No. 274.

Mr. Tuckerman to Mr. Fish.

Sir: I avail myself of a private opportunity to forward a paper which I have prepared on brigandage in Greece, a subject to which recent events have attracted public attention at home and abroad. This must be my excuse for asking your kind perusal of the facts presented.

I have the honor to be, sir, yours, very respectfully,


[Page 440]

some remarks on the causes and condition of brigandage in greece.

The exceptional and trying position in which Greece stands with regard to brigandage is not ameliorated by the diversity of views expressed by foreign governments and foreign journals as to its character and the means for its eradication. These is but one point of perfect unanimity, namely, that brigandage is an unmitigated evil, and in this opinion Greece agrees with all the world. There is no public man, scholar, shopkeeper, or artisan in the kingdom who will deny that his country is disgraced and her interests injured by this plague spot in their midst. Every ministry, in turn, whatever amount of opprobrium is justly or unjustly cast upon it for inefficiency or corruption, honestly laments the existence of brigandage, and would heartily rejoice at its termination. It is not, therefore, because Greece does not feel that it is an infliction that the evil is not removed. Only those who are the greatest sufferers by it comprehend the exact position of the case, and the difficulties which surround it. Some of these difficulties may be briefly stated.

Brigandage in Greece is not the child of to-day; it was born of Turkish oppression, when restless men fled to the mountains to secure the only independence vouchsafed them. Although the outlaw who now takes advantage of impenetrable defiles of the mountains to evade pursuit is without that nobility of character which the ancient Kleft possessed, he has the same strategy and cunning, and from the same mountain fastnesses can defy the pursuit of any soldiers but those accustomed to the configuration of the land. Hence the absurdity of the proposition sometimes made by foreign writers that marines from the ships of war stationed at the Piraeus, or detachments of French or English soldiers, should be sent into the mountains of the Morea and of Attica to exterminate brigandage. An army might scour the kingdom and find not a single brigand, Even if it effected a surprise and brought on a conflict, more soldiers than brigands would probably fall, and the nucleus of the band would escape to reappear in an unsuspected locality, reënforced and more formidable than if they had never been interfered with. The brigands are wandering bands; to-day in the Taygettres, to-morrow in the Parnes; now alarming the peaceful farmers in Acaruania; again threatening the excursionist in the public roads of Attica. From place to place they move with a rapidity acquired only by years of experience in a life which finds stimulus and excitement in the dangers which surround them.

It is true that many of the bands are, so to speak, “localized” in well-known spots. They are known, not only to the government, in name and person, but mingle at times freely with the people of the villages in this vicinity. They give money to the peasants, and from the latter receive warning and even protection in case of pursuit.

Herein lies one of the chief elements of difficulty in the question of brigandage. The peasants of a distant village, or the wandering shepherds of Wallachia, who feed their flocks in Northern Greece, any who may be at any time intruded upon by these mountain outlaws, have no other choice but submission to their authority. Certainly, to oppose it would be their worst policy; revenge in some shape would be certain to follow. They therefore treat them as friends; supply them, if required, with food; and, to secure their own safety, never betray them. Thus a sort of forced fellowship exists between these two classes, and the brigand becomes the patron of the harmless and industrious agricultural community. Oftentimes it happens that the brigand has relatives among the villagers, and then the tie becomes indissoluble. But the most serious complication is found in the undeniable fact that certain politicians court the favor of brigand chiefs to further their own ambitious ends. The leaders of bands inhabiting country districts and friendly to the people around them, and with whom, as has been explained, there exists a sort of mutual dependence, are found extremely useful in seasons of political excitement. The candidate for election to the chamber of deputies finds it for his interest to keep on good terms with one who can with such facility do him good or do him injury. He knows that if he denounces the outlaw without the ability to crush him, he, his family, or his property, will some time or other pay the penalty of this courageous step. He finds that he has nothing to gain and everything to lose by stirring in such a matter, and if he contents himself with simple neutrality, his political opponent, who is less scrupulous, will secure the brigand’s services and win the day. Few men in a community so recently emerged from foreign oppression and the worst condition of oriental corruption are sufficiently independent and patriotic to shake off these contaminating influences. Thus it happens that the brigand, who, in spite of his bad name, is practically known only in the community around him as a reckless and good-natured adventurer, mingles in the crowd at the polls, and influences his acquaintances and friends to vote for his patron. Nothing could be more demoralizing, nothing more humiliating to a free and self-governing people. But until older and more enlightened nations are free from the disgrace of employing corrupt means to further political ends, the stone should be thrown lightly at the heads of the Greek people because some among them feed their personal ambition with such unlawful sustenance.

