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Brigandage after 1860

Brigandage swept with awful force the whole South between 1861 and 1865. It was no more a simple criminal movement with its own unlawful ends but the violent expression of a deep social and economic disease following Garibaldi's expedition.
In 1860, after the fall of the Bourbon regime, defeated by Garibaldi's volunteers' army, the South was annexed to the other Italian States already under the Savoy monarchy, but was burdened with conditions of great backward economy and social injustice.

Garibaldi's enterprise had fed the Southern population with hopes of a radical renewal of society, but the new government in 1861 was a creature of the bourgeoisie, and they dealt with the problems of the South establishing an alliance between the rich proprietors of the North and the Southern landowners, disregarding the agrarian reform advocated by the peasants of the South. A strict centralized administration was established supported by heavy rules, most burdensome for the economically weakest.

Brigante Bands of brigands were formed mainly by former Garibaldi's red shirts, former soldiers of the Bourbon army, farm-laborers, waged peasants, who lived in utter poverty, and also by their women, as valiant as the men. They were groups of outlaws who gathered in a special area around a leader and attacked, fully-armed, people and property. They became thieves, murderers, criminals sand saw in armed revolution the only way to gain political rights and fight poverty.

F.S Sipari from Pescasseroli wrote what follows to the tax collectors of Tavoliere (Apulia) in 1863:
«Who are the Brigands? Being born and grown up among them, I can tell you. The peasant has no home, no field, no vineyard, no meadow, no wood, no cattle; he just owns 1 meter common land in the cemetery. He has no bed, no clothes, no man's food, no medicine. He does not know wheat bread or meat course, but only eats an unnamed mixture of farro and rye, when he is not eating with the beasts the roots given by their step-mother earth to those who love her. The proletarian wants to improve his own conditions as well as we do. This he expected from the so-called revolution; this he expects from the monarchy. Sure, life is a shame, the world unjust and bad ... But brigandage is only poverty, utter, desperate poverty» (In Benedetto Croce, Storia del Regno di Napoli - Laterza, Bari,1966, pages.337-339)

Disappointed by Garibaldi's promises, by a never fulfilled agrarian reform, driven by the hate for the new masters, who exploited them more than the previous ones, they fought for the return of the Bourbons, that is those sovereigns who always protected the properties of the Church and the aristocracy.

The situation got still worse when the possessions of the Church and of the Southern landowners were auctioned. Buyers mostly belonged to the new rural bourgeoisie, who proved to be even more tyrannical than the former lords. In Calabria, Apulia, Campania, Basilicata, Abruzzo, armed bands of brigands started in the summer of 1861 to rob, kill, burn, occupy the properties of the new rich class. They took refuge into the mountains and were protected and hidden by the poor peasants, but also helped by the clergy and former confiscated landowners who were still devout to the Bourbons.

The Italian government was not unprepared, and reacted employing more than 120,000 soldiers led by famous general Cialdini. The army were faced not with a few thieves, but with the revolution of a whole people. Reprisals were cruel and bloody on both sides and often the poor population was caught into the fights, whole villages were destroyed and hundreds of peasants were shot without a trial under the unfounded accusation of protecting the brigands.

"To destroy the brigands we let blood flow in rivers, but little thought we gave to more radical measures. In this case, as in many other things, the urgency of repression led us to put aside radical remedies, those only remedies that can stop this evil, which is surely not over, and will last still for a long time. In politics we were good surgeons but very bed doctors...".(from a letter of an army officer in Pasquale Villari's "Lettere meridionali"). Only in 1878 brigandage was defeated completely.

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