Κυριακή 22 Οκτωβρίου 2023

 Markos Vafeiadis, Nikos Zachariadis and the Greek Civil War

Markos Vafeiadis                                                          ΜΑΡΚΟΣ ΒΑΦΕΙΑΔΗΣ

Born 1906                                                                        Died 1992



Tr 1/2


Nikos Zachariadis                                                      ΝΙΚΟΣ ΖΑΧΑΡΙΑΔΗΣ

Born 1906                                                                    Died 1973



 Nikos Zachariadis, Section D3


Two new graves were added to the First Cemetery in the early nineties. The first in December 1991 was for the reburial of the bones of Nikos Zachariadis, the hard line Stalinist Secretary General of the Greek Communist party during the Greek civil war who committed suicide in Siberia in 1973.

The second, in February 1992, was for Markos Vafeiadis, his onetime fellow Stalinist who became General of the People’s Democratic Army and later President of the so called Provisional Government during that same period when the fate of post war Greece seemed to hang in the balance.

The difference is that Markos Vafeiadis died a natural death at the age of 86, in many eyes, a rehabilitated man who had had the opportunity to return to Greece, to write his memoirs, and to become a member of the Greek Parliament.

Zachariadis is buried at the eastern side of the cemetery about as far away as it is possible to get from Vafeiadis whose grave hugs the cemetery’s western wall. It is tempting to see that distance as symbolic of their differences concerning how the struggle might have played out and how it did.  This war which was only officially named a civil war in 1989 (it had previously been termed a war against communist bandits) pitched Greek against Greek and split families apart in a way that was very personal. Its aftermath still resonates even after 74 years.

In retrospect, it was a war the communists could not win. The support of the British and then the Americans for the Greek nationalist government as well as Stalin’s lack of support, ensured the final outcome as surely as the Asia Minor Catastrophe, the Metaxas dictatorship and the German invasion made  a confrontation like this one almost inevitable.


Vafeiadis  and Zachariadis (on  the right)

Portrait of a Communist as a Young Man

Markos Vafeiadis was a Pontian, born in 1906 in Theodosia, the Black Sea region of Turkey. His father died when he was 11 and his mother when he was 14. So it is as an orphan that the 17 year old Markos found himself deported in 1923 along with one and a half million Greeks to a homeland most of them had never seen and one that was sorely ill equipped to offer them shelter or work.



Refugees arriving in Thessaloniki in 1923

He arrived in Thessaloniki and then gravitated to Kavala where at least there was work in the tobacco industry.

Nikos Zachariadis’ life took a different course. He was born in Ottoman Adrianopolis in Eastern Thrace. His father worked for a French tobacco firm but the family fell on hard times causing Nikos to leave school at 15 and take whatever jobs he could find. 1919 saw him working in the port of Constantinople where he came into contact with organizations like The Industrial Workers of the World. In that same year he journeyed to post revolutionary Russia, joined the Young Communists there and became a full party member in 1922. He studied communist ideology while in the Soviet Union and did not arrive in Greece until 1924 when his objective was to create the Communist Youth of Greece, an organization which Markos Vafeiadis would fully join in 1928.  From this point, their lives followed a similar trajectory for a time, with Zachariadis the passionate ideologue whose fervour would be rekindled again and again by trips to the Soviet Union, and Vafeiadis the acolyte who saw the communist party as the route to a better life.

The Communist Party of Greece


The party was not named the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) until 1924. It had started out in 1918 as the Socialist Labour Party and its primary purpose had been to unionize poorly paid workers in order improve their lot. There were other socialist groups at the time but they never became as organized as this one. The party had opposed the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish war and had worked with the Soviet Ambassador to Greece to try to persuade Venizelos to withdraw his troops from Asia Minor. This alone, in the climate of the anticipated success of the Great Idea made the party suspect – even traitorous to some, - although future dictator Ioannis Metaxas had also been against this push into Asia.(1)

