Monday, August 22, 2016

King Odoacer in the Roman System

It was on this day in 476 AD (according to some sources anyway) that Odoacer was proclaimed by his soldiers as the first “King of Italy”. Such a proclamation, needless to say, did not actually make him the King of Italy but such was finally accomplished when the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was forced by Odoacer to abdicate. This was a case of recent history repeating itself as Odoacer was the top military commander of Emperor Romulus, a boy who had been placed on the throne by his father Orestes who had been the top military commander of Emperor Julius Nepos, whom he had overthrown and driven into exile in the east. That being the case, in order to add legitimacy to his rule of Italy, King Odoacer enlisted the support of the exiled Emperor Julius Nepos and received it and so based his authority on the recognition that he ruled Italy on behalf of the absent Emperor. This reveals how Odoacer fit in to the remnants of the Roman imperial system, even though he was himself not a Roman. Historians have never come to an agreement on what exactly his ethnic background was but do agree that he was a barbarian and not an Italian.

St Simplicius
Aiding Odoacer was the fact that the young Romulus Augustulus had never received widespread recognition for the legitimacy of his rule (which was actually the rule of his father Orestes). Beyond central Italy, few regarded Romulus Augustulus as the rightful emperor. King Odoacer tried to strengthen the legitimacy of his rule by obtaining the recognition of as many established authorities as possible, such as the exiled Julius Nepos, the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno and, of course, the Bishop of Rome who was at the time Pope St Simplicius. King Odoacer was a Christian, an adherent of the Arian heresy which was widespread in those days. Pope Simplicius had long been known for his opposition to the Eutychian heresy at the Council of Chalcedon. Keeping in mind that most of the latter Western Roman Emperors had not ruled from Rome itself, the administration of the Eternal City had effectively fallen to the Pope and King Odoacer made no effort to interfere with this existing system, other than a few administrative changes, he effectively left Pope Simplicius to carry on as before while he focused his attention on consolidating and expanding his Kingdom of Italy.

Odoacer's Italy
In this, he was rather more successful than he is usually given credit for. Through diplomatic means alone he gained the island of Sicily from the Vandal king Gaiseric and in 480, when Julius Nepos was murdered by two of his servants, King Odoacer launched a military campaign on the pretext of apprehending and punishing the assassins which saw the reach of his Kingdom of Italy extended all throughout the region of Dalmatia, effectively making the Adriatic an Italian lake once more. Almost immediately thereafter he was also enlisted in a plot against the Eastern Emperor Zeno led by Illus, the Eastern Emperor’s top military commander in a repetition of events in the west. Odoacer was not too concerned with what became of Zeno but seized the opportunity to conquer to territories then being held by the Eastern Emperor, in the area of what is today Austria. Oddly enough, the territories which Odoacer extended his rule over at the height of his Kingdom of Italy is almost identical to those which British prime minister Churchill offered to Mussolini in an effort to influence him to abandon the Axis and join the Allied side at the start of World War II.

Theodoric's tomb
If Odoacer was not terribly concerned about Emperor Zeno, Zeno was certainly concerned about him and endeavored to save himself by turning his barbarian vassals against each other. Needless to say, he immediately withdrew his recognition of Odoacer’s rule over Italy and invited another barbarian chieftain, Theodoric the Goth, to invade Italy and receive imperial recognition of his rule if he could defeat and overthrow Odoacer. So it was that King Theodoric and his Goths invaded and came pouring down the Italian peninsula, forcing Odoacer, as other barbarians had forced the Western Roman Emperors before him, to take refuge in the fortified coastal city of Ravenna. The Goths soon attacked and in 493 the city surrendered after which Odoacer fell victim to a murderous plot. King Theodoric, thereafter known as Theodoric the Great, invited him to a banquet as a show of reconciliation and friendship. Odoacer, unfortunately, accepted the invitation only for Theodoric to poison his food and Odoacer, King of Italy, died on March 15, 493.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Tiburtine Sybil and Imperial Prophecy

