1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brigandage

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BRIGANDAGE. The brigand is supposed to derive his name from the O. Fr. brigan, which is a form of the Ital. brigante, an irregular or partisan soldier. There can be no doubt as to the origin of the word “bandit,” which has the same meaning. In Italy, which is not unjustly considered the home of the most accomplished European brigands, a bandito was a man declared outlaw by proclamation, or bando, called in Scotland “a decree of horning” because it was delivered by a blast of a horn at the town cross. The brigand, therefore, is the outlaw who conducts warfare after the manner of an irregular or partisan soldier by skirmishes and surprises, who makes the war support itself by plunder, by extorting blackmail, by capturing prisoners and holding them to ransom, who enforces his demands by violence, and kills the prisoners who cannot pay. In certain conditions the brigand has not been a mere malefactor. “It is you who are the thieves”—“I Ladroni, siete voi,”—was the defence of the Calabrian who was tried as a brigand by a French court-martial during the reign of Murat in Naples. Brigandage may be, and not infrequently has been, the last resource of a people subject to invasion. The Calabrians who fought for Ferdinand of Naples, and the Spanish irregular levies, which maintained the national resistance against the French from 1808 to 1814, were called brigands by their enemies. In the Balkan peninsula, under Turkish rule, the brigands (called klephts by the Greeks and hayduks or haydutzi by the Slavs) had some claim to believe themselves the representatives of their people against oppressors. The only approach to an attempt to maintain order was the permission given to part of the population to carry arms in order to repress the klephts. They were hence called “armatoli.” As a matter of fact the armatole were rather the allies than the enemies of the klephts. The invader who reduces a nation to anarchy, and then suffers from the disorder he creates, always calls his opponents brigands. It is a natural consequence of such a war, but a very disastrous one, for the people who have to have recourse to these methods of defence, that the brigand acquires some measure of honourable prestige from his temporary association with patriotism and honest men. The patriot band attracts the brigand proper, who is not averse to continue his old courses under an honourable pretext. “Viva Fernando y vamos robando” (Long life to Ferdinand, and let us go robbing) has been said by not unfair critics to have been the maxim of many Spanish guerrilleros. Italy and Spain suffered for a long time from the disorder developed out of the popular resistance to the French. Numbers of the guerrilleros of both countries, who in normal conditions might have been honest, had acquired a preference for living on the country, and for occasional booty, which they could not resign when the enemy had retired. Their countrymen had to work for a second deliverance from their late defenders. In the East the brigand has had a freer scope, and has even founded kingdoms. David’s following in the cave of Adullam was such material as brigands are made of. “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him, and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.” Nadir Shah of Persia began in just such a cave of Adullam, and lived to plunder Delhi with a host of Persians and Afghans.

