In honor of Women’s History Month, we remember another brave woman, Manto Mavrogenous, an often-forgotten heroine of The Greek War of Independence.
We know Kolokotronis, Papaflesas, and Bouboulina, among others — however, a little-known heroine called Manto Mavrogenous also contributed significantly to the war effort.
Manto Magdalene Mavrogenous was born in 1796 in Trieste, Italy, then a part of the Austrian Empire. Her father Nikolaos Mavrogenes worked as a merchant, and was a member of the Filiki Etairia, Secret Society. Her grandfather, Dimitrios served as dragoman, an interpreter or guide, especially in countries speaking Arabic, Turkish, or Persian, for the naval fleet; he served terms as governor of Valahia and Moldavia. The family returned to their ancestral home of Mykonos when Manto was 13.
As part of a wealthy family, she was educated at the finest institutions of learning in Europe. She spoke French, Italian, and Turkish fluently, and was schooled in history and Ancient Greek Philosophy. Manto was said to have been beautiful, and quite persuasive.
In April 1821, Nikolaos told his young daughter about the Filiki Etairia. This group, of which Laskarina Bouboulina was a member, was planning and preparing for a war of independence from Ottoman rule. With great enthusiasm, Manto organized a meeting with the leaders of Mykonos, and won their support and participation in the cause. She later led the people of Mykonos to defend the island against enemy forces. The young woman would later participate in battles and trips to Europe on behalf of the cause, just as Bouboulina did. She convinced her European friends to provide financial support as well as guns, which helped advance the cause.
She spent her entire fortune for this cause of independence. Among her purchases were two war ships, which she also manned and equipped. They were sent to Evia to enlist them in the fight. She privateered the ships, which means they were private warships authorized by a country’s government; in essence they were like legalized pirate ships, allowed to attack enemy ships during wartime. Her ships soon joined forces with others from the Greek islands, to strengthen their defense. Manto fought for her country with tremendous bravery and great zeal.
Manto Mavrogenous’ legacy
After the war, she settled on the island of Paros, where she lived until her death in 1840. Her home has been designated as a historical monument.
Manto has been honored in many ways. A central square in Mykonos was named after her, and includes a statue of its storied citizen. Throughout Greece, many streets bear her name. Additionally, her image has appeared on drachmas and other commemorative coins.
In 1971, director Kostas Karagiannis created a film about her life. Here’s yet another courageous woman who played a pivotal role in the emancipation of the Greeks from 400 years of Turkish oppression. Her courage and valor are a great example for all of us.
A clip from the film, about this oft-forgotten heroine of the Greek War of Independence.
This article was originally published in March 2008.