5 Real-Life Robin Hoods Who Singlehandedly Redistributed Wealth
If you absolutely have to do a crime, robbing an incredibly rich person is one that generally gets minimal blowback. Insurance probably covers it, it takes a chunk out of their spoiled kids’ inheritance at worst and you get to give some millionaire a bad day, which is almost always worth it. Nobody but the world’s biggest bootlicker is going to feel much empathy there.
If you follow that up by distributing the spoils to people in serious need of them? That’s when you can cross the line from victimless crime to folk heroism. There’s a reason Robin Hood is a beloved figure, one that even contrarian online engagement farmers can’t bring themselves to say “well, he is a criminal” about. So who are a few people from history who rode hands-on wealth redistribution to public adoration?
Here’s five of them…
Not providing adequate food to the poor is a quick way to kick off a revolution. Without a good meal to make them sleepy and passive, you’re instead going to have hunger kicking thoughts of resentment into overdrive. So when, in the early 1940s, Sicily’s government wasn’t able to handle food distribution, they weren’t swimming in good will. Forget fake Rolexes, the black market there at the time was flooded with a basic resource: food.
Salvatore Giuliano, after being almost killed in a police altercation while smuggling wheat, decided he was done with the ruling class’, well, rules. Over the next few years, he would become famous for robbing the rich and redistributing the money to the poor. He was beloved even by the hostages he took, who he was known for treating kindly (still not ideal, but it could be a lot worse when you’re human leverage). Giuliano’s exploits weren’t exactly bloodless, and he killed plenty of police during these criminal pursuits, but given that we’re talking about police that were at the time an arm of a Nazi government, sympathy doesn’t exactly flow like water. He was eventually murdered by his right-hand-man-turned-police-informant, who I can’t imagine got a lot of free drinks in that neighborhood anymore.
The actual criminal career of Slovak bandit-turned-icon Juraj Janosik was very short. One of the downsides to taking on an extremely powerful empire is that they’re going to have ample resources they can dedicate to taking out the man spitting in their face. It also guarantees that if you are caught, you’re not going out in any sort of humane or dignified way. This proved true for Janosik, who only managed less than two years of good-intentioned robbery before being tortured and executed by a hook through the side — far from comfortable.
Janosik’s enemy was the Habsburg dynasty, pretty much as deserving a target as you can draw up. Slovakia was filled with a population indebted by serfdom to Hungary, ruled by a family famous for their blind nepotism even in a time when monarchy was the rule. They were beyond eager to back somebody willing to cause the ruling class some pain. Given how badly they needed a win, Janosik was destined for martyrdom long before his death, a destiny that came true, with him still considered one of the national heroes of Slovakia.
Again, we’re looking, unsurprisingly, at a society with a huge socioeconomic divide. After all, if you want to build a Robin Hood-like legend, you need a clear baddie and a suitably starving populace to toss those coins to. This time, we’re in Rome, all the way back when Jesus Christ was a recent real guy instead of the world’s most popular statue.
The man in question was Bulla Felix, which translates to “Lucky Charm.” A story so silver-screen ready it almost seems impossible that he’s never gotten a prestige HBO mini-series. Maybe one reason is that whether he existed is up for debate. It’s not a hard no, like Zeus or Godzilla, but historians have their doubts that he existed, or at the very least, wasn’t a composite of a couple inspiring fellows.
If we’re to believe the popular story, Bulla Felix and a band of accomplices decided to rob a caravan of wealthy merchants and, emerging victorious, distributed their ill-gotten gains to the needy. They formed a group in order to run back this bit of guerrilla trickle-down economics, calling themselves the “Green Brigands.” If all this is sounding just a little too close to Robin Hood, it’s for good reason: Historians also think Bulla Felix might have had some influence on modern Robin Hood retellings.
Probably the most famous name on this list outside of Hood himself, John Dillinger is a little more complicated than the other entries. Maybe part of that is because he hasn’t had as much time for his story to get embellished and smoothed out into a nice little poem. When he was active, though, there’s plenty of evidence that a good part of the country would have given him a high approval rating.
Now, it’s not like people are shedding tears for banks even in the best of times. If you’re robbing them in the early 1930s, in the heat of the Great Depression, the population probably looks at it more like you’re lancing a boil than committing despicable crimes. The classic rootin’-tootin’ method of bank robbery is a little less prominent today, and I sure as hell don’t condone it, but I’m pretty sure if somebody cleaned out JPMorgan Chase, they’d pick up a couple quiet thumbs-ups from passers-by.
Pedants and the people who seem to be auditioning as a proofreader in the comments, you may have tasted blood seeing that title, so let’s nip that in the bud. There’s at least some solid belief that Robin Hood is not entirely a work of fiction, and that he, or a series of people who eventually melded together into the modern image, really did exist. It’s also thought that “Robin Hood” was a mantle taken on by a number of honorable criminals, a shared alter-ego that eventually grew its own arms and legs.
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.