The Phanariots before 1821

C. G. Patrinelis


This paper is not a historical survey of the world of the Phanariots; it
rather aims to discuss and commend on some controversial points of the
history of Phanariots, and on some generally accepted views about them but
not sufficiently documented. The main conclusions of this discussion are the
1. The social origin of the Phanariots must be sought not in the class of
merchants, as it is often said, but in the cycle of those Greeks of the 16th and
17th centuries, who served the Ottoman state or did business with it (secretaries,
dragomans, tax farmers, suppliers of various goods to the sultanic court
2. There is no official text expounding the political, and social principles
of the Phanariots. However, their practice in handling several political
matters, their behavior, their correspondence etc. permit us to restore their
ideological world:
i) The Phanariots (as well as the Church) believed in the absolute
necessity of peacefull co-existence and submission to the Ottoman state. The
theory that they served the Turks, but really aimed at undermining and
substituting them one day is a pious myth, ii) The Phanariots often played the
role of the protector of the orthodox church, and they had adopted some ritual
forms of Byzantine origin, but they never declared that they were here to the
Byzantine imperial tradition. Besides, none of the Phanariot families had a
bond of blood with any Byzantine aristocratic family. Moreover, they did not
aim at restoring the Byzantine Empire. The often referred “Idée imperial” of
the Phanariots is a posterior invention, iii) The Phanariots did not try to
Hellenize their Roumanian subjects; first, because they rejected nationalistic
theories, and second, because Greek culture had begun entering the Roumanian
lands much before the Phanariot era.
3. It is true that the Phanariots exploited ruthlessly their subjects but not
more than their Roumanian predecessors of the native boyars.
4. The Phanariots favoured some forms of modem culture (schools, books,
theater etc.), but only to the extent that all these were harmless to them, to
the church and the Ottoman state. The nature of their position, as voluntary 

servants of a theocratic and despotic state, was quite incompatible with the
basic principles of the Enlightenment. It was the phanariotic entourage
(teachers at the two Greek High Schools in Bucharest and lassi, various
scholars, generous merchants, polyglot officials at the two princeley courts
etc.) that contributed considerably to the movement of the Greek Enlightenment.
5. Contrary to what is often said, neither the Phanariot princes nor their
sons used to study abroad; the exceptions are not more than two or three.
6. The view that the Phanariots represented in some way the so called
“Enlightened despotism” is groundless. The phanariotic law codes and relative
texts indicate a strong inclination to an autoritative, if not machiavellian, administration.
7. Their attitude to the common Greek desire for liberation, as well as to
the Greek Revolution was negative (with the exception of the Ypsilanti
brothers, Alex. Mavrocordatos, Th. Negris and a few others).
8. Only after the establishment of the Greek state, and the fashioning of
the Great Idea, romantic Greek historiographers exalted the Phanariots as
apostles of hellenism and forerunners of the Great Idea.

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