By 1920 the party had already associated itself with the Soviet Comintern and by 1924, with its new name, the KKE, explicitly espoused the principles of Marxist-Leninism. For many (so many of them refugees), the communist ideology was an idea whose time had come. The Soviet experiment was then in its heady infancy and had succeeded, something which made it an attractive model. Perhaps what the KKE failed to fully understand is that, like every other great power that has had its tentacles in Greece since 1830, their interests too, when push came to shove, would ultimately rest on their own geopolitical interests, not on Greece’s.  Later in life, Markos Vafeiadis would make much of Greece’s 19th century dependence on big powers and the problems that policy had brought. Did he, or any other member of the KKE, realize that they had, in essence, done the same thing in choosing to be led from the Soviet Union? This was driven home with devastating effect when, at Yalta in February 1945, Stalin agreed with Churchill and Roosevelt that Greece’s future would be in the western sphere.

In 1926-7, Vafeiadis was conscripted into the Greek army but was dismissed because of his activities in the communist youth. The KKE and other socialist parties were not banned in the mid twenties but by 1929, the government of Eleftherios  Venizelos was concerned enough about trade unionizing activities (some of them quite extreme) and the Soviet connection that it passed the Idionymon  law, a law which criminalized subversive ideas as well as actions (anyone seeking to overthrow the government by violent means) and anyone convicted faced a jail sentence, exile to a remote island, and being barred from the civil service.

Under the Idionymon law, Vafeiadis had been sentenced to two years in jail in 1932 for organizing a workers strike in Volos although he was released some time in 1933.


Markos Vafeiadis in 1931 at the age of 25


In 1929, Zachariadis had become a persona non grata as far as the Greek government was concerned. In 1926, during the dictatorship of General Pangalos, he was arrested and imprisoned in Thessaloniki. He escaped and worked secretly in many important party positions. He was re-imprisoned in 1929, but escaped and fled to Moscow where studied at the International Lenin School. During his stay in the Soviet Union he became a member of the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks). 


The School operated from 1928 and offered courses in ideology and practical underground techniques. Its aim was to send its students back to their own countries with the skills they needed to succeed.

In 1931, Nikos was named general secretary of the Greek Communist Party by the Soviets, a post he would hold until 1956.

The Metaxas Regime 1936-1941

In the election of 1932 the communist backed party had won ten seats and in 1936, fifteen. That number seems tiny but it was enough to have the King choose anti-communist and royalist Ioannis Metaxas as Prime Minister and to almost immediately sanction his rapid transformation into a dictator. As dictator, Metaxas banned the communist party along with all other political parties in favour of his one man rule. Under his regime, communists were labelled out and out criminals and enemies of the state. Metaxas’ henchman and head of security, Constantinos Maniadakis (2) made sure that their organization was brutally repressed.

Vafeiadis was arrested again in 1936 and exiled to the North Aegean Island of Agios Evstratios. He escaped, went underground until 1938 when he was rearrested, jailed in the Acronauplio (!)  and then exiled to Gavdos a tiny island off the southern coast of Crete. When the Germans invaded Crete he escaped and made his way first to Athens, on to Thessaloniki, and then to Macedonia where he would join the growing resistance movement EAM-ELAS.

Nikos Zachariadis was also arrested in 1936 and imprisoned until the Germans invaded, at which time he was handed over to them and subsequently sent to Dachau until 1945. This, in spite of the fact that from his jail cell in Greece he had urged his supporters to fight in the 1940-41 Greek defence against the Italians.


EAM-ELAS   (EAM, The National Liberation Front -  ELAS, The Greek People’s Liberation Army and EAM’s Military Wing.)

EAM was formed in September 1941. The driving force behind it was the KKE, under its acting leader Georgos Siantos. EAM had initially attempted to attract some of the mainstream politicians who had been in power before the Metaxas dictatorship, but most of them preferred to either eschew the left altogether, hope for some kind of rapprochement with the Germans, or to leave the country entirely for a government in exile and wait for the time when they could return to Greece and carry on as before.

EAM did, however, attract many non communists who did want to resist the occupation.

