Phanariotes, Phanariots, or Phanariote Greeks (Greek: Φαναριώτες, Romanian: Fanarioţi) were members of those prominent and predominantly Greek families residing in Fener ("Lighthouse" in Turkish, from the Greek word Φανάρι, Fanari, meaning "Lantern"), the chief Greek quarter of Constantinople (now known as Istanbul), where the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is situated. Phanariotes dominated the administration of the Patriarchate and frequently intervened in the selection of prelates, including the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who has the status of "first among equals" among the world's Orthodox bishops.

Some members of these families, which had acquired great wealth and influence during the 17th century, occupied high political and administrative posts in the Ottoman Empire. From 1669 until 1821 Phanariotes served as dragomans to the Ottoman government (the Sublime Porte) and to foreign embassies. Along with the church dignitaries and the local notables from the provinces, Phanariotes were the ruling class of the Greek nation during Ottoman rule and until the eruption of the War of Independence. During the latter, Phanariotes played a crucial role and influenced the decisions of the National Assembly, the representative body of the Greek revolutionaries, which met on six occasions between 1821 and 1829.

Between the years 1711–1716 and 1821, a number of them were appointed Hospodars (Voivodes or Princes) of the Danubian Principalities (Moldavia and Wallachia), usually as a promotion from dragoman offices; that period of Moldo-Wallachian history is also usually termed the Phanariote epoch.

Establishment as a ruling class

After the 1453 Fall of Constantinople, when the Sultan virtually replaced de facto and de jure the Byzantine Emperor among the subjugated Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was recognized by the Sultan as the religious and national leader of the unredeemed Greeks. According to the prominent Greek historian Nikos G. Svoronos, the Patriarchate of Constantinople earned such a primary importance and occupied this key role among the Christians of the empire, because the Ottomans would not distinguish between nationality and religion and regarded all the Orthodox christians of the empire as an entity.[1] The position of the Patriarchate in the Ottoman state fed the dream of a national resuscitation and many Greeks longed for the resurrection and revitalization of a Hellenized Byzantine Empire.[1] The Patriarch and the church dignitaries aroud him constituted the first centre of power for the unredeemed Greeks, succeeding in infiltrating the structures of the Ottoman Empire, and attracted the former nobility of the Byzantine Empire.

Since the beginning of the 17th century two other social groups, which remained for centuries under the influence of the Patriarchate, emerge and challenged the leadership of the Church.[2] These powerful social classes were Phanariotes in the capital of the Empire and the local notables in the provinces. According to Constantine Paparregopoulus, one of the major Greek historians, Phanariotes initially sought for the most important secular offices of the Patriarchical Court and, therefore, they could frequently intervene in the selection of bishops. and influence the crucial decisions of the Patriarch.[3] This small group af the old Byzantine aristocracy resided in Fener or Phanari (the extreme northwestern district of Constantinople, where the headquarters of the Greek Patriarch were established) and therefore they were called Phanariotes.[4]

Phanariotes soon acquired some important administrative posts and offices in the Ottoman administration. The Ottoman government also asigned them the Imperial tax collection and the rule of the Danubian Principalities (Moldavia and Wallachia) .[4] At the same time, they were involved into the commerce and acquired great control over the Black Sea wheat trade.[4] They managed to expand their commercial activities first to Hungary and then to all the states of the central Europe. Such activities brought them into contact with Western nations, and as a consequence they became familiar with Western languages and cultures. In this way, Phanariotes became an educated class of Greeks who acquired great economic and political prosperity, dominating the commerce of the empire and occupying key adminstrative positions.[4]

Stabilization of their influence

After the third quarter of the 17th century, Phanariotes managed to strengthen their position within the Ottoman empire. During this period the Ottomans began facing problems in the conduct of their foreign relations, and were having difficulties in dictating terms to their neighbours. The Sublime Porte was faced for the first time with the need of participating in diplomatic negotiations. Yet Islamic pride had up to that point regarded Western languages and cultures unworthy of attentions, and Ottoman officials found themselves completely unable and unwilling to handle such affairs. Under those circumstances the Ottoman porte assigned those tasks to the Greeks Being educated and having learnt foreign languages, Phanariotes at this period constituted the most dynamic class of the unredeemed Greeks. As a result, they came to occupy the high posts of the Interpreter of the Sublime Port and of the Interepreter of the Fleet.[4]

