La Francia, l’Italia e l’eredità di Roma

empire-silhouette
Moda francese stile impero. Courtesy of http://www.metmuseum.org

 

L’eredità di Roma è più grande di quanto pensiamo – lingua, letteratura, diritto, sistemi di governo, architettura, ingegneria, medicina, sport, arte ecc. – e l’Impero romano è stato un potente mito nel corso dei secoli.

Dopo la caduta, nel 476 d.C., dell’Impero romano d’Occidente il Sacro Romano Impero prese a risorgere quando nell’800 d.C. Papa Leone III incoronò a Roma Carlo Magno “Imperatore e Augusto dei Romani” (Augustus Imperator Romanorum gubernans Imperium).

Tale risorto impero, prima franco, poi germanico e infine austriaco (dissoltosi solo nel 1806) si considerava l’erede della “Prima Roma” (l’Impero romano originale), mentre l’ellenizzato Impero romano d’Oriente, con capitale Bisanzio, era chiamato la “Seconda Roma” e durò molto più a lungo dell’Impero romano d’Occidente.

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Quando nel 1453 d.C. anche la “Seconda Roma” cadde sotto i colpi degli Ottomani il conquistatore Maometto II pensò di continuare il potere (e l’idea) di Roma e cercò di “unificare l’Impero”, sebbene la sua marcia verso l’Italia venne arrestata nel 1480 dagli eserciti del Papa e di Napoli. Dunque persino i Turchi cercarono di ricostituire l’Impero di Roma.

Caduta la “Seconda Roma” qualcuno cominciò a considerare Mosca come la “Terza Roma”, dal momento che gli zar russi si sentivano gli eredi della tradizione cristiana ortodossa dell’Impero romano d’Oriente.

[Ricordiamo altresì che i sovrani dei due grandi imperi continentali dissoltisi con la prima guerra mondiale, l’impero tedesco e quello russo, portavano rispettivamente il nome di Kaiser e Tsar, cioè “Cesare” nelle loro lingue]

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Caspita, ma quanti eredi di Roma! Sembra un gioco storico bislacco.

Non lo è.

Vediamo se altre nazioni hanno rivendicato l’eredità di Roma.

 

I Vittoriani, gli Italiani e gli Stati Uniti

I britannici vittoriani, ad esempio, si sono sempre sentiti i successori spirituali dei Romani.

Un magnifico articolo sul Victorianist approfondisce il legame tra i vittoriani e l’antica Roma, con numerose note che costituiscono una buona bibliografia sull’argomento. Vi si cita, tra l’altro, Henry John Newbolt (poeta e politico inglese, 1862 – 1938) che a proposito della sua personale esperienza nelle scuole vittoriane del tempo scrisse:

“Vi era un canone romano, particolarmente adatto ai bisogni dello scolaro inglese […] che richiedeva a noi […] le virtù di leadership, coraggio e indipendenza; il sacrificio di interessi egoistici all’ideale della fratellanza e al futuro della razza. […] [In breve,] al fine di impersonare l’Uomo Oraziano nel mondo, il gentiluomo [doveva ispirarsi] allo stile alto romano che faceva dello stoicismo un’arte raffinata, quasi una religione”.

Anche i patrioti italiani risorgimentali che unificarono l’Italia si ispirarono a Roma. Per non parlare del dittatore italiano Benito Mussolini.

Sia i patrioti italiani che i fascisti si sentivano in sostanza gli eredi dell’antica Roma e i creatori (ancora!) di una “Terza Roma”: dopo la capitale del mondo pagano e dopo la capitale del cattolicesimo Roma doveva essere la capitale di un Nuovo Mondo.

Un’idea sproporzionata, non c’è dubbio.

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E gli Americani? Beh, gli Americani trovano spesso somiglianze tra la loro super-potenza e la super-potenza del mondo antico: basta digitare su Google America new Rome per ottenere una lista interessante di risultati. La Costituzione Americana del resto si ispirò alla Repubblica antico-romana (nota 1), gli edifici del governo a Washington vennero eretti in stile neo-romano ecc.