The seeds of a future conflict were all present: an old political class which by and large sat out the German occupation and leftists many of whom had been killed, tortured, jailed or exiled under the Metaxas regime. 1941 saw a huge expansion of EAM-ELAS throughout Greece either via previously existing communist cells or newly organized people’s committees.  It was the first mass social movement in Greek history and one whose leadership and a goodly number of the rank and file did not want a return to the pre war status quo. The great famine caused by the Germans during that winter drove many to EAM-ELAS. Its grass roots organization from the village up made it into the only cohesive country-wide resistance group. EDES, the non communist resistance group was small and local in comparison. (3)

The Occupation, the Liberation and the Lead Up to Civil War

By the end of 1941, Kapitanios Markos Vafeiadis headed the 10th Division of ELAS headquartered in the Pindus mountains. In 1942 he was elected to the central Committee of the KKE.  By 1944 he commanded about 27,000 men. October 1944 saw him and his fighters liberating Thessaloniki.


October 30, 1944, ELAS enters Thessaloniki

In November his division also participated in the liberation of Macedonia.

By 1944, EAM-ELAS controlled most of Greece, a situation which had the British very concerned about post war Greece moving into the Soviet Sphere of influence. They had at first backed the leftist fighters because they had rightly considered them better organized to resist the Germans, but they also backed the post-war return of the king and the old political establishment. A British army contingent accompanied the Greek government in exile when it arrived in Athens with Georgios Papandreau, the Prime Minister of the government in  exile.

An uneasy stand-off ensued. Incidents involving mistrust and bad faith on both sides led to the Dekemvriana which started as a British and Greek police massacre of EAM-ELAS demonstrators in Syntagma Square which in turn sparked a rampage and massacre of perceived right wingers and collaborators by the communists. During the Dekemvriana in Athens, Markos Vafeiadis was in northern Greece; his soldiers there did not attack the British or the government representatives there.


The Dekemvriana

The tragic events of December led to the fragile Treaty of Varkiza in February 1945 in which the Greek minister of Foreign Affairs and the secretary of the KKE for EAM-ELAS agreed to a plebiscite on the constitution, to create a constituent assembly, to create a non politicised army, to hold elections which the allies would oversee and in which EAM-ELAS could participate provided they surrendered their weapons. It also provided for amnesty for political crimes.


The Varkiza Agreement

It was a recipe for compromise providing the participants trusted each other at all, but they did not. The situation was not ameliorated by the Greek army accepting so many Nazi sympathizers (members of the Nazi organized Security Battalions) into their ranks thus appearing to reward Nazi collaborators. There was a strong move after Varkiza to punish the left on the part of the right which resulted in many deaths (the so called White Terror).

From the government side, the ELAS fighters were not surrendering enough of their weapons, were possibly in league with the Soviets and prepared to give up Macedonia and Thrace to the Yugoslavians and Bulgarians.  It did not help that hard liner Nikos Zachariadis returned two months after the Varkiza agreement and was again at the helm of the party.  His years in Dachau would hardly have made his enmity against the government in power any milder.


The Communist Newspaper announcing his return in May of 1945

In spite of the Communists party attempt to rule from its top echelons and on strictly ideological lines, not every communist fighter was on the same policy page.  Vafeiadis who did the actual fighting often disagreed with Zachariadis, the ideologue who had very little fighting experience. Zachariadis’ decision to establish a standing army to counter the Greek Nationalist forces was one Vafeiadis  disagreed with. He argued that that ELAM-ELAS was not strong enough for a standing army and that guerrilla warfare would be a far more successful strategy. Stalin had sanctioned the formation of a standing army but only for defensive purposes. He had advised the EAM-ELAS to take part in the March 1946 elections and, depending on the results, decide their next move.  Instead, Zachariadis decided to boycott the Greek elections altogether. Again Vafeiadis disagreed.  He calculated that the left could have won over 100 seats in the parliament that year. If he was right and the results had been accepted, Greek history would be very different today.  Of course, because of the boycott, the right won handily and, shortly after, the civil war entered its third and final phase.

It was a conflict that would cost 70,000 lives and created hatreds and divisions that still fester.


Zachariadis addresses the troops in 1945

In October of 1946, notwithstanding his disagreements with Zachariadis, Markos Vafeiadis took command of the newly formed Democratic Army of Greece (DAG) and, much later, in December 1947, he was appointed President and War minister of the Provisional Democratic Government, a government that never received international recognition and was strong only in rural areas.


