The Weekly History Thread Appropriates the Past for Its Own Ends

Welcome to this week’s History Thread! The broader theme of this discussion is self-conscious archaism, the act of deliberately looking back to the past as a source of inspiration and emulating it in some way. This umbrella term also covers the appropriation of the past for propagandistic purposes.

Today’s photo (circa 1938) depicts an example of the latter, namely, Benito Mussolini’s use of a choice piece of Imperial Roman propaganda, the then newly restored, resited, and reinstalled Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace), in order to help legitimize and bolster his Fascist regime.

The altar was originally built between 13 and 9 BC to commemorate Augustus’ return to Rome after three years spent in Gaul. In the 1930s, Mussolini had it moved to and rebuilt along the newly constructed Piazza Augusto Imperatore (Emperor Augustus Square), adjacent to Augustus’ mausoleum and near the Tiber River. Mussolini, whose deliberate evocation of ancient Rome’s glory–and whose association of himself with Augustus–was central to Italian Fascist propaganda, directed the architect Vittorio Ballio Morpurgo to build a pavilion for the altar and finish it before the 1938 jubilee celebrating the 2,000th anniversary of Augustus’ birth.