Masaniello (1622 – July 16, 1647) was a Neapolitan fisherman, who became leader of the revolt against Spanish Habsburg rule in Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 in 1647.

Name and place of birth

Until recently it was believed that Masaniello was a native of Amalfi
Amalfi is a town and comune in the province of Salerno, in the region of Campania, Italy, on the Gulf of Salerno, c. 35 km southeast of Naples. It lies at the mouth of a deep ravine, at the foot of Monte Cerreto , surrounded by dramatic cliffs and coastal scenery...

, when in fact he was born in Vico Rotto al Mercato, one of the many lanes around the market square in Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

. The source of this misunderstanding is that Amalfi was simply part of his name, but has been traditionally interpreted as a reference to his place of origin. Some sources do argue that Tommaso Aniello, was born in Amalfi, where he was a friend of another unique character, Abbot Pirone, so named because he improperly used his habit to escape justice but who was in reality a bandit who would kill for a fee, and who would have been Tommaso's collaborator during the Neapolitan uprising. In 1896, the poet Salvatore Di Giacomo resolved the confusion around Masaniello and Amalfi by transcribing the act of baptism found in the Church of Santa Caterina which cites:

"On June 29, 1620 the son of Tommaso Aniello d'Amalfi Cicco and Antonia Gargano was baptized by me Don Giovanni Matteo Peta, and lifted from the sacred font by Agostino Monaco and Giovanna de Lieto."

The celebration took place on the day of birth, and in the same church where in 1641 Tommaso Aniello would later marry the sixteen year old Bernardina Pisa. The historian Giuseppe Galasso suggested that the misunderstanding "was fostered and encouraged by a conscious attitude of power and official culture in Spanish Naples. The faithful city [...] was not to be and could not admit the presence of an infidel, a rebel and one who had questioned Spanish government in Naples." On 7 July 1997, at the 350th anniversary of the popular uprising, the City of Naples placed an inscription in honor of Masaniello in Vico Rotto al Mercato.

From birth to 1647

Masaniello's family was poor but not humble. His father, Francesco (Ciccio) d'Amalfi was a fisherman and shopkeeper. His mother, Antonia Gargano was a housekeeper and fell pregnant with Masaniello before her marriage. He had two younger brothers and one sister: John, who was another leader of the rebellion; Francesco, who died in infancy; and Grace. The house where he lived was in the Pendino quarter, where the tax on fish was collected, and close to Porta Nolana which dealt with the duty on flour.

At the time, Naples had about 250,000 inhabitants, and was one of the most populous metropolises in Europe. Market Square, where Masaniello spent his whole life, was the nerve center. It housed stalls selling all manner of goods, it was where acrobats performed for the common people and, in the days of Conrad of Swabia
Conrad II, Duke of Swabia
Conrad II was duke of Swabia from 1191 to his death and Duke of Rothenburg . He was the fourth son of Frederick III Barbarossa and Beatrice I, Countess of Burgundy, and brother of Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor...

, had been the place for public executions.

During the 1640s, Hapsburg Spain was faced with a long series of disastrous conflicts: the revolt of the Netherlands (1568-1648), the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the Revolt of Catalonia
Catalan Revolt
The Catalan Revolt affected a large part of the Catalan Principality of Catalonia between the years of 1640 and 1659. It had an enduring effect in the Treaty of the Pyrenees , which ceded the county of Roussillon and the northern half of the county of Cerdanya to France , thereby splitting the...

 (1640-1659), and the secession of Portugal
Portuguese Restoration War
Portuguese Restoration War was the name given by nineteenth-century 'romantic' historians to the war between Portugal and Spain that began with the Portuguese revolution of 1640 and ended with the Treaty of Lisbon . The revolution of 1640 ended the sixty-year period of dual monarchy in Portugal...

 (1640-1668). To support the war effort, the Iberian Crown imposed a heavy tax burden on the Viceroy of Naples in order to restore the coffers of its vast empire, whose Golden Age was inevitably coming to an end.

Masaniello, fisherman and fishmonger like his father, was described by his contemporaries as:

"...a young man of twenty-seven, beautiful and graceful in appearance, his face was brown and somewhat burned by the sun: black eyes, blond hair, with locks that ran down its neck."

Often, to escape taxation, he brought the fish directly to the homes of nobles, but was almost always caught in the act by the tax collectors and imprisoned. His main activity was, however, smuggling, so much so that in 1646 his reputation as a skilled smuggler was already well established in the Market. He worked mainly for the feudal nobility, including the marchesa di Brienza and don Diomede Carafa, Duke of Maddaloni, who treated him almost like a slave. His wife Bernardina, arrested for bringing to town a sock full of flour evading duty, was imprisoned for eight days. To obtain her freedom, Masaniello was forced to pay a ransom of one hundred crowns, which brought him into debt. According to tradition, it was this episode that provoked in him a desire to avenge the people from their oppressors.