The catchy DAG marching anthem and its brave words makes me want to weep.  The waste! You can hear it with English subtitles on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0LtWhIpN3s

The Truman Doctrine of March 1947 was directed at making sure that neither Greece or Turkey fell like dominos to the Soviet juggernaut in Eastern Europe.  By 1947 Truman no longer had faith in Stalin’s promises at Yalta although he did, in fact, keep them (4). American involvement and financial aid put paid to any possibility of a communist victory.


Markos Vafeiadis in 1948

Stalin’s order in 1948 for the KKE to break all ties with renegade communist Tito of Yugoslavia – the only person seriously helping arm and feed the insurgents – marked the beginning of the end because this was a Stalinist order that Zachariadis did follow.  Again Vafeiadis disagreed and also with  Zachariadis’ order to fight in the mountains to the last man. Vafeiadis wanted to retreat into Albania and Yugoslavia while there was still time, to regroup and continue a guerrilla war. Zachariadis denounced him to Russia, held him a prisoner in Albania until he could be brought to Greece in January of 1949 and face a communist tribunal in which he was  accused of being an enemy agent, Titoist, etc etc. Vafeiadis writes that at the time he was even examined by Soviet psychiatrists for signs of madness because of his refusal to follow the party line. He was removed from all of the offices, and flown to Moscow and exile.

Markos Vafeiadis missed the last battle at Grammos – where the People’s Democratic Army was crushed and its men scattered into Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and various republics of the Soviet Union. Nikos Zachariadis, who had boldly declared that if Grammos failed it was ‘because bad communists failed to do their duty’ fled to Albania and then to Russia.

Exile in the Soviet Union

Vafeiadis said he was treated very much as a second class citizen and renegade by the Soviet regime. In 1950 was ousted from the Communist Party. At another point he was reinstated and then ousted once more. (5)  The Soviet Union was not always kind to its protégés from Greece and at times it was downright antagonistic. Certainly their freedoms were curtailed.  A Greek exile was not allowed to move freely inside the Soviet Union – the irony. Vafeiadis was told to choose a town for exile that had no other Greek refugees and chose Penza because he had trained as a watchmaker in Moscow and Penza had a watch factory. He married, learned Russian, had a son Vladimir, and retired there before his return to Greece in 1983 when the Greek government under PASOK leadership declared an amnesty.

 Zachariadis, in spite of his fanaticism, went out of favour with the Communists after Stalin died and was ultimately exiled to Siberia. He married there and it was his son Yosef (named after Stalin) who brought his bones back to Greece after the Fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. (6)  His second funeral was a religious one in the church inside the First Cemetery with a coffin somewhat incongruously draped with the Hammer and Sickle. (7) A goodly number of his old comrades came to see him home. He was ultimately ‘rehabilitated’ and accepted back into the fold by KKE in 2011.

 Vafeiadis Returns

When the Pasok government declared an amnesty for the exiled Greek communist fighters, Vafeiadis returned after 34 years in exile. His wife and son chose to stay in Russia. He would claim time and time again that the civil war should never have happened and that reconciliation had been on his mind even during the fighting when he had always reminded his soldiers that they were fighting fellow Greeks.

In March 23, 1984 there was an historic symbolic public handshake between Vafeiadis and Thrasyvoulos Tsakalotos, the Greek Army leader who had led the final charge at Grammos which had resulted in the communist defeat.


Vafeiadis in the center and Tsakalotos on the right. By that time both were supporters of PASOK leader Andreas Papandreau. It was a handshake that was 35 years in the making.

In 1984 Vafeiadis was given the rank of General in the Hellenic army.  He was  elected a member of parliament on the Nationwide list of the PASOK Party in 1990 and 1991.

He died in 1992 and was buried in the First Cemetery at public expense in a coffin draped in the Greek flag, a ceremony that was attended by the prime minister and many other dignitaries.  

So many Loose Ends

To what extent Zachariadis was even aware of the Yalta agreement is not certain. If he was, did he assume Stalin would ultimately renege on his promise? It would appear that Stalin was happy enough to see the Greek freedom fighters cause as much havoc as they could, regardless of collateral damage, and was content to concentrate on his gains in Eastern Europe.

