Written by By Paraskevas-Marios I. Tourtounis

Acknowledgements: This work is dedicated to the distinguished Czech historian Mr. Miroslav Hroch, and to the distinguished Greek trumpeters Mr. George Babarakos and Mr. Gerassimos Ioannidis.


In this article, we are going to deal with the use of the musical instrument of the trumpet, by the Greek revolutionary literature of the 18th and the 19th centuries, as a verbal symbol intended to stir up the Greek residents of the Ottoman-ruled Greek regions against their Ottoman rulers. More specifically, in this article we are going to examine some references to the trumpet, made in the context of several works of the Greek revolutionary literature.

Furthermore, we are going to interpret in which ways these references of the Greek revolutionary literature works to the trumpet connect the Greek Revolution’s rights with the ancient Greece, the Orthodox Christian Church, and the lower Ottoman social classes’ struggle against the Ottoman sultan’s despotism.

ARTICLE Generally, in the history of the European revolutionary movements of the 19th century, the treatment of symbols to mobilize as many people as possible in favor of these movements, was a common phenomenon. This is because success in communication and social interaction within a human group as large as a whole nation, whose members had no personal contact with each other, depended primarily on the use of such symbols (Hroch 2015: 229).

That is to say, these symbols, as instruments of mobilization of a group of people with common characteristics, were very important “codes of communication” for the expansion of the popular base of the revolutionary movements. So, as we are going to see in the present text, we can say that one of the symbols that emerged in the case of the Greek Revolution of 1821, was the musical instrument of the trumpet. Of course, at this point, it is worth mentioning that the trumpet did not become a revolutionary symbol only in the Greek case. On the contrary, the trumpet seems to have been one of the symbols of the Czech nationalistic propaganda, which sought to highlight the differences between the Czech culture and the dominant, in the Austrian Empire of Habsburgs (where the Czech populations belonged), German culture.

More specifically, in the text Ode to John Žižka of Trocnov by Antonín Pachmejer (1802), we read in one verse that the Bohemian trumpet sounds “clear and loud„ (Trencsénzi & Kopeček (eds.) 2006: 166). In addition, the text Apology of the Czech language by Karel Thám (1783) boasts that the Czech language has in its vocabulary a special term in order to express the meaning of playing the trumpet, i.e. the verb “troubím”, in stark contrast to the German vocabulary, which gives the same meaning with the more general term “ich blase”, which simply means “I blow” (Ibid: 208).

Thus, we observe that the musical instrument of the trumpet had, on several occasions, become a symbol of European national revolutionary movements. As far as the Greek case is concerned, during the last years of the 18th century and the first years of the 19th century, a whole mechanism of propagandistic literature had been developed, which aimed at the uprising of the Greek inhabitants of the Ottoman-ruled Greek areas. In the context of this propaganda, then, we can observe the most frequent invocation of the musical instrument of the trumpet in texts with patriotic content, which encouraged the uprising of the Greek people, in order to shake off the Ottoman yoke.

Consequently, this frequent references to the trumpet in the propagandistic literature of the Greeks, makes the trumpet an in indisputable symbol of the Greek struggle for liberation. The Greek merchant and scholar Adamantios Korais, living in Paris, where he closely experienced the French Revolution of 1789, during the 1790s worked as a publisher and translator of ancient Greek manuscripts. When the French Revolutionary Army, under commander Napoleon Bonaparte, had reached a point, at the end of 1790s, threatening the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire (by invading Ionian Islands in 1797 and Egypt in 1798), Korais, like many other Greek intellectuals, had pinned his hopes on the French factor, for the liberation of the Greeks from the Ottoman yoke (Evrigenis 2004: 160).

Consequently, by 1798, Korais began publishing a series of revolutionary pamphlets urging the Greeks to revolt against their Ottoman tyrants (Clogg 1983: 11). One of these pamphlets issued by Korais, which was published in 1801, was entitled War Trumpet-Call, referring, in that way, to the audible call of the war musical instrument of the trumpet. We also notice that the musical instrument of the trumpet is referred to the work of another great Greek scholar of the pre-revolutionary period, that is of Rigas Velestinlis.

According to Austrian court records related to the arrest of Velestinlis by the Austrian authorities (due to his spiritual incitement of the Greek revolution against the Ottoman monarchy), Rigas Velestinlis is credited with having written, at the end of the 18th century, a free translation/adaptation of the French Marseillaise, that is, the anthem of the French revolutionaries.

We can say that the existence of such a writing, although implied exclusively by Austrian court documents, should not leave us in any doubt, as Rigas Velestinlis, being deeply inspired by the achievements of the French Revolution, had formed his political ideology upon the basis of this revolution, even hoping for French assistance during the coveted (for him) Greek revolutionary struggle against the Ottoman rule (Dascalakis 1966: 273). In fact, it seems that Velestinlis was used to encourage his followers by creating free adaptations of French revolutionary songs (Ibid).

