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Excavating Modernity

The Roman Past in Fascist Italy

by Joshua Arthurs

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Like Rome, this book was not built in a day; it is also not the work of the author alone. It was only made possible by support from mentors, colleagues, friends, and loved ones too numerous to name here.
My first mentor on this project was Andrew Szegedy-Maszak of the Classics Department at Wesleyan University. Thanks to him, I embarked on the long...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xvi

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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...

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1. The Third Rome and Its Discontents, 1848–1922

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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...

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2. Science and Faith: The Istituto di Studi Romani, 1922–1929

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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 simply Roma. 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...

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3. History and Hygiene in Mussolini’s Rome, 1925–1938

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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...

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4. The Totalitarian Museum: The Mostra Augustea della Romanità, 1937–19

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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 essay L’Italia di Augusto e l’Italia di oggi (The Italy of Augustus and the Italy of Today), published by the ISR, Giuseppe Bottai...

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5. Empire, Race, and the Decline of Romanità, 1936–1945

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pp. 125-150

The Augustan bimillenary represented the apogee of romanità and 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...

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pp. 151-156

In the August 1943 edition of Roma, 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 to romanità:

How many times have the words “Rome” and “romanità” been invoked...


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pp. 157-196


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pp. 197-212


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pp. 213-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780801468841
E-ISBN-10: 0801468841
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801449987
Print-ISBN-10: 0801449987

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 864506930
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Excavating Modernity

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Archaeology and state -- Italy -- History -- 20th century.
  • Fascism and culture -- Italy -- History -- 20th century.
  • Italy -- Civilization -- Roman influences.
  • Italy -- Historiography -- 20th century.
  • Museum exhibits -- Political aspects -- Italy -- History -- 20th century.
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