Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.09.75

Nathalie de Hann, Martijn Eickhoff, Marjan Schwegman (ed.), Archaeology and National Identity in Italy and Europe 1800-1950. Fragmenta. Journal of the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome 2 (2008).   Turnhout:  Brepols Publishers, 2008.  Pp. 263.  ISBN 9782503524061.  €72.00.  

Reviewed by Catalin Pavel, University of Bucharest (
Word count: 2456 words

[For a response to this review by Nathalie de Haan, Martijn Eickhoff, and Marjan Schwegman, please see BMCR 2009.11.06]

This is an innocent book on a wicked topic. It brings together thirteen papers delivered at a round table in 2007 and toils to describe, in the absence of any theoretical framework, the dangerous dance of nationalism and archaeology. Its main merit lies in the creation, by industriously putting together archival documents, of what have been called "local histories of archaeology".1

The use of theoretical models should have been a prerequisite for such an investigation. There must be some consensus among the authors as to what "ethnicity", "people", "material culture" mean;2 what is the relevance of private archives for the writing of the history of archaeology;3 what is the theoretical model for the relationship between nationalism and archaeology;4 and above all -- what is meant by "nationalism" and "national identity". All these assumptions must be explicit: when thirteen people speak about nationalism, the reader ought to know what the theoretical position is, from which a scientific advance is being attempted. Common sense is not enough here. We're actually left to wonder as to who is speaking about nationalism as a "politically activist, xenophobic variety of national patriotism" and who about the "articulate ideology on which national identity and consciousness rest".5 It seems that some (Schwegman, Hoijtink, Foro and Rey, Jansen) highlight, in the manner of Greenfeld, nationalism as a source of individual identity.6 Others (Dyson, Froehlich, de Haan, Eickhoff) focus on the governmental component, as does Kedourie,7 while others still (Blanck, Guidi, Palombi) emphasize ethnicity in E. Gellner's sense.8 Finally, Krüger and Dubbini use the word, with Calhoun, simply for "a basic way of talking, thinking and acting".9 Clearly, only by defining with some sophistication the key terms of one's oeuvre can one hope to turn portmanteau words (like nationalism) into operational concepts with epistemological value.

What is meant to hold together these articles is an introduction by the editors of only four pages ("Archaeology and National Identity in Italy and Europe 1800-1950; no conclusions are offered to wrap up the work. The introduction mentions en passant "post modern concepts" and "self-reflective ways", never to be picked up on again, and crams in a footnote the whole bibliographical framework -- six books that appear to be otherwise unknown to virtually all of the contributors.10

Marjan Schwegman, "Pompeii, and the Last Days of the Italian Risorgimento. Giuseppe Garibaldi, Alexandre Dumas and Giuseppe Fiorelli in Naples", deals with the fate of Pompeii between 1860, when Alexandre Dumas père becomes, with the help of Garibaldi, honorary director of the excavations, and Fiorelli's appointment as director by the then minister of public instruction de Sanctis (1863). Dumas had been taken with Garibaldi since the heroic deeds of the Italian in South America (about which he had written Montevideo ou une nouvelle Troie.[1850]) Garibaldi offered Dumas a yearly budget of 5000 scudi and asked him to take photos of the ruins and send them to European journals, but Dumas planned to reconstruct a typical Pompeian house and recreate an image of antiquity that could, in a symbolic way, redeem modern man. Fiorelli brings to the excavations a positivist spirit, and his wish to read the ruins as objective signs does make him an adept of Vico. The comparison of Fiorelli's famous casts of Pompeii's dead with Lombroso's criminology, for exploring "the dark and the bright sides of Italy" is more controversial.

Stephen Dyson, in "Where Caesar Never Trod. Classical Archaeology and Ideology in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century America", stresses that America's classical archaeological identity has its epicenter at Athens and not at Rome (30), despite American architecture's picking up on Roman notions of prestige (Pennsylvania Station imitating the Baths of Caracalla). Dyson sees the excellent excavations of the American School in the Agora as a symbol of democracy in the era of Mussolini's excavations (of "rapid slap-dash execution and poor quality publication" 29) and throughout the dictatorship of Metaxas (consistently misspelled "Metaxos", 28 and note 45). This should be juxtaposed with a quite different view from the Greek side, according to which the excavation permit was obtained by the School by using the leverage of American loans to Greece in a time (after the catastrophic war with Turkey) when these loans were for Greece a matter of survival; this permit led to the demolition of 366 houses against opposition from press and 5,000 habitants. On the other hand, Metaxas had encouraged Blegen's project in Pylos and the School maintained good relations with the regime.11

"The Urge to Exhibit. The Egyptian and Etruscan Museums in the Vatican at the Dawn of a Nationalist Era in Europe (1815-1840)", by Mirjam Hoijtink, searches for the nationalist sentiment underpinning the foundation -- Canova's idea -- of the first Egyptian museum of Europe, the Vatican collection, and how this was used, paradoxically, to define Italian identity. The author compares this with the self-glorification of the nation in the Musée Charles X, where the Egyptian department is decorated by paintings in which the Louvre is the genius of France, while Champollion is the first scientist to be included in a French royal painting cycle.

