Saturday, April 02, 2022



There is a section in the walls of the castle of Ioannina that locals always approach with conflicted feelings of awe and horror. For in a now fenced-off cave within the living rock, the Bishop of Larisa and Trikki Dionysios, nicknamed Philosophos for his learning by the Greeks, and reviled as “Skylosophos” or “Dog-wise” by the Turks, was tortured, flayed alive and killed by the Ottomans in 1611. His crime? Orchestrating the first revolt whose sole aim was the ousting of the Ottomans and the Independence of Greece.  

Born in 1541 in Paramythia, Epirus, Dionysios studied medicine, philosophy, philology, logic, astronomy, and poetry in Padua, Italy, adopting the soubriquet: “the Philosopher.” In 1582, he was ordained a deacon at the Ecumencial Patriarchate and was subsequently appointed Patriarchal Exarch of a special mission to Epirus, Thessaly and the Peloponnese. Acquitting himself to the patriarch’s satisfaction, he was ordained Metropolitan of Larisa in 1591. As that city no longer had any Christians residing in it, he moved his seat to Trikala. 

In Trikala, Dionysios conceived the idea of organising an uprising against the Ottomans, considering the area suitable for this purpose, as it bordered the inaccessible hideouts of Pindos and Agrafa. In December 1598, he sent one of his monks to the Greek community of Venice, to collaborate in seeking assistance from with the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II, the king of Spain, Philip III and pope, Clement VIII. The Greeks of Venice responded enthusiastically, submitting a memorandum to the court of Rudolf, in Vienna, on behalf of the Greeks of Epirus, Thessaly and Macedonia, requesting that Dionysios be sent arms, an army and provisions for 40,000 men and requesting that the emperor recommend the enterprise to the Pope and the Spanish king. Dionysius sent a further letter to the Pope in May 1600, the text of which survives, pleading: “the road is open for you to deliver us from the hands of the tyrant.” 

Encouraged by vague Venetian promises of fomenting revolts in Northern Epirus and Albania, Dionysios began withholding the poll tax and ecclesiastical revenues which were supposed to be handed over to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Sublime Porte, in order to finance his revolution. On 15 November 1600, with the support of the armatoles of Agrafa, Dionysios raised all of Thessaly, from Trikala to Karditsa and the surrounding mountains, in revolt against the Ottoman. Unsupported by any power of the day, the uprising failed and after a few days, the Ottomans prevailed, instituting harsh reprisals, including the hanging of the Metropolitan of Karditsa and the execution of clergy and laity. Dionysius attempted to flee to Agrafa but, unable to do so, managed escaped to the Ionian coast, reaching Naples and then Rome. On 15 May 1601, he was stripped of his rank by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. 

Even whilst in exile to the West, Dionysios persisted in his plans for revolution. In Naples he met the Spanish Regent and, through him, submitted a memorandum to the Spanish king and the Holy Roman Emperor explaining the reasons for the failure of his revolt and seeking assistance for a second attempt. In February 1603 he presented himself to the Pope, presenting his as a fervent Catholic and providing a memorandum stating the Christian of Epirus and Thessaly sought union with Rome. As a result, the Pope took great interest in Dionysios’ plans, providing him letters of recommendation to the Spanish emperor. Accompanied by Constantine Sophias, a graduate of the Pontifical Greek College of Rome and Spanish scholar, Dionysios travelled to Valladolid, Spain. There the Papal Nuncio to the Spanish Court, D. Ginassi, provided him with a letter of recommendation and money. Arriving in Burgos, where he met the king, Dionysios had to contend with other Greeks, such as Ioannis Pikkolos, Stavros apsaras and Skarlatos Matsas, all of whom titled themselves the official envoys of the enslaved Greeks. While Dionysios originally made a positive impression on the Spanish king, Sophias turned against him, alleging that Dionysios was a swindler, who had forged the memorandum of Union that was key to enlisting western aid. 

Having extracted some promises of support, Dionysios is said to have been the mastermind of the Spanish-supported attempts by Petros Lantzas to declare a revolt in Epirus and to assassinate the Sultan. By 1609, Dionysios had returned to Greece where he settled in the monastery of Agios Dimitrios, in Dichouni, Epirus. Touring the countryside, he incited the villagers against the Ottomans, managing to raise an army of 700 men, with which he managed to occupy a number of forts. Supported by the Metropolitan of Dryinoupolis, Matthaios, local grandees Zotos Tsiripos from Paramythia and Georgios Delis, as well as Lambros, the secretary of Osman Pasha of Ioannina, Dionysios achieved the spread of the revolt throughout all the villages and towns of Thesprotia and other parts of Epirus. 

