Italian imperialism under Fascism

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The fascist Project to create an Italian Empire from Libya to Somalia after the victory in WWII. In light red the territories of the projected Imperial Italy. Italian Fascist Empire Globe.png
The fascist Project to create an Italian Empire from Libya to Somalia after the victory in WWII. In light red the territories of the projected Imperial Italy.

Imperialism, colonialism and irredentism played an important role in the foreign policy of Fascist Italy. Among the regime's goals were the acquisition of territory considered historically Italian in France (e.g. Nice) and Yugoslavia (e.g. Dalmatia), the expansion of Italy's sphere of influence into the Balkans (e.g. Greece) and the acquisition of more colonies in Africa. The pacification of Libya (1923–32), the invasion of Ethiopia (1935–36), the invasion of Albania (1939), the invasion of France (1940), the invasion of Greece (1940–41) and the invasion of Yugoslavia (1941) were all undertaken in part to add to Italy's national space.

Imperialism Policy or ideology of extending a nations rule over foreign nations

Imperialism is a policy or ideology of extending a nation's rule over foreign nations, often by military force or by gaining political and economic control of other areas. Imperialism was both normal and common worldwide throughout recorded history, the earliest examples dating from the mid-third millennium BC, diminishing only in the late 20th century. In recent times, it has been considered morally reprehensible and prohibited by international law. Therefore, the term is used in international propaganda to denounce an opponent's foreign policy.

Colonialism Creation, and maintenance of colonies by people from another territory

Colonialism is the policy of a nation seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of economic dominance. The colonising country seeks to benefit from the colonised country or land mass. In the process, colonisers imposed their religion, economics, and medicinal practices on the natives. Colonialism is largely regarded as a relationship of domination of an indigenous majority by a minority of foreign invaders where the latter rule in pursuit of its interests.

Fascist Italy (1922–1943)

Fascist Italy is the era of National Fascist Party government from 1922 to 1943 with Benito Mussolini as head of government of the Kingdom of Italy. The Italian Fascists imposed totalitarian rule and crushed political and intellectual opposition, while promoting economic modernization, traditional social values and a rapprochement with the Roman Catholic Church. According to Payne (1996), "[the] Fascist government passed through several relatively distinct phases". The first phase (1923–1925) was nominally a continuation of the parliamentary system, albeit with a "legally-organized executive dictatorship". The second phase (1925–1929) was "the construction of the Fascist dictatorship proper". The third phase (1929–1934) was with less activism. The fourth phase (1935–1940) was characterized by an aggressive foreign policy: Second Italo-Ethiopian War, which was launched from Eritrea and Somaliland; confrontations with the League of Nations, leading to sanctions; growing economic autarky; invasion of Albania; and the signing of the Pact of Steel. The fifth phase (1940–1943) was World War II itself which ended in military defeat, while the sixth and final phase (1943–1945) was the rump Salò Government under German control.



After his appointment as Governor of the Dodecanese in 1936, the fascist leader Cesare Maria De Vecchi started to promote within Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party an idea [1] of a new "Imperial Italy" (Italian : Italia imperiale), one that, like a recreation of the Roman Empire, went beyond Europe and included northern Africa (the Fourth Shore or "Quarta Sponda" in Italian).

Dodecanese Former prefecture in South Aegean, Greece

The Dodecanese are a group of 15 larger plus 150 smaller Greek islands in the southeastern Aegean Sea, off the coast of Asia Minor (Turkey), of which 26 are inhabited. Τhis island group generally defines the eastern limit of the Sea of Crete. They belong to the wider Southern Sporades island group.

Cesare Maria De Vecchi Italian politician

Cesare Maria De Vecchi, 1st Conte di Val Cismon was an Italian soldier, colonial administrator and Fascist politician.

Benito Mussolini Fascist leader of Italy

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy from the fascists' takeover of state power in 1922 until 1943, and Duce from 1919 to his execution in 1945 during the Italian civil war. As dictator of Italy and founder of fascism, Mussolini inspired several totalitarian rulers such as Adolf Hitler.

De Vecchi's dream was an Imperial Italy that included not only all the European territories wanted by the Italian irredentists (Nice, Savoy, Ticino, Dalmatia, Corfu, Malta and Corsica) and populated by Italian communities for many centuries, but even the north African territories (Libya and Tunisia), where Italian emigrants had created "colonies" in the late nineteenth century.

Irredentism political idea of reclaiming areas

Irredentism is any political or popular movement that seeks to claim or reclaim and occupy a land that the movement's members consider to be a "lost" territory from their nation's past.