[Curioso il caso di George Washington che, come Cincinnato, lasciò il potere per tornare ad occuparsi della sua fattoria. Qui sotto lo scultore Horatio Greenough lo ritrae nel 1840 quasi come un dio romano]

Washington

 

Oggi parleremo però della Francia (omettendo la Spagna per motivi di brevità).

Ha la Francia mai rivendicato l’eredità di Roma?

 

Il primo impero francese

La Francia ha assorbito molti elementi da Roma a seguito della conquista della Gallia da parte di Giulio Cesare: lingua, abitudini alimentari, comportamenti, geni, tecnologie e un atteggiamento estetico di fondo, tra le altre cose.

Abbiamo già parlato di Carlo Magno e della (ri)nascita del Sacro Romano Impero d’Occidente (che irritò l’Impero romano d’Oriente ancora in vita). Ci sono anche indizi importanti come le somiglianze tra la Legione straniera francese e le legioni romane per quel che riguarda l’addestramento, le abitudini di combattimento, la gestione del territorio (costruzione di strade ecc.) e così via.

Più significativa però è la tradizione statale di Roma che secondo numerosi studiosi venne conservata nel centralismo monarchico francese (nota 2) e nello spirito nazionale statale del popolo francese.

La persona che consolidò tale statalismo e centralismo (poi proseguito imperterrito nei secoli) fu Luigi XIV (1638 – 1715: “l’Etat c’est moi!”), uno dei re più grandi di sempre. Chiamato Re Sole (le Roi Soleil) venne associato ad Apollo Helios, il dio greco-romano del Sole (e il culto principale del tardo Impero romano). Le Roi Soleil incoraggiò tra l’altro anche il classicismo nelle arti e Voltaire lo paragonò all’imperatore romano Augusto.

Altri grandi personaggi come Napoleone Bonaparte portano tracce dell’eredità romana.

Napoleone si ispirò inizialmente alla Repubblica romana diventando primo console della Repubblica francese. Quindi il 2 dicembre 1804 ricevette la corona da Papa Pio VII (a Parigi, questa volta, e non a Roma come ne caso di Carlo Magno) e divenne Imperatore del popolo francese incoraggiando uno stile imperiale classico (neoclassico) nell’architettura, nelle arti decorative, nei mobili e persino negli abiti femminili ispirati alle tuniche della Grecia antica portate come allora liberamente senza busti e steccati, uno stile presto popolare nella maggior parte dell’Europa e delle sue colonie anche dopo la caduta di Bonaparte.

Scrive Il Costume e la moda:

"La vita fu portata sotto al seno, la scollatura abbassata, i vestiti alla greca chiamati "alla Flora", "alla Diana", all'Onfale" erano talmente sottili che non c'era posto per le tasche e si dovette inventare una borsetta a sacchetto, detta alla latina reticule. I piedi erano calzati da coturni, le teste acconciate alla greca e fasciate da bende ricamate, il corpo così esibito esaltava la giovinezza e la bellezza delle forme, certamente ispirandosi alla statuaria greca del periodo classico.

Napoleone Bonaparte [...] finanziò il Journal des Dames et des Modes, un periodico che conteneva numerose tavole illustrate e che contribuì alla diffusione del gusto".

 

Erede di Roma

Napoleone si identificava con Giulio Cesare, ne studiava continuamente le opere e riuscì a diventare uno dei più grandi generali di sempre, assieme a Cesare e ad Alessandro Magno.

Molti intellettuali francesi hanno sempre guardato all’eredità di Roma. Nell’Histoire d’un crime Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) scrisse:

“Ogni uomo di cuore ha due patrie in questo secolo: la Roma del passato e la Parigi di oggi”.

Quest’antica patria associata a quella moderna presuppone che la Francia sia in effetti l’erede di Roma.

 

Francesi e Italiani. Chi invidia chi?

Andando un poco fuori tema e spostando l’attenzione sul rapporto tra italiani e francesi si può cercare di indagare, perché no, il tema dell’invidia tra i due paesi.

