Salvatore Giuliano (1922-1950): The Last Outlaw

By Stephen Basdeo

Since the unification of Italy in 1861, the island of Sicily, as well as the southern half of the mainland, has always had an ambivalent relationship with the Italian state. Fiercely independent, they have often resented central government interference in their affairs. Moreover, the island of Sicily has always had a reputation for criminality. It is, after all, the island in which mafia gangs first emerged. This is what happened after the German and Allied invasions of Italy in 1943: the German puppet state called the Italian Social Republic controlled the northern half of the country, while the southern half continued as the legitimate Kingdom of Italy. But with all of the turmoil, government infrastructure and law and order began to break down. It is at this point in time that Salvatore Giuliano (1922-1950), the ‘last people’s bandit’, flourished in Sicily.

giuliano 3
Giuliano on the lookout

Giuliano was born in Montelepre, Sicily to a peasant family on 16 November 1922. He received a rudimentary education by attending the local school, but he was forced to leave the school in 1935 to help his father on the farm when his older brother joined the army. He soon grew tired of farm life, however, and decided to set up his own business in trading olive oil. When World War Two broke out, he supplemented his income by working as a labourer building roads, although he left this job after a dispute with his employer.

During the war, Giuliano often traded on the black market. Indeed, the existence of the black market was vital for many of the peasants so that they could obtain cheap food, and up to seventy per cent of food was supplied to Sicily through the black market. After the Allied Invasion of Sicily, however, the authorities were determined to stamp this out using both of Italy’s police forces, the Carabinieri and the Polizia. On 2 September 1943, Giuliano was stopped at a Carabinieri vehicle check point. His baggage was searched and he was found with two sacks of grain. Giuliano offered to just give up the grain to the authorities in return for his release, but the officer was having none of it. Giuliano therefore drew his pistol and shot the officer dead. Afterwards, he took the mountains and hid out there for a while.

Mario Puzo’s “The Sicilian” (1984) based upon the life of Giuliano.

Deprived of both his legitimate and illegitimate incomes, Giuliano became an outlaw, and soon gathered about him twenty men in similar circumstances. He genuinely only ever stole from rich travellers, although this was for practical reasons as well as humanitarian ones. The rich had more money that could be plundered, whereas it was pointless taking from the poor peasants as they had very little. He then redistributed this stolen money to the poor, like a true Robin Hood, which earned him allies among the local populace. The rich were just a convenient cash cow, however, and his main enemies were members of the Carabinieri, and throughout his career he and his men killed over eighty seven of these law enforcement officers.

He became something of an international star, and held numerous interviews with journalists. The noted U.S. journalist Mike Stern published many of his pictures of Giuliano in the American press. In addition, poems and songs were sung about him. For this reason, Eric Hobsbawm says that Giuliano was the last true Robin Hood type of outlaw.

Mike Stern’s Article on Giuliano for the American Press (Courtesy of the Giuliano Project)

After the war, prominent Sicilian politicians began agitating for Sicilian independence: in their eyes the island had always been treated badly, it had a different culture, and it had been neglected under fascism. Union with Italy had not benefitted it either socially or economically. Demands for autonomy were denied by all three of the main political parties in central Italy: the Christian Democrats, the Communists, and the Socialists. Consequently, instead of being a small scale highwayman, eking out a living by plundering, in 1945 he got political and publicly declared his support for the Sicilian Independence Movement. As we noted earlier, Sicilians’ relationship with the central Italian government has always been fraught with tension. His main enemy was still the Carabinieri, and now his attacks upon them were justified because they were the representatives of the central Italian state.

The Carabinieri responded to these attacks by often imprisoning and interrogating members of his family. Indeed, his home town of Montelepre was placed under siege and occupied by the law. But still they could not catch him; neither the family nor the villagers would betray him. The only way to apprehend him was to do what law enforcement officers have always had to do when they need to arrest bandits: they convinced one of Giuliano’s gang, Aspanu Pisciotta, who had been Giuliano’s closes friend, to betray him.

Giuliano scapigliato copia
Giuliano liked to pose for the camera (courtesy of Giuliano Project)

Consequently, on 5 July 1950, Pisciotta shot Giuliano while he was sleeping, although the police lied and told the public that Giuliano died in a gun fight with a fellow gang member. Hardly anyone believed the official account, however. The Carabinieri commanded that the funeral be held in private, so as not to heroise the young outlaw in the public eye any further than he was already.

Pisciotta was never granted immunity by the authorities. And he was killed by poison in his cell on 10 February 1954 by a member of the mafia. The last member of Giuliano’s faithful band of men was released in 1980.

Giuliano, as the last ‘good outlaw’ the world has ever seen, was quickly mythologised in popular culture: the film Salvatore Giuliano was released in 1961; Mario Puzo, the author of the Godfather, has written a novel entitled The Sicilian (1984), which was made into a film a few years later in 1987, starring Christopher Lambert as Giuliano, while the opera Salvatore Giuliano opened at Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in 1985.

