Roman Africa in Imperial Italy’s cultural imaginary, 1911-1943

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis looks at the relationship between Roman Africa in the Italian cultural imaginary, and Italy’s project of nation-building and modernisation. I focus on non-academic sources, since these, I argue, represent ideas of Roman Africa in the Italian imperial imaginary at their most pervasive and widespread, and are most suited to transforming discourses of Roman Africa into imperial realities. Films, monuments, popular publications, and public ceremonies propagated the ‘invented tradition’ of romanità, forging a modern, national, and imperial identity by appealing to antiquity.

Focussing on the years of Italian colonialism in Libya, 1911-1943, I proceed chronologically to investigate multifarious discursive formations of Roman Africa under Italy's liberal government becoming increasingly reified and monolithic under the Fascist regime. In this period, Italian imperialism was most explicitly able to exploit links to Roman imperialism, through excavating the region’s Roman history. However, for this to be the case, Italian imperial discourse was forced to suppress Roman ambivalences surrounding empire, centred on the ruins of Carthage which foreshadowed the fate of the Roman Empire.

The first half of my thesis explores these dynamics of excavation and suppression during the period of liberal imperialism, while the second turns to the ventennio fascista. In this current moment of the nation being thrust to the forefront of political discourse in Italy and beyond, I examine the role of an African empire in Italian nation-building, and the centrality of Roman imperialism to this project whose legacy haunts recent Mediterranean history. The thesis thus unravels the ties that bind Italy to Africa, through the waters of ancient Rome’s mare nostrum.

Date of Award1 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorDaniel Orrells (Supervisor)

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