During the 18th century, Phanariotes appear as a hereditary clerical aristocratic cast, which manages the affairs of the Patriarchate and becomes the dominant political power of the redeemed Hellenism.[5] At the same time they grew to be an important poiltical factor in the Ottoman Empire and they play a considerable role in the affairs of England, France and Russia.[5] Just before the eruption of the Greek World of Independence, Phanariotes were established as the political aristocracy of the Greek nation. According to Paparregopoulus, since Phanariotes were educated and ruled vast regions of the Empire, it was normal to become an eminent class of the nation, surpassing all the others.[3] On the other side, Svoronos argued that they subordinated their national identity to their class identity, since they just endeavor to achive the peaceful co-existence between the conqueror and the conquered. Svoronos believes that, in this way, Phanariotes failed to enrich the Greek national identity and lost ground to the groups that grew through their confrontation with the Ottoman Empire, first the klephts and then the Armatoloi.[6]

Phanariote rule of the Danubian Principalities

Establishment and contrasts

The period is not to be understood as marking the introduction into the Principalities of the Greek element, which had already established itself in both provinces, to both of which Greek Princes had been appointed before the 18th century. After the end of the Phanariote epoch, various Romanian families of Phanariote Greek ancestry survived in Romanian society - among them, the Rosetti family, whose member C. A. Rosetti represented the radical cause during and after the 1848 Wallachian revolution, and the Ghicas, who held the throne in Wallachia with Grigore IV and Alexandru II).

The attention of Phanariotes was concentrated on occupying the most favorable offices the Empire could offer, but also to the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, which were still relatively rich, and more importantly, autonomous (despite having to pay tribute as vassal states). Many Greeks had found there favorable conditions for commercial activities, by far more advantageous when compared with the difficultes inside the Ottoman Empire, and also an opportunity to gain political power. Many had entered the ranks of Wallachian and Moldavian boyar nobility by marriage.

In rare occasions, reigns of local hellenized Princes were not excluded on principle. This situation had even determined two hellenized Romanian noble families, the Callimachis (originally Călmaşul) and Racoviţăs, to penetrate into the Phanar nucleus, in order to facilitate and increase their chances to occupy the thrones, and later to successfully maintain their positions.

While most sources would agree to 1711 being the moment where the gradual erosion of the traditional institutions had reached its ultimate stage, characteristics usually ascribed to the Phanariote era had made themselves felt long before it. The Ottoman overlord had been enforcing its choice for Hospodars throughout previous centuries (as far back as the 15th), and foreign — usually Greek or Levantine — boyars had been competing with the local ones since the late 1500s. Rulers since Dumitraşcu Cantacuzino in Moldavia and George Ducas, a Prince of Greek origin, in Wallachia (both in 1673) had been forced to surrender all of their families, and not just selected members, as hostages in Constantinople. At the same time, the traditional elective system in the Principalities had accounted for long periods of political disorder, and was in fact dominated by a small number of ambitious families (whether local or foreign), who had entered violent competition for the two thrones and monopolized land ownership[7] - a notable example is the conflict opposing the Craioveşti and the Cantacuzinos in the period before 1711.


The clear change in policy was determined by the fact that Wallachia and Moldavia, although autonomous, had entered a period of continuous skirmishes with the Ottomans, due to insubordination of the native princes, one especially associated with the rise of Imperial Russia's power under Peter the Great and the firm presence of the Habsburg Empire on the Carpathian border with the Principalities. Dissidence within the two countries became more dangerous for the Turks, who were now confronted with the attraction exercised on the population by the protection offered to them by a fellow Eastern Orthodox Empire. This became obvious with Mihai Racoviţă's second rule in Moldavia, when the Prince plotted with Peter to have Ottoman rule removed. Incidentally, his replacement, Nicholas Mavrocordatos, was also the first official Phanariote in his second reign in Moldavia (he was also to replace Ştefan Cantacuzino in Wallachia, as the first Phanariote ruler in that country).

