View Page: Fascism and The Via Dei Fori Imperiali
University of Washington Honors Program in Rome

Fascism and The Via Dei Fori Imperiali
Section Three 3 of 7

For the Fascists the construction of the via dell’Impero was always thought of in terms of ritual, the fact that the road would become a major thoroughfare was less important. The road provided an amazing venue on which to recreate the historic March on Rome and simultaneously link in space and ritual the government of Fascism to that of Imperial Rome.

The opening celebrations of the via dell’Impero occurred on October 28th 1932, the tenth anniversary of the March on Rome. The celebrations included a large march of 17,000 veterans of the March on Rome parading down the road in their black shirt Fascist uniforms marching in Italian goosestep. Additional soldiers where placed alongside the road. The whole event was to become an annual rebirth of the Fascist regime, reminding the world that Fascism ruled because it was powerful.

It is hard to underestimate the importance that ritual held in the Fascist regime. Ritual was the mechanism that reinforced the principles of Fascism and provided convenient platforms with which to frame future plans. The power of the ritual not only came from the strength and persuasiveness of the spectacle but also from the manner that the spectacle was continually reinforced through media and documentation.

Indeed Mussolini was a master of propaganda. Using a sort of “combined arms” approach he was able to create and control a message unlike anything the world had ever seen before. For example, Mussolini would give a speech on a historic date, which would be covered by state radio, reprinted in newspapers he controlled, turned into slogans by his party, which were then found on posters, graffiti, and repeated in chants.

Yet the setting for the via dell’Impero further increased the power of its spectacle. The veterans were parading through the ruins of Ancient Rome, prominently displaying the ruins and merging the idea of Ancient Rome with that of the Fascist regime. Indeed Fascists saw themselves as the natural heirs to the Roman Empire. Both Fascist Italy and Ancient Rome were militaristic, imperial authoritarian states. More importantly perhaps was the emphasis both placed on ideas of glory, honor, and strength. In essence Roman ruins were seen as the proof of Fascist doctrine, that ultimately it was power and strength that were remembered and worth celebrating. The offer to participate in Fascism was manipulated into an offer to participate in the next Roman Empire.

Several other aspects of the road contributed to this link between Fascism and ancient Rome. The statues of the Roman Emperors alongside the road where meant as a kind of validation of Mussolini’s dictatorial control, that Rome required an authoritarian dictator. The marble maps were designed to support Mussolini’s imperial ambitions, particularly his intended invasion of Ethiopia. In this way an aggressive war of expansion was put in the context of following Rome’s legacy. The stark contrast of white versus black echoed much of the rhetoric behind the justification of the invasion, that of civilizing the barbarous black hordes of Africa. This connection was made even clearer with the addition of the fifth map in 1935, which effectively declared the beginning of the new Roman Empire with Mussolini at its head.

We now see relatively clearly that the via dell’Impero provided a deep emotional message addressed to the Italian people, that through Fascism they were reviving the ancient Roman Empire. In essence the appeal was the recreation of grandeur, pride and stability—an understanding that through Fascism the individual would be able to transcend his meekness and participate in something that be as immortal as the ruins of the Roman Empire seem to be. This combined with the simple ability of Fascism to organize the country’s infrastructure provided much of the persuasion that allowed Fascism to become so notoriously popular.