Book Review: Imperial City: Rome, Romans And Napoleon, 1796-1815


by Susan Vandiver Nicassio

Welwyn Garden City, Eng: Ravehall Books/Oakville, Ct: David Brown, 2005. Pp. 255. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $37.50. ISBN:1905043066

A look at Rome in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the "love/hate" relationship between Napoleon and the Eternal City, which he saw as a second capital of his empire, to link it with Classical Antiquity, yet viewed with suspicion and never actually visited. 

A complex work, Imperial City is simultaneously a political, social, religious, cultural, and military account, touching upon such matters as Puccini's Tosca and the two Neapolitan campaigns to liberate the city from French rule in 1798 and 1799

Imperial City opens with a look at Papal Rome in the late eighteenth century, a curious city with an awe-some reputation, what would today be called an extensive social safety net, free public education, a widely admired penal code, and yet no political freedom in modern terms. The story then unfolds, during which the city several times changes hands (The Pope, the French, the Neapolitans, the French, the Neapolitans, the Pope, the French again, and so on), as well as the abduction of and exile of two popes, efforts at "modernization," some beneficial and others not, and more. All this is against the background of Napoleon's desire for friendly relations with the Church, if only it would submit to his will. 

A good read for anyone with an interest in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras or the Risorgimento.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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