Scrive Antonio Gramsci nel Quaderno 28:

La Francia rappresentò un mito per la democrazia italiana, la trasfigurazione in un modello straniero di ciò che la democrazia italiana non era mai riuscita a fare [...] La Francia era la Rivoluzione francese [...] era la partecipazione delle masse popolari alla vita politica e statale, era l’esistenza di forti correnti d’opinione, la sprovincializzazione dei partiti, il decoro dell’attività parlamentare ecc., cose che non esistevano in Italia [...] Ma non era francofilia nel senso tecnico e politico: anzi c’era, proprio in questi democratici, molta invidia per la Francia [...]

Aggiungerei più semplicemente che anche i nostri cugini francesi provano invidia quando considerano la ricchezza storica italiana, la bellezza delle nostre città ecc. Un’invidia che emerge ogni volta che facciamo qualcosa meglio: col calcio, la Ferrari, la diffusione mondiale della nostra cucina e moda e così via.

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Facciamoci però un favore. Siamo onesti.

Se i francesi ci invidiano, noi li invidiamo di più.

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Note.

(1) Sull’influenza che gli antichi Greci e Romani ebbero sui Padri fondatori della Repubblica americana:
Carl J. Richard, The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment.
Carl J. Richard, Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts: How the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers.

(2) Un interessante articolo del New York Times del 14 febbraio del 1864 in cui si parla dell’eccessiva centralizzazione dello Stato Francese e se ne tracciano la origini. La cosa colpiva molto gli Americani che vivevano e vivono in uno stato decentrato federale fin dagli inizi della Repubblica americana. Ne traduciamo un brano:

La centralizzazione è il potere onnipresente dello Stato che con la scusa di un’eccessiva preoccupazione per il benessere dell’individuo lo spoglia d’ogni responsabilità municipale e lo riduce alla condizione d’automa che vive si muove e conduce la propria vita semplicemente come la vuole l’autorità sovrana.

È difficile per un americano di qui concepire quanto possa essere castrante e demoralizzante il sistema in vigore in Francia. Quando Luigi XIV esclamò “L’etat, c’est moi” esistevano ancora i parlamenti francesi delle province; e sebbene la Monarchia fosse dispotica la gente possedeva alcuni privilegi corporativi. Ma oggi, a metà del XIX secolo e sotto l’imperialismo democratico dei Buonaparte, come stanno le cose? Per quale ragione non c’è in Francia un prefetto dipartimentale o municipale che non sia indicato dall’Esecutivo; non c’è un sindaco in tutto l’Impero, dai quaranta sindaci delle metropoli al più umile sindaco della più oscura comunità, che non sia un candidato dell’Esecutivo; e non c’è un maestro di villaggio dalla Manica ai Pirenei che non sia nominato dall’Esecutivo […]

Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria etc. Arab Spring Revolutions seen from Rome (1)

Berlusconi and Gaddafi
Berlusconi and Gaddafi. What on earth do they have in common? They were supposed to be ‘friends’. Click for attribution and to to enlarge

It is weeks I wanted to write something about the Arab spring revolutions. It all started in Tunisia, separated from Italy by only 44 miles (Pantelleria) and by 68 miles (Sicily.)

This being not totally fortuitous in my opinion – we will see in any case.

This is a thoughtful Roman blog, not a newspaper, so we’ll talk over such political (and military) crises in our own Roman way 🙂

Talk over literally, since I recently discovered how convenient a microphone can be.

Waves of Revolution.
“Who the Hell Cares”

Image drawn when Gaddafi arrived to Rome (on june 2009?). Our PM welcomed him as a leader and as a personal friend. Click for credits and to enlarge

Disturbance; want of values in new generations; so-close-to-Italy Muslim countries exploding like bombs; the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India & China) about to make our Western asses black & blue.

