The Morea expedition (French: Expédition de Morée) is the name given to the land intervention of the French Army in the Peloponnese[N 1] between 1828 and 1833, at the time of the Greek War of Independence, in order to liberate the region from the Turkish-Egyptian occupation forces. It was also accompanied by a scientific mission.
After the fall of Messolonghi in 1826, Western Europe decided to intervene in favor of revolutionary Greece. Their attitude toward the Ottoman Empire's Egyptian ally, Ibrahim Pasha, was especially critical; their primary objective was to elicit the evacuation of the occupied regions, the Peloponnese in particular. The intervention began when a Franco-Russo-British fleet was sent to the region and won the Battle of Navarino in October 1827. In August 1828, a French expeditionary corps of 15,000 men led by General Nicolas-Joseph Maison landed in the southwestern Peloponnese. The soldiers were stationed on the peninsula until the evacuation of Egyptian troops in October, and then took control of the principal strongholds still held by the Turkish troops. Although the bulk of the troops returned to France after 8 months, early 1829, the French presence remained in the area until 1833.
As during Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign, when a Commission des Sciences et des Arts had accompanied the military campaign, a scientific expedition (Expédition scientifique de Morée) accompanied the troops. Nineteen scientists, under the direction of the naturalist and geographer Jean-Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent, representing different specialties, natural history and antiquities (archaeology, architecture and sculpture) made the voyage. Their work was of major importance to increase knowledge about the country. As an example, the topographic maps they produced were widely acknowledged. More significantly, the measurements, drawings, profiles, plans and proposals for the theoretical restoration of the monuments of Peloponnese, of Attica and of the Cyclades were, following James Stuart and Nicholas Revett's Antiquities of Athens, a new attempt to systematically and exhaustively catalogue ancient Greek ruins. The Morea expedition and its scientific publications offered a near-complete description of the regions visited and formed a scientific, aesthetic and human inventory that remained for a long time one of the best achieved about Greece.
In 1821, the Greeks revolted against centuries-long Ottoman rule. They won numerous victories early on and declared independence on 1st January 1822. However, the declaration contradicted the principles of the Congress of Vienna and of the Holy Alliance, which imposed a European equilibrium of the status quo, outlawing any possible change. In contrast to what happened elsewhere in Europe, the Holy Alliance did not intervene to stop the liberal Greek insurgents.
The liberal and national uprising displeased the Austria of Metternich, the principal political architect of the Holy Alliance. However, Russia, another reactionary gendarme of Europe, looked favorably on the insurrection due to its Orthodox religious solidarity and its geostrategic interest (control of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus). France, another active member of the Holy Alliance, had just intervened in Spain against liberals at Trocadero (1823) but held an ambiguous position: Paris saw the liberal Greeks first and foremost as Christians, and their uprising against the Muslim Ottomans had undertones of a new crusade. Great Britain, a liberal country, was interested in the situation of the region, primarily because it was on the route to India and London wished to exercise there a form of control. Finally, for all of Europe, Greece represented the cradle of Western civilization and of art since antiquity.
The Greek victories had been short-lived. The Sultan had called to his aid his Egyptian vassal Muhammad Ali, who had dispatched his son Ibrahim Pasha to Greece with a fleet and 8,000 men, later adding a further 25,000 troops. Ibrahim's intervention proved decisive: much of the Peloponnese had been reconquered in 1825; the gateway town of Messolonghi had fallen in 1826; Athens had been taken in 1827. All that Greek nationalists still held was Nafplion, Mani, Hydra, Spetses and Aegina.
A strong current of philhellenism developed in Western Europe. Thus it was decided to intervene in favor of Greece, the cradle of civilization and Christian vanguard in the Orient whose strategic location was obvious. By the Treaty of London of July 1827,[N 2] France, Russia and the United Kingdom recognized the autonomy of Greece, which remained a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. The three powers agreed to a limited intervention in order to convince the Porte to accept the terms of the convention. A plan to send a naval expedition as a demonstration of force was proposed and adopted. A joint Russian, French and British fleet was sent to exercise diplomatic pressure against Constantinople. The Battle of Navarino (20 October 1827), fought after a chance encounter, resulted in the destruction of the Turkish-Egyptian fleet.
