Forget The Spice Girls Coz Girl Power Started With This Greek Woman 300 Years Ago!

bouboulina-s-museum

I bet you never learned this one in school. And trust me, it’s something important that every girl should know about growing up, whether you are interested in history or not.

While I was holidaying in Greece this summer, I did a guided tour of a museum dedicated to a woman named Laskarina Bouboulina. The museum, which is also one of the mansions she lived in, was on the island of Spetses. The young man giving us the tour was really passionate and knowledgeable about BouBoulina and told us him and his father, who started the museum, are in fact direct descendants of her! We only found this out after doing the inspiring tour and I was really intrigued to meet a relative of a woman who is no doubt of the the most important and celebrated figures in Greek history.

It was awesome to hear so many stories of brave and heroic women in Greek history, especially during the time when the Ottoman Empire occupied Greece. No wonder the ancient Greeks have such a massive impact on modern society today, they were the forward thinkers of their time and proved it by not shunning women or thinking of them as second class citizens.

Bouboulina was born in the prisons of Constantinople in 1771. Her step father was a navy captain in Spetses so as a young girl she grew up with a love of the sea, sailing and ships.

She married twice, both to wealthy Greek shipping merchants who were unfortunately killed in battle on the sea. Her second husband was Dimitrios Bouboulis. She had seven children altogether, and amassed a great fortune from her husbands which she used in its entirety to fund her efforts during the revolution.

The thing that drew me to want to take the tour of this specific museum as opposed to others was the sign out the front which called Bouboulina “the only woman admiral in world naval history.” Whoa! That right there shows this is some serious historical girl power I need to know about.

the_statue_of_Laskarina_Spetses_Island

(Statue of Bouboulina on the Island of Spetses today)

She was a leader of men, possessed unrivaled heroism and played a leading role in the Greek War of Independence against the 400 year occupation by the Ottoman Empire. Imagine living as a woman in a time when your country and everything you know is being ruled by a bunch of foreigners. The amount of pride, courage and bravery she would’ve had to have just to fight for her countrymen and women is something that blows my mind.

If my country were under attack, would I gather up everything I had and fight for freedom? It certainly gives me a deeper appreciation of what women and men are doing around the world today when they enter the military, knowing that they could die on the front lines to protect their loved ones and future generations back home.

One of the best moments of the tour was when our guide told us about a famous incident during her time. In December 1821, when she was 50 years old, she led a fleet of men in small sail boats to attack the mighty fortress at Napflion on the mainland, which was taken over by the Turks. The fortress at Napflion, which I had the privilege of exploring also, was known to be impenetrable. It was high on a cliff overlooking the water. If they attacked by ship, they would be obliterated by the mighty cannons surrounding the fortress. If they attacked by land, they would be overrun by the Turkish soldiers. Boubouline decided to take crews of men in the dead of night and launch a secret attack.

The picture above is a famous artists’ depiction of the moment they attacked Napflion. If you look closely, it shows Bouboulina standing tall and strong with her hand ready to draw her sword, which was gifted to her by Russian Tsar Alexander I. The men on the boat are cowering in fear, shrinking away, making the sign of the cross and some even crying.

Bouboulina's sword

An historian who was an eyewitness recalls the event like this: “I remember on board her own vessel, she alone gave orders for the boats to attack the fort. They immediately sail forward but a rain of bullets and cannon fire from the seaside fortifications made her brave lads fall back for a moment. As an angered Amazon, watching the battle from the side of her boat she then shouts ‘Are you women then and not men? Forward!’ Her officers obey, regroup and attack- they fight but die in vain since the fort was impregnable by sea.”

Bouboulina survived, only to be killed later in life from a gunshot during a family dispute. But her legacy remains one of the pivotal points in Greek history. I can confidently say that Greece is not only the birthplace of modern thinking, but also of feminism, strength, patriotism, and girl power!

Bouboulina's flag

(Bouboulina’s navy flag with Eagle’s wings pointing down symbolizing Greece’s occupation, an anchor symbolizing the navy, and a phoenix on fire symbolizing what she hoped would happen to her beloved country aided by her heroic war efforts.)

She was a rebel with a cause. Her country’s freedom. During those days, you had to get a license to build ships, and Bouboulina obtained a license from the Turkish authorities to build a merchant ship, as that was her family business. On the license were detailed specification as to what a ship was allowed to carry, and what it would look like. If the finished product didn’t match the license, it would be torn up and rendered illegal. There were no cannons or weaponry allowed on Bouboulina’s ship.

Being the cunning determined woman she was, Bouboulina took home the license and proceeded to build a fully decked out war ship called the Agamemnon with 18 heavy cannons! She was accused of building a warship in secret (duh) but because of her resourcefulness and charm was able to bribe local authorities to not only help her build it, but to expel from the island anyone who would reveal her secrets to the Turks.

Ship license Ship license

I felt so thrilled hearing Bouboulina’s story being recounted. I bet at the time she had only a sliver of an idea of what it meant to have a woman be elevated amongst the ranks of men, during the most important war in her country’s history, no less. It makes me even more motivated to live my life as a strong, passionate courageous woman who will not back down because of my gender.

Another historian writes of her like this: “Nowhere and in no other time has any woman been found in the uprisings of nations, having such a character and able to inspire the world’s admiration…”

Her bravery has been declared like this, by yet another historian: “…against her the unmanly were ashamed and the brave stepped back…”

Gives me goosebumps thinking of the amazing women who made it possible for future generations to live in freedom and prosperity.

What will you do with your freedom today? Will you waste your time watching meaningless gossip TV shows like TMZ? Or will you invest yourself in something that matters, and that will make a difference in people’s lives or the world?

Bouboulina Museum, Spetses

(Standing outside the entrance of the museum next to a figurehead of Laskarina Bouboulina)

2 Comments

  1. Great post Asha! You retold the history so well xxx

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