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A cliometric analysis of the Aldo Moro kidnapping and assassination


In Rome, on 16 March 1978, the Red Brigades kidnapped Aldo Moro. They kept him a prisoner for 55 days, and ultimately killed him. Why did they decide to kill Moro since it appears a posteriori that they did not improve their situation by doing so? Our paper answers this question by building mainly on the model of kidnapping by Selten (A simple game model of kidnapping. In: Henn R, Moeschlin O (eds) Mathematical economics and game theory. Lecture Notes in Economics and Mathematical Systems, vol. 141. Springer, Berlin, pp 139–156, 1977). We develop an integrated game-theoretic model that reliably captures both the problem of kidnapping for some sort of non-monetary ransom and the problem of assassination of prominent political figures. We embed our model within the historical evidence surrounding the Moro case. We show that, in the Moro case, there is a continuum of equilibria implying the death of the hostage.

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  1. The 1977 RAF bloody kidnapping and assassination of German industrialist Hans Martin Schleyer had a bedazzling effect on the BR. The 1978 Moro kidnapping was inspired by the 1977 Schleyer kidnapping.

  2. For Sciascia, as well as “for Poe’s protagonist Charles Auguste Dupin, it was essential when investigating a crime, to be able to identify with the criminal” (p. 35). Thinking that such a sound precept had been totally rejected by the police and the carabinieri, Sciascia tried to palliate as much as possible their failures by accurately studying Moro’s letters from captivity. Sciascia himself gives us the most accurate summary of his book: “I have already said that this is a detective story" (p. 98).

  3. Katz contributed to the screenplay for Giuseppe Ferrara’s film Il caso Moro premiered on 13 November 1986 and starred Gian Maria Volontè as Moro. This documentary-like film of the tragic kidnapping and subsequent execution of Moro was popular in Italy, where it caused a firestorm of controversy among politics.

  4. In Lapan and Sandler (1988) however the failure of negotiation can be consistent with killing the hostage. Nevertheless, the authors assume that, once a negotiation takes place, it is always successful. This is contrast with what happened with Moro’s kidnapping.

  5. These communiqués are accessible at

  6. The individuals were Sante Notarnicola, Mario Rossi, Giuseppe Battaglia, Augusto Viel, Domenico Delli Veneri, Pasquale Abatangelo, Giorgio Panizzari, Maurizio Ferrari, Alberto Franceschini, Renato Curcio, Roberto Ognibene, Paola Besuschio, and Cristoforo Piancone

  7. Indeed, if the State refuses to pay the ransom, his gains is −w whereas if he pays C(D), he gets −(1−q)C(D). Since we always have: C(D) ≤ w/(1−q), the conclusion follows.


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Correspondence to Bertrand Crettez.

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We would like to thank Aryanne Hicks–Yasseripour as well as Claude Diebolt and Todd Sandler for helpful comments on a previous version of this paper.

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Crettez, B., Deloche, R. A cliometric analysis of the Aldo Moro kidnapping and assassination. Cliometrica 3, 123–139 (2009).

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  • Kidnapping
  • Game theory
  • Terrorism

JEL Classification

  • C72
  • D74
  • H56
  • K41