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main index   © Jeff Matthews   entry May 2003

The Risorgimento

Garibaldi's triumphant entry into Naples

painting of Garibaldi
                      entering NaplesI had lunch today with a 95-year-old gentleman named Franco. He told me that his father passed away in the 1950s, also at a ripe old age. We did some quick figuring and determined that his father was born in 1867. That was the year that Marx published Das Kapital, the year in which The Beautiful Blue Danube was played for the first time, and the year in which the British North American Act created the Dominion of Canada. The typewriter was invented in 1867 and it was the year that Czar Alexander II sold Alaska to the United States. Rome was not yet the capital of a united Italy. I was one generation removed from all that. (Somehow, all that makes me feel very young rather than very old. That seems strange.)

I am in the midst of a "pump the elderly for information" campaign about the situation in southern Italy following the unification of Italy—that is, in the decade following the unification in 1861, the year in which Piedmont, Lombardy, Parma, Modena, Lucca, Romagna, Tuscany, and the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (of which Naples was the capital) were united under Piedmont's Victor Emmanuel II to form the modern nation state of Italy. (Rome would become the capital in 1870). 

The reason for my campaign is the few enquiries I have received about northern mistreatment of the south following unification—or—to use the terminology of those southerners who express themselves vehemently about that period, the "rape of the south". There certainly is no shortage of material in Naples on the subject. I have even seen a book about "the Savoy concentration camps," in which the title uses the Nazi term "Lager" (from Konzentrationslager) just so you don't miss the point. I am looking now at a book entitled They Were the Real Bandits, those Brothers of Italy. The title contains an allusion to the first line of the Italian national anthem, known as The Hymn of Mameli (after the author of the text, Goffredo Mameli, 1827-49). The line starts, "Fratelli d'Italia…"  (Brothers of Italy), that phrase being the alternate title of the anthem, itself. The music is by Michele Novaro (1818-85). This particular book is a condemnation of all the figures popularly connected with the Risorgimento, the movement to unify Italy; that is, Garibaldi is little more than a thug in charge of a band of mercenaries, all in the hire of northern hyenas such as Cavour and Victor Emmanuel II. The defeat of the Kingdom of the Two Naples (The Kingdom of Naples) by the forces of Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel was the beginning of mass unemployment and general misery for the south and the beginning of immigration away from the former Kingdom of Naples, thus depleting its greatest resource, people who want to work. And so on and so forth.

[Also see this entry on "bandits"]

I didn't get much from Franco, except something I already knew—the Risorgimento is sacrosanct in modern Italian history. You may take issue with the way it was done—that is, you may say something like "The unity of Italy (Risorgimento) was inevitable, but perhaps the invasion and conquest of the south was not. Maybe it could have been handled in another way."—but you can't argue with the premise that Italy was to be one. The term, itself—Risorgimento—rebirth, resurgence, resurrection (all that)—is the name that Cavour gave to the newspaper he founded in 1849. In the opening paragraph of the first issue, he spoke of the need for a "political and economic risorgimento". The name stuck and became the name of the movement, itself, to unify Italy. 

It would, however, be a mistake to view that movement strictly as the idea of northerners such as Garibaldi, Cavour, and Mazzini. Indeed, much of the philosophy underlying Italian unity comes from the south, from the members of the so-called Neapolitan Enlightenment such as Vincenzo Cuoco. Indeed, the first secret societies agitating for unity were the "carbonari", a southern invention. Thus, the drive to unity was broadbased. Could it have been achieved in any other way than by an invasion of the south? (The what-if school of history is always fun!) It turns out that on a least two occasions, Victor Emmanuel proposed an alliance with the Kingdom of Naples. He and the Neapolitans would divvy up the peninsula. Since this would entail taking over the Papal States (except for the city of Rome, itself), the King of Naples turned down the proposal as blasphemous. And, thus, Garibaldi did what he did—invaded Sicily and then the Italian mainland. He disobeyed Victor Emmanuel, by the way. "Don't invade the mainland," was the order. Garibaldi wrote a nice note, asking for permission to "disobey". It is not clear that he waited for the return mail. 

Thus—according to these books I am looking at—began a ten-year period of intense suffering for the south: looted treasury, industrial plants carried off, unjust imprisonment and even execution of Neapolitan citizens, etc. As I say, Franco was no help, other than to tell me that his grandfather—born in the 1840s—was a proud member of the Bourbon army of the Kingdom of Naples. I have one more gentleman on my list of those to be pumped. He is 105 years old. He is in good health, but now says he is feeling tired. Lunch next week—I hope—but I have the feeling that I may have to find a real historian.

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