Mazzini and Garibaldi’s Roman Republic
After Pope Pius IX withdrew his support to the Italian armies and volunteers fighting the war for independence against Austria in northern Italy in April 1848, the internal situation in Rome became difficult. The supporters of the Risorgimento and of Italian unification, including returning volunteers from the war in Lombardy and Veneto and republicans, kept agitating. The new Papal Prime Minister, Pellegrino Rossi, instead refused the war for unification and only supported a confederation of monarchies. In November 1848 Rossi was stabbed to death while entering the Government’s palace (Palazzo della Cancelleria). The Pope escaped from Rome southwards and obtained refuge in Gaeta, a highly fortified port north of Naples. There he was hosted by the King of the Two Sicilies, Ferdinando II of Bourbon, the most reactionary Italian King, who was crushing the liberals and had started to re-conquer rebellious Sicily. The joint portraits of the two strongest opponents of the Risorgimento are displayed in a medal minted on behalf of the Neapolitan Army in order to thank the Pope for his long visit to Gaeta. A series of fictitious Papal coins were minted privately in Paris, highlighting that Papal authority had been transferred to “Gaëte” (the French spelling of the town’s name), represented here by a copper Scudo, a coin that should have been in silver, had it been authentic.
After several weeks of attempts to convince the Pope to return to Rome, local authorities decided to call the citizens of the Papal states to elect a Constituent Assembly which would decide the future of the country. Several foreigners were elected, including Mazzini and Garibaldi from Liguria and Cernuschi from Milan. Once elected, the new assembly rapidly voted the creation of the Roman Republic on 9 February 1849. We have here displayed a medal carried by a member of the Assembly, whose title, following the example of the French revolution, was “Representative of the People”, surrounded by a civic crown of oak leaves.
The initial government of the Republic was an Executive Committee of three members (Armellini, Montecchi and Saliceti). Under its authority a decree of the Constituent Assembly was adopted on 1 March 1849, establishing that “the value of the coins of the Roman Republic is stated in Italian lire”, the same choice made the previous year by the provisional governments of Milan and of the Venetian Republic, in a spirit of unity. Furthermore the description of the images planned for large silver and gold coins was very close to the one used by the Provisional Government of Lombardy (see the July 2016 coin of the month), a standing figure of Italy with the motto “God wants Italy united”. It is possible to imagine the influence of Lombards present in Rome, particularly of Enrico Cernuschi who had been elected a member of the Roman assembly, of its main committee drafting the Constitution and later was sent to negotiate with the French and then headed the Commission for the barricades of the Roman Republic. The same decree imagined that the smaller silver and gold coins would bear the head of Roma galeata, a classicist concession to the silver denari minted before Ceasar and Augustus with the head of the goddess Rome, wearing a winged helmet.
The symbol of the Republic, however, had already been chosen on 22 February. It was the eagle surrounded by the civic crown, holding in its claws the consular fasci: “Lo Stemma della Repubblica Romana avrà nel mezzo l’aquila circondata dalla corona civica e I fasci consolari tra gli artigli. Il legame de’ fasci consolari formerà una benda cadente, che avrà il motto Legge e Forza.” The decree of 1 March indicated that this symbol would be used for copper coins, together with the motto “God and the People” (“Dio e Popolo”). This image was the only one to be minted during the short life of the Republic. In fact the plan to change the local Roman currency into lire was immediately dropped by the Constituent Assembly, even before a Triumvirate, composed by Mazzini, Armellini and Saffi, was elected.
Just a day later, on 2 March, a second decree was issued, directed to solving the concrete need for cash and seignorage income using pre-existing local monetary units, scudi, divided into 100 baiocchi. It authorized the Minister to issue 1 million scudi (equivalent to about 5 million Italian lire) in eroded coinage, with debased silver and copper whose nominal value was equal to only 40% of its real value. Pieces of three baiocchi were immediately introduced.
Such a speedy abandonment of the project to replace traditional local coinage in favour of the lira reflected the reality that it was not possible to make a change in the monetary system while at the same time saddling the new system with such a massive loss of real value due to the financial emergency.
As a consequence coins in debased silver were minted in substantial quantity with the eccentric values of 40, 16, 8 and 4 baiocchi, and copper pieces of 3, 1, and ½ baiocchi. To face the financial needs of the hour, paper money was also issued, particularly 24 baiocchi pieces (Boni del Tesoro, that is formally Treasury bonds), carrying the eagle of the Republic and the signature of the Finance Minister and triumvir Armellini, here illustrated. Small private issues to facilitate local trade appeared as well, as the bono for two baiocchi of the baker Pietro Mengarini, operating in the square under the Palazzo Borghese, at the Fontanella Borghese, also illustrated here.
The next episode will complete the history of the Roman Republic of Mazzini and Garibaldi under attack from the French, Austrian, Spanish and Neapolitan armies.
Luca Einaudi, Centre for History and Economics
Centre for History and Economics,
Cambridge CB3 0AG, UK
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