Friday, October 30, 2009

Georgios I of the Hellenes Arrives in Greece

It was on this day in 1863 that Prince Wilhelm of Denmark arrived in Greece to begin his reign as George I, King of the Hellenes. Elected by the Greek National Assembly his nomination was supported by the United Kingdom, the Second French Empire and the Russian Empire and, while he certainly had plenty of problems to deal with, he would become the longest reigning monarch in modern Greek history, occupying the throne for 50 years before his assassination in 1913 during the First Balkan War.

He was only 17 when he arrived in Greece and, conscious of the fate of the former King Otto, was careful to be more Greek in his habits and more approachable with his people. Yet, like his predecessor (though somewhat more humble in his ambitions) he envisioned the Greek kingdom becoming the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean. The Ottoman Empire was his natural enemy and was widely considered a fading power. He set Greece on the path of expansion, reclaiming Greek territory and paving the way for the widest expansion of modern Greece, even holding territory on the Asian mainland for a time. It was not exactly the re-birth of the Byzantine Empire that the romantic Otto had envisioned, but it was a grand dream that could stir the hearts of all patriotic Greeks.

Losses gave the Greeks pause and George even considered abdication, but his determination in the face of adversity and courage in the face of disasters won him considerable admiration from his subjects. Political chaos may have hampered him and finally cost him his life, but his reign did give hope for a new glorious era in Greek history, a dream for a brighter future that would restore the glories of the past and that dream first came to Greece in the person of a teenage Danish prince 146 years ago today.

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