1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ali Pasha

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ALI, known as Ali Pasha (1741–1822), Turkish pasha of Iannina, surnamed Arslan, “the Lion,” was born at Tepeleni, a village in Albania at the foot of the Klissura mountains. He was one of the Toske tribe, and his ancestors had for some time held the hereditary office of bey of Tepeleni. His father, a man of mild and peaceful disposition, was killed when Ali was fourteen years old by neighbouring chiefs who seized his territories. His mother Khamko, a woman of extraordinary character, thereupon herself formed and led a brigand band, and studied to inspire the boy with her own fierce and indomitable temper, with a view to revenge and the recovery of the lost property. In this wild school Ali proved an apt pupil. A hundred tales, for the most part probably mythical, are told of his powers and cunning during the years he spent among the mountains as a brigand leader. At last, by a picturesque stratagem, he gained possession of Tepeleni and took vengeance on his enemies. To secure himself from rivals in his own family, he is said to have murdered his brother and imprisoned his mother on a charge of attempting to poison him. With a view to establishing his authority he now made overtures to the Porte and was commissioned to chastise the rebellious pasha of Scutari, whom he defeated and killed. He also, on pretext of his disloyalty, put to death Selim, pasha of Delvinon. Ali was now confirmed in the possession of all his father’s territory and was also appointed lieutenant to the derwend-pasha of Rumelia, whose duty it was to suppress brigandage and highway robbery. This gave him an opportunity for amassing wealth by sharing the booty of the robbers in return for leaving them alone. The disgrace that fell in consequence on his superior, Ali escaped by the use of lavish bribes at Constantinople. In 1787 he took part in the war with Russia, and was rewarded by being made pasha of Trikala in Thessaly and derwend-pasha of Rumelia. It now suited his policy to suppress the brigands, which he did by enlisting most of them under his own banner. His power was now already considerable; and in 1788 he added to it by securing his nomination to the pashalik of Iannina by a characteristic trick.

The illiterate brigand, whose boyish ambition had not looked beyond the recovery of his father’s beylick, was now established as one of the most powerful viziers under the Ottoman government. Success only stimulated his insatiable ambition. He earned the confidence of the Porte by the cruel discipline he maintained in his own sanjak, and the regular flow of tribute and bribes which he directed to Constantinople; while he bent all his energies to extending his territories at the expense of his neighbours. The methods he adopted would have done credit to Cesare Borgia; they may be studied in detail in the lurid pages of Pouqueville. Soon, by one means or another, his power was supreme in all central Albania. Two main barriers still obstructed the realization of his ambition, which now embraced Greece and Thessaly, as well as Albania, and the establishment in the Mediterranean of a sea-power which should rival that of the dey of Algiers. The first of these was the resistance of the little Christian hill community of Suli; the second the Venetian occupation of the coast, within a mile of which—by convention with the Porte—no Ottoman soldier might penetrate. It needed three several attacks before, in 1803, Ali conquered the Suliot stronghold. Events in western Europe gave him an earlier opportunity of becoming master of most of the coast towns. Ali had watched with interest the career of Bonaparte in Italy, and the treaty of Campo Formio (1797), which blotted the Venetian republic from the map of Europe, gave him the opportunity he desired. In response to his advances commissaries of the French republic visited him at Iannina and, affecting a sudden zeal for republican principles, he easily obtained permission to suppress the “ aristocratic ” tribes on the coast. His plans in Albania were interrupted by the war against Pasvan Oglu, the rebellious pasha of Widdin, in which Ali once more did good service. Meanwhile international politics had developed in a way that necessitated a change in Ali's attitude. Napoleon's occupation of the Ionian Islands and his relations with Ali had alarmed Russia, which feared that French influence would be substituted for her own in the Balkan peninsula; and on the 5th of September 1798 a formal alliance, to which Great Britain soon after acceded, was signed on behalf of the emperor Paul and the sultan. Once more Ali turned Turk and fought against his recent friends with such success that in the end he remained in possession of Butrinto, Prevesa and Vonitza on the coast, was created pasha “of three tails” by the sultan, and received the congratulations of Nelson. But the campaign of Austerlitz followed, then the peace of Pressburg which guaranteed to Napoleon the former dominions of Venice, and finally the treaty of Tilsit, which involved, among other things, the withdrawal of the Russians from the Ionian Islands and the Albanian coast.

