Origins—and a fast forward to the Balkan Wars
Venizélos house in Mourniés
Elefthérios Venizélos—whose first name can mean 'liberal, generous,' but is also a masculinized form of elefthería ('freedom')—was born in the village of Mourniés, just south of Chaniá, in 1864. Revolution seems to have been deeply rooted in his family’s tradition. They were descended from a man who moved from the Peloponnesus to Crete in 1770 to escape persecution for participating in the uprising of that year against the Turks. Elefthérios’ father, Kyriákos Venizélos, joined the Cretan revolt of 1866, and had to move with his family to the island of Syros when that was put down. They couldn’t return to Crete until Sultan Abdülaziz granted an amnesty in 1872.

After earning a law degree at the University of Athens, Venizélos began practicing law in Chaniá in 1886. Only three years later, at the age of 25, he was elected to the Cretan Assembly. In 1891 he married María Kateloúzou, and they had two sons, Kyriákos (born 1892) and Sofóklis (born 1894), who followed his father into politics and briefly headed the Liberal party in the late 1940s. In the aftermath of Sofóklis’ birth, María died of septicemia, and, according to the article in Wikipedia, Venizélos first let his beard grow at that time as an act of mourning.

I’ve described his role in the events that brought about the union of Crete with Greece on the page that narrates the history of that period, so I won’t go over that again here.
Statue of Venizelos at the Greek embassy in Washington (photo by Adam Fagen, cropped by me)
As you’ve seen if you read that page (or, of course, if you already knew it) Crete became officially, and with universal recognition, a part of Greece at the time of the Balkan Wars in 1912–1913. This event—and the two wars were so closely related in time and cause that it makes sense to see them as a single event—is worth looking at in some detail, because Venizélos was much more than a political bystander.

He had been the prime minister of Greece since 1910, regardless of citizenship status, and had made it the country’s business to modernize and equip the military forces. Motivated by his hope of uniting all Greeks under the aegis of the Great Idea, he worked to establish military alliances among the Balkan countries, in preparation for the war that would have to be fought to roll back the Ottoman frontier until it contained no part of Europe, a dream all of those countries cherished.

But the story of the Balkan Wars is a rather long one, and I’m not going to assume that everyone who finds Venizélos an interesting subject wants to go into it very deeply. I’ll confine myself to a brief summary in this narrative of his career. However, I wasn't able to resist writing about the Balkan Wars in greater detail, so if you do happen to be interested, click here to go to a fuller account of the actions, military, diplomatic, and political, that filled that brief but very eventful period just before World War I.
Armored cruiser Georgios Averof, flagship (and star) of the 1912 Greek fleet
Venizélos wasn't the only national leader who thought it was time to sweep the Turks out of Europe. Besides Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and even tiny Montenegro all had their eyes on chunks of Ottoman territory that they felt entitled on historical or ethnic grounds to incorporate within their own appropriately expanded borders. Russia, seeing various ways in which it might benefit from such a development, encouraged the Balkan allies, with all of whom it shared the Orthodox Christian faith, to come together. Greece—on the basis of its wretched performance in the Greco-Turkish war of 1897—wasn’t highly regarded as a military asset, but its navy was another story. Defeating the Turks wouldn’t be possible unless they could be prevented from moving forces to Europe by sea—their railroad system being quite undeveloped at the time—from other parts of their far-flung empire. Greece was the only Balkan country in possession of an adult-sized fleet, and the only one capable of carrying out this strategic plan.

The picture shows the Averof, an up-to-date cruiser that Greece had recently bought from Italy. In action, the Averof proved superior to anything in the Ottoman navy. The ship has an interesting history.
Venizélos applied his stellar diplomatic skills to the effort of tying together the Balkan countries’ various and sometimes incompatible national causes into an alliance that would be able to win a war against the Ottomans. Though he didn’t do that alone, his contribution was substantial. He worked out an agreement with Serbia that made it possible for each to respect the other's territorial ambitions and ensured a harmonious alliance between the two countries. Meanwhile, through Russia’s influence, Serbia and Bulgaria signed a treaty specifying the parts of Turkey-in-Europe that each would claim after a victory, although they had to designate much of northern Macedonia ‘disputed territory,’ and agree to accept the Russian tsar's mediation should they be unable to agree on how to divide it. Montenegro wanted only a modest share of Turkish-ruled territory and was easy to recruit.

