During Ottoman occupation a peculiar system of local security was formed in the mountainous regions of Rumeli. The regional Ottoman authorities charged the armatoles with the defence of the communities from the illegal action of armed groups, the klephtes. The armatoles were groups of armed men who were paid by the communities and who thus acquired privileges (bearing arms, tax exemption) through which they were elevated to positions of regional influence. In order to maintain their status, the armatoles had to put down the action of the klephts. If they were not effective they were replaced. They were usually supplanted by the most powerful group of klephts who had proved its expertise in the use of violence with its unlawful action (plunder, destruction, illegal taxes). Armed groups frequently passed from legality (armatole, persecutor) to illegality (klephtis, persecuted). From the 18th century, the economic and socio-political power of the armatole families had surpassed that of the local notables in most mountainous districts of Rumeli. At the very beginning of the Revolution, armed men such as Varnakiotis and Androutsos seemed to dominate in central Greece. However, they were soon eliminated, or, in the course of the Revolution, controlled by newly established politicians (Alexandros Mavrokordatos, Ioannis Kolettis).

Armatolism did not flourish in the Peloponnese. There, the klephts were kept under control by the Ottoman authorities and the local notables. Powerful klephts families, such as the Kolokotronaioi, were occasionally hired by the local notables as private retainers. The kapoi, as they were called did not acquire the economic wealth, the socio-political power or the prestige of the chieftains of Rumeli and the other districts where the armatolism system thrived (Epirus, Thessaly, western Macedonia). In the course of the Revolution those who did not follow Kolokotronis in supporting his elevation as a leading political agent, continued on the side of the local notables.