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Damnatio memoriae meaning “condemnation of memory”. Was a postmortem penalty inflicted to a person whose behavior in life was such, that the punishment for his nefarious deeds continued even after the person ceased to exist. This person was excluded from official accounts as if he, or she, never existed. This condemnation was decreed in Ancient Rome in very serious cases, as a result of which all memories (portraits, inscriptions) of the characters affected by it were canceled. For what we know, this practice has been in use since the 13th century BC in Egypt. At the time of the Romans, many people received this type of punishment.
Just to mention some of the most famous, we have the emperors Caligula, Domitian, Geta and Nero.
There have been cases in the modern era as well,
Stalin, Lenin and other Communist leaders in
the former Soviet Union for example, and in the USA, Benedict Arnold‘s name was erased from the monument for the Battle of Saratoga. The same fate befell Francisco Franco in Spain, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Muhammar Gaddafi in Libya.
Damnatio memoriae is also present in modern literature and filmography: in George Orwell‘s “1984” novel there is a kind of damnatio memoriae. The ruling party deletes all information from the past and updates it progressively adapting it to its needs. 2004’s movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, is based entirely on damnatio memoriae. It is known that Mussolini, like other dictators before and after him, was inspired by the Roman Empire and based his politics on such example.
Not just the politics though, he really copied the Roman model in whichever way possible. He changed the lifestyle of the Italians. He established that the working day should be 8 hours, while before there was no limit, and made Saturday a public holiday that Italians had to dedicate to sport and recreation.
He tried to recreate the Roman Empire with an expansion policy that led Italy to occupy territories beyond its borders in Africa (Libya, Somalia, and Eritrea) and outside Africa where Italy possessed the Dodecanese Islands and Albania. The regime’s goals were the acquisition of territories considered historically Italian in France (Nice) and Yugoslavia (Dalmatia), the expansion into the Balkans (Greece) and more colonies in Africa. Ironically, Mussolini was so successful in his imitation of the Roman Emperors that in the end, he got the same punishment the Romans reserved for the worst emperors: damnatio memoriae. This is the only monument that remains with the name of Mussolini, while his name and effigies were all removed. Not only what referred to Mussolini, but all the Fascist symbols and inscriptions, effigies have been destroyed. However, walking around Rome and looking carefully at the buildings that have been built in those twenty years, you can still spot traces of the symbols that have been chiseled off.