Colonel Joseph Baleste is one of the most important French Philhellenes who served in the Greek Revolution. He holds a prominent position as he is considered to be the first trainer and commander of the Greek military. He was born in 1790 in Chania, Crete, but was naturalized French and died in 1822, fighting heroically for the liberation of Greece.

Despite his important role in the Greek war of independence, he remains almost unknown. He is mentioned in historical texts with many different birth places and names. However, historical research into archival sources proves that Baleste came from a family of French merchants from Marseille, France, registered in the Chamber of Commerce of the city. His birth in Chania and his French nationality are confirmed by the biographer of the Philhellenes, Henry Fornèsy, and it is also supported by Baleste’s only Greek historiographer, P. Koumantos. Moreover, the archives of the French Consulate in Chania show that the Baleste family is one of the French families from Marseille who had settled there for commercial reasons, already before the French Revolution, and that they had developed strong links with Greece, as some of their male members had married Greek women.

Among them, we find the father of Joseph Baleste, merchant Jean-François Baleste. His name is confirmed both by the “Archives of Greek Paligenesia” and by a document published in the Cretan Historical Documents by Nikolaos Tomadakis and Anthoula Papadakis. Jean-François Baleste married Katerina Venolopoulou, who died in Chania on 8 April 1797, the day she gave birth to her daughter (and sister of Joseph), Marie-Thérèse, as noted in the marriage certificate found in the civil registry of Marseille.

At the beginning of his military career, Baleste served as a volunteer in the 1st Infantry Regiment of Napoleon’s Army in 1808, and in September 1814. The same year he left for Crete, while he was already a captain of the French Army. When the Greek Revolution broke out, Baleste was in Trieste where he met and decided to follow Dimitrios Ypsilantis, overwhelmed with enthusiasm for the liberation of Greece. Indeed, the young Baleste, to whom Spiliadis refers with the name “Vallesta the Hellene”, was fluent in the Greek language, and the Cretans regarded him as their compatriot. He had good manners, many qualifications, a polite face, and an imposing stature, as witnessed by his portrait painted by Adam de Friedel and published in 1830, and furthermore, he was educated, brave and unselfish.

Joseph Baleste Portrait by Adam Friedel. Collection SHP

Ypsilantis began, immediately after his arrival from Trieste in Vervena in July 1821, recruiting and organizing a regular army. He entrusted the duties of instructor, as well as commandership, to Baleste, who was himself promoted to the rank of Colonel. Soon, the force reached 500 men, it was divided into three Companies, and then transferred to Kalamata. Baleste trained the regiment according to European standards in order to become the core of the Greek Army that Ypsilantis aspired to create. The venture would have been successful, and this would have played a decisive role in the future of the war of independence, if the local leaders had not deprived the regiment from the necessary means to maintain the corps, and especially from food provisions. Even worse, the Greek military leaders – opponents of Ypsilantis, opposed the formation of a regular army and defamed the profession of regular soldier. The strong opposition of the irregular fighters (Armatoloi) to any concept of organization and military discipline, prevented the Greek government from founding a regular army in time. This unfortunate evolution left Greece, in the most critical phase of the Revolution, exposed to the forces of Ibrahim Pascha without the ability to oppose the invasion.

Had the experienced philhellene Baleste been allowed to complete his mission and establish a regular army at the beginning of the Greek Revolution, the course of the war would have been quite different.

In any case, it is undisputed that Baleste was a brave officer, whose courage is complimented by a large number of his colleagues. Even the ‘capricious’ Maurice Persat, praises the French officer, writing that “he was undoubtedly the bravest of all the Philhellenes and the most generous. He had distinct virtues. He disapproved the flattery, and disliked those running around the administration, whom he called army pests. Baleste had a humility whose memory made the Philhellenes blush with shame […]”.

In August 1821, Baleste was in command of the Greek Regular Army, when he prevented the Turkish fleet from disembarking at Kalamata. Then he took part in the siege of Tripolitsa. During the riots that took place in the fall of 1821, he, along with other Philhellenes, managed to rescue part of the civilian Turkish population.

