Italy and its invaders: a case for re-reading.
Published in 2002 by Laterza and issued in English translation by Harvard University Press (2005), this is a work that merits careful attention. At a time when colonial and post-colonial studies are gaining ever wider currency among scholars of Italianistica on both sides of the Atlantic, Italy and Its Invaders contributes in significant ways to a reflection on the complex cluster of meanings that the terms colonialism and post-colonialism imply in an Italian context. In ten chapters surveying the history of invasions of the Italian peninsula, Arnaldi's study foregrounds Italy's centuries--long existence as a colony, rather than focusing on 19th and 20th century colonialism and the post-colonial era that followed the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947. (4) Otherwise stated, this work does not aim to uncover the hidden episodes of the Italian colonization of Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Albania and, partially, Greece in the tradition of historians Nicola Labanca, Giorgio Rochat, Angelo Dei Boca (5) and their ever growing American disciples. (6) Rather, Italy and Its Invaders reconstructs the many layers of invasions that took place on the Italian peninsula from the sack of Rome to Unification while accounting for the ways in which violent encounters between people and cultures led to that inevitable mix constituting what we have come to know as Italian culture and civilization. In this sense, then, Arnaldi's volume achieves several objectives: On the one hand, it brings to the fore centuries of foreign domination that must be taken into account in any discussion of the shapes and forms of Italian colonialism and its aftermath. On the other hand, the frequent reminders of the interaction between invader and invaded carries with it a subtle but important message for contemporary Italy, where the arrival of migrants is leading to a dangerous resurgence of myths of an Italian identity based on cultural and territorial belonging and, at times, even ethnic purity. I will return to both of these points later on, but for the moment, let me describe Arnaldi's work more closely.
In the first chapter, "From the Sack of Rome to Odoacer, 'King of the Nations'," Arnaldi lays bare the episteme that informs his study by focusing on a major arrival of invaders: the descent upon and sack of Rome by Alaric, the King of the Visigoths, in 410. Arnaldi describes the massacre that ensued while reminding readers of the migratory flow that followed, as wealthy Romans sought refuge in Egypt, Africa, and the East. Arnaldi then turns his attention to the kingdom of Odoacer, a Germanic general and the first non-Roman ruler of the Italian peninsula. In what will become something of a pattern in this book, Arnaldi also provides examples of cultural mixing resulting from invasions, such as the adoption, on the part of the Romans, of the Barbarians' fashion of wearing trousers and leather boots, and the Barbarian culture's permeability to Roman customs. It is Arnaldi's contention that mixed marriages played a fundamental role in the creolization of culture and while many of the marriages between Barbarians and Romans were arranged, their offspring often revealed mixed cultural and political allegiances. In this sense, Arnaldi points to early forms of hybridization, that is, a mutual construction of subjectivities between diverse people, as described by Homi K. Bhabha's The Location of Culture. The practice of according Barbarians the status of hospites further increased mixing. In the hope of somehow controlling the flow of invaders, Western emperors would often give Barbarians a portion of the land of a given province. It was this mechanism of hospitalitas that facilitated the arrival of Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths (493-526). The topic of chapter two, "Ostrogoths, Romans of Italy and Romans of the East," Theodoric came to Italy encouraged by the Eastern Emperor Zeno. By 569, the Italian peninsula was again the stage of another invasion, that of the Longobards led by King Alboin. Discussed in chapter three, "The Longobards in War and Peace and the Temporal Dominion of the Popes and of Venice," this invasion appears to have been marked by a wish on the part of the invaders to settle permanently. In fact, unlike others tribes, the Longobards came to the Italian peninsula with their families and rapidly put down roots. While they continued to cultivate their traditions as a distinct people, they were much influenced by local cultures and customs. For example, they started using local utensils and, more importantly, abandoned the use of oral traditions and of primitive graphic characters, or runes, and began to record their customs and history through writing. As with other invaders, however, the Longobards not only absorbed the culture of the people they invaded, but shaped it as well, leaving many traces of their presence on the peninsula, from place names to the word casa which replaced the Roman domus for dwelling. The process of "reciprocal adaptation" (35) and the inevitable intermingling that took place was clear by the early seventh century, when the possibility of converting Longobards to Catholicism became a reality. After the marriage of Catholic Princess Theodolinda with Longobard king Authari first, and king Agiluf second, Catholic churches were built in Longobard castles. A son of Theodolinda even received a Catholic baptism. By the eighth century, cultural intermingling was such that the Catholic idea of sin had appeared in Longobard legislation.
