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Constantinos Karatheodori, Biography

Thursday, 25 September 2008


Constantine Karatheodori

Constantine Karatheodori was born in Berlin on 13 September 1873. His father Stephen was from Bosnochori,   Andrianoupolis Eastern Thrace. He was a diplomat of the Ottoman government and the family has lived mainly in Western Europe. In 1875 his father was ambassador of Turkey in Brussels. From his childhood he was speaking Greek, French, Turkish and German.
He grew up in a European scientific and classy environment and also with Greek - Orthodox  traditions.

At the age of 6 years Constantine Karatheodori lost his mother Despina. Him and his eight years old sister Julia were taking care   by their grandmother Efthalia Petrokokkinou  from Chios.

From 1883 to 1885 he studied at schools in Riviera and San Remo. In 1886 he attended at the high school “Athene Royal” in Brussels until his graduation in 1891.

In 1891 he enters at the military school “Ecole Militaire de Belgique” at the engineering department until his graduation in 1895 when he gets the rank of second lieutenant, but that extent maintained only for one day because he was a foreigner.

In July 1895 his uncle  Alexander Karatheodori general commander of Crete invites him in Chania where he meets Eleftherios Venizelos and starts a long-term friendship.
Later he   goes to Lesvos where his cousin James Aristarchis, another engineer, was doing road -works.

In 1897 he is in Athens and the next year he cooperates with an English company as an assistant engineer on the construction of the Aswan barrage. During these two years of his staying in Egypt he is studying books in mathematics, and doing measurements at the main entrance of the pyramid of Cheop, Karatheodori realizes how great influence Mathematics had on him and that engineering work was not what his restless spirit needed. Thus, in 1900 at the age of 27 years he   decides to abandon the profession of engineering and he goes to Germany to study mathematics at the University of Berlin.

In 1902 Karatheodori continued his studies at the University of Göttingen.  After  his graduation he accomplished his thesis, in 9 months, which was accepted by the audience with great success. In 1905 he became a lecturer at Göttingen,  while he was still in the 9th semester of his studies. Since then he traveled to many parts of Europe.

In 1908 he applied to the Greek government to work at the University or the Military Academy “Evelpidon”. Unfortunately the only offer was to work as a teacher at a provincial school.  He left disappointed back to Germany where he became a regular professor at the University of Hanover and 2 years later Professor at the University of Breslaou.  Finally, in 1911 the Greek government invites him to participate as a member in the selected  committee  of the Physics Department of the University of Athens, position which he accepts.
In 1913 he proposes to create the University of Thessaloniki.  His idea is accepted, but in 1914 First World War began and this postponed the plans. The following years he lives and works in Germany. He gets invitations from a number of Universities in America and Europe.
During the period of the war he helps many scientists, mainly Jews to escape to America.
He died in 1950 two months after he gave his last lecture in Munich.

The University of Smyrna

In 1919 the Greek government and its Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, decided to establish a University in Smyrna, Asia Minor. Karatheodori has been invited in order to organize the new University. Karatheodori, accepts this invitation, leaving a brilliant career.

His first care was to gather a number of professors to start the establishment of the University.
Among  them  were George Ioakeimoglou Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Berlin, Frixos Theodoridis Professor of Physics, Nicolas Kritikos from Konstantinople who after 1922 became Professor of Mathematics at the Technical University of Athens.

Also P. Kyropoulos chemist, who was for many years assistant to the greatest A. Tamann professor of Physicochemistry.

Theologos Kessisoglou from Kayseri who studied in Belgium, and had organized schools of agricultural in China, Colombia and Uruguay with a very rich writing work, intended to became Professor of Agricultural sciences.

Finally,  E. Paskevits, as a mechanic for the organization of workshops.

In order to establish the library of the University a great number of scientific books had been bought and 36 large cardboard boxes sent to Smyrna for this purpose. The new University named THE LIGHT OF THE EAST, “To Fos tis Anatolis”.

Karatheodori’s vision was to create a serious faculty of Physics and Mathematics as well as Technical and Agricultural departments. Believing in the idea of cooperation between the two nations, Turkish and Greek, he also intended to create  an Oriental Languages’ School where Turkish, Arabic, Persian and Hebrew languages were going to be treated.
Unfortunately for-coming sad events prevented every effort and vision.

Fortunately the precious books and scientific material transferred safety in Athens and the key of the University had been given symbolically to Nicolaos Plastiras, later on. Karatheodori was one of the last who abandoned Smyrna in 1922 with the risk of falling into the hands of the Turks.
All the books and other scientific material of the University of Smyrna are in the museum of the University of Athens


1. http://stuttgart.europe.sch.gr/einstein/frames/karatheodori.htm
2. The Economicos Tahydromos, Number. Sheet 992, Athens on April 26 1973, p. 84-85
3. Wikipedia,

Edited by:

K. K. Barbatsi

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