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History of Italy
A collage of Italy's history
This article is part of a series
Early periods
Prehistoric Italy
Etruscan Italy
Magna Graecia (8th–7th c. BC)
Ancient Rome and Italia (Roman province) (8th c. BC – 6th c. AD)
Middle Ages
Regnum Italicum and Kingdom of the Lombards (6th–11th c.
Later Middle Ages (11th–14th c.)
Early modern periods
Italian Renaissance (14th–16th c.)
Italian Wars (1494–1559)
Foreign domination and Early Modern Italy(1559–c. 18th)
Parthenopean Republic and Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy (1799–1814)
Unification (Risorgimento)(1814–1861)
Modern history
Monarchy (1861–1945)
World War I (1914–1918)
Fascism and Colonial Empire (1918–1939)
World War II and Social Republic (1940–1945)
Italian Republic (1945–present) and Modern Italian history (1970s–1980s)
By topic
Military history
Historical states
Fashion history
City-states
Postal history
Wine history
Railway history
Currency history
Other
History of Rome
History of Milan
History of Naples
History of Palermo
History of Florence
History of Venice
History of Verona
History of Taranto
History of Tuscany
History of Sicily
History of Trentino
History of South Tyrol
History of Sardinia
Monarchs and Consorts
List of Italian monarchs
List of Italian consorts
List of Roman and Byzantine Empresses
List of consorts of Naples
List of Sardinian consorts
List of Sicilian consorts
List of consorts of the Two Sicilies
List of consorts of Savoy
List of consorts of Tuscany
List of consorts of Montferrat
List of consorts of Parma
List of consorts of Urbino
List of consorts of Modena
List of kings of the Lombards
List of monarchs of Naples
List of monarchs of Sardinia
List of monarchs of Sicily
List of monarchs of the Two Sicilies
List of rulers of Tuscany
List of viceroys of Naples
List of viceroys of Sicily

Italy Portal
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Italy, united in 1861, has significantly contributed to the cultural and social development of the entire Mediterranean area. Many cultures and civilizations have existed there since prehistoric times.

Culturally and linguistically, the origins of Italian history can be traced back to the 9th century BC, when earliest accounts date the presence of Italic tribes in modern central Italy. Linguistically they are divided into Oscans, Umbrians and Latins. Later the Latin culture became dominant, as Rome emerged as the dominant city around 350 BC. Other pre-Roman civilizations include Magna Graecia in Southern Italy and the earlier Etruscan civilization, which flourished between 900 and 100 BC in the Center North.

After the Roman Republic and Empire that dominated this part of the world for many centuries came an Italy whose people would make immeasurable contributions to the development of European philosophy, science, and art during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Dominated by city-states for much of the medieval and Renaissance period, the Italian peninsula also experienced several foreign dominations. Parts of Italy were annexed to the Spanish, the Austrian and Napoleon's empire, while the Vatican maintained control over the central part of it, before the Italian Peninsula was eventually liberated and unified amidst much struggle in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Contents

Origins of the name

The name Italy (Italia) is an ancient name for the country and people of Central Italy. Mythological roots of the name date back to a legendary ancient king named 'Italus', though a more likely origin may be from ancient Oscan 'Vitaliu' (English: 'veal'), as Italy was a land rich in cattle since ancient times. The name Italia was imposed upon the Roman Republic by the conquering Italic tribes of the contemporary Abruzzo region, centering in the area of Corfinium (Corfinio). Coins bearing the name Italia were minted by an alliance of Italic tribes (Sabines, Samnites, Umbrians and others) competing with Rome in the 1st century BC. By the time of Emperor Augustus, the multi-ethnic territory of Italy was included in the Roman province Italia as the central unit of the Empire; Cisalpine Gaul, the Upper Po valley, for example, was appended in 42 BC. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Lombard invasions, "Italy" or "Italian" gradually became the collective name for diverse states appearing on the peninsula and their overseas properties. Pallotino claims that the name was originally derived from the Itali settled in modern Calabria. The Greeks gradually came to use the name for a greater region, but it was not until the time of the Roman conquests that the term was expanded to cover the entire peninsula. [1]

Prehistoric Italy

In prehistoric times, the Italian peninsula was rather different than it is now. During glaciations, for example, the islands of Elba and Sicily were connected to the mainland. The Adriatic Sea began at what is now the Gargano peninsula, and what is now its surface up to Venice was a fertile plain with a humid climate.