On 11 September 1611, Dionysios, along with about 1,000 peasants from 70 villages of Paramythia, armed only with spears, bows and agricultural tools, captured the villages of Turkogranitsa and Zaravousa which were populated by Islamic converts. Chanting Kyrie Eleison and anti- taxation slogans (“Χαράτσι χαρατσόπουλο αναζούλι αναζουλόπουλο”) they marched on Ioannina, surprising the unprepared Ottomans. The revolutionaries entered the district of Kaloutsiani, where Osman Pasha lived and set fire to his residence and other government buildings. The pasha and his family escaped, but twenty members of the guard and his staff were killed. According to Venetian sources, over 1,200,000 aspers were looted from the public treasury while Osman Pasha sought refuge in a tower. 

Despite capturing the city, Dionysios had no plan for its administration. The next morning, Osan Pasha, who was able to rally loyal Ottoman troops and Greek supporters of the pro-Turkish Peloponnesian cleric Maximos, who despised Dionysios, around him, launched a counter-attack. The disorganized revolutionaries were repulsed and disbanded easily. Two hundred of them took refuge among the reeds of Lake Pamvotis in Ioannina, where they were burned alive while Dionysios and  co-conspirator Georgios Delis took refuge in a cave under the present-day citadel of the city. 

After his location was betrayed to the Ottomans, Dionysios was captured. When he was presented to Osman Pasha he famously declared: “I fought in order to free the Greeks from your tortures and your tyranny.” During his interrogation he further confessed that he aimed for the liberation of all Greeks from the Ottoman yoke. He also confessed that the king of Spain had pledged to assist him. Subsequent to his interrogation, he was tortured at the central square of Ioannina and was then sentenced to death by being flayed alive. Upon his death, his skin was stuffed with straw and, wearing his hierarchical vestments, he was carried him around the streets of Ioannina in order to solicit the derision of the local inhabitants. Dionysios’ skin, along with eighty-five heads of the most important insurgents, was sent to Constantinople, where it was thrown into the Sultan's stables.  

As a result of Dionysios’ failed revolution, Osman Pasha embarked upon a series of bloody reprisals against the local inhabitants, slaughtering three at least three hundred Greeks and compelling many more to convert to Islam. The properties of many monasteries such as Agios Dimitrios which sheltered Dionysios at Dichouni were confiscated and the Byzantine church of John the Baptist which dominated the citadel of Ioannina was demolished and the Aslan Pasha mosque was constructed in its place, forever changing the skyline of the city.  

The privileges extracted from the Ottomans by the citizens of Ioannina in 1430, such as freedom from the compulsory removal of their children were abolished at this time, causing great pain and ensuring that they no longer cherished their revolutionary leader’s memory. Maximos the Peloponnesian, capitalised on this climate of contempt in order to curry favour with his Ottoman overlords, publishing his “Condemnatory discourse against Dionysios and his co-conspirators,” in which he called Dionysios “demonic,” “sower of evil,” “new devil,”  and “charlatan.” It was at this time that his soubriquet “Philosopher” was changed to “Skylosopher.” 

A contemporary demotic folksong encapsulates just how keenly the consequences of the revolt were felt by the populace: 

“Bishop, why did you raise the people in revolt 

and Ioannina, and the whole country was laid waste. 

The houses are orphaned, the trenches full, 

and the Turk has not ceased to slash and burn. 

Children are rendered parentless and parents, childless. 

And your skin they sent to Constantinople,  

to be pecked at by chickens, to be haggled over Gypsies. 

For Turks to waken, and embark on Ramadan.” 

Despite the severity of the immediate consequences of the failure of Dionysios’ revolution, his memory was revered by many of his followers and passed down the generation. In Epirus, his idea of a revolution that would not just be local in scope but would expand to encompass all lands inhabited by Greeks, were treasured; they sustained and informed all subsequent revolts, which took place continuously in the region, right up until the fall of Ali Pasha and the 1821 Revolution. 


First published in NKEE  on Saturday 2 April 2022