Giambattista Theotoki, of the family branch known as Daviatzo, forefather of the Theotokis politicians who played an important role in the political life of Greece during the 19th and 20th centuries, was born in Corfu in 1778. From a young age he followed his father, who served in the Venetian army, first to Venice and then to Butrint.
Giambattista’s military career began in 1792, when he was just 14 years old. During the time the Republican French were in the Ionian Islands (1797), whose principals had a great influence on him, he served as an interpreter. During the time of the Septinsular Republic (1800-1807) he served in the Ionian army in various posts. In this way he got to know Ioannis Capodistrias better, and soon the latter’s political and diplomatic skills earned his admiration. The second French occupation of the Ionian Islands by Emperor Napoleon I led Theotoki to abandon his political career and to try his hand, unsuccessfully, at trade. His financial ruin forced him to sell some property and look for work. He found a position at the pawnshop in Corfu, where he remained until 1815. In the meantime, he married Angeliki Marmora, the daughter of an aristocratic family, and together they had a large family. He was initiated into the Corfu Masonic Lodge and gained contacts with members of the Society of Friends. Theotoki’s political convictions would become clear with the outbreak of the revolution: his liberal and democratic nature led him to provide practical support for the liberation of the Greeks.
On 15th November 1821, ignoring the prohibitions of the British administration, he secretly left Corfu, at the age of 43, headed for the insurgent Peloponnese. He was present at the deliberations of the 1st National Assembly in Piada-Nea Epidaurus in Argolis and joined socially and politically with Ioannis Kolettis. He was soon given the opportunity to serve as General Secretary of the ‘Ministries’ of Foreign Affairs and War. The most important position he held during the Greek Revolution was that of Minister of Justice (July 1824-August 1825), in which post he managed to modernise the judicial system, promoting the policy of a unified law and equality for all Greeks before the law. His disagreement over the ‘Protection Act’ with the British government resulted in him being accused of high treason and he was imprisoned for a while. Theotoki’s greatest wish was to achieve an independent government for the country under the leadership of his compatriot Count Ioannis Capodistrias.
In 1828, his friendship with Ioannis Capodistrias gave Theotoki the opportunity to be appointed political administrator of the navy. Soon, however, the Governor relieved Theotoki of his duties, as he discovered that he had taken certain actions without his knowledge. Their relationship soured and Theotoki turned to Ioannis Kolettis. From 1830, he once again took on a series of public positions: judge at the Aegean Court of Appeals, Commander of the North Sporades and later Tinos and Euboea, and, in 1844, he was made senator. He returned to his birthplace in 1857 for health reasons. He died in Corfu in 1865.
‘Do what is necessary for this wise man to be able to come to Greece!’
Even during the years before the revolution, the Ionian Islands had been providing shelter to revolutionaries who wanted to escape the Ottoman authorities or to civilians who arrived there following the destruction of their homes. Many Islanders came to provide aid and shelter to the refugees who were forced to abandon Souli, Parga, and later, following the revolution, Mesolonghi and other revolutionary areas.
In 1814, the Ionian Islands came under British control. On the 7th June 1821, following the declaration of revolution, a proclamation was published by which, ‘All subjects of the Ionian Islands are ordered to take no part, either by providing aid or the opposite, to combatants of one side or the other, either by sea or by land’. However, many ignored the prohibition and rushed to contribute to the Struggle, sending money or armaments, or by taking part in the hostilities, such as at the battles of Lalas and Petas in 1821 and 1822 respectively.
The Ionian Islands were also represented at the siege of the Acropolis in 1826. On 11th September 1826, Mamouris, the leader of a unit of Ionians, disembarked at Faliro and began a night march headed for the Acropolis. Those besieged were in dire need of reinforcements, as the guard had been depleted following desertions and departures. However, as soon as the moon came out, Mamouris’ men lost their resolve and returned to Salamis from where they had set out. Their second attempt to enter the Acropolis also failed. This time, they lost 30 men to the army of Kütahi, which had been on guard and had spotted them hiding in the Kareas area. The Ottoman cavalry gave chase and prevented the mission following a bloody battle. Athanasios Leloudas of Ithaka and his 22 men showed outstanding bravery, holding off the Turkish cavalry for a whole day from the rough defences they had built before leaving for the safety of the Greek ships patrolling near the beach as soon as night fell.