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Bent in Milos


Joannes Capsi – the ‘King of Milos’

Theodore tells us about the man who styled himself the ‘King of Milos’:

As a proof of the independent spirit of Melos 200 years ago, I will mention the career of a corsair, Capsi by name; an instance of one of these princes who ruled for an hour. In 1677, with the support of his compatriots, he made himself judge — nay, almost king — of Melos. He was a clever man, and governed with considerable tact; but one day he foolishly listened to some specious promises given him by the Kapitan Pasha, and went on board his ship. No sooner was he safely there than the Pasha set sail with this would-be king, who was executed shortly after at Constantinople.

In 1829, over 50 years before Theodore’s visit to Milos, the explorer and traveller James Emerson published his book, ‘Letters from the Aegean’, in which he described in more detail the rise and fall of the ‘King of Milos’:

He was by profession a sailor, and had, like many of his countrymen, amassed a considerable sum by employing himself as a pilot, as well as by several commercial speculations through the Archipelago. By nature, he was bold, hardy, and enterprizing, whilst an easy good humour, and a commanding, yet winning affability, had rendered him excessively popular amongst his countrymen. There were no Turks resident in the island, and it was but seldom that they were troubled even with their occasional visits, since the vigilance of the Knights of Malta rendered the periodical expeditions of the Capitan Pacha, to collect the tribute, rather hazardous excursions.

Thus left almost totally to themselves, and with the choice of their own governors, Capsi first conceived the idea of rendering his country independent of the Sultan. He gradually broke his design to one after another of his friends, till having secured the assistance of some, and the approbation of all classes of his fellow islanders, he at last threw off the mask, was proclaimed King of Milo by his followers, and crowned by the Latin Bishop, Don Antonio Camillo, who hung round his neck a massive golden chain, while the populace applauded the ceremony with loud acclamations and shouts of “Long live Capsi ! long live King John of Milo !”

Nothing embarrassed by his new dignity, Capsi set about the performance of his duties with all the moderation of a philosopher. He had secured the friendship of the principal and leading men of the island, and by their influence he was presented with the finest house in Milo, had a revenue assigned him from the public taxes, and a guard of fifty men appointed to wait on him abroad, whilst five and twenty were constantly in attendance before his gate. He set apart stated days for the dispensation of public justice, and became at once the Lawgiver, the Judge, and the Monarch of Milo.

This state of affairs continued, with uninterrupted tranquillity, for upwards of three years, till the Porte 1, becoming alarmed rather at the prudence than the power of Joannes, and dreading lest his example should be more extensively imitated, resolved to make him a public example for the inculcation of passive obedience.

It was a matter of no small difficulty, however, to gain possession of the person of a man beloved by all around him, and with eight hundred armed followers under his command. The Capitan Pacha, aware of all these circumstances, forbore to visit Milo in person, through a fear of exciting suspicion, and merely sent round three gallies for the purpose of receiving the annual tribute. The Turkish commander landed without a guard, and proceeded unattended to the Palace of Capsi, addressed him as the sovereign of the island, paid him a thousand compliments, and expressed the readiness of the Porte 1 to recognise his authority in Milo, provided he should hold himself a vassal of the Sultan, and continue to pay the annual tribute as heretofore.

Joannes, betrayed by his vanity, closed at once with his proposal and the Turk withdrew to bis vessel, whilst Capsi, forgetful of his usual prudence, prepared to return his visit. In order not to yield in politeness to the envoy of the Porte, he descended to the beach, accompanied only by twelve individuals of his guard, and incautiously ventured on board the caravella of the treacherous Ottoman, who instantly threw him into irons, and setting sail, carried him without delay to Constantinople, where the unfortunate King was hung on a tree before the gate of the Bagnio 2, in 1680.


  1. The ‘Porte’ was the name given to the Government of the Ottoman Empire. Read more about the Porte.
  2. The ‘Bagnio’ was the term used to refer to the prison for hostages in Constantinople. Read more about the Bagnio.

Which Consul Brest?

Theodore spent much of his time in Milos talking with Consul Brest about the history of the island and, in particular, about the discovery of the statue of the Venus de Milo in 1820. However, Theodore’s Consul Brest, in 1883, could not have been the same Vice-Consul Brest who was serving at the time of the discovery.

History tells us very little about the man who was instrumental in acquiring the statue of the Venus de Milo for the Louvre and the French nation. Vice-Consul Louis Brest is vilified by some Greeks for the plunder of one of the most important items of archaeology, however, it was he who saved the statue from its otherwise certain future in Turkish hands. Theodore gives us what must be the most accurate account of the events surrounding the statue, gleaned directly from, whom we assume to be the Vice-Consul’s son, Consul Brest, during his stay in Milos in December 1883:

Mr. Brest at once bargained for this treasure, but the peasant asked more than Mr. Brest wished to give, so he sent off to the French ambassador at Constantinople for advice and money; but before the messenger returned the Meliote authorities began to suspect its value, and determined to make a present of it to a Greek hospodar in favour with the Sultan. When the messenger returned, with full authority from the French ambassador to purchase at once, he found the object of his quest in a boat on its way to a ship carrying the Turkish ensign. Owing to great liberality, and the superhuman exertions of Mr. Brest, the priceless statue was secured for the Louvre and France.

In Plaka is an enclosure with four abandoned graves. One of them appears to be that of Vice-Consul Louis J Brest. He was born on March 20, 1789 in the island of Milos, then known as Argentière, and died there on October 14, 1862; at the time of the discovery of the Venus de Milo he would have been 31 years old. It seems that he was awarded the highest French military decoration of the Légion d’Honneur in addition to several other awards and is stated to be “the benefactor of the islands of Argentière and Milos, he saved, during the revolutionary torment, without distinction of religion, thousands of Christians and Muslims and drew the esteem and admiration of all by his zeal and dedication.”

During Vice-Consul Brest’s time, there was a strong French presence on the island in the form of a French naval base. Close to Adamas, at a place called Bombarda, is a French military cemetery where the bodies of soldiers and sailors who died during the Crimean war, from 1853 to 1856, and during the First World War, were buried. There were originally fifty graves but they were transferred to France after the First World War. A monument in the centre of Adamas commemorates the French naval base.

*** Photo of the plaque and the cemetery at Bombarda