Consequently, although we do not know directly the Greek Marseillaise of Rigas Velestinlis, we do know some copies of this work written by other intellectuals. More specifically, in 1798, the Ionian Antonios Martelaos wrote the thorium (i.e. a war hymn) of the Greek Marseillaise, in a free copy of the homonymous thorium of Rigas Velestinlis. Furthermore, the Greek Marseillaise of Rigas Velestinlis, at the beginning of the 19th century, before the outbreak of the Greek Revolution in 1821, had been submitted to another free translation by the British philhellene poet Lord Byron. Studying these two free copies of the Greek Marseillaise of Rigas Velestinlis, it is of particular interest to observe the following turns:   

  1. “Oh Greek
    Old brave
    Scattered bones
    Take breath now.
    When you hear my trumpet’s voice
    Get up from the grave
    To see the Nation
    At its first honor”

    (4th turn from Martelaos’ free copy of the Greek Marseillaise)

  2. “Oh Greek
    brave bones
    scattered spirits
    take a breath now
    At my trumpet’s voice
    join me
    ask for Eptalofon
    and win everywhere.”

    (Turn from Lord Byron’s free translation from the Greek Marseillaise)

Therefore, observing the 5th line in the above verses of both versions of the Greek Marseillaise, we can see that a special mention is made to the musical instrument of the trumpet, in an effort of preparing the Greek spirit for war. So, in these verses, we observe that the musical instrument of the trumpet becomes, as we could say, a kind of a natural extension of the human voice, which tries to provoke the uprising of the enslaved Greek people.

As a result, since both of these versions of the Greek Marsellaise express, in exactly the same way, the war prelude transmitted by the musical instrument of trumpet, we can assume that Rigas Velestinlis, in his original Greek Marsellaise,  would has used in his work the musical instrument of trumpet in the same way, that is as a prelude symbol of the Greek liberation war. Furthermore, the musical instrument of the trumpet is referred in the content of the proclamation addressed on 24 February 1821 to the general camp of Iasi (in Moldowallachian Hegemony) by the leader of the Greek anti-Ottoman secret organization Friendly Society, Alexandros Ypsilantis.

Alexandros Ypsilantis had entered, with a small group of men, the territory of the Ottoman-ruled Moldowallachian Hegemony as early as on 22 February 1821, coming from Russia and crossing the Pruth River (then the natural border between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire). More specifically, in the content of the proclamation addressed by Alexandros Ypsilantis on 24 February 1821 in the general camp of Iasi, we find in its proposals the musical instrument of the trumpet: “At the voice of our Trumpet, all the coasts of Ionian and Aegean Seas will resonate […]” (Sfyroeras 1998: 72).

With these persistent invocations to the musical instrument of the trumpet, Alexandros Ypsilantis sought to make his proclamation widely penetrating, so as to send a clear message of war preparation and revolutionary effervescence to the Greek people of all over the Ottoman-ruled Greek areas. In essence, it seems that this proclamation of Ypsilantis on 24 February 1821 at the general camp of Iasi, functioned, in some way, as a war trumpet-cal, which penetrated the ears of the whole Hellenism enslaved under the Ottoman yoke.

In fact, this “trumpeting„ (as we could characterize) permeability of this proclamation of Alexandros Ypsilantis in Iasi, can be proved by the words of the legendary Peloponnesian rebel chief Theodoros Kolokotronis about this proclamation. More specifically, Kolokotronis, being in Zakynthos during the pre-revolutionary period, when he was informed about the content of the proclamation of Alexandros Ypsilantis on 24 February 1821, it seemed to him “[…] that heaven and earth repeated the words “The trumpet of our homeland is calling us” and that “the blessed name of Alexandros Ypsilantis was engraved with fiery lettering in his heart” (Paparrigopoulos 1930: 17).

Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the first newspaper printed in revolutionary Greece was entitled Greek Trumpet. This newspaper was published in Kalamata (Peloponnese), in only three pages: on 1 August 1821, on 5 August 1821, and on 20 August 1821. The actions of Dimitrios Ypsilantis (brother of Alexandros Ypsilantis) were very important for the initiative of the publication of this newspaper, while the two main contributors to the publication of the newspaper were the printer Konstantinos Tombras and the editor Theoklitos Farmakidis.

The aim of the publication of this newspaper was to inform about the war and political events taking place in revolutionary Greece, as well as to stimulate the Greeks’ fighting spirit, by quoting patriotic proclamations, such as the proclamation entitled Battle for Faith and Homeland addressed by Alexandros Ypsilantis at the general camp of Iasi, on 24 February 1821 (Skiadas 27/3/2020). Consequently, considering all the above elements, we can say that it is quite reasonable the fact that the predominance of the musical instrument of the trumpet in the Greek Revolution’s propaganda raises some questions.

The inclusion of the trumpet in the Greek revolutionary propaganda can be said that it is not accidental at all, as it serves three main axes, on which the narrative of the Greek Nation’s redemption from the Ottoman yoke is based.