Amid all the momentous changes the part of Ali was a difficult one. He had, moreover, to contend with domestic enemies, and with difficulty defeated a league formed against him by some Mussulman tribes, under Ibrahim of Berat and Mustapha of Delvinon, and the Suliots. He knew, however, how to retain the confidence of the sultan, who not only confirmed him in the possession of the whole of Albania from Epirus to Montenegro, but even in 1799 appointed him vali of Rumelia, an office which he held just long enough to enable him to return to Iannina laden with the spoils of Thessaly. He was now at the height of his power. In 1803 the Suliot stronghold fell; and he was undisputed master of Epirus, Albania and Thessaly, while the pashalik of the Morea was held by his son Veli, and that of Lepanto by his son Mukhtar. Only the little town of Parga held out against him on the coast; and in order to obtain this he once more in 1807 entered into an alliance with Napoleon. The French emperor, however, preferred to keep Parga, as a convenient gate into the Balkan peninsula, and it remained in French occupation until March 1814, when the Pargiots rose against the gairison and handed the fortress over to the British to save it from falling into the hands of Ali, who had bought the town from the French commander, Cozi Nikolo, and was closely investing it. The cordial relations between Napoleon and the pasha of Iannina had not long continued. Ali was angered by the refusal to surrender Parga and justly suspicious of the ambitions which this refusal implied; he could not feel himself secure with the Ionian Islands and the Dalmatian coast in the hands of a power whose plans in the East were notorious, and he was glad enough to avail himself of Napoleon's reverses in 1812 to help to rid himself of so dangerous a neighbor. His services to the allies received their reward. Still bent on obtaining Parga, he sent a special mission to London, backed by a letter from Sir Robert Liston, the British ambassador at Constantinople, calling the attention of the government to the “pasha's supereminent qualities” and his services against the French. After some hesitation it was decided to evacuate Parga and hand it over to the Ottoman government, i.e. Ali Pasha. The convention by which this was effected was ultimately signed on the 17th of May 1817, being ratified by the sultan on the 24th of April 1819. By its terms the Pargiots were to receive an asylum in the islands, the Ottoman government undertaking to pay compensation for their property. Ali had no difficulty in finding the money; the garrison, as soon as it was received, marched out with the bulk of the inhabitants; and the last citadel of freedom in the Balkans fell to the tyrant of Iannina.[1]

Ali's authority in the great part of the peninsula subject to him now overshadowed that of the sultan; and Mahmud II., whose whole policy had been directed to destroying the overgrown power of the provincial pashas, began to seek a pretext for overthrowing the Lion of Iannina, whose all-devouring ambition seemed to threaten his own throne. The occasion came in 1820 when Ali, emboldened by impunity, violated the sanctity of Stamboul itself by attempting to procure the murder of his enemy Pacho Bey in the very precincts of the palace. A decree of disposition was now issued against the sacrilegious vali, who had dared “ to fire shots in Constantinople, the residence of the caliph, and the centre of security.” Its execution was entrusted to Khurshid Pasha, with the bulk of the Ottoman forces.

For two years Ali, now over eighty years of age, held his own, in spite of the defection of his vassals and even of his sons. At last, in the spring of 1822, after a prolonged siege in his island fortress at Iannina, which even the outbreak of the Greek revolt had not served to raise, the intrepid old man was forced to sue for terms. He asked and received an interview with Khurshid, was received courteously and dismissed with the most friendly assurances. As he turned to leave the grand vizier's tent he was stabbed in the back; his head was cut off and sent to Constantinople. Notwithstanding their treason to their father, his sons met with the same fate.