The presence of the Homo neanderthalensis has been demonstrated in archaeological findings dating to c. 50,000 years ago (late Pleistocene). There are some twenty such sites, the most important being that of the Grotta Guattari at San Felice Circeo, on the Tyrrhenian Sea south to Rome. Other are the grotta di Fumane (province of Verona), grotta San Bernardino ( province of Vicenza) and the Breuil grotto, also in San Felice.

Modern man appeared during the upper Palaeolithic. Remains of the Aurignacian variety have been found in the grotto of Fumane, dating to c. 34.000 years ago.

Remains of the later prehistoric age have been found in Liguria, Lombardy (stone carvings in Valcamonica) and in Sardinia (nuraghe). The most famous is perhaps that of Ötzi the Iceman, the mummy of a mountain hunter found in the Similaun glacier in South Tyrol, dating to c. 3000 BC (Copper Age).

Petroglyph in Foppe of Nadro
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Neolithic

Important relics of neolithic Italy are the Rock Drawings in Valcamonica, dating from about 8000 BC.

Copper Age (37th to 15th c. BC)

The Remedello culture took over the Po Valley.

Bronze Age (15th to 8th c. BC)

The Terramare culture takes its name from the black earth (terremare) residue of settlement mounds, which have long served the fertilizing needs of local farmers. The occupations of the terramare people as compared with their Neolithic predecessors may be inferred with comparative certainty. They were still hunters, but had domesticated animals; they were fairly skillful metallurgists, casting bronze in moulds of stone and clay, and they were also agriculturists, cultivating beans, the vine, wheat and flax. It is thought the Terramare culture may be an early manifestation of Italic-speaking Indo-Europeans.

Iron Age (8th to 5th c BC)

The Villanovan culture brought iron-working to the Italian peninsula; Villanovans practiced cremation and buried the ashes of their dead in pottery urns of distinctive double-cone shape. Generally speaking, Villanovan settlements were centered in the Po River valley and Etruria around Bologna, later an important Etruscan center, and areas in Emilia Romagna (at Verruchio and Fermi), in Tuscany and Lazio. Further south, in Campania, a region where inhumation was the general practice, Villanovan cremation burials have been identified at Capua, at the "princely tombs" of Pontecagnano near Salerno (finds conserved in the Museum of Agro Picentino) and at Sala Consilina.

Etruscans

A culture that is identifiably and certainly Etruscan developed in Italy after about 800 BC approximately over the range of the preceding Iron Age Villanovan culture. The latter gave way in the 5th century to an increasingly orientalizing culture that was influenced also by Greek neighbors in Magna Graecia, the Hellenic civilization of southern Italy. The Etruscans are generally believed to have spoken a non-Indo-European language or an ancient anatolic language (Luvio).Some inscriptions (500 BC) in a similar Etruscan language have been found on the Egean island of Lemnos. Etruscans were a monogamous society that emphasized pairing. The historical Etruscans had achieved a state system of society, with remnants of the chiefdom and tribal forms. In this they were ahead of the surrounding Italics, who still had chiefs and tribes. Rome was in a sense the first Italic state, but it began as an Etruscan one. The Etruscan system of belief was an immanent polytheism; that is, all visible phenomena were considered to be a manifestation of divine power, and that power was subdivided into deities that acted continually on the world of man and could, by human action or inaction, be dissuaded against or persuaded in favor of human affairs. Rome was founded in Etruscan territory. Despite the words of the sources, which indicated that Campania and Latium also had been Etruscan, scholars took the view that Rome was on the edge of Etruscan territory. Near the Etruscan center of Viterbo, an Etruscan citadel now called Acquarossa was destroyed ca 500 BC and never rebuilt, thus preserving relatively undisturbed Etruscan structures, which have been excavated under the auspices of the Swedish Institute at Rome.

