Demetrios Vikelas (also Demetrius Bikelas; Greek: Δημήτριος
Βικέλας; February 15, 1835 – July 20, 1908) was a Greek
businessman and writer; he was the first President of the
International Olympic Committee
International Olympic Committee (IOC), from 1894 to 1896.
After a childhood spent in
Constantinople (now Istanbul),
he found fortune in London, where he married. He then moved to Paris,
on account of his wife. Abandoning business, he dedicated himself to
literature and history, and published numerous novels, short stories
and essays, which earned him a distinguished reputation.
Because of his reputation and the fact that he lived in Paris, he was
chosen to represent
Greece in a congress called by Pierre de Coubertin
in June 1894, which decided to re-establish the
Olympic Games and to
organise them in
Athens in 1896, designating Vikelas to preside over
the organisation committee. After the Games were over, he stepped
down, remaining in
Athens until his death in 1908.
2 London, from business to literature
3 Paris, the illness of his wife, and literature
4 Permanent return to Greece
6 The Olympic Movement
6.1 First Olympic Congress
7 Historical and literary works
7.1 Novels and short stories
7.2 Books and historical articles
7.3 Political and polemic works
10 External links
Vikelas was born in Ermoupoli, on the island of
Syros in Greece. His
father was a merchant, originally from
Veria (then part of the Ottoman
Empire, today capital of the northern Greek province of
Central Macedonia) and his mother, Smaragda, was a member of the rich
Melas family. He was educated at home by his mother, possibly due
to his fragile health.
When he was six, the family moved to Constantinople, and ten years
after that to Odessa. There he started working for his father's
Already he showed signs of his literary potential. At the age of 17 he
translated Esther, a tragedy by Jean Racine.
London, from business to literature
While aged 17, in 1852, he left home to live in
London with his uncles
Leon and Vasileios Melas, where he worked for their business, Melas
Bros, first as a bookkeeper and then as a partner. He also began to
maintain a weekly correspondence with his mother.
This correspondence, which was kept, is one of the most important in
establishing his biography. He also kept a journal in which he
recorded not only facts about his daily life but also advice from his
uncle Leon and his thoughts on books he had read and plays he was able
After his day's work at his uncles' business, he took evening classes
at University College
London (the only university in
London which did
not require students to be Anglican). There, he obtained a degree in
botany (the only subject which offered evening classes). He learned
German and Italian. He also took part in fencing, horse-riding and
rowing, although circumstances did not allow him to keep these up.
He had also become very scholarly, and started to publish — an
anthology of poems in 1862 and numerous articles in London
periodicals, on the British press and the growing of cotton in Greece.
A portrait of Vikelas by Nikolaos Xydias Typaldos.
During the political events of 1863 in Greece, following the
revolution which led to the eviction of Otto and the enthronement of
George I, Vikelas led fundraising efforts in support of the
provisional government. He also wrote letters to the main newspapers
of the time to demand that Greece's rights be respected. He became
definitively known in the British intellectual world in 1866 when he
contacted authors and academics to gain their support for the Cretan
cause during the Cretan Revolt of 1866-1867, for which he raised more
Also in 1866, he married Kalliope Geralopoulou, a young sister of
Katerini, the wife of one of his uncles, also a member of a rich
merchant family in London. He also became a titular partner in his
He also met and became friends with
Charilaos Trikoupis - the son of
the Greek ambassador to Britain Spyridon Trikoupis, himself destined
to become Prime Minister of Greece. At the time they met, Charilaos
Trikoupis was just starting his diplomatic and political career as an
attaché, then chargé d'affaires, of the Greek legation. The two men
kept a busy correspondence.
Demetrius Vikelas continued to gain favour in
Greece — in 1868 he
published a 30-page statistical article on the Kingdom of Greece
following a conference at the Royal Statistical Society; in 1870 he
founded a school for Greek children living in England. All his work
— polemic, political, journalistic, historical or literary — had a
double objective: to elevate the morals and level of intellect of his
country but also to change its reputation with respect to the rest of
the world. In his historical essay of 1874, On the Byzantines, he
wrote that he wanted to restore the reputation of the Byzantine
In 1876, in the wake of the economic crisis that had started in 1873,
and in order not to lose the profits of their work, Vikelas and his
uncles dissolved their business (now called "Melas Bros - D.
Vikelas"). He thus found himself in command of a comfortable fortune,
which allowed him to fully dedicate his time to literature.
