Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Elena of Montenegro, Queen of Italy, consort of HM King Vittorio Emmanuele III was taken to her eternal reward in Montpellier, France. Her cause for canonization is currently being considered. May she pray for us and rest always in the sight of God.
Monday, November 26, 2012
It is also true that if Claudius was less than perfect physically, there was certainly nothing wrong with him mentally (though one of the popular explanations for his symptoms is cerebral palsy). He was a very intelligent man, was very well read and (in another aspect that makes me partial to him) was a historian, writing histories of the Etruscans who preceded the Romans; as well as the greatest enemy the Roman Republic ever faced: the Carthaginians. He was also no less ambitious than the other members of his family but he was intelligent enough to know that power was not to be taken lightly and he appreciated the dangers that went along with it and even the pursuit of it. Some have attributed this to his witnessing of the rest of his family killing each other off in palace intrigues until Claudius was the only one left. However, this is easy to exaggerate and usually goes back to the story that the Empress Livia (aka Julia Augusta, Claudius’ grandmother) was a murderess who had half the imperial family poisoned. An entertaining story, but one with no facts to back it up. As far as we can tell most of those who died in the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius were simply the victims of time and chance and nothing more.
As most know, I am a big fan of Imperial Rome and an ardent defender of the original Julio-Claudian dynasty. For some, they have a bad reputation even to this day, but the facts rarely match the gossip that has become accepted “fact”. Augustus Caesar was a colossus and truly one of THE great men of history. Emperor Tiberius, while he did get a little nasty at the end, was a great soldier, a dutiful man and a capable ruler. Even Emperor Nero was not without his good points and while he, on the whole, deserves most of his bad reputation, a great deal has been exaggerated. Emperor Claudius we are just coming to, but then there is Caligula. With him there really is not much to say, the man was a horror. One day I may go into his story but for right now, suffice it to say that the end of the reign of Caligula was an extremely low point for the imperial monarchy. Not only was the Emperor murdered, his wife was murdered, his little daughter was murdered, his statues were smashed and his name was blotted out of the record books. His nearly four years in power were a nightmare that most wanted to forget. Claudius was by then 50-years old and was, supposedly, found hiding behind a curtain after this bloodbath and expected to be killed just like his nephew. However, a member of the Praetorian Guard found him and they hailed Claudius as Emperor of Rome.
To reassert imperial authority, Emperor Claudius first had the murderers of his nephew Caligula executed. Caligula had become an insane, perverted, sadistic nightmare on two legs, but he was an emperor and the law had to be upheld. Still, Claudius was astute enough to know that most viewed the assassination of his predecessor as a good thing and only those who had done the actual killing were put to death. To show that things would be different, Emperor Claudius destroyed his nephew’s stockpile of poisons, returned confiscated lands, burned the criminal records, repealed the laws which awarded the emperor the property of anyone convicted of treason and put an end to treason trials altogether. It was a smart as well as benevolent move to make. Because of what happened to his nephew, Emperor Claudius was also downright paranoid when it came to his personal security, but not without reason and when someone did act against him Claudius could be just as harsh as Tiberius had been.
It was really for the best as she was the greatest piece of “evidence” cited by those who believed that Emperor Claudius was a weak man who was ruled by his wife and his closest officials. This, however, is largely false and was likely “sour grapes” on the part of the traditional governing elite who were upset that Claudius filled high offices with freedmen (emancipated former slaves) who were often extremely intelligent and capable and whom he felt he could trust more than the usual power-hungry elite. It is also untrue that Emperor Claudius was some sort of republican at heart. He had no qualms about continuing the monarchy and, indeed, during his reign, further centralized power at the very top. He did, though, take a great interest in the justice system, often presiding over cases himself, and seeing that the government functioned smoothly. He is often criticized for his love of the games but in this he was no worse than any other average Roman of his time. His odd habits and paranoid behavior kept him from being as popular as he might have been but he gained a huge boost when his armies completed the conquest of Britain, the greatest expansion of Roman power since the imperial era began. He may have cut an odd figure at his triumph afterwards but all Romans took pride in the achievement.
After his death, Emperor Claudius was deified, the first emperor since Augustus to be so honored (not counting the self-deification of Caligula) and yet, despite being declared a god, one still has the impression that Emperor Claudius was not as appreciated as he should have been. He was a brilliant man, despite his disabilities, and for about thirteen years was a very capable emperor, a learned man and a man who took his duties and responsibilities seriously. He wrote his own autobiography (which has unfortunately been lost) and he took great care to ensure the survival of the Roman Empire and the imperial monarchy at a time of great crisis because he wanted peace and moderation to reign throughout the world. He wrote about caring for sick slaves and, of course, caused controversy by giving power to his freed slaves. His jokes may not have been funny and he may not have cut a fine figure but he was a good man, he kept order in Rome and the provinces, improved the infrastructure, left behind some magnificent buildings, expanded the empire by conquering Britain and the world was better off for his reign.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
After the disastrous battle of Caporetto, Balbo returned to the front, serving in another Alpini Battalion where he took command of the assault platoon. He courage in the face of the enemy eventually earned him one bronze and two silver medals for military valor as well as promotion to captain before the war ended. He studied in Florence after the war and he wrote a paper on “the economic and social thought of Giuseppe Mazzini”. He was, obviously, a republican at this stage but came to detest the socialists and the labor and trade unions they controlled because of their disorder and disrupting of the Italian economy and society. He was working as a bank clerk back in his home town when, in 1921, he became one of the first members of the National Fascist Party. He rose to be secretary of the Ferrara branch of the Fascist party and soon organized his own squad of Blackshirts which he led in raids on local socialist and communist groups as well as helping to break up strikes and protests organized by Marxists in the area. Balbo soon became known as one of the most active and forceful leaders in the Fascist movement.
