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Politics of relics: On the celebration of the fallen of the First World War during the interwar period in Italy


Daniele Pisani


This paper explores the way in which the fallen of the First World War were commemorated in Italy between 1918 and 1940. At the end of the war, numerous spontaneous local monuments were constructed. At the same time, the many small war cemeteries established near the former battlefield areas began to be perceived as a problem. Shortly before the Second World War, in order to bury all the exhumed bodies, the Fascist Regime constructed huge war memorials (ossari and sacrari). However, this was also a means of taking advantage of the fallen for ideological and political purposes. This paper focuses on the connection between the sacralisation of the battlefields by way of raising ossari and sacrari, on the one hand, and the spread of ‘fragments’ of these battlefields all around the country, on the other. The latter phenomenon has not yet attracted significant interest from researchers. Boulders from the battlefields began to appear in the middle of village, town, and city squares across the country. They were considered ‘sacred’ since they were where hundreds of thousands of soldiers had fallen, ensuring Italy’s victory. As the boulders themselves were imbued with the fallen’s sacred blood, they were not carved but rather displayed within the monuments in their ‘natural’ shape. They were not intended to represent anything or communicate a specific message regarding war and death; they simply had to present themselves. The stone of which they were made was their main feature: just like relics, they emanated a sacred aura. Through their physical dissemination, the whole national territory could therefore be sacralised. To take their cue from this rebirth of relics were the ossari and sacrari of the late Fascist Regime, which used them as a propaganda weapon.


Commemoration, Fascists, First World War, Italian history, War memorials 

How to Cite:

Pisani, D. (2021). Politics of relics: On the celebration of the fallen of the First World War during the interwar period in Italy, Historical Encounters, 8(3), 55-72.


  • Published 22 December 2021

  • Double Blind Peer Reviewed

  • Author Retains Copyright

  • Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 License

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