European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

24 March 2023

The Charta of Greece

The Charta (Map) of Greece is considered to be one of the most important works of the Neohellenic Enlightenment and perhaps the most important sample of Greek cartography of the pre-revolutionary period (before 1821). It was created by the celebrated Greek author, thinker and revolutionary Rigas Velestinlis, who had been profoundly influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment and the principles of the French Revolution arriving from Western Europe.

Portrait of Rigas Velestinlis

Rigas Velestinlis. Portrait by Andreas Kriezis (Benaki Museum, Athens). Picture from Wikipedia

Engraved by the well-known engraver Franz Müller and published in Vienna in three rounds between 1796-1797, the Charta was one of three maps published by Rigas during the preparation of his revolutionary plan against the Sultan’s absolute power over the enslaved Greeks and other Balkan peoples. The other two were the New Map of Wallachia and the General Map of Moldovia. The maps complemented each other and projected the democratic state Rigas envisioned in the area after the successful outcome of his revolution.

The 12-folio Charta of Greece

The 12-folio Charta of Greece. Picture from Wikipedia

The Charta consists of twelve folios measuring approximately 50cmx70cm each, which combined together form a monumental 2mx2m map never seen before in the Balkans. Researchers believe that it was based on a map of ancient Greece by the famous cartographer Guillaume Delisle, something that could explain Rigas’s description of the Charta as a map of Greece with its islands and numerous colonies in Europe and Asia Minor.

The full title can be found in a cartouche on folio 4 of the Charta and provides important pieces of information, such as the place and date of publication and contributors, as well as a description of its contents. It depicts the geographical window of a state confined only by geophysical boundaries, which are recorded in both their old and modern names.

Folio 4. Above, Goddess Episteme on a throne; Below, Hercules on foot and with only a club, attacks an Amazon riding a horse and carrying a double axe

A cartouche containing the title: «Χάρτα της Ελλάδος εν η περιέχονται αι νήσοι αυτής και μέρος των εις την Ευρώπην και μικράν Ασίαν πολυαρίθμων αποικιών αυτής… εν σώμα εις 12 τμήματα. Νυν πρώτον εκδοθείσα παρά του Ρήγα Βελεστινλή Θετταλού χάριν των Ελλήνων και Φιλελλήνων. 1797. Εχαράχθη παρά του Φρανσουά Μήλλερ εν Βιέν(νη)». Above, Goddess Episteme on a throne; Below, Hercules on foot and with only a club, attacks an Amazon riding a horse and carrying a double axe. LF.31.b.1825

The Charta also includes plans of nine famous Greek cities and places, which according to Rigas help the understanding of the journey of his Neos Anacharsis, a translation of the Voyage de Jeune Anacharsis en Grèce by Jean-Jacques Barthélemy. The understanding of the journey is further assisted by a chronology of kings and important men and the depiction of 161 types of Greek coins scattered throughout the map. These elements are believed to have been recorded by Rigas to conceal his true revolutionary intentions, evade Austrian censorship and secure the authorities’ permission to publish his work.

Coins from folio 7

Coins from folio 7 of the Charta. LF.31.b.1825

The plan of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire and city-symbol for the Greeks since its fall to the Ottomans in 1453, appears on folio 1 of the Charta, which was published a few months earlier and independently from the rest of the map.

Folio 1 of the Charta showing the map and plan of Constantinople

Folio 1 of the Charta showing the map and plan of Constantinople. LF.31.b.1825

A close-up of the plan of Constantinople

A close-up of the plan of Constantinople. LF.31.b.1825

On the right hand side, a notable allegorical scene: a lion, believed to represent the dormant force of the enslaved peoples, is trapped under the supports of the Ottoman power, symbolised by the Sultan’s turban and the oriental weapons beneath it. Next to the lion is a club, a primeval and rather insignificant weapon by comparison. However, it is only a matter of time before the lion awakens to overthrow the foreign rule and reconfirm its authority using the means available to it.