In 1828, Ibrahim Pasha thus found himself in a difficult situation: he had just suffered a defeat at Navarino; the joint fleet exercised a blockade which prevented him from receiving reinforcements and supplies; his Albanian troops, whom he could no longer pay, had returned to their country under the protection of Theodoros Kolokotronis’ Greek troops. On August 6, 1828, a convention had been signed at Alexandria between the viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, and the British admiral Edward Codrington. Ibrahim Pasha had to evacuate his Egyptian troops and leave Peloponnese to the few Turkish troops (estimated at 1,200 men) remaining there. However, Ibrahim Pasha refused to honor the agreement that had been reached and continued to control various Greek regions: Messenia, Navarino, Patras and several other strongholds. He had also even ordered the systematic destruction of Tripolitza.
In addition, the French government of Charles X was beginning to have doubts about its Greek policy. Ibrahim Pasha himself noted this ambiguity when he met General Maison in September: « Why France, after enslaving men in Spain in 1823, was now coming to Greece to make free men? » Eventually a liberal agitation, pro-Greek and inspired by what was then happening in that country, began to develop in France. The longer France waited, the more delicate her position vis-à-vis Metternich became. The ultra-royalist government thus decided to accelerate events. A land expedition was proposed to Great Britain, which refused to intervene directly. Meanwhile, Russia had declared war against the Ottoman Empire and its military victories were unsettling for London, which did not wish to see the Tsarist empire extend too far south. Thus Great Britain did not oppose an intervention by France alone.
Enlightenment philosophy had developed Western Europeans’ interest in Greece, or rather in an idealized Ancient Greece, the linchpin of Antiquity, as it was perceived and taught. The Enlightenment philosophers, for whom the notions of Nature and Reason were so important, believed that these had been the fundamental values of Classical Athens. The Ancient Greek democracies, and above all Athens, became models to emulate. There they searched for answers to the political and philosophical problems of their time. Works such as those of Abbé Barthélemy, Voyage du Jeune Anacharsis (1788), served to fix definitively the image that Europe had of the Aegean.
The theories and system of interpreting ancient art devised by Johann Joachim Winckelmann influenced European tastes for decades. His major work, History of Ancient Art, was published in 1764 and translated into French in 1766 (the English translation came later, in 1881). In this major work Winckelmann initiated the tradition of dividing ancient art into periods, classifying the works chronologically and stylistically.
The views of Winckelmann on art encompassed the entirety of civilization. He drew a parallel between a civilization's general level of development and the evolution of its art. He interpreted this artistic evolution the same way that his contemporaries saw the life cycle of a civilization, in terms of progress, apogee and then decline. For him, Greek art had been the pinnacle of artistic achievement, culminating with Phidias. Further, Winckelmann believed that the most beautiful works of Greek art had been produced under ideal geographic, political and religious circumstances. This frame of thought long dominated intellectual life in Europe. He classified Greek art into four periods: Ancient (archaic period), Sublime (Phidias), Beautiful (Praxiteles) and Decadent (Roman period).
Winckelmann's theories on the evolution of art culminated in the Sublime period of Greek art, which had been conceived during a period of complete political and religious liberty. The theories idealized Ancient Greece and increased people's desire to travel to contemporary Greece. It was seductive to believe, as he did, that 'good taste' was born beneath the Greek sky. He convinced 18th-century Europe that life in Ancient Greece was pure, simple and moral, and that classical Hellas was the source from which artists should draw ideas of “noble simplicity and calm grandeur”. Greece became the “motherland of the arts” and “the teacher of taste”.
The French government had planned the Morea expedition in the same spirit as those of James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, whose work it wished to complete. The semi-scientific expeditions commissioned and financed by the Society of Dilettanti remained a benchmark: these represented the first attempts to rediscover Ancient Greece. The first, that of Stuart and Revett to Athens and the islands, took place in 1751–1753, and resulted in The Antiquities of Athens, mined by architects and designers for a refined "Grecian" neoclassicism. The expedition of Revett, Richard Chandler and William Pars to Asia Minor took place between 1764 and 1766. Finally, the “work” of Lord Elgin on the Parthenon at the beginning of the 19th century had sparked further longing for Greece: it now seemed possible to build vast collections of ancient art in Western Europe.
The Chamber of Deputies authorized a loan of 80 million gold francs to allow the government to meet its obligations. An expeditionary corps of 13,000–15,000 men commanded by Lieutenant-General Nicolas Joseph Maison was formed. It was composed of three brigades commanded by the maréchaux de camp Tiburce Sébastiani (brother of Marshal Horace Sébastiani, soldier, diplomat and minister), Philippe Higonet, and Virgile Schneider. The Chief of the General Staff was General Antoine Simon Durrieu.
