Engineer, Hero of the Greek War of Independence (c. 1785 – 1826)
One of the most obscure heroes of the Greek War of Independence, albeit one of the brilliant minds of modern engineering and important figures of war; he was responsible for the fortification of Missolonghi during the siege.
Kokkinis was born in the island of Chios. He studied engineering in France and then taught mathematics, geography and site planning in the Greek School of Bucharest. He was fluent in Greek, Italian, German, French and Romanian. It was during this time that Kokkinis was initiated into Philiki Hetaireia and fought in the revolution of Wallachia alongside Alexandros Hypsilantis. Following the defeat of the Greeks against the Ottomans in the battle of Dragashani, he went to offer his services in Missolonghi.
In Missolonghi, he was assigned by Alexandros Mavrokordatos to fortify the city for the siege of the Ottoman army. Despite the lack of funding and the difficult living conditions, Kokkinis took on the immense task along with fellow architect Stavros Koutzoukis.
The construction took 7 continuous months to complete. Kokkinis proved a surprisingly competent leader as he directed 400 workers day and night, including men and women. He had divided his workforce according to their profession and published a daily list of duties to be carried out by each unit. He gave inspirational speeches to motivate his workers, who often worked with very little payment. He was responsible for the work shifts and wages of the 400 workers as well as obtaining funding from philhellenes and external loans.
His influence was such that every citizen of Missolongi contributed to the fortification, even children and seniors. They called him “The Fence Engineer”. Later, Kokkinis even brought his wife and children from Wallachia to finish the construction.
The fortification consisted of 23 external bastions which covered a total distance of 2 km. Each bastion was named after an influential figure of the revolution as a tribute and token of respect. The wall was built out of stone and asbestos and was covered by wooden barriers between the gaps. It was 3,5 meters tall and 7-18 meters wide. Outside the wall, he dug two 2 meter ditches, a small road and a bank. Finally, the fortress was armed with 48 cannons, placed throughout the 2 km wall. It was completed in June 16, 1824 and was blessed by Joseph, Bishop of Rogon. It was named “Hellenic Heptagon No.1”. The people of Missolonghi declared him honorary citizen and the government appointed him the rank of tribune.
Moreover, Kokkinis fortified the nearby lakes surrounding Missolongi in order to block the Ottoman fleet from entering. He called the fortifications “Fortress Byron”, in honor of Lord Byron who funded them. Finally, he created bridges that would be used when the time came to evacuate the city.
The fortress posed impregnable for the Ottoman and Egyptian army. It sustained all of the attacks during the two sieges. Every night, the people of Missolonghi would re-build the fortress from the ruins of their demolished houses. Kokkinis would step outside the wall to oversee its construction. Tunnelers would pass under the fortress and blow up the Ottoman camps.
On April 11, 1826, the heroic Exodus of Missolonghi took place. Using the bridges he had constructed, the people of Missolonghi charged towards the enemy. Kokkinis died fighting during the Exodus, alongside the many unsung heroes of the Greek War of Independence.
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