A temporarily dormant lion trapped under the supports of the Sultan’s turban and Ottoman weapons

A temporarily dormant lion trapped under the supports of the Sultan’s turban and Ottoman weapons. LF.31.b.1825

Other ancient city plans included in the Charta are Sparta, Thermopylae, Pherae -modern Velestino and birthplace of Rigas - Athens, Plateae, Salamis, Olympia and Delphi. On folio 7, there is even a plan of an ancient Greek theatre, as a reminder of its enduring pedagogical power and the potential source of inspiration for the enslaved Greeks.

An ancient Greek theatre with its various parts on folio 7 of the Charta

An ancient Greek theatre with its various parts on folio 7 of the Charta. LF.31.b.1825

In the top margins of folios 10 and 11, Rigas provides in alphabetical order the names of 114 great men of Greece and characters from Greek mythology, which he pairs with dates and accompanies with Hercules’s club on the side, to indicate the strength and continuity of the Greek civilisation. At the top of folio 12, he provides the names of 15 rulers, from Alexander the Great to Cleopatra and the first Roman Emperors after Christ.

The names of important men of Greece in alphabetical order at the top of folio 10

The names of important men of Greece in alphabetical order at the top of folio 10. LF.31.b.1825

The names of great kings in chronological order at the top of folio 12

The names of great kings in chronological order at the top of folio 12. LF.31.b.1825

The names of kings of Constantinople appear in the bottom margins of folios 2 and 3. This chronology starts with the Christian Emperors, from Theodosius the Great to Constantine Palaiologos, and finishes with the Sultans, from Mohammed II to Selim III. A contrast is made between the eleven centuries of Byzantine Empire and the three of Ottoman Empire, both of which had their seat in Constantinople.

Rigas and his seven companions were arrested in Trieste a few months after the publication of the Charta and other contemporary works that revealed their radical ideas for liberation from Ottoman rule, equality, respect for human rights and democracy. In February 1798, they were returned to Vienna for interrogation and were handed over to the Turks of Belgrade in May of the same year. After a short period of imprisonment and torture in Nebojša Tower, they were executed by strangling. Their bodies were thrown in Danube River.

Nebojša Tower

Nebojša Tower, where Rigas and his companions were imprisoned and executed. Picture from Wikipedia 

Of the 1220 original copies of the Charta, most were sent to collaborators of Rigas in Bucharest, Iasio and Smyrna, several were individually sold in Vienna, and a large number was confiscated during Rigas’s arrest by the Austrian police. Around 60 are estimated to survive today in various libraries, archives and private collections around Greece and the rest of the world.

Lydia Georgiadou, Curator Modern Greek Collections

References:

Rēgas Velestinlēs Thettalos, Charta tēs Hellados en hē periechontai hai nēsoi autēs kai meros tōn eis tēn Eurōpēn kai Mikran Asian polyarithmōn apoikiōn autēs… (Vienna, 1797). LF.31.b.1825

Dēmētrios Karamperopoulos, Hē Charta tou Rēga Velestinlē (Athens, 1998). LF.31.b.1825

Dēmētrios Karamperopoulos, Endeiktikē vivliographia gia ton Rēga Velestinlē (Athens-Velestino, 2007). YF.2012.b.210

Dēmētrios Karamperopoulos, Hē dēmokratikē enopoiēsē tou valkanikou chōrou sto epanastatiko schedio tou Rēga (Athens, 2010). YF.2012.a.908

Dēmētrios Karamperopoulos, To chartographiko ergo tou Rēga Velestinlē hypo to phōs tōn neōn ereunōn (Athens, 2010). YF.2014.a.13117

Maria Mantouvalou, Ho Rēgas sta vēmata tou Megalou Alexandrou (Athens, 1996). YA.2001.a.29026

Viktōr Th. Melas, Hē Charta tou Rēga : diakosia chronia apo tēn ekdosē tēs (Athens, 1997). YA.2002.a.8913

Giōrgēs Exarchos, Rēgas Velestinlēs: anekdota engrapha, nea stoicheia (Athens, 1998). YA.2001.a.15645

Polychronēs K. Enepekidēs, Rēgas-Hypsēlantēs-Kapodistrias : ereunai eis ta archeia tēs Austrias, Germanias, Italias, Gallias kai Hellados (Athens, 1965). X700/2748

Spyridōn P. Lampros, Apokalypseis peri tou martyriou tou Rēga: meta eikonōn kai panhomoiotypōn (Athens, 1892). 10606.b.54

 

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