In spite of the ferocious characteristics which have been suggested in the above sketch, Ali Pasha is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable, as he is one of the most picturesque, figures in modern history; and as such he was recognized in his own day. His court at Iannina was the centre of a sort of barbarous culture, in which astrologers, alchemists and Greek poets played their part, and was often visited by travellers. Amongst others, Byron came, and has left a record of his impressions in “Childe Harold's Pilgrimage,” less interesting and vivid than the prose accounts of Pouqueville, T. S. Hughes and William M. Leake. Leake (iii. 259) reports a reproof addressed by Ali to the French renegade Ibrahim Effendi, who had ventured to remonstrate against some particular act of ferocity: “ At present you are too young at my court to know how to comport yourself .... You are not yet acquainted with the Greeks and Albanians: when I hang up one of these wretches on the plane-tree, brother robs brother under the very branches: if I burn one of them alive, the son is ready to steal his father's ashes to sell them for money. They are destined to be ruled by me; and no one but Ali is able to restrain their evil propensities.” This is perhaps as good an apology as could be made for his character and methods. To the wild people over whom he ruled none was needed. He had their respect, if not their love; he is the hero of a thousand ballads; and his portrait still hangs among the ikons in the cottages of the Greek mountaineers. All accounts agree in describing him in later life as a man of handsome presence, with a venerable white beard, piercing black eyes and a benevolent cast of countenance, the effect of which was heightened in conversation by a voice of singular sweetness.

Authorities.—Apart from the scattered references in the published and unpublished diplomatic correspondence of the period, contemporary journals and books of travel contain much interesting material for the life of Ali. Of these may especially be mentioned François C. H. L. Pouqueville, Voyage en Morée, à Constantinople, en Albanie, &c. (3 vols., Paris, 1805), of which an English version by A. Plumptre was published in 1815; ib. Voyage dans la Grèce (5 vols., Paris, 1820, 1821). Pouqueville, who spent some time as French resident at Iannina, had special facilities for obtaining first-hand information, though his emotionalism makes his observations and deductions at times somewhat suspect. Very interesting also are Thomas Smart Hughes, Travels in Greece and Albania (2 vols., 2nd ed., Lond. 1830); John Cam Hobhouse (Lord Broughton), A Journey through Albania, &'c .... during the years 1809 and 1810 (Lond., 4to, 1813, a new ed., 2 vols., 1855); William Martin Leake, Travels in Northern Greece (4 vols., Lond. 1845). See also Pouqueville’s Hist. de la régénération de la Grèce, 1740–1824 (4 vols., Paris, 1824, 3rd ed., Brussels, 1825); R. A. Davenport, Life of Ali Pasha, vizier of Epirus (1861).  (W. A. P.) 

  1. In his report on the Ionian Treaty presented to Lord Castlereagh at the congress of Vienna in December 1814, Sir Richard Church strongly advocated, not only the retention of Parga, but that Vonitza, Prevesa and Butrinto also should be taken from Ali Pasha and placed under British protection, a measure he considered necessary for the safety of the Ionian Islands. “Ali Pasha,” he wrote, “is now busy building forts along his coast and strengthening his castles in the interior. In January 1814 he had 14,000 peasants at work on the castle of Argiro Castro, and about 1500 erecting a fort at Porto Palermo, nearly opposite Corfu. ” In 1810 he had erected a fort directly opposite Santa Maura commanding the harbour.
    The fate of Parga created intense feeling at the time in England, and was cited by Liberals as a crowning instance of the perfidy of the government and of Castlereagh's subservience to reactionary tendencies abroad. The step, however, was not lightly taken. In occupying the town the British general had expressly refrained from pledging Great Britain to remain there; and the government held that any permanent occupation of a post on the mainland carried with it risks of complications out of all proportion to any possible benefit.