Tracing Freedom: 1821 – The longest-lived warrior of the Greek Revolution

19 March 2020

By Gregory Kontos

Some time ago, Helen had e-mailed us searching her Greek Ancestry. She was looking for a Cretan ancestor of hers, Nikolaos Sistakis of Kakodiki, Chania, who was said to be a noted warrior during one of Crete’s many revolutions that took place in the 19th century. In particular, Helen was trying to find out how exactly Nikolaos Sistakis was connected to her family and in which revolution he had partaken in.

Our first research attempt was to search through the region’s Male Registers (Μητρώα Αρρένων). All Chania region’s Male Registers of the Historical Archives of Crete have been indexed by Greek Ancestry and are accessible here! However, although we searched through all the village’s Male Registers, no mention of Nikolaos was found. But that was no surprise – like many Cretan families, the Sistakis had moved a lot back and forth from Crete to liberated Greece. In particular, the family had spent some time in Piraeus, Athens’ port. Many of its sons were born there, leaving, therefore, no traces in Cretan records.

Due to the family’s absence from Kakodiki’s Male Registers, Helen’s questions were in danger of being left unanswered. Eventually, however, that was not the case, as a tremendous discovery was made! In the Warriors Archive of the Historical Archives of Crete, we found an application of 1901 signed by a Nikolaos Sistos of Kakodiki, Chania!

The application

“To His Royal Higness, Prince George of Greece,

High Commissioner of Crete

Your Highness,

I have participated in the virtuous fight for our country since 1821 and therefore I have taken part in many battles in Greece and in our homeland -in particular, in the siege of Missolonghi, in the naval battle that took place near Samos under the brave Captain Lazaros Prouskos, and in Faliro under Karaiskakis the brave, where my dear late brother Georgios was killed- and in all the revolutions of our country during the past century. I do not have, however, any means to live, and being already one hundred and five years old, I respectfully implore Your Royal Highness, if it wishes, to  provide me with some little help.

I hope, your Highness, that the request of probably the last surviving fighter for the liberation of Greece, who also, as an affectionate offspring, fulfilled his duty to his homeland, will be accepted. I remain always Your Royal Highness’s loyal subject and devoted servant.

Nikolaos Sistos”

The Memory

Helen proved to be the great-great-granddaughter of a forgotten hero, whose life, however, was definitely too great -literally and metaphorically- to be forgotten forever! Nikolaos Sistakis aka Sistonikolis had taken part in some of the most crucial battles of the Greek Revolution of 1821: Missolonghi, Samos, Faliro. He lost his brother; he fought under Karaiskakis and Captain Brouskos; under Miaoulis and Sachtouris. He lived 108 years (!) and definitely was the longest-lived warrior of the Greek War of Independence! But, most likely, Nikolaos Sistos eventually died penniless and forgotten in his village, Kakodiki, in 1904! His amateur charcoal drawing hanging on the wall of the Sistakis (Sistos) house in Kakodiki has been the only remaining memory of Nikolaos -waiting for the moment it would just be removed from the wall to be replaced forever. His memory would have indeed been erased hadn’t Helen searched for it!

Thank you, Helen, for giving us the opportunity to help you uncover this great family story and join our enthusiasm with yours!

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