Meanwhile, his soldiers suffered from hunger and began to starve daily, while Baleste’s appeals to the Government were in vain. Even worse, during the failed siege of Nafplio (4 December 1821), a large number of soldiers and Philhellenes were killed. Finally, during the siege of Acrocorinth (14 January 1822), the Corps, abandoned by its leader Ypsilantis, who was seriously ill and exhausted from the deprivations, was finally dissolved.

Being unable to remedy to the situation, Baleste decided to accept an invitation he received from the Cretans of the Peloponnese, urging him to support the operations of the Greeks in Crete. He took about two-thirds of the Corps and left for Chania.

Kritovoulidis reports that the Cretans accepted him gladly as they considered him to be “an experienced officer in war operations” required for the Cretan struggle.

Baleste arrived in Crete on 20 March 1822, and after meeting with the Governor General of the island, Mikhail Komninos Afentouliev, he went to Rethymnon. There, during a confrontation with the Turks in the Platanias region, he managed to get them to retreat. Using his prior military experience from the seizure of fortresses in Peloponnese, he foresaw that without a fortress it would not be possible to consolidate the revolution in Crete.

For this reason, he conceived a plan to take over the fortress of Rethymnon, supported by many local Cretans. He was convinced that relying on his army of three thousands, he was capable of taking over Rethymnon. However, according to Pouqueville, he was weak as he had just recovered from fever and it would have been difficult for him to lead this effort.

On the day of the battle, disagreements between the local chiefs did not allow him to implement his war plan in full, forcing his troops to retreat. Eighty of them were killed and many were captured, including Kokkinos, Baleste’s aide from Chios, who appears to have escorted him to Greece from Trieste. Baleste himself, was unable to walk, and he was carried by a Greek soldier who tried to hide him in a dense bush. Unfortunately, the Turks found him on their return and killed him.

Spiliadis describes in a very eloquent manner his tragic death. The Turks, first cut off his head and his right arm, with which he held his sword, passed them on to a stick and paraded with it around the camp amidst cheers and shots. An Italian newsletter of 1844 notes that the death of Baleste was celebrated officially by the entire Turkish fleet, which engaged in festivities. Then the members of Baleste’s body were sent to Constantinople, as a gift to Pasha Kara Ali, who hung them on the Turkish flagship, along with hundreds of heads of many other Greek fighters.

When Konstantinos Kanaris and George Pippinos blasted the Turkish flagship a few months later, they revenged the slaughters of Chios orchestrated by the Turks and the death of the great Philhellene Colonel Joseph Baleste.

Baleste’s death shocked the regular soldiers and Philhellenes so deeply, that it gave reason to publish a French lament song.

Unfortunately, the way many Greek chiefs treated Baleste, in their effort to prevent the deployment of a regular army, deprived Greece of the valuable services of many Philhellenes, who were disappointed; many of them even decided to return to their countries.

Thus, on 14 April 1822, the “multifaceted and full of noble sentiments” according to Trikoupis, Baleste, was lost. This great Philhellene, can, according to Raybaud, claim the honor of being “the first” to step on the territory of Greece with the brave thought to shed his blood for it.


  • Archives Nationales (France), Affaires Étrangères. Correspondance reçue du consulat de La Canée (1676-1759), (AE/Β/Ι/340-ΑΕ/Β/Ι/358), Έγγραφα υπ’ αριθ. 1867, 1870, 1881, 1899, 1909, 1914, 1949, 2012, 2034 και 2053 του προξενείου της Γαλλίας στα Χανιά.
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  • Dourneau Edme-Martial, « Baleste ou Le soldat de la liberté », Myriologies ou Chants funèbres et élégiaques d’un Épirote, Paris, chez les marchands de Nouveautés, 1827, σσ. 155-160.
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  • Friedel Adam de, The Greeks, Twenty-four Portraits of the principal Leaders and Personages who have made themselves most conspicuous in the Greek Revolution, from the Commencement of the Struggle, London, 1830, Γεννάδειος Βιβλιοθήκη.
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Portrait of Maxime Raybaud, 19nth century, oil on canvas (collection of Vincent Touze)


