Great Beards of History: General Guiseppe Garibaldi


The Garibaldi Beard is a popular style today. But who was General Guiseppe Garibaldi?

Garibaldi Beard | Image via
Garibaldi Beard | Image via

In 2016, it’s easy to overlook how connected our world is. You can hop on a plane, and in less than a day, you can be on the other side of the planet–no problem. I’ve done some traveling myself, but the traveling and adventuring I’ve done looks much less impressive when compared to the life of Guiseppe Garibaldi: France. Italy. Switzerland. Brazil. Uruguay. Garibaldi lived in all of those countries, and he fought in most of them. Along the way, he gave the world both an incredible adventure story and a truly epic beard.

Guiseppe Garibaldi was born in Nice, France, in 1807. He joined the navy. During a visit to Russia in the early 1830s, he fell in with a follower of Guiseppe Mazzini. Mazzini was an early revolutionary and a founder of the “Young Italy” movement. Mazzini believed in a united Italy. At the time, powerful city-states dominated. The Pope controlled Rome and significant portions of the country. The idea of a united Italy attracted Garibaldi so much that he participated in a Mazzini-inspired revolt in the Piedmont district of Italy. The revolt failed, and Garibaldi fled to France for safety. By 1834, he decided to leave Europe altogether.  After some time in northern Africa, he made his way to South America.

South America (1836 – 1848)

His time in South America, from 1836-1848, began to build his reputation. At first, Garibaldi reverted to his naval roots, commanding a ship known as the Rio Pardo in the service of the Rio Grande do Sul Republic. The Rio Grande Republic was attempting to split off from Brazil at the time. During his adventures in the service of the short-lived republic, Garibaldi met a woman who would spend the rest of her life at his side–Ana Ribeiro del Silva, commonly called Anita.  Within months of their meeting, Anita would be fighting alongside Garibaldi in the battles of Imbituba and Laguna.

By 1841, Guiseppe left the service of the Rio Grande do Sul Republic and ventured to Uruguay to try the life of a trader. In Uruguay, Anita taught her European husband about the gaucho culture, and he began to adopt the trademark gaucho attire.

Garibaldi Beard | Image via
Garibaldi Beard | Image via

Garibaldi joined another armed revolt, this time on the side of Uruguay as it struggled to free itself from the Brazilian empire. He formed a unit of fellow Italians called the Italian Legion. He took command of the Uruguayan Navy, and his Italian Legion began to wear distinctive red shirts in lieu of a formal uniform. Over the next six years, Garibaldi’s fame grew. He learned guerilla tactics and won several victories as he fought to defend his new hometown of Montevideo. The Battle of San Antonio del Santo, another victory, caused his fame to spread to Europe.

Return to Italy (1846 – 1848)

The trouble brewing back in Italy held Garibaldi’s interest. Between 1846 and 1848, a series of events in Italy would lead Garibaldi to return home. In 1846, Rome elected a new, more liberal-leaning pope. Pope Pius IX seem to favor Italian unification; Mazzini himself praised the election. Garibaldi even wrote to the new Pope in 1847, offering his services: “If these hands, used to fighting, would be acceptable to His Holiness, we most thankfully dedicate them to the service of him who deserves so well of the Church and of the fatherland.” 

Italy continued to consist of independent kingdoms, city-states, and regions. Much of northern Italy was under the control of Austria; however, many of the Italians resented Austrian control, and in 1848 a series of revolts broke out across the country. Sicily, Sardinia, Lombardy, and other regions launched revolts. However, the Pope’s forces withdrew from much of the conflict after Pope Pius became worried about the consequences of going to war against another Catholic nation. Without his armies, the resistance against Austria failed. Resentful of the Pope’s withdrawal, the people overthrew the Pope’s government in Rome.

Battle with the French (1849 – 1854)

Into this turmoil came Guiseppe Garibaldi. Returning from the conflict in South America with a small number of his Italian Legion, Garibaldi became part of a triumvirate who formed the government of the newly-proclaimed Roman Republic. Garibaldi reformed his Italian Legion, and it grew to a force of approximately 1,000 men. He trained them in anticipation of resistance, which was soon forthcoming. The Pope tried to reclaim Rome as the capital of his Papal States, but his attempts met with mixed success until the French unexpectedly joined the conflict on the side of the Pope.

In 1849, Garibaldi fought a series of battles defending Rome from the French and Papal forces.  While initially successful in beating the French back, his co-leader Mazzini was reluctant to follow up their advantage; after a delay, the French received reinforcements, and Garibaldi was eventually forced to give up the city. In July, Garibaldi fled Rome with 4,000 men, heading for Venice. The march north was brutal, harassed by enemy forces. Along the way, Anita died. She was pregnant with their fourth child at the time. Guiseppe continued on, reaching the neutral republic of San Marino with only 250 men remaining to him. He did not remain there long; Italy was not safe for him, and for the next six years, he lived around the world, spending time in Peru and New York.

Italy and Retirement (1854)

He returned to Italy in 1854, a controversial but famous figure, renowned for his adventures and staunch defense of Rome. There were many smaller conflicts and various intrigues over the next few years, but in 1860 he launched a grand plan to invade Sicily and Naples as part of an attempt to unify Italy. He began with only 1,000 men, but after several smaller victories, he led an army of 30,000 men in his largest battle ever along the Volturno River.  

Garibaldi Beard | Image via
Garibaldi Beard | Image via

The Battle of Volturno was a victory. In the aftermath, Garibaldi joined his army to the Piedmontese army of northern Italy. The lands under their control would be the nucleus of a united Italy. Shortly thereafter, Garibaldi retired.

Garibaldi’s life was one of conflict and adventure on multiple continents. He left behind the legacy not only of adventure but also of world renown facial hair. Today, the Garibaldi beard is recognized as a distinct category at the World Beard Championships. According to the organization’s rules, the Garibaldi is a wide, rounded beard no more than 20 cm in length. It is a style that prizes a natural appearance; no styling aids are allowed, and the mustache must be fully integrated into the beard.  

Wear a Garibaldi beard, and start a revolution or two!



Britannica Online