickly enmeshed in party disputes. His obstinate refusal of even the most moderate solutions which would somehow have limited authoritarian rule led, in September 1843, to a revolt of all political parties against him and to the concession of a constitution.

Nevertheless, even in this new context of a constitutional monarchy, Otto was unable to take decisions and strike the necessary balance between the political forces. The machinations of one or another party, but also of foreign embassies (mainly the British), continued unabated, and it became obvious that the new king was not willing to play the role for which he was destined when enthroned.

The unpredictable factor that foreign powers had not taken into account was Otto’s romanticism. This heavy ideological and psychological influence that he had brought along with him from Bavaria, pushed the king to identify with the most reckless manifestations of the so-called Greek Great Idea (Megali Idea), i.e. the expansion of the new kingdom to territories which were still under Ottoman rule. During all of the crises of the Eastern Question, culminating in the Crimean War (1853–1856), Otto and his wife Amalia had played a leading role in the attempts to fulfill this dream of the Greeks. This Roman Catholic king with his Protestant wife imagined themselves as Byzantine emperors. Only the threat of losing his kingdom (made by the British and the French) was able, time and again, to restrain his expansionist zeal. This proves that his genuine and enthusiastic patriotism was not enough to countervail the grievance of the Greeks concerning his authoritarian rule. The population overwhelmingly approved his dethronement in October 1862.

It was not long before the Greeks began to miss their first king. After his death on July 26, 1867, just five years after his dethronement, one could read in Greek newspapers that “he was a real Greek” who “genuinely loved Greece” and even sacrificed himself for the country. In a self-critical mood, the Greek public confessed that they felt remorse for his dethronement. Furthermore, they compared him to the cold young realist Danish King George I, who had replaced him. In contrast to Otto, George I took into account the European situation and discouraged any belligerent move made in hopes of materializing the Great Idea.

Greek historiography regards Otto as an authoritarian monarch who did not understand Greek reality, while simultaneously acknowledging his passionate devotion to the Great Idea and his sincere effort to make the national dream come true. By contrast, in the German historiography, King Otto and the Bavarian Rule of Greece are not a case of great interest. The historical narrative only focuses on the reforms of the regency and considers the Wittelsbach Kingdom in Greece more as a part of the domestic policy of Ludwig I, instead of an independent and autonomous subject. More recent studies, however, view the Bavarian period in a larger historical framework and as a significant effort in the building of a modern (Greek) state.


The essays in this section discuss different aspects of the relationship between Bavaria and Greece, such as the transfer of persons and ideas and mutual perceptions. These topics can be summarized into three main categories:

  1. Three contributions take a closer look at the representation of Otto’s rule in media and the Greek and Bavarian, respectively, historiography. Astrid Bösl explores if – and how far – the German historiography deals with the Wittelsbach kingdom in Greece. She includes the most important publications from the last quarter of the 19th century until the present. Bösl’s Greek counterpart, Stahis Pavopoulos, proves that several phases of rule were differentiated and received different interpretation depending on the time of writing in the 19th and 20th century. Effi Pavlogeorgatou’s essay provides an interesting enrichment of these texts. She analyzes the evaluation of Otto’s policy in Greek newspapers immediately after his death in 1867, coming to surprisingly complex results.
  2. The two essays of the second section focus on selected aspects of the history of ideas and their transfers. First, Jürgen Kilian studies the phenomenon of philhellenism in Germany. His conclusions show how Otto’s political failure affected these ideas. Second, Evdoxia Papadopoulou focuses on the political use, or rather, the political instrumentality of neoclassicism in Greece during the 19th century.
  3. The essays of the third section examine a specific form of German/Bavarian-Greek transfer of ideas, that is, their embodiment in the architecture of the period. A very concrete example can be found in Joachim Friedl’s contribution, which discusses the structure and political programme of the Königsplatz in Munich. Ana Theodora Kurkina takes a closer look at the wider entanglements that played a considerable role in reinventing and reestablishing classical architecture. She analyzes both international networks and communication between architects in Germany and Greece from 1833 to 1862, which were important for this transfer of ideas.



German Philhellenism and the Failure of King Otto of Greece

Political Uses of Neoclassicism in Greece (19th Century)

Reinventing the Classics: Architectural Networks and Idea Exchange in Germany and Greece (1833-1862)

“Königsplatz” in Munich as an Example of “Greek” Architecture in Bavaria

Otto after Otto

Greek Historiography of the Bavarian Rule

The Wittelsbach Kingdom of Greece in Bavarian historiography