In honor of Women’s History Month, we remember Laskarina Bouboulina, heroine of the Greek War of Independence.
Laskarina Bouboulina is one of the most famous and iconic figures in Modern Greek history. Bouboulina, as she is known, is revered for her participation in the Greek War of Independence. This is something we all should know about; unfortunately, we don’t learn about these things in our history classes, so it’s up to us to teach the next generation.
The daughter of Captain Stavrianos and Sekvo Pinotsis, Bouboulina was born in a prison in Constantinople, on May 11, 1771. Her father had been imprisoned by the Ottomans for taking part in the failed Orlof Revolution in 1769, staged against Ottoman rule. The captain died while in prison and Bouboulina and her mother returned to their native Hydra. Later, the mother would remarry, and they relocated to the island of Spetses.
As a child, Bouboulina developed a great love of the sea. She showed her leaderships skills early, acting as the leader among her eight half-brothers and sisters. Bouboulina married twice; the first time at the age of 17 to Dimitrios Yiannouzas. After the sea captain’s death, she remarried at the age of 30 to another sea captain, Dimitrios Bouboulis. He also died at sea, defending the coast of Greece
According to Global Greek Radio, by 1811, Bouboulina was not only twice widowed, but also the mother of seven children and “extremely rich from the fortunes of ships, land and cash inherited from her husbands.” She was a good money manager, and was said to have grown the fortune through successful trading. She built three ships and was a partner in several others. One of her ships, the Agamemnon, was the largest Greek fighting ship used in the War of Independence.
Wikipedia states that in 1816, the Ottomans tried to confiscate Bouboulina’s property because in the Turko-Russian Wars, her husband had fought with the Russians against the Turks. She went to Constantinople to seek the protection of the Russian ambassador Count Pavel Strogonov. She was sent to a safehouse in Crimea. While in Constantinople, she had an audience with the mother of Mahmud II. The mother was so taken by Bouboulina’s intelligence and character, that she convinced her son to leave Bouboulina alone, and her property intact. After three months in Crimea, she returned to her home in Spetses.
Upon her return, she joined the Filiki Etairia – the only female member. As they prepared for the uprising against the Turks, Bouboulina used her own money to purchase munitions for Greece, sneaking them into the country on her ships. She recruited her own soldiers, and financed their military operations, providing food and arms. Bouboulina was ahead of her time. Her strength and determination allowed her to lead troops of all men, which she called her “Palikaria” (brave young lads), and fought with them in battle. She was politically astute, as well as knowledgeable of the seas.
On April 3, 1821, she led the revolt of the people of Spetses. They joined forces with other Greek ships and created a naval blockade at Nafplion. She was part of other naval blockades, which secured Monemvasia and Pylos. She led her troops successfully, through November 1822. Her son Yiannis, from her first marriage, fought alongside her. He was killed in a battle at Argos. As the war came to a close, Bouboulina liberated all the female members of the Sultan’s household.
After the fall of Tripoli, in September 1821, she met Theodoros Kolokotronis. Bouboulina’s daughter Eleni Bouboulina later married Kolokotronis’ son Panos. Bouboulina was later punished for this association and was arrested. Later she was exiled to Spetses, virtually penniless, as she’s spent her wealth on the war effort.
Bouboulina was killed in a family feud in Spetses. Her son, Giorgos Yiannouzas eloped, and members of the girl’s family came to find the matriarch. After a confrontation, an unidentified person shot her in the forehead and she died instantly. She died on May 22, 1825.
According to the website for Bouboulina’s Musem, many of Bouboulina’s descendants served Greece, and with great loyalty. Eleven family members were high-ranking officers — two retiring with the rank rear-admiral. Three of the 11 later served in Parliament. For a time in the early 1900s, seven officers in the Greek naval forces were from this family.
This brave woman has been honored and commemorated through the years. From 1988-2001, she appeared on the one drachma coin. Following her death, the Russian Army bestowed upon her the rank of admiral – unheard of for a woman. A beautiful statue of her adorns the harbor of Spetses, welcoming visitors to “Bouboulina’s Island.”
Her home, on the island of Spetses, is now Bouboulina’s Museum. Fifth generation descendant Philip Demertzis-Bouboulis opened the house as museum in 1991. I’ve had the opportunity to go. It looks as if she just left it; you will feel like you stepped back in time. Historical archives reveal more of her story. Visit if you get to the island.
Laskarina Bouboulina was a picture of strength, determination, and perseverance, qualities that all women – all Greeks – can strive to emulate.
This article was originally published in May 2010.