Jean-François Maxime Raybaud, a French officer, diplomat and writer, was born on 19 June 1795 in the town of La Colle in the province of Var in France and died in January 1894. He graduated from the Saint Cyr Military School and became a lieutenant of the artillery in the Army. He was one of the first Philhellenes who took part in the Greek War of Independence.

He departed from Marseilles on 18 July 1821, by a boat from Hydra, chartered by Alexander Mavrokordatos, and arrived at Messolonghi on 2 August 1821 to join the corps of Thomas Gordon. In September 1821, he took part in the siege of Tripolitsa.

Plan of the siege of Tripolitsa, extract from Raybaud’s book

He then continued his military journey under the protection of Mavrokordatos, whom he served as an aide-de-camp. In the Archives of Greek Paligenesia it is stated that he was initially Pentacosiarchos in Peloponnese and that later he was nominated Captain, following a recommendation by Mavrokordatos. He was part of the Peta exhibition. Due to a coincidence, he did not take part in the final (and disastrous for the Philhellenic Battalion), Peta’s battle and escaped death. He assembled the 25 men who survived and drove them to Kryoneri.

The battle of Peta (Zografos)

After this unfortunate event, in late 1822, he made the decision to return to France. However, in September 1825 he returned to Greece, accompanying the first volunteers and munitions for Greece, sent by the Philhellenic Committee of Paris. He advanced the idea that Greece required mainly Mountain Artillery. He was later sent back to France on orders from the interim government of Greece to recruit mercenaries, but his mission was met with limited success due to a lack of financial means.

In August 1826, according to Henri Fornèsy’s notes, he took part in the Battle of Chaidari in Athens, in which he was wounded when his gun backfired. In November 1826, he joined Olivier Voutier on a failed mission to Atalantis under the guidance of Ioannis Kolettis, and it appears that he was involved in a personal conflict with Voutier, resulting in them fighting a duel and getting injured.

In 1828, he joined, at his request, the French expeditionary corps of the Peloponnese, under General Maison, assuming the role of the official typographer of the Corps. Jacques Mangeart says that Raybaud was coming to Greece for the fifth time. He further confirms that during his stay in Nafplio, he was infected by typhus but that he was cured thanks to the generous efforts of his compatriot, Dr. Bailly. With the typographic machine that he brought with him from France and which he finally installed in Patras, he published the French-speaking Le Courrier d’Orient, a weekly political, commercial and literary newspaper, one of the first in Patras. It was published until the end of 1829 and it was then subsequently replaced by Le Courier de la Grèce.

In his two-volume work Memories on Greece (Mémoires sur la Grèce), which is recognized by Greek and foreign historians for its objectivity, he describes, in addition to his personal action, the influence exerted by Dimitrios Ypsilantis on the army, the greed of certain chiefs, the conflict between the Regular army and the irregular combatants, the destruction and fall of Tripolitsa, the difficulties and deprivations that affected all the warriors indiscriminately, and the assembly and the multi-nation composition of the Battalion of the Philhellenes.

Raybaud’s two volume book, Memoires sur la Grece

In parallel, it is important that he publishes a list of Philhellenes who fell fighting heroically in the battle of Peta, but also that he enriches his work with topographical maps of the battlefields. His memoirs were eagerly awaited by the French public, as shown by publications of Le Globe‘s in February 1825.

In 1831, Maxime Raybaud was appointed ‘commissioner’ of France in Arta. He is later reported to have served in the French National Military School and then in Cyprus and subsequently in Haiti as Consul and Consul General respectively. In addition, he was a journalist, writing for newspapers La Presse, and Le Journal des Débats, under the pseudonym Gustave d’Alaux.