In the old days of Christendom, one could mention the Tiburtine Sybil and the prophecies regarding the Roman emperors and many people, certainly educated people, would know immediately what was being talked about. Today that is certainly not the case and so some background information must be provided as, aside from experts in this particular field or, perhaps, art history aficionados, no average person will know what this is all about. First of all, we have the figure of the Sybil. The sybils were women who acted as oracles, usually associated with a particular holy site in pagan times. The custom originated in ancient Greece but soon spread to Italy, Asia Minor and other areas. The Oracle of Delphi is probably the most well known example of a sybil. These women were often sought out for prophecy and divine guidance as it were by powerful people. In the time of the Roman Empire one of the most prominent was the Tiburtine Sybil, known as such because she resided at the town of Tibur, an old Etruscan town, which is today the Italian city of Tivoli. Many stories grew out of this particular sybil later on among Christians concerning the Roman emperors.

One thing to clarify at the outset was that the sybils were, obviously, not Christian religious figures but were associated with paganism. However, once upon a time, this did not cause Christians to discount stories about their prophecies. They knew from their Bible stories that the pagan priests of Pharaoh were able to perform seemingly miraculous deeds or that the witch of Endor had been able to summon up the spirit of Samuel for King Saul, for example. It was taken for granted that people who were not worshippers of the Christian God could still possess amazing gifts and that God could use such people for His own purposes. Later examples of such things might include the Native American shamans who, according to various stories, made prophecies about the coming of the Spanish or had visions of the Blessed Virgin to prepare them to receive the Gospel when Christian missionaries later arrived. There was also, it must be said, an effort by the Christians of the “Ages of Faith” to look back at classical history and to incorporate it into their new, Christian, world view. The story of Pope St Gregory the Great, momentarily resurrecting the Roman Emperor Trajan in order to baptize him, is an example of this. Virtually everyone discounts this story now but it reflects the wish of people to see so great a man, such a revered emperor, saved from eternal damnation for not having been a Christian.

The first recorded instance of the Tiburtine Sybil crossing paths with a Roman emperor came in the time of Augustus Caesar. The story goes that Emperor Augustus approached the Tiburtine Sybil, Albunea, at the Temple of Vesta to ask if he should be worshipped as a god. This meeting was once a very common thing to see depicted in art. An Archbishop, Jacobus de Voragine, later recorded this story, stating that it had been handed down to him by Pope Innocent III, that Augustus met the Sybil and that the Sybil revealed to him one who would come after him, greater than he, and showed him a vision of the birth of Christ, referring to the Blessed Virgin as “the Altar of Heaven” where a church was later built and dedicated as such. According to Virgil, the Cumaean Sibyl also made such a prophecy about the birth of Christ and stories such as these, which became widespread, explain why the sybils were included in Renaissance works of art, such as by Michelangelo, alongside Old Testament prophets in foretelling the coming of the Christian era. These would also coincide with other stories, once popular, about the early Roman emperors taking a “hands off” approach to Christ. Stories circulated, for example, that Emperor Tiberius, who did not exactly have a reputation for kindness, ordered that Christians not be persecuted or accused and even talked of including Jesus Christ in the pantheon of Roman gods.

If such stories were true, the prophecies of the Tiburtine Sybil to Emperor Augustus might help explain why such an attitude was taken or why someone like St Paul would prefer to put his fate in the hands of the Emperor Nero rather than his own Jewish countrymen of the Sanhedrin. There were actually a great many such accounts of miraculous events and Christian prophecies concerning the pagan Roman emperors before the more famous events after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge and the baptism of Emperor Constantine the Great. There was the story of Pope St Clement I being a cousin of the Emperor Diocletian (in all likelihood he was a freedman who had been in his employ), Emperor Antoninus Pius condemning any illegal attacks on the Christian community, the dramatic story of Emperor Marcus Aurelius and the “Thundering Legion” or his son Emperor Commodus having a Christian mistress which is often pointed to as a reason for this fairly irascible Caesar refraining from persecuting Christians. She is also credited with influencing Emperor Commodus to release Pope St Calixtus I from prison. A revelation, passed down the imperial line, originating in a pagan source that they would not question, would be a possible explanation for such behavior.

