The Evzones, or Evzoni, (Greek: Εύζωνοι, the Well-Girt) is any of several historical elite light infantry and mountain battalions and regiments of the Greek Army. Today, it refers to the members of the Proedriki Froura (Presidential Guard), an elite ceremonial unit that guards the Greek Parliament and Presidential Mansion.
The unit is famous around the world for its unique traditional uniform which is designed to be similar to the outfits worn by the klephts who fought the Ottoman occupation of Greece. Part of this uniform is fustanella, a kilt-like garment.
King Otto's Royal Decree of 21 June 1843 allowed the formation of two elite "Evzone" rifle companies, one in each of the two Line Battalions (Greek, Τάγμα Γραμμής - Tagma Grammis) of the Hellenic Infantry force. More Evzone companies were formed as the infantry forces were expanded. In 1868, the ceremonial Vasiliki Froura Evzonon (Greek, Βασιλική Φρουρά Ευζώνων - Royal Guard of Evzones) were formed, drawing from the ranks of the existing Evzone companies of the line battalions. In 1974, with the abolition of the Greek Monarchy, the Royal Guard of Evzones were redesignated as the Proedriki Froura (Greek, Προεδρική Φρουρά - Presidential Guard).
At their height, the Evzones comprised of five regiments and were considered the elite of the Hellenic Army. As such, they were frequently used as shock troops and suffered horrific casualties in the Balkan Wars, World War I and World War II. The Evzone regiments were disbanded in 1944, save for the ceremonial guard unit.
Today the regiment is purely ceremonial, with duties including:
- Guarding, on a 24-hour basis, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Presidential Mansion and the gates of the Presidential Guard training camp.
- The official raising and lowering of the flag (at 9am and 6pm respectively) every Sunday at the Acropolis, Athens
- Accompanying the President of the Hellenic Republic on official foreign visits
- Offering honours and welcoming foreign officials on visit
- An annual Parade on New York’s 5th Avenue in celebration of Greece’s March 25th National Day
- Accompanying the Holy Fire every Easter from Jerusalem to Athens
During World War II, the occupying German forces raised Evzones regiments attired in the traditional tsolias costume of the regiments, but reporting to the German authorities. These were widely reviled in colloquial Greek as Germanotsoliades.
The historical units were numbered and known as Τάγμα Ευζώνων - "Tagma (Battalion) of Evzones" - or Σύνταγμα - "Regiment of Evzones." The names are usually translated in English-language works with "Evzones" as an adjective modifying the unit, instead of a possesive plural, which is a more accurate reflection of the original Greek. Since the regiments were distinctive, elite units, they had dual numbers - the first, numbering them in the Evzones hierarchy, the second, in the overall infantry hierarchy. Thus the 5/42 Evzones Regiment was the 5th Regiment of Evzones, but also the 42nd Regiment of Infantry.
- 1/38 Evzones Regiment
- 2/39 Evzones Regiment
- 3/40 Evzones Regiment
- 4/41 Evzones Regiment
- 5/42 Evzones Regiment
In 1833, the uniform of the Evzones (and all infantry companies of the line battalions) was in the much-maligned Bavarian style, complete with pants, tailcoats and shako. In 1837, a new uniform was created based on the traditional fustanella style worn by the klephts, armatoloi, and many of the famous fighters of the Greek War of Independence. At first, it was only issued to the light infantry companies, but it had proved so popular that the Evzones were soon issued with a similar uniform; after a few minor changes over the years, it became the familiar uniform seen today.
The basic elements of the uniform are:
- The phareon, a scarlet garrison cap with a long black tassel.
- A woolen fustanella kilt.
- A cotton undershirt.
- White woolen stockings.
- Black knee tassels.
- Red tsarouchi clogs with black pompon.
- A leather cartridge belt and a M1 Garand semi-automatic battle rifle, with bayonet.
The basic color of the winter uniform tunic is navy blue and closely resembles the service uniform worn until 1910, while the summer uniform tunic is light khaki, and similar in design to the field uniform adopted by the Evzone regiments after that date. The full-dress uniform, which derives from the traditional uniform of south-mainland Greece (Sterea Hellas), is worn on Sunday, on important national holidays, at the reception of foreign dignitaries and other special occasions. It has a white, bell-sleeved shirt and a white fustanella with 400 pleats (commemorating the 400 years of Ottoman occupation) with the addition of a fancy gold-brocade waistcoat. Members of the guard can also sometimes be seen in a royal blue and red uniform based on the traditional male costume of Crete, or in the black traditional habit once worn by the Greeks of Pontus. The officers are armed with a sabre instead of a rifle.
The phareon is similar to the fez adopted by the Ottomans which were the main enemies of the evzones.
The uniforms of officers are distinguished from those of enlisted men by the substitution of red buskins for the stockings, and blue garters, their fustanella kilts are also longer than those of the enlisted Evzones.