During a stay in prison he met the "Grand Admiral" and Doctor of Law Marco Vitale, the illegitimate son of a famous lawyer, who brought him into contact with some members of the middle class tired of the continuing abuses of the tax collector and privileges of the nobility. Masaniello also became a pupil of the writer Don Giulio Genoino
Giulio Genoino
Giulio Genoino , the 'mind of Masaniello', was a key figure in the 7 July 1647 popular insurrection against Spanish authority in Naples. A priest, lawyer, and academic, Genoino had for three decades attempted to influence constitutional change to involve the Third Estate in the government of the city...

, an octogenarian priest with a past as a defender of the people.

In 1619, during the term of office of Viceroy Don Pedro Téllez-Girón, 3rd Duke of Osuna
Pedro Téllez-Girón, 3rd Duke of Osuna
Pedro Téllez-Girón, 3rd Duke of Osuna was a Spanish nobleman and politician. He was the 2nd Marquis of Peñafiel, 7th Count of Ureña, Spanish Viceroy of Sicily , Viceroy of Naples , a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece since 1608, Grandee of Spain, member of the Spanish Supreme...

, Genoino was called twice to represent the interests of the people against the nobility, essentially playing the role of an ancient tribune
Tribune was a title shared by elected officials in the Roman Republic. Tribunes had the power to convene the Plebeian Council and to act as its president, which also gave them the right to propose legislation before it. They were sacrosanct, in the sense that any assault on their person was...

. In 1620, however, he was dismissed by the Consiglio Collaterale and imprisoned far from Naples.

Returning to the city in 1639, he returned immediately to fight for the rights of the people around him and formed a large group of agitators, including: Francesco Antonio Arpaja, his old and trusted employee, the Carmelite friar Savino Boccardo, the aforementioned Mark Vitale and the various captains of the city districts, and a great number of "Lazzarini".

The revolt

Misgovernment and fiscal oppression during the Thirty Years' War
Thirty Years' War
The Thirty Years' War was fought primarily in what is now Germany, and at various points involved most countries in Europe. It was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history....

 aroused much discontent throughout the Kingdom of Naples
Kingdom of Naples
The Kingdom of Naples, comprising the southern part of the Italian peninsula, was the remainder of the old Kingdom of Sicily after secession of the island of Sicily as a result of the Sicilian Vespers rebellion of 1282. Known to contemporaries as the Kingdom of Sicily, it is dubbed Kingdom of...

, which broke out in a revolt at Palermo
Palermo is a city in Southern Italy, the capital of both the autonomous region of Sicily and the Province of Palermo. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old...

 in May 1647, wherein the people of Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 followed the example of the Sicilians. The immediate occasion of the latter rising was a new tax
To tax is to impose a financial charge or other levy upon a taxpayer by a state or the functional equivalent of a state such that failure to pay is punishable by law. Taxes are also imposed by many subnational entities...

 on fruit, the ordinary food of the poor, and the chief instigator of the movement was Masaniello, who took command of the malcontent
The Malcontent is a character type often used in early modern drama. The character is discontent with the social structure and other characters in the play. He or she is often an outsider, who observes and offers commentary on the action and may even show awareness that they are in a play...

s. The outbreak began on July 7, 1647 with a riot
A riot is a form of civil disorder characterized often by what is thought of as disorganized groups lashing out in a sudden and intense rash of violence against authority, property or people. While individuals may attempt to lead or control a riot, riots are thought to be typically chaotic and...

 at the city gates between the fruit-vendors of the environs and the customs
Customs is an authority or agency in a country responsible for collecting and safeguarding customs duties and for controlling the flow of goods including animals, transports, personal effects and hazardous items in and out of a country...

 officers; the latter were forced to flee, and the customs office was burnt. The rioters then poured into Naples and forced their way into the palace of the viceroy Rodrigo Ponce de León
Rodrigo Ponce de León, 4th Duke of Arcos
Rodrigo Ponce de León, 4th Duke of Arcos, was a Grandee of Spain and a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece. He served as Viceroy of Valencia and of Naples....

, the hated Duke of Arcos
Duke of Arcos
The dukedom of Arcos was created by Queen Isabella I of Castile, on 20 January of 1493, for Rodrigo Ponce de León, then count of Arcos. The dukedom is among the first 25 titles which reached the rank of Grandee of Spain 1st Class, in 1520...

, who had to take refuge first in a neighbouring convent, then in Castel Sant'Elmo, and finally in Castel Nuovo
Castel Nuovo
Castel Nuovo , often called Maschio Angioino, is a medieval castle in the city of Naples, southern Italy. It is the main symbol of the architecture of the city...