However, other than foretelling Emperor Augustus of the birth of Christ, the most famous prophecy of this sort from the Tiburtine Sybil concerning an apocalyptic vision about a certain Emperor Constans. This prophecy foretold of a Greek king who would rise to become “king of the Romans and the Greeks” or, in other words, the Roman Emperor of East and West alike again, who would be very tall, very handsome, very wealthy, will destroy the enemies of Christianity, end all pagan worship, convert the Jews and defeat the massive, mysterious powers of Gog and Magog, after which he will retire to the Holy City of Jerusalem, abdicate his throne and hand the empire over to God. At that point, the Sybil describes what we would recognize as the rise of the Anti-Christ, coming from the tribe of Dan, who will win the people over by miraculous acts, who will destroy the Roman Empire and only then reveal himself as the agent of evil from the Temple of Jerusalem. This, of course, is very similar to other prophecies concerning “the Final Emperor” or the “Great Catholic Monarch” who will lead a last revival of Christian power before the end of the world.

An interesting point in the prophecy of the Tiburtine Sybil is that this monarch is named as Emperor Constans and that the prophecy was made, as near as we can tell, around the year 380 AD, a few decades after Rome had already had the reign of the historic Emperor Constans, the son of the Christian Emperor Constantine the Great, who came to the throne in 337 and ruled until he was assassinated in 350. If we were to be skeptical and presume that the Sibyl was trying to tailor her message for the audience, or that the story was invented later to appeal to Christian sensibilities, naming this future Christian hero after Emperor Constans would not make much sense. He was not known for being a terribly nice man or a terribly good emperor, though he too was part of a prophecy of his own concerning his grandmother, the Christian Empress St Helena. The prophecy said he would die in the arms of his grandmother and when he was assassinated it was after being cornered in a military post named Fort Helena.

So, what is the point of all this? I will be the first to admit it is largely just an act of indulgence on my part since I am interested in this sort of stuff. As with anything of this nature, some people will be inclined to believe and others will be inclined to disbelieve it and there really isn’t anything that anyone can say to prove either side right or wrong. I will say, at the very least, the existence of these stories and that they were passed on for so long reveals something to us about the people and the faith of Christendom. Sources of revelation were not rejected for being pagan, the people of the time recognizing that God can use anyone to participate in His plan. It shows also the centrality of the Roman Empire and the Roman emperors in the hearts of minds of Christian people and how central that Roman imperial tradition was to Christendom itself. The Christians of the late Roman Empire, even with all that was going on around them, did not cease to believe that their ‘realm’ on earth was something special, that Christianity had sprang up in that empire was no accident and that the Roman Empire was something that others would strive to bring back, that they hoped ultimately would come back, with all Christian, European peoples united under one divinely ordained Caesar.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Italian Empire, A Legacy to Be Proud Of

The Italian colonial empire was a short-lived affair but one that had far more extensive roots than most people realize. As a united country, the Kingdom of Italy is often described as the last to obtain an empire and the first to lose it but Italians had been colonizers for a very long time. One need not go back to the Roman Empire when the whole Mediterranean basin was ruled from Italy but simply going back to the Middle Ages or the Renaissance shows that various Italian states had minor colonial holdings of their own. The Republic of Genoa held territory on the Crimean peninsula, the Kingdom of Sicily held Tunisia for some time and the Republic of Venice had extensive holdings down the coast of the Adriatic and in the Aegean Sea as well as controlling Crete and Cyprus. The Grand Duke of Tuscany sent a preliminary expedition to South America with the intention of establishing an Italian colony in the New World but he died before the project could be completed. Unlike virtually every other colonial power, Italians were most often not treading on new ground but simply returning to lands which their ancestors had held, sometimes for centuries, before them.