The origins of the Etruscans are lost in prehistory. The main hypotheses are that they are indigenous, probably stemming from the Villanovan culture, or that they are the result of invasion from the north or the Near East.

Etruscan expansion was focused both to the north beyond the Apennines and into Campania. Some small towns in the 6th century BC have disappeared during this time, ostensibly consumed by greater, more powerful neighbors. However, there exists no doubt that the political structure of the Etruscan culture was similar, albeit more aristocratic, to Magna Graecia in the south. The mining and commerce of metal, especially copper and iron, led to an enrichment of the Etruscans and to the expansion of their influence in the Italian peninsula and the western Mediterranean sea. Here their interests collided with those of the Greeks, especially in the sixth century BC, when Phoceans of Italy founded colonies along the coast of France, Catalonia and Corsica. This led the Etruscans to ally themselves with the Carthaginians, whose interests also collided with the Greeks.[2][3]

Around 540 BC, the Battle of Alalia led to a new distribution of power in the western Mediterranean Sea. Though the battle had no clear winner, Carthage managed to expand its sphere of influence at the expense of the Greeks, and Etruria saw itself relegated to the northern Tyrrhenian Sea with full ownership of Corsica. From the first half of the fifth century, the new international political situation meant the beginning of the Etruscan decline after losing their southern provinces. In 480 BC, Etruria's ally Carthage was defeated by a coalition of Magna Graecia cities led by Syracuse. A few years later, in 474, Syracuse's tyrant Hiero defeated the Etruscans at the Battle of Cumae. Etruria's influence over the cities of Latium and Campania weakened, and it was taken over by Romans and Samnites. In the fourth century, Etruria saw a Gallic invasion end its influence over the Po valley and the Adriatic coast. Meanwhile, Rome had started annexing Etruscan cities. This led to the loss of their north provinces. Etruscia was assimilated by Rome around 500 BC.[2][3]

Etruscan walled town, Civita di Bagnoregio.
The wolf, feeding the twins Romulus and Remus, probably the most famous legend of the founding of the city.

Those who subscribe to an Italic foundation of Rome, followed by an Etruscan invasion, typically speak of an Etruscan “influence” on Roman culture; that is, cultural objects that were adopted at Rome from neighboring Etruria. The prevalent view today is that Rome was founded by Italics and merged with Etruscans later. In that case Etruscan cultural objects are not a heritage but are influences.

The main criterion for deciding whether an object originated at Rome and traveled by influence to the Etruscans, or descended to the Romans from the Etruscans, is date. Many, if not most, of the Etruscan cities were older than Rome. If we find that a given feature was there first, it cannot have originated at Rome. A second criterion is the opinion of the ancient sources. They tell us outright that certain institutions and customs came from the Etruscans. Rome is located on the edge of what was Etruscan territory. When Etruscan settlements turned up south of the border, it was presumed that the Etruscans spread there after the foundation of Rome, but the settlements are now known to have preceded Rome.

Etruscan settlements were frequently built on a hill — the steeper the better — and surrounded by thick walls. According to Roman mythology, when Romulus and Remus founded Rome, they did so on the Palatine Hill according to Etruscan ritual; that is, they began with a pomerium or sacred ditch. Then, they proceeded to the walls. Romulus was required to kill Remus when the latter jumped over the wall, breaking its magic spell (see also under Pons Sublicius). The name of Rome is believed by some to be Etruscan, occurring in a standard form stating “place from which”: Velzna-χ, “from Velzna”, Sveama-χ, “from Sveama”, Ruma-χ, “from Ruma”. We do not know what it means however. If Tiberius is from θefarie, then Ruma would have been placed on the Thefar river. A heavily discussed topic between scholars is who was the founding population of Rome. In 390 BC the city of Rome was attacked by the Gauls, and as a result may have lost many - though not all - of its earlier records. Certainly, the history of Rome before that date is not as secure as it later becomes, but enough material remains to give a good picture of the development of the city and its institutions.

