Psst! Don’t say anything, but Italians have been holding out on us. No matter how much Italian history you think you know, there is something that has been expunged from all the school books.
The problem with Italian history is it has been shortchanged – by about one thousand years. Imagine if you will, starting Jewish history from the destruction of Herod’s Temple. Subtract Abraham, the Exodus, Moses, and Kings David and Solomon, and you’d have an idea of what Italian teachers do to Italian history.
Everyone is taught that Italian history begins with the fall of Rome in AD 476. That’s when, magically, the Romans disappeared and all the regions and city-states we know and love sprang from the dust. Believe that and I can sell you the Colosseum.
It took me a few days of reading Will Durant’s Christ & Caesar, part of his 11-volume series The Story of Civilization, to find the sentence “[By 222 B.C.] …from the Alps to Sicily Italy was one.” It took me close to 25 years to find out that there was actually a date in 222 B.C. that the Romans celebrated that momentous event. On March 1, 222 B.C. the Roman Consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus was given a triumph for defeating the last Celtic tribes occupying northern Italy. The Romans were very meticulous record keepers.
So, why should Italian teachers care about such ancient history? Why do Jews care that Joshua conquered Canaan, creating Israel? Why do Chinese people care that China was unified in 221 B.C. (a year after Italy, by the way)? Because it explains who they are and how they came to be.
No so, Italians. Many of us are content believing we evolved from Greeks, Roman slaves, and Arabs. Most of us believe our story begins with the triumph of Christianity – hence the fall of the Empire. But such a simple-minded history explains nothing.
When Giuseppe Garibaldi fought to unify Italy in the 1800s he wrote, “[Rome was] the dominant thought and inspiration of my whole life.” That makes sense. Garibaldi didn’t invent Italy. He recreated it. All the pieces had been assembled two thousand years before he was born.
The Roman Empire can be more accurately named the Italo-Roman Empire. British historian Donald Dudley put it this way: “To create Italy was the first great historical achievement of Rome.” Without an Italian nation Rome would never have had the resources of men and treasure to create and maintain an empire of 80 million diverse peoples. And if you wonder why modern Italy excels in every field and every skill it is because it was the beneficiary of the wealth and DNA of three continents during the Empire. Wonder no more.
March 1st rightfully marks Italy’s true birthday – 2,239 years ago this year! -JLM