The conditions which favour the development of brigandage may be easily summed up. They are first bad administration, and then, in a less degree, the possession of convenient hiding-places. A country of mountain and forest is favourable to the brigand. The highlands of Scotland supplied a safe refuge to the “gentlemen reavers,” who carried off the cattle of the Sassenach landlords. The Apennines, the mountains of Calabria, the Sierras of Spain, were the homes of the Italian “banditos” and the Spanish “bandoleros” (banished men) and “salteadores” (raiders). The forests of England gave cover to the outlaws whose very much flattered portrait is to be found in the ballads of Robin Hood. The “maquis,” i.e. the bush of Corsica, and its hills, have helped the Corsican brigand, as the bush of Australia covered the bushranger. But neither forest thicket nor mountain is a lasting protection against a good police, used with intelligence by the government, and supported by the law-abiding part of the community. The great haunts of brigands in Europe have been central and southern Italy and the worst-administered parts of Spain, except those which fell into the hands of the Turks. “Whenever numerous troops of banditti, multiplied by success and impunity, publicly defy, instead of eluding, the justice of their country, we may safely infer that the excessive weakness of the government is felt and abused by the lowest ranks of the community,” is the judgment passed by Gibbon on the disorders of Sicily in the reign of the emperor Gallienus. This weakness has not always been a sign of real feebleness in the government. England was vigorously ruled in the reign of William III., when “a fraternity of plunderers, thirty in number according to the lowest estimate, squatted near Waltham Cross under the shades of Epping Forest, and built themselves huts, from which they sallied forth with sword and pistol to bid passengers stand.” It was not because the state was weak that the Gubbings (so called in contempt from the trimmings and refuse of fish) infested Devonshire for a generation from their headquarters near Brent Tor, on the edge of Dartmoor. It was because England had not provided herself with a competent rural police. In relatively unsettled parts of the United States there has been a considerable amount of a certain kind of brigandage. In early days the travel routes to the far West were infested by highwaymen, who, however, seldom united into bands, and such outlaws, when captured, were often dealt with in an extra-legal manner, e.g. by “vigilance committees.” The Mexican brigand Cortina made incursions into Texas before the Civil War. In Canada the mounted police have kept brigandage down, and in Mexico the “Rurales” have made an end of the brigands. Such curable evils as the highwaymen of England, and their like in the States, are not to be compared with the “Écorcheurs,” or Skinners, of France in the 15th century, or the “Chauffeurs” of the revolutionary epoch. The first were large bands of discharged mercenary soldiers who pillaged the country. The second were ruffians who forced their victims to pay ransom by holding their feet in fires. Both flourished because the government was for the time disorganized by foreign invasion or by revolution. These were far more terrible evils than the licence of criminals, who are encouraged by a fair prospect of impunity because there is no permanent force always at hand to check them, and to bring them promptly to justice. At the same time it would be going much too far to say that the absence of an efficient police is the sole cause of brigandage in countries not subject to foreign invasion, or where the state is not very feeble. The Sicilian peasants of whom Gibbon wrote were not only encouraged by the hope of impunity, but were also maddened by an oppressive system of taxation and a cruel system of land tenure. So were the Gauls and Spaniards who throughout the 3rd and 4th centuries were a constant cause of trouble to the empire, under the name of Bagaudae, a word of uncertain origin. In the years preceding the French Revolution, the royal government commanded the services of a strong army, and a numerous maréchaussée or gendarmerie. Yet it was defied by the troops of smugglers and brigands known as faux saulniers, unauthorized salt-sellers, and gangs of poachers haunted the king’s preserves round Paris. The salt monopoly and the excessive preservation of the game were so oppressive that the peasantry were provoked to violent resistance and to brigandage. They were constantly suppressed, but as the cause of the disorder survived, so its effects were continually renewed. The offenders enjoyed a large measure of public sympathy, and were warned or concealed by the population, even when they were not actively supported. The traditional outlaw who spared the poor and levied tribute on the rich was, no doubt, always a creature of fiction. The ballad which tells us how “Rich, wealthy misers were abhorred, By brave, free-hearted Bliss” (a rascal hanged for highway robbery at Salisbury in 1695) must have been a mere echo of the Robin Hood songs. But there have been times and countries in which the law and its administration have been so far regarded as enemies by people who were not themselves criminals, that all who defied them have been sure of a measure of sympathy. Then and there it was that brigandage has flourished, and has been difficult to extirpate. Schinder-Hannes, Jack the Skinner, whose real name was Johann Buckler, and who was born at Muklen on the Rhine, flourished from 1797 to 1802 because there was no proper police to stop him; it is also true that as he chiefly plundered the Jews he had a good deal of Christian sympathy. When caught and beheaded he had no successors.

The brigandage of Greece, southern Italy, Corsica and Spain had deeper roots, and has never been quite suppressed. All four countries are well provided with hiding-places in forest and mountain. In all the administration has been bad, the law and its officers have been regarded as dangers, if not as deliberate enemies, so that they have found little native help, and, what is not the least important cause of the persistence of brigandage, there have generally been local potentates who found it to their interest to protect the brigand. The case of Greece under Turkish rule need not be dealt with. Whoever was not a klepht was the victim of some official extortioner. It would be grossly unfair to apply the name brigand to the Mainotes and similar clans, who had to choose between being flayed by the Turks or living by the sword under their own law. When it became independent Greece was extremely ill administered under a nominal parliamentary government by politicians who made use of the brigands for their own purposes. The result was the state of things described with only pardonable exaggeration in Edmond About’s amusing Roi de la montagne. An authentic and most interesting picture of the Greek brigands will be found in the story of the captivity of S. Soteropoulos, an ex-minister who fell into their hands. It was translated into English under the title of The Brigands of the Morea, by the Rev. J. O. Bagdon (London, 1868). The misfortunes of Soteropoulos led to the adoption of strong measures which cleared the Morea, where the peasantry gave active support to the troops when they saw that the government was in earnest. But brigandage was not yet extinct in Greece. In 1870 an English party, consisting of Lord and Lady Muncaster, Mr Vyner, Mr Lloyd, Mr Herbert, and Count de Boyl, was captured at Oropos, near Marathon, and a ransom of £25,000 was demanded. Lord and Lady Muncaster were set at liberty to seek for the ransom, but the Greek government sent troops in pursuit of the brigands, and the other prisoners were then murdered. The scoundrels were hunted down, caught, and executed, and Greece has since then been tolerably free from this reproach. In the Balkan peninsula, under Turkish rule, brigandage continued to exist in connexion with Christian revolt against the Turk, and the race conflicts of Albanians, Walachians, Pomuks, Bulgarians and Greeks. In Corsica the “maquis” has never been without its brigand hero, because industry has been stagnant, family feuds persist, and the government has never quite succeeded in persuading the people to support the law. The brigand is always a hero to at least one faction of Corsicans.

