Brigandage, social problem especially widespread in southern Italy, was used by the Bourbons, by the French, by papal authorities and by landowners to weaken the unitary state which was born after the Expedition of the Thousand. It was present in the rural South to the first decades of the last century.
Brigandage has its roots in antiquity. It is particularly developed in southern Italy, as an alternative to the vital subsistence among salaried farmers who were expelled from the lands they cultivated for various reasons. They joined one of the many gangs of criminals who were given to rural banditry actions: robberies, kidnappings, assassinations, finding himself with no chance to survive. The state was absent in these small towns, represented in most cases only by four, five wealthy families, related to one another, whose wealth derived exclusively from the exploitation of farm workers.
Francesco Saverio Sipari, grandfather of Benedetto Croce, in a reflection expressed in 1863 in the “Lettera ai censuari del Tavoliere” put the emphasis on the causes of brigandage present in southern Italy, focusing on the conditions of suffering and deep misery of the southern farmers, they had no alternative to working in the fields, except the brigandage. This represented a way of escape from social injustice and in any case only viable alternative to the farmer wage in those social classes, a wage so low that it often does not even assured to eat. The farmers were then known as “eaters of leafs” as they ate often grass and fruits, products then considered the reject in agricultural production that hardly even could reach the market places because preservation method did not exist.
Even before the Italy post unit brigandage, brigands represented the avengers of injustices and abuses that the weaker sectors of the population were always suffering from landowners, being state law completely absent. They were also the benefactors because often they split with the farmers the results of their robberies which consisted, in most cases, “fine food” (grain and meat) stolen to the owners in their farms. Francesco S. Nitti wrote of bigandage “… the people of the southern campaigns very often does not know even the names of the founders of Italian unity, but remember the names of “Abate Cesare and Angelo Duca (two of the most famous brigands) and their latest imitators with admiration. ”
Brigandage was not peculiar to the south, as it was quite widespread in the rest of Italy, although with different characteristics, It was not the phenomenon of subsistence but of social revolt. Brigands were famous: Stefano Pelloni aka “Passatore” in the countryside of Romagna, Giovanni Carciocchi aka “Carcini” in the Lombardo-Veneto, Giuseppe Mayno in Piedmont and Giovanni Tolu in Sardinia.
In 1799 a prelude to the use of the robbers by the Bourbon authorities came when King Ferdinand IV of Naples took refuge in Sicily with all the royal court because of the revolutionary movements that affected Naples and which developed in the constitution of the Neapolitan Republic. He gave Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, belonging to a noble family from Calabria, the responsibility to forming an army with which to win back the kingdom of Naples. The cardinal, who landed in Calabria, put together an army named the “Santa Fede” by bringing in his army all the bands of brigands present at that time in Calabria, and with the help of a few Bourbon soldiers and many peasants he regained kingdom at the cost of a social disaster, because of the ferocity with which the “Sanfedisti” soldiers restored the order by Ferdinand IV in the provinces of the kingdom and in the city of Naples.
Immediately after the “Expedition of the Thousand” and conquest of the Bourbon stronghold of Gaeta, Messina and Civitella del Tronto, last to surrender to the Piedmontese forces guided by General Luigi Mezzacapo, A rebellion developed around the southern for failure to implement of the promises of the patriots endorsed by Giuseppe Garibaldi, to distribute ownership of land to the peasants who worked it. This rebellion, which interested the social class marked by illiteracy and by hard work, could only be expressed in the form of violent revolt against those who represent the institutions. The revolt relied on existing structures and well known by the peasants, armed gangs of brigands called “masses”. They were also feared and respected by landowners for their violence and cruelty, look with sympathy and benevolence by farmers because these bands often shared the fruits of their raids with the poorest.
These bands were used by the forces of the Bourbon restoration to undermine the power of Savoy on the south. Still being fought in Gaeta already Francis II and Maria Sofia tried to stop the Piedmontese army which was directed to south to take possession of Naples, by sending a “mass” of brigands led by Theodor Friedich Klitsche de la Grange who headed the Civitella del Tronto, Bourbon fortress that still resisted, to block the Piedmontese in Abruzzo. This first expedition was followed by two other columns of irregular led by General Bourbon Luigi Scotti Douglas and by the Swiss Von Mechel who suffered a defeat by the Piedmontese in the battle of Macerone, between Castel di Sangro and Isernia, after which the Savoy army reached Naples no other impediments.
After the transfer of the Bourbon court in Rome, Palazzo Farnese, building inherited by Charles III by his mother Elizabeth, the last of the Farnese, Francis and Maria Sofia organized the “great brigandage“. Between 1861 and 1865, it was marked by a large participation of the “masses” guided by leaders who took orders from Bourbon to try to subvert the Italy post-unit order, with the hope of restoring the Bourbon kingdom. All that happened under the benevolent eyes of the papal authorities who resented the Savoy dynasty for their stated aversion to the temporal power of the church, and with the complacent no hostility of the French, in Rome with their troops, who evidently had repented of their benevolence to southern conquest by the Savoy.
The most famous brigand was Carmine Crocco (top photo), aka “Donatello“, the “General of the brigands“, he was born in Rionero in Volture in 1830. He had been in the army Bourbon in his youth, where he had stabbed and killed in a rustic duel a his fellow soldier who had accused him of theft. He was then passed into the army of Garibaldi where he had behaved valiantly. He returned to his native village to ask that the amnesty were applied for his many crimes. He was not granted and was imprisoned, managed to escape with the help of the Fortunato family (the same family of Giustino Fortunato).