Further Reading

Billy Jaynes Chandler, King of the Mountain (Northern Illinois University Press, 1988)

Eric Hobsbawm, Bandits (London, 1969)

Gavin Maxwell, God Protect Me from My Friends (London, 1956)



Green Arrow – A 21st Century Robin Hood?

RH Curtal Friar
Anon. ‘Robin Hood and the Curtall Friar’ in Joseph Ritson ed. Robin Hood [1795] (London: C. Stocking, 1823)

This post analyses the similarities between the legend of Robin Hood and the TV show, Arrow.

This has come about mainly because I would like to justify my obsession with my new favourite TV show and, well, I doubt anyone has as yet applied Eric Hobsbawm’s theory of social banditry to the Arrow TV series.

The legend of Robin Hood has spawned many imitators in times past, as it seems that the public like to admire a hero who is on the outside of the law. In the 18th century the English public warmed to the figure of the highwayman, and men such as Jack Sheppard and Dick Turpin became household names. In the nineteenth century people were singing ballads about Jesse James, whilst the legend of Billy the Kid is popular with Mexicans. Everyone likes an outlaw hero.

I’ve never been one of those comic book reading people (although I’m a big fan of reading the forerunners of comic books, penny dreadfuls), and I don’t even watch much TV. One day, however, whilst browsing in HMV I came across a DVD box set for a series named Arrow. As I’m in the middle of my doctorate on Robin Hood, naturally my interest was piqued when I say the front cover featuring a man in a green hood, and a quiver on his back with arrows in it. Hesitant to fork out £31.99 on a TV series I’d never heard of, I instead downloaded it on Amazon Prime. I became engrossed/obsessed with it, as it is oh so easy to do with these types of TV series. I thought, then, I’d point out some of the similarities between the legend of Robin Hood (as it stands today), and the Arrow TV show.

Why do this, you ask? Well, because when I started asking my comic book enthusiast friends, they all had a vague notion that Arrow was meant to be some type of latter-day Robin Hood, but no one could say why he was meant to signify such, apart from the fact that he uses a bow and arrow. So, let’s see if Arrow stands the H-Test (the Hobsbawm test); can he live up to the principles of social banditry identified by Eric Hobsbawm?

Green Arrow in More Fun Comics (1941)
Green Arrow in More Fun Comics (1941)

The Green Arrow began life as a comic book hero in the boys’ periodical More Fun Comics. He was the brainchild of the author, Mort Weisinger, and the illustrator, George Papp. They took the figure of Robin Hood and turned him into a Batman-like figure. However, it is the TV show which is focused upon here.

Like most American superheroes, Arrow is the alter ego of Oliver Queen, born into a rich family. In the TV show, Oliver was stranded on a deserted island for 5 years during which time he undertook many adventures, and served on various missions for a military organisation. He then returns home to, in his words, ‘save my city,’ from the people who are ruining it through their greed.

Robin Hood is also (said to be) from a wealthy family; he is the noble Earl of Huntingdon, and in most versions of the legend he too returns home after a long period of absence, and decides to take up the plight of the people against the corrupt lords of medieval England.

I want to here, however, apply Eric Hobsbawm’s social banditry thesis to the case of Green Arrow/Oliver Queen, so let me iterate the nine requirements for one to be a social bandit and see how similar/different Arrow is to Robin Hood (aside from dressing in green and using a bow and arrow):

imagesFirst, the noble robber begins his career of outlawry not by crime, but as the victim of injustice, or through being persecuted by the authorities for some act which they, but not the custom of his people, consider as criminal (Hobsbawm, 1969, p.42).

Oliver Queen decided only to ‘save his city’ after he was almost killed in a boating accident engineered by a corrupt businessman. After all, asks Hobsbawm, if a social bandit were a real criminal, how could he enjoy the support of the people?

Second. He rights wrongs.

Third. He takes from the rich and gives to the poor (Ibid).

Arrow seeks, not a complete overthrow of the existing social and economic system, but reform; whilst his main targets are large corporations which skirt the edge of the law and exploit the common people, he has no issue with the existence of large and powerful corporations per se. Rather it is when that power is used to evil and exploitative ends that he takes issue with. Bandits/outlaws are actually quite conservative figures; the seek a restoration of ‘the old order’ of things,’ as Hobsbawm says of Robin Hood:

He protests not against the fact that peasants are poor and oppressed. He seeks to establish, or re-establish, justice or ‘the old ways,’ that is to say, fair dealing in a society of oppression. He rights wrongs. He does not seek to establish a society of freedom and equality (Hobsbawm, 1969, p.55). Indeed, a bandit/vigilante acting alone cannot singlehandedly wipe out all instances of injustice in a society, but they do prove that justice is possible (Hobsbawm, 1969, p.56).

