Michael Broers recounts 'how a long tradition of resistance to French incursions had evolved, expressed through the regular provincisl militias and the activities of the barbetti, smuggler-bandits who, in times of crisis throughout the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, rallied to the same crown that harassed them in peacetime. In 1796-97 they defended the passes of the southern alps... with the same ferocity they normally fought authority.' He describes them as nurtured by a folk-memory of French hating, sharpened by cross border skirmishes connected by smuggling.'
He describes this pattern of metamorphosis 'from violent lawlessness to ferocious loyalty' as ' to be expected, even if it is not readily explicable. The Piedmontese were, indeed, the front line.''
Professor Broers also describes how the insurgent peasantry united wih the urban population not only of Pavia, but Ferrara, Lugo, Ravenna and Genoa in rising up against the French and their giacobini supporters; “The essential requisite for the emergence of successful resistance” being “the survival of an indigenous elite.”
These heterogenous forces were united both by simple resentment of the French invasion but also by “the economic harshness of the occupation, as well as French anti-clericalism’’ with the result that historic antagonism between rural and urban worlds were submerged in loyalty to ‘crown and altar.’
'Revolt and Repression in Napoleonic Italy, 1796-1814' War in an Age of Revolution, edited by Roger Chickering, Stig Förster (CUP 2010)