Later history relates that some Etruscans lived in the Tuscus vicus, the “Etruscan quarter”, and that there was an Etruscan line of kings (albeit ones descended from a Greek, Demaratus the Corinthian) which succeeded kings of Latin and Sabine origin. Etruscophile historians would argue that this, together with evidence for institutions, religious elements and other cultural elements, prove that Rome was founded by Italics. The true picture is rather more complicated, not least because the Etruscan cities were separate entities which never came together to form a single Etruscan state. Furthermore, there were strong Latin and Italic elements to Roman culture, and later Romans proudly celebrated these multiple, 'multicultural' influences on the city.

Under Romulus and Numa Pompilius the people were said to have been divided into thirty curiae and three tribes. Very few words of Etruscan entered the Latin language, but the names of at least two of the tribes — Ramnes and Luceres — seem to be Etruscan.

Magna Graecia

In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, for various reasons, including demographic crisis (famine, overcrowding, etc.), the search for new commercial outlets and ports, and expulsion from their homeland, Greeks began to settle in southern Italy (Cerchiai, pp. 14-18). Also during this period, Greek colonies were established in places as widely separated as the eastern coast of the Black Sea and Massalia (Marseille). They included settlements in Sicily and the southern part of the Italian peninsula. The Romans called the area of Sicily and the foot of the boot of Italy Magna Graecia (Latin, “Great Greece”), since it was so densely inhabited by the Greeks. The ancient geographers differed on whether the term included Sicily or merely Apulia and CalabriaStrabo being the most prominent advocate of the wider definitions.

With this colonization, Greek culture was exported to Italy, in its dialects of the Ancient Greek language, its religious rites and its traditions of the independent polis. An original Hellenic civilization soon developed, later interacting with the native Italic and Latin civilisations. The most important cultural transplant was the Chalcidean/Cumaean variety of the Greek alphabet, which was adopted by the Etruscans; the Old Italic alphabet subsequently evolved into the Latin alphabet, which became the most widely used alphabet in the world.

Many of the new Hellenic cities became very rich and powerful, like Capua, Neapolis (Νεάπολις, Naples), Syracuse, Acragas, Sybaris, (Σύβαρις). Other cities in Magna Graecia included Tarentum (Τάρας), Epizephyrian Locris (Λοκροί Ἐπιζεφύριοι), Rhegium (Ῥήγιον), Croton (Κρότων), Thurii (Θούριοι), Elea (Ἐλέα), Nola (Νῶλα), Ancona (Ἀγκών), Syessa (Σύεσσα), Bari (Βάριον) and others.

Following the Pyrrhic War, Magna Graecia was absorbed into the Roman Republic

In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, driven by unsettled conditions at home, Greek colonies were established in Sicily and the southern part of the Italian peninsula. During the Early Middle Ages, following the Gothic War that was disastrous for the region, new waves of Byzantine Christian Greeks came to Magna Graecia from Greece and Asia Minor, as southern Italy remained loosely governed by the Eastern Roman Empire until the advent first of the Lombards, then of the Normans. Moreover, the Byzantines found in southern Italy people of common cultural root, the Greek-speaking eredi ellenofoni of Magna Graecia. The main city of Magna Graecia was Naples, especially in 420 BC, when the port of the city became one of the most important of the mediterranean sea [4].

Romans (5th c. BC to 5th c. AD)

See also: Italia (Roman province)

The Colosseum in Rome, built in the 1st century AD

Beginning and Kingdom

According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus and Remus, and was then governed by seven Kings of Rome. In the following centuries, Rome started expanding its territory, defeating its neighbours (Veium, the other Latins, the Samnites) one after the other.