Eritrean colonial troops
The colonial empire of the Kingdom of Italy had humble beginnings. It started when the Rubattino Shipping Company bought land around the Bay of Assab on the coast of the horn of Africa from the Sultan of Raheita in 1869 to establish a coaling station. This holding was later bought by the Italian government and expanded to become the first overseas colony of the Kingdom of Italy with the first Italian settlers arriving in 1880. Hearkening back to the old Roman name for the Red Sea, the Italians named the territory Eritrea. In 1888 the first railroad in the country was built and another improvement of particular pride was the Asmara-Massawa Cableway which was the longest in the world at the time (the British later dismantled it after World War II). Laws against racial mixing were imposed but no one seemed to mind much as, for the first time in their history, the local Africans had access to modern medical services, improved sanitation, transportation and improvements in agriculture. Italy lost money in the enterprise on the whole but the lives of the natives certainly improved, particularly because of the Italian colonial army which prevented raids on the country from Ethiopia, particularly from the Tigray region.

As a result, many Eritreans enlisted in the Italian colonial army and many gained quite a high reputation. Marshal of Italy Rodolfo Graziani considered the Eritreans the best of the Italian colonial soldiers and the famous cavalry officer, Amedeo Guillet, referred to them as the ‘Prussians of Africa’. During the Fascist era there was also a huge increase in industrialization in Eritrea and a subsequent boom in the population, both African and Italian. Before the outbreak of World War II, Asmara was a growing, prosperous city dotted with coffee shops, ice cream parlors, pizzerias and even its own race track. The fact that it was a “planned” city meant that it had many modern conveniences that even some cities in Italy lacked and boasted scenic wide boulevards lined with trees. These many improvements as well as the threat from Ethiopia worked together to ensure that Eritrea remained a loyal colony.

Not long after the first foothold in Eritrea was established, Italy also gained new territory on the southern side of the Horn of Africa in Somalia. In 1888 Sultan Yusuf Ali Kenadid of Hobyo made his province an Italian protectorate. The following year the Sultan of Majeerteenia did the same and the colony of Italian Somaliland was established. Here, development was somewhat slower as the Italians left local affairs in the hands of the local rulers, paid them a pension and focused on foreign relations, defense and the establishment of port facilities. In 1905 the Italian government decided to establish a formal colony in the region, partly because it was discovered that the local company had been turning a blind eye to the continued operation of the slave trade in the region. By 1908 the legal formalities were finished to establish Italian Somaliland as a formal colony. The most determined problem, early on, was the trouble caused by Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, aka “the Mad Mullah” but that violent movement was duly done away with and in the Twentieth Century development began to spread from the coast further inland.

Prince Luigi Amedeo formed an Italian-Somaliland Agricultural Society that established new, model plantations in the colony for the growing of sugar, bananas and cotton. The same year, 1920, saw the first modern bank established in Somalia when the Banca d’Italia opened a branch in Mogadishu. Surveys were done, after which more development proceeded such as the establishment of model farms, schools and hospitals. Before the end of the decade, Crown Prince Umberto had come to witness the opening of a new Catholic cathedral in Mogadishu and the region’s first international airport was established. The Sultan of Hobyo was usually very loyal to the Italians, the only problem occurring when he was excepted to allow British troops to land in his territory and Somalis tended to resent the British for their colonial rule over Somali tribes in the north (British Somaliland). After this, the Sultan was replaced by the Italian authorities and the population was disarmed but there were no major problems in the future and the Italians continued to abide by their agreements and allow the original, northern protectorates to govern themselves in their own way. Somalians were also enlisted in the Italian colonial army and included such colorful units as a corps of camel-born artillery.

There were, of course, bound to be setbacks. When the Italians took control of Eritrea, one of the local chieftains who had given his approval was one Sahle Maryam of Shewa. In exchange for this, Italy gave him support such as modern weapons in defeating his rivals to take control of Ethiopia as Emperor Menelik II. A treaty was signed that was supposed to ensure peace between the two, however, there was a discrepancy in the wording as it read differently in the Italian-language and Amharic-language versions. One established, essentially, an Italian protectorate over Ethiopia and the other said that Ethiopia could have Italian protection but only if and when they wanted it. Each side, of course, accused the other of changing the text in their version, Menelik II broke off diplomatic relations with Italy, effectively declaring war. A small Italian colonial army of a little over 17,500 men was later attacked by an Ethiopian army of around 100,000 and almost totally wiped out, ending, for the time being at least, any idea of Italy establishing any sort of control or influence over Ethiopia.