The conditions which favour brigandage have been more prevalent, and for longer, in Italy than elsewhere in western Europe, with the standing exception of Corsica, which is Italian in all but political allegiance. Until the middle of the 19th century Italy was divided into small states, so that the brigand who was closely pursued in one could flee to another. Thus it was that Marco Sciarra of the Abruzzi, when hard pressed by the Spanish viceroy of Naples—just before and after 1600—could cross the border of the papal states and return on a favourable opportunity. When pope and viceroy combined against him he took service with Venice, from whence he could communicate with his friends at home, and pay them occasional visits. On one such visit he was led into a trap and slain. Marco Sciarra had terrorized the country far and wide at the head of 600 men. He was the follower and imitator of Benedetto Mangone, of whom it is recorded that, having stopped a party of travellers which included Torquato Tasso, he allowed them to pass unharmed out of his reverence for poets and poetry. Mangone was finally taken, and beaten to death with hammers at Naples. He and his like are the heroes of much popular verse, written in ottava rima, and beginning with the traditional epic invocation to the muse. A fine example is “The most beautiful history of the life and death of Pietro Mancino, chief of Banditti,” which has remained popular with the people of southern Italy. It begins:—

Io canto li ricatti, e il fiero ardire
Del gran Pietro Mancino fuoruscito”
(Pietro Mancino that great outlawed man
I sing, and all his rage.)

In Naples the number of competing codes and jurisdictions, the survival of the feudal power of the nobles, who sheltered banditti, just as a Highland chief gave refuge to “caterans” in Scotland, and the helplessness of the peasantry, made brigandage chronic, and the same conditions obtained in Sicily. The Bourbon dynasty reduced brigandage very much, and secured order on the main high-roads. But it was not extinguished, and it revived during the French invasion. This was the flourishing time of the notorious Fra Diavolo, who began as brigand and blossomed into a patriot. Fra Diavolo was captured and executed by the French. When Ferdinand was restored on the fall of Napoleon he employed an English officer, General Sir Richard Church, to suppress the brigands. General Church, who kept good order among his soldiers, and who made them pay for everything, gained the confidence of the peasantry, and restored a fair measure of security. It was he who finally brought to justice the villainous Don Ciro Anicchiarico—priest and brigand—who declared at his trial with offhand indifference that he supposed he had murdered about seventy people first and last. When a brother priest was sent to give him the consolations of religion, Ciro cut him short, saying, “Stop that chatter, we are two of a trade: we need not play the fool to one another” (Lasciate queste chiacchiere, siamo dell’ istessa professione: non ci burliamo fra noi). Every successive revolutionary disturbance in Naples saw a recrudescence of brigandage down to the unification of 1860–1861, and then it was years before the Italian government rooted it out. The source of the trouble was the support the brigands received from various kinds of “manuténgoli” (maintainers)—great men, corrupt officials, political parties, and the peasants who were terrorized, or who profited by selling the brigands food and clothes. In Sicily brigandage has been endemic. In 1866 two English travellers, Mr E. J. C. Moens and the Rev. J. C. Murray Aynesley, were captured and held to ransom. Mr Moens found that the “manuténgoli” of the brigands among the peasants charged famine prices for food, and extortionate prices for clothes and cartridges. What is true of Naples and Sicily is true of other parts of Italy mutatis mutandis. In Tuscany, Piedmont and Lombardy the open country has been orderly, but the borders infested with brigands. The worst district outside Calabria has been the papal states. The Austrian general, Frimont, did, however, partly clear the Romagna about 1820, though at a heavy cost of life to his soldiers—mostly Bohemian Jägers—from the malaria.

