Kingdom of the
Two Sicilies

Alfonso Pacitti
War or Bankruptcy

“We either go to war or face bankruptcy.”

So wrote Pier Carlo Boggia, the pro-Cavour representative in the Piedmont government, in 1859. After analysing the nation’s budget, he concluded:

“Piedmont is lost. Our finances will never be restored.”

These quotes are taken from Pier Carlo Boggia's own booklet ‘Fra un Mese’.

Ask most Italians, and even others, what they think of Southern Italy and various descriptions will be offered ranging from poor, uncivilised and lazy through to underdeveloped and crime-ridden. In reality when you look at the historical facts from not that long ago, it was not always the case. According to increasing number of Southern Italian protagonists, this negative perception had come about as a result of almost a century and a half of relentless propaganda, taxation and theft by the allegedly ‘liberating and unifying’ northerners of the House of Savoy and Piemonte.

Pino Aprile’s book Terroni - All That Has Been Done To Ensure That The Italians of The South Became “Southerners” provides a fascinating and perhaps controversial insight to what actually happened and how the south of Italy became what it is today. I would recommend this book to anyone seeking a deeper analysis of the impact of unification on Southern Italy.

In his book, Aprile introduces the word ‘terrone’; considered (by many southern Italians) an offensive term most often used by people from the North to describe those from the South. Its derivation comes from the term ‘terra’ meaning dirt or land however an english equivalent is more aligned to ‘dirt-ball’ but even this slander does not encompass the derogatory, socio-cultural basis that ‘terrone’ has in Italian.

To fully understand the background and origin of the current status of Southern Italy, one has to go back over 150 years to the time of Italian ‘unification’. What was the geopolitical situation then?

The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies

The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, commonly known as the Two Sicilies even before formally coming into being, was the largest and wealthiest of the Italian states. It was formed in 1816 of a union of the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was annexed by the Kingdom of Sardegna in 1861 and shortly afterwards became part of the Kingdom of Italy. The Kingdom of Sicily was initially formed by the Norman King, Roger II in 1130. It was a successor state of the County of Sicily which had been founded in 1071 during the Norman conquest.

Naples was the capital of the Two Sicilies and the state was commonly referred to in English as the ‘Kingdom of Naples’. The kingdom extended across the Mezzogiorno, the southern part of mainland Italy, and the island of Sicily.

The name ‘Two Sicilies’ originated from the division of this medieval Kingdom of Sicily. Following the War of the Sicilian Vespers in 1285, the King of Sicily lost the island of Sicily to the Aragonese, but he remained king over the peninsular part of the realm.

Although his territory now became known as the Kingdom of Naples, he and his successors never gave up the title of ‘King of Sicily’. They still referred to their realm as the Kingdom of Sicily. Not to be outdone and with more justification, the Aragonese rulers of the island of Sicily also continued to call their realm the Kingdom of Sicily. Thus, formally, there were two kingdoms calling themselves Sicily hence, the ‘Two Sicilies’.

Unification or Annexation

In Pino Aprile’s book, he makes a number of strong arguments to support his thesis. The passing of time and the sometimes easy suppression or distortion of the truth (facts) can lead people to an understandable different perspective of reality. Some of the uncomfortable ‘truths’ of the realities of the 1850s and 1860s that he highlights are summarised below.

The Piedmont jurisdiction was full of debt while the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was full of money. The attributed value of government bonds is a good indication of the perceived wealth of a nation. The Paris Stock Exchange traded bonds from both countries. In the 1860s, Government bonds of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies were traded at 20 percent above their nominal value. In contrast, the bonds of Piedmont were traded at 30 percent below their nominal value. Aprile argues that the inexorable movement of wealth from the South, to the North, was one of the reasons for the Unification of Italy, and not a direct consequence of it as is often assumed.

The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was one of the most industrialised countries in the world at that time. It stood in third place behind England and France. It should not therefore be a surprise that once unification had been achieved, it would be natural that all of the funds were united as well; since one account was empty and the other full. The North repaid its debts using other peoples’ money; the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies contributed 60 percent of the money; Lombardy just over one percent; Piedmont managed four percent, although it contributed to over 50 percent of the debt. As more states were annexed to the growing Italy, their money also disappeared as soon as the Piedmontese arrived.

