Les Miserables, Hitler, And The Nobel Peace Prize: 14 Things You Didn't Know About Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini, Italian statesman circa 1940. (Photo by Roger Viollet via Getty Images)
When you hear the name Benito Mussolini, you probably think "fascist dictator" and "ruthless leader of World War II Italy." While those titles are accurate, there is much more to Mussolini than that. He was an odd and complex ruler who, believe it or not, was a huge fan of Les Mis and once nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Here are 14 things you didn't know about Benito Mussolini.
Mussolini Was A Rotten Kid
Born in 1883, Benito Mussolini was a problem child. He was in constant trouble for fighting and bullying other children, which eventually escalated to assault with a deadly weapon. He was expelled from not one but two schools for stabbing other children, one a fellow classmate at a church-affiliated boarding school and the other his own girlfriend. Mussolini led gangs of neighborhood boys who raided area farms and local businesses and even disrupted church services by pinching, poking, and inflicting pain on random members of the congregation.
Mussolini Taught Schoolchildren
Benito Mussolini's mother, Rosa Maltoni, was an elementary school teacher, and she saw to it that her son graduated high school despite his disciplinary record. Apparently, Mussolini loved terrorizing children so much that, upon completion of his studies, he returned to school as a teacher. His career, however, was short-lived, which was probably for the best. After his failed teaching stint, Mussolini took a series of odd jobs to pay the rent while he spent his nights doing what he surely considered more important than any of these moneymaking endeavors: attending events with socialist organizers.
Mussolini: A Lover Of Literature?
Benito Mussolini was a big fan of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, probably thanks to nightly readings by his father as a child. Mussolini remained passionate about Hugo's work throughout his life, attending public readings of them whenever he could. Like all of us, he probably cried when Fantine died, and that's just a commonality we're all going to have to live with.
Mussolini Fancied Himself A Writer
So enamored was he with literature that Benito Mussolini actually wanted to be a writer himself. He wrote for some newspapers, particularly socialist publications, but journalism wasn't his only focus. He also wrote a steamy historical romance novel that was first published in 1908 called The Cardinal’s Mistress. Of course, Mussolini being Mussolini, he worked a heaping helping of anti-religious themes into all the erotic antics, mocking the Catholic Church between the lines and the sheets.
Mussolini Longed For Ancient Rome
As an Italian, Benito Mussolini had heard tales of the glory of ancient Rome since childhood. It makes sense, then, that one of his goals as Italy's leader was to return the country to its past grandeur. To push his fascist agenda, Mussolini often invoked images of ancient Rome to stir nostalgia in his followers. In fact, the word "fascist" was taken from the Roman word fasces, which meant "authority" in Roman times and had been used previously in the 1800s by Italian radical organizations.
Mussolini And Hitler: A Love–Hate Relationship
When it comes to World War II villains, there were none worse than Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. At first, Mussolini was reluctant to collaborate with the German chancellor, but Hitler wouldn't take no for an answer. He wore Mussolini down, and on May 22, 1939, the two leaders entered into their "Pact of Steel." Soon, however, Mussolini grew frustrated that Hitler refused to discuss his upcoming military plans with him, while Hitler was offended that Mussolini ignored his advice and invaded Greece. The two ruthless leaders may have had an alliance, but it was an uneasy one.
Mussolini Feared The Evil Eye
Benito Mussolini had a number of strange beliefs, one of which was that some people possessed an evil eye and could control the thoughts of whoever was caught in their stare. Mussolini so feared the evil eye that he refused to meet with King Alfonso XIII of Spain because he was certain that the king possessed it. To be fair, some strange and tragic events took place during King Alfonso's state visit to Italy in 1923. A submarine exploded, as did an antique cannon. Two Italian naval officers were swept overboard and drown, and a dam suddenly burst, killing dozens of people. Lastly, a navy officer who shook the king's hand suddenly dropped dead. Mussolini chalked all of these tragedies up to King Alfonso's evil eye.
Mussolini Flip-Flopped Between Socialism And Fascism
Benito Mussolini has gone down in history as a fascist dictator, but he started his political career as a socialist. After all, his father, a socialist in his own right, named Mussolini after Mexico's socialist president and two prominent Italian socialists. Mussolini seemed to follow in his father footsteps in his early adulthood, even writing for socialist newspapers, but his support of World War I put him at odds with Italy's Socialist Party. After he was kicked out, Mussolini founded the Fascist Party.
Mussolini, Castor Oil, And The March On Rome
In the early 1920s, fascists groups were growing in power. It is estimated that, between 1920 and 1922, they had close to 2,000 political opponents killed. They exerted their influence by roughing up their enemies and forcing them to drink castor oil, and on October 22, 1922, Mussolini and his fascist followers participated in what is now known as the March on Rome to seize control of the government. Italian prime minister Luigi Facta and King Victor Emmanuel III found themselves helpless in the face of the Mussolini's army.
Mussolini Dodged Several Assassination Attempts
As the new prime minister of Italy, Benito Mussolini continued to use violence, threats, and intimidation to tighten his control. He censored the media, controlled the courts, and imprisoned anyone who opposed him. In early 1925, he declared himself dictator of Italy, an announcement that spurred his enemies to action. Over the next two years, Mussolini dodged numerous failed assassination attempts, but he threats didn't deter him. Instead, he prohibited local elections, brought back the death penalty for crimes against the state, outlawed opposition parties, and increased the activities of the secret police.
Mussolini Wanted To Be An Emperor
Benito Mussolini's fascination with ancient Rome led to his desire to reestablish an Italian empire. To this end, he briefly took control of the island of Corfu, tightened control of an Italian colony in Libya, invaded Albania, and seized Ethiopia. However, Mussolini's army was not mighty enough to keep up with the dictator's ambitions. They were poorly trained and lacked basic equipment, and Mussolini was an indecisive commander.
About That Nobel Peace Prize
It's true: Benito Mussolini was nominated for the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize. If you're a history buff, you'll recognize 1935 as the same year that Mussolini put more than 75% of Italian businesses under state control and ordered the invasion of Ethiopia. It's shocking enough that Benito Mussolini was supported by even one letter of nomination to the Nobel committee that year, but he was, in fact, the subject of two such letters. One was written by a legal scholar from Germany, and the other by a college professor from France. We will never know the contents of these letters, both of which have mysteriously vanished from the archives of the Nobel Institute, likely much to their writers' relief.
Mussolini Was Caught Trying To Sneak Out Of The Country
As World War II wound down and Germany overtook northern Italy, Benito Mussolini saw the writing on the wall. He attempted to escape by wearing a disguise and sneaking across the border into Switzerland, but the Germans caught him. The next day, he was executed.
An Angry Mob Took Vengeance On Mussolini's Body
The corpses of Benito Mussolini and his longtime mistress, Claretta Petacci, were set upon by an angry mob. One man pushed a dead rodent into Mussolini's mouth while two others repeatedly kicked the dead man's face, shattering the bones in his face and jaw. A woman approached the corpse and shot five bullets into his skull, one for each one of her five sons who died under Mussolini’s rule. Another woman straddled the dead Mussolini and urinated on his face, although most of the crowd was content with less creative violations, simply spitting on the corpse. The bodies of Mussolini, his mistress, and four others were then strung up by their ankles about 6 ft. off the ground as the mob celebrated his death, an undignified end to a tyrannical dictator.