Meanwhile, the popes were increasingly positioning themselves as the centers of the temporal power of the Roman Church. Keenly aware of the possibility of an attack on Rome by the Longobards, they engaged in daring political alliances with the Franks. Emphasizing again how the arrival of invading forces on the Italian peninsula was also the result of invitations, Arnaldi comments that the popes sought the invasion of the Franks to guarantee the independence of Rome from the Longobards. Arnaldi's fourth chapter explores more in depth the relationships between the popes and the Franks. Entitled "In the Empire of Charlemagne and Within the Shelter of the City Walls," this chapter describes the arrival of Charles in the summer of 773, his siege of Pavia, the capital of the Longobard Kingdom, and his uniting of the Longobard and Frankish kingdoms into a single hand. In the years that followed the arrival of Charles, Bavarian, Burgundian, and Aleman aristocracy joined the Franks in securing territories and holdings in Italy in competition with Longobards and Romans. Over the years, this creolization led to the constitution of a ruling class that was profoundly multiethnic, "a class that would govern the country for centuries to follow" (56). But there was also another social and cultural change brought about by the people from the North of the Alps: the agrarian regime of rural lordship. This important development, however, did not extend to Southern Italy since, with the Aghlabids' conquest of Sicily during the 9th century, the island entered into the Arab Muslim area of influence. The arrival of the Aghlabids (mostly Arab and Berber subjects), was, according to Arnaldi, not so much the result of religious fanaticism but an expansion due to the growing aridity of Arab and Berber lands, an invasion prompted by climate change. As in other chapters, Arnaldi mentions the Sicilian words that have an Arabic origin but also the different types of pre-capitalist modes of production introduced by the Arabs, including the ownership of small landholdings. Just as in the case of other invaders, Arabs and Berbers abandoned their semi-nomadie customs and merged with the local populations in time, introducing into the Sicilian landscape the cultivation of sugarcane, citrus, dates, mulberry trees, and cotton. However, in addition to the Arabs, or "Saracens", as they were often called, other groups began to arrive, such as the Normans and the Hungarians, the latter raiding the Po Valley and the regions of the Tuscan-Emilian Appennine. Post-Carolingian times witnessed a great breakdown in public order and the rise of local initiatives to protect people and possessions, such as the fortifications and the rebuilding of city walls during the 10th century. Different from the fortifications of the medieval castles, these changes in the architectural landscape were yet another effect of invasions. By the end of the 10th century, voluntary local associations and governments began to spread, eventually giving rise to the communes. Chapter five, "Germans at Legnano, Normans in Southern Italy and Sicily," describes how at the beginning at the 12th century, the communes, which by then had well established legal, juridical, and administrative institutions, joined together as the "Lombard League" against the German emperor Barbarossa who claimed to be, as other German kings had, the heir of the Caesars of ancient Rome. As Arnaldi recalls, the fight of the communes against the emperor was fundamental to the "dawning Italian national identity" (87). However, while the communes were asserting their independence, the Kingdom of Sicily in Southern Italy was established under the Norman King Roger II of Hauteville. Arnaldi traces the events that led to the invasion of Byzantine Calabria and Arab and Berber Sicily, focusing on the military campaigns of Robert Guiscard and his younger brother Roger.