Italian troops landing in Libia
However, of all overseas territories, none seemed more near at hand to Italy than Tunisia. Not only was it extremely close, but it had a sizable Italian population that had been present for a very long time. In the “Scramble for Africa” the Italian government sat back, taking the moral high road as it were, only to see Tunisia snatched up by the French. This caused quite a backlash in Italy and a renewed effort to make sure that such a thing did not happen again with the other north African lands south of Italy, three provinces still held by the Ottoman Sultan of Turkey, known to Italians as “the fourth shore”. Determined not to let another power snatch this region away from them, the Italian government began investing in the area and when the Turkish government started to clamp down on the increased Italian interest, Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire in September of 1911. Italian military forces landed on the coast and quickly seized control of the major ports while the Ottoman forces, largely Arab raiders with Turkish officers, fell back into the interior to strike at any Italian attempt to move south. The situation produced a stalemate as Italy had been counting on the support of the local Arab population and resources had not been allocated for a major campaign in the desert interior of the country. The Turks, likewise, could rule the desert but proved incapable of dislodging the Italians from the coast or of challenging Italian naval supremacy.

In 1912 the Turks finally agreed to come to terms with Italy, prompted by the Italian seizure of Rhodes and other nearby islands and the threat of an attack on the Dardanelles, which all powers were anxious to avoid. The former Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan were ceded to Italy which, in due time, merged them into one colonial administration, resurrecting the old Roman name for the region, “Libia”. Actual Italian control, however, continued to remain mostly on the coastal region and during the First World War, attacks by Islamic insurgents, backed up by Turkey and Germany in an effort to restore Ottoman Turkish control over the whole of north Africa, forced the Italians back into the major port cities as the overwhelming bulk of Italian military strength was concentrated on the critical border region with Austria. However, all of that changed after the acquisition of power by Benito Mussolini and his Fascist party. From 1923 until 1932 a fierce irregular war raged in the region, known as the Pacification of Libya. Stopping the terrorist attacks on Italian settlers and ending the insurgency took time but finally Italian forces resorted to repressive measures and the rebellion was ended, with the primary insurgent leader actually being captured by a troop of Libyan cavalry fighting on the Italian side. The first modern roads were built, port facilities were modernized and new model farming communities were established. Much progress was made under the governorship of Air Marshal Italo Balbo and when he was killed at the start of World War II, witnesses remarked that the Libyans showed more grief than the Italians at his loss because he had made things so much better.

Italian troops in Ethiopia
The next colonial acquisition for Italy was Ethiopia, which, of course, was the cause of much controversy. It was sparked by an attack on an Italian outpost which was on land that the Ethiopians claimed as their own. The fact that this was not something instigated by Italy is evident enough by the amount of time it took to transfer military forces to Eritrea and Somalia to fight the actual war. The League of Nations opposed this and the issue became larger than Ethiopia but was, rather, seen by Mussolini as a struggle against the leaders of the existing international world order, embodied by the League. The fighting was harsh but, in the end, Italian forces conquered Ethiopia in seven months and merged it, administratively, with Eritrea and Somalia into “Italian East Africa”. Tensions were high at first and when the Viceroy, Marshal of Italy Rodolfo Graziani, was badly wounded in an assassination attempt, there were bloody reprisals. However, he was replaced by the Duke of Aosta under whose administration the country was at peace and began to see considerable improvements, including the abolition of slavery in the country. Plans for the modernization of the capital and other projects were ultimately canceled by the outbreak of World War II.

The Kingdom of Albania was occupied by Italian forces with practically no opposition by the native population shortly before the outbreak of World War II, however, again, the fact that Italy joined World War II so shortly thereafter, and the Italian presence was removed after 1943, meant that the Italians were able to have very little impact on Albania. Although, it is worth pointing out, that the period of union with Italy, following the conquest of Greece and Yugoslavia, was the only time that the nationalist goal of “Greater Albania” was actually achieved, albeit for a short time. Before World War II had ended, all Italian colonial possessions were, of course, taken away and given independence or, short of that, given nominal independence under the temporary stewardship of a parent country. It is worth pointing out though that, at the time of Italian entry into World War II, there was no widespread opposition to Italian rule in any of the colonies.