Fourth. He never kills but in self-defence or just revenge (Hobsbawm, op cit.)

Bandits often have a ‘savage spirit of justice’ (Ibid). Here, the morality of Arrow, especially in the first series, is relative; he has no problem with acting as judge, jury, and executioner to the morally bankrupt and exploitative, wealthy businessmen of Starling City, his home. However, by the second and third series, the Arrow truly becomes the noble outlaw/bandit/vigilante.

Early (Elizabethan?) Depiction of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. (Source: Bold Outlaw Website).
Early (Elizabethan?) Depiction of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. (Source: Bold Outlaw Website).

Fifth. If he survives, he returns to his people as an honorable citizen and member of the community…

Sixth. He is admired, helped, and supported by the people (Hobsbawm, 1969, pp.42-43).

Naturally, we cannot comment on Hobsbawm’s fifth point, as the TV series is still ongoing and Arrow’s career has not yet ended (and hopefully will be continuing for quite some time). On the sixth point, however, Arrow fulfills Hobsbawm’s point; he is admired, and helped, by the people of his city. In time he gathers a number of supporters around him, such as his right-hand man, John Diggle, Black Canary, Arsenal, et al. One of the interesting things about the relationship beteween Arrow and Diggle is the number of times that they fall out over something which, on the face of it, appears to be trivial.

That a bandit and his right hand man fall out from time to time is a theme that dates back to the medieval period and the ballads of Robin Hood. In the ballad, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, when Robin and Little John encounter a stranger in the forest, Little John tells his master to stay behind whilst he approaches the stranger in the forest, and Robin’s reply is:

“Stand you still, master,” quoth Litle John,
“Under this trusty tree,
And I will goe to yond wight yeoman,
To know his meaning trulye.”

“A, John, by me thou setts noe store,
And thats a farley thinge;
How offt send I my men beffore,
And tarry myselfe behinde?

“It is noe cunning a knave to ken,
And a man but heare him speake;
And itt were not for bursting of my bowe,
John, I wold thy head breake.”

But often words they breeden bale,
That parted Robin and John;
John is gone to Barnsdale,
The gates he knowes eche one.

Arrow and his Companions. Arrow Series 3 Promo-Shoot
Arrow and his Companions.
Arrow Series 3 Promo-Shoot

Arrow is, of course, admired by the mass of people in the city, even though the police view him with suspicion; all of which makes him more of a social bandit; a social bandit being an outlaw whom ‘the lord and the state regard as criminal, but…is considered by [the] people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice’ (Hobsbawm, 1969, p.18).

Seventh. He dies invariable and only through treason, since no decent member of the community would help the authorities against him.

Eighth. he is – at least in theory – invisible and invulnerable (Hobsbawm, 1969, p.43).

Hobsbawm’s seventh point cannot be commented upon, for Arrow is still very much alive. His eighth point, however, stands; Oliver Queen, whilst he was in exile on the island, learned many hunting and survival skills, and of course, throughout the series, has proven himself to be a match for even the most sophisticated of baddies; from large and faceless figures of  multinational corporations and organised crime to the heads of shadowy transnational organisations such as the League of Assassins.

Finally, and this goes back to an earlier point:

He is not the enemy of the king or emperor, who is the fount of justice, but only of local gentry, clergy, or other oppressors (Ibid).

The “King” in the case of Arrow would be the US President; Arrow never calls for a revolution and an overthrow of the current political regime; hence he is not a revolutionary as such; the “local gentry” in his case are the rich business magnates who exploit the poor of his Starling City. In fact, when you think about it. vigilantes/outlaws, etc. are always quite localised figures; Robin Hood, if he existed, operated only in and around Nottingham. Similarly, Arrow can only operate in and around his home city, Starling City.

Marian wasn't Robin's only love interest...he also had a woman called Clarinda too!
Marian wasn’t Robin’s only love interest…he also had a woman called Clarinda too!

One point not mentioned by Hobsbawm, but which I shall mention here, is the Arrow’s love interest. Throughout the series (I am, I confess, not familiar with the comics…yet), it seems Oliver has two main love interests: Laura Lance and Felicity. Most people think that Robin Hood only ever had one love interest, but this is not true. In 17th-century ballads such as Robin Hood’s Birth, Breeding, and Valour, the famous outlaw meets a shepherdess in the Forest, named Clarinda, whom he has a romance with, but it torn between her and Marian. But ultimately, a social bandit, or a vigilante, has to be celibate. Sir Walter Scott in Ivanhoe recognised this; his Robin of Locksley character is celibate, in order to concentrate on saving the nation. In fact, most movie and TV adaptations of the legend feature Robin Hood and Marian settling down and marrying after he has returned to normal society. Similarly, poor Oliver Queen! He’s tried, yet it never seems to work out, and only once he stops being a vigilante will he be able to have a “normal” life.

