BEHIND THE FASCISM | The Augustan Exhibition of Roman times

The process of identification between Augustus and Mussolini and the reference to antiquity reached its apex with the great Augustan Exhibition of Roman times in 1937. Managed by Giulio Quirino Giglioli, it was launched at the Exhibition Palace to celebrate the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Augustus.


Manifesto of the Augustan Exhibition of Romanity

The Exhibition Palace

The façade of the Palace, created by Alfredo Scalpelli, featured “writings along the entire façade, warning visitors and passers-by about the indestructible power of Rome, the talents of the Italic people and the universality of Roman politics, with the words of great classical writers and Christians “. It was decorated with copies of Roman statues of captive barbarians, the originals of which (2nd century AC) were found in the collections of the Conservative Palace.

The entire facade was a clear reference to the tripartite layout of the arch of Constantine, with the casts of the statues imitating the statues of the Trajan era placed on the top of the ancient monument. On the keystone of the central entrance of the exhibition there was a cast of the statue of the Victory of Metz, a reference to the Victories trophy placed in the median arch of the arch of Constantine. On the keystone of the central entrance of the exhibition there was a cast of the statue of the Victory of Metz, a reference to the Victories trophy placed in the median fornix of the arch of Constantine. Already from the mere realization of the façade, the desire to reuse classical elements and the desire to connect the Fascist empire with the Roman one was conceived.


The facade of the Exhibition Palace

The exhibition rooms of the Exhibit

Giglioli had set up twenty-six rooms dedicated to the history of Rome, from the first kings to the formation of the Empire, considered a space that the Romans had conquered because they were superior from a cultural point of view. Through the exhibition, visitors could learn about the uses, customs, techniques and economy of the entire Roman world.


Entrance to the Augustan Exhibition of Romanity

One of the most important rooms was certainly the Empire room, with the casts of triumphal monuments, such as the relief of a sacrifice probably made by Trajan, in front of a large temple. The shrine of the exhibition was the room dedicated to Augustus (room X), where, surmounted by the passage of Suetonius which exalted his birth, the statue of the Augustus of Prima Porta appeared.

Fragment of Suetonius’s piece

The glass cross in the Hall of Augustus

The mystical analogy between Augustus and Mussolini will find an iconographic translation in a glass cross bearing the words of St. Luke. The cross referred to the imperial census issued by Augustus and the birth of Christ. The identification between Augustus, “cooperator of Divine Providence” and Mussolini, who, after the Lateran Pacts, will be considered as the Man of Providence, became clear.


The Glass Cross

Giglioli recovered hundreds of casts, models of monuments, machines, models of cities, geographical and topographical maps that highlighted the power and grandeur of the Empire. Indeed, the exhibition was intended to “educate the masses”, to speak to the general public and enhance the similarities between the ancient empire of Augustus and the new empire of Mussolini.

The image of Constantine

In rooms XXIV and XXV the “fascistized” image of Constantine emerged. The rooms were placed in communication with each other by the architecture, which suggested the ideal continuity between the obelisks and the triumphal arches of the present and the past. Think about the triumphal arch of Constantine “erected to celebrate the victory over Maxentius on 28th October 312 AC, which marked the advent of Christianity […] reported at that same Milvian bridge, which the Black Shirts crossed on 28th October in 1922, starting the Era of Fasci ».

The peace savior

On his return from Munich, fresh from the closing of the Augustan Exhibition of Roman times, Mussolini, at least at home, was able to present himself in Rome as the “savior of peace”. If those garments did not mislead Pius XI, the same could not be said for the Catholic press. On 5th of November in 1938 The Catholic Civilization praised Mussolini as the new Augustus, who had returned from across the Alps with peace. A peace that wanted to resemble the Pax Augustea, which lasted for four centuries, but, when it left Europe, there was nothing but disorder and barbarism, which, within a year, destroyed the myth of Roman times.

Mussolini as Augustus and Constantine

The Duce personified the model of Constantine, the Christian emperor, and that of Augustus, the Princeps of the empire: a fusion of two imperial models. This happened through the recovery of the legend about the “Christianization” of Augustus, whose testimony emerged from the panels of the Augustan exhibition in which he was represented. An Augustus “Christianized” and aware of his earthly mission, illuminated by the light of providence, coinciding with the redemptive mission of Christ. Mussolini, therefore, claimed to fascism the merit of having restored the authority and prestige of the capital of Italy to Rome; moreover, he had used the myth of Rome and, in particular the classical elements, to provide historical legitimacy and ideological consistency to fascism.



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