Het concept ‘Italie’ lang vóór de eenwording

Toscane kleurt in de herfst van prachtig okergeel tot dieprood. Foto Michael Robinson via Flickr
Toscane kleurt in de herfst van prachtig okergeel tot dieprood. Foto Michael Robinson via Flickr

Vandaag kijken we naar het concept Italië voor de eenwording van het land. Vergilius, de bekende Latijnse schrijver, heeft het boek ‘Georgica’ geschreven, waarin hij vertelt over de landbouw en de veeteelt in het Romeinse Rijk. Deze zaken werden in het Romeinse Rijk als zeer eervol beschouwd, en het was dan ook niet vreemd dat Vergilius deze zaken verheerlijkte en er gedichten aan wijdde. Ook zijn er verwijzingen naar het land die meer mythisch dan historisch zijn, wat het verhaal nog mooier maakt. Het gaat over het prachtige Italiaanse land (boek II, 136):

But no, not Mede-land with its wealth of woods,
Nor Ganges fair, and Hermus thick with gold,
Can match the praise of Italy; nor Ind,
Nor Bactria, nor Panchaia, one wide tract
Of incense-teeming sand. Here never bulls
With nostrils snorting fire upturned the sod
Sown with the monstrous dragon’s teeth, nor crop
Of warriors bristled thick with lance and helm;
But heavy harvests and the Massic juice
Of Bacchus fill its borders, overspread
With fruitful flocks and olives. Hence arose
The war-horse stepping proudly o’er the plain;
Hence thy white flocks, Clitumnus, and the bull,
Of victims mightiest, which full oft have led,
Bathed in thy sacred stream, the triumph-pomp
Of Romans to the temples of the gods.
Here blooms perpetual spring, and summer here
In months that are not summer’s; twice teem the flocks;
Twice doth the tree yield service of her fruit.
But ravening tigers come not nigh, nor breed
Of savage lion, nor aconite betrays
Its hapless gatherers, nor with sweep so vast
Doth the scaled serpent trail his endless coils
Along the ground, or wreathe him into spires.
Mark too her cities, so many and so proud,
Of mighty toil the achievement, town on town
Up rugged precipices heaved and reared,
And rivers undergliding ancient walls.
Or should I celebrate the sea that laves
Her upper shores and lower? or those broad lakes?
Thee, Larius, greatest and, Benacus, thee
With billowy uproar surging like the main?
Or sing her harbours, and the barrier cast
Athwart the Lucrine, and how ocean chafes
With mighty bellowings, where the Julian wave
Echoes the thunder of his rout, and through
Avernian inlets pours the Tuscan tide?
A land no less that in her veins displays
Rivers of silver, mines of copper ore,
Ay, and with gold hath flowed abundantly.
A land that reared a valiant breed of men,
The Marsi and Sabellian youth, and, schooled
To hardship, the Ligurian, and with these
The Volscian javelin-armed, the Decii too,
The Marii and Camilli, names of might,
The Scipios, stubborn warriors, ay, and thee,
Great Caesar, who in Asia’s utmost bounds
With conquering arm e’en now art fending far
The unwarlike Indian from the heights of Rome.
Hail! land of Saturn, mighty mother thou
Of fruits and heroes; ‘tis for thee I dare
Unseal the sacred fountains, and essay
Themes of old art and glory, as I sing
The song of Ascra through the towns of Rome.

De schrijver Varrus leefde in dezelfde tijd (de 1e eeuw voor Chr.) en schreef ook een boek over de landbouw: Rerum Rusticarum Libri. In dit boek vertelt hij in boek I allereerst over het ideale Italiaanse klimaat, dat de fantastische landbouw mogelijk maakt:

