Mare Nostrum (Latin for “Our Sea”) was a Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea. In the years following the unification of Italy in 1861, the term was revived by Italian nationalists who believed that Italy was the successor state to the Roman Empire. The term originally was used by Romans to refer to the Tyrrhenian Sea, following their conquest of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica during the Punic Wars with Carthage. By 30 BC, Roman domination extended from the Iberian Peninsula to Egypt, and Mare Nostrum began to be used in the context of the whole Mediterranean Sea. The rise of Italian nationalism during the “Scramble for Africa” of the 1880s led to calls for the establishment of an Italian colonial empire. The phrase was revived by the Italian poet Gabriele d'Annunzio.
The term was then again used by Benito Mussolini in fascist propaganda, in a similar manner to Adolf Hitler’s concept of “Lebensraum”. Mussolini wanted to re-establish the greatness of the Roman Empire and believed that Italy was the most powerful of the Mediterranean countries after WW1. He declared that “the twentieth century will be a century of Italian power” and created one of the most powerful navies of the world in order to control the Mediterranean Sea. When WW2 started Italy was already a major Mediterranean power that controlled the north and south shores of the central basin. After the fall of France removed the main threat from the west, the British Mediterranean Fleet, with bases in UK-controlled Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Egypt, and Palestine remained the only threat to Italian naval power in the Mediterranean. The invasions of Albania, Greece, and Egypt, and the Siege of Malta sought to extend Axis control over the Sea. Mussolini dreamed of creating an Imperial Italy in his “Mare Nostrum” and promoted the fascist project - to be realized in a future peace conference after the anticipated Axis victory - of an enlarged Italian Empire, stretching from the Mediterranean shores of Egypt to the Indian Ocean shores of Somalia and eastern Kenya. He referred to making the Mediterranean Sea “an Italian lake”. This aim, however, was challenged throughout the campaign by the Allied navies at sea and the Allied armies and resistance movements on land. For example, Greece had easily been incorporated into the Roman Empire, but the new Greek state proved to be too powerful for Italian conquest, and Greece remained independent until German forces arrived to assist the Italian invasion. Despite periods of Axis ascendancy during the Battle of the Mediterranean it was never realized, and ended altogether with the final Italian defeat of September 1943.
Following the 2013 Lampedusa migrant shipwreck, the Italian government, has decided to strengthen the national system for the patrolling of the Mediterranean Sea by authorizing “Operation Mare Nostrum”, a military and humanitarian operation in order to rescue the migrants and arrest the traffickers of immigrants.