The expeditionary corps was made up of nine infantry regiments:[N 3]
Also departing were the 3rd Chasseur Regiment (286 men, commanded by Colonel Paul-Eugène de Faudoas-Barbazan), four companies of artillery (484 men, with 12 battery pieces for sieges, 8 for campaigns, and 12 for mountains) of the 3rd and 8th Artillery Regiments, and two companies of military engineers (426 sappers and miners).
A transport fleet protected by warships was organised; sixty ships sailed in all. Equipment, victuals, munitions and 1,300 horses had to be brought over, as well as arms, munitions and money for the Greek provisional government of Ioannis Kapodistrias. France wished to support the first steps of free Greece by helping it developing its own army. The aim was also to gain influence in the region.
After a brief and energetic proclamation[N 4] by General-in-Chief Nicholas Joseph Maison was read to the companies assembled the day before boarding, the first brigade left Toulon on August 17; the second, two days later; and the third on September 1. The general in command, Nicolas Joseph Maison, was with the first brigade, aboard the ship of the line Ville de Marseille. The first convoy was composed of merchant ships and except the Ville de Marseille, it included the frigates Amphitrite, Bellone and Cybèle. The second convoy was escorted by the ship of the line Duquesne and by the frigates Iphigénie and Armide.
After a boat trip without problems, the fleet transporting the two first brigades arrived in Navarino bay on August 28 at noon, where the joint Franco-Russo-British squadron was berthed. The Egyptian army was concentrated between Navarino and Methoni. Thus, the landing was risky. After a two-hour meeting between General Maison and Admiral Henri de Rigny, who came to meet him aboard the Conquérant, the fleet sailed toward the Gulf of Koroni protected by a fortress held by the Ottomans. The expeditionary corps started disembarking, without meeting any opposition, on the evening of August 29, and finishing it on the morning of August 30. A proclamation by governor Ioannis Kapodistrias had informed the Greek population about the imminent arrival of a French expedition. It was said that the locals would have rushed up before the troops as soon as they set foot on Greek soil to offer them food. The French discovered with horror a country that had just been ravaged by Ibrahim's troops: villages razed to the ground, agricultural crops entirely burned and a population still living under a yoke of terror, starving and secluded in caves.
The French pitched camp north of the plain of Koroni, ten minutes north of the ruins of ancient Coronea (near Petalidi), on the banks of the rivers Djané, Karakasili-Karya and Velika. The third brigade, which had borne up against a storm and lost three ships, managed to land at Koroni on September 16.
Ibrahim Pasha used a number of pretexts to delay the evacuation: problems with food supply or transport, or unforeseen difficulties in the strongholds’ handover. The French officers had difficulties in maintaining the fighting zeal of their soldiers, who for example had become excited at the (false) news of an imminent march on Athens. This impatience of the French troops was perhaps decisive in convincing the Egyptian commander to respect his obligations. Moreover, the French soldiers started suffering from the autumnal rains which drenched their camps of tents and favored the apparition of fever and especially of dysentery. On September 24, Louis-Eugène Cavaignac (Captain in the 2nd Engineer Regiment and future Prime Minister of France in 1848) wrote that thirty men of 400 in his company of military engineers were already affected by fever. General Maison wished to be able to set up his men in the fortresses’ barracks.
On September 7, following a long conference aboard the ship Conquérant, in the presence of General Maison and the three allied Admirals, Ibrahim Pasha accepted to evacuate his troops as of September 9. The agreement reached with General Maison provided that the Egyptians would leave with their arms, baggage and horses, but without any Greek slave or prisoner. As the Egyptian fleet could not evacuate the entire army in one go, supplies were authorized for the troops who remained on land; these men had just undergone a lengthy blockade. A first Egyptian division, 5,500 men and 27 ships, set sail on September 16, escorted by three ships from the joint fleet (two English ones and the French frigate Sirène).
The last Egyptian transport sailed away on October 5, taking Ibrahim Pasha. Of the 40,000 men he had brought from Egypt, he was taking back barely 20,000. A few Ottoman soldiers remained in order to hold the different strongholds of the Peloponnese. The next mission of the French troops was to “secure” them, and hand them back to independent Greece.