Paris, the illness of his wife, and literature
In 1874, following the death of her father, Vikelas' wife Kalliope
began to suffer from mental problems and showed a number of suicidal
tendencies. The couple tried travelling to ease the illness. In
Paris, following another scare, doctors declared Kalliope mad and she
stayed for seven and a half months in Jules Bernard Luys' asylum in
Ivry-sur-Seine. True to his character, Vikelas recorded the progress
of his wife's mental health daily during the twenty years which
In his journal, from 1872 Vikelas expressed the wish to move to
Athens. In 1877, while Kalliope's condition was in remission, they
took the opportunity to make the move. Vikelas started to build a home
around the corner from the streets of Panepistimiou (on which the
University was situated) and Voukourestiou. However, his wife's
health worsened again and he accompanied her to
France where she again
stayed in Ivry-sur-Seine.
During his stays in Paris, Vikelas embarked on translating Shakespeare
plays into Greek: King Lear,
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet and
Othello during his
wife's first stay (1878), and
Hamlet during the second
(1881). The public readings of his translations received an
enthusiastic welcome in the literary community in Athens. He then also
wrote his main literary work: Loukis Laras. The book first appeared
Athens as a series starting in 1879. The same year, it was
translated into French and German. The French translation (which had
its first republication in 1880) was included by the Education
Jules Ferry in the list of works which could be given as
prizes to good students.
Vikelas spent the following fifteen years in Paris, building up
contacts with the surrounding intellectuals and literati of the French
Juliette Adam dedicated her anthology Poètes
grecs contemporains ("Contemporary Greek poets"), published in 1881,
to him, and he published in her Nouvelle Revue. He wrote for it,
as before, numerous articles (on Byzantine history, Eastern issues and
Greek political life), novels (a compendium in French and Greek came
out in 1887) and even travel guides.
In the linguistic controversy in
Dimotiki, Vikelas chose the middle ground, rejecting the excesses of
the Dimotikists just as much as the fierce defenders of the more
intellectual language. He suggested using
parliamentary proceedings, for example, but popular language for
Between 1877 and 1892, he travelled, since at the worst of her crises,
his wife could not bear his presence. He returned to Greece, visited
Scotland, Switzerland, Spain and Constantinople.
In 1892, he bought a new plot in
Athens (between the streets of
Kriezotou and Valaoriti) where he built a new residence which was also
his final home.
In 1893, he helped finance the construction of the Greek Orthodox
church in Paris (fr).
In May 1894, he received a request from the Pan-Hellenic Gymnastic
Club, asking him to assist at a congress on amateurism convened the
following month by Pierre de Coubertin. After hesitation, he agreed to
represent the association. Following the congress it was decided
to recreate the
Olympic Games and to organise them in Athens.
Originally, it had been De Coubertin's idea to hold the first
celebration of the modern Olympics in
Paris in 1900, but Vikelas
convinced him and the newly created International Olympic Committee
that they should be held in Athens, in order to symbolically link them
to the original Games. As the constitution of the IOC
at that time required the IOC president to be from the country which
would host the next Games, Vikelas became the IOC's first president.
Permanent return to Greece
With his responsibility for the 1896 Summer Olympics, Vikelas returned
Greece for just ten days in autumn 1894. On October the 14th, he
received a telegram from doctor Luys informing him that the condition
of his wife had worsened. She had œdemas in her thighs, calves and
stomach. She could no longer feed herself. He urgently returned to
Paris. It seems that she then died.
In November 1894, a number of young nationalist officers, advocates of
the Megali Idea, created a secret society, Ethniki Etairia, whose aim
was to revive the morale of the country and prepare the liberation of
Greek peoples still under the Ottoman Empire. In September 1895,
they recruited civilians, all linked to the organisation of the
Olympic Games, including Vikelas himself, although he claimed only to
have given in to friendly pressure, playing a solely financial role
and then quickly resigning from it. At this point he was still
attracted by the possibility of rebuilding his country.
After the Games, which proved a success, Vikelas withdrew from the
IOC, replaced as a member by the Count Alexander Mercati and as
president by Coubertin. The defeat in the Greco-Turkish War which came
soon after dealt a serious blow to his morale. He decided to leave
Paris to move permanently to Athens. There he dedicated himself to
popular education. In 1899 he founded the "Society for the Spread of
Useful Books" in Athens, to help the country to recover from its
In 1905, he represented the University of
Athens at the third Olympic
Congress and seventh IOC Meeting in Brussels. He also remained an
active member of the Hellenic Olympic Committee. He died in Athens
on 20 July 1908 "from an afflicting illness".
