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Ali Pasha of Tepelena or of Yannina, the "Lion of Yannina", (1741 – January 24, 1822) was an Albanianmarker ruler (pasha) of the western part of Rumelia, the Ottoman Empire's European territory which was also called Pashalik of Janina. His court was in Ioanninamarker.

His name in the local languages was: Albanian: Ali Pashë Tepelena, Aromanian: Ali Pãshelu , Greek: Αλή Πασάς Τεπελενλής Ali Pasas Tepelenlis or Αλή Πασάς των Ιωαννίνων Ali Pasas ton Ioanninon (Ali Pasha of Ioanninamarker) and Turkish: Tepedelenli Ali Paşa.

The rise of Ali Pasha

The statue of Ali Pasha in Tepelene
Ali was born into a powerful clan in the village Beçisht near the Albanian town of Tepelenemarker in 1744, where his father Veli was bey. The family lost much of its political and material status while Ali was still a boy, and following the murder of his father in 1758 his mother, Hanko, formed a band of brigands. Ali became a famous brigand leader and attracted the attention of the Turkish authorities. He aided the pasha of Negroponte (Euboeamarker) in putting down a rebellion at Shkodërmarker. In 1768 he married the daughter of the wealthy pasha of Delvinamarker, with whom he entered an alliance.

His rise through Ottoman ranks continued with his appointment as lieutenant to the pasha of Rumelia. In 1787 he was awarded the pashaluk of Trikalamarker in reward for his support for the sultan's war against Austriamarker. shortly afterwards, he seized control of Ioánnina, which remained his power base for the next 33 years. He took advantage of a weak Ottoman government to expand his territory still further until he gained control of most of Albania, western Greece and the Peloponnesemarker.

Ali Pasha as ruler

Ali's policy as ruler of Ioánnina was mostly governed by expediency; he operated as a semi-independent despot and pragmantically allied himself with whoever offered the most advantage at the time. In order to gain a seaport on the Albanian coast, Ali formed an alliance with Napoleon I of France who had established Francois Pouqueville as his general consul in Ioánnina. After the Treaty of Tilsit, where Napoleon granted the Czar his plan to dismantle the Ottoman Empire, Ali switched sides and allied with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker in 1807. His actions were permitted by the Ottoman government in Istanbulmarker for a mixture of expediency - it was deemed better to have Ali as a semi-ally than as an enemy - and weakness, as the central government did not have enough strength to oust him at that time.

The poet George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron visited Ali's court in Ioánnina in 1809 and recorded the encounter in his work Childe Harold. He evidently had mixed feelings about the despot, noting the splendor of Ali's court and the Greek cultural revival that he had encouraged in Ioánnina, which Byron described as being "superior in wealth, refinement and learning" to any other Greek town. In a letter to his mother, however, Byron deplored Ali's cruelty: "His Highness is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties, very brave, so good a general that they call him the Mahometan Buonaparte ... but as barbarous as he is successful, roasting rebels, etc, etc.."

Ali Pasha, according to one opinion, "was a cruel and faithless tyrant; still he was not a Turk, but an Albanian; he was a rebel against the Sultan, and he was so far an indirect friend of the Sultan's enemies."" In fact, it was Ali Pasha and his Albanian soldiers who eventually subdued the fiercely independent Soulimarker, but it was more about power than anything else: "This was a conquest of Christians by Mahometans ; but it was not a conquest of Christians by Turks. It was in truth a conquest of Albanians by Albanians."

"Ali Pasha hunting on the lake" by Louis Dupré (1825)
His private life has always engaged the popular imagination as well, and a popular biographer typically states: "In his harem were enclosed about 300 Christian, Moslem, Albanian and Circassian cuncubines while, in the private apartments of the seraglios of both himself and his sons were disposed numerous youthful, goodlooking ganymedes (harem-boys)".

The cruelties inflicted by Ali Pasha on his subjects became notorious throughout the region, and have remained so ever since. Forty years after the inhabitants of Gardhiq, Albania had wronged his mother (according to the story, she was put in prison and, with her daughter, raped every night by another group of men), Ali wrought revenge by having 739 male descendants of the original offenders murdered. In 1808, Ali captured one of his most renowned opponents, the Greek klepht Katsantonis, who was executed in public either by having his bones broken with a sledgehammer or by being flayed alive. Most famously - there are several stories, songs, poems, operas (one by Albert Lortzing, and TV miniseries and movies about this - he had the mistress of his oldest son and several companions drowned in Lake Pamvotismarker, but there are many aspects to this story, such as that those were professional prostitutes (and drowning in sacks was the customary Islamic penalty for this); that his daughter-in-law had asked for this; but also that Ali had tried to seduce or rape her and that the drowning was his revenge. The Life of Lord Byron by John Galt, a novelist, emphasizes that Ali Pasha acted out of concern for his daughter-in-law, who was heartbroken at her husband's infidelity. It does not mention anything about rape or the additional execution of the woman's companions. Galt also points out that Ali's severe dealing with the brigands that infested the country as well as his significant improvements of infrastructure opened the country for trade, improving the living conditions of the people, and that, all in all, he "acted the part of a just, though a merciless, prince."

