Sunday, 8 December 2013


THE MAFIA in 1592.


Marco Sciarra, a robber baron from the Abruzzi, was the Don Corleone of his time.
 
The historian Sir James Craufurd noted that Italy had been enjoying peace for some time, but “the bandits were worse than any enemy.” Sciarra wanted to be “King”, or maybe even Pope. When he captured some monks, he made them kneel on the ground and kiss his feet (an honour usually reserved for the pope). He went as far as appointing judges, issuing passports, and conducting wedding ceremonies in the areas he controlled.
 
In some sources Sciarra is depicted as a Robin Hood figure.  He collected taxes from the rich, but I’m not sure that he distributed them to the poor. When the town of Piceno refused to pay up, Sciarra’s men “killed most of the inhabitants and sacked the whole place, then pillaged several of the neighbouring villages, and had the burgomaster hanged in one of them” (Fugger Newsletter, 25 April 1592). By that time Sciarra commanded a well-armed troop of 600 bandits. Finally the Pope sent an army against them and managed to drive them out of the papal territory. At this point Sciarra decided to go legit. The Venetian state hired him and his troops to fight the pirates who endangered their shipping routes.

As you can see, bandits have their good uses, but Sciarra’s second career was brief. He was assassinated by a fellow bandit in 1593. The traitor was given a pardon by the grateful pope.

The Duke of Ferrara also found the bandits handy, at least those he caught. He used them to discourage poaching on his estate. According to Craufurd, “he hung up the banditos in the fields, some with partridges, some with pheasants, some with hares about their legs, the duke’s officers giving out that they were put to death for killing those animals.” There was a sharp decline in poaching after that.

 

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