Beyond the Basics: Aristeia Awards, 1821 Revolution

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.)

War of Independence Awards, display of Aristeia awards

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.

Aristeia Awards, Line 42: Kalogeros Pappagiannakis; Line 51: Georgios Christakos, both of Agios Ioannis, Sparta. Research by Konstandinos Koutsodontis, 2020

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.”

Panagiotis Eliopoulos in Machmoutbei (now Amykles)

My friend and historian/genealogist, Gregory Kontos, recently translated an interesting document for me. Written in 1864, it is a contract for Panagiotis Eliopoulos to purchase land in Machmoutbei, which is now the town of Amykles, Laconia. I am researching the Eliopoulos name in the Sparta area, as my great-grandmother was Aikaterini Eliopoulou.

Aikaterini and her father, Efstathios, were from the village of Sikaraki located on the outskirts of Agios Ioannis, Sparta. Although the distance between Amykles and Sikaraki is 5 kilometers or a 10-minute car ride today, that was a long donkey ride in the mid 1800’s. However, in my relentless hunt for family, I leave no stones unturned so I am researching the Eliopoulos family in Machmoutbei.

Eliopoulos, Panagiotis Contract April 5th 1864 p.1

Panagiotis Eliopoulos, Contract April 5th 1864 p.1

Eliopoulos, Panagiotis Contract April 5th 1864, p.2

Panagiotis Eliopoulos, Contract April 5th 1864, p.2

Panagiotis Eliopoulos, Sale Contract, April 5th 1864

Contract Translation by Gregory Kontos

There can be hidden clues in these documents. For example, the trees are specifically listed which indicates their value. The contract was read aloud to ensure all understood its terms, and the Voutianitis brothers claimed they were illiterate.

In the Electoral Rolls of Lakedaimonos (Laconia) 1843-1873 (File #22), there is a P. Eliopoulos who signed the rolls as the assistant mayor (παρέδος) of Machmoutbei. When I compared his signature on the election record and this contract signed in Machmoutbei, this indicates that they are the same person and that Panagiotis was literate:

Panagiotis Eliopoulos signature 1864 contract

P. Eliopoulos signature 1864 contract

Panagiotis Eliopoulos signature on electoral rolls

P. Eliopoulos signature on electoral rolls

These documents are a fascinating glimpse into the everyday lives of our ancestors. It is painstaking work to piece together fragments of information from any source, but especially so when researching in Greek records where the handwriting stumps all but the experts. When I get frustrated, I remind myself to be grateful, instead, that these records have survived through the wars and occupations, and that I have friends to help me navigate through them.

Although I do not yet know if Panagiotis Eliopoulos is related to me, I am thrilled to have this document and to bring his life into the 21st century.

Addendum to this post: After looking at another contract for Panagiotis Eliopoulos of Lele, Agios Ioannis (village of my ancestors), Gregory informed me that Panagiotis Eliopoulos of Machmoutbei and Panagiotis Eliopoulos of Lele are two different people. Panagiotis from Machmoutbei  signs the contracts but Panagiotis from Lele is illiterate.