Masaniello attempted to discipline the mob and restrain its vandalic instincts, and to some extent he succeeded; attired in his fisherman's garb, he gave audience
An audience is a group of people who participate in a show or encounter a work of art, literature , theatre, music or academics in any medium...

s and administered justice from a wooden scaffolding
Scaffolding is a temporary structure used to support people and material in the construction or repair of buildings and other large structures. It is usually a modular system of metal pipes or tubes, although it can be from other materials...

 outside his house. Several rioters, including the duke of Maddaloni, an opponent of the viceroy, and his brother Giuseppe Caraffa, who had come to Naples to make trouble, were condemned to death by him and executed.

The Mafia
The Mafia is a criminal syndicate that emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in Sicily, Italy. It is a loose association of criminal groups that share a common organizational structure and code of conduct, and whose common enterprise is protection racketeering...

, which every day obtained more arms and was becoming more intractable, terrorized the city, drove off the troops summoned from outside, and elected Masaniello "captain-general"; the revolt was even spreading to the provinces. Finally, the viceroy
A viceroy is a royal official who runs a country, colony, or province in the name of and as representative of the monarch. The term derives from the Latin prefix vice-, meaning "in the place of" and the French word roi, meaning king. A viceroy's province or larger territory is called a viceroyalty...

, whose negotiations with Masaniello had been frequently interrupted by fresh tumults, ended by granting all the concessions demanded of him. On July 13, 1647, through the mediation of Cardinal
Cardinal (Catholicism)
A cardinal is a senior ecclesiastical official, usually an ordained bishop, and ecclesiastical prince of the Catholic Church. They are collectively known as the College of Cardinals, which as a body elects a new pope. The duties of the cardinals include attending the meetings of the College and...

 Ascanio Filomarino
Ascanio Filomarino
Ascanio Filomarino was an Italian Roman Catholic cardinal, who was Archbishop of Naples from 1641 to 1666.-Biography:...

, archbishop of Naples, a convention was signed between the Duke of Arcos and Masaniello as "leader of the most faithful people of Naples," by which the rebels were pardoned, the more oppressive taxes removed, and the citizens granted certain rights, including that of remaining in arms until the treaty should have been ratified by the king of Spain
Philip IV of Spain
Philip IV was King of Spain between 1621 and 1665, sovereign of the Spanish Netherlands, and King of Portugal until 1640...


The astute Duke of Arcos then invited Masaniello to the palace, confirmed his title of "captain-general of the Neapolitan people," gave him a gold chain of office, and offered him a pension. Masaniello refused the pension and laid down his dignities, saying that he wished to return to his old life as a fisherman; but he was entertained by the viceroy and, partly owing to the strain and excitement of the past days, partly because he was made dizzy by his astonishing change of fortune, or perhaps, as it was believed, because he was poison
In the context of biology, poisons are substances that can cause disturbances to organisms, usually by chemical reaction or other activity on the molecular scale, when a sufficient quantity is absorbed by an organism....

ed, he lost his head and behaved like a frenzied maniac.

The people continued to obey him for some days, until, abandoned by his best friends, who went over to the Spanish party, he was murdered while haranguing a mob on the market-place on July 16, 1647; his head was cut off and brought by a band of roughs to the viceroy and the body buried outside the city. But the next day the populace, angered by the alteration of the measures for weighing bread, repented of its insane fury; the body of Masaniello was dug up and given a splendid funeral, at which the viceroy himself was represented.

Masaniello in art

  • Masaniello was portrayed many times in Neapolitan pictures of the centuries following his death.
  • Masaniello's insurrection appealed to the imagination of poets and composers, and formed the subject of several operas, such as Reinhard Keiser
    Reinhard Keiser
    Reinhard Keiser was a popular German opera composer based in Hamburg. He wrote over a hundred operas, and in 1745 Johann Adolph Scheibe considered him an equal to Johann Kuhnau, George Frideric Handel and Georg Philipp Telemann , but his work was largely forgotten for many...

    's "Masaniello furioso" (1706) or - the most famous - Daniel Auber
    Daniel Auber
    Daniel François Esprit Auber was a French composer.-Biography:The son of a Paris print-seller, Auber was born in Caen in Normandy. Though his father expected him to continue in the print-selling business, he also allowed his son to learn how to play several musical instruments...

    's La Muette de Portici
    La muette de Portici
    La muette de Portici originally called Masaniello, ou La muette de Portici, is an opera in five acts by Daniel Auber, with a libretto by Germain Delavigne, revised by Eugène Scribe...

  • In the Italian
    Italian literature
    Italian literature is literature written in the Italian language, particularly within Italy. It may also refer to literature written by Italians or in Italy in other languages spoken in Italy, often languages that are closely related to modern Italian....

     science fiction
    Science fiction
    Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

     novel of 2000
    2000 in literature
    The year 2000 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:* February 13 - Final original Peanuts comic strip is published...

    , 2010: La rivolta by Francesco Grasso, a mutant also called Masaniello leads a revolt against a tyrannic international police organization controlling Naples.
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