And then there is this: because of Zachariadis’ death, Vafeiadis had a pretty clear field to write his own version of events and he had every reason to hate Zachariadis.  Are his memories entirely in sync with his thoughts and actions back in the day? Somehow that seems improbable.

This is not a period in history that people in Greece are likely to agree about no matter how much is written or how much is remembered because each family in Greece experienced the conflict in its own specific way.

PASOK did do something courageous in allowing these Greek exiles back home and allowing a much needed healing process to begin but it may take another generation or more before everyone agrees.

The Map




(1) Their reasons were different of course. Metaxas knew their position was not defensible whereas the Socialist party saw it as a distraction from their struggle to improve the lot of workers.

 (2) During his tenure, Maniadakis managed to almost completely suppress and disorganize the KKE, imprisoning hundreds of its members and even publishing a government-controlled rival version of the party's newspaper Rizospastis. After the war he was elected several times to the Greek Parliament, and is also buried in the democracy of the First Cemetery.

 (3) The National Republican Greek League (EDES) was the largest of the non-communist resistance groups. Its military wing, the National Groups of Greek Guerrillas (ΕΟΕΑ) concentrated its military activities in Epirus.

(4) Stalin did offer some support but never enough to affect the outcome and seemed happy enough to encourage the communists to fight because it kept his new post war enemies off guard.

(5) When Stalin died, Vafeiadis was reinstated into the communist party, kicked out again in 1964 and restored in 1968. He seems to have been too much of an independent thinker for the policy needs of a communist party.

(6) Yosef was only granted permission to remove his father’s bones after the fall of the Soviet Union, not before. There is an irony there…

(7) Both funerals were Orthodox, an interesting fact all by itself. Suicides are supposed to be barred from Orthodox burial but the Church has shown a great deal of elasticity through the ages on this point.


Here you are spoiled for Choice and that is a good thing. It was a complicated Era. Red Acropolis, Black Terror, and An International Civil War By Andre Gerolymatos are both excellent. Greece since 1945: Politics Economy and Society by David H Close is also excellent as are many websites including https://cognoscotean.gr/archives/36198. The subject of amnesty for and the plight of the communist refugees is discussed in this blog’s article on Georgos Gennimatas and on Alki Zei: https://athensfirstcemeteryinenglish.blogspot.com/2022/12/georgos-and-fofi-gennimatas.html.   The funerals of both leaders can be found on youtube.



Παρασκευή 22 Σεπτεμβρίου 2023

Christian Heinrich Siegel


Christian Heinrich Siegel                ΚΡΙΣΤΙΑΝ ΧΕΙΝΡΙΧ ΣΙΥΚΕΛ

Born 1806 in Germany                    Died 1883 in Athens


Row E right at the far end of the Protestant Cemetery

It is true that Christian Heinrich Siegel the first teacher of modelling and sculpture at the newly formed Athens School of Arts has not left much of a visible legacy (a huge sleeping lion in Nauplio and a sculpted grave in the First Cemetery) but his spiritual legacy is immense because he helped to mold  the aesthetic and the skills of the first generation of Greece’s sculptors. The details of his almost 50 years in Greece are sketchy but worth examining because his time in Greece offers a glimpse into the beginnings of the modern state. His life is typical of the optimism, skill sets, and entrepreneurship that characterized so many young Europeans who came to Greece to help create the nation and, hopefully, to make their fortunes. Like many artists-entrepreneurs of that era, Siegel would dabble extensively in archaeology, real estate, and business, in his case marble quarries.  Unlike many Germans, he chose to stay and even began to sign his name in the Greek fashion- ΣΙΓΚΕΛΟΣ, quite a compliment to his adopted country.


His Life

Christian was born in Wandsbek, now a district in the city of Hamburg, Germany in 1808. He travelled due north to study at Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, modelled after the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris and then one of the best Academies in Europe. Denmark was undergoing a cultural renaissance of sorts after the Napoleonic wars and this school would produce famous sculptors such as Herman Freund (1786-1840) and Bertel Thorvaldsen (1797-1838). The neoclassical style, in vogue at the time, would be absorbed by the young Christian and later by his pupils in Greece. He completed his studies in the Munich Academy under Ludwig Michael Schwanthaler and in 1837-8 back in Hamburg under Otto Sigsmund Runge.