Three articles, making up (the best) quarter of this volume, are dedicated to the study of the German Archaeological Institute at Rome.12 Horst Blanck takes it upon himself to write about the DAI's predecessor, the Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica, and touches on several topics: the use of Italian, French and Latin as official languages (note the absence of German and English), its role in the realization of the CIL, together with anecdotal details, like the raising of the Prussian flag when the Capitol was under fire by the French artillery, 1847 -1849 (71). Importantly, the author emphasizes that the change of the supranational Instituto to a Prussian institution was not the result of the Franco-German war, but had already been decided in 1870 before the war (74).

Christian Jansen's article ("The German Archaeological Institute (DAI) between Transnational Scholarship and Foreign Cultural Policy") -- a nuanced history of how and to what extent German foreign cultural policy straitjacketed the scholarly endeavors of the DAI -- is the best the present volume has to offer. If the preceding article drew attention to how the donations of the French Government increased the library of the (Prussian) Instituto, Jansen contributes more about the relationship between the two archrivals. The DAI -- the Reich's first institution -- was, as it happened, founded with French reparation money after the 1871 war. When in 1885, German was decreed (alongside Latin) the official language of the DAI, Mommsen resigned because this resembled a "French centralism alien to the German character" (154). In the 1920s many scholars from enemy countries were admitted as corresponding members, so as to not leave the field to "French propaganda" (164). Finally, the extension of the DAI's scholarly scope, to include fields as varied as prehistory or Islamic art was justified in 1945 as the adoption of the French paradigm (167)!

Two other important points are made in this article. First, "the traditional view that the DAI was fighting for survival during the Nazi regime needs to be reconsidered" (n.37); the Institute was actually closely cooperating (166; cf. 177, members of the DAI "pursued their own political goals"). Second, the expansion of the DAI coincided with the geopolitical interests of the Reich or of the FRG, and was orchestrated by directors of DAI who were both politically prominent and adroit in political lobbying. The best examples are Wiegand, Schede and Boehringer; the many quotes from their letters will give a lot of food for thought to anyone studying this giant among archaeological institutions. Jansen follows the founding of new branches in Istanbul (Germany emerges from the isolation after the First World War), Madrid (made possible by fascist cooperation, although coming right after Stalingrad), the cultural offensive in Egypt after the defeat in the colonial race for Africa, and the cold war confrontation with the GDR in Syria and Iran.

Thomas Fröhlich's "Study on the Lombards and the Ostrogoths at the German Archaeological Institute of Rome, 1937-1943" reviews a "political" excavation of what the Nazis wanted to be Theodoric's hunting estate at Galatea; this was intended to prove, to use the words of a Memorandum by Second secretary of the DAI Rom and Nazi activist Siegfried Fuchs, "the crucial role that the German world has played in originating present-day Italian culture and nation" (198; cf. letter of DAI president Schede, 189). Although Fröhlich discusses, as does Jansen, the role of Kossinna's pupil and Rosenberg's pawn Hans Reinerth,13 there is no mention of the latter's conflict with G. Bersu, president of the Römisch-Germanische Kommission, forced to resign and then to exile himself in England, where, as a prisoner of war he conducted under military surveillance the magnificent excavations in the Isle of Man.14

Jürgen Krüger's article on architectural issues, "The Crown Prince and his Ambassador: Two Persons in the Service of Roman Archaeology", probes into how culture envoy Carl Bunsen's letters about the progress in the identification of the Roman fora shaped Prussian emperor Friedrich Wilhelm's ideas on urban landscape as expression of national identity, and their architectural consequences in Berlin. The name of one Roman emperor is misspelled, the transcription of a French letter of Bunsen to the architect Canina includes six mistakes in language, and Krüger's article turns out to be largely a translation of his German article in Stiftung Preussische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg Jahrbuch 1995/1996, which should have been acknowledged in the text.