A crucial moment in the policy change was the Russo-Turkish War of 1710-1713, when Dimitrie Cantemir sided with Russia and agreed to a Russian tutelage over his country. After Russia suffered a major defeat and Cantemir went into exile, the Ottomans took charge of the succession to the throne of Moldavia, soon followed by similar measures in Wallachia (in this case, prompted by Ştefan Cantacuzino's alliance with the Habsburg commander Prince Eugene of Savoy in the closing stages of the Great Turkish War).


Rulers and retinues

The person raised to the princely dignity was usually the chief Dragoman of the Sublime Porte, and was consequently well versed in contemporary politics and the statecraft of the Ottoman government.

The new Prince, who obtained his office in exchange for a heavy bribe (not a new requirement in itself), proceeded to the country which he was selected to govern, and of the language of which he was in most cases totally ignorant. Once the new Princes were appointed, they were escorted to Iaşi or Bucharest by retinues composed of their families, favourites, and their creditors (from whom they had borrowed the bribe funds). The prince and his appointees counted on recouping themselves in as short a time as possible for their initial outlay and in laying by a sufficiency to live on after the termination of the Princes' brief authority.

As a total for the two principalities together, 31 princes from 11 different families have ruled during the Phanariote epoch. Many times they were exiled or even executed: of these 31 princes, seven suffered a violent death, and a few were executed at their own courts of Bucharest or Iaşi. The fight for the throne could become as harsh as to provoke murders carried out among members of the same family.

When, owing to relatively numerous cases of treachery among the Princes, the choice became limited to a few families, it became frequent that rulers would be shifted from one principality to the other: the Prince of Wallachia, the richer of the two Principalities, would pay certain sums in order to avert his transfer to Iaşi, while the Prince of Moldavia would bribe supporters in Istanbul in exchange for his appointment to Wallachia. For example, Constantine Mavrocordatos accumulated a total of ten different rules in Moldavia and Wallachia. It is very relevant that the debt was owed to various creditors, and not to the Sultan himself: in fact, the central institutions of the Ottoman Empire were determined to maintain their rule over the Principalities, and not exploit them irrationally. In one early example, Ahmed III even paid part of Nicholas Mavrocordatos' debt.

Administration and boyars

The Phanariote epoch was initially characterized by excessive fiscal policies, driven by both Ottoman needs and by the ambitions of some of the Hospodars (who, mindful of their fragile status, sought to pay back their creditors and increase their wealth while they still were in a position of power). In order to make the reigns lucrative while raising funds that would satisfy the needs of the Porte (increased during the Stagnation of the Ottoman Empire), Princes channeled their energies into spoliation, and the inhabitants, liable to increasing and diversified taxation, were in many instances reduced to destitution. However, the most hated taxes identified with the Phanariotes were of relevant tradition (such as the văcărit, first imposed by Iancu Sasul in the 1580s).

The malignant effects of many Phanariote rules are in contrast with the achievements and projects of others, such as Constantine Mavrocordatos' (who abolished serfdom in 1746 in Wallachia, and in 1749 in Moldavia) and Alexander Ypsilantis'. Ypsilantis tried to reform the legislation and impose salaries for administrative offices - in an effort to halt the depletion of funds through the sums the administrators, local and Greek alike, were using for their own maintenance (it had by then become more profitable to hold office than to own land). His Pravilniceasca condică, a rather modern legal code, met stiff boyar resistance.

In fact, the focus of such rules was many times the improvement of state structures against conservative wishes. Documents for the time show that, despite the change in leadership and boyar complaints, around 80% of those seated in the Divan (an institution roughly equivalent to the Estates of the realm) were members of traditionally local families.[8] This tended to render endemic the social and economical issues of previous periods, as the inner circle of boyars not only managed to block initiatives such as Alexander Ypsilantis', but also pressured for tax exemptions — which they obtained, extended, and successfully preserved.[9]

After the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji (1774) allowed Russia to intervene on the side of Ottoman Eastern Orthodox subjects, most of the Turkish political pressures became ineffective. The Porte had to further offer concessions, with the imperative of maintaining hold over the countries as economical and stategic assets: the treaty made any increase in the tribute impossible, and, between 1774 and the 1820s, it plummeted from around 50,000 to 20,000 gold coins (equivalent to Austrian gold currency) in Wallachia, and just 3,100 in Moldavia.[10]

In the immediately following period, Russia made use of its new prerogative with notable force: the deposition of Constantine Ypsilantis (in Wallachia) and Alexander Mourousis (in Moldavia) by Selim III, called on by the French Empire's ambassador to Turkey, Horace Sébastiani (whose fears of pro-Russian conspiracies in Bucharest were partly confirmed), constituted the casus belli for the conflict of 1806-1812 (the Russian general Mikhail Andreyevich Miloradovich swiftly reinstated Ypsilantis during his military expedition to Wallachia).

