Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Times of the Sicilian Robin Hood

From Bandit to Politician

In 1943, all of Europe was suffering.  The effects of World War II were poverty, shortages, disorder, and a struggle for existence.  The shortages were so severe that thievery and black marketeering became the general way of life for a significant percentage of European populations.  Nowhere were the deprivations of the war and its aftermath more apparent than in Sicily.  Even with the liberation of the island from the Nazis, conditions were very difficult.

By early 1946, Sicily was in one of its frequent states of political chaos, and Giuliano was well established as "The King of the Mountain."  These two apparently unrelated conditions soon merged.

The Fascists were gone.  Italy was once more united, first under the king who had been deposed by Mussolini, then under a republican government based in Rome.  As it had been for almost eighty years (since the unification of Italy into a single state in 1866) Sicily was both ignored and exploited by the central government.

Two thousand years of occupation by Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, and French had created an island that was fiercely independent.  This independence was more of an attitude than a reality, because Sicilians had been subjugated for so long by one conqueror or another most recently by their own central government in Rome.

A number of political parties came into existence. The most prominent were the Christian Democrats.  One must understand that in Sicily, all political activity is intertwined with the existence of the mafia.  Indeed, the coexistence of the Christian Democrats and the mafia bosses was a given.

The political situation in Sicily was further complicated by the existence of the latafondisti, the barons who had large expanses of land and who held their tenant farmers and part-time laborers in virtual slavery.

The bandit, Salvatore Giuliano
The bandit, Salvatore Giuliano

Giuliano inevitably became ensnared in politics.  The relationship of banditry and politics was a long tradition in Sicily, with a prominent bandit emerging every seventy five to one hundred years.  Each of these notables was linked to a political movement, mostly as a leader of rebellion.  Many of these famous bandits (though none ever as famous as Giuliano) had their own armies.  Agnello (1560s) had his own flag with a death's head, and a fife and drum corps.  LaPilosa (1647) controlled the villages surrounding Palermo and was linked to the greater underworld.  Testalonga (1740s) exacted taxes from the peasants, in defiance of the Austrian rulers.  During the Revolution of 1848-1849, the bandits Di Miceli and Scordato seized virtual power in their villages and marched their armies into Palermo.  The move from sheer banditry to political power was a time-honored tradition that Giuliano followed. 

By 1946, Sicily (and all of Italy) was in its time-honored tradition of political confusion.  The left was represented by the Communists, the middle by the Christian Democrats, and the right by the Separatists, with smaller parties filling in the political spectrum.  Indeed, there was even a surviving Monarchist party still seeking the return of the recently disposed king.

Two political goals motivated Giuliano.  The first was to achieve enough political influence so that he could force a national government to grant him and his men pardons.  The second was to have Sicily annexed to the United States as its 49th state.

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