Romanitas and fascism

A different field of research concerns an aspect so far unexplored: the fascist policy of Roman statues.

In Mosse’s book on the nationalisation of the masses, the theme of national monuments occupies an important place. The concepts of «speaking architecture» and «sacred space» well express the importance of the subject: the monuments analysed by Mosse symbolised «the ideals of beauty and sacred in a direct and unequivocal manner». Thanks to their exploitation, the political fact became a religious experience: «the contemplation of a national monument had to give rise to sacred rites, and to the worship of the secular cult of the Nation». A fitting example is offered by the Hermannsdenkmal, a monument to Arminius erected in the presumed arena of the 9 AD Battle of Teutoburg, which, during the second half of the 19th century, became a destination for collective pilgrimages, rituals and festivals. And such remained through the Nazi era, when ancient history became contemporary history fostering the cult of the Homeland. At the same time, by will of Emperor Napoleon III, on Mount Auxois, in France, it was erected a monument to the ancient Gallic hero Vercingetorix, defeated by Julius Caesar in the Battle of Alesia. Same as its German equivalent, this monument became a destination for collective pilgrimages and mass rituals: once again, ancient history was being used in support of the nationalisms of contemporary age. Italy had no monuments dedicated to Roman heroes comparable to those in honour of Arminius or Vercingetorix. The idea of Rome, symbolically represented by the Roman wolf and the fasces in its various forms, from the French one to the fascist one, prevailed. Italy did not have an ancient founding father like Germany or France; however, fascism gave birth to a phenomenon that could be defined as a «policy of Roman statues». Starting from the capital, during the Thirties, figures of ancient Roman heroes – with a preference for Julius Caesar and Augustus – spread all through the peninsula. Rome was the first city to receive bronze copies of four protagonists of ancient history: Julius Caesar, Augustus, Nerva and Trajan. Subsequently, more statues of Julius Caesar and Augustus were donated to various cities, such as Aosta, Turin, Bologna, Cividale, Pula, Rimini, Brindisi, Naples. Surveys carried out in Italian archives have revealed the existence of a real policy of statues: the research, to be published soon, is therefore aimed at discovering the reasons behind it, the economic aspects that supported it, the dialectic between centre and periphery which characterised it, and the criteria that inspired the granting or denial of statues. Eventually, the atmosphere surrounding the inaugurations of the monuments, the official speeches, the collective ceremonies taking place around those Roman statues for special occasions will be also analysed.

Scientific coordinator: Andrea Giardina

Scientific supervisor: Paola Salvatori