2 July 2018

Carlo Pisacane – socialist and revolutionary

Patriot who put deeds before ideas

Carlo Pisacane's revolutionary philosophy influenced Benito Mussolini
Carlo Pisacane's revolutionary philosophy
influenced Benito Mussolini
Carlo Pisacane, Duke of San Giovanni, was killed on this day in 1857 at Sanza in Campania, while trying to provoke an uprising in the Kingdom of Naples.

Pisacane is remembered for coming up with the concept ‘propaganda of the deed’, an idea that influenced Mussolini and many rebels and terrorists subsequently.

He argued that violence was necessary, not only to draw attention or generate publicity for a cause, but to inform, educate and rally the masses to join in.

Pisacane was born into an impoverished, noble family in Naples in 1818.

He joined the Neapolitan army at the age of 20, but became interested in the political ideas of Giuseppe Mazzini and went to England and France before going to serve in the French army in Algeria.

After the revolution of 1848 he came back to Italy, where he played a part in the brief life of the Roman Republic. After the city was captured by the French he went into exile again in London.

Pisacane regarded the rule of the House of Savoy as no better than the rule of Austria and went to Genoa to involve himself with the uprisings planned by Mazzini and his followers.

Giuseppe Mazzini had the idea to start an insurrection in Naples
Giuseppe Mazzini had the idea to start
an insurrection in Naples
Mazzini came up with the idea of starting an insurrection in the Kingdom of Naples and Pisacane volunteered to organise it. He sailed from Genoa with a few followers on board the steamer, Cagliari, in June 1857.

They landed first on the island of Ponza, which was being used as a penal colony at the time. They overpowered the guards and liberated hundreds of prisoners.

They then sailed on to Sapri in Campania from where he led about 300 men towards the area known as the Cilento. When they were confronted at Padula, Pisacane was stabbed. He was finally killed at Sanza by angry locals who thought he was a wandering gypsy who had been stealing their food.

Pisacane had written essays about his political beliefs, saying that ideas result from deeds, not deeds from ideas, and that people will not be free when they are educated, but educated when they are free. These essays were published posthumously in France.

Pisacane’s disastrous landing was commemorated in the poem, La Spigolatrice di Sapri by Luigi Mercantini. This was translated into English by Henry Longfellow with the title, The Gleaner of Sapri. The poem also inspired the 1952 historical drama film, Eran trecento - They were 300 - starring Rossano Brazzi.

A monument in Sarpi commemorates Piscane
A monument in Sarpi
commemorates Pisacane
Travel tip:

The port of Sapri on the Tyrrhenian Sea, where Pisacane landed with his followers, is one of the most southern points of the Cilento and is close to the border with Basilicata. The people of Sapri celebrate Pisacane’s landing every year with a three-day festival in August.

Pisacane's memorial stone in Sanza
Pisacane's memorial
stone in Sanza
Travel tip:

The small town of Sanza, where Pisacane was killed, is on a hill about 35km (22 miles) to the north of Sapri, surrounded by mountains and on the edge of the Vallo di Diano National Park. Sanza has an annual celebration on 2 July, the day of the revolutionary’s death, which is known as Carlo Pisacane Day. A ceremony will be held today next to Pisacane’s memorial stone.

More reading:

The making of Benito Mussolini

Giuseppe Mazzini: hero of the Risorgimento

Garibaldi and the Expedition of the Thousand

Also on this day:

1922: The birth of fashion designer Pierre Cardin

The Palio di Siena


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