The Greek state honored him with the medal of the Commander of the Order of the Savior in 1836 and the French state with the medal of the Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1852.


  • Académie des Sciences d’Outre-Mer, Hommes et destins, dictionnaire biographique d’Outre-Mer, tome 5, Expansion coloniale, 1984.
  • Archives France: «départ pour la Grèce de Maxime Raybaud, présumé chargé de sommes considérables confiées par le Comité grec», φάκελοι: F/7/6678-F/7/6784, Υποφάκελος 35β, στη γενική συλλογή: Affaires politiques (police politique). Objets généraux (1815-1838) των Αρχείων της Γαλλίας.
  • Boppe Auguste, «Le consulat général de Morée et ses dépendances (Athènes, Coron, Modon, Napoli de Romanie, Patras, Arta.)», στο: Revue des Études Grecques, tome 20, fascicule 87,1907. σελ. 18-37.
  • Fornèsy Henri, «Le monument des philhellènes», 1860, Εθνική Βιβλιοθήκη, Τμήμα Χειρογράφων και Ομοιοτύπων, χειρόγραφο697.
  • Jacques Mangeart, Souvenirs de la Morée, recueillis pendant le séjour des Français dans le Péloponnèse, Paris, Igonette Libraire-éditeur, σελ. 3, 107, 150, 236, 408.
  • Raybaud Maxime, Mémoires sur la Grèce pour servir à l’histoire de la guerre de l’Indépendance, accompagnés de plans topographiques, avec une introduction historique par Alph. Rabbe, Paris, Tournachon-Molin, Libraire, 1824, τόμος 1 & 2.
  • St-Clair William, That Greece might still be free – The Philhellenes in the War of Independence, τόμος 1, εκδ. Oxford University Press, Λονδίνο-Νέα Υόρκη 1972, σελ. 282-283.
  • Απόφαση υπ’ αριθμόν 102 του Προέδρου του Εκτελεστικού με ημερομηνία 10Μαΐου 1822, η οποία μνημονεύεται από τον Ζούβα Παναγή, Η οργάνωσις Τακτικού Στρατού κατά τα πρώτα έτη της Επαναστάσεως του 1821, χ.ε., Αθήνα 1969, σελ. 70 και 108.
  • Αρχεία Ελληνικής Παλιγγενεσίας, τόμος 1 σελ. 183: εισήγηση του Μαυροκορδάτου, αρ. 1424 προς το βουλευτικό, 15 Μαΐου 1822.
  • Βυζάντιος Χρήστος, Ιστορία των κατά την Ελλην. Επανάστασιν εκστρατειών και μαχών και των μετά ταύτα συμβάντων, ων συμμετέσχεν ο Τακτικός Στρατός, από του 1821 μέχρι του 1833 [εκδ. 1901], σελ. 203.
  • Δημακόπουλος Δ. Γεώργιος, «Αι εφημερίδες Courrier dOrientLe Courrier de la Grèce», Δελτίον της ΙΕΕΕ, τόμος 21 (1978), σελ. 469-497.
  • Εφημερίδα Le Globe, Παρίσι, αρ. 65, 5 Φεβρουαρίου 1825, όπου αναγγελία του έργου του Raybaud και αρ. 96, 19 Απριλίου 1825, όπου κριτική παρουσίαση αυτού.
  • Ηλεκτρονική βάση απονεμηθέντων παρασήμων της Λεγεώνας της Τιμής, Dossier LH/2273/6.
  • Θεμελή-Κατηφόρη Δέσποινα, Το γαλλικό ενδιαφέρον για την Ελλάδα στην περίοδο του Καποδίστρια, 1828-1831, σελ. 85.
  • Σπηλιάδης Νικόλαος, Απομνημονεύματα δια να χρησιμεύσωσιν εις την νέαν ελληνικήν ιστορίαν (1821-1843), τόμος 2, εκδ. Παναγιώτου Φ. Χριστοπούλου, Αθήνα 1972, σελ. 289 και 479.