Nice Prefecture and commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Nice is the seventh most populous urban area in France and the capital of the Alpes-Maritimes département. The metropolitan area of Nice extends beyond the administrative city limits, with a population of about 1 million on an area of 721 km2 (278 sq mi). Located in the French Riviera, on the south east coast of France on the Mediterranean Sea, at the foot of the Alps, Nice is the second-largest French city on the Mediterranean coast and the second-largest city in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region after Marseille. Nice is approximately 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) from the principality of Monaco and 30 kilometres (19 mi) from the French-Italian border. Nice's airport serves as a gateway to the region.

Savoy Cultural-historical region between Western and Central Europe

Savoy is a cultural-historical region between Western and Central Europe. It comprises roughly the territory of the Western Alps between Lake Geneva in the north and Dauphiné in the south.

After 1936 and during World War II, the Greek Dodecanese islands were also included in the project (with the Ionian islands of Zante, Ithaca, etc.) and the fascist regime soon promoted a process of forced Italianization of these Greek islands. [2]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Ithaca Regional unit in Ionian Islands, Greece

Ithaca, Ithaki or Ithaka is a Greek island located in the Ionian Sea, off the northeast coast of Kefalonia and to the west of continental Greece.


Italianization is the spread of Italian culture, people, or language, either by integration or assimilation.

Italy annexed the coastal provinces of its colony of Libya in 1938 and made them national provinces of Italy that were to be Italianized.

In preparation for war with France in 1940, the Fascist regime intended to gain Corsica, Nice, Savoy, and the colonies of Tunisia and Djibouti from France. [3] Foreign Minister Count Ciano on 10 June 1940 issued support for the partition of Switzerland between Germany and Italy, with Italy annexing Ticino, Grisons, and Valais. [4]

Switzerland federal republic in Central Europe

Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is a sovereign state situated in the confluence of western, central, and southern Europe. It is a federal republic composed of 26 cantons, with federal authorities seated in Bern. Switzerland is a landlocked country bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. It is geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning a total area of 41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi), and land area of 39,997 km2 (15,443 sq mi). While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8.5 million is concentrated mostly on the plateau, where the largest cities are located, among them the two global cities and economic centres of Zürich and Geneva.

Canton of Ticino Canton of Switzerland

The canton of Ticino, formally the Republic and Canton of Ticino, is the southernmost canton of Switzerland. Ticino borders the canton of Uri to the north, the canton of Valais to the west, the canton of Graubünden to the northeast, Italy's regions of Piedmont and Lombardy to the south and it surrounds the small Italian enclave of Campione d'Italia.

Canton of Valais Canton of Switzerland

The canton of Valais is one of the 26 cantons of Switzerland, situated in the southwestern part of the country, around the valley of the Rhône from its headwaters to Lake Geneva, separating the Pennine Alps from the Bernese Alps. The canton is simultaneously one of the driest regions of Switzerland in its central Rhône valley and among the wettest, having large amounts of snow and rain up on the highest peaks found in Switzerland. The canton of Valais is widely known for the Matterhorn and resort towns such as Crans-Montana, Saas Fee, Verbier and Zermatt. It is composed of 13 districts and its capital is Sion.

The opinions of De Vecchi were partially accepted [5] by Mussolini in the 1940s, when Italy entered World War II, but found opposition (and scepticism) in the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III.

In 1942, with the Italian occupation of Corsica and Tunisia, the territories of the "Imperial Italy" dreamed of by the fascist De Vecchi were fully in Italian hands, with the exception of Malta, but the project was not politically implemented because the war was turning against the Axis powers. [6]

First step: the Dodecanese

De Vecchi effected the first step towards an Italia Imperiale (or Grande Italia) when in 1936, as Italian Governor of the Dodecanese islands, he imposed official use of the Italian language and created a colony of 7,000 Italians in Rhodes and surrounding islands. [7] In 1940 he was appointed to the Grand Council of Fascism where later, during the Italian occupation of Greece, he proposed that the Kingdom of Italy annex the Dodecanese and Ionian islands, with the island of Chios, which had once belonged to the Republic of Genoa.

Second Step: the Fourth Shore

Another fascist leader, Italo Balbo, promoted actively the development of Italian communities in coastal Libya, after the country was pacified from an Arab guerrilla war. Balbo called Tripolitania and Cyrenaica the Quarta Sponda (Fourth Shore) of Italy in reference to the other three shores (the western, the Adriatic and the southern) of the Italian peninsula.