Thus in what I hope has been an enjoyable post, it is clear that Arrow is, aside from his appearance, a modern-day Robin Hood; he fulfills the criteria of social banditry. Perhaps I’ll write the first academic paper on Arrow, and I have no doubt but that in a few years’ time the International Association of Robin Hood Studies will feature an Arrow-themed paper or two! (hopefully read by me…)

Further Reading:

Eric Hobsbawm, Bandits (London: Penguin, 1969).

‘The Outlaws’ Code’. Robin Hood: Research Update, Number 7, December 24th, 2014

Robin, Little John, Will Scarlet, and Much the Miller's Son. Scanned image from Ritson, J. Robin Hood (1795).
Robin, Little John, Will Scarlet, and Much the Miller’s Son.
Scanned image from Ritson, J. Robin Hood (1795).

All organised crime gangs have certain codes of conduct which, to be counted as part of their respective gangs, they must adhere to. For the Italian Mafia there is Omerta, a code of silence which forbids them to talk about the gang to non-members. Members of the mafia are also forbidden from committing certain crimes such as kidnapping, theft (burglary, mugging, etc.), and in the past even to stay away from drug and human trafficking. The Italian Mafia was supposedly above these types of crimes, and forbade their respective members from carrying them out.

In the one of the oldest Robin Hood ballads, ‘A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode’ (c.1470), Robin Hood similarly laid down a code of conduct for his men to follow. Little John asks Robin how they should conduct themselves:

Mayster, than sayd Lytell Johan / And we our borde shall sprede / Tell us whether we shall gone / And what lyfe we shall lede.

Where we shall take, where we shall leve /  Where we shall abide behynde / Where we shall robbe, where we shall reve / Where we shall bete and bynde.

To which Robin Hood replies, firstly, that the outlaws should never harm any company where there were women present and also:

Ther of no fors, sayd Robyn / We shall do well ynough / But loke ye do no housbonde harm / That tylleth with his plough.

No more ye shall no good yeman / That walketh by grene wode shawe / Ne no knyght ne no squyer / That wolde be a good felawe.

The outlaws, therefore, are to protect women, husbandmen, and those that work the land, as well as yeoman, knights, and squires. But as for members of the Catholic Church and the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin is less kind:

These byshoppes and thyse archebyshoppes / Ye shall them bete and bynde / The hye sheryfe of Notynghame / Hym holde in your mynde.

Robin Hood had two main enemies: the Catholic Church and the Sheriff of Nottingham, and gave his outlaws free rein to beat and bind them.

Organised crime historically emerges and flourishes in times where the state and its ability to enforce the law is weak (as the English State was in the late medieval period) and the local populace at the mercy of tyrant landlords. In these situations, groups that would normally be classed as criminal emerge as friends of the poor, they become, in the words of the historian Eric Hobsbawm, ‘social bandits’. Hobsbawm named Robin Hood ‘the international paradigm of social banditry’. Social Bandits, according to Hobsbawm:

Are peasant outlaws whom the Lord and State regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice…men to be admired, helped, and supported.

The ‘Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode’ makes no mention of Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, it merely says at the end that he ‘did pore men moch god’. This detail was added to the legend between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. By the time that Joseph Ritson produced his pioneering work Robin Hood: A Collection of all the Ancient Poems, Songs and Ballads, Now Extant, Relative to that Celebrated English Outlaw (1795), Robin Hood had become the ultimate social bandit:

That our hero and his companions, while they lived in the woods, had recourse to robbery for their better support, is neither to be concealed nor to be denied…[But] in these exertions of power, he took away the goods of rich men only, never killing any person, unless  he was attacked or resisted; that he would not suffer a woman to be maltreated; nor ever took anything from the poor, but charitably fed them with the wealth he drew from the abbots…he was the most humane, and the prince of all robbers.

Perhaps these medieval ballads of Robin Hood and his men are recounting and glorifying the actions of medieval mobsters in the same way that movies like Goodfellas today do for us? Outlaw gangs were loosely organised, had customs, and codes of conduct, and were social bandits in the sense that they were supported by local people. Dr. Kelly Hignett of Leeds Beckett University has written a study of what is a comparable case of late-medieval organised crime gangs in Southern Russia, Dalmatia, and Bohemia, and the role which they assumed in the absence of effective state law enforcement. It was these outlaws’ codes of conduct, in which they did not (supposedly) hurt poor people, which earned them the support of local communities.

Further Reading:

Hignett, K. ‘Co-Option or Criminalisation? The State, Border Communities and Crime in Early Modern Europe’. In Galeotti, M. ed. Organised Crime in History (London: Routledge, 2008).

Hobsbawm, E. Bandits (London: Penguin, 1969).