France, the UK, Germany, the US etc. not being on better grounds than we are; our ineffable PM Berlusconi glued to his chair not giving a damn about his country’s future and claiming ‘communist’ magistrates are the only ones to blame for his HUGE legal problems (read the Guardian, among the rest, any political colour saying the same worldwide) and btw only half-heartedly admitting his friend Muammar Gaddafi is a cruel dictator butchering dissenters with fighters missiles.

By the way, did the two Big Men have fun ensemble with chicks? No evidence that I posses but it’s a given that when Gaddafi arrived to Rome (June 2009?) hundreds of Italian babes flocked to his tent placed in a Roman public (and luscious) garden and, well, rumours say quite a few converted to Islam for 80 Euros (100 USD)!

When asked by journalists (see picture below) – who were staring at their stunning faces boobs (and legs) – why on earth had they converted, they replied:

“Well, ya know, it is so interesting, exploring different religions, really so interesting, isn’t it interesting? Ah ah ah ah ..”

[I am using my words but I heard those chicks’ words on TV; they were no different, at times even worse]

A young Italian showing the Qur’an after meeting Muammar Gaddafi in his tent placed in a luscious Roman public garden. Click for attribution

Let me tell you this whole thing is allarmante, alarming.

And it’s all the more when we realise we are so few to be alarmed – as a Milan’s blogger wittingly put it.

While strolling about Rome I actually notice that in cafés shops and bars no one really gives a damn, with Milan teaming up with us (the two major Italian cities – not to mention the provinces, that probably care even less.)

Instead, Libya and the Rest ‘Do Affect’ Us

Libya with Italy on top. Giolitti in 1911 and later Mussolini deemed its conquest as a natural expansion of Italy in ‘Mare Nostrum’.

Libya and the Arab spring upheavals do affect us instead. We all have Greco-Roman and Mediterranean roots, so South and East shores mattered (and matter) to us.

In 1911 the Italian PM Giovanni Giolitti launched the progressive conquest of Libya, later continued by Benito Mussolini until 1931.

Libya became ‘ours’ because our newly-founded Nation desired to invent her own empire at a time when the real thing, ie the British and the French empires, were soon to fall apart (as Lucio Caracciolo, director of Limes, yesterday observed in the Roman daily La Repubblica.)

Libya's regions, and Cyrenaica

Libya 1911-1931, we were saying. A bloody phase of battles and unrelenting anti-Italian guerilla at the end of which our technologically superior country (morally too?) made use of chemical weapons and poisoned the farmers’ wells to the extent it wiped out 1/10 of the Libyan population (100,000 casualties) – according to the Italian Wikipedia.

Κυρήνη or Cyrene.
Mussolini Amoral
(and Forgetful) Conqueror

One of the toughest & unyielding Libyan regions was Cyrenaica, Eastern Libya (see map above.)

It was so named since 2641 years earlier the Greek colony of Cyrene (Κυρήνη) was there founded and there later flourished. Cyrene soon became a glowing centre of Greek culture. Suffice it to mention:

Callimachus (Καλλίμαχος: 310–240 BCE), of Libyan Greek origin, poet and scholar

Aristippus (Ἀρίστιππος), Socrates’ disciple, who there preached how to enjoy life pleasures “from all circumstances and how to control adversity and prosperity alike;”

Callimachus (Καλλίμαχος) who there had his birth and without whom the greatest Roman poets of the Latin golden age would never have existed (Catullus, Virgil, Tibullus and Propertius;)

Eratosthene
(Έρατοσθένης), also from Cyrene, the first scientist ever capable of exactly measuring the size and circumference of our planet.

Libya’s National Hero:
Omar Mukhtar, a Pious Man

Omar Mukhtar, Libya's great national hero
Omar Mukhtar, Libya’s great national hero, hanged by the Italians in 1931. “For nearly 20 years he led native resistance to Italian colonization.” Wikipedia. Also image via Wikipedia. Click to enlarge

In 1862 CE Omar al-Mukhtar had his birth in Cyrenaica as well (see picture above.)

Omar al-Mukhtar is Libya’s great national hero, a religious and pious man.