Les organisations Amitiés gréco-suisses, Association hellénique de Lausanne, Melissa pour l’hellénisme, organisent une conférence intitulée « La langue grecque à travers les siècles » à l’occasion de la Journée mondiale de la langue grecque qui est célebrée le 9 février.

Avec Katerina Vassilaki, Dr ès sciences de l’Antiquité, Professeur de grec

Textes originaux présentés par les membres du Théâtre Grec de Genève, Grigoria Antonarakis et Dimitris Démétriadès et par Terpsi Argyrou-Birchler.

Hôtel Continental, Place de la Gare 2, Lausanne
Dimanche le 9 février 2020 à 18h
Langue: français

Organisation: Amitiés gréco-suisses, Association hellénique de Lausanne, Melissa pour l’hellénisme

Sous l’égide du Consulat Général de Grèce

Entrée libre sans réservation

Résumé :

La langue grecque a une tradition longue de plusieurs millénaires.

A travers cette conférence, nous souhaitons vous inviter à un voyage dans cette tradition, dans cette langue. Un voyage à bord de mots et de textes, à travers une langue qui a évolué, s’est modifiée, sans jamais perdre son unité essentielle avec ses formes les plus archaïques.

Nous essaierons d’esquisser, autant que faire se peut, cette longue histoire de transformation et d’évolution, avant de tenter de répondre à une question qui nous parait essentielle: en quoi la langue grecque peut-elle être intéressante et enrichissante aujourd’hui, et ce même pour un public non hellénophone ?


Katerina Vassilaki a grandi en Grèce, entre sa ville natale d’Athènes et l’île de ses grands-parents, la Crète.
Elle a fait sa scolarité aux établissements franco-helléniques Saint-Paul et Lycée Léonin d’Athènes.
Elle a obtenu sa maîtrise en Philologie Grecque à l’Université d’Athènes, puis elle est partie à Londres où elle a préparé son Master of Arts in Classics, avec de grands professeurs comme Herwing Maehler, Richard Janko et Simon Hornblower.
Elle s’est ensuite installée à Strasbourg, puis à Urbino pour mener à terme sa recherche doctorale sur les Odes siciliennes de Pindare. En 2008, elle a obtenu son titre de Docteur ès Sciences de l’Antiquité, Philologie Classique avec
Μention très honorable avec les félicitations du jury à l’unanimité.
Elle vit à Genève depuis 2004 avec son mari et ses trois enfants. Après avoir enseigné le grec ancien pendant deux ans à l’Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande à Lausanne, elle s’est ouverte à l’enseignement du grec moderne, qu’elle enseigne actuellement au sein de l’école du Cercle d’Etudes Grecques à Genève.
Elle espère voir la place du grec, ancien et moderne, renforcée dans l’éducation secondaire genevoise.

Les textes originaux seront présentés par Mme Grigori Antonarakis et M. Dimitris Démétriadès, membres tous les deux du Theâtre Grec de Genève et par Mme Terpsi Argyrou-Birchler.
Le Théâtre Grec de Genève est une troupe d’amateurs créée en 1994, par son directeur artistique et metteur scène Georges Stangakis qui est un comédien professionnel, issu de l’école du grand maître Carolos Coun, à Athènes. L’activité de la troupe a été abondante depuis sa fondation, avec comme objectif la volonté de promouvoir la culture et le théâtre grec, ancien et contemporain, mais également la langue grecque au travers de pièces du répertoire international. Des tragédies de Sophocle et d’Euripide, des pièces contemporaines, des comédies, ainsi que des soirées poétiques et musicales ont constitué son répertoire joué principalement à Genève, mais également (de manière ponctuelle) à Lausanne, à Zurich, en France voisine, à Athènes et à Chypre.
Quant à Madame Terpsi Argyrou-Birchler, elle a longtemps enseigné le grec ancien au Collège de Genève. Par ses cours et sa passion, elle a formé toute une série de grands amateurs de notre langue grecque.