Mare Nostrum

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The Roman Empire in AD 117, when it was at its biggest.

Mare Nostrum (Latin for "Our Sea") was a Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea. In the years after the unification of Italy in 1861, the term was used again by Italian nationalists. They believed that Italy should follow on from the Roman Empire.[1]

Use of the term in Roman times[change | change source]

The term mare nostrum was used in the first place by Romans to refer to the Tyrrhenian Sea. This was after they had taken over the countries around it. These were Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. It happened during the Punic Wars with Carthage. When they controlled Hispania they expanded the term to the whole western Mediterranean. By 30 BC, the Romans had taken over the countries around the Mediterranean from the Iberian Peninsula to Egypt. So they started to use the name mare nostrum for the whole Mediterranean Sea.[2] They used other names as well, such as Mare Internum ("The Internal Sea"). However, they did not use the name "Mediterranean" (Middle Sea), as this name came later.[3]

Use by Italian nationalists[change | change source]

In the 1880's some Italians became interested in nationalism. Other European countries had made colonies in Africa (called the "Scramble for Africa"). They wanted Italy to have African colonies too. The term mare nostrum was used again by the Italian poet Emilio Lipi

Even if the coast of Tripoli were a desert, even if it would not support one peasant or one Italian business firm, we still need to take it to avoid being suffocated in mare nostrum.

Use by Mussolini and the Italian Fascists[change | change source]

The term was again used by Benito Mussolini for use in fascist propaganda. He used it in the same way that Adolf Hitler used the word lebensraum (German for "more space to live in"). It meant they wanted to take over other countries to have more for themselves. Mussolini wanted Italy to be great like the Roman Empire. He believed that Italy was the most powerful Mediterranean country after World War I.[4] He said that "the twentieth century will be a century of Italian power". Mussolini built up a powerful navy so he could control the Mediterranean Sea.[5][6]

When World War II started, Italy already controlled the north and south shores of the middle part of the Mediterranean. The western part was controlled by Spain and France. The eastern part by Greece, Turkey and the British Empire. In 1940 the fall of France removed the main threat from the west. At the same time Italy invaded Greece and Egypt and attacked the island of Malta. Mussolini talked about making the Mediterranean "an Italian lake". The Axis (Italy and Germany together) defeated Greece, but could not defeat the British in Egypt. For the next three years they fought many battles there (called the Western Desert Campaign). The British and Italian navies also fought at sea (this is called the Battle of the Mediterranean). By 1943 the Axis in North Africa had been beaten and in September 1943 Italy was invaded and forced to surrender.

Use of the term today[change | change source]

The name "Mare Nostrum" was chosen for a conference by the Society for Mediterranean Law and Culture. It was held in June 2012 at the University of Cagliari in Sardinia.[7] What they meant by the term was the full diversity of Mediterranean cultures, especially for exchanges and cooperation among Mediterranean nations.[7]

After a 2013 shipwreck near Lampedusa when many migrants from Africa had to be rescued. The Italian government increased its patrolling of the Mediterranean Sea. It called this "Operation Mare Nostrum", which was a military and humanitarian operation to rescue the migrants and arrest the traffickers of immigrants.[8]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Lowe (2002), p.34
  2. Couperus (1993), p.32
  3. Online Etymology Dictionary. "Mediterranean". Accessed 29 Aug 2011.
  4. Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p70 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  5. Fleming, Thomas. The New Dealers' War. Perseus Books,2001
  6. Italian naval operations in the Mediterranean, such as the Battle of Cape Matapan, are included in the Battle of the Mediterranean
  7. 7.0 7.1 "International Law Prof Blog". typepad.com.
  8. "L'OPERAZIONE MARE NOSTRUM - eurasia-rivista.org". eurasia-rivista.org.

Bibliography[change | change source]

  • Lowe, C.J. (2002). Italian Foreign Policy 1870-1940. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-27372-2
  • Tellegen-Couperus, Olga (1993). Short History of Roman Law. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-07251-4
  • Talbert, R., M. E. Downs, M. Joann McDaniel, B. Z. Lund, T. Elliott, S. Gillies. Places: 1043 (Internum Mare). Pleiades. Retrieved 1 July 2015