Anton Prokesch von Osten


Austrian philhellenism during the 18th and 19th centuries has not been extensively researched so far. It is not widely known, that although the Austrian government took in 1821 a negative stance towards Greek revolutionaries, numerous Austrian Philhellenes supported the Greek cause, and volunteers came to fight in Greece.

During the 18th and 19th centuries Greeks and Austrians coexisted harmoniously in Vienna. Much earlier, in the 17th century, the Greek diplomat Nikolaos Spatharis Milescu had helped the Austrians defend Vienna against the Ottomans, by informing them of the enemy’s war plans. After the peace treaties of Karlovic (1699) and Passarovic (1718), Vienna developed into an important commercial center, where Greeks flocked mainly from Epirus, Macedonia and Thessaly.

Famous Greek benefactors from the Greek community in Vienna supported both Greece and Austria. During the Napoleonic wars, George Sinas, the Greek General Consul in Vienna after 1833, supported the Austrian government financially. Johann Strauss composed his masterpiece Blue Danube in the house of the Greek Nikos Doumbas. Another known fact is that the famous conductor Herbert von Karajan comes from the Greek family Karagiannis. Many streets of the Austrian capital honor the presence of Greeks in the city.

Due to this Greek presence, Vienna was developed into a place of preparation for the Greek war of independence. Greek Enlighteners, such as Rigas Feraios, Theoklitos Farmakidis, Iosipos Moisiodakas or Neophytos Doukas, lived and worked there. In 1815, the later governor of Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, along with the Archbishop Ignatios, Anthimos Gazis and Roxandra Stourtza, founded the philhellenic Philomuse Society in Vienna which favoured the uprising of the Greeks.

Metternich´s police closely monitored every publication, thus targeting any reference to revolutions, liberal ideas and the Greek question. Although the government was negative, many Austrians expressed sympathy for the Greeks.

Between 1780 and 1790, Vienna was already the center of the publishing production in the Greek language. Greek and Austrian publishers publish works with a patriotic content. The Austrian publishers Thomas Trattner and Joseph Baumeister publish works by Greek enlighteners.

Joseph Franz Hall, a person who had received a Greek-centered education, was appointed as an official book censor. In parallel, he was publishing two newspapers with philhellenic content: The News in the East, and The Hellenic Telegraph. Because of his philhellenic stance, he was under the risk to see his newspaper closed. Another Austrian Book censor, Bartholomäus Kopitar, tried his best to avoid censoring Greek works with revolutionary messages, by hiding the name of the publisher and the place of publication of some works. Together with the Austrian Hellenist, Franz Karl Alter, they strengthened the interest in the Greek language and the Greek culture in Vienna. In fact, Alter did not hesitate to publish many philhellenic articles in the magazine Allgemeiner Litterarischer Anzeiger (1796-1801).

Apart from philhellenic articles, philhellenic poetry also appeared. For instance, count Anton Alexander von Auersberg, signed an Ode to the death of Ypsilantis under the pseudonym Anastasius Grün. In Berlin, the Austrian-born Moritz Gottlieb Saphir, a satirical author and journalist, published four volumes under the title Griechisches Feuer auf dem Altar edler Frauen […] (1826), in which philhellenic poems by Müller, Stieglitz, Fouqué and others were published for the first time. Christian Freiherr von Zedlitz, who translated Lord Byron´s works, also wrote some philhellenic poetry.

The restless spirits of the time, the European Youth which suffocated in the Europe of the Holy Alliance, people with a liberal mind, and veterans of the Napoleonic wars, were not only moved by the Greek cause, but volunteered to fight in Greece for its Freedom. The Philhellenes came from different countries of Europe. Until recently they have fought against each other on the battlefield; yet now in Greece they allied for a common cause, fighting against a common enemy, under a common flag. The seed for the later birth of a united Europe was planted during these years, in these battlefields.

The Philhellenes often traveled to Greece through Marseille and Livorno, as the ports of Trieste and Venice were under strict control by the police. Despite the negative circumstances, we know the names of fifteen Austrian volunteers who came to fight in Greece.

