The Whitewashing of Rome

At the dawn of the 20th century, Italian patriots were struggling to overcome a profound inferiority complex. Ever since 1861, when Giuseppe Garibaldi unified the country’s disparate regions into a nation-state, politicians and intellectuals had been anticipating the arrival of a glorious new era. Decades on, however, the economic, diplomatic and cultural results were wanting. Nationalists knew they needed a new mythos to boost public confidence, something to make Italy seem strong and competitive on the world stage. Several options were on the table. Some saw religion as a source of potential unity. Others pointed to the Renaissance, and the long tradition of democratic republicanism as admirable blueprints. After much debate, however, most statesmen came to settle on ancient Rome. The classical legacy, so they reasoned, while admittedly rather distant, was a moment when the peninsula had been at the centre of European and, arguably, world affairs. They set out, quite consciously, with this history in mind, to tell their fellow citizens a new story: that they would make Italy great again.

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