Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The origins of Marseille and the end of Phocaea



It’s good to be reminded me of the scope and magnitude of Hellenism, the fact that, as Henry Maine put it: ‘Except for the blind forces of Nature, nothing moves in this world which is not Greek in its origins.’

France’s second largest city Marseille is Greek in its origins and the supporters of its football club commemorate this fact not only in the name of the club, Olympique de Marseille, and in the azure and white colours of the team’s kit, but also in the waving of Greek flags at home matches.

Indeed, in the recent Europa League game between Marseille and Fenerbache, from another city with Greek origins (Byzantium/Constantinople), the fans of the Turkish team were so incensed by the Hellenic national symbols, which they took to be a provocation, that they began to riot in the stadium – smashing seats, attacking Marseille fans – prompting the French police to require the home fans to put away their Greek flags.

Three days later, in the league match against Lille, the Marseille fans reiterated their esteem for the Greek flag by forming, as the video above shows, a giant human version of it, beneath which a banner read: ‘NE RENIONS PAS L’ORIGINE DE NOTRE VILLE’. (We do not deny the origin of our city).

As to the origins of Marseille/Μασσαλία, the city was founded by Ionian Greeks from Phocaea in Asia Minor in 600 BC, themselves colonists from Phocis in central Greece – Olympique de Marseille’s original name was US Phocéenne.

Phocaea was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1914, an event recounted in George Horton’s The Blight of Asia. Horton, who was US consul general in Smyrna at the time, states that the fate of the Phocaeans would have been worse had it not been for the intervention of a group of resident Frenchmen, who felt a bond and obligation towards Phocaea because of its status as the ‘Mother of Marseille’.

Below are a few passages from The Blight of Asia describing the massacre and destruction of Phocaea.

‘The complete and documentary account of the ferocious persecutions of the Christian population of the Smyrna region, which occurred in 1914, is not difficult to obtain; but it will suffice, by way of illustration, to give only some extracts from a report by the French eye-witness, Manciet, concerning the massacre and pillage of Phocea, a town of eight thousand Greek inhabitants and about four hundred Turks, situated on the sea a short distance from Smyrna. The destruction of Phocea excited great interest in Marseilles, as colonists of the very ancient Greek town founded the French city. Phocea is the mother of Marseilles. Monsieur Manciet was present at the massacre and pillage of Phocea, and, together with three other Frenchman, Messieurs Sartiaux, Carlier and Dandria, saved hundreds of lives by courage and presence of mind.

‘The report begins with the appearance on the hills behind the town of armed bands and the firing of shots, causing a panic. Those four gentlemen were living together, but when the panic commenced they separated and each installed himself in a house. They demanded of the Kaimakam gendarmes for their protection, and each obtained one. They kept the doors open and gave refuge to all who came. They improvised four French flags out of cloth and flew one from each house. But, to continue the recital in Monsieur Manciet’s own words, translated from the French:

“During the night the organized bands continued the pillage of the town. At the break of dawn there was continual ‘tres nourrie’ firing before the houses. Going out immediately, we four, we saw the most atrocious spectacle of which it is possible to dream. This horde, which had entered the town, was armed with Gras rifles and cavalry muskets. A house was in flames. From all directions the Christians were rushing to the quays seeking boats to get away in, but since the night there were none left. Cries of terror mingled with the sound of firing. The panic was so great that a woman with her child was drowned in sixty centimeters of water.”

‘This extract is given from Monsieur Manciet’s description of the sack of Phocea in 1914, of which he was an eye-witness, for several reasons. It is necessary to the complete and substantiated picture the gradual ferocious extermination of the Christians which had been going on in Asia Minor and the Turkish Empire for the past several years, finally culminating in the horror of Smyrna; it is a peculiarly graphic recital, bringing out the unchanging nature of the Turk and his character as a creature of savage passions, living still in the times of Tamerlane or Attila, the Hun;— for the Turk is an anachronism; still looting, killing and raping and carrying off his spoil on camels; it is peculiarly significant, also, as it tells a story strongly resembling some of the exploits of Mohammed himself.

‘Monsieur Manciet says [in his account]:

“We found an old woman lying in the street, who had been nearly paralyzed by blows. She had two great wounds on the head made by the butts of muskets; her hands were cut, her face swollen.

“A young girl, who had given all the money she possessed, had been thanked by knife stabs, one in the arm and the other in the region of the kidneys. A weak old man had received such a blow with a gun that the fingers of his left hand had been carried away.

“From all directions during the day that followed families arrived that had been hidden in the mountains. All had been attacked. Among them was a woman who had seen killed, before her eyes, her husband, her brother and her three children.


“We learned at this moment an atrocious detail. An old paralytic, who had been lying helpless on his bed at the moment the pillagers entered, had been murdered.


“Smyrna sent us soldiers to establish order. As these soldiers circulated in the streets, we had a spectacle of the kind of order which they established; they continued, personally, the sacking of the town.


“We made a tour of inspection through the city. The pillage was complete; doors were broken down and that which the robbers had not been able to carry away they had destroyed. Phocea, which had been a place of great activity, was now a dead city.


“A woman was brought to us dying; she had been violated by seventeen Turks. They had also carried off into the mountains a girl of sixteen, having murdered her father and mother before her eyes. We had seen, therefore, as in the most barbarous times, the five characteristics of the sacking of a city; theft, pillage, fire, murder and rape.”


(Read the whole of Horton’s chapter on the Massacre of Phocaea here).

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