The multiple projects of a political crisis: sovereignty and government during the Greek revolution (1821-28)

Michalis Sotiropoulos
British School at Athens

This paper reassesses the political projects that were articulated in the Greek-speaking world during the Greek revolution (1821-28). Greek historiography has conventionally understood the revolution and its political trajectory teleologically, as a crucial step in the triumph of liberal/democratic values and the programmatic political transformation with which Greece entered modernity. This paper takes a different point of departure. It considers the revolution as an open-ended political crisis during which revolutionaries were forced to address – both theoretically and practically – the fundamental issues of political power: its source (where does it originate from), its location (who rules and under what right) and its organization (how is power exercised). The frameworks for political action (or ‘scripts’) the revolutionaries drew upon varied: they were local, regional, imperial, but also increasingly transnational, drawing upon a revolutionary constitutional and liberal language. These scripts fed into alternative visions of statehood (national, federal, local) that varied across time and across regions. Some contemporaries sought a sort of ‘home rule’, some accompanied this by questions of ‘who should rule’, others sought a radical transformation in society and politics. The paper seeks to uncover and understand these alternatives, as well as why some predominated over others. By so doing, it has two aims: first, to propose an alternative genealogy of ‘the political’ that does not take any eventual historical outcome for granted, and second, to bring the perspective of the Greek world into the discussion about the interconnectedness of revolutions and about the importance of the 1820s for liberal imagination.


Greek Revolution, Sovereignty, Independence, Mediterranean