He had been made a knight of the Legion of Honour on 31 December 1891,
and honorary doctor of the
University of St Andrews
University of St Andrews in November 1893
(the first Greek to receive this honour). He was a member (from
1874, and Vice-President from 1894) of the French "Association for
the Promotion of Greek Studies", and of the Society for the Promotion
of Hellenic Studies in London.
He left his immense library collection to the city of
Crete, founding the Vikelaia Municipal Library.
Though in fact he did not live much of his life in Syros, the island
counts him among its most well-known sons. Today, the Sports Center
Ermoupoli bears Demetrios Vikelas' name. The stadium
seats 2000 people, and has an Olympic-size swimming pool, four tennis
courts, two gym halls, basket and volleyball courts, track and field,
floor football court and soccer field.
Syros Island National Airport is named for him.
The Olympic Movement
First Olympic Congress
Pierre de Coubertin
Pierre de Coubertin
Pierre de Coubertin had already attempted to restart the Olympic Games
at the congress for the fifth anniversary of the Union des Sociétés
Françaises de Sports Athlétiques in 1892. While he may have raised
the enthusiasm of the public, he didn't manage to establish a proper
International Olympic Committee
International Olympic Committee at the first
Olympic Games in
Athens. Vikelas is seated in the center
He decided to reiterate his efforts at the congress in 1894 which
followed, which would openly address the issue of amateur sports, but
also with the sub-text of the recreation of the Olympic Games. Six of
the seven points which would be debated pertained to amateurism
(definition, disqualification, betting, etc.) and the seventh on the
possibility of restoring the Games. Coubertin also sought to give an
international dimension to his congress. He gained support from
several personalities: the King of the Belgians, the Prince of Wales,
the Diadochus Constantine (hereditary prince of Greece) and William
Penny Brookes, the founder of the "Olympian Games" in Shropshire,
England, and Ioannis Phokianos. Phokianos was a professor of
mathematics and physics and a college principal. Phokianos was also
one of the propagators of sport in
Greece and the organiser of an
Olympic Games sponsored by
Evangelis Zappas in 1875. In 1888,
Phokianos organised an elite and private Games as the founder of the
Pan-Hellenic Gymnastic Club. Phokianos could not travel to Paris
for financial reasons and because he was finalising the construction
of his new college. He turned to one of the more eminent
representatives of the Greek community in Paris, Demetrios Vikelas, to
whom he wrote to ask him to take part in the congress.
Historical and literary works
Novels and short stories
Poems., London, 1862.
Loukis Laras was his main work, a historical, patriotic and moral
novel. The style is naturalistic, as opposed to his heavy romantic
works which were written as they were in Greece. It is written in
simple language to make it accessible to a wider audience. The action
unfolds as the
Greek War of Independence
Greek War of Independence enters Smyrna, Chios, Syros
and the Cyclades. An old rich Greek merchant in
London reflects on the
adventures of his youth. The novel was published as a series from 1879
in the literary Athenian magazine Estia. The book was translated into
Nouvelle grecques, translated by the Marquis de Queux de
"Philippe Marthas (Nouvelle grecque)" appeared in La Nouvelle Revue.,
September–October 1886. read at Gallica (French)
Tales of the Aegean.
Books and historical articles
Articles on Palaiologos, the last dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, in
the Athenian journal Pandora, 1859-1860.
On the Byzantines., London, 1874.
"Les Grecs aux conciles de Bâle et de Florence.", La Nouvelle Revue.,
May–June 1882. read at Gallica (French)
"La Grèce avant la révolution de 1821", La Nouvelle Revue.,
January–February 1884. read at Gallica (French)
De Nicopolis à Olympie. Lettres à un ami., 1885. (following his
correspondence with the Marquis de Queux de Saint-Hilaire)
"The Byzantine Empire", Scottish Review, no. 8:16, October 1886.
"Byzantism and Hellenism", Scottish Review, no. 9:17, janvier 1887.
"The Subjects of the Byzantine Empire", Scottish Review, no. 9:18,
Greece before 1821", Scottish Review, no. 13:26, April 1889.
"The Formation of the Modern Greek State", Scottish Review, no. 14:27,
"L'Empereur Nicéphore Phocas", La Nouvelle Revue., July–August
1890. read at Gallica (French)
Seven Essays on Christian Greece., 1890.
"Le Philhellénisme en France.", Revue d'Histoire diplomatique., III,
"La Littérature byzantine", Revue des deux mondes, March–April,
1892. read at Gallica (French)
Grèce Byzantine et moderne., Firmin Didot, Paris, 1893.