For 20 years he led an unrelenting anti-Italian resistance and when captured in 1931 (see picture below) his deep personality “had an impact on his Italian jailers, who later remarked upon his steadfastness” (English Wiki.)

Omar Mokhtar arrested by Italian Fascists
Omar Mokhtar arrested by the Italians in 1931. Click for file source

A sort of Nelson Mandela, one could say, with the difference that deep sage Omar didn’t make it.

It seems the Italians arrested Mukhtar’s court appointed defence lawyer, capitano Roberto Lontano, who took ‘too honestly’ his defence job, which suggests unfairness in Mukhtar’s trial.

“On September 16, 1931, Mukhtar, at the age of 73 years, was hanged before his followers” who were ALL prisoners in the concentration camp of Solluqon. The Italians hopes were that Libyan resistance would end with him.

Omar Mukhtar's hanging in the concentration camp of Solluqon
Omar Mukhtar’s hanging in the concentration camp of Solluqon

Before dying Omar uttered this Qur’anic verse:

“To God we belong. To Him we shall return.”

“His final years – Wikipedia – were depicted in the movie Lion of the Desert (1981), starring Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, and Irene Papas. It was based on the struggles of Mukhtar against Italian commander Rodolfo Graziani‘s forces [Graziani born close to Rome was called ‘the pacifier’ by the Italians; the ‘Butcher of Fezzan’ by the Arabs.]

Italians were able to watch this film only a few years ago.

[The film may perhaps be watched here.]

Lion of the Desert DVD Cover. Click for attribution

PS. I don’t mean here that Italians were worse than any colonizer. I believe instead that every country follows the principles of Realpolitik which “focuses on considerations of power, not ideals, morals, or principles.”

Machiavelli laid the first rules of Realpolitik. It is high time I dedicate a post to this Renaissance Florentine btw, since too many people say: Realpolitik, ok, but Machiavelli, THAT is amoral stuff.

Which needs some clarifying I guess.

Benito Mussolini thought Mukhtar, the Desert Lion, was an obstacle to his colonial conquest. So he got rid of him.

I am not criticizing this [like I’m not criticizing Americans who stopped, no matter how, communism in Greece, Italy or Chile.]

I am criticizing colonialism.

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Who is no sinner may start casting stones.

[to be continued: see next chapter]

PS. Rome and Italy are Mediterranean. Nothing like a wider picture on the South and East shores of such a sea may throw light in our opinion on the Arab Spring.

From this blog:

The Southern Shores of the Mediterranean

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 1

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 2

Permanences. Rome and Carthage

Love Words from Egypt

Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 1


Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 2

Folks of the Mediterranean Sea

Snow in Rome. Here some pictures from Man of Roma’s place

Promenades

While I am preparing a couple of posts I want to gain time and show readers something of my life (house, places where I live etc.).

Above you can see one of my usual promenades along the ‘via della Domus Aurea’ in the Colle Oppio (Mons Oppius.) Oppius is part of the Esquiline Hill, the highest of the Roman Seven Hills (Septimontium) and a fashionable district at the end of the Republic and at the times of the Empire (Cicero for example had a house there.)

Going uphill to my right (another promenade of mine) we in fact get to the top of the Esquilinus, a no man’s land outside the city’s walls in Republican times, full of witches, assassins and a place for slaves’ executions (see a post of mine on this) until emperor Augustus totally redeemed the area and made it residential.

The lower Mons Oppius – where we are now – was part of the Augustan Regio III. Later emperor Nero had there built his Domus Aurea with its vast gardens (after the great fire of Rome in 64 AD). In his extravagant villa the flat area you can see above at the base of the Amphitheatrum Flavium was occupied by an artificial lake.

Via Serapide, perpendicular to Via della Domus Aurea. See the Coliseum behind the trees

By the way, Regio III was also called Isis et Serapis. The reason is two important nearby sanctuaries dedicated to the two oriental deities – very much to the point as for the mystery religion stuff I am about to narrate.