Such gestures inaugurated a period of effective Russian supervision, which culminated with the Organic Statute administration of the 1830s; the Danubian Principalities grew in strategic importance with the Napoleonic Wars and the Decline of the Ottoman Empire, as European states became interested in halting Russian southwards expansion (of which a noted development was the annexation of Bessarabia in 1812). In turn, the new consulates opened in the two countries' capitals, as a means to ensure observation of developments in Russian-Ottoman relations, had an indirect impact over the local economy, as rival diplomats began awarding their protection and sudit status to merchands competing with the local guilds.

In parallel, the boyars started a petitioning campaign against the Princes in power: although sometimes addressed to the Porte and even the Habsburg Monarchy, they mostly demanded Russian supervision. While making reference to cases of corruption and misrule, the petitions show their signers' conservative intentions. The boyars tend to refer to specific, but nonetheless fictitious, Capitulations that either of the Principalities would have signed with the Ottomans - demanding that the rights guaranteed through them be restored.[11] They also viewed with suspicion reform attempts on the side of Princes, claiming these were not legitimate - in alternative proposals (usually taking the form of constitutional projects), the boyars express a wish for the establishment of an aristocratic republic.[12]

Ending and legacy

The active part taken by the Greek Princes in revolts after 1820 (see Greek War of Independence), together with the chaos provoked by Philikí Etaireía occupation in Moldavia and Tudor Vladimirescu's Wallachian uprising, led to the disappearance of promotions from within the Phanar community. Relevant for the tense relations between boyars and princes, Vladimirescu's revolt was, for most of its duration, the result of compromise between Oltenian pandurs and the regency of boyars attemptingto block the ascention of Scarlat Callimachi, the last Phanariote ruler in Bucharest.[13]

Ioan Sturdza's rule in Moldavia and Grigore IV Ghica's in Wallachia are considered the first of the new period: as such, the new regime was to have its own abrupt ending with the Russian occupation during another Russo-Turkish War, and the subsequent period of Russian influence (see Regulamentul Organic).

Condemnation of the Phanariotes is a particular focus of Romanian nationalism, usually integrated with the resentment of foreigners as a whole. The tendency unifies pro- and anti-modernising attitudes: Phanariotes may represent reactionary elements (as their image was presented by Communist Romania), as well as agents of brutal and opportunistic change (as illustrated by Mihai Eminescu's Scrisoarea a III-a).

Roumania Past and Present


  1. ^ a b Svoronos, 83
  2. ^ Svoronos, 87
  3. ^ a b Paparrigopoulos, Eb, 108
  4. ^ a b c d e Svoronos, 88
  5. ^ a b Svoronos, 89
  6. ^ Svoronos, 91
  7. ^ Djuvara, p.123, 125-126
  8. ^ Djuvara, p.124
  9. ^ Djuvara, p.69
  10. ^ Berza
  11. ^ Djuvara, p.123
  12. ^ Djuvara, p.319
  13. ^ Djuvara, p.89


  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Mihai Berza, "Haraciul Moldovei şi al Ţării Româneşti în sec. XV–XIX", in Studii şi Materiale de Istorie Medie, II, 1957, p.7–47
  • Neagu Djuvara, Între Orient şi Occident. Ţările române la începutul epocii moderne, Humanitas, Bucharest, 1995
  • Vlad Georgescu, Istoria ideilor politice româneşti (1369-1878), Munich, 1987 (in Romanian)
  • Paparrigopoulos, Konstantinos (-Karolidis, Pavlos)(1925), History of the Hellenic Nation (Volume Ab). Eleftheroudakis (in Greek).
  • Svoronos, Nikos (2004). “The Ideology of the Organization and of the Survival of the Nation”, The Greek Nation. Polis. ISBN 9-604-35028-5.

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