One of the initial Italian objectives in Libya, indeed, had been the relief of overpopulation and unemployment in Italy through emigration to the undeveloped colony. With security established, systematic "demographic colonization" was encouraged by King Victor Emmanuel III's government. A project initiated by Libya's governor, Italo Balbo, brought the first 20,000 settlers — the "Ventimila" - to Libya in a single convoy in October 1938. More settlers followed in 1939, and by 1940 there were approximately 110,000 Italians in Libya, constituting about 12 percent of the total population. [8]

Plans envisioned an Italian colony of 500,000 settlers by the 1960s: so, the Italians would be 2/3 of the population in coastal Libya by then. Libya's best land was allocated to the settlers to be brought under productive cultivation, primarily in olive groves. Settlement was directed by a state corporation, the "Libyan Colonization Society", which undertook land reclamation and the building of model villages and offered a grubstake and credit facilities to the settlers it had sponsored.

In November 1942, Tunisia was also included in the "Quarta Sponda" (with nearly 100,000 Tunisian Italians), but a few months later it was occupied by the Allies.

Third step: the Western Balkans

In spring 1941, Mussolini - with the help of the German Army - finally defeated Greece and conquered coastal Yugoslavia.

General Vittorio Ambrosio, the commander of the Italian Army during the conquest of Yugoslav Dalmatia, created a military line of occupation from Ljubljana to northern Montenegro that successively was to be considered as the future border of the "Imperial Italy" in the North-Western Balkans. [9] Within the borders to the south were included Fascist Montenegro, Greater Albania and Epirus.

De Vecchi promoted the inclusion of Corfu (with a significant community of the Corfiot Italians), the Ionian islands and the southern Aegean islands (once controlled by the Republic of Venice), in order to form an "arch" that stretched toward the Dodecanese, Lesvos and Chios (Once controlled by the Republic of Genoa).

A project that never materialized

In the 1940s, De Vecchi contemplated an "Imperial Italy" stretching from Europe to north Africa, made of the "Imperial Italy" (with an enlarged Italian Empire in eastern Africa, from the Egyptian shores on the Mediterranean to Somalia).

He dreamt of a powerful Italy enlarged:

In a hopeful peace negotiation following an Axis victory, Mussolini had planned to acquire for his Imperial Italy the full island of Crete (that was mostly German occupied) and the surrounding southern Greek islands, connecting the Italian Dodecanese possessions to the already Italian Ionian islands. [10]

South of the Fourth Shore, some fascist leaders dreamt of an Italian Empire that, starting in the Fezzan, would include Egypt, Sudan and reach Italian East Africa. [11]

The Allied victory in the Second World War ended these projects and terminated all fascist ambitions for the empire.

Finally, in 1947 the Italian Republic formally relinquished sovereignty over all its overseas colonial possessions as a result of the Treaty of Peace with Italy. There were discussions to maintain Tripolitania (a province of Italian Libya) as the last Italian colony, but they were not successful.

In November 1949, the former Italian Somaliland, then under British military administration, was made a United Nations Trust Territory under Italian administration for a period of 10 years. On 1 July 1960, the Trust Territory of Somalia merged with British Somaliland to form the independent Somali Republic.


  1. Baioni, Massimo. Risorgimento in camicia nera. pag. 47
  2. Del Boca, A. Le guerre coloniali del fascismo. p. 71; Galeotti, Carlo. Credere obbedire combattere - I catechismi fascisti. p. 72
  3. Owen Chadwick. Britain and the Vatican during the Second World War. 3rd edition (paperback). Cambridge University Press, 1988. Pp. 104.
  4. MacGregor Knox. Mussolini Unleashed, 1939-1941: Politics and Strategy in fascist Italy's Last War. 1999 Edition. Cambridge, England, UK; New York, New York, USA; Oakleigh, Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. 138.
  5. Baioni, Massimo. Risorgimento in camicia nera. p. 73
  6. Blitzer, Wolf. Century of War. p.125
  7. . Italian rule in the Dodecanese: 1912-1943
  8. Chapin Metz, Helen. Libya: A Country Study. Chapter XIX
  9. Rosselli, Alberto. Storie Segrete. Operazioni sconosciute o dimenticate della seconda guerra mondiale p. 36
  10. Davide Rodogno. Fascism European Empire
  11. Rosselli, Alberto. Storie Segrete. Operazioni sconosciute o dimenticate della seconda guerra mondiale pag. 49

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