Italian Fascist Propaganda: Definition, Techniques & Examples

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the propaganda used by Fascist Italy. We will discover how dictator Benito Mussolini used propaganda to bolster his image and ''package'' his regime as the new Roman Empire.

What do ''Mercury Dimes'' and Fascist Italy Have in Common?

Have any of you ever seen a ''Mercury'' dime? These were the dimes the U.S. produced between 1916-1945. They are called ''Mercury''dimes because the obverse side features the female personification of Liberty, who many people mistakenly have taken for the Roman god, Mercury. The reverse of this dime is what we really want to focus on, however.

The reverse features a symbol called a fasces, which is basically a bundle of wooden rods with an ax-head attached to the top. The fasces was widely used by the Ancient Romans to symbolize power and authority. On the ''Mercury'' dime, an olive branch is coupled with the fasces to indicate America's power, but also its desire for peace.

The Mercury dime, coined between 1916-1945, features a fasces on its reverse.

The word ''fascism'' comes from from the same Latin root word as fasces. It should be no surprise to us that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini used the fasces as a symbol for his fascist regime. Mussolini ruled Italy between 1922-1943. Like his ally, Adolf Hitler, who was dictator of Nazi Germany, Mussolini was skilled at making use of propaganda. In fact, to him, the fasces itself was a propaganda symbol. He used it to represent Italian power, but also to cast a continuity between his regime and that of Ancient Rome. Through the fasces and other forms of propaganda, Fascist Italy was ''packaged'' as the new Roman Empire.

Let's dig deeper and learn about the propaganda of Fascist Italy. We should remember our definition of propaganda: propaganda is basically any form of media used to influence a person's opinion, usually about a political or social issue. Here we go!

The Personality Cult Surrounding Mussolini

Know as Il Duce, (the Leader) Mussolini himself was the center of Italian Fascism and propaganda. As was the case with Hitler, a personality cult developed around him. In 1932, Benito Mussolini wrote a manifesto on fascism called The Doctrine of Fascism. In reality, he had help writing it, but the essay, which he took complete credit for, became a sort of ''Bible'' for Italian Fascism movement. This essay itself a critical work of propaganda, advancing Mussolini's own personal brand of fascism.

Mussolini was also glorified in photos and film footage. He carefully censored the media to ensure that only flattering photos and film footage was released. He was also glorified through statuary and monuments. He was sometimes cast upon a horse giving the Roman salute, which was an arm extending straight out parallel to the ground with the palm face down. Similar to the Nazi salute, except that in the Nazi salute the arm was raised to a 45-degree angle, the Roman salute was a powerful form of propaganda designed to show allegiance to Mussolini and his new Roman Empire.

Mussolini was also the subject of popular songs and slogans. One such slogan proclaimed that Mussolini was always right (''Il Duce ha sempre ragione''). Mussolini was presented to the masses as a fearless and masculine leader who worked tirelessly on behalf of the Italian people. In some sense, he was even cast in a quasi-religious sense: he was the ''savior'' who came to restore the Roman Empire.

An official photograph of Benito Mussolini.

Italian Fascist Propaganda Posters

Like other nations, such as the U.S. and Germany, Italy produced all kinds of propaganda posters during World War II. Early posters tended to center on triumph. They typically glorified Mussolini or portrayed the victories of the Italian Army, which had been busy conquering Ethiopia in 1935-36. Some posters drew on references to Ancient Rome, portraying Mussolini as a new Caesar.

As the war progressed, however, propaganda increasingly demonized those deemed to be enemies of Mussolini's Italy. It often portrayed the Allies destroying Italian civilization and culture. One poster depicts a greedy American soldier looting a Catholic church. Tellingly, in the background, a crucifix has fallen down. In the image, an enemy soldier has his hands full of priceless Italian relics. The message here is clear: don't let Italy fall to the Allies; they will only ravage the nation and strip away its centuries worth of culture.

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