When we had taken our seats Agrasius opened the conversation: “You have all travelled through many lands; have you seen any land more fully cultivated than Italy?” “For my part,” replied Agrius, “I think there is none which is so wholly under cultivation. Consider first: Eratosthenes, following a most natural division, has divided the earth into two parts, one to the south and the other to the north; and since the northern part is undoubtedly more healthful than the southern, while the part which is more healthful is more fruitful, we must agree that Italy at least was more suited to cultivation than Asia. In the first place, it is in Europe; and in the next place, this part of Europe has a more temperate climate than we find farther inland. For the winter is almost continuous in the interior, and no wonder, since its lands lie between the arctic circle and the pole, where the sun is not visible for six months at a time; wherefore we are told that even navigation in the ocean is not possible in that region because of the frozen sea.” “Well,” remarked Fundanius, “do you think that anything can germinate in such a land, or mature if it does germinate? That was a true saying of Pacuvius, that if either day or night be uninterrupted, all the fruits of the earth perish, from the fiery vapour or from the cold. For my part, I could not live even here, where the night and the day alternate at moderate intervals, if I did not break the summer day with my regular midday nap; 6 but there, where the day and the night are each six months long, how can anything be planted, or grow, or be harvested? On the other hand, what useful product is there which not only does not grow in Italy, but even grow to perfection? What spelt shall I compare to the Campanian, what wheat to the Apulian, what wine to the Falernian, what oil to the Venafran? Is not Italy so covered with trees that the whole land seems to be an orchard?

Wijngaarden van Valpolicello

Wijngaarden van Valpolicello

De Griek Strabus, ook uit deze periode, schrijft in zijn boek over geografie het volgende over Italië (boek 6, hoofdstuk 4):

Such, indeed, is the size and such the character of Italy. And while I have already mentioned many things which have caused the Romans at the present time to be exalted to so great a height, I shall now indicate the most important things. One is, that, like an island, Italy is securely guarded by the seas on all sides, except in a few regions, and even these are fortified by mountains that are hardly passable. A second is that along most of its coast it is harbourless and that the harbours it does have are large and admirable. The former is useful in meeting attacks from the outside, while the latter is helpful in making counter-attacks and in promoting an abundant commerce. A third is that it is characterised by many differences of air and temperature, on which depend the greater variation, whether for better or for worse, in animals, plants, and, in short, everything that is useful for the support of life. Its length extends from north to south, generally speaking, and Sicily counts as an addition to its length, already so great. Now mild temperature and harsh temperature of the air are judged by heat, cold, and their intermediates; and so from this it necessarily follows that what is now Italy, situated as it is between the two extremes and extending to such a length, shares very largely in the temperate zone and in a very large number of ways. And the following is still another advantage which has fallen to the lot of Italy; since the Apennine Mountains extend through the whole of its length and leave on both sides plains and hills which bear fine fruits, there is no part of it which does not enjoy the blessings of both mountain and plain. And add also to this the size and number of its rivers and its lakes, and, besides these, the fountains of water, both hot and cold, which in many places nature has provided as an aid to health, and then again its good supply of mines of all sorts. Neither can one worthily describe Italy’s abundant supply of fuel, and of food both for men and beast, and the excellence of its fruits. Further, since it lies intermediate between the largest races on the one hand, and Greece and the best parts of Libya on the other, it not only is naturally well-suited to hegemony, because it surpasses the countries that surround it both in the valour of its people and in size, but also can easily avail itself of their services, because it is close to them.
In dit stuk worden de geografische kenmerken van het land uitgelegd als politieke voordelen: de bergen bieden bescherming, de natuurlijke hulpbronnen bieden welvaart en de buurlanden ondersteuning. Het klimaat is ideaal: niet te warm en niet te koud.


Overigens hoorde Sicilië niet bij dit concept ‘Italië’. Toen Sicilië werd veroverd werd het de 1e Romeinse provincie, net zoals later Gallië, Spanje en Griekenland provincies zouden worden. De letterkundige en wetenschapper Plinius de Oudere (23 – 79 na Chr.) laat ons weten dat Augustus ‘Italië’ in 11 regio’s indeelde. Sicilië en Sardinië zijn daarop niet aanwezig. Deze regio’s zijn waarschijnlijk gecreëerd vanwege een administratieve behoefte van de regering in Rome. Ten tijde van de hervorming van keizer Dioclezianus wordt Italië één diocese, onderverdeeld in 12 provincies, waar tegen die tijd ook Sicilië en Sardinië en Corsica toe behoren.

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