Secret societies of middle- and upper-class supporters of constitutional government and Italian unification, the carboneria (literally, “coal-burners”) sprang up in Naplesand southern Italy during the Napoleonic occupation, spreading in the subsequent two decades to Spain, France, and northern Italy. There they came into contact with similar associations, such as the Federati of Lombardy, and were infiltrated by the more radical followers of Filippo Buonarroti. Like the Freemasons, the carboneriawere distinguished by a complex series of rituals, passwords, and emblems; were structured into a rigid hierarchy of grades of initiation; and were bound to absolute secrecy about their activities.
   The carboneria were agents of revolution in the insurrections of Naples, Piedmont, and Lombardy in 1820–1821, and of hundreds of other revolutionary acts throughout the peninsula in the 1820s and 1830s. As such, they were the subject of bitter persecution from the authorities and from rival reactionary sects such as the calderariin the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The limits of the carboneria as a revolutionary organization were exposed by the failure of uprisings in central Italy in 1830–1831. Limited by their own secrecy and rituals to select categories of mostly wealthy students, soldiers, and professionals, the carboneria were able to establish provisional governments in Modena, Parma, and Bologna, but then lacked the numbers or coordination to fend off the Austrian troops that moved quickly to the aid of the pope. The carboneria were thereafter eclipsed by Giuseppe Mazzini’s Giovine Italia, which was much less elitist and ritualistic in its composition and behavior, and by the liberal reformers of the so-called neoguelphist movement such as Cesare Balbo and Vincenzo Gioberti.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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