Should we in fact pull back from the Colosseum and walk 50-70 yards we’d cross the perpendicular ‘Via Serapide’ (see image above.) Continuing in the same direction for a further half km we’d also reach ‘via Iside’.

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I almost every day walk downhill along the ‘via della Domus Aurea’. I border Subura on my right (the red-light district where penniless Caesar spent his youth) and the amphitheatrum on my left. Then I finally reach the forums area along the ‘via dei Fori Imperiali’ built by Benito Mussolini.

Right in the centre of Imperial Rome I admire the elegant remnants of a majestic past.

See below the base of the splendid Colonna Traiana or Trajan’s Column in the Trajan‘s Forum, 30 meters high (98 ft) and made of candid Carrara’s marble, the same marble later used by Michelangelo for his David, or by Antonio Canova.

Home Sweet Home

I have a terrace in my apartment in the close-by (1 km) Caelian Hill (or Mons Caelius, another of the Seven Hills.) On the terrace opposite ends there’s a shameless Venus on the left corner and a caste Minerva on the right one. Pretty symbolic, isn’t it. The house was built in the 1920s and these are statues typical of that period.

Now Minerva’s time below, she being covered with snow. Our lemons are covered with snow as well and our terrace, well, it falls apart a bit. We have invested our money in a touristic facility and we are waiting to restructure our home as soon as we can.

Look once more at the poor lemons. They cannot bear cold climate. Will we ever make limoncello this year? Below is the dining room with the piano.

The same room is now seen below looking towards another window. The piano is behind on my left. I love the Lebanon cedars or cedri Libani in front of our windows. Such important plants for the life of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean!

And this is me in Apulia (Ἀπουλία) 3 years ago.

I wish you all a very good week readers.

October 3. Demonstration Held in Rome to Defend Media Freedom

Freedom of Press in danger in Italy

Tomorrow “October 3rd a demonstration will be held in Rome [3:30 pm, piazza del Popolo] to defend media freedom—not in a remote dictatorship, but in Italy itself. Journalists who have called the protest have good reason to worry. In Freedom House’s 2009 survey of media independence, Italy was downgraded to ‘partly free’ and placed 73rd in a list of 195 countries (only just above Bulgaria.) In this respect, at least, Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy is distancing itself from western Europe and becoming more like weaker democracies farther east.” [The Economist, Muzzling the messengers, Oct 1st 2009, Rome]

The British weekly paper thus concludes:

“Not since Mussolini’s time has an Italian government’s interference with the media been more blatant or alarming. Journalists, and other Italians, have every reason to protest.”

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Additional Info

An article on this demonstration written by Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorrah, is published concurrently by The (London) Times, Die Zeit, El Pais and Le Figaro.

Here some basic information about Berlusconi’s power over the Italian media, plus a recent collection of international articles regarding Silvio Berlusconi.

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You can also read from our blog:

Is Berlusconi’s Power About to Decline?

Silvestri, Berlusconi and the Emperor Tiberius

France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome

The Roman Empire at its peak. Rome, via dei Fori Imperiali

Rome’s legacy is greater than we think – “language, literature, legal codes, government, architecture, engineering, medicine, sports, arts, etc.” – and the Roman Empire has been a powerful myth in the course of the centuries.

After Rome’s fall in 476 CE, the Holy Roman Empire, thus called since 962 CE, started to develop in 800 CE when Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne in Rome as ‘Emperor and Augustus of the Romans’.

Such Empire, Frankish, Germanic (and later Austrian, dissolved in 1806 only) considered itself as the heir of the “First Rome” (the Western Roman Empire,) while the Hellenized Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, was called the “Second Rome” and remained unconquered until 1453 CE.

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When also Byzantium (Constantinople) fell, even the Islamic conqueror Ottoman Mehmed II thought he was continuing the power (and idea) of Rome and tried to “re-unite the Empire” although his march towards Italy was stopped in 1480 CE by both the Papal and Neapolitan armies.

After the fall of the Second Rome someone began to refer to Moscow as the “Third Rome“, since the Russian Tsars felt they were the inheritors of the Byzantine Empire’s Orthodox Christian tradition.

