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Related to Carbonari: Mazzini, carabinieri


Carbonari (kärbōnäˈrē) [Ital.,=charcoal burners], members of a secret society that flourished in Italy, Spain, and France early in the 19th cent. Possibly derived from Freemasonry, the society originated in the kingdom of Naples in the reign of Murat (1808–15) and drew its members from all stations of life, particularly from the army. It was closely organized, with a ritual, a symbolic language, and a hierarchy. Beyond advocacy of political freedom its aims were vague. The Carbonari were partially responsible for uprisings in Spain (1820), Naples (1820), and Piedmont (1821). After 1830 the Italian Carbonari gradually were absorbed by the Risorgimento movement; elsewhere they disappeared.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



members of a secret political society that arose in southern Italy at the beginning of the 19th century during the period of Napoleonic rule. The term is connected with the legend that traces the origins of the Carbonari to medieval charcoal burners.

After 1815 the Carbonari movement spread to all the Italian states and was especially active in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Various social groups took part in the movement, from liberal nobility to lower clergy, peasants, and artisans. The bourgeoisie was the guiding force of the Carbonari, along with members of the free professions and officers. The main goals of the movement were national liberation (first from the French and then from the Austrian oppression which manifested itself in some degree in all of Italy) and a constitution. The majority of the Carbonari favored a constitutional monarchy, but a radical minority advanced republican demands. In the main features of its structure, the society repeated Masonic organizational structure with its hierarchy, complex rituals, and symbolism. At first there were two main stages of initiation: “pupil” and “master.” Later the number of stages rose to nine. The lower Carbonari cells or “daughter vendite” were subordinate to “maternal vendîtes which in their turn were directed by the high vendite located in the larger cities of Italy. A session of a vendita was accompanied by a great number of symbolic rituals. For example, when new members were accepted into the society the colorful and emotional drama of the crucifixion of Christ, who was considered the protector of the Carbonari, was acted out.

The Carbonari led the bourgeois revolutions of 1820–21 in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and in Piedmont. After these revolutions were suppressed by Austrian troops, the Carbonari were cruelly repressed. However, soon afterward a neo-Carbonari movement was reborn in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and continued to exist until the end of the 1840’s. The Carbonari took part in the revolutionary uprisings of 1831 in Romagna, Parma, and Modena.

Under the Italian influence, Carbonari movements arose in France, Switzerland, and the Balkans in 1820–21. The main goal of the French Carbonari was the overthrow of the Bourbon dynasty; all their attempts to stir up a rebellion ended in failure. Carbonari took part in the July Revolution of 1830 and the revolutionary movement of the 1830’s; later they merged with secret republican societies.


Koval’skaia, M. I. Dvizhenie karbonariev v Italii, 1808–1821. Moscow, 1971.
Candeloro, G. Istoriia sovremennoi Italii, vols 1–2. Moscow, 1958–61. (Translated from Italian.)
Berti, G. Demokraty i sotsialisty vperiod Risordzhimento. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from Italian.)
Lepre, A. La rivoluzione napoletana del 1820–1821. Rome, 1967.
Witt, J. Les Sociétés secrètes de France et d’Italie…. Paris, 1830.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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