Political and polemic works
"Journalism in England", Eunomia (Athènes), 1864.
"Statistics of the Kingdom of Greece", Journal of the Royal
Statistical Society, no. 31, September 1868.
Le Rôle et les aspirations de la Grèce dans la question d'Orient.,
Cercle Saint-Simon, Paris, 1885. read at Gallica (French)
"Vingt-cinq années de règne constitutionnel en Grèce", La Nouvelle
Revue., March–April 1889. read at Gallica (French)
"The Territory of the Hellenic Kingdom", no. 14:28, October 1889.
He translated into Greek the stories of
Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen (for
his nephews and nieces), and various Shakespeare plays.
^ Some sources use the date 1832 (Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in
^ a b c Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in Athens, 84
^ Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in Athens, 84-85
^ Dolianitis, Demetrius Vikelas, 106-107
^ Dolianitis, Demetrius Vikelas, 107
^ Dolianitis, Demetrius Vikelas, 107–108
^ a b c d e f g h Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in Athens, 85
^ a b c Dolianitis, Demetrius Vikelas, 108
^ Dolianitis, Demetrius Vikelas, 109
^ Llewellyn Smith, The exemplary life of Dimitrios Vikelas, 16
^ Dolianitis, Demetrius Vikelas, 109-110
^ Basch, Le Mirage Grec, 229
^ a b c d Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in Athens, 86
^ Basch, Le Mirage Grec, 231
^ a b c Dolianitis, Demetrius Vikelas, 111
^ Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in Athens, 95
^ Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in Athens, 49-50
^ Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in Athens, 149-150
^ Miller, Εύλλογος πρὸς διάδοσιν
ὠφελίμων βιβλίων, 117
^ Revue Olympique, Demetrius Bikelas, 132
^ Olympic Review,
Greece and Olympism, 253
^ Revue Olympique, Demetrius Bikelas, 131
^ "Vikelaia Municipal Library". Municipality of Heraklion. Archived
from the original on 2013-02-17. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
^ Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in Athens, 87
^ Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in Athens, 79–81
^ Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in Athens, 61
^ Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in Athens, 88
Llewellyn Smith, Michael (2004). Olympics in
Athens 1896: The
Invention of the Modern Olympic Games. Profile Books Limited.
Llewellyn Smith, Michael (2006). "The exemplary life of Dimitrios
Vikelas (1835-1908)". The Historical Review / La Revue Historique.
III. Institute of Neohellenic Research.
Dolianitis, George (1995). The IOC's Centenary 1894-1994. The
Demetrius Vikelas to the Revival of the Olympic Games
(PDF). Ancient Olympia: International Olympic Committee.
pp. 93–120. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-20.
Basch, Sophie (fr) (1995). Le Mirage Grec. Grèce moderne devant
l'opinion française. (1846-1946). Paris: Hatier. pp. 229–231.
ISBN 2-218-06269-0. CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list
Miller, William (1941-07-04). "Notices of books: "Εύλλογος
πρὸς διάδοσιν ὠφελίμων βιβλίων.
Χρονικὰ τῆς τεσσαρακονταετίας
1899-1939"". The Journal of Hellenic Studies. London: The Society for
the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. 60: 117. JSTOR 626292.
"Demetrius Bikelas" (pdf). Revue Olympique (in French). Paris:
International Olympic Committee
International Olympic Committee (33): 131–132. September 1908.
Greece and Olympism" (pdf). Olympic Review. Lausanne: International
Olympic Committee (127): 253. May 1978. Retrieved 2008-02-02.
Demetrius Vikelas on the IOC website
Works by Demetrios Vikelas at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Demetrius Vikelas at Internet Archive
President of the International Olympic Committee
Pierre de Coubertin
Presidents of the International Olympic Committee
Demetrius Vikelas (1894–1896)
Pierre de Coubertin
Pierre de Coubertin (1896–1925)
Godefroy de Blonay
Godefroy de Blonay (1916–1919, acting president)
Henri de Baillet-Latour
Henri de Baillet-Latour (1925–1942)
Sigfrid Edström (acting 1942–1946, elected 1946–1952)
Avery Brundage (1952–1972)
Michael Morris (1972–1980)
Juan Antonio Samaranch
Juan Antonio Samaranch (1980–2001)
Jacques Rogge (2001–2013)
Thomas Bach (2013–present)
ISNI: 0000 0001 1027 6885
BNF: cb137425861 (data)