Decided Ones of Jupiter
Decided Ones of Jupiter
An errant Catholic, Annunchiarico should have known better than to leave the priesthood of one religion to become the wrathful, murderous deity of another.
In 1816 a man named Ciro Annunchiarico became southern Italy’s greatest nightmare when he claimed the power of Jupiter, father of the gods of Imperial Rome, and successfully brought a number of bandit gangs into a single striking force, leading them to rob, pillage, and burn under the banner of the skull and crossbones and the motto “Sadness, Death, Terror, and Mourning.”
By 1817 Annunchiarico commanded twenty thousand members of the secret society of the Decided Ones of Jupiter the Thunderer. The men were divided into camps of three hundred to four hundred members, and squadrons of forty to sixty. The society was structured along military lines, and strict discipline was enforced. If Annunchiarico had so wished, he could easily have led an open revolution against any state government in southern Italy. But despite his claim that the might of the great god Jupiter flowed through his body, he was more interested in personal aggrandizement and a life of luxury than in political opportunities.
Annunchiarico, the son of wealthy parents, had entered the priesthood and seemed destined for a fruitful career in the church. However, he much preferred the life of a country gentleman on the family estate—and the vow of celibacy didn’t appeal to him, either. He seduced a young woman who was engaged to Giovanni Montolesi, the son of a wealthy merchant. When Montolesi learned of the affair, he sought out Annunchiarico and reproached him for bringing shame to the priesthood and dishonor to his fiancée. Without a word, Annunchiarico drew a dagger from his belt and stabbed Montolesi in the heart. He later swore a blood-feud against the entire Montolesi family, declaring that the man whom he had murdered had insulted him and the entire Roman Catholic priesthood. Over the next few months he ambushed and murdered thirteen members of the Montolesi clan. Pursued by the authorities, he then fled with some friends into the mountains.
As the leader of a small band of brigands who favored a life of luxury above that of living in spartan hideouts, Annunchiarico developed a plan to combine the people’s love and respect of the priesthood with their fear of secret societies who plundered and murdered them. Boldly summoning the other bandit chiefs in the mountains to a meeting, Annunchiarico eloquently convinced them that they should unite as one to resist the soldiers who were constantly sent to hunt them down.
While the outlaw leaders were deciding just who among them should be in charge of the newly united force, Annunchiarico appeared in the full regalia of the priesthood and announced that he would celebrate the Mass. As the chiefs all kneeled to receive his blessing, such an attitude of obeisance signaled their acquiescence to his leadership. At the same time that he was celebrating Mass, Annunchiarico informed all of the assembled outlaws that the spirit of Jupiter, the ancient father of the gods, had passed into his person and commanded him to form a new order, the Decided Ones of Jupiter.
In an remarkably brief time, numerous independent bands of thieves and murderers became a single secret society. As word spread of the alleged supernatural powers of their leader, Annunchiarico, now known as Jupiter the Thunderer, men flocked to the mountains to join the Decided Ones.
In order to spread accounts of his legendary abilities, Annunchiarico secretly used men who resembled him to serve as his doubles, dressed in priestly robes exactly like his, so it would appear that Jupiter the Thunderer could lead raids in several different places at the same time. He also had his personal bodyguard outfitted in devilish costumes, complete with horns and tail, to perpetuate the belief that he had the power to command and control demons. And then, of course, there were reports of his terrible thunderbolts, which he was said to be able to hurl at his enemies just as Jupiter had flung the deadly bolts in ancient times.
Small troops of soldiers sent against the Decided Ones were quickly annihilated. Early in 1818 when a force of a thousand regular troops under the command of a General d’Octavio marched into the mountains to arrest Annunchiarico and destroy his band of outlaws, the superstitious soldiers were so fearful of the mighty Jupiter that they permitted Annunchiarico to enter their camp at night and to place a dagger at the throat of their general as he lay on his cot. Annunchiarico decreed mercy but warned the general and the thousand men that if they ever dared again to violate his mountains, his thunderbolts would be certain to kill them all. General d’Octavio and his troops were gone at first light the next morning.
When the authorities realized that any army conscripted from southern Italy would hold Annunchiarico in the same kind of superstitious awe as the local populace, they hired a force of 1,200 German and Swiss mercenaries under the command of an Englishman, General Church. Strangely enough, the very approach of these veterans of the Napoleonic Wars affected Annunchiarico in ways that astonished his men. Their god was visibly nervous, even frightened, by the movement of the battle-hardened professional soldiers toward the mountains. Suddenly the person who harbored the spirit of Jupiter seemed like an ordinary mortal—and not a very brave one at that. When word reached the camps of the Decided Ones that the mercenaries were very well-equipped and experienced fighting men, thousands deserted. Within a matter of days, Annunchiarico had only a few hundred of his most loyal disciples remaining out of what had been a fearsome band of twenty thousand.
Annunchiarico and his remnant of followers retreated to the small village of Santa Marzano, choosing this location because of the wall that encircled the town. Hoping that the local populace would join in their defense, Annunchiarico prepared for siege. But the citizens of Santa Marzano could also see that the mighty Jupiter the Thunderer was, after all, just another bandit, and nothing about his person persuaded any of them to risk their lives defending him against the professional Swiss and German soldiers. After a few days of siege, General Church’s mercenaries entered the village, killed those Decided Ones who offered resistance, and arrested the others. Annunchiarico and of his three lieutenants managed to escape but were captured four days later.
As he was being led to the firing squad, Annunchiarico’s boastful arrogance returned. He bragged that he had killed sixty or seventy men with his own hands, and he mocked the priest who came to administer the last rites. Many of the villagers who had gathered on the day of execution murmured that the Thunderer would call down one of Jupiter’s lightning bolts and escape from the mercenaries who had captured him.
Incredibly, after the twenty-one-member firing squad shot a volley into him, Ciro Annunchiarico remained alive and somehow managed to get to his knees to begin a prayer to Jupiter. The astonished General Church ordered that the Thunderer’s own musket be loaded with a silver bullet and that a soldier discharge the weapon directly into Annunchiarico’s head, making certain that the legendary leader of the secret society was truly dead.
Daraul, Arkon. A History of Secret Societies. New York, Pocket, 1969.