On September 15, the French troops had moved their camp from Petalidi and had crossed the Messenian peninsula to the west in order to get closer to Navarino. They had set up their new camp in the swampy plain of the Djalova, two leagues north of Navarino.
On October 6, the day after Ibrahim's departure, General Maison ordered General Higonet to march on Navarino. He left with the 16th Infantry Regiment, which included artillery and military engineers. Thus, Navarino's seacoast was put under siege by Admiral Henri de Rigny’s fleet and the land siege was undertaken by General Higonet's soldiers. The Turkish commander of the fort refused to surrender:
Hence, the sappers received an order to open a breach in the walls. General Higonet entered the fortress, held by 250 men who surrendered, without any single shot fired, with sixty cannons and 800,000 rounds of ammunition. The French troops settled permanently in Navarino, rebuilding its fortifications and houses and setting up a hospital and various features of local administration.
On October 7, the 35th Line Infantry Regiment, commanded by General Durrieu, accompanied by artillery and by military engineers, appeared before Methoni, a better fortified city defended by 1,078 men and a hundred cannons, and which had food supplies for six months. Two ships of the line, the Breslaw (Captain Maillard) and HMS Wellesley (Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland) blocked the port and threatened the fortress with their cannons. The fort's commanders, the Turk Hassan Pasha and the Egyptian Ahmed Bey, made the same reply as had the commander of Navarino. Methoni's fortifications were in a better state than those of Navarino. Thus the sappers focused on opening the city gate. The city's garrison did not defend it. The commanders of the fort later explained that they could not surrender it without disobeying the Sultan's orders, but also recognized that it was impossible for them to resist. Thus the fort had to be taken, at least symbolically, by force.
It was more difficult to take Koroni. General Sébastiani showed up there on October 7 with a part of his brigade. The fort commander's response was similar to those given at Navarino and Methoni. Sébastiani sent his sappers, who were pushed back by rocks thrown from atop the walls. A dozen men were wounded, among them Cavaignac and, more seriously, a captain, a sergeant and three sappers. The other French soldiers felt insulted and their general had great difficulty in preventing them from opening fire and taking the stronghold by force. The Amphitrite, the Breslaw and the Wellesley came to assist the ground troops. The threat they posed led the Ottoman commander to surrender. On October 9, the French entered Koroni and seized 80 cannons and guns, along with numerous victuals and munitions.
Patras had been controlled by Ibrahim Pasha since the evacuation of the Peloponnese. The third brigade had been sent by sea to take the city, located in the north-western part of the peninsula. It landed on October 4. General Schneider gave Hadji Abdullah, Pasha of Patras and of the “Castle of Morea”, twenty-four hours to hand over the fort. On October 5, when the ultimatum expired, three columns marched on the city and the artillery was deployed. The Pasha immediately signed the capitulation of Patras and of the “Castle of Morea”. However, the aghas who commanded the latter refused to obey their pasha, whom they considered a traitor, and announced that they would rather die in the ruins of their fortress than surrender.
However, as early as October 14, the corvette Oise had left for France, with Captain of Staff Jean Baptiste Eugène, Viscount Maison (son and aide-de-camp of General Maison) on board, who carried dispatches announcing to King Charles X the surrender of the places of Navarino, Modon, Coron and Patras, and that only one was still under the control of the Turks, the Castle of Morea.
The "Castle of Morea" guarded the entry to the Gulf of Corinth, near Rion. Bayezid II had built it in 1499. It is located beside the sea, 10 km north of Patras and next to the current Rio–Antirrio bridge.
General Schneider negotiated with the aghas, who persisted in their refusal to surrender. A siege was installed in front of the fortress and fourteen marine and field guns, placed a little over 400 meters away, reduced the artillery of those under siege to silence. Admiral de Rigny had General Maison put all his artillery and sappers on board from Navarino. He also sent, on October 20, by land, General Higonet, accompanied by two infantry regiments and by the 3rd Light Cavalry Regiment of the Chasseurs. Reinforcements arrived on the evening of October 26, after a rough week of intense walking, adjusted to the rhythm of the drum. New batteries nicknamed “for breaching” (de brèche) were installed. These received the names of Charles X (king of France), George IV (king of the United Kingdom), the Duke of Angoulême (son of the king and dauphin of France), the Duke of Bordeaux (grandson of the king, and future count of Chambord) and “Marine”. A part of the French fleet, including the Breslaw and the Conquérant, and the British HMS Blonde under Captain Edmund Lyons came to add their cannons.
