AIA-3G: Ancient Monuments and Fascist Italy: Reception, Appropriation, and Innovation (Colloquium)

  In-Person   AIA Session   Colloquium


Elizabeth Macaulay, Graduate Center, City University of New York; and Kimberly Cassibry, Wellesley College

Overview Statement

Ancient cities were filled with arches, columns, and other memorials that celebrated specific events and constructed rhetorical narratives around myth and history. These large-scale monuments have weathered the vicissitudes of time better than many other ancient artifacts and have invited ongoing maintenance and reinterpretation by the communities inheriting them. Although many imperial regimes have made use of this commemorative heritage, Mussolini’s fascist regime lay special claim to the relics of ancient Rome’s empire, at a moment when Italy was once again expanding its territory overseas.

This panel brings together scholars working on fascist reception and Mediterranean monuments. We aim to explore new aspects of Italian politics and the archaeological past through the lenses of replication (architectural models in the Mostra Augustea), appropriation (urban planning around the Arch of Constantine), plundering (the movement of obelisks between Africa and Italy), spoliation (the creation of a new composite altar in Rome), retrospective innovation (fascist triumphal arches), and the diplomatic gifting of monumental remains (the Balbo Column now in Chicago). These receptions are directly informed by their contexts. These include diplomatic tours, such as parades at the Arch of Constantine (1933, 1936), and special expositions, such as the Mostra Augustea in Rome (1937–1938),and World’s Fairs in the United States (1933, 1939). They also include excavation and commemoration in the Italian colonial territories of Libya and Ethiopia. Considering the far-reaching effects of these intersections of Mediterranean monuments and Italian politics, the panel illuminates geopolitical relations between Europe, Africa, and North America.

The panel aims to break new ground for both classical reception studies and critical fascism studies with a focus on the fascist Italian regime (1922–1943) and a particular cultural form (the large-scale monument, especially altars, arches, columns, and obelisks). We ask what the intersections of these categories can tell us about perceptions and distortions of the Mediterranean’s archaeological record. We draw on archives as a tool for reconstructing lost contexts, and we deploy the interdisciplinary approaches of archaeology, art and architectural history, and philology. Advancing the AIA’s mission of facilitating meaningful engagement with a complicated past, our panel deepens and broadens the field’s critical attention to classical archaeology’s enduring entanglements with postantique politics.