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  • Images of Ancient Rome in Late Eighteenth-Century Neapolitan Historiography
  • Melissa Calaresu

The case of the late Neapolitan enlightenment, the variety and sophistication of which has been little recognized outside of Italian scholarship, illustrates the significance of particular regional concerns and intellectual traditions in the development of enlightened movements in Europe. 1 This becomes apparent when examining how Neapolitans looked to their own past in relation to the unique set of political and social problems of the Kingdom of Naples. In this article I shall examine a number of historical writings published in the 1780s. This was a decade of intense intellectual activity which saw the publication of the defining works of the later Neapolitan enlightenment, such as Gaetano Filangieri’s Scienza della legislazione from 1780 and Francesco Mario Pagano’s Saggi politici between 1783 and 1785. 2 It was also the decade in which Giuseppe Maria Galanti’s Storia filosofica e politica delle nazioni antiche e moderne [End Page 641] introduced in translation important texts of the British and French Enlightenments, and the journal Scelta miscellanea briefly became an important focal point of collaboration and intellectual exchange for reform-minded intellectuals in Naples. 3 The impetus which bound together these many projects of the 1780s was twofold: on one hand, the growing awareness of the particular problems of Neapolitan society and of the urgent need for reform, expressed through the language and concerns of the wider enlightened movement; and at the same time a revived sense of a distinct cultural and political identity. The writing of history, even of the most remote age, did not escape these concerns.

The cultural renewal of the 1780s brought new histories of the Kingdom, and in these Rome played an essential role. As Naples’s most powerful neighbor in ancient times, Rome defeated the Samnites, the tribe which had inhabited the Kingdom, and brought the region under Imperial control. From the Middle Ages the universal pretensions of the Roman papacy had continually threatened the temporal authority of Neapolitan rulers, and the symbol of these pretensions had survived into the eighteenth century with the offering each year of a feudal homage, the Chinea, to Rome. It was against this threat which Pietro Giannone’s anti-clericalism in the Istoria civile del Regno di Napoli (1723) was directed. 4 The symbol of Rome, ancient and modern, served as an effective foil for Neapolitan intellectuals who believed that the development of good government in the Kingdom had been frustrated by the interference of outside powers.

This interference was perceived as having broken the natural bond between the rulers of Naples and their subjects. The Spanish viceroys already had an established and especially reviled place in this history of misgovernment in Naples. 5 The arrival of Charles III in 1734 and the establishment of an autonomous monarchy in the Kingdom broke this history and brought a new optimism for the possibility of reform. As regalisti, the reformers of the end of the [End Page 642] eighteenth century continued their efforts to strengthen the jurisdictional rights of the now autonomous Bourbon monarchy against both the Papacy and the feudal nobility within the Kingdom. 6 Within these historiographical and political traditions Rome was clearly recognized as a recurring symbol of oppression and obstacle to Naples’s sovereignty, and late eighteenth-century historians looked back to a period before the arrival of the ancient Romans to find a native tradition which could inform contemporary reform and upon which a cultural identity could be constructed.

Italian writers, from the Renaissance, had charted the early history of the various city-states, duchies, and kingdoms in the Italian peninsula relative to the rise and fall of ancient Rome. Despite the local patriotism which these histories expressed, Rome remained a powerful symbol and model of civilization, and it was from such a model that both politics and culture were discussed and compared in Europe. Consequently, interest in pre-Roman Italy most often related to the reconstruction of the origins and early history of Rome, and it was towards this which most antiquarians and historians worked in their attempts to understand the causes for its rise. 7 In any case antiquarian interest in pre-Roman...

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