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brigandage

brigandage (brĭgˈəndĭj) [key] [Ital. brigare = to fight], robbery and plundering committed by armed bands, often associated with forests or mountain regions. Social and political demoralization, economic or political oppression, and racial or religious antagonisms may give rise to brigandage, especially if the area provides suitable hiding places for the brigands. Brigandage can flourish during the disintegration of a state, as the decline of the Roman Empire; at a time of major economic and social change, as at the end of the feudal ages; after a great war, in the early stages of frontier settlement, as in early California and in the Australian bush; or in national borderlands, as in Scotland. Some argue that when a strong centralized authority develops, or when a disciplined constabulary is organized, brigandage disappears or goes underground. Others argue that people held under intolerable economic subjection adopt brigandage as a means of retaliation. Under the latter conditions, the bandit is often protected by a sympathetic public opinion, and can become a popular hero, a symbol of resistance to tyranny. Thus supported, the brigand leader may extend his jurisdiction over a wide area, establishing a recognized authority. The lawless lives of brigands and highwaymen have often become legends. Stories of gallantry and heroism have gathered about many brigands, especially those who were the victims of social or political oppression, who were rebels rather than bandits. Ballads and folk tales have grown about brigands such as Dick Turpin, the highwayman; Hereward the Wake; Robin Hood; Stenka Razin, the Cossack; Fra Diavolo of Italy; and Jesse James of the United States.

See C. J. Finger, Highwaymen (1925, repr. 1970); D. Dolci, Outlaws (1961); C. Hibbert, Highwaymen (1968); E. Hobsbawm, Bandits (1969).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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