On October 30, early in the morning, twenty-five heavy gun batteries (including six pieces for field, four howitzers, several mortars and an English bombard) opened fire. Within four hours, a breach was largely opened in the ramparts. Then, an emissary came out with a white flag to negotiate the terms of the fort's surrender. General Maison replied that the terms had been negotiated at the beginning of the month at Patras. He added that he did not trust a group of besieged men who had not respected a first agreement to respect a second one. He gave the garrison half an hour to evacuate the fort, without arms or baggage. The aghas submitted. However, the fortress’ resistance had cost 25 men, killed or wounded in the French expedition.
The French and British ambassadors had set themselves up at Poros and invited Constantinople to send a diplomat there so as to pursue negotiations over the status of Greece. The Porte persisted in refusing to participate in conferences. Hence, the French suggested to pursue the military operations and to extend them to Attica and Euboea. The British opposed this plan. Thus it was left to the Greeks to drive out the Ottomans from these territories, with the understanding that the French army would only intervene if the Greeks found themselves in trouble.
The troops of the Morea Expedition were gradually evacuated. The brigade in which Cavaignac was serving, and Dr. Roux embarked in the early days of April 1829. General Maison and the Chief of the General Staff, General Durrieu, did not leave until May 22, 1829;[N 5] Captain Duheaume, on August 4, 1829. Only a single brigade, so-called "of occupation", of 5,000 men (composed of the 27th, 42nd, 54th and 58th Line Infantry Regiments stationed in Navarin, Methoni and Patras) remained in the Peloponnese under the command of General Schneider. Fresh troops came from France to relieve the soldiers present in Greece: thus, the 57th Line Infantry Regiment landed at Navarino on July 25, 1830.
The French troops, first commanded by General Virgile Schneider and then, from July 1831, by General Charles Louis Joseph Olivier Guéhéneuc who replaced him, did not remain idle during these nearly five years. Fortifications were raised, like those at Methoni or Navarino.[N 6][N 7] Bridges were constructed, such as those over the Pamissos River between Kalamata and Methoni. The road Methoni–Navarino was also built. Finally, many improvements were made to the Peloponnesian cities (houses, barracks, hospitals, postal services, bridges, squares, fountains, gardens, etc.).[N 8]
The Ottoman Empire could no longer depend on Egyptian troops to hold Greece. The strategic situation now resembled that existing before 1825 and the landing of Ibrahim Pasha. Then, the Greek insurgents had triumphed on all fronts.
After the Morea military expedition, the Greeks only had to face the Turkish troops in Central Greece. Livadeia, gateway to Boeotia, was conquered at the beginning of November 1828. A counterattack by Mahmud Pasha from Euboea was repulsed in January 1829. In April, Naupaktos was restored to the Greeks; in May, Augustinos Kapodistrias recaptured the symbolic town of Messolonghi. However, it took the military victory of Russia in the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–29 and the Treaty of Adrianople before the independence of Greece was recognized, which was soon after ratified by the Treaty of Constantinople in July 1832.
The Greek territories that had been liberated by September 1829, a year after the Morea military expedition—Peloponnese and central Greece—were those which would form independent Greece after 1832.
Despite the brevity of the military operations and the small number of battles, the human cost of the French expedition was extremely heavy: between September 1, 1828 and April 1, 1829, the Chief Medical Officer of the expeditionary corps, Dr. Gaspard Roux, reported 4,766 illnesses and 915 deaths (including 23 officers, 1 surgeon, 2 pharmacists and 5 hospital administration officers), mainly from fevers, diarrhea and dysentery, which had been mostly contracted between October and December 1828 in the camps established within the marshy plains of Petalidi, in the mouth of the river Djalova (in Navarino Bay) or in Patras. Causes were also found in the intensity of the multiple and arduous works, as well as in the excessive consumption of salted meat, of spirits, and of the muddy and brackish water of the region. The purest air of winter, the establishment of men into fortresses's barracks, the immediate taking of strict hygiene and sanitation measures, the arrival of drugs from France, as well as the establishment of three military hospitals in Modon, Navarino and Patras will significantly reduce this hecatomb.
However, the total number of deaths would increase significantly thereafter (especially with the explosion of a gunpowder magazine within the fort of Navarino, which costed the lives to fifty soldiers on November 19, 1829,[N 7] and following the affair of Argos on January 16, 1833, which resulted in the death of three French soldiers), to reach, according to testimonies, a total number of 1,500 deaths.