The history of brigandage in Spain is very similar. It may be said to have been endemic in and south of the Sierra Morena. In the north it has flourished when government was weak, and after foreign invasion and civil wars. But it has always been put down easily by a capable administration. It reached its greatest heights in Catalonia, where it began in the strife of the peasants against the feudal exactions of the landlords. It had its traditional hero, Roque Guinart, who figures in the second part of Don Quixote. The revolt against the house of Austria in 1640, and the War of the Succession (1700–1714), gave a great stimulus to Catalan brigandage. But it was then put down in a way for which Italy offers no precedent. A country gentleman named Pedro Veciana, hereditary balio (military and civil lieutenant) of the archbishop of Tarragona in the town of Valls, armed his farm-servants, and resisted the attacks of the brigands. With the help of neighbouring country gentlemen he formed a strong band, known as the Mozos (Boys) of Veciana. The brigands combined to get rid of him by making an attack on the town of Valls, but were repulsed with great loss. The government of Philip V. then commissioned Veciana to raise a special corps of police, the “escuadra de Cataluna,” which still exists. For five generations the colonel of the escuadra was always a Veciana. At all times in central and northern Spain the country population has supported the police when the government would act firmly. Since the organization of the excellent constabulary called “La Guardia Civil” by the duke of Ahumada, about 1844, brigandage has been well kept down. At the close of the Carlist War in 1874 a few bands infested Catalonia, but one of the worst was surprised, and all its members battered to death with boxwood cudgels by a gang of charcoal-burners on the ruins of the castle of San Martin de Centellas. In such conditions as these brigandage cannot last. More sympathy is felt for “bandoleros” in the south, and there also they find Spanish equivalents for the “manuténgoli” of Italy. The tobacco smuggling from Gibraltar keeps alive a lawless class which sinks easily into pure brigandage. Perhaps the influence of the Berber blood in the population helps to prolong this barbarism. The Sierra Morena, and the Serrania de Ronda, have produced the bandits whose achievements form the subject of popular ballads, such as Francisco Esteban El Guapo (Francis Stephen, the Buck or Dandy), Don Juan de Serralonga, Pedranza, &c. The name of José Maria has been made familiar to all the world by Merimée’s story, Carmen, and by Bizet’s opera. José Maria, called El Tempranillo (the early bird), was a historical personage, a liberal in the rising against Ferdinand VII., 1820–1823, then a smuggler, then a “bandolero.” He was finally bought off by the government, and took a commission to suppress the other brigands. Jose Maria was at last shot by one of them, whom he was endeavouring to arrest. The civil guard prevents brigandage from reaching any great height in normal times, but in 1905 a bandit of the old stamp, popularly known as “El Vivillo” (the Vital Spark), haunted the Serrania de Ronda.

The brigand life has been made the subject of much romance. But when stripped of fiction it appears that the bands have been mostly recruited by men who had been guilty of homicide, out of jealousy or in a gambling quarrel, and who remained in them not from love of the life, but from fear of the gallows. A reformed brigand, known as Passo di Lupo (Wolf’s Step), confessed to Mr McFarlane about 1820 that the weaker members of the band were terrorized and robbed by the bullies, and that murderous conflicts were constant among them.

The “dacoits” or brigands of India were of the same stamp as their European colleagues. The Pindaris were more than brigands, and the Thugs were a religious sect.

Authorities.—The literature of brigandage, apart from pure romances, or official reports of trials, is naturally extensive. Mr McFarlane’s Lives and Exploits of Banditti and Robbers (London, 1837) is a useful introduction to the subject. The author saw a part of what he wrote about, and gives many references, particularly for Italy. A good bibliography of Spanish brigandage will be found in the Reseña Historica de la Guardia Civil of Eugenio de la Iglesia (Madrid, 1898). For actual pictures of the life, nothing is better than the English Travellers and Italian Brigands of W. J. C. Moens (London, 1866), and The Brigands of the Morea, by S. Soteropoulos, translated by the Rev. J. O. Bagdon (London, 1868).  (D. H.)