Alexander Billinis from Clemson University (USA) will present an online lecture entitled “Hydra and the Flame of Revolution” on Thursday, June 3, at 7 p.m. at the Greek Center, as part of the seminars on Greek history and culture. by the Greek Community of Melbourne.
Hydra Island, a largely barren (but strikingly beautiful) stone massif emerging from the Saronic Gulf, became one of the most important centers of the Greek War of Independence. Sparsely inhabited in 1600, waves of refugees sought solace on the rock, and the need for sustenance and free will drove the Hydriots – like the Greeks over the millennia – to the sea.
Since the first heavy ship in 1657, the Hydriots have become a center of shipbuilding and their transport trade has spread from the Aegean Sea to the larger basins of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
They piloted the politics of the day with the same skill as their ships, flying the Russian flag when needed and sending their sons into the Ottoman Navy in exchange for internal autonomy. They invested in technocracy, founding the first merchant navy academy – in the world – in 1749. By 1820, the island had over 20,000 inhabitants and was one of the wealthiest places in the Mediterranean, but when the Revolution began, the Hydriots – especially and especially their middle classes could not turn their backs on the cause.
With the dice cast, Hydra went all-in, with their ships and their fortunes. Hydriote ships were converted merchants with fewer guns than their opponents’ warships, but their sailors were some of the best in the world and knew Ottoman tactics. Older ships were upgraded to firefighters, who, piloted by brave crews, often turned the tide in combat against the huge Ottoman frigates. The navy both cleared the Turks from much of the Aegean, but just as importantly, prevented Turkish forces from landing at will in the Peloponnese and other key revolutionary sites. Hydra, along with his fellow “nautical islands” of Spetses and Psara, played a leading role in securing the freedom of Greece.
READ MORE: Hydra: ‘The Rock of Liberty’ Tells Her Story
The story of Hydra’s rise is perhaps even more interesting than its heroic role as the naval and financial center of the Greek War of Independence, for without the decades of hard work and skillful sailing of the waves, literally and politically, there probably would have been no 1821 to celebrate. Hydra is a triumph of the Greek Agency – personal, economic and political.
Alexander Billinis is an instructor at Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, USA, where he is also a graduate student in the history department. He teaches Science and Technology in Society at Undergraduate University College as well as selected seminars at Honors College, where he also directs the prestigious Dixon Fellows program.
He occasionally works as an auxiliary at Tri County Community College as well as a volunteer lecturer at the Osher Lifelong Learning Center at Clemson University. He has also lectured on Greek, Balkan and Byzantine subjects in Greece, Serbia and the United States.
He writes prolifically in several publications, including Neos Kosmos. He was also a member of the 1821 Hellenic American Revolution Bicentennial Committee of the East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance (EMBCA), which hosted numerous virtual and in-person panels on issues related to Greece’s Bicentennial.
Billinis is a licensed lawyer, with a former career in law, property management and international banking. He has lived and worked in Greece, UK and Serbia, as well as shorter work or study assignments in Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany and Chile. A citizen of the United States and Greece, he is married and the father of two teenagers.
When: Thursday June 3, 2021, 7 p.m.
Or: Online seminar only via Zoom, Facebook and Youtube