Carmine Crocco, put in command of a “mass” of about two thousand men, and raged in the region and Volture, declaring the orders of Francesco II, freed from the structures of the post-unitary state. He occupied Venosa, where he was killed the Liberal Francesco Saverio Nitti, grandfather of the statesman, then Melfi and sink. Having occupied virtually the entire Basilicata, they began the first defeat inflicted on them by the Piedmontese riflemen commanded by General Enrico Cialdini. Crocco, Become aware abandoned by Bourbon, he tried to negotiate an honorable surrender with Cialdini, not getting insurance required fled in the Papal States, where he was captured and imprisoned by the papal forces.
He was exiled to Algiers; the French ship carrying him had to make a stop in Marseilles, it was stopped by the Italian authorities in Genoa, where Carmine Crocco was arrested by Italian authorities . Crocco was entrusted to the French, after the vehement French protests about the injustice suffered by a ship of his own marina. He was returned to the Italian state after a regular extradition request. He was tried in Potenza and sentence was to death, he was pardoned and sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, which he served in the penitentiary of Portoferraio, where died in 1905.
Between 1860 and 1863 the forces that contrasted the brigantage, which initially could count on 22,000 men weapon of Bersaglieri”, were brought up to 120,000 men, half of all the Italian Army; They were under the command of General Enrico Cialdini. It was a war fought hot and heavy between the Brigands and the regular forces. A state of siege was declared and military law of war was applied for a more effective fight. More than 5,000 bandits or assumed were killed, and another 5,000 arrested, The Italian army was not difference between the real bandits and those who had the fortune or misfortune to favor them in some way.
The band of Michele Caruso, said “Colonel Caruso” because he was invested in that role by the Bourbon government in exile, acted in Molise and near Benevento. This band, comprising about 350 men, was one of the most ruthless. Caruso made victims both among the soldiers, who was not afraid to tackle in the open field, that among the civilians: 14 in Colle Sannita, 27 in Castelvetere, 13 to Monacelle farm, another 13 between Morcone and San Giorgio del Sannio. He was betrayed by a tip-off and captured. He was tried in Benevento, was sentenced to death and shot 22 December 1863.
Luigi Alonzi band said “Chiavone“, made up of 400 bandits, acted in Caserta lands, on the border with the Papal States. He was captured and shot after several skirmishes by Raffaele Tristany, a Spaniard who had been sent to those places by Francis of Bourbon to organize the guerrillas, who killed for rivalry who had to be his ally; Tristany became the head of all the bands that operated in that area.
The government did not agree with the violence of the repression by General Cialdini against the brigands, but also against the peasant population that favored the various gangs in some way for fear. This violence was unfavorable also reported in the international press. He was replaced from general Alfonso la Marmora at command of the forces arrayed against brigantage.
The bands were gradually defeated and all its greatest exponents killed or arrested with the promulgation of “Pica” law that gave ample powers to the court to act also against the relatives of the robbers and their “manutengoli” (so were cited those persons accused of aiding and abetting). In the meantime it had also weakened the favor of the Papal States which allowed them to find refuge on its soil since more and more often these bandits involved the population of the papal territories, to border with provinces of Abruzzo and Campania, with their misdeeds.
In 1865 the unitary state of Italy had had the better of the so-called “great brigandage”, who had attempted to return the south to the Bourbons. In 1867 Francis II realized the impossibility to take possession of his former kingdom and he realizing the situation of the Papal States, which was in the aims of the Italian “Risorgimento” for the invasion and the annexation to Italy, he dismissed the government in exile of the kingdom of the two Sicilies.
Until 1870, small bands of brigands continued to rage in southern Italy, they had lost the aura of revolutionary forces against the unitary state, they simply performed the traditional activities of banditry: thefts, kidnappings, travelers robberies, murders. The unity of Italy, after the third war of independence who had joined the Veneto to Italy, and after the “breccia” of Porta Pia who had sanctioned the end of the Papal States, removed the requirement to maintain a force of repression military against gangs of criminals in southern Italy. Thus the end was declared of military zones and the state of war in the south.
The activity of gangs of brigands continued over the years, it is still present today in the memories of many older people of peasant origin. A testimony of an elderly woman reminds us how the late forties of the ‘900 still existed brigands who were scouring the Campania lands. The woman told that when she was 13 years ago his father, modest wage farmer, one morning found a brigand hiding in his barn where the same had spent the night. He recommended his wife to be careful to the 13 year old daughter although not showing particular fear of the robber, as belonging to the same peasant class. The brigantage was completely overcome and replaced by many other forms of organized crime with the Second World War.
Giovanni De Matteo, Brigantaggio e Risorgimento – Legittimisti e Briganti tra i Borbone e i Savoia, Napoli, Guida Editore
Carmine Donatelli Crocco: Come divenni brigante – Autobiografia, a cura di Mario Proto, Manduria, Lacaita, 1995
G. Massari e S. Castagnola, Il Brigantaggio nelle province napoletane, Ristampa anastatica, Milano, Forni editore, 1863
Francesco Saverio Nitti Eroi e briganti, edizione 1899.