The Danish Academy’s Seal


The European Academies and the spread of Neoclassicism

It is amazing in that pre-internet world, how interconnected and homogeneous the aesthetic ideals at these academies were and how easily ideas gravitated from one centre to the other.  Many students studied in multiple academies before graduation and, no doubt, this would have produced a kind of ‘old boys’ network valuable to students, not just for a shared aesthetic, but also because of the connections they made that could lead to those all important future commissions.

The Neoclassical style itself was partly a reaction against rococo excesses but was also fuelled by the intense contemporary interest in all things classical, especially classical sculpture which, literally, was being unearthed in Italy and Greece during that period. Students at European art academies were always tasked with copying these newly discovered forms which then became a part of their artistic DNA.  Neoclassicism, like classicism itself, placed emphases on clarity of contour, the idealization of faces and bodies, decorum in positioning, and an overall sense of repose which, all together, projected a sense of timelessness and the ideal.  The preferred attire was classical rather than contemporary. (1) The Venus de Milo, discovered in 1820, could be taken as a beau ideal for neoclassical sculpture.


Neoclassicism was a style that suited 19th century Greece perfectly, not just because it was already popular in Europe and the natural heritage of the country, but also because one of the aims of the new state was to stress its connection with the ancient Greece and to present the modern state in an equally idealized form.


Greece gets a German King in 1832 and a lot of Germans Answer his Call

Greece’s fight for freedom had captured the imagination of Europe as did the investiture in 1832 of 17 year old King Othon, the son of Ludwig I of Bavaria. Greece provided opportunities for European artists and architects with the right connections, - connections which Christian Siegel had. His teacher in Munich was one of King Ludwig’s master craftsmen and Hans Christian Hansen (1803-1883), the Danish architect who would have such an early influence in Athens had been a student in Copenhagen during the same period as Siegel.

Siegel arrived in Greece in 1834, (2) to work with Hansen who needed artisans to decorate a building complex planned for land bought by Georgios Kantakouzenos at the corner of Millerou and Leonidou in what is today’s Metaxourgeio.  Siegel was in his late twenties and Hansen in his early thirties. Works were being sponsored by King Ludwig, and the many wealthy Greeks who had flocked to Greece from the diaspora to buy land and finance the reconstruction of the city. It was a wonderful time to be an architect or artisan; Athens was rising from the ashes of the War of Independence and had just been designated as Greece’s capital city.


A False Start in Metaxourgeiou

Kantakouzenos, a wealthy Phanariot, had bought this site for development  primarily because it would be near the proposed royal palace then planned in today’s  Omonia Square. He was not the only land speculator to be bitterly disappointed when the palace was actually built on the east side of today’s Syntagma  Square. The new Athens elite all wanted to build near that all important palace. As a result, the area where the Kantakouzenos complex had been planned became less desirable, and more industrial. The complex was abandoned for a time and then altered to later become the site of the silk factory that has given the district its name today. Its latest incarnation is as the Athens Municipal Art Gallery. (3)



1: where Kantakouzenos bought, 2: the proposed palace site, and 3: where it was built. These distances in today’s mega city seem small, but they were not considered small in the 1830s.


In any case, Hansen signed off the project almost immediately, angry that his original design was not being followed. He went on to greater things: the design and construction of the main building of the University of Athens and the excavation and reconstruction of the Acropolis’ temple of Athena Nike.

 Siegel remained in Athens, looking for work.

In 1838, he received a commission from King Ludwig 1 to erect a suitable monument to the Royal Bavarian Guards who had succumbed to typhoid in Nauplio during the terrible epidemic of 1833-4. (4)



Completed in 1840-41, and located in the Pronoia district close to the city centre, it is carved out of the native slate rock and is 8 metres long and three metres high.