Albanian militia unit
The Italian presence in Albania was not entirely welcomed but not entirely opposed either and most of those in the Albanian government had previously been in the government of Ahmed Zog, the previous potentate of the country. Libya, Eritrea and Somalia were all quite calm and peaceful under Italian rule, the only place where any opposition at all existed was in Ethiopia. That is understandable given that, unlike all the others, the Ethiopians had a history as a previously independent country with their own sense of nationhood. However, even there, serious opposition had been dealt with and most accepted the change and got on with things. In fact, of all the colonial troops who served in the Italian royal army in World War II, the only native soldier to earn the highest Italian decoration for bravery was an Ethiopian. So, even there, considerable levels of support and devotion did exist. What is illustrative of the Italian colonial enterprise overall, and why Italians should not be ashamed of their short-lived period of imperialism, is the fate of the former Italian colonies after Italian rule was removed and these places became independent.

Marshal Graziani in Mogadishu
The Kingdom of Albania was occupied by the Germans and then, after the Allied victory in World War II, fell to the communists of Enver Hoxha who established a Marxist tyranny, so fanatical and so murderous that it alienated Stalinist Russia, Maoist China and Tito’s Yugoslavia in turn. Albania fell into oppressive poverty and had the lowest standard of living of any European country. To this day, it has not fully recovered. Italian East Africa was occupied by the Allies (mostly British imperial troops) and broken up into the countries that exist today. Somalia was under the military administration of Britain and became nominally independent though in 1949 stewardship over the country was given to the Italian Republic until 1960 when it was joined with the former British colony of British Somaliland to create the country as we know it today. And, as we know, Somalia has become the go-to example in the world for a “failed state”, being reduced by poverty, crime and internal warfare to a state of total chaos. When one thinks of Somalia today it is only as a place of anarchy, warlords and a nest of pirates. Somalis have fled their failed independent homeland in huge numbers, going as far abroad as Minnesota and Sweden to get as far away from their nightmarish native land as possible.

Asmara station, Eritrea
In Eritrea, the first Italian colony, the British military ruled the place until 1950 because no one could decide what to do with it. One person who knew exactly what he wanted to do with it was the de-throned Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie who was pushing for Allied support for the Ethiopian annexation of Eritrea even before British imperial forces had set him back on his own throne. The United Nations, in the 1950’s, finally agreed that Eritrea would be joined with Ethiopia in a “federation” with Eritrea officially remaining independent. That charade ended in 1962 when Haile Selassie dissolved the Eritrean parliament and unilaterally declared the country to be part of Ethiopia. Not surprisingly, war broke out immediately as the Eritreans fought the Ethiopians in a brutal conflict that spanned the next thirty years, only ending when the Eritreans made an alliance with a faction of Ethiopian rebels after which the UN stepped in to hold a referendum. This, of course, resulted in the Eritreans voting for their independence in 1993. Eritrea got it, established a dictatorship and haven’t had another exercise in democracy since. Needless to say, thirty years of war, terrorism and finally Marxist dictatorship have left the country an impoverished wreck.

Haile Selassie and one of his lions
Ethiopia, again, is really in a class by itself and cannot entirely be compared to the others. Still, the post-Italian period has not been pleasant for the country, though it would also be worse than the pre-Italian period as well. Haile Selassie was put back in control of the country and money poured in from the victorious Allies through various aid funds. Still, this did not benefit the country overall as serious divisions and problems remained which Haile Selassie struggled to deal with. He championed the cause of pan-African unity and opposition to European colonialism in Africa (even while imposing his own sort of colonial rule over the unwilling population of Eritrea) but this ultimately proved to be not so beneficial to the “Conquering Lion of Judah” as he styled himself. Most of the anti-colonial movements in Africa were communist and after some particularly hard times the communists managed to overthrow Haile Selassie in 1974. This time there was no British Empire to put him back on his throne again and he was murdered the following year. His replacement was a communist dictatorship so vicious and so oppressive that it must rank among the very worst in the entire world. Oppression, murder and misery prevailed to the point that the very name of Ethiopia became synonymous with “starvation” in the rest of the world. Again, even after the communist regime officially fell, the country has still not recovered from the decades of murderous misery the communists inflicted on it.

