In 1936, the prominent Italian architecture review Domus published an editorial entitled “Civiltà” (civilization), featuring the image in Intro.1. Italian troops had invaded Ethiopia in 1935, and the League of Nations had consequently imposed sanctions against Italy. In reaction to the sanctions, the Fascist government and other Italian institutions flooded Italy with propaganda justifying Italian aggression and colonization in Ethiopia, usually on the basis that Italy was “civilized” and Ethiopia was not. This particular editorial made this point in an idiom of architectural superiority and inferiority, arguing that the force of Imperial Roman architectural forms had endured into the present, and that modern Italian architects were rediscovering their simplicity and grandeur – all the more proudly because of the shortage of building materials caused by the economic sanctions; and all the more gloriously because the very “coalition of peoples which [ancient] Rome had rescued from primitivity [i.e. the League of Nations] . . . intends to humiliate Roman civilization vis-à-vis the ultimate barbarians [i.e. the Ethiopians].”3 This stated identification of modern Italy with the ancient Roman Empire was one of the most frequently invoked tropes in the course of the Italian colonial enterprise, from its beginnings in the 1870s until its dissolution in the early 1940s. On the other hand, the editorial never named the Ethiopians. They were only alluded to as “barbarians,” and only once: the rest of the two-page editorial strictly concerned Italy and its struggle against other European nations. This
elision of the non-Italian populations involved in Italian colonialism was another of its constant tropes: Italians, not the colonized, were central to Italians’ colonial perceptions and plans.