The traditional account of Roman history, which has come down to us through Livy, Plutarch, Dionysius of Halicarnassus and others, is that in Rome's first centuries, it was ruled by a succession of seven kings. The traditional chronology, as codified by Varro, allots 243 years for their reigns, an average of almost 35 years, which, since the work of Barthold Georg Niebuhr, has been generally discounted by modern scholarship. The Gauls destroyed all of Rome's historical records when they sacked the city after the Battle of the Allia in 390 BC (Varronian, according to Polybius the battle occurred in 387/6), so no contemporary records of the kingdom exist, and all accounts of the kings must be carefully questioned.[5]

Italia, under the Roman Republic and later Empire, was the Italian peninsula from Rubicon to Calabria. During the Republic, Italia was not a province, but rather the territory of the city of Rome, thus having a special status: for example, military commanders were not allowed to bring their armies within Italia, and Julius Caesar passing the Rubicon with his legions marked the start of the civil war.

Roman Italy (in green) as organized by Augustus c. 7 AD.

Octavius was awarded the titles of Augustus and Princeps by what remained of the Senate, and was proclaimed Imperator (which at the time only meant "supreme commander") by his Legions. Even if he was careful to abide the rules of the old republic, Octavius actually ruled as an Emperor, and the Roman Empire was born. This became apparent in 14 AD, when he died and was succeeded by his adoptive son, the former general Tiberius.

The Battle of Actium resulted in the defeat and subsequent suicides of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Octavian, now sole ruler of Rome, began a full-scale reformation of military, fiscal and political matters. The powers that he secured for himself were identical in form, if not in name, to those that his predecessor Julius Caesar had secured years earlier as Roman Dictator.

In 36 BC, he was given the power of a Plebeian Tribune, which gave him veto power over the senate, the ability to control the principle legislative assembly (the Plebeian Council), and made his person and office sacrosanct. Up until 32 BC, his status as a Triumvir gave him the powers of an autocrat, but when he deposed Mark Antony that year, he resigned from the Triumvirate, and was then given powers identical to those that he had given up. In 29 BC, Octavian was given the authority of a Roman Censor, and thus the power to appoint new senators.[6]

The senate granted Octavian a unique grade of Proconsular imperium, which gave him authority over all Proconsuls (military governors).[7] The unruly provinces at the borders, where the vast majority of the legions were stationed, were under the control of Augustus. These provinces were classified as imperial provinces. The peaceful senatorial provinces were under the control of the Senate. The Roman legions, which had reached an unprecedented number (around 50) because of the civil wars, were reduced to 28.

Augustus also created nine special cohorts, ostensibly to maintain the peace in Italy, keeping at least three of them stationed at Rome. These cohorts became known as the Praetorian Guard. In 27 BC, Octavian transferred control of the state back to the Senate and the People of Rome.[6] The Senate refused the offer, which, in effect, functioned as a popular ratification of his position within the state. Octavian was also granted the title of "Augustus" by the senate,[8] and took the title of Princeps, or "first citizen".[7]

As the adopted heir of Caesar, Augustus preferred to be called by this name. Caesar was a component of his family name. Julio-Claudian rule lasted for almost a century (from Julius Caesar in the mid-1st century BC to the emperor Nero in the mid-1st century AD). By the time of the Flavian Dynasty, and the reign of Vespasian, and that of his two sons, Titus and Domitian, the term Caesar had evolved, almost de facto, from a family name into a formal title.

Augustus' final goal was to figure out a method to ensure an orderly succession. In 6 BC Augustus granted tribunician powers to his stepson Tiberius,[9] and before long Augustus realized that he had no choice but to recognize Tiberius as his heir. In AD 13, the point was settled beyond question. A law was passed which linked Augustus' powers over the provinces to those of Tiberius,[10] so that now Tiberius' legal powers were equivalent to, and independent from, those of Augustus.[10] Within a year, Augustus was dead.


The establishment of the empire brought substantial benefits to the provinces, which could now appeal to the emperor against rapacious administrators, rather than to the corrupt senatorial class to whom the administrators usually belonged. Furthermore, Roman citizenship was slowly extended to the provinces, and the rule of law became less arbitrary.