King Idris
Finally, we have the case of Libya. British military rule gave way to the creation of a new monarchy under the former Emir of Cyrenaica who became King Idris I of Libya in 1951. The British and Americans established close ties with the new regime, built military bases there and in 1959 Exxon discovered vast deposits of oil in the country which changed things considerably. New wealth brought greater resentment and efforts to promote unity failed, mostly because neither the King himself nor any of his people recognized him as a “Libyan” but rather as the Emir of Cyrenaica who had been imposed by western powers over the whole country. He was accused of favoring his own circle when it came to dishing out the oil revenues and of being too friendly with foreign powers and foreign oil companies. This culminated in King Idris being overthrown while on holiday by a military coup led by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 1969.

Gaddafi with African chiefs
Gaddafi, as we know, established a brutal and farcical dictatorship over the country, marked by tyranny at home, support for terrorism abroad and for the increasingly bizarre behavior of Gaddafi himself. Whether it was his painfully long orations at the UN, his threats of war against Switzerland or his bevy of buxom female bodyguards, no one could accuse Gaddafi of being boring. He also used the threat of floods of illegal immigrants to extort huge financial benefits as well as groveling apologies from the Italian government. In 2011 the hated dictator was overthrown, with air support from NATO, and given mob justice on the streets of Sirte. Since that time, Libya has fallen into chaos and is increasingly becoming a hotbed of terrorism, economically stagnant, politically unstable and extremely dangerous. Certainly, a far cry from what it had been during the tenure of Air Marshal Italo Balbo to be sure. And this in a country, it is worth remembering, where Italian-born Roman legions marched long before the first Arab ever cross the Sinai or the name of Mohammed was known to the world.

No, the historical record clearly shows that Italians have no reason to feel ashamed of their colonial past overall. Certainly there were unpleasant episodes in a couple of places but, on the whole, these parts of the world often saw their only periods of sustained stability and progress while under the Italian flag and the Crown of Savoy. Without exception, none of them have fared better after Italian rule was withdrawn. On the contrary, their record as independent states has been a record of failure. That does not mean, of course, that anyone in any of these places is nostalgic for the colonial past. National and racial awareness exists today in a way that did not exist in those days, though it is interesting to note that the Albanian government recently requested the return of the Italian military to deal with the influx of illegal immigrants (aka “refugees”) into their country, many of them fleeing former Italian colonies that have since become failed states. That, in itself, rather tells the story doesn’t it? European rule once came to Africa and, now that it is gone, Africans (and others) are now coming to Europe to live once more under their former imperial rulers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Look Back at Adorable Propaganda

If you're going to make war propaganda, why not make it cute? Evidently that was the sentiment of someone with artistic talent in Fascist Italy during the Second Abyssinian and World Wars. Here is a look back at some previously posted colorful artwork of an adorable little Italy going out to subdue the enemies of the Patria Italia:





Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Classical View of Modern Problems

It will have escaped no one's attention that Europe, and the wider western world, is in a state of crisis. Demographic changes have placed the peoples of Western Europe on a path to extinction, European nations are under threat of being replaced by international organizations run by a globalist elite and there are problems ranging from terrorism to simple cultural stress brought about by the importation of peoples totally alien to Europe and western values, customs and traditions. Italy has been at the forefront of this crisis, particularly in terms of the influx of massive numbers of migrants from Africa and the Middle East who cross the Mediterranean and make their first landfall on Italian soil. Most, as we know, do not choose to remain in Italy but move north toward countries such as Sweden, Norway or, most especially, Germany. The usual explanation for this is that these are wealthier countries with more to offer than the heavily indebted countries in the south such as Greece or Spain or the Italian Republic. That is certainly true and it makes sense. However, it also matters that these countries, particularly Germany, have welcomed such migrants and are willing to accept them. No one is forcing the German government to do this and, given the immense problems it is causing, one must ask why they would.