Subsequently, memorials commemorating these fallen French soldiers were erected by the Greek and French states on the islet of Sphacteria in Navarino's bay and in the towns of Gialova and Nafplio, where they can still be seen today.
The Morea expedition was the second of the great military-scientific expeditions led by France in the first half of the 19th century. The first, used as a benchmark, had been the Egyptian one, starting in 1798 (Commission des sciences et des arts); the last took place in Algeria from 1839 (Commission d'exploration scientifique d'Algérie). All three took place at the initiative of the French government and were placed under the guidance of a particular ministry (Foreign relations for Egypt, Interior for Morea and War for Algeria). The great scientific institutions were recruiting scholars (both civilians and from the military) and were specifying their missions, but in situ work was done in close relation with the army.
The Commission of Sciences and Arts during Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, and especially the publications that followed, had become a model. As Greece was the other important « antique » region considered as the origin of Western civilization (one of the philhellenes’ principal arguments), it was decided to « take advantage of the presence of our soldiers who were occupying Morea to send a scholarly commission. It did not have to equal that attached to the glory of Napoleon […] It did however need to render eminent services to the arts and sciences. »
The Interior minister of King Charles X, real head of the government at the time (and childhood's friend in Bordeaux of Bory de Saint-Vincent), the Viscount of Martignac, charged six academicians of the Institute de France (Georges Cuvier, Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Charles-Benoît Hase, Desiré-Raoul Rochette, Jean-Nicolas Hyot and Jean-Antoine Letronne) to appoint the chief-officers and members of each section of the Scientific Committee. Jean-Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent was thus appointed director of the commission. They also set the routes and objectives. « Messrs. De Martignac and Siméon had asked me expressly not to restrict my observations to Flies and Herbs, but to extend them to places and to men » later wrote Bory.
The members of the scientific expedition landed from the frigate Cybèle at Navarino on March 3, 1829, after 21 days at sea. In Egypt and Algeria, scientific work took place under the army's protection. In Morea, the first troops were departing in the early days of April 1829, while the scientific exploration had barely begun. The army merely provided logistical support: « tents, stakes, tools, liquid containers, large pots and sacks; in a word, everything that could be found for us to use in the army’s storehouses ».
This section included several sciences: botany (Jean Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent and Louis Despreaux Saint-Sauveur), geography (Pierre Peytier), geology (Pierre Théodore Virlet d’Aoust and Émile Puillon Boblaye), and zoology (Antoine Vincent Pector, Gaspard-Auguste Brullé et Sextius Delaunay).
One of the first objectives fixed by the French government had been to draw precise maps of the Peloponnese, with a scientific purpose, but also for economic and military reasons. The Minister of War, the Vicomte de Caux, had written to General Maison on January 6, 1829:
“All the maps of Greece are very imperfect and were drawn up based on more or less inaccurate templates; it is thus essential to fix them. Not only will geography be enriched by this research, but we will in the process support France’s commercial interests by making her relations easier, and it will above all be useful for our ground and naval forces, who may find themselves involved in this part of Europe.”
Captain Pierre Peytier, of the topographic service of the French army, was invited to Greece by Governor Ioannis Kapodistrias before the arrival of the Scientific Expedition of Morea. He collaborated with it and after its departure, he remained alone until July 31, 1831 to complete the trigonometric, topographical and statistical work for the establishment of the map of Morea. In March 1829, a base of 3,500 meters had been traced in the Argolis, from one angle at the ruins of Tiryns to an angle of a house in ruins in the village of Aria. This was intended to serve as a point of departure in all the triangulation operations for topographic and geodesic readings in the Peloponnese. Peytier and Puillon-Boblaye proceeded to perform numerous verifications on the base and on the rulers used. The margin of error was thus reduced to 1 meter for every 15 kilometers. The longitude and latitude of the base point at Tiryns were read and checked, so that again the margin of error was reduced as far as possible to an estimated 0.2 seconds. 134 geodesic stations were set up on the peninsula's mountains, as well as on Aegina, Hydra and Nafplion. Thus, equilateral triangles whose sides measured about 20 km were drawn. The angles were measured with Gambey's theodolites. This « Map of 1832 », very precise, drawn at a 1/200,000 scale, over 6 sheets (plus two sheets depicting some of the islands of the Cyclades) was the first map of the Greek territory ever constructed scientifically and geodesically.