The first Austrian volunteer who participated in the Greek revolution was Brazky, from Siebenbürgen in Transylvania. He was a retired captain of the Austrian Army, who joined the forces of Alexander Ypsilantes in March 1821.

Three members of the German Legion, Baumgarten from Vienna, Ignaz Schömbach and Miowilowitsch, participated in the famous Battle of Peta in July 1822. Another member of the German Legion, the Viennese J. Schönsel, was also probably there.

Four Austrians died for Greece´s liberation from the Turkish yoke. Count Anton von Pecorara, who fought in Charles Fabvier´s regular Army in Greece, fell heroically at the Battle of Haidari in August 1826. The Austrian Philhellene Geoffroy Resinilt died in Salamina in August 1823. The Viennese Philhellene Friedrich Beo died in Amfissa in September of the same year. Nussbaum, a student of the Austrian Artillery School, died in Tripoli in the summer of 1825.

Other Austrian Philhellenes were more fortunate and survived the war.

For example, the Philhellene Ernst Mangel, who in 1822 or 1824, came with his son, Michael, to Greece. He took part in many battles and was wounded many times. He organized the first Greek military band, to animate Greeks and Philhellenes before the battle. After the end of the revolution he lived in Athens, as his son Michael did, who was even honored with three medals for his outstanding deeds.

Count Ludovici Porro, an aristocrat with a classical education, from Milan (which was under Austrian control at that time), was placed as an officer in Fabvier’s regular army to manage its finances. The Austrian Philhellene Londonio fought in the Greek navy and participated in the campaign of Chios in December 1827. Another three names of Austrian Philhellenes are known, without more information about their actions in Greece: Cornero, Ivanowitsch and Lutek.

The Society for Hellenism and Philhellenism and the Philhellenism Museum have taken the initiative to erect a monument to the Philhellenes in front of the War Museum in Athens, on Vasilissis Sofias Street. The aforementioned names of the Austrian Philhellenes will be engraved on the marble of the monument, along with those of other known Philhellenes.

The Greek revolution was the only one among the revolutions in South Europe that was crowned with success. In fact, it led to the establishment of the modern Greek state. Austria recognized the Greek independence after April 1830, and developed diplomatic relations with the new state. The first Consul of Greece in Vienna was George Sinas in 1833. A year later, the ardent warm Philhellene, Count Anton Prokesch von Osten was appointed First Austrian Ambassador in Greece.

Prokesch von Osten first visited Greece in 1824 in order for him to be close to the revolution. He knew the Greek leaders and King Otto personally. From 1834 to 1849 he remained in Athens as the Ambassador of Austria. Prokesch wrote a six-volume History of the Greek Revolution, based on his experiences as a diplomat. The Society for Hellenism and Philhellenism, the Philhellenism Museum and the Ζωγράφειο School from Epirus, created, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Greek revolution, an honorary medal to pay tribute to Prokesch von Osten.

The Austrian – German Philhellene and diplomat, Georg Christian Gropius served as an Austrian Consul in Athens and Nafplio. From 1840 onwards he served as the General Consul of Austria in Athens. He participated in archeological excavations in Aegina and in Vasses Figalia. Like Prokesch, Gropius supported the Greek struggle for independence and was honored by the Greek state with the Greek Order of the Redeemer in gold.

This brief review of certain names indicates that contrary to the official policy of the Austrian empire towards the Greek revolution, several Austrians, military men, diplomats and even simple citizens, joined the Philhellenic movement of their time. The main reason was probably their classical education and admiration of the values of Greece, and their acquaintance with the Greek Expatriates. The liberal spirits of the time associated the Greek case with a “fair and legitimate struggle”. That is why many of them offered their support to Greece.

Austria and Greece are linked by ties of mutual friendship and respect for longer than the 200 years of existence of the modern Greek state. They are based on the common principles and the values of Greek culture and the western world, which go beyond the political choices of any specific historical period.

Thus, the two countries now cooperate side by side as allies and friends, within the framework of a United Europe, which largely owes its existence to the great legacy left by the European Philhellenes.