The duel of the Camorra: history and rules of a medieval ritual in Naples at the end of the 19th century

by Federico Quagliuolo

I stick, achievement, question e zumpata. The duel ritual it was a real one art which, at the end of the 19th century, became a gigantic problem of public order: in the reports of police and in the literature of 120 years ago, in fact, they are told duels of honor even in broad daylight, also in busy streets how Via Toledo or even within the tram.

The duel, on the other hand, is a ancestral ritual, an extreme moment when two men they put their lives on the line in the name of justice or their own honor. This is an element strongly present in the ancient Neapolitan culture, which it completely escaped the control of the police, king and viceroy. Carlo D'Addosio, a Neapolitan criminal lawyer, wrote an in-depth discussion of the legal problem of duels in post-unification Italy.

Guappi duel
The duel of the Guappi from Squitieri's film

A matter of honor

From judicial duel of the barbarians at the time of ancient Rome al duel of knights to the settling of scores among nobles, duelists throughout Europe they were the stubborn interpreters of one medieval tradition that, in the long course of history, no one had managed to weed out. There are thousands of episodes also in the cultures of the rest of the continent, from Spain to the Russia to England.

In the Kingdom of Naples he tried for the first time Ferrante of Aragon, trying to regulate violent practices among the noble families, which were in full swing internal warfare During his reign. Nothing done.
The time came for the most severe Pedro of Toledo who tried to condemn to death those who challenged each other for futile causes. There, too, things did not go according to plan: honor was such an important concept that it could not be sacrificed.
He thought about it then Charles of Bourbon, with a practice that prohibited duels in the city. But the puppet opera and the comedies popular were full of duels, of matters of honor, of "men accordingly"With differences that could have been smooth out only with blades. The Camorra itself, which was born in the nineteenth century, was called not by chance "Honored Society".

The temerity and malice of men has reached the point that, despising the danger of death and for minimal causes, they dare to provoke a duel, without observing those formalities that are always observed between soldiers and nobles in dueling.

Don Pedro of Toledo,

Ferdinand IV he even asked the Pope's intervention to stop the practice of honor duels between nobles in the city, which was in its rituals and regulations mimicked even by less well-off classes. There church he defined "Cardinal sin" the killing of a man for a matter of honor, explaining that the duelist, while winning the challenge, would have been damned before God. It was nothing new: he said so too Cardinal Richelieu 100 years earlier, in a rant against the duels in the streets of Paris. With some religious doubt in addition, the duelists continued to kill each other anyway.

Duel between nobles
A duel between nobles in England

A real problem

See with the eyes of the III Millennium the practice of duel of honor It's really difficult. Any judgment would certainly affect the explanation of a widespread phenomenon throughout Italy which in Naples, Calabria and Sicily became part of the local culture: at the end of the 19th century, news of wounded and killed in duels in Southern Italy they were on the agenda. And often they were not even reported, as involve the police in private fact it was perceived as a cowardly gesture.

The Duel is an ancient barbaric custom, which unfortunately has not yet disappeared, especially in the Neapolitan provinces.

Zanardelli codex, preparatory works, volume VI, page 334

The settling of scores with a firearm or knife it was not a practice closely linked to the Camorra (indeed: guns were formally banned in duels between Camorra!), it was one violent solution practiced generically for resolve incurable conflicts in the high bourgeoisie and the poorest people. It was a way to mimic the practices of the nobility, which has always been linked to ancient codes of honor.
It was Professor Enrico Pessina, one of the leading jurists of the 19th century, to frame the worrying dimension it was assuming violence in dispute resolution in Naples:the duel today not only exists, but it is not the privilege of nobles and men of the sword. (…) Today the bourgeois with the duel affirms himself as a gentleman and wants to distinguish itself from the commoner. AND the commoner begins to imitate the bourgeoisie when the cowardly and brutal armed aggressions against helpless replace a challenge, establishing the time and place of the struggle: the form is rough and plebeian, but the substance remains the same". Within the people, then, one developed ritualistic form even more complex than in the camorra was known as the "zumpata": the duel of honor with the knife, which took place "zumpando“, Killing himself in a kind of almost tribal dance. The balance of forces within organized crime was also decided by duel.

Guappi Squitieri
A frame from the film "Guappi" by Pasquale Squitieri, with two boys playing zumpata

The stages of the duel

The hanger

Could have been born for any reason: prepoetnze in the game, infamy, cheats, betrayals in love, theft, disrespect. Sometimes a pretext to start the appicceco, which degenerated into one furious quarrel between the contenders. He was considered by cowards immediately take out the weapon: you had to first "reason“, With the help of a mediator.

The achievement

After the sticky one, the two quarrels gave each other appointment to define, once and for all, the misunderstanding. In the Honored Society he often was called into question the head of the head or a superior, which had to mediate between the parties or authorize the zumpata. In other cases, we speak of friends or acquaintances which, for the occasion, also act as witnesses. The violent end of the discussion was often taken for granted, in any case it was forbidden to come to blows immediately afterwards.

The last duel celebrated in Italy: March 13, 1955. Photograph by Coal Archive

The question

It designated itself a time and a place for the clash, often in isolated areas and at uncrowded hours. At least between bourgeois and nobles. The people, on the other hand, it often came to blows also per futile reasons and in frequented places. The weapon must be the same as that of the opponent and it is it is forbidden to attack the opponent when it is not yet ready.

In the duels of the Camorra, as well as in the noble ones, they are also identified two godparents, which are i witnesses of the event.

The question resolves quickly: duelists look at each other and yes greet. D'Addosio says that the Camorra are used to offer himself a glass of wine and then it's good way shake hands before the settling of scores.

There were also "offenses"In the laws of duel: one above all was the"scoundrel“, Or the doing help from a hidden friend and ready to act behind the duelist. The consequences, in addition to infamy, are obviously deadly. Acting is also: D'Addosio tells the example of a man Soreca that a Corso Vittorio Emanuele was killed while paying the coachman to go to the place of the duel. The infamous it was obviously killed by the Honored Company.

Medieval duel
The medieval judicial duel "Lombard style"

The medieval duel

The duel of honor is the demonstration of how the people tried to emulate noble rituals, trying to replicate values, disciplines and habits. In the Middle Ages it was a real judicial tool for resolving disputes.

To codify for the first time the rules of the duel he thought so Pediment III king of Denmark, told by Sassone the Grammatico in 11th century: the Danish king published a law requiring that "any controversy with iron was decided by force rather than by words": The duel is in fact"faster, more just and more decisive than a court". The rules were integrated over time, indicating among various things the obligation to draw a circle within which the two fighters must move. The medieval literary tradition is very rich in duels of honor, indeed, in particular the events of the Carolingian cycle have greatly influenced the fantasy and southern culture, which still in Sicily and Campania have their heritage in the theater ofOpera dei Pupi.

A story that, in a historical moment unimaginable for the past, it seems very far away: a great starting point for reflection on cultural achievements of the modern era.

An interesting insight into the history of honor duels in Europe on Zhistorica.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Medieval duel
A medieval duel: the one in blue is Robert of Anjou

Carlo D'Addosio, the duel of the Camorra, Stamperia del Valentino, Naples, 2010
Ernesto Serao, La Camorra, Bideri, Naples, 1972
Marc Monnier, La Camorra, Naples, 1861
Enrico Pessina, Elements of Criminal Law, Margheri, Naples, 1883
Salvatore Di Giacomo, All the Poems, Newton Compton, Naples, 1992
Ferdinando Russo, Novelle Napoletane, Bideri, Naples, 1971
Nicola Guarino, Duties and Honor, Aracne, Naples, 2012

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