Mussolini’s secret time-capsule

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The Mussolini obelisk in the Foro Italico, Rome. Image: Livioandronico2013 CC BY-SA 4.0

Classics scholars Hans Lemers and Bettina Reitz-Joosse have produced an critical edition and translation of a forgotten Latin text that reveals the ideological intricacies of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s Fascism.

The text is the Codex Fori Mussolini (or the Mussolini Forums Codex), and it lies beneath the Mussolini obelisk in Rome – a stone column that towers over the city’s Foro Italico sports complex. Erected in 1932 – and inscribed Mussolini Dux or ‘Mussolini is the leader’ – the structure was designed as a symbol of the Fascist ruler’s power.

The 1,200-word text was composed by Classicist Aurelio Giuseppe Amatucci, and it is a three-part tribute to Fascism. The first part charts the rise of Mussolini in the context of the history of Fascism, part two describes the Fascist Youth Organisation, and the final section documents the construction of the Foro Italico (formerly the Foro Mussolini) and the construction of the obelisk.

Although the text beneath the obelisk remains in situ, it was published in Latin in the 1930s, though it has been largely ignored as a source for the history of Mussolini’s regime. Working in archives, the researchers believe they have pieced together an accurate reflection of the parchment’s contents.

The text places renewed emphasis on the place of Roman culture within Fascism, but it also suggests that Mussolini wanted to preserve the tenets of Italian Fascism for future generations.

‘The text wasn’t meant for contemporaries at the time,’ Dr Reitz-Joosse told the BBC’s Becky Branford. ‘The obelisk was a major spectacle but the existence of the text wasn’t reported at all. It was meant for an audience all. It was meant for an audience in the remote future.’

The Codex Fori Mussolini: a Latin text of Italian Fascism is published by Bloomsbury.

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