But in spite of Venizélos’ willingness to compromise—which he defended against the hearty appetite for aggrandizement on the part of nationalists in his own parliament—the only thing Greece and Bulgaria could agree on was to postpone territorial negotiations until after the expected victory.

That’s one of the reasons why there were two Balkan wars rather than one.

The First Balkan War began in the autumn of 1912 and ended with the Treaty of London, signed at the end of May, 1913. It was a disaster for the Ottomans, who lost nearly all their European territory, and a triumph for the Balkan League, as their allied antagonists were called. The Greek army, commanded by Crown Prince Constantine, acquitted itself honorably, and the navy made good on its commitment to keep the Turks from landing soldiers where they might have had some effect.

However, as you may suspect from the location of the treaty-signing, the powers of Europe got involved to ensure that the war’s outcome caused no inconvenience to themselves. Landlocked Serbia had coveted a chunk of what’s now Albania, including at least one major seaport on the Adriatic. Neither Austria-Hungary, whose own sole outlet to the sea was also on the Adriatic, nor Italy, which wanted as few rivals as possible in those waters, was happy with the idea of a Serbian presence on the coast. Both insisted that Albania should be allowed to realize its dream of full nationhood—a rather novel dream since, prior to the war, most Albanians had been content under Turkish rule. But that was no longer a possibility, and Serbia therefore had to be denied the primary objective it had fought for.
Crown Prince Constantine receives the surrender of Salonika
Bulgaria’s primary objective had been the full possession of Macedonia, but the war had taken its armies eastward toward Constantinople, which they almost but not quite reached. The strongest Ottoman forces were also concentrated in that area, and the Bulgarians, who did a lot of hard fighting, won some impressive victories.

But when the war ended, the Serbs held much of northern Macedonia; the Bulgarians held the rest, and the Greeks held the southern, coastal part, including Salonika, Macedonia’s largest city and principal seaport. Venizélos had made sure the Greek army got to Salonika before the Bulgarians did—and it beat them by one day. Since most of the Turkish army at Salonika had marched north, only a small garrison remained to surrender the city, but this popular print makes the most of the Greek triumph. (And politically, if not militarily, it really was a triumph.)

Serbia asked Bulgaria for a revision of the treaty they'd made before the war. Kept out of Albania, the Serbs wanted a substantial part of Macedonia as compensation. But Macedonia was what Bulgaria had really been fighting for, so the Serbian request was rejected. It was seriously inconvenient for the Bulgarians that the Serbian and Greek armies rather than their own now occupied so much of Macedonia.

That’s another reason why there were two wars.
King George of Greece and Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria in Salonika
This picture, taken in December, 1912, while the first war was still on, records a meeting of King George I of Greece and Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria in Salonika. The Greek king had taken up residence in the city shortly after the Turks surrendered it to Prince Constantine, and stayed there until spring, apparently intent on consolidating Greece’s claim to Salonika. So Ferdinand was in fact a visitor; he never resided in Salonika. When a Bulgarian force reached the city only a day after the Greeks had taken it, Prince Constantine had allowed them, as a courtesy, to station a token force there. Venizélos considered this a boneheaded move from the political point of view, and he was probably right—the Bulgarians enlarged the force beyond their agreement, and began to act as if they had an equal claim to the city. Judging from the uniforms, King George (on the left at the foot of the steps) was calling on Tsar Ferdinand (the bearded gentleman next to him) at Bulgarian headquarters in the city. Royal courtesies aside, this must have been a fairly tense encounter.

And all of that is a third reason why one war wasn't enough.