In the early '00s AD and the 100s AD, Roman Italy thrived. Rome became the centre of Western Civilzation, and even though much of Roman culture was heavily influenced by that of the Greeks and the Etruscans, the Romans revolutionized modern society and the arts, particularly regarding politics, education, law, the military system, architecture, philosophy, cuisine and the ways of life. Rome became one of the most important political, cultural, scientifical, educational and literary centres of all time, and its vibrant artistic scene was also thanks to the emperors' grand construction works, building impressive and grand palaces, temples and monuments, and the several poets, writers and philosophers who resided there at the time, such as Livy, Seneca and Tacitus, to name but a few.

Despite its military strength, the empire made few efforts to expand its already vast extent; the most notable being the conquest of Britain, begun by emperor Claudius (47), and emperor Trajans conquest of Dacia (101-102, 105-106). In the 1st and 2nd century Roman legions were also employed in intermittent warfare with the Germanic tribes to the north and the Parthian Empire to the east. While armed insurrections (e.g. the Hebraic insurrection in Judea) (70) and brief civil wars (e.g. in 68 AD the year of the four emperors) demanded the legions attention on several occasions.


After the death of emperor Theodosius I (395), Italia became part of the Western Roman Empire. Then came the years of the barbarian invasions, and the capital was moved from Mediolanum to Ravenna. In 476, with the death of Romulus Augustulus and the return of the imperial ensigns to Constantinople, the Western Roman Empire ends; for a few years Italia stayed united under the rule of Odoacer, but later it was divided between several kingdoms, and did not reunite under a single ruler until thirteen centuries later.

Middle Ages (6th to 14th c.)

Italy in the year 1000.

The Early, High and Late Middle Ages

The Iron Crown with which Lombard rulers were crowned. They established a Kingdom of Italy which lasted until 774, when it was conquered by the Franks. Their influence on Italian political geography is plainly visible in the regional appellation Lombardy.

In 476, the last Roman Emperor was overthrown by the Germanic general Odoacer who ruled Italy until 493, largely maintaining Roman customs and culture. Odoacer's rule came to an end when the Ostrogoths under the leadership of Theodoric conquered Italy. This led to the Gothic War during which the armies of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian won a pyrrhic victory over the Goths in Italy. The Gothic War destroyed the infrastructure of Italy and allowed the more barbarous Germanic tribe, the Lombards to take control of Italy. The Lombards established a kingdom in northern Italy and three principalities in the South. After the Lombard invasion, the popes (for example, St. Gregory) were nominally subject to the eastern emperor, but often received little help from Constantinople, and had to fill the lack of stately power, providing essential services (such as food for the needy) and protecting Rome from Lombard incursions; in this way, the popes started building an independent state.

In the sixth century AD the Byzantine Emperor Justinian reconquered Italy from the Ostrogoths. The invasion of a new wave of Germanic tribes, the Lombards, doomed his attempt to resurrect the Western Roman Empire but the repercussions of Justinian's failure resounded further still. For the next thirteen centuries, whilst new nation-states arose in the lands north of the Alps, the Italian political landscape was a patchwork of feuding city states, petty tyrannies, and foreign invaders.

For several centuries the armies and Exarchs, Justinian's successors, were a tenacious force in Italian affairs - strong enough to prevent other powers such as the Arabs, the Holy Roman Empire, or the Papacy from establishing a unified Italian Kingdom, but too weak to drive out these "interlopers" and recreate Roman Italy. Later Imperial orders such as the Carolingians, the Ottonians and Hohenstaufens also managed to impose their overlordship in Italy. But their successes were as transitory as Justinian's and a unified Italian state remained a dream until the nineteenth century.

In 751 the Lombards seized Ravenna and the Exarchate of Ravenna was abolished. This ended the Byzantine presence in central Italy, although some coastal cities and some areas in south Italy remained under Byzantine control until the eleventh century. Facing a new Lombard offensive, the papacy appealed to the Franks for aid. In 756 Frankish forces defeated the Lombards and gave the Papacy legal authority over much of central Italy, thus creating the Papal States.

The age of Charlemagne was therefore one of stability for Italy, though it was generally dominated by non-Italian interests. The 11th century signed the end of the darkest period in the