"Archaeology Without Identity? Antiquity and French Archaeological Research Around the Mediterranean (1850-1945)", by Philippe Foro and Sara Rey is an article that makes one wonder if the struggle between nations for archaeological prestige, alluded to everywhere in this volume, has ever stopped or, as some dignified statements suggest (e.g. "French national identity does not depend solely on archaeology. France is a venerable nation and it did not require archaeological finds to define it", 106) actually continues in the book itself.

The authors pay sufficient attention to the geopolitics of archaeology (e.g. the excavations in Greece in 1900: "the French at Delos, Delphi, Argos and Thasos, the Germans at Olympia, Thebes and Samos, the Americans at Argos and Corinth, the British at Sparta and Megalopolis, the Italians in Crete and the Austrians at Samothrace", 98). The authors remind us that the École française de Rome was mostly doing "indirect archaeology" (a formula coined for "autopsies of monuments and museum collections", 100), and it is consequently in the Maghreb, not in Italy, that the French learned how to dig. Syria and Lebanon, during the French mandates, have also offered a sumptuous archaeological playground: Dura Europos, Palmyra, Baalbek and so on.

Two muddled articles on Italian archaeology with careless English translations are put forward by Guidi and Palombi. Alessandro Guidi ("Italian Prehistoric Archaeology in the International Context") deplores the fact that syntheses of Italian prehistory are offered in the between-the-war period mainly by foreign scholars (118), as if the nationality of their authors was relevant here. Opening with Mommsen's words "Prähistorie ist die Wissenschaft der Analphabeten", the article describes quarrels between factions of Italian prehistorians as well as the Schliemann/de Rossi polemics, and follows Italian prehistoric archaeology up to the celebrated First Congress of Mediterranean Prehistory and Protohistory, Florence 1950.

Domenico Palombi ("Archaeology and National Identity in the Work of Rodolfo Lanciani") is concerned here less with Lanciani the author of Forma Urbis Romae and of Storia degli Scavi di Roma, than with Lanciani's political side, e.g. -- his work with nationalistic overtones about the Second Punic War and Cannae, as well as on other Roman themes, one of which, about the Roman defensive system in the Alps, was even read in front of the troops in 1916. The article is valuable for the extensive documentation of Lanciani's discourses in the second half of the First World War against the German presence on the Campidoglio.

Two other Italian archaeologists are the subject of contributions by Rachele Dubbini ("Giulio Emanuele Rizzo, Lo studio della grecità contro la romanescheria fascista") and Nathalie de Haan, "Umberto Zanotti Bianco and the Archaeology of Magna Graecia during the Fascist Era". Rizzo is the only Italian archaeologist to have signed Croce's Contromanifesto (1925), the answer to the Manifesto of the Fascist Intellectuals. "The study of Greek art", to which a politically blasé Rizzo dedicates himself in an era of "studi romanolatrici", is, for the author, the "expression of individual freedom, [. . .] a form of intellectual antifascism" (229).

One of Rizzo's former students, Paola Zancani Montuoro, was to help the hero of the next article, Zanotti Bianco to discover, excavate, and publish the most famous Greek monument discovered in the thirties, the Heraion at the Foce del Sele. In a time when Italy had to be seen as the colonizer and not the colonized, the Government was bothered by the international attention (fostered by the strange charm of the metopes) received by the discovery of these Greek archaic remains, which were also published by Zanotti Bianco and Zancani Montuoro without the mandatory words of flattery and allegiance to Mussolini. Therefore Zanotti Bianco's Società per la Magna Grecia, which was sponsoring the excavations, was dissolved: "the principal motive given was that the financial resources provided by the state were sufficient for all archaeological activities" (245).15

The final chapter (Martijn Eickhoff, "Meaningful silence? Alexander W. Byvanck and the Archaeology of Fascist Rome") focuses on the reactions of Dutch classical archaeologist A.Byvanck to the developments in Roman fascist archaeology in the 30s. As an antiquarian (his main work is "Excerpta Romana", misspelled "Exerpta" at 254) he visits Greek as well as Roman ruins in Italy and he appears to have considered the Mostra Augustea della Romanità "un-academic foolishness" (260). On the other hand, his account of the 1939 Archaeological Congress does not chronicle the political side of the event (telegrams sent to Hitler etc.), and despite knowing of only a couple of small segments of Roman roads in his country, he lectures at the Istituto di Studi Romani about the great Roman roads of the Netherlands.

Twelve of the thirteen English contributions are not written by native speakers and the book was released to print with minimal editorial intervention; I counted four dozen instances of typos and other (sometimes tragicomic) abuse of language, quite evenly spread across the book so as not to privilege any author. The book has no index, no common bibliography, and longer footnotes continue as endnotes. These technical failures, combined with the poor integration of previous scholarship, and a certain theoretical naïveté make it harder for this work to find its niche in the abundant literature on archaeology and nationalism.


