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Italian Fascist Representations of the Roman Past

image of Fascism

Among the many ‘founding myths’ of Italian Fascism such as those regarding its relationship to the First World War, one element stood out as key to both its quest for absolute dominion over the Italian peninsula and its historically based self-concept and representation: the idea of present-day Italy as incarnating the spirit and virtuousness of Roman (late Republican and early Imperial) antiquity, creating the image of a Terza Roma, of a ‘third’, Fascist Rome. This concept was omnipresent throughout the entire period within which Mussolini dominated Italian politics. This very specific use of the historical past is discussed in this article, tracing its presence in various parts of the cultural and intellectual field, identifying the manifold ways in which history can meet contemporary, and ‘futural’, prerequisites. In so doing, it is inspired by recent scholarship underlining the futural, temporal thrust of Fascism and romanità, rather than its traditionally reactionary, backward-looking dynamic. As seems, at least to a certain extent, to have been the case in Nazi Germany, for the Fascists, antiquity indeed was no faraway, dusty past, but a lively source of inspiration and energy revealing the regime’s modernist, revolutionary ambition to build a ‘Third Rome’ which, literally and figuratively, made visible the earlier layers of Roman heritage.

Affiliations: 1: Université libre de Bruxelles-CIERL, Brussels, Belgium, jan_nelis@hotmail.com

10.1163/22116257-00301001
/content/journals/10.1163/22116257-00301001
dcterms_title,pub_keyword,dcterms_description,pub_author
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Among the many ‘founding myths’ of Italian Fascism such as those regarding its relationship to the First World War, one element stood out as key to both its quest for absolute dominion over the Italian peninsula and its historically based self-concept and representation: the idea of present-day Italy as incarnating the spirit and virtuousness of Roman (late Republican and early Imperial) antiquity, creating the image of a Terza Roma, of a ‘third’, Fascist Rome. This concept was omnipresent throughout the entire period within which Mussolini dominated Italian politics. This very specific use of the historical past is discussed in this article, tracing its presence in various parts of the cultural and intellectual field, identifying the manifold ways in which history can meet contemporary, and ‘futural’, prerequisites. In so doing, it is inspired by recent scholarship underlining the futural, temporal thrust of Fascism and romanità, rather than its traditionally reactionary, backward-looking dynamic. As seems, at least to a certain extent, to have been the case in Nazi Germany, for the Fascists, antiquity indeed was no faraway, dusty past, but a lively source of inspiration and energy revealing the regime’s modernist, revolutionary ambition to build a ‘Third Rome’ which, literally and figuratively, made visible the earlier layers of Roman heritage.

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/content/journals/10.1163/22116257-00301001
2014-04-12
2016-12-09

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