The downfall of Ali Pasha

In 1820, Ali ordered the assassination of a political opponent in Istanbulmarker. The reformist Sultan Mahmud II, who sought to restore the authority of the Sublime Porte, took this opportunity to move against Ali by ordering his deposition. Ali refused to resign his official posts and put up a fierce resistance to Ottoman troop movements, indirectly helping the Greek Independence as some 20,000 Turkish troops were fighting Ali's formidable army. He also made peace with the Soulimarker again, and their leader Markos Botsaris helped him fight the Ottoman soldiers sent to conquer and kill Ali.

After about two years of fighting, in January 1822, however, Ottoman agents who had come to Ali's refuge in the Monastery of St. Pantelaimon on the island in Lake Pamvotis, deceived him with offers of a full pardon. When asked to surrender for beheading, he famously proclaimed: "My head ... will not be surrendered like the head of a slave" and kept fighting till the end, but was shot through the floor of his room and his head cut off to be sent to the Sultan.
"Kursheed, to whom it waspresented on a large dish of silver plate, rose to receive it, bowedthree times before it, and respectfully kissed the beard, expressingaloud his wish that he himself might deserve a similar end. To suchan extent did the admiration with which Ali's bravery inspired thesebarbarians efface the memory of his crimes."

Ali Pasha's Grave in Ioannina.
Ali Pasha was buried with full honors in a mausoleum next to one of the two main mosques of Ioannina, which still stands. Despite his brutal rule, villagers paid their last respect to Ali: "Never was seen greater mourning than that of the warlike Epirotes."

The former monastery in which Ali Pasha was killed is today a popular tourist attraction. The holes made by the bullets are still to be seen, and the monastery has a museum dedicated to him, which includes a number of his personal possessions.

Ali Pasha in Popular Culture

In the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, père, Ali Pasha's downfall was brought about by the treachery of Fernand Mondego, an officer in the French Army. Not knowing of the betrayal, Pasha entrusted his wife and daughter to Mondego for safekeeping but he sold them into slavery. Monte Cristo subsequently located the daughter, Haydée, and helped her take revenge on Mondego by testifying in Paris of his betrayal of Ali Pasha.


  1. "The absence of women permits Byron himself to adopt a feminized role, as in his letters home describing his flirtatious relationship with the Pasha, and noting Ali's admiration of his 'small ears, curly hair, and his little white hands'" (BLJ, I, 208) Lord Byron's Correspondence - John Murray, Editor.
  2. The Ottoman Power in Europe by Edward Augustus Freeman
  3. P. J. Ruches. Albanian historical folksongs, 1716-1943. A survey of oral epic poetry from southern Albania, with original texts. Argonaut, 1967, p. 19
  4. Ali Pacha: Celebrated Crimes by Alexandre Dumas, père

See also


  • "Ali Pasa Tepelenë." Encyclopædia Britannica (2005)
  • "Ali Pasha (1744? – 1822)". The Columbia Encyclopedia (2004).
  • Rough Guide to Greece, Ellingham et al. (2000)

Further reading

  • Brøndsted, Peter Oluf, Interviews with Ali Pacha. Edited by Jacob Isager, (Athens, 1998)
  • Davenport, The Life of Ali Pasha, (London, 1837)
  • Dumas père, Alexandre, Ali Pacha, Celebrated Crimes
  • Fauriel, Claude Charles: Die Sulioten und ihre Kriege mit Ali Pascha von Janina, (Breslau, 1834)
  • Fleming, K.E., The Muslim Bonaparte: Diplomacy and Orientalism in Ali Pasha's Greece, Princeton University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-691-00194-4.
  • Jókai, Mór: Janicsárok végnapjai, Pest, 1854. (in English: Maurus Jókai: The Lion of Janina, translated by R. Nisbet Bain, 1897).
  • Ibrahim Manzour Effendi, Mémoires sur le Grèce et l'Albanie pendant le gouvernement d'ali Pacha, (Paris, 1827)
  • Dennis N. Skiotis, "From Bandit to Pasha: First Steps in the Rise to Power of Ali of Tepelen, 1750-1784", International Journal of Middle East Studies 2:3:219-244 (July, 1971) at JSTOR
  • Francois Pouqueville Voyage en Morée, à Constantinople, en Albanie, et dans plusieurs autres parties de l'Empire Ottoman (Paris, 1805, 3 vol. in-8°), translated in English, German, Greek, Italian, Swedish, etc. available on lineat Gallicamarker
  • Francois Pouqueville Travels in Epirus, Albania, Macedonia, and Thessaly (London: Printed for Sir Richard Phillips and Co, 1820), an English denatured and truncated edition available on line
  • Francois Pouqueville Voyage en Grèce (Paris, 1820–1822, 5 vol. in-8° ; 20 édit., 1826–1827, 6 vol. in-8°), his capital work
  • Francois Pouqueville Histoire de la régénération de la Grèce (Paris, 1824, 4 vol. in-8°), translated in many languages. French original edition available on Google books[37426]
  • Francois Pouqueville, "Notice sur la fin tragique d’Ali-Tébélen" (Paris 1822, in-8°)

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