March 25 is a day of celebration and pride for Hellenes throughout the world, as we celebrate the commencement of the War of Independence from 400 hundred years of Ottoman rule. Men throughout Greece banded as brothers to battle for the freedom of their homeland. Those who fought with exemplary actions and bravery were awarded an aristeia (αριστείο). The word άριστος (aristos) means excellence; and the award is one of great prestige and distinction.* Men who received an aristeia displayed exceptional bravery in battle and were considered heroes.
There are three levels of Aristeia awards: silver, iron, and bronze. These are on display at the War Museum in Athens, which I visited in 2017 with my friend and guide, Giannis Mihalakakos. (Take a virtual tour of the museum here.)
Many fighters of the Revolution received aristeia awards from the Government of Greece. Among them are members of my extended family. In a previous post, I wrote about Ioannis Zaharakis, born circa 1798 in Theologos, who received an Aristeia for his service. I have since learned of others, and on this commemorative day, I recognize these men of my family with honor and pride:
- Mihail Aridakos / Aridas of Agios Ioannis
- Efstratios and Dimitrios Iliopoulos of Agios Ioannis
- Christos Kostakos of Anavryti
- Georgios Christakos of Agios Ioannis
- Christos Lerikos of Agios Ioannis
- Dimitrios, Vasileios and Nikolaos Maltziniotis of Agios Ioannis
- Kalogeros Papagiannakos of Agios Ioannis
- Ioannis Zaharakis of Sellasia/Theologos
- Dimitrios, Ioannis and Georgios Zarafonitis of Sklavohori
This image shows recipients Kalogeros Papagiannakos (line 42) and Georgios Christakos (line 51) of Agios Ioannis who received the Iron Medal.
The General State Archives of Greece is the repository for Aristeia Records. It has thousands of lists, each filled with thousands of names. There are files online at the GAK , but working through them to locate villages and names is beyond my ability. Researching in this collection is best left to Greek genealogy professionals. Those who have examined these archives for me are: Gregory Kontos of GreekAncestry.net, Konstandinos Koutsodontis of Greek Genealogist, and Giannis Mihalakakos of Maniatika. I am grateful to each of them, my colleagues and friends. 🙂
Next year on March 25, 2021, and throughout the year, the 200th anniversary of the Revolution will be celebrated. Konstandinos, Gregory and Giannis will be writing about the men who freed Greece from captivity. Use their resources to find the heroes in your family, and contact them for research help. Gregory Kontos’ “Tracing Freedom: 1821” collection has just launched with searchable lists of captives from Lakonia.
Your ancestors fought and secured the freedom of Greece, thus securing a sovereign nation for the birth of your family. They deserve to be recognized and honored.
*A Hellenic historian shared the following: Aristeia is an ancient Greek word meaning “prize for excellence, prowess, the best and the bravest.”