I love this monument. I came across it on one of my first visits to Greece and had no idea what an immense lion was doing, snoozing in a suburb of Nauplio.  Its pose is wonderfully mournful, and those immense and relaxed paws are awesome yet somehow endearing as they hang over the ‘tomb’. Some have suggested that this lion was inspired the famous archaic lion of the island of Kea. It too was immense and carved from the living rock. But our feline’s true ancestor lives in Switzerland. He is the Lion of Lucerne, a memorial to fallen soldiers completed by Bertel Thorvaldsen in 1821. Bertel was nine years older than Siegel, more famous, and, like Siegel, a graduate of the Danish School of Fine Arts. His monument had clearly made an impression on Siegel. (5)



Thorvaldsen’s lion.


This early photograph taken by Carl Siele in 1910 gives you a better idea of the grandeur of ‘our’ lion’s situation and size. The effect is slightly hi-jacked these days by the children’s playground at its base. Still, the lion sleeps on....


1842 saw Siegel working on the decorative marble bits for the new palace of the King as well as taking part in the resurrection of some of the monuments on the Acropolis rock. It seems as if every philhellene did a little digging or resurrecting of the past during their careers.

At one time he apparently had a residence and workshop for modelling in the modified Kantakouzenos complex, the complex that had brought him to Greece in the first place. Another source has him living on either Piraeus or Menandrou Street, a neighbour  of Duchess of Plaisance, an early benefactor of the Athens school of Arts; another has him living in a garden home of the Austrian Consul. Siegel was not making a lot of money during his early career which might explain his many moves. His main sources of income were marble busts. In those days before photography, the wealthy liked to immortalize themselves and their families in marble.


The School of Fine Arts

His work must have appreciated though because 1847 saw him, at the age of 41, hired to teach modelling and sculpture at the Athens school of Fine Arts, a position he would hold until 1859. This school was responsible for turning Greek marble workers into accomplished artists. The school had first opened in 1836 on weekends only because its students, of necessity, had day jobs. It apparently taught the Greek language as well because some of its early students had not attended school long enough to gain literacy or had not attended at all. By 1840, it was offering daily classes.  The influence of this school and the art its graduates produced for buildings and public spaces in Athens would be impossible to over-estimate.

Siegel’s students read like a who’s who of 19th century Greek sculpture:  the Kossos brothers, Demitrios (1819-1872) and Ioannis (1822-73), the Fytalis Brothers, Georgos ( 1830-73) and Lazaros (1831-1909) and, later,  Leonidas Drosis (1834-1882) who did so much of the sculptural decoration for the Athens university and is now considered the greatest exponent of neoclassicism in Greece. He would have been 15 when Siegel stopped teaching, but many began their schooling at that age or younger. In any case, Siegel was a major influence. (6)


Some Neoclassic Busts of the Era


Psyche by Ioannis Kossos


Queen Amalia of Greece by the Fytalis Brothers now in the National Historical Museum on Stadiou Street


The Fytalis brothers again in 1883




 Leonidas Drossis’ bust of Irini Mavrokordatos.


The Marble Trade

As you might expect of any sculptor in Greece, Siegel was fascinated by its storied ancient quarries, many of which were still producing.  Marble was big business in the 19th century and there was an ever growing export market. Architects, diplomats, philhellenes and the artists themselves were eager to invest. Architect and town planner, Stamatis Kleanthis, already owned quarries on the island of Tinos in the 1840s. Siegel’s first investment was a quarry in Axinoi, on Tinos circa 1849-50.  He successfully presented some of this marble at an exhibition in London in 1851. The Prussian king was so impressed, he made a large order through Karl Kloebe, his consul in Greece. Kloebe and Christian went into the marble business together. This is all very vague because there are very few records of ownership during this period.  We do know that when Siegel died, Kloebe continued their business for a time.

Between 1850 and 1855, Siegel was often abroad, accepting European commissions and promoting Greek marble.

In 1857 he rediscovered the ancient marble quarries near Lagia (above the village of Dimaristika) in the Mani which contained the famous rosy rosso antico, quarried in Greece since Mycenean times.  Even today it is an out of the way spot. It must have seemed like the back of the moon to Siegel


The Quarry near Lagia. Visiting today is still an adventure.

1859 saw him investing in another Tinian quarry, this time with green veins.  Siegel could now boast red and green Greek marble, perhaps the rarest hues of all.





