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'Even the Germans did not do that’: the British military requisition and occupation of the Museo Nazionale di Napoli (December 1943 to June 1944), Online lecture, British School of Rome (BSR), 24 February, 18-19.30pm

From December 1943 to June 1944, the Museo Nazionale (now the Museo Nazionale Archeologico) in Naples was occupied by No. 10 Base Depot of the British Army Medical Corps as a depot for military medical supplies. This paper examines the specific circumstances that led to that requisition and occupation, immediate responses and consequences of those events, and their longer-term implications.  

The Museo Nazionale di Napoli survived the German occupation and Allied bombing of Naples relatively unscathed. As is well-known, a part of its portable collections was evacuated from the museum in June to September 1943, initially to the Abbey of Montecassino and then to the Vatican, with the exception of a portion misappropriated by German armed forces. However, c.75-50% of the collections remained in the museum when the city was occupied by Allied armies in October 1943. British military authorities soon sought to requisition the building for use as a medical stores depot, and despite strong objections by the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Sub-Commission (the unit within Allied military government tasked with protecting cultural property) the occupation went ahead in December 1943. MFAA objections to the occupation played a central role in an Allied military commission of enquiry in early 1944, but despite its recommendation that the requisition be lifted, the unit remained in place until June of that year. Nevertheless, the commission’s broader recommendations were influential in shaping military approaches to the occupation of historical buildings and cultural institutions through the remainder of the Second World War to the present day. 

This paper examines the issues at stake in the occupation of the museum, including the question of (as Eisenhower put it) ‘military necessity’ versus ‘military convenience’, and Neapolitan public opinion. It also considers the analysis of the situation in the subsequent commission of enquiry and how its findings came to influence later practice. 

Nigel Pollard is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Swansea University, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and a former research fellow (1996-97) at the British School at Rome. He is also an adviser to the recently established UK military Cultural Property Protection Unit and a board member of UK Blue Shield, the UK national element of International Blue Shield, sometimes characterised as the ‘Red Cross for monuments’. Initially trained as a Roman archaeologist and historian, Dr. Pollard’s research now focuses on the successes and failures of cultural property protection in the Second World War (including the Allied Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives ‘Monuments Men’ that included BSR Director John Ward-Perkins) and their value as lessons for contemporary policy and practice. He recently published Bombing Pompeii: World Heritage and Military Necessity (University of Michigan Press, 2020) that examines the 1943 bomb damage at Pompeii in its wider contexts, including the evolution of Allied cultural property protection.

This event will take place via Zoom and requires advance registration. Please click here to reserve your place.