Poor, uncivilised, lazy and underdeveloped are common adjectives trotted out to describe the southern region inhabitants. This perception again jars with the realities of the time. In the early 1860s, the universities located in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies enrolled almost half of the entire Italian national total of students. Most Sicilians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries owned their own homes and at least a garden or small parcel of land. This position can be corroborated by analysing the land tax records (riveli) maintained at Palermo's State Archive.

It is probably astonishing and not commonly understood that when Cavour ‘proudly‘ announced to the Senate in Torino that the new Kingdom of Italy had been established, he spoke in French. The House of Savoy did not speak Italian; French was the language of choice. Cavour pronounced:

“Le Royaume d”Italie est aujourd’hui un fait. Le Roi notre auguste Souverain prend pour lui-meme et pour ses sucesseurs le titre du Roi d’Italie”
“The Kingdom of Italy is today a fact, Our august Sovereign, the King will take for himself and his successors, the title King of Italy”

Pino Aprile conveniently pulls together a number of contemporaneous quotes that provide further insight to how several participants viewed the developments of the time. Luigi De Rosa in ‘La Rivoluzione Industriale in Italia’ commented that:

“Lombardy was too small to supply a sufficient internal market and too weak to construct a campaign to expand its markets outside of its borders, despite any assistance from the state — the industrial conditions of the regions of Veneto and Liguria did not fare better”

Allesandro Bianco di Saint Jorioz was a Count from Piedmont and a captain in the Italian army who fought in the campaign to destroy the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. He was convinced that he was fighting against the poverty in the farmlands, the greed and arrogance of the nobles and the shameful ignorance. He admitted later:

“In 1859, those people wore clothes and shoes, were industrialised and had financial reserves. The average farmer had money. He bought and sold animals as required to pay his rent. With what was left over, he fed his family. Everybody lived happily in their financial situation. Now it is the opposite. After a few years, the majority of the property fell into the hands of the rich, speculators, usurers and manipulators. Men of merit faded away.”

Garibaldi himself wrote some eight years after the campaign:

“The abuse the Southerners have been subject to is incommensurable. I am convinced that I did nothing wrong, however I would not return to Southern Italy. I fear I would be stoned, having given rise to such squalor and hatred”

Another aspect that is often ignored was that of a civilised, well-run southern society. In the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the defendant’s right to defend himself in court was considered sacred. For the 100 years prior to unification, it was obligatory for magistrates to justify their verdicts. In his book, Aprile contrasts that state of affairs with the mob rule, executions, rapes, internment and random imprisonment that persisted for decades after unification.

The final major point that Aprile makes concerns that of the psychology and desires of the residents of the Two Kingdoms at that time. The liberation that the South apparently ‘yearned for’ took years of military operations, massacres, retaliations, incarcerations, concentrations camps, executions and the destruction of dozens of towns. The Bourbon kings were not tyrants; the South was not riddled with hunger and misery; the population of the South was stable. No-one left the South back then; and not because emigration was too difficult or not practiced in Europe. This status is in sharp contrast to the many millions of Southerners who emigrated from these same lands between 1870 and 1920. Aprile concludes by asking these questions:

"Were these intelligent and civilised Southerners so obtuse that they fought for twelve years not to be liberated and not to be better off as a unified nation?""
"After their resistance had failed, why did millions of them travelled across the ocean rather than be in the company of their ‘liberators’?"

The citizens of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies had witnessed over seven continuous centuries of mostly benign rulers, from the mid-twelfth century to the mid-nineteenth century. During that time, firstly Palermo in Sicily and then subsequently Napoli on the mainland, were the richest cities in Europe. As a result of this stewardship, the citizens benefited from excellent governance that provided education, art, science, engineering and low taxes. They were indeed content and fulfilled.

All that was to change forever when they were invaded, abused, taxed and absorbed into the newly created Italian Kingdom. The rest, as they say, is history; an often poorly and misunderstood history at that.

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