A retrospective: Italy and Mussolini

Italy (Italia) is a Southern European country surrounded mostly by the Mediterranean Sea.

Due to its location it’s been inhabited by many cultures and settlers, dating back thousands of years. The Phoenicians are said to be the first foreign colonisers, who originated from the Levant, Canaan region, as well as the Mycenaean Greeks who formed settlements.

Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome, according to legend, was formed in 753 BC by brothers Romulus and Remus, twin sons of the God of War Mars, beside the river Tiber, on Palatine hill, and grew into a vast Empire that controlled most of Europe, Northern Africa and parts of Asia. Like the Greeks, the Romans liked to create dramatic myths for the origin of important events, and often incorporated deities to make it seem more elaborate.

The effect that the Roman Empire had on society is second to none. The organisation of society, road systems, hygiene, architecture, sewers, plumbing, irrigation are all considered to be created by the minds of the Roman Empire.

But historians acknowledge that many ideas were borrowed from the ancient Greeks and either improved upon, or changed in a way not seen before. They even borrowed the Greek gods, and renamed them. The biggest influence the Romans had is language. All of the ‘romance’ languages came from Latin, that are French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian, and Latin is still used to this day in the medical profession, Catholicism and Law.

Many Romans learned to speak Greek, as it was the Lingua franca (common language of the east) and if they wished to reach a wider audience they had no option but to learn, and also many of the slaves were Greek, and reared Romans from infancy. Much of early Roman history was written in Greek, before Latin became the norm.

Despite the military being an obvious large part of Roman culture, due to their massive conquests, they relied on agriculture was the basis of their economy due to the large number of mouths to feed. Despite this, the armies needed vast numbers to maintain dominance over their conquests, so they had to carefully juggle farmers and soldiers to keep a healthy equilibrium, and to help the agriculture many slaves were imported to work on the lands.

Much of the lands were bought by wealthy Romans who rented the land out, and it became a divide between the extremely wealthy, and the extremely poor peasants. The marketplace became popular but this was divided too with the peasants only able to buy the bare minimum, but the wealthy were able to purchase the most extravagant imported goods.

The Decemviri, who were a political committee was given the task in 451 BC of creating a set of written laws (legibus scribundis) which is known as The Law of the Twelve Tables (Leges Duodecim Tabularum or Duodecim Tabulae) which were twelve bronze tablets, after visiting Athens to study their code of law created by Solon, the lawgiver.

‘Society is well governed when the people obey the magistrates, and the magistrates obey the law.’ – Solon

These laws covered everything in society from rights of citizens to crimes that were worthy of the death penalty (poena capitis).

Rise of the Empire

Gaius Julius Caesar’s political career began when he became a quaestor who was a Roman official. He then got ejected as Pontifex Maximus which was the high priest, who was the most powerful person in Roman religion. In 44 BC he became the most powerful man in Rome and was given the title Dictator Perpetuus (dictator for life), and contrary to popular belief, he was never actually the Emperor of Rome. He had three main goals at the start of his ruling, and these were.

First, he wanted to suppress all armed resistance out in the provinces, and thus bring order back to the Republic.

Second, he wanted to create a strong central government in Rome.

Finally, he wanted to knit together all of the provinces into a single cohesive unit.’

This was the end of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Empire. Later that year he was assassinated by his senators by being stabbed twenty three times.

Julius Caesar’s nephew and heir Gaius Octavian Thurinus, became the first Emperor and went by the name Augustus Caesar.

‘I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble’ – Augustus Caesar

Augustus reformed Roman laws, built lavish buildings, secured the borders and built the Pantheon. After his death he power was passed to Tiberius, then Caligula, Claudius and Nero, and they were known as the Julio-Claudian Dynasty. Many more emperors came and went, and many were murdered, but still the empire grew, and got so big it was split into the Western and Eastern Empires.

The Pantheon

This was a time when the country was in a crisis and many civil wars broke out as people fought for control of the Empire.

Decline of the Roman Empire

Many historians blame Christianity for the decline of the Roman Empire, as it was based on paganism and Christianity didn’t provide the required customs and social morals. Add to this the corruption that was rife within government structure, the rise of opposition from other civilisations left Rome vulnerable and unable to keep its borders secure. The Western Roman Empire was the first to fall, and the Eastern carried on as the Byzantine Empire and its capital city was Constantinople which is modern day Istanbul in Turkey. It continued for a thousand more years until it fell to the Ottoman Empire In 1453.

Benito Mussolini

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, was born in Predappio, Italy. From an early age, Benito was bad tempered and violent, and was expelled from several schools for bullying and assaulting fellow pupils with his penknife. As he grew older he trained to be a teacher, and after realising this isn’t what he was meant to do, he went to Switzerland and jumped between jobs, and got heavily involved with the country’s socialist party. He began to study philosophy, and became editor of two newspapers, but was sacked from both for inciting violence and was put in prison for six months.

On his release he became involved with fascist groups and created an organisation called Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, as well as creating his own newspaper. He gathered weapons, ammunition and explosives in his offices.

‘Fascism is a religion. The twentieth century will be known in history as the century of Fascism.’ – Benito Mussolini

In 1921 he took a seat as a deputy in parliament, and in 1922 he threatened to march into Rome and dismantle the government. His demands weren’t met and he, and thousands of other fascists marched into Rome to seize power. Upon seeing this, King Victor Emmanuel III dissolved the government and Mussolini took over as Prime Minister, although technically he was head of government and could only be removed by the King. He expelled every communist and socialist from the government, and made being anti-facist illegal and anyone suspected would be imprisoned without trial. He turned Italy into a police state and bombarded the Italian public with propaganda.

Benito Mussolini

Mussolini became friends with Adolf Hitler, and both supported Franco in the Spanish Civil war, and sent troops to help him. In 1938 Germany and Italy united to form the Rome-Berlin Axis, and shared the idea of the Aryan race and chose to expel Jews from Italy. At the start of World War II, Germany invaded Poland and Italy was initially neutral, but as countries began to fall to Nazi Germany, Mussolini was confident that Hitler would win the war so Italy now an ally.

Mussolini and Hitler

Halfway through the war, Mussolini was given a vote of no confidence, and his days of being Italian Prime Minister were over. He went to talk to the king, but he cut him down and officially removed him from power. As he left the palace he was arrested by the Carabinieri who were a law enforcement agency. Mussolini was regularly moved around so that the Nazis didn’t know his location, but two months later his location was discovered and a Fallschirmjäger unit and a Waffen-SS commandos rescued him. He met with Hitler in Germany, and then returned to Italy to set up a new regime called Repubblica Sociale Italiana, and once again resumed power over Italy and the government. He arrested all those that opposed him in the vote of no confidence and had them executed.

In 1945 allied troops advanced through Italy and Mussolini and his mistress went north to lake Como. They were captured and brought to the town of Giulino di Mezzegra where they were executed by firing squad. The bodies were dumped in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto where they were strung upside down from a gas station.

Two days later in his bunker, Adolf Hitler took a cyanide capsule and shot himself in the head. In just forty eight hours the world became a significantly safer place.

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