[2014 update: allow us to remind that the sovereigns of the two great continental empires dissolved in WWI, the German and the Russian, both bore the name of Kaiser and Tsar, id est Caesar.

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So many heirs of Rome! Seems like a futile historical game.

It is not.

Let us see how other nations went on claiming the Roman heritage.

The Victorians, the Italians and the USA

Benito Mussolini. Wikimedia. Public Domain

The British Victorians, for example, who felt they were somewhat the spiritual successors of the Romans.

Or both the Italian patriots, who unified Italy, and later the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

They felt like the heirs of ancient Rome and the creators (again) of a “Third Rome”: after the capital of the Pagan world – they argued – and after the capital of Catholicism, Rome was now to become the capital of a totally New World.

A disproportionate idea, without a doubt.

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And the Americans? They also like today to find similarities between their might and the superpower of the ancient times (try to google America, new, Rome: you’ll get an interesting number of results.)

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We will though today talk about France (skipping Spain for the sake of brevity.)

Can’t France in fact lay claims as well?

The First French Empire

France inherited many elements from Rome, after the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar: language, food habits, behaviours, genes, technologies and a fundamental aestheticism, among the rest.

We have already mentioned the connection between Charlemagne and the birth of the Holy Roman Empire. Less obvious are similarities like that between the French Foreign legion and the Roman legions as for training, combat habits, management of terrain (construction of roads etc.) and so on.

Portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud. Wikimedia

Much more significant though is the state tradition of Rome which, according to some scholars, has been preserved in the French monarchic centralism and in the state national spirit of the French people.

The person who shaped this centralism (later continued by Napoleon) was probably Louis XIV (1638 –  1715, see image above,) one of the greatest kings ever. He was called the Sun King (le Roi Soleil) and was associated with Apollo Helios, the Greco-Roman god of the Sun. He also encouraged classicism in the arts and Voltaire compared him to the Roman Emperor Augustus.

Other great personages such as Napoleon Bonaparte (or even Charles de Gaulle, why not) bear the traces of the Roman heritage. Napoleon was inspired first by the Roman Republic. Roman-like, he became First Consul of the French Republic.

Then, after receiving the crown from Pope Pius VII (in Paris, this time) on December 2 1804, he became Emperor of the French people and encouraged a classicist Empire style in architecture, decorative arts, furniture and women’s dresses based on Ancient Hellenic attire (see below,) a style soon popular in most parts of Europe and its colonies.

Napoleon identified himself with Caesar, was continuously studying his works and succeeded in becoming one of the greatest generals ever, like Caesar and Alexander.

Empire silhouette Dresses. 1804. Metropolitan M. of Art. Fair use
Two dresses, ca. 1810. Courtesy of http://www.metmuseum.org

The French and the Italians.
Who Envies Who?

Antonio Gramsci, in Notebook IX of his Prison Notebooks, reflects on some words written by Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) in Histoire d’un crime:

“Every man of heart has two fatherlands in this century: the Rome of the past and the Paris of today … This ancient fatherland – Gramsci argues – associated with the modern one supposes that France is the heir of Rome. Something that was said, and is especially said, today, to displease no small number of people.”

Well, something said to displease whom? Our philosopher probably referred mainly to the Britons and to the Italians.

Focusing on the Italians, one can wander and wonder with Gramsci whether a real francophilia ever existed in our country (Notebook XXVIII.)

France was always admired in Italy – Gramsci observes. France meant the French Revolution, the participation of a large share of the population to the political cultural and state life, it meant a decorous parliamentary activity and many other things that the young Italian state could not exhibit. The Italian francophiles have often concealed a strong dislike and a substantial envy.

I would add that some envy is also felt today by our French cousins when they behold our historical richness, the beauties of our towns etc.

This envy surfaces every time we do something better: with soccer, Ferrari, with the world-wide diffusion of our cuisine & fashion – and so forth.

But let us do ourselves a favour. Let us be honest.

If the French may envy us, we envy them more.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

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