In the following chapter, "The Meteor Frederick II and the Bitter 'Chickpeas' of the French in Sicily", Arnaldi describes the discontent of Frederick Barbarossa with the Norman kingdom of Sicily and the ensuing politics of dynastic marriages that led to the wedding of Barbarossa's son, Henry, whom he named as his successor, with Constance of Hauteville, the daughter of Roger II. Henry and Constance's son, the famed Frederick II, is discussed at some length by Arnaldi who describes the cosmopolitanism of Frederick's court and stresses the process of identification of this king with Sicily despite the fact that he was the son of a Sicilian-Norman mother and a Swabian-German father. Arnaldi also comments on the king's handling of the territorial monarchy of Sicily without seeking its integration in the Empire. In this sense, the kingdom represents an early case or a European nation-state. The remainder of the chapter discusses the history of the kingdom after the death of Frederick. As they had done with the Longobards, the Popes sought to prevent German kings from ruling by urging the arrival of Charles of Anjou, the brother of Louis IX, King of France. The Angevins moved the capital from Palermo to Naples, marking what Arnaldi calls "the 'Parisian' destiny of Naples" (113). The city became a center for the spread of Gothic art, originally from French soil, but Charles's ambitions led to ever increasing taxes, as he considered the South of Italy and Sicily as a resource to plunder, appropriating and distributing the land to his French and Provencals subjects. With the Angevins, Arnaldi comments, "the financial and economic inferiority of Southern Italy began to solidify, marking the beginning of [...] one of the main traits of the less advanced of the two 'Italys'" (114). Arnaldi proceeds to discuss the uprising of the Vespers on Easter of 1282, when the Sicilians rose against French rule and invited the intervention of another foreign monarch, Peter III of Aragon who, through marriage, could make some legitimate claims on the crown of Sicily. By 1435, the Angevins dynasty of Naples came to an end, and the Aragonese King of Sicily Alphonse also became King of Naples.
In chapter seven, "The Chalk of Charles VIII and the Lance of Fieramosca," Arnaldi argues that the restructuring of powers on the Italian peninsula did not lead to the creation of a national state under one sovereign but, rather, to larger and lesser states, including the Duchy of Milan, the republic of Venice, the republic of Florence, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Naples. These states often engaged in expansionist attempts but some sort of equilibrium would be reached with the Peace of Lodi (1454) and the establishment of the Italian League, both seen as guarantees "against the appetites and the armies of the powers to the North of the Alps" (125). Foreign armies, however, continued to descend into Italy. In the words of Francesco De Sanctis' Storia della letteratura italiana, cited by Arnaldi, "Charles VIII rode into Italy and conquered it 'with chalk' [...]. And Italy was bled by Frenchmen and Spaniards and Swiss and Landknechts until, with the fall of heroic Florence, the whole of the country was in the hands of the foreigner" (130). Chapter eight, "Milan and Naples in the Castilian Empire," begins with an assessment of the treaty of Cateau-Cambresis (1559) that sanctioned the Spanish dominance over Italy. This was a dominance that resulted in the adoptions of many Spanish customs, such as the duel to settle disputes, the practice of pomp to exhibit one's possessions, or even the corrida, or caccia al toro. Several Neapolitan words also record the Spanish occupations, including the words lazzaro, camorrista, and guappo. Chapter nine, "The Austrians and the Lombardo-Venetians Kingdom," focuses on the seismic changes brought about by the 18th century wars of succession, when Austria replaced Spain in Milan, Naples, and Sardinia. Sicily, however, escaped Austrian control. The English, who had commercial activities in the Mediterranean, had installed on the throne the Savoy King Victor Amadeus II. Nevertheless, the Austrians had a direct presence in Lombardy while the Bourbons and the Hapsburg controlled Parma, Florence, and Naples. As Arnaldi comments, "Once again, Italy was the passive object of the wishes of other states, which used the peninsula as a field of battle" (168).
