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What is a Brigandage?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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Brigandage is a form of robbery where people form a band to waylay people on the road for the purpose of plundering goods and making ransom monies by kidnapping their victims. This practice has been seen in human societies throughout history, from the roads of the American West to those used for trade in Asia. This practice is illegal and the penalties may be harsh. Historically, some communities dealt with brigandage using their own vigilante law enforcement groups.

The origins of this word appear to lie in the Latin word for “soldier.” These bands of criminals typically use military-style techniques for ambushing their victims, relying on their coordination as a group to identify and successfully attack targets. People can use techniques like setting up an attack at a corner or crossroads, or blocking the road with vehicles to force people to stop. An armed band of brigands can often overpower a large group of travelers, as long as the attackers have the element of surprise on their side.

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Once people capture a group, they can loot their belongings for anything of value and may choose to take hostages. If no one is willing to pay the ransom, they may kill the hostages and move on to another area of road to start the process of brigandage all over again. A coordinator usually supervises the group and makes decisions about the division of the spoils. Disputes may result in the formation of offshoot bands, and sometimes territorial wars arise over particularly prime patches of road.

Historically, brigandage was a significant problem in many communities. Regions like England, Italy, and the American Old West all had problems with bands of outlaws attacking people while traveling. Roads in poor condition made it hard for people to move fast enough to outrun brigands, and often trees provided ideal cover, allowing people to conceal themselves until the last minute. People used a variety of techniques to address the problem, like traveling in heavily armed convoys and using quick and often rough justice to warn criminals away from an area by severely punishing anyone caught committing brigandage.

While this practice is no longer widespread, it continues to occur in some regions of the world. Most commonly, it happens in areas where the government lacks control and the population may be struggling with hunger and poverty. Ex-soldiers may turn to crime when the government fails to provide for them, and the government could have difficulty identifying and controlling outlaws because it lacks structure and personnel.

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