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New Signs of Antiquity: The Uses of Latin in the Public Culture of Fascist Italy

This project explores the role and functions of the Latin language in the public culture of Italian Fascism from 1922–1943.

Two men greeting each other at and old Italian stamp.

One of nine stamps issued on the occasion of Vergil's 2000th anniversary (1930) with a Latin quote from Aeneid 3.477 ("Before you is the island of Ausonia! Make sail and seize it!"). Illustration: stampboards.com

About the project

"Rome is our starting point and our point of reference," Benito Mussolini declared in 1922: "it is our symbol or, if you wish, our Myth". Signs and symbols of Rome were everywhere in Fascist Italy, from the symbol of the fasces to the "Roman salute".

The ancient language of Rome, too, was part of the Fascist "cult of Rome". Apart from Dux and SPQR, Latin words, phrases, and even short texts featured in, for instance, banners, stamps, and inscriptions all over Italy. Mussolini himself exclaimed, in Latin: "Civis Romanus sum".

In this project, an international team of researchers explores how and why Latin was deployed in Fascist propaganda. While previous work has primarily focused on literary texts, this project investigates the uses of Latin in Fascism’s material and visual culture, including public spectacles, grand-scale exhibitions, and architecture.

The project scrutinizes the linguistic and literary features of these "Latin signs", their immediate material contexts, as well as the wider discourses on Latin that gave new ideological significance to the language of ancient Rome.

Aims

The project pursues several aims: 

  • The project’s main aim is to understand how and why Latin words, phrases, and short texts were used in the material and visual culture of Italian Fascism.
  • The project moreover explores how the use of Latin in Fascist propaganda can be understood within the context of current scholarly views on the Fascist cult of Rome (“romanità”).
  • The project team aspires to make the often difficult-to-find heritage of Fascist Latin texts available in a scholarly responsible way. It does so both by developing further the online repository Fascist Latin Texts and by producing a new scholarly anthology of Fascist Latin texts.
  • The project finally also aims at opening new perspectives on the understudied symbolism of ancient and ‘dead’ languages and scripts (such as hieroglyphs and runes) more generally in other ideological contexts.

Financing

The Research Council of Norway. Grant nr. 316016.

Cooperation

Anchoring the Fascist Revolution.

The Norwegian Institute in Rome.

Duration

01.08.21 - 30.09.2025.

Published June 22, 2021 3:24 PM - Last modified June 28, 2021 5:33 PM