Peytier returned to Greece on March 28, 1833 and remained there until March 1836 to direct most of the work for the preparation of the complete map of the Kingdom of Greece at that time. This « Map of 1852 » was definitively published under his direction in 1852.
“The horrible heat that beset us in July placed, for the rest, the entire topographic brigade in disarray. These gentlemen, having worked in the sun, have nearly all taken ill and eight days ago, we grieved to see M. Dechièvre die at Napoli eight days ago.” (Bory de Saint-Vincent)
“Of twelve officers employed in the geodesic service, two are dead and all have been sick. Besides them, we have lost two sappers and a household servant.” (Puillon-Boblaye)
Jean Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent led the scientific expedition. Additionally, he made detailed botanical studies. He gathered a multitude of specimens: Flore de Morée (1832) lists 1,550 plants, of which 33 were orchids and 91 were grasses (just 42 species had not yet been described); Nouvelle Flore du Péloponnèse et des Cyclades (1838) described 1,821 species. In Morea, Bory de Saint-Vincent limited himself only to collecting the plants. He proceeded later to their classification, identification and description upon his return to France. He was then helped, not by his collaborators from Greece, but by Louis Athanase Chaubard, Jean-Baptiste Fauché and Adolphe-Théodore Brongniart. Similarly, the naturalists Étienne and his son Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire helped him writing and editing the expedition's scientific works. As the gathering process went along, they sent the plants, as well as birds and fish, to France.
The Morea expedition confirmed the existence in Greece of the golden jackal (Canis aureus). Although earlier travel narratives had mentioned its presence, these were not considered trustworthy. Moreover, the subspecies observed and described for the first time by the Morea Expedition (named Canis aureus moreoticus) was endemic to the region. Bory de Saint-Vincent brought back pelts and a skull.
The Institute appointed Léon-Jean-Joseph Dubois to head this section. Its mission was to locate eighty ancient sites (in Achaia, Arcadia, Elis and Messinia) using ancient literature. Their itinerary followed that of Pausanias the peregete. The sites had to be precisely located by a precise triangulation. Then, with the help of the architectural section, they had to make the plans (general and by building), to draw and cast the buildings and decorations, and to start excavations to clear buildings and antiques. Byzantine monasteries had been added to the itinerary: they had to try to buy some manuscripts.
However, this section did not succeed to achieve the huge program that had been originally set. Its members suffered from many diseases and fevers and started disagreeing. They each left in different directions and Dubois failed to impose his authority and to prevent them doing so. Their results were also never published. The main archaeological work was performed then by the section of architecture.
This section was formed by the Institut de France, which designated the architect Guillaume-Abel Blouet as its head. The Institut sent Jean-Baptiste Vietty, Amable Ravoisié, Pierre Achille Poirot, Frédéric de Gournay and Pierre Félix Trezel as his assistants.
The architect Jean-Nicolas Huyot gave very precise instructions to this section. Of wide-ranging experience formed in Asia Minor and Egypt and under the influence of engineers, he asked them to keep an authentic diary of their excavations where precision measurements read off watches and compasses should be written down, to draw a map of the region they traveled, and to describe the layout of the terrain.
The publication of the works on archaeology and art followed the same pattern as with the publication of the works on physical and natural sciences: that of an itinerary with descriptions of the roads traveled, noteworthy monuments along these routes, and descriptions of their destinations. Hence, volume I of Expédition de Morée. Section des Beaux Arts describes Navarino (pp. 1–7) with six pages of drawings (fountains, churches, the fortress of Navarino and the city of Nestor); then on pages 9–10, the road Navarino-Methoni is detailed with four pages of plates (a church in ruins and its frescoes, but also bucolic landscapes reminding the reader that the scene is not so far from Arcadia); and finally three pages on Methoni with four pages of drawings. The bucolic landscapes were rather close to the “norm” that Hubert Robert had proposed for the depictions of Greece. The presence of the troops from the expeditionary corps was important, alternating with that of the Greek shepherds:
“(…) their generous hospitality and simple and innocent manners reminded us of the beautiful period of pastoral life which fiction calls the Golden age, and which seemed to offer us the real characters of the Theocritus’ and Virgil’s eclogues.”