1.   S. Tomaskova: "Nationalism, Local Histories and the Making of Data in Archaeology", Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2003, 485-507.
2.   S. Jones, The Archaeology of Ethnicity: Constructing Identities in the Past and Present. New York, 1997.
3.   N. Schlanger, J. Nordbladh, eds., Archives, Ancestors, Practices: Archaeology in the Light of its History 2008.
4.   S. Scham, "Mediating Nationalism and Archaeology: A Matter of Trust?" Am. Anthrop. 100.2 1998, 301-308; Ph. Kohl, "Nationalism and Archaeology: On the Constructions of Nations and the Reconstructions of the Remote Past", Annual Review of Anthropology 27, 1998, 223-246; Ph. Kohl, C. Fawcett, Nationalism, Politics, and the Practice of Archaeology. Cambridge, 1995 and its sequel Ph. Kohl et al, eds., Selective Remembrances - Archaeology in the Construction, Commemoration and Consecration of National Pasts, Chicago 2007.
5.   Liah Greenfeld, Nationalism, Five Roads to Modernity, Cambridge, 1992:3.
6.   " Nationalism [. . .] locates the source of individual identity within a people which is the basis of collective solidarity". Greenfeld, id.
7.   "Humanity is naturally divided into nations". . . "Nationalism supplies a criterion for the determination of the unit of population proper to enjoy a government exclusively its own and for the legitimate exercise of power in the state". E. Kedourie, Nationalism, London, 1960.
8.   "Nationalism is a principle: the political and national unit should be congruent". . . "[it] is a theory of political legitimacy which requires that ethnic boundaries should not cut across political ones". E. Gellner, Nations and nationalism, Cornell Univ. Press,1983:1.
9.   C. Calhoun, Nationalism, Minneapolis, 1997:11.
10.   Neither used, nor mentioned in this book: M. Galaty, Ch. Watkinson, eds., Archaeology under Dictatorship, New York, 2004 (esp. contributions by editors, Begg, Altekamp and Arnold); M. Díaz-Andreu, A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology: Nationalism, Colonialism and the Past, Oxford 2007, esp. part IV; J. F. Goode, Negotiating for the Past: Archaeology, Nationalism, and Diplomacy in the Middle East, 1919-1941, Austin, 2007; J.A. Atkinson et al., eds., Nationalism and Archaeology, Glasgow, 1996; R. Ridley. The Eagle and the Spade: Archaeology in Rome during the Napoleonic Era, Cambridge, 1992.
11.   See Y. Hamilakis, The Nation and its Ruins: Antiquity, Archaeology, and National Imagination in Greece, Oxford, 2007, 110sq. and 197, and N. Sakka's article on the Agora excavations in: D. Damaskos, D. Plantzos, eds., Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece, Athens, 2008.
12.   Unfortunately no use is made of valuable contributions to the Nationalist/Nazi German archaeology such as I. Wiwjorra in: M. Diaz-Andreu, Timothy Champion, eds., Nationalism and Archaeology in Europe, Boulder and San Francisco, 1996; B. Arnold and H. Hassmann in: Kohl-Fawcett, 1995 (supra n. 4); H. Härke, ed., Archaeology, Ideology and Society: the German Experience, Frankfurt, 2002.
13.   For Reinerth, a Transylvanian-born Tübingen professor, see now B. Mees, The Science of the Swastika, CEU Press, 2008, 111-135.
14.   Add to the joint bibliography of these three articles: for pre-Nazi exploitation of prehistoric archaeology, H. Fehr, "Prehistoric Archaeology and German Ostforschung: the Case of the Excavations at Zantoch", Archaeologia Polona, 2004. 42; for Nazi exploitation of pseudoarchaeology (e.g. Himmler's 4500 megaliths in Sachsenhain), B. Arnold in: G. Fagan, Archaeological Fantasies, New York, 2006; overview from the French side, A. Schnapp, "L'autodestruction de l'archéologie allemande sous le régime nazi, Vingtième Siècle". Revue d'histoire,78.2, 2003.
15.   Just as the Greek contribution to the Italian space was downplayed by Mussolini, prehistoric and Ottoman ruins were neglected in Israel, see N. Silberman, Between Past and Present: Archaeology, Ideology, and Nationalism in the Modern Middle East, New York, 1990.

Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest
Index for 2009
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review
Bryn Mawr Classical Commentaries

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

HTML generated at 20:02:36, Sunday, 24 January 2010