Kefalonia 1782 - St Petersburg 1848

Spyridon Destounis, a writer from Kefalonia, served, as did many Ionian Islanders, in the Russian diplomatic service, and had a friendly relationship with Ioannis Capodistrias.

In contrast to many of the children of Ionian aristocratic families who went to study in Italy, Destounis studied in Moscow, where a relative of his had settled. He showed great interest in philology, languages, Greek history, diplomacy, and politics. At the age of 20, he was hired by the Archive of the College of Foreign Affairs in Moscow and was soon appointed an employee of the Foreign Ministry in St Petersburg.

During his time in Russia, he busied himself translating ancient Greek works into Russian, such as Plutarch’s masterpiece Parallel Lives, which was met with enthusiasm by the famous author and translator Ivan Martinov. In 1816, following encouragement from I. Capodistrias, the Tsar agreed to fund the publishing of the work. In the same year, Destounis became a member of the Association of Friends of Russian Literature of the University of Moscow (1816).

In 1818, shortly before the outbreak of the Greek Revolution, Syridon Destounis was appointed General Consul of Russia to Smyrna. There, he would come into contact with the Society of Friends network and would soon take on the coordination of the local branch. The outbreak of the revolution placed the Greek population of Asia Minor in danger. Destounis, along with other European consuls, made efforts to protect civilians, until he was ordered to abandon Smyrna and go to the Ionian Islands.

He managed to reach Zakynthos via Kythira at the end of 1821, where he would remain for a long time, making every effort to contribute to the Struggle. Between 1825 and 1826, now in Vienna, he wrote about the history and geography of Venice, which was so closely connected historically with the Ionian Islands. From 1827, he worked in St Petersburg as secretary of the Asian Affairs Department of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Empire (1835-1845). He would spend the remainder of his life there until his death in 1848. Destounis showed special interest in the cultural legacy of Byzantium. He translated the works of Byzantine authors such as Dexippus, Menander, Olympiodoros, Eunapius, etc. These works were collected by his son, Gabriel Destounis, who worked as a professor at the Institute of Asian Languages in St Petersburg and professor of Greek and Byzantine archaeology at the university there from 1865. These were published as the series Byzantine Historians Translated from Greek with the support of the Intellectual Academy of St Petersburg.

His extensive scholarship and translation work established him as one of the founders of Byzantine studies in Russia.

He was interred in the Orthodox cemetery in Smolensk.


‘…but God will not permit this, and the unfortunate Greeks, after centuries of cultural death, will rise again and will remain loyal to Russia’

Greek Communities in Russia

The life of Spyridon Destounis highlights the increased osmosis between the worlds of Greece and Russia at the end of the 18th century. Beyond their common Orthodox faith, the two peoples had developed many channels of communication. The political expansion of Russia towards the Balkans and the Caucuses brought many new opportunities for Greek speakers from the Ottoman Empire, who built Orthodox communities on Russian land, the best-known of which was Odessa. Destounis settling in Russia is related to Russia’s short-lived presence in the Ionian Islands (1800-1807), which opened up new professional opportunities for many educated Ionian Islanders, the most well-known being Ioannis Capodistrias. A network of friendship and mutual support would develop in Russia. For example, Destounis interceded for the meeting between Alexander Sturdza, friend and partner of I. Capodistrias, with Konstantinos Oikonomou, a cleric from Thessaly, who lived in Odessa and St Petersburg before settling in the newly formed Greek state after 1830. The three men maintained a friendship for many years, characterised by their common intellectual interests and their concern for the new Greek state.