Carbonari (Ital. carbonajo, a charcoal burner), a secret political society, which became notorious in Italy and France about 1818, though it had existed for a number of years before. About 1810, when the Neapolitan republicans, alike opposed to the usurpation of Murat and the rule of Ferdinand, took refuge in the Abruzzi mountains, they organized, under the leadership of Capobianco, a carbonari society, adopting charcoal as a symbol of purification, with the motto " Revenge upon the wolves who devour the lambs." Queen Caroline of Naples and the Sardinian minister Maghella are mentioned, in addition to Capobianco, as the prime movers of the Abruzzi league of carbonari. In 1814 the little Neapolitan town of Lanciano, in the province of Abruzzo Citeriore, numbered as many as 2,000 carbonari, and all over the Abruzzi new societies were formed, whose political influence became so marked that Prince Moliterni was despatched to them by Ferdinand with a view of securing their cooperation against the French. But the carbonari, although their unwillingness to bear any foreign yoke had originally given rise to their association, leaned more and more toward republicanism; and, especially when the expelled dynasty was reinstated upon the throne of Naples, they assumed an attitude of uncompromising hostility against monarchy.
From 30,000 members, the number of carbonari all over Italy had been swelled in one month (March, 1820) to the enormous figure of nearly 700,000, including many persons of education and good family. The place where the carbonari assembled was called the baracca, or collier's hut; the surrounding country was designated a forest; the interior of the baracca was called the vendita, from the sale of coals which the colliers are supposed to carry on in their huts. Each province contained a large number of such baracche or huts, and the union of the different provincial huts constituted "a republic." The leading huts were called alte vendite, and had their headquarters at Naples and Salerno. - The growing influence of the order alarmed the conservative governments of Europe, especially the Bourbons, as, since 1819, the carbonari had allied themselves with French republicans. The trial of the Corsican Guerini, who, in accordance with the decree of the alta vendita, had stabbed a fellow member for having betrayed the secrets of the society, added to the excitement.
Previous to 1819, the carbonari societies in France took their rise principally from the charbonneries, which flourished especially in Franche-Comte. But the movements of the Italian carbonari, especially the insurrections of 1820 and 1821 in Naples and Sardinia, gave a fresh impulse to the French fraternity, and under the auspices of Buchez and Flottard a new movement was set on foot in Paris. Men like Voyer d'Argenson, Lafayette, Laffitte, Dupont de l'Eure, Buonarotti, Barthe, Teste, Boinvilliers, and other republicans of mark, joined the movement, which adopted the ritual of the Abruzzi carbonari, with the sole modification, that while the Neapolitans had only the one superior division of alta vendita, the French carbonari classed themselves in four ventes, viz.: ventes particulieres, ventes centrales, liautes ventes, and ventes supremes. The admission to the ventes was also surrounded with greater formalities in France, although after admission the principle of equality prevailed, and, like the Italians, the French carbonari greeted each other as ions cousins. The statutes of the French carbonari were most stringent. The faintest whisper of the secrets of the society to outsiders constituted treason, and was punishable with death. No written communications were permitted.
In 1819 there were about 20,000 carbonari in Paris. From September, 1820, to March 16, 1821, a separate committee sat in Paris on military affairs, as the army contained a large number of carbonari. In 1821 the government was officially informed that the society existed in 25 out of the 86 departments of France. The congres national of the carbonari, which had its headquarters at Paris, seemed for a time omnipotent. All the insurrectionary movements from 1819 to 1822 were attributed to them. One of the cardinal points in the creed of the French carbonari was to make Paris the political focus of the world. After the July revolution of 1830, many carbonari gave in their allegiance to Louis Philippe; but at that time a new charbonnerie democratique was founded by Buonarotti upon the theories of Babeuf, which Teste, who was a prominent member, expounded in his Projet d'une constitution re-publicaine. The carbonari are not known to exist in France at present, at least not under that name.