Firstly, the references made in the texts of the Greek Revolution to the trumpet well serve the connection of the Greek Nation with its ancient Greek ancestors, and, consequently, legitimize the struggle of the Greek people in order to shake off the Ottoman yoke and establish an independent Greek state.

More specifically, the musical instrument of the trumpet is an indisputable symbol of Greek antiquity, as we know that ancient Greeks used the trumpet in various military occasions, such as the signaling of mobilization, the wake-up call, the call to join the army, the call for calm and distraction from the crowd, the signal for the start of an attack, and the signal for the troops to retreat (Krentz 2002: 114-116). Also, in ancient Greece, the trumpet was used, in rare cases, for ritual purposes, during which the trumpet was called “sacred trumpet” (Papaoikonomou – Kipourgou 2003: 126).

Secondly, the references to the trumpet made in the texts of the Greek Revolution serve another narrative: the narrative of the religious identification of Hellenism with the Orthodox Christian faith. More specifically, according to what Greek historian A I. Despotopoulos wrote in an article in the Greek magazine “EPOCHES” (= “SEASONS”) on January 1967, the texts of the Greek Revolution of 1821 had been inspired, except from other sources, by the ecclesiastical literature of the Eastern Orthodox Church (Sfyroeras 1998: 72).

Indeed, this position of A I. Despotopoulos is verified by the references made to the musical instrument of the trumpet in the texts of the Greek Revolution, as, despite the fact that the Orthodox Church does not accept instrumental music, the ecclesiastical literature includes, in its content, words such as “trumpet” or “trumpet-call”, in order to express the meaning of the sermon. As a culmination of the existence of the musical instrument of trumpet in the de melodies inserted to extend the psalms in the sequences of the Orthodox Church, and, in particular, the “Kratima” entitled “Trumpet”, implying the imitation of the trumpet’s sound (Aggelopoulos [with the collaboration of Dragoumis] 2003: 206).

Consequently, the references of the Greek Revolution’s texts made to the musical instrument of the trumpet, give the struggle of the Greeks a religious sign, thus legitimizing the struggle of the Greek Orthodox Christian people against their Ottoman Muslim rulers. Furthermore, in order to understand the importance of the musical instrument of the trumpet for the Greeks of the Ottoman Empire, we must examine the experience of the trumpet during the long period of the Ottoman rule.

During that period, a kind of trumpet called in the Turkish term “boru”, was used in the bands of the Ottoman Empire’s mercenaries, i.e. the janissaries. The purpose of the janissary band was to accompany the Ottoman army to its military expeditions, in order to encourage its soldiers and sow the terror in the enemies’ souls (Quataert 2006: 16). And, indeed, this type of trumpet (boru) perfectly served the purposes of the janissary band, as it gave this band a penetrating and sharp sound, amplifying the melody performed by other wind instruments called “zurna” (Parmentier 2013: 283-305).

However, the action of the janissaries’ armed forces was even more important within the territory of the Ottoman Empire. More specifically, by the 17th century onwards, the janissaries were a powerful deterrent against the arbitrariness of the Ottoman sultans, and a permanent pole of anarchy in the Ottoman capital city, Istanbul, as these mercenaries, following the devaluations carried out by the state at the ottoman currency (called “akce”), had lost a significant part of their income and purchasing power, a fact that led to their dissatisfaction and the loss of their trust to the Ottoman administration.

Thus, the janissaries, being exasperated by this bad situation created by the Ottoman administration, often revolted against the Ottoman administration, even looking for scapegoats in this administration, in order to burst on them and thus impose their own “democracy” (Goodwin 2013: 252). In fact, on several occasions, insurgent janissaries went so far as to plunder the Ottoman capital city (Istanbul). As a culmination of the janissaries inhibitory action against the Ottoman monarch, we can see the fall of the reformist Sultan Selim III from the Ottoman throne in 1807, as well as the subsequent assassination of this ousted sultan in 1808.

Thus, we can say that in the eyes of the Greek people of the Ottoman Empire (and especially of the Ottoman capital city, Istanbul), the janissaries, and consequently the janissary bands, were a powerful deterrent against the arbitrariness of the Ottoman sultan. So, the trumpet (boru), which was taught and used, in the Ottoman Empire, exclusively within the janissary bands, can be said to have been linked to the ongoing popular resistance against the Ottoman sultan’s arbitrariness.

As a result, we can say that with the references made to the musical instrument of trumpet in the propaganda campaign of the Greek Revolution of 1821, the struggle of the Greeks against the arbitrary sultanate power was even more legitimate.

In conclusion, we can say that the trumpet’s inclusion in the propaganda campaign of the Greek Revolution of 1821 was intended to pass a multi-layered ideological message to the Greek people, so as to legitimize the Greeks’ armed revolution against the illegal and arbitrary Ottoman yoke.

That is why, as we have seen, the musical instrument of the trumpet, being used as a symbol by the Greek revolutionary propaganda, could be submitted to a wide range of interpretations, a spectrum which was able to guarantee a broad popular base in favor of the revolutionaries, by spiritually preparing the explosion of the Greek Revolution of 1821.            


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