The state of Italy as an object of wishes on the part of others was made amply clear during the Napoleonic period when the plundering of artifacts went hand in hand with territorial and constitutional reconfigurations. Yet, as Arnaldi writes, this was also the time when the idea of Italy as a defined cultural entity became a political program. Arnaldi, however, does not provide a full picture of the Risorgimento, that is, the events that led to the constitution of an Independent Italian nation-state but chooses to highlight a few defining moments in the concluding chapter of the volume, "A Pseudoconquest and a True Liberation", that covers the period from Unification in 1860 to 1944. The early portions of this chapter highlight the perception of many Southerners that the unification of the peninsula under the Piedmontese king was a conquest. Southerners' discontent was matched by those who had supported a democratic and republican Italian state. Arnaldi cites the writings of Diomede Panataleoni who described the arrival of the Piedmontese in Rome as an event generating feelings of invasion. But Arnaldi also notes that the worst enemy that came from Unification and its aftermath was an internal one: Fascism. The chapter concludes with a reflection on the period after 1944, when no foreign armies have entered the country but Italy is, once again, the destination of newcomers, of migrants "trying to flee wars, tyranny, underdevelopment, and massacres in the Balkans, the Middle East or the Maghreb" (201). Citing Marc Bloch's Feudal Society (1939), Arnaldi concludes by reminding readers that just as the modern Western civilization was formed by invasions, so the arrival of the migrants offers Italy hope for change and renewal.
As this overview suggests, Italy and its Invaders has much to offer to the current debate on colonialism and its aftermath. By reframing colonialism and migration in pre-modern terms, it foregrounds the need to examine the multiple legacies of colonialism in an Italian context, forcing colonial and post-colonial scholars to focus their attention not only on 19th and 20th century Italian colonialization of Africa, but also on the well-documented existence of Italy as a pre-modern colony, a place of uninterrupted invasions and plundering occurring from 410 to the Unification under the Savoy kings. This is a dimension of Italian cultural history that has not been elaborated by the collective culture. Unification has been endlessly narrated as a project of national collective emancipation and resurgence as opposed to what Antonio Gramsci, almost at the beginning of The Southern Question, described as the Northern bourgeoisie's subjugation of the South of Italy and its reduction to an exploitable colony.7 The mass exodus that followed the creation of the Italian nation-state in 1860, would be folded into a second chapter of colonialism, a colonialism that now looked outside the Italian peninsula, towards the African territories seen as the solution to transoceanic migration, a way to "reclaim(ed) the emigrant masses by recasting them as conquering warriors rather than discarded surplus" (Verdicchio 48). By 1912, Italy political program led to the proclamation of its sovereignty over Tripolitania and Cyrenaica and, with the fall of the Liberal State and the advent of Fascism, African colonialism entered its most violent phase: the declaration of the Italian empire of East Africa (AOI) in 1936, a territory that encompassed Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. However, the dark side of Unification and the global migration that followed has been marked by removal and repression while Italy's expansion into Africa has been literally archived till very recently as mainstream culture cultivated the idea of Italians as brava gente, or good people, and of their colonialism as straccione, that is to say, on the cheap and somehow benign.
Yet, in this epochal moment of migratory movements through and within Italy, the founding moments of Italian-ness can no longer be forgotten and archived. Through the history that Arnaldi sketches, the Italian cultural heritage emerges as the product of hybridizations and creolizations brought about by the often violent encounters with Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Longobards, Franks, Arabs, Berbers, Normans, Hungarians, Austrians, Spaniards, French, Provencals, and Swiss, among others. To acknowledge Italy's history as the site of persistent invasions and Italian civilization as molded by a web of encounters with an external other in language, habits, and customs, but also agriculture, economics, architecture, and more, is an important step to counter the present-day fermentation of discourses of Italian national identity based upon imaginary notions of shared civic values, a territory linked to a common culture and, at times, even a genealogical descent. Triggered by the arrival of waves of immigrants on Italian soil--many of them coming from former European colonies, Italian and non, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America--this fermentation of national myths of spacial, cultural, and ethnic belonging has gone hand in hand with a rigidifying of juridical borders and frontiers regulating and redrawing the boundaries between the inside and the outside, the native and the foreign body, the self and the Other. This problematic cultural and political terrain renders Arnaldi's work most timely. By revisiting the founding moments of Italian history, it foregrounds how modern definitions of Italian identity cannot and should not be divorced from multiple colonial legacies. This re-opening of the pre-modern archive of colonialism is a forceful gesture to confront Italy's long existence as a colony and perhaps contains the promise of an authentic post-coloniality, not in the temporal sense of coming after colonialism but in the ideological sense of overcoming colonialism in a peaceful, more hospitable encounter between the former colonized and the newer subjects of recent colonization and migration. In the words of Franco Cassano, Arnaldi's book reminds us that "the Other has not landed for the first time on our shores [...]. In a land where many others have arrived, there is no monolithic and pure 'we' to defend from the snare of the Other. [...] arrivals and departures ... [t]urn the many people of the Mediterranean--and luckily not only them--into incurable mongrels, into the antithesis of any purity, integrity and fundamentalism: Our 'we' is full of Others". (8)
Arnaldi, Girolamo. Italy and Its Invaders. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2005.