|Balbo, second from left, with Fascist leaders|
The march, of course, turned out to be little more than a parade as political maneuvering had already secured the premiership for Mussolini before his Blackshirts ever entered Rome, however, Italo Balbo had secured his place as one the leading members of the Fascist hierarchy and was appointed one of the first members of the Fascist Grand Council in 1923. The following year he was named commander of the Blackshirt militia and in 1925 was made Undersecretary for National Economy. His real significance, however, came in 1926 when he was made Secretary of State for Air. Mussolini wanted to put a renewed emphasis on Italian aviation and Balbo was the man who would be in charge of this project. Balbo learned how to fly himself and set to work organizing what became the Regia Aeronautica. By 1928 he had been promoted to General of the Air Force, later Minister of the Air Force and, eventually, Marshal of the Air. Aside from organizing the military air branch, Balbo also encouraged exploration and endurance flights that would generate publicity for the air force, encourage more Italians to take an interest in aviation and raise the profile of Italy in the skies. As part of this campaign, Balbo himself led a trans-Atlantic flight in 1930 from Italy to Brazil and in 1933 all the way to Chicago where he was received with great fanfare and media attention. President Roosevelt even decorated him with the Distinguished Flying Cross.
When international tensions began growing over the threat of renewing the war in Abyssinia, Marshal Balbo began making plans for an invasion from his colony into Egypt-Sudan. If Britain decided to go to war with Italy over Abyssinia, or close the Suez Canal to Italian troop transports, Balbo wanted to lead the attack to force the vital chokepoint open. Ultimately, Britain did not intervene on behalf of Ethiopia but they did reinforce their military presence in the Mediterranean, however, there is reason to believe that had such a conflict occurred, Italy would have had a legitimate chance of success. At the height of the crisis, Balbo deployed his troops along the Egyptian border and due to the poor state of British military intelligence, they had no idea it happened and Balbo would have been in a perfect position to have launched an attack on Egypt and take the British forces completely by surprise. Britain only became aware of it all via Rome itself when Mussolini rejected the planned operation, which turned out to be unnecessary in any event.
Although it was hardly seen as a promotion, by being posted to Libya, Marshal Balbo actually had far greater autonomy than he would have otherwise enjoyed and used his position to circumvent the normal military bureaucracy to create his own elite unit of Libyan paratroopers. Balbo himself, along with his pilots, undertook reconnaissance flights over Egypt and the Sudan to familiarize themselves with the area in the event of war between Britain and Italy in north Africa. He was determined to be prepared for any eventuality. However, Balbo was also aware enough of the true state of affairs to oppose Italian involvement in World War II. In fact, he had come a long way from his days as a blackshirt leader and was increasingly conservative, realistic and even royalist. Balbo was the only leading member of the Fascist Party to openly oppose the racial laws aimed against the Jewish community and the only one to publicly denounce the Axis alliance with Adolf Hitler. As Italy moved closer and closer toward the prospect of world war alongside Nazi Germany, Balbo reversed his earlier republicanism and was grateful the monarchy had been preserved and hoped that the King would intervene to stop Mussolini from taking the country to war.
Some, then and now, believe that Mussolini set up the whole thing to get rid of Air Marshal Balbo because of his opposition to Fascist policies. However, there is no evidence to back that up and it certainly would not have looked good for Mussolini as such an action would have contradicted his boast that “Mussolini is always right” considering that he had earlier considered Balbo to be his successor as Duce. Balbo was buried near Tripoli but his body was moved to Italy in 1970 after the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi threatened to desecrate the bodies of all Italians buried in Libyan soil.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Sunday, November 4, 2012
It was on this day in 1921 that the unknown Italian soldier of the First World War was buried, with an eternal flame, at the King Vittorio Emanuele II Monument in Rome. Alberto Sparapani designed the tomb after a campaign to honor the 'unknown soldier' was made by Italian veterans of the Great War and by other Allied veterans, after Great Britain and France had done the same. The United States of America awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor of the Italian unknown soldier shortly before they took the step of honoring the unknown American soldier. The Kingdom of Italy lost over a million people, soldiers and civilians, in the First World War, more than the British Empire, less than France or Russia and less than any of the Central Powers other than Bulgaria. About 650,000 Italian soldiers died in the conflict. Some Italian soldiers had voluntarily joined the war prior to the declaration of war by serving with the French Foreign Legion, later Italian forces served on almost every major front of the war. Some served on the western front, others in Albania and Macedonia, in Libya and Somalia, in the Middle East and, of course, the primary front against the Germans and Austrians on the northeast border.