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Excavating Modernity

Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy

Joshua Arthurs
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    Excavating Modernity
    Book Description:

    The cultural and material legacies of the Roman Republic and Empire in evidence throughout Rome have made it the "Eternal City." Too often, however, this patrimony has caused Rome to be seen as static and antique, insulated from the transformations of the modern world. In Excavating Modernity, Joshua Arthurs dramatically revises this perception, arguing that as both place and idea, Rome was strongly shaped by a radical vision of modernity imposed by Mussolini's regime between the two world wars.

    Italian Fascism's appropriation of the Roman past-the idea of Rome, or romanità- encapsulated the Fascist virtues of discipline, hierarchy, and order; the Fascist "new man" was modeled on the Roman legionary, the epitome of the virile citizen-soldier. This vision of modernity also transcended Italy's borders, with the Roman Empire providing a foundation for Fascism's own vision of Mediterranean domination and a European New Order. At the same time, romanità also served as a vocabulary of anxiety about modernity. Fears of population decline, racial degeneration and revolution were mapped onto the barbarian invasions and the fall of Rome. Offering a critical assessment of romanità and its effects, Arthurs explores the ways in which academics, officials, and ideologues approached Rome not as a site of distant glories but as a blueprint for contemporary life, a source of dynamic values to shape the present and future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6884-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    On April 21, 1922, Benito Mussolini marked the 2,675th anniversary of the legendary founding of Rome. The Eternal City, he announced, was Fascism’s

    point of departure and our point of reference; it is our symbol or, if you prefer, our myth. We dream of a Roman Italy, wise and strong, disciplined and imperial. Much of what was once the immortal spirit of Rome has risen again in Fascism: our Littorio is Roman, our military organization is Roman, our pride and our courage are Roman.Civis Romanus Sum

    Six months later, this “dream” was realized as legions of blackshirtedsquadristimarched...

  7. Chapter 1 The Third Rome and Its Discontents, 1848–1922
    (pp. 9-28)

    In 1910, a Socialist journalist from Emilia-Romagna called for his party’s newspaper to move from the “provincial city” of Rome to Italy’s “moral capital,” Milan. For the young Benito Mussolini, the political capital was not worthy of representing the nation. Unlike Milan or Turin, Rome lacked an industrial economy and consequently a revolutionary working class. Instead, it subsisted on a bloated state bureaucracy and the appeal of its crumbling monuments. While the northern cities were centers of productivity and modernity, Rome remained mired in medieval backwardness:

    Rome, a parasitic city of landladies, shoeshine boys, prostitutes, priests and bureaucrats, Rome—a...

  8. Chapter 2 Science and Faith: The Istituto di Studi Romani, 1922–1929
    (pp. 29-49)

    In November 1922, in the days that followed the March on Rome and Mussolini’s accession to power, a group of local scholars established a new journal, titled simplyRoma. The publication would be devoted to “illustrating our city … in every facet of its life, its history, its memories and its modern affairs.”¹ In its first issue, of January 1923, the editors announced thatRomawould transcend the confines of the ivory tower and speak to its audience “in a plain and simple manner.”² The Eternal City would be studied in its totality, addressing historical and artistic subjects alongside contemporary...

  9. Chapter 3 History and Hygiene in Mussolini’s Rome, 1925–1938
    (pp. 50-90)

    At the Istituto di Studi Romani, the regime and classical scholars had come together to recast the relationship between the Roman past and the Fascist present. This new “historic imaginary” (in the words of Claudio Fogu) was not confined to intellectual production; it was also meant to be actuated materially, through the transformation of the Roman landscape.¹ The classic statement of the regime’s ambitions for the capital remains Mussolini’s speech installing the new governor of Rome in December 1925. Speaking “in the Roman style, its concision befitting the solemnromanitàof this ceremony,” the Duce laid out his vision of...

  10. Chapter 4 The Totalitarian Museum: The Mostra Augustea della Romanità, 1937–1938
    (pp. 91-124)

    Although the archaeological transformation of Rome had uncovered the traces of several different historical periods, it focused especially on one phase of the city’s development: the reign of Augustus, the founder of the empire. In his 1937 essayL’Italia di Augusto e l’Italia di oggi(The Italy of Augustus and the Italy of Today), published by the ISR, Giuseppe Bottai explained why Rome’s first emperor remained such an instructive and inspirational figure for contemporary society.¹ Augustus had reformed the political institutions of an ailing republic while respecting the traditional authority of the Senate and the Roman people. He had brought...

  11. Chapter 5 Empire, Race, and the Decline of Romanità, 1936–1945
    (pp. 125-150)

    The Augustan bimillenary represented the apogee ofromanitàand the culmination of currents—institutional, intellectual, ideological—present since the earliest days of Fascism (and indeed well before). At the same time, this event must also be situated in its historical context, as an expression of dramatic developments in the mid- to late thirties. On May 9, 1936, Benito Mussolini announced Italy’s defeat of Haile Selassie’s Abyssinia and thus “the reappearance, after fifteen centuries, of empire on the fated hills of Rome.”¹ With this victory, he declared, Italy had finally fulfilled its imperial destiny and claimed its rightful place alongside Europe’s...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 151-156)

    In the August 1943 edition ofRoma, the Istituto di Studi Romani responded to recent dramatic events.¹ The Allies had landed in Sicily in early July, and soon thereafter Mussolini was deposed and the Fascist regime dissolved. To Carlo Galassi Paluzzi, the Duce’s downfall was due to his failure to live up toromanità:

    How many times have the words “Rome” and “romanità” been invoked in proclamations, speeches, announcements, articles, notes, columns and footnotes (not to mention books, plays, even films)? How many times have these two words been pronounced, invoked and employed as an opening salvo or a final...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 157-196)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-212)
  15. Index
    (pp. 213-216)