Siegel in the First Cemetery


Section 4, Number 102


In 1864, Siegel created the grave stele of Elisabeth Werberg in the First Cemetery. It is a bas relief, a version of the Mourning Spirit whose appearance in one form or another goes back to antiquity.  She (or he in some cases, with or without wings), was a favourite motif in the 19th century and depictions go from severe neoclassical to downright romantic.  She holds a long torch upside down to symbolize the end of life. The mourning spirit and the extinguished (or extinguishing) torch can be seen over and over again in the First Cemetery. That little Athenian owl at her feet is a harbinger of death; the laurel it is perched on a symbol of a life well lived.  Siegel signed his name ΣΙΓΚΕΛΟΣ under the angel’s feet.  (ΑΘΗΝΗΘΕΝ ΕΡΓΟΝ ΣΙΓΕΛΟΣ)

If this angel is not a perfect fit into the neoclassical mould promoted at the School of Fine Arts, it does well to remember that funeral monuments were an important source of income for sculptors in Greece, and were made to please the tastes of the families of the deceased.

Siegel’s angel closely resembles in stance and expression an earlier and smaller Mourning Spirit on a tomb of the Malakates brothers.


The Damaskinos Family, Section One, Number 172: Same hair, same pose, but no owl or laurel.


A Fytalis brothers’ mourning angel in Section 4, Number 183 done in 1883 with an owl


It can be an interesting pastime to track down these mourning figures and their symbols while walking in the First Cemetery. Some sport owls, others lamps or wreaths.  All wear classical dress even if some of it is draped over a naked form.


 Siegel’s Last Years and another Lion

Siegel’s career may have got off the ground with a sleeping lion, but it was intended to end with a sitting one. The head and paws of the Lion of Chaironeia had been discovered by British travellers in 1820 who promptly reburied it in order to save it for the British Museum. Luckily that never happened. There were several efforts to resurrect the lion, some of which involved Siegel.


The lion had been erected by Thebes to commemorate their war dead (the Sacred Band) after their defeat by Phillip of Macedonin in 388 BC


The Greek Archaeological Society had considered a restoration in 1839 and had successfully petitioned King Othon for the task, assuring him that German donors would pay the bill. That plan fell through in 1843 after a Greek uprising forced Othon to grant the country a constitution.  This offended the donors. It seems they were willing to patronise only as long as they could also be patronising. They withdrew their money, their leader dismissing Greece as an ‘uppity mini country’.  German phihellenism had its limits!

Siegel submitted his plan for restoring the lion in 1856 but nothing happened, not even after the summer of 1879 when he travelled to the site with Lazaris Fytalis in another attempt to resurrect the beast. Siegel was in his 70s then and still going strong. He wanted to take part in the excavation of ancient Chaironeia as well as placing the lion back on its paws.  


The lion finally roared in 1902, and is a bit of a patchwork, not much of it Siegel’s.


Seigel died in 1883 and is buried in the Protestant Cemetery under a monument he would surely have approved of.






In an obituary at the time, his connection with the marble quarries in Lakonia and Tinos are mentioned. But his real legacy was the students he taught.



(1)   A dress code exception was made for heroes of the revolution such as Varvakis and Capodistria.

(2)  Some say 1835.

(3)  The site, or part of it, is now the Athens Municipal Gallery, and well worth a visit if only to explore the old building and the area.


The Old silk factory has had a stylish makeover

(4)  The Bavarian Guards who were sent to Greece, many of whom stayed on, have kind of slipped out of the national consciousness. They did not all die of Typhoid as the small Catholic church in the suburb of Palio Iraklio (an area set aside for the troops to live) testifies.

(5)  Or maybe on King Ludwig who perhaps wanted to outdo the one in Lucerne.

(6)  Whether or not the Malakates brothers from Tinos attended the school in its early days is unknown to me. They opened an Athenian  workshop in 1834 and were reputed to be self taught. But, either they picked up the neoclassicist aesthetic from the air, or they too were early weekend attendees.



Sources on Siegel are few and far between

https://slpress.gr/politismos/enas-germanos-glyptis-sto-metaxoyrgeio/ best article on him

Material on Chaironeia from https://berlinarchaeology.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/ma-2008.pdf