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. Post-Colonial Studies. The Key Concepts. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.
Ben-Ghiat, Ruth, and Mia Fuller. Italian Colonialism. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005.
Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.
Bunzl, Matti, Antoinette Burton, Jed Esty, Suvir Kaul, and Ania Loomba. Postcolonial Studies and Beyond. Durham: Duke UP, 2005.
Cassano, Franco. Southern Thought and Other Essays on the Mediterranean. Ed. and trans. Norma Bouchard and Valerio Ferme. New York: Fordham UP, 2010 (forthcoming).
Chrisman, Laura and Patrick Williams, eds. Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader. Hemel Hemstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993.
Del Boca, Angelo. L'Africa nella coscienza degli Italiani. Milan: Mondadori, 2002.
Gramsci, Antonio. The Southern Question. Trans. Pasquale Verdicchio. West Lafayette, Ind.: Bordighera, 1995.
Hodge, Bob, and Mishra Vijay. The Dark Side of the Dream. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1990.
Labanca, Nicola. Oltremare. Stora dell'espansione coloniale italiana. Bologna: Il Mulino, 2002.
Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.
Palumbo, Patricia, ed. A Place in the Sun. Africa in Italian Colonial Culture from Post-Unification to the Present. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003.
Pavanati, Carla. Colonialismo. Milano: Editrice Bibliografica, 1997.
Rochat, Giorgio. Il colonialismo italiano. Turin: Loescher, 1973.
Verdicchio, Pasquale. Bound by Distance. Rethinking Nationalism through the Italian Diaspora. Madison and Teaneck: Farleigh Dickinson UP, 1997.
The University of Connecticut, Storrs
(1) See the entry "post-colonialism/post-colonialism" in Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 186-192. For a succinct historical overview of colonialism and post-colonial state formation, I refer the reader to Pavanati, Colonialismo.
(2) "[I]f the inequities of colonial rule have not been erased, it is perhaps premature to proclaim the demise of colonialism. A country may be both postcolonial (in the sense of being formally independent) and neo-colonial (in the sense of remaining economically and/or culturally dependent) at the same time," Loomba, Colonialism/Postcolonialism 12.
(3) See Chrisman and Williams, Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory as well as Hodge and Mishra, The Dark Side of the Dream.
(4) This was the year when Italy had to abandon all claims to its colonies, entering the era of a (chronological) post-colonialism without undergoing the loss of territories in processes of post-independence state formation as other colonial powers, such as France, Great Britain, and Belgium did.
(5) See, for example, Del Boca, L'Africa nella coscienza degli Italiani, Rochat, Il colonialismo italiano, and Labanca, Oltremare.
(6) I am referring to the work of Mia Fuller, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Patrizia Palumbo, and others. Representative publications are the volumes Italian Colonialism, edited by Ben-Ghiat and Fuller, and A Place in the Sun, edited by Palumbo.
(7) "[T]he Northern bourgeoisie has subjugated the South of Italy and the Islands, and reduced them to exploitable colonies ..." (Gramsci 1995, 16).
(8) Cassano, Southern Thought and Other Essays on the Mediterranean (unpaginated manuscript, forthcoming).