Antonio Cozzolino known as “Pilone”, the story of the last brigand of Naples

by Federico Quagliuolo

Everyone called him "Pylon“, Even if at the registry office he was called Antonio Cozzolino. He was a man from large tonnage, with huge beard and mustache as much as his muscular arms. He loved firearms, era religious up to fanaticism and had a character that went halfway between holy man and the Fra Diavolo. With a constant: loyalty to the Bourbon King equal to that of a praetorian to the emperor.

Here is a portrait of the last brigand in the history of Italy.

In his 9 years of inaction was the protagonist of sensational gestures and epic battles, acts of generosity towards the less well-off e adventures who entered in folk tales and proverbs, almost like a Bourbon Batman.

Step a life as a wanted number one that could not end due to old age. And indeed the epilogue was a bloody drama.

Pilone ritratto
The face of Pilone

In the army to escape from prison

Pilone's life did not seem destined for great deeds. He was born on January 20 1824 in Torre Annunziata, but lived nearby Boscotrecase. Era illiterate, the family was of modest extraction, with the father who worked for the construction of the tracks of the Naples-Portici and passed an entire life as a stonemason. He also found work for his son in the same sector, at least until Cozzolino was arrested by the Bourbon police: was indeed surprised with guns obtained illegally, revealing his passion for firearms.

The only way to clean that stain was enlist in the army, just like he did Fra Diavolo 50 years earlier. Thus began his military career of the Line walking hunter Antonio Cozzolino, who distinguished himself both in the repression of the republican uprisings of 1848 and in the Sicilian uprisings in Messina, with the promotion to sergeant.

In Sicily

It was 1860 and, after the death of Ferdinand II, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies ended in collapse.
Pilone was stationed in Calatafimi on the day of the landing of Garibaldi's Thousand and it was here that he distinguished himself for an act that earned him a medal of valor, who flaunted to death: he snatched the flag of the Thousand from the hands of a standard bearer and tore it up.

Calatafimi battaglia
The battle of Calatafimi

Life as a brigand

In 1861, unified Italy, Antonio Cozzolino sadly returned to his work as a stonemason, refusing to join the Italian Army and often engaging in ungrammatical speeches in favor of the Bourbons, which fascinated the people of Boscoreale.

The new mayor of Boscotrecase he certainly couldn't accept political unrest in his municipality and then began to persecute the former military: police squads were continuously sent for searches in his modest shop, for purpose intimidating. It was finally issued an arrest warrant by the National Guard, but Pylon rebelled in its own way: killed the commander of the guards who had come to capture him and, in a daring leak, took refuge in the Vesuvian woods, attracting numerous rebellious souls around him. With a oath of vengeance, thus began his life from band leader brigand.

Brigante
A brigand in the forest with the fascinated commoners

Pylon and banditry

It was part of that loyalist resistance that opposed the new course of the Italian state: they were called "brigands" how bandits, mostly they were former Bourbon soldiers who remained loyal to the previous sovereign which, in all the regions of Southern Italy, carried out activities of guerrilla warfare against the new state which, in 1863, he decided to solve the situation using brutal methods: the very famous "Pica law for the repression of banditry", in fact establishing military courts in all the provinces of the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Those were the years of worker protests, as in the case of the shooting of the workers of Pietrarsa, and gods anti-unity riots which gave numerous headaches to the newborn Italy. Despite many it they invoked back in Southern Italy at the head of an army, Francis II he never decided to return to his former kingdom.

Pilone was also in contact with Carmine Crocco, the most famous and influential legitimist general of the post-unification uprisings, but the bands of brigands they always acted in a way individual e without coordination collective: the end of armed rebellions it was only one matter of time for the state.
On the other hand, they were the times of the Holy Faith are over and of Cardinal Ruffo and the Sicily, instead of hosting the Bourbon king, it had become a hostile land.

tradimento del brigante quadro
The betrayal of the brigand, painting by Varnet of 1828

Kidnappings, raids and heroic acts

Guerrilla activities of his gang began assaulting trains carrying Piedmontese troops, looting military stagecoaches e assaulting prisons to free the former Bourbon soldiers. His presence became the terror of the rich and the Camorra of the Vesuvian area: intercepted i illegal trade in wine and grapes on the Lattari Mountains, kidnapped the landowners to ask for ransoms. He even went as far as capture the Marquis Michele Avitabile, director of the Banco di Napoli, to obtain a full-bodied redemption able to finance his gang.

He even came to military occupation of a city, Terzigno, becoming a hero of the people, and many nobles of Bourbon faith secretly began to support him.

His every action was preceded by a prayer or a sermon, almost as if he felt some sort of warrior of God. He himself felt "son of Our Lady of Sorrows”And with him he carried the holy card of San Ciro, a reliquary and others votive images with dedications and thoughts written with one of his ungrammatical handwriting.

O heart of Cesù what is tico I can do (oh heart of Jesus, what I say, you can do!)

One of the verses written by Pilone in his personal reliquary which he carried with him

Francis II, who was watching the fate of his kingdom from Rome, decided to invite the brigand to Rome to award him an empty noble title of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
Pylon, used to living in the woods, caves and cellars of complacent peasants, suddenly felt like a king, excited in front of the figure of the sovereign he had sworn to defend without ever having seen his face. He was sent back to Naples with the title of commander of the observation hunters. He was very honored, even if the title was worth nothing.

The chronicles of the time, from 1861 to 1870, tell of dozens of guerrilla actions carried out with almost surgical effectiveness. Nicola Amore, quaestor of Naples and future mayor of the city, he was very worried about his reputation, put at stake by a bandit

Antonio Cozzolino detto Pilone
A portrait of Antonio Cozzolino, Pilone

The Betrayal of Pylon

It was 1870 and the Italian government had declared the brigandage emergency ended. Except for one name: that of Pilone, at 46, still did not give up. He lived in the woods like a fox, he went out with the favor of darkness, the people spoke of him with tones halfway between Robin Hood and a superhero.

Then a certain Mr. Gargiulo appeared at the Naples police headquarters. He said he knew where the brigand Pylon was, but the information was very expensive. Nicola Amore promised him 1500 lire (about 8000 euros). Done deal.

Cozzolino was invited to Via Foria early in the morning to discuss a deal with the traitor, which it had to be a man very close to his gang to be able to convince him with such ease. To welcome him, however, they were 5 policemen armed with knives and guns: one began violent brawl in which incredibly only one man could stand up to 5 attackers. Then they came to help another 10 military personnel that, in 15 against 1, massacred the brigand, leaving him in one pool of blood while he gasped: "He betrayed me! He betrayed me!“.

It was October 14, 1870 and on the cobblestones of Via Foria the last page of one of the most controversial stories of the unification of Italy.

-Federico Quagliuolo

References:
Carlo Avvisati, Antonio Cozzolino 'or brigand Pilone, Il Gazzettino Vesuviano, Pompeii, 2011
Website of the municipality of Boscoreale
https://www.ilmediano.com/boscotrecase-luglio-1861-la-comica-storia-di-tre-agenti-segreti-infiltrati-nella-banda-del-brigante-pilone/

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