There are, undoubtedly, a number of reasons that could be put forward but we might also consider a possible explanation that a mentality is at work here that was around in the days of ancient Rome. In his book Germania, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote down his observations about the Germans and how different they were, in so many ways, from the people, society and customs of Rome. He describes how very meritocratic the Germans were, how egalitarian their society was in contrast to Rome, making it less orderly but in other ways more admirable to modern sensibilities. Tacitus also described in great deal, as an example, the very different attitude towards women that the Germans had. In Rome, it was the matron that was upheld as the ideal, the supportive wife and mother, devoted to her home and family, to domestic pursuits. German women, on the other hand, had a much higher profile, were more outspoken and even followed their men into battle, cheering them on amidst the carnage. Like the Romans, most Germans had only one wife but adultery seems to have been very rare among the Germans. Tacitus also spoke of how decisions were taken collectively by the senior men of every German tribe, totally unlike the Romans with the prominent leadership of great generals, consuls or, in times of crisis, a dictator. Ultimately, as we know, there would be an emperor.

Could some trace of these attitudes still remain in the German mind of today? If these were spread beyond the "tribe" to all other peoples in the world, it might explain, to some extent, the current German position regarding issues from feminism to the migrant crisis. That would be the key point though, as the ancient Germans would certainly be aghast at the actions of their descendants today because they certainly drew a sharp distinction between those who were Germans and those who were not. However, the mentality that everyone, regardless of who they are, must be given consideration, if applied beyond the "tribe" might, to some extent, explain the attitude of Germany today and why opposition seems to be so much stronger in countries such as France, Italy, England, Poland or Hungary. One also cannot help but notice, in the United States, where the current presidential race is portrayed as a contest between a nationalist, Trump, and a globalist, Clinton, that Anglo Americans, Scots-Irish, Polish-Americans and Italian-Americans have tended to support Donald Trump, Americans of German, Dutch and Scandinavian ancestry have tended to oppose him. It does make one wonder just how much our ancestry influences our views and opinions.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Italy and the American Revolution

There was, as most know, no united country called Italy at the time of the American Revolution. The Italian peninsula was still divided among a collection of minor states and the dominions of the Pope, most of them under the direct or indirect rule of some major European power, usually Austria. However, Italians played a considerable part in the American war and events in Italy, both historic and contemporary, inspired America's Founding Fathers. The independence movement in Corsica, first against Genoa and later against France, was something many Americans looked to and, of course, the historic legacy of the Roman Republic had a major influence on the establishment of the United States government.

On July 1, 1777 the U.S. government assigned Ralph Izard as Commissioner to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando III, but he was never received and formal diplomatic recognition was never extended to the United States by Florence. That was most likely due to the opposition to the American war by the Austrian Emperor Joseph II who was concerned that his own subjects might follow their example. However, there was still a desire for commercial ties. Ragusa, in what is now Croatia, which had a large Italian presence, established trade links with the United States through Italian agents in France such as Francesco Favi and Giovanni Fabronni. The Grand Duchy of Tuscany never recognized the United States prior to the formation of the Kingdom of Italy. However, there were those who did, though some were quite late such as the Duchy of Parma which recognized the American government in 1850.

In 1796 the King of Naples officially recognized the United States of America, though full diplomatic relations were not established until 1832 due to the tumult caused by the French Revolutionary Wars. The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia established diplomatic relations with the United States in 1802. The Papal States, while waiting a long time to extend official diplomatic recognition to the United States, did open its ports to American trade in 1784 and this was at the instigation of the Papal Nuncio in Paris, not by the Americans. The United States was also allowed to have a consulate in Rome from 1797. The Republic of Genoa recognized the United States in 1791 though that relationship did not last long since the republic was annexed by France in 1805. Oddly enough, one Italian state that was quite unfriendly to the new republic in America was the older Republic of Venice. The Venetian ambassadors in France and Spain were approached by the American envoys but Venice refused to recognize the American government and ignored an effort at correspondence with the Venetian ambassador in Paris. The only reason for this seems to have been a reluctance on the part of Venice to risk endangering their trade with Britain or upsetting the Austrians. As it turns out, the American republic received more support from the monarchies of Europe than from the republics, as surprising as most would probably find that today.