Men at War: Masculinity and Military Ideals in the Risorgimento

TitleMen at War: Masculinity and Military Ideals in the Risorgimento
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsRiall, Lucy
EditorPatriarca, Silvana, and Lucy Riall
Book TitleThe Risorgimento Revisited: Nationalism and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Italy
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
CityHoundmills, UK

National identity rests on a range of positive and negative stereotypes, derived from self-perceptions and the opinions of outsiders. Among negative Italian stereotypes, there have been few as strong and as influential as the view of the Italian people as soft, cowardly and reluctant to fight. In the Risorgimento, Italian patriots inherited a large stock of images of their nation’s military decline going back to Machiavelli; and this decline seemed confirmed by recent events when, during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, the peninsula had become a battlefield for foreign powers, a battlefield in which Italians were little more than hostages or reluctant participants. As peace returned to their country after 1815, Italians ‘faced the modern world … with the bad reputation of being an unwarlike, even cowardly people … without any great military tradition to call their own’. This chapter discusses Italy's national self-perception and its identification with military strength, or lack thereof, as well as the oft-made connections between military defeat and femininity.

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