A month after the Treaty of London was signed, the Second Balkan War broke out with a sudden Bulgarian attack on the Serbian and Greek armies in Macedonia. Their attack was a confused affair, and there’s little doubt that the Bulgarians misjudged the capability of the Greeks, against whom they sent a weaker force. The attackers were thrown back on both fronts, and at Kilkis in Macedonia the Greek army won its biggest victory of the two wars.

As for the conflict between Bulgaria and Greece, the Bulgarians, whose big army was well equipped and well trained, had assumed that they would easily roll over all the territory they intended to claim without encountering any significant challenge from the Greeks. But the Greek army had held up its end of the fighting and finished the war in occupation of the whole Macedonian coastline along the Aegean. Venizélos had seen to it that the Greeks got hold of Salonika. He was willing to give up much of southern Macedonia to Bulgaria, but only if Greece got to keep Salonika (which, when annexed, immediately became the second largest city in the country). The Bulgarians, mindful of their hard fighting and glorious victories in the east, refused this offer, feeling that they had earned Macedonia—all of it, including Salonika—even if they hadn't managed to occupy the territory.
Battle in the Kresna Gorge, 1913
As the war continued into a third week, the Bulgarian armies were beginning to rally, and they might still have won. But at that point the neighboring country of Romania, which had sat out the first war, invaded Bulgaria from the north, and soon threatened its capital. The Turks, still sore about their recent defeat, had jumped in too. The Bulgarians had no choice but to surrender. This was welcome news to the Greeks, who had been led far beyond their lines of supply by King Constantine (whose father King George had died between the two wars). They had held their own in the Kresna Gorge for several days, but were in serious danger of being surrounded and overwhelmed when saved by the bell. This Greek print, though probably imagined, may be comparatively accurate in that it shows both sides fighting desperately but doesn’t go out of its way to present the battle as an obvious triumph for its own team.

This time the peace negotiations took place in the Romanian capital of Bucharest. Bulgaria, the loser, was tossed a bit of Aegean coastline, but no more than a shred of Macedonia—Greece and Serbia divided the rest. (When the Bulgarian delegation reminded Venizélos of the offers he had made, he politely pointed out that circumstances had changed since he’d made them.) The Romanians took a small northern part of Bulgaria that they felt should always have belonged to them. And the Turks—with whom Bulgaria had to negotiate separately, since they were excluded from the Bucharest conference—kept a sizable piece of territory that they had taken back from Bulgaria while its armies were engaged elsewhere during the last days of the war.

The biggest beneficiaries of the two wars were Serbia and Greece, each of which greatly increased its size and population. Greece added all of southern Macedonia to its territory, as well as the southern part of Epirus (the northwestern part of modern Greece). They felt entitled to northern Epirus too, but Italy insisted that this area go to Albania. (The population mix may well have justified this, although the Italian gesture was certainly more anti-Greek than pro-Albanian.)
Territorial outcome of the two Balkan Wars
On this map you can see the extent of the territorial changes. Before the war, Greece consisted only of the area enclosed by the pencil-like line that begins (in the waters of the Adriatic) just above the island of Corfu, opposite the Italian heel. (You need to enlarge the map to see this.) By the end of the 1913 negotiations, Greece had expanded to include everything colored blue-green and defined by the black, dotted international boundary line. (Many of the Aegean islands weren't officially Greek until 1914. The Treaty of London had left their status up to the powers to decide. Only two islands were left in Ottoman hands to provide the Turks with a reasonable defense of the Dardanelles—a decision the English, at least, might have regretted soon afterwards.) The spiky red line shows where the boundaries would have been if everyone merely kept what they had at the end of the first Balkan war. Together with the dotted black line running through the yellow part of Thrace (representing the Bulgarian-Turkish boundary established in the Treaty of London), It shows what a bad bet Bulgaria had made in trying to change the outcome by force.

Along with their gains, Greece and Serbia had both acquired more than a few ethnically alien citizens whose national yearnings had the potential to cause trouble in the future.