The archaeological expedition traveled through Navarino (Pylos), Methoni, Koroni, Messene and Olympia (described in the publication's first volume); Bassae, Megalopolis, Sparta, Mantineia, Argos, Mycenae, Tiryns and Nafplion (subjects of the second volume); the Cyclades (Syros, Kea, Mykonos, Delos, Naxos and Milos), Sounion, Aegina, Epidaurus, Troezen, Nemea, Corinth, Sicyon, Patras, Elis, Kalamata, the Mani Peninsula, Cape Matapan, Monemvasia, Athens, Salamis Island and Eleusis (covered in volume III).
Edgar Quinet (prominent French historian, intellectual and politician) had left with the rest of the expedition. However, from the time he arrived in Greece, he kept apart from his companions, as did another member of his section, the Lyon sculptor Jean-Baptiste Vietty. The two traveled through the Peloponnese separately and Quinet visited Piraeus on April 21, 1829, thence reaching Athens. He saw the Cyclades in May, starting with Syros. Being sick, he returned to France on June 5, and his Grèce moderne et ses rapports avec l’Antiquité was published in September 1831. Vietty pursued his research in Greece until August 1831, long after the expedition had returned to France at the end of 1829.
The artistic and archaeological exploration of the Peloponnese unfolded in the manner in which archaeological research was then conducted in Greece. The first step always involved an attempt to make an on-site check (a form of autopsy in the manner of Herodotus) against the texts of ancient authors like Homer, Pausanias or Strabo. Thus, at Navarino, the location of Nestor's city, the famous Pylos, was determined from Homer and the adjectives “inaccessible” and “sandy” (ἠμαθόεις). At Methoni, « the ancient remains of the port of which the description matches perfectly with that of Pausanias are enough to determine with certainty the location of the ancient town ».
Having explored Navarino, Methoni and Koroni, the members of the expedition returned to Messene, where they spent a month starting on April 10.
The expedition spent six weeks, starting on May 10, 1829, in Olympia. Abel Blouet et Léon-Jean-Joseph Dubois undertook the first excavations there. They were accompanied by the painters Pierre Achille Poirot, Pierre Félix Trezel et Amaury-Duval. The archaeological advice of Jean-Nicolas Huyot was followed:
“Following the instructions which had been given to him by the commission of the Institute, this antiquarian (Dubois) had begun the excavations of which the result had been the discovery of the first bases of the two columns of the pronaos and several fragments of sculpture.”
The site was divided into squares and excavations were undertaken in straight lines: archaeology was becoming rationalized, and it was in this way that the location of the temple of Zeus was determined. The simple treasure hunt was beginning to be abandoned. The fundamental contribution of the Morea scientific expedition was indeed its total indifference towards looting, treasure hunting, and antiquities smuggling. Blouet refused to perform excavations that risked damaging the monuments, and banned the mutilation of statues with the intent of taking a piece separated from the rest of the statue without regard. It is perhaps for this reason that the three metopes of the temple of Zeus discovered at Olympia were transferred in their entirety.[N 9] In any case, this willingness to protect the integrity of monuments undoubtedly represented an epistemological progress.
The French did not limit their interest to Antiquity; they also described and drew Byzantine monuments. Quite often, and until then for the travelers as well, only Ancient Greece mattered; medieval and modern Greece were ignored. Blouet, in his Expédition de Morée, gave very precise descriptions of the churches he saw, especially those of Navarin (Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior, inside the new fortress Néokastro), Osphino, Modon (Church of Saint Basil), Samari (Church of Zoodochou Pigis), or Androussa (Church of St. George) among others. For instance, plate 9 (I, II and III) of volume I deals with:
“Layout, section and perspective view of one of the two small churches of the village of Osphino, situated on the slope of the mountain to the left of the Navarino-Methoni road; (…); its interior, decorated with frescoes, is divided into two parts by a wall that forms a small closed sanctuary in the back, in which the priest stands to officiate.”
The results obtained by the Morea scientific expedition underscored the need to create a permanent, stable structure that would allow its work to continue. From 1846, it was possible to « systematically and permanently continue the work initiated so gloriously and so fortunately by the Morea scientific expedition » due to the creation on rue Didot, at the foot of Mount Lycabettus, of a French scientific institution, in the form of the French School at Athens.
Members of the military expedition
Notea : It is very difficult to find a complete and exhaustive list of the members of the scientific expedition. Often, it is necessary to make conjectures based on incomplete information. Names marked are those found in various sources, but still in doubt.