Greece Splits Into Rival Factions

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 253rd installment in the series.

October 18, 1916: Greece Splits Into Rival Factions

Like a growing vortex, the First World War sucked in more and more countries as the conflict spiraled ever further out of control. From 1915-1916 first Italy then Bulgaria, Portugal, and Romania abandoned neutrality to throw in their lot with one of the two opposing coalitions – and this was only the beginning.

After refusing to help its erstwhile ally Serbia when hostilities broke out, as the fighting dragged on Greece – one of the last neutral states in the Balkan Peninsula – gradually edged closer to war, motivated in part by irredentist claims to ethnically Greek areas of Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, and even more by unrelenting pressure from the Allies. 

The pressure became literally overpowering in October 1915, when the French and British occupied the northern Greek port city of Salonika in a belated attempt to aid Serbia, doomed by the Central Powers’ autumn offensive. Their arrival in violation of Greek neutrality (nobody seemed to worry about respecting the neutrality of small states anymore) precipitated a dramatic falling out between the country’s pro-German King Constantine and its most powerful politician, the pro-Allied Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos, a popular elder statesman who invited the Allies to occupy Salonika (top, the view from a British battleship in Salonika harbor).


After being forced to resign for overstepping his authority, Venizelos went into open opposition and began plotting with his powerful foreign patrons to bring Greece into the war. Meanwhile, after their conquest of Serbia the Central Powers invaded northern Greece in May 1916, citing the Allied presence in Salonika. For their part the Allies reinforced their position with troops withdrawn from Gallipoli, despite British misgivings (in diplomatic terms the occupation of Salonika was always a French project, reflecting France’s senior role in the alliance as well as the political connections of General Maurice Sarrail, the French commander in Salonika, who had the support of the powerful socialist bloc in Parliament; above, Allied troops in Salonika).

For the Allied troops their time in the ancient polyglot city, which also played host to the provisional governments of Serbia and Albania, was a colorful experience to say the least. One observer, the British war correspondent Vincent O’Connor, described the scene in the marketplace: “Frenchmen, Englishmen, Canadians, Australians, Servians, Greeks, Jews, Turks, all are here in bewildering variety, and there are others to come. Generals, colonels, subalterns, corporals, rank and file; little boys and girls who go to and fro selling papers and furtively collecting those left behind sell again…”

A Forgotten Front

Greece somehow maintained a precarious neutrality through the mounting tension, but in May 1916 the Greeks surrendered the key fortress of Rupel to the Bulgarians without a shot, spurring Allied suspicions that the Greeks might be about to go over to the enemy. They responded by ratcheting up the pressure with a naval blockade of the country, followed by an ultimatum to King Constantine demanding that he demobilize the Greek Army in June 1916. The following month the Allies expanded their occupation of northern Greece with the arrival of the Serbian Army, revived after its disastrous retreat through Albania with six months of rest and resupply on the Greek island of Corfu. 


Click to enlarge

In August 1916 the Central Powers clashed with Allied forces in northern Greece, where the Bulgarians captured Florina and forced Sarrail’s French Armée d'Orient back in the Vardar River Valley, before the Allies eventually halted the offensive; the Bulgarians were also briefly distracted by the entry of Romania into the war on the side of the Allies. Then in September the Allies launched a counteroffensive in a futile attempt to help the beleaguered Romanians, pushing the Bulgarians and German Eleventh Army back and threatening the Central Powers’ control of Monastir (now Bitola, Macedonia).


While the fighting in this region is often viewed as a sideshow or “forgotten front” of the First World War, it certainly didn’t seem that way to the ordinary soldiers stationed in the mountainous foothills and plateaus of southern Macedonia, and indeed the Monastir Offensive from September 12-December 11, 1916, was no less bloody than other theatres, with hardships amplified by primitive terrain, disease and harsh weather. As elsewhere, misery was general. Ruth Farnam, an American woman volunteering as a nurse in the Allied armies, visited a recently captured area just behind the Serbian-held portion of the front near Florina:

Everywhere were rolls of cruel barbed-wire, neatly stacked shell cases and the baskets in which they are handled, broken rifles, scraps of metal and all the various debris of battle. The earth looked like rudely plowed land, so pitted and torn with shell holes was it, and everywhere were the rude earthworks which had been thrown up by Serb and Bulgar. Sometimes these were a long line of mud embankments behind which many men could shelter; but more often the earth was scooped out in a tiny nest like a hare’s “form.” Some of these faced North and some South. There were many into which the earth had been roughly shoveled back and we knew that these held Bulgarian dead.

A correspondent, G. Ward Price, recorded similar impressions of the Bulgarian retreat:

All the rubbish that a hastily retreating army leaves behind were scattered right and left. Bullet-pierced caps and helmets, greatcoats, broken rifles, ammunition pouches, marked the trail of the retreating enemy, and from the top of the hill at Banitza, where the roads steeply down to the plain, you could see the Serbian infantry spread out on the green turf, each in his little individual shelter-trench, while the enemy shrapnel burst above and among them; and beyond, right away in the distance, loomed faintly the white minarets and walls of Monastir, their goal on the threshold of Serbia, gleaming faintly through the haze, like the towers of an unreal fairy city.

The stark beauty of the natural surroundings only highlighted the horrors of the battlefield, also described by Price:

You came upon little piles of dead in every gully; behind every clump of rocks you found them, not half-buried in mud or partly covered by the ruins of a blown-in trench or shattered dugout, but lying like men asleep on the clean, hard stones… Not only for days but for weeks after dead Bulgars lay there, preserved in the semblance of life by the cold mountain air, looking with calm, unseeing eyes across the battleground…

An Open Split

As the fighting intensified along the frontier between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, the Allies once again sought to bring their host country into the war on their side, with the increasingly aggressive French taking the lead. After landing on the island of Crete and announcing the formation of a provisional government in September 1916, on October 9 Venizelos returned to Salonika from Crete with his supporters on Allied ships, proclaiming that they were taking over the duty of national defense from the passive monarchy.


On October 18, 1916 Venizelos formally installed his new provisional government in Salonika, completing the split with King Constantine in Athens. The Allies also forced Constantine’s new prime minister, Nikolaos Kalogeropoulos, to resign while issuing fresh demands that Constantine withdraw the portion of the Greek Army which remained mobilized south to Thessaly, thus reducing the threat to their own troops. In the crowning humiliation, French marines surrounded the Royal Palace in Athens, and the Allies demanded that Constantine give up the ships of the Greek Navy, which he duly turned over to French control.

By November 1916 the Allies were effectively in control of northern Greece, while the new government organized by Venizelos was drawing support away from King Constantine. But the country remained divided, with two governments ruling in parallel from their respective capitals, in a chaotic period that became known as the “National Schism” or “Greek Vespers” (referring to a dark time in the nation’s history). It would have to endure several more upheavals before unity could be restored.

See the previous installment or all entries.

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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