If the politician and the peasant of the mountain districts finds it for his interest or [Page 441]safety to bear with the outlaw, the landholder finds it equally the part of policy to conciliate him. The proprietor of an estate would be unworldly wise to expose his people to capture and his property to robbery by refusing to give bread and meat to a wandering band of suspicious characters who are reported by his servants to be concealed in his grounds. Still wiser is he if, by giving a few thousand drachmes per year to the leaders of bands who haunt the vicinity, lie can secure permanent immunity from danger. If he could rid himself and the country from this pest by betraying the brigands to the Government, he would surely do it; but as it is by no means certain that the soldiers sent against them would be even partially successful, he prefers the alternative of discretion. This is why men known for their respectability and moral worth, in Athens and elsewhere, find themselves forced to do that which is nothing more nor less than an encouragement to one of the vilest of public crimes. The police annals of most cities will show that this system of black mail is not confined to brigandage in Greece. There are those who propose that, as a preliminary step to the rooting out of the evil of brigandage, all those who, in any way, directly or indirectly, contribute to the support of the outlaw, shall be prosecuted and punished. In the most important instances it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prove the fact. From the very character of the transactions they are necessaily conducted with the greatest privacy. The party who paid the tribute would not betray himself, and the last man to violate the secret would be the brigand, whose code of “honor” is stronger than the written law.

It might be found, too, that the largest sums which find their way into the pockets of outlaws from such sources are paid, not by Greeks, but by foreigners, whose pecuniary interest in Greece induce them to pay this easy premium on life and property assurance. The more closely that this matter is examined the more intricate is found to be the web of its solution. It is entwined about the political, social, and commercial structure, and although repeatedly swept away, the creative cause continues to exist in spite of judicial action and the ceaseless complaint of public opinion.

The Greeks assert that brigandage has more than once been exterminated, and that nothing but the inefficiency of this ministry or the complicity of that one causes the reappearance of the scourge. Experience has shown, however, that political circumstances are more at fault than individuals in this matter. The brigand is a restless character, and danger and adventure have charms for him. A revolution at home or the prospect of a war with the Turks finds him on hand ready to join the mob in the city or the army in the field; and in case of conflict he will be found among the bravest of his fellows. So it happened that many of these men enlisted as soldiers to assist in the Cretan insurrection, and others came down from the mountains during the late imbroglio between Greece and Turkey in the hope of finding profitable, or at least lawful employment. With the disappearance of the war-cloud the brigand either returns to his mountain haunt or for months hangs about the country with that mischievous indefiniteness of purpose which forbodes evil; for his person is unsafe from arrest, and if he would, he could not with impunity take up any industrial pursuit. Such epochs are sure to be followed by open acts of brigandage in different parts of the kingdom. When the presence of bands is reported, the government dispatches troops in pursuit, with more or less success. Reports come in from time to time of a certain number of outlaws captured or killed at the expense of the lives of more or less of the soldiers. The prisoners are lodged in jail, and in the course of time judgment is pronounced; but it not infrequently happens that “extenuating circumstances” are found to mitigate the punishment of death. Executions occur at rare intervals, and then but few in number. There is a sentiment of pity to which justice at the last moment seems to defer, and in the popular mind an undefined halo of heroism surrounds the “mountain chieftain,” which makes it an ignoble act to take his life away in this summary manner. The glory of the ancient Kleft, the brave defender of his country, the “generous and courageous child of fortune,” casts a pale reflection upon the mere mountain robber of to-day, and serves his turn when nothing else would. It is but just, in the consideration of this subject, to remove the erroneous idea which prevails in many minds, that the brigand is a blood-thirsty monster, reckless of human life, a wild wretch swooping like a bird of prey upon the defenseless traveler, to rob or to kill as many best suit the interests of the moment. A large proportion of the Greek outlaws were forced, or thought themselves forced by circumstances, to take to the mountains to escape worse trials at home. A family quarrel, a homicide, the result of a drinking-house brawl, escape from arrest for some petty offense, desertion from the army, and similar causes have induced men, otherwise peaceable and well-disposed, to become brigands. The lust for gold, the temptation to obtain even a moderate fortune without the labor of toiling for it, and the mere love of adventure, have induced others, who enjoyed good reputations in their village homes, to join their fortunes with those of some wandering band of outlaws. The disposition to shed blood is foreign to their purpose; but their prestige is only preserved by taking the life of the captive if the ransom or an equivalent to it is not forthcoming. They bind themselves so to do by an acknowledged law, and so well is this understood that the ransom is always paid [Page 442]by the friends of the captive, the amount being decided by negotiation, which, in some cases, requires many months. The exception to this course is most rare, and never in Greece was there such an exception so unforseen and so bloody in its consequences as that winch has so lately transpired. In this case, the brigands believed that they were “betrayed,” and under a sense of disappointment and anger resolved that their prisoners should not be forced from them. The latter were warned that their lives depended upon them physical ability to keep pace with them in their flight, and had it been possible for them to have done so they would have been alive to-day. This is the first instance in which the life of a foreigner has been taken by Greek brigands. As has been said, it is not for their interest, and it is contrary to their nature to shed blood uselessly. It is equally for their interest to treat their captives well, to look to the condition of their health, and to create a favorable impression by contributing, so far as their mountain habits permit, to the comfort of the unfortunate individuals who fail into their hands. All travelers who have had personal adventures of this kind to relate speak of the rough kindness, if not deference, which they experienced during their captivity. In this and in other respects the Greek brigand is not to be placed in the same category with the desperadoes of southern Italy, Sicily, Spain, and Hungary. Bad as is the actual evil, there is more to fear in the way of personal danger from a solitary tour in Ireland, a journey across the plains of Arizona, or even a nocturnal promenade in the outskirts of London, than there is inany portion of the kingdom of Greece.

It is much easier to describe an evil than to suggest practicable remedies for its removal. That Greece will in the course of time rid herself or be rid of the infliction of brigandage is highly probable. To do it speedily and efficiently, requires an organization of power, the beginning of which can hardly be said to have commenced. The murder by brigands of the four foreigners at ——, including two secretaries of legation, produced a shock which was felt wherever the name of Greece is known, and the people of this kingdom are humiliated and saddened to a degree which has raised public attention to the absolute necessity of making the question of brigandage a vital necessity. This sacrifice of precious lives was immediately met by the slaughter of eight of the outlaws, and the capture of four others of the band, and it is not unreasonable to expect that for some time to come a vigorous pursuit of other bands known to exist in Attica will be kept up. But even the greatest success in this way will not rid Greece of brigandage while the adjacent provinces, dependencies of Turkey, are known to swarm with these lawless rascals, whose character for ferocity is. not to be compared with those of Greek nationality, and who enjoy a freedom of action denied to the brigand in Greece.

There is an occasional movement of Albanian troops directed against brigandage, but it bears no proportion to even the feeble efforts of the Greek government to suppress the evil. Mr. Rangabéz, now the minister for Greece at Constantinople, was the minister for foreign affairs at Athens in 1856, and was at that time influential in suppresses brigandage on the Turkish side of the border, by obtaining the substitution in Thessaly of regular troops in the place of those of the deuenagos, “who used to dispense with the use of soldiers to the end that they themselves might pocket the soldiers’ fee.” After that arrangement Greece was comparatively free from brigandage until the revolution of 1861, when the old state of things appears to have returned, for Mr. Rangabéz has informed us that so far from fighting them, “the Turks permit the brigands to enter Greece without disturbance, and on their return afford them protection, or what is the same thing, permit them to enter the ranks. The Greek government has for many years exhausted itself with vain representations to the Porte as well as to the protectionary powers against this condition of things.” A correspondent of the Levant Herald, an English journal published in Constantinople, wrote on the 19th of April last, that “at that moment, in Thessaly, brigands held no less than twenty captured persons as hostages for ransom.” This far worse condition of the evil in the Turkish provinces explains one of the grand difficulties which the Greeks have to contend with, but it does not excuse successive governments in Greece for the apathy which exists on this subject when it is not forcibly brought to their notice by outrages committed almost before their very eyes. It is one of those questions which being not easy of management, they hope will, in time, correct itself. It is brought to the surface by party warfare, and is laid aside when its further agitation is unprofitable.

It is manifest, that to utterly exterminate brigandage in Greece, the work must begin in Turkey. Greece is the youngest of all the free nations, and has not yet thoroughly learned the elementary branches of political economy. Perhaps if she had fewer teachers she would advance more rapidly. Like all poor and struggling nations, she attracts attention by those defects in her political and social character which other nations conceal beneath an external prosperity. Thus, brigandage is prominent in Greece, while the same evil, in a far more offensive form, has for ages existed in Calabria and the Appenines. It is but lately that Count Gideon Buday, in an official report to the government of Vienna, states that the disclosures of brigands arrested in Cevatia, in Hungary, “compromise more than one thousand persons, but all the suspected [Page 443]could not be arrested, as sufficient room was not to be found in the prisons, and fears are entertained that further investigation will gravely compromise an incredible number of influential persons, and lead to the discovery of facts of a nature to irritate public opinion.”

With a strong and independent government; with a national guard to relieve the regular soldiers; with a thicker population, and with the facility of roads into the interior, brigandage, so far as it is confined to Greece proper, could be utterly exterminated. At present, there are long deserted places, which, to protect properly, would require more soldiers than there are in the kingdom. But even with these disadvantages, if there existed that potent voice of public opinion which is felt only where power is diffused among a people, no villanous hands of outlaws would dare to practice their enormities in Greece any more than did the ruffians in California, after the people, in self-defense, took the law into their own hands.

The Greeks are eminently a peaceful and law-abiding people, and with the gradual introduction of administrative reforms, and less external pressure, will rid themselves of the burdens which now impede their progress.