Mussolini message to future revealed under Rome obelisk

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Italy's fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, in 1934Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A parchment hidden in the base of Rome's Mussolini Obelisk is a paean to the fascist dictator - and tries to preserve fascism's legacy for the future

A text hidden underneath an obelisk in Rome throws new light on Benito Mussolini's fascist regime and how it wished to be seen by future generations.

Written in Latin on parchment, the text is buried along with gold coins at the base of the Mussolini Obelisk in the Foro Italico sports complex in Rome.

It is a eulogistic account of the rise of fascism and Mussolini's feats.

Two classical scholars have investigated the content of the text.

Bettina Reitz-Joosse and Han Lamers are the first to translate and study in detail the Codex Fori Mussolini, which, despite being buried at the base of the 300-tonne monument to the power of fascism when it was erected in 1932, has largely been forgotten in the intervening decades.

They pieced together what they believe to be an accurate version of the text - which remains out of reach in the base of the obelisk - from three obscure sources found in libraries and archives in Rome.

Image source, iStock
Image caption,
The text is out of reach at the base of the 300-tonne Mussolini Obelisk in Rome

"The text wasn't meant for contemporaries at the time," Dr Reitz-Joosse, who works at the University of Groningen, told the BBC. "The obelisk was a major spectacle but the existence of the text wasn't reported at all. It was meant for an audience in the remote future."

At the time, fascists had made a number of archaeological discoveries from the Roman empire, she explained.

"As the fascists were digging up ruins, they thought about creating their own authorised account of their deeds for future generations."

What's in the text?

The 1,200-word eulogy was written by a classical scholar, Aurelio Giuseppe Amatucci, and is in three parts.

The first is a general history of the achievements of fascism and the rise of Mussolini. It describes Italy as on the brink of disaster following World War One only to be rescued by Mussolini, "regenerating the country through his superhuman insight and resoluteness", said Dr Lamers, who works at Humboldt University Berlin and Catholic University of Leuven.

"The text presents Mussolini as a kind of new Roman emperor, but also, by using biblical language, as the saviour of the Italian people."

The second section concerns the Fascist Youth Organisation (the obelisk was being constructed at its headquarters) and youth programmes.

The third part deals with the construction of the Foro Italico - then known as the Foro Mussolini - and the erection of the obelisk.

Accompanying the text is a medal literally lionising Mussolini - depicting him wearing a lionskin over his head.

Image caption,
As in Egypt, the construction of obelisks weighing hundreds of tonnes was a demonstration of the power and wealth of Mussolini's regime
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The obelisk is situated in what was then known as the Foro Mussolini - a sports complex built to bolster Rome's bid for the 1944 Olympics
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The parchment eulogises the deeds of Benito Mussolini, who by then had established total authority in Italy

It was not unusual in the Renaissance for medals to be placed under obelisks, the researchers explain. But the discovery of a long, detailed text they call "unparalleled".

Why Latin?

Dr Reitz-Joosse suggests the author chose to use a language of the past to draw a link between the Roman empire and the rise of fascism.

US academic Peter Aicher has said the language used is a deliberate echo of the Res Gestae inscription written to commemorate the achievements of Emperor Augustus.

Dr Reitz-Joosse believes the fascists were also trying to re-establish Latin as the international language of fascism: "part of an attempt to establish a Fascist International akin to the Communist International" organisation, which advocated world communism.

"These plans did not succeed," she explains.

The irony of this text is that its discovery is predicated on the fall of the obelisk, and therefore the fall of fascism. The fascists were imagining their own decline and fall, says Dr Reitz-Joosse.

But the document does serve its original purpose of sending the voice of fascism into the future, she argues.

"The text is still there and we can't get to it. All we can do is study the text and analyse its manipulative strategies - to problematise the text rather than allow it to communicate its message untrammelled."

The Codex fori Mussolini: A Latin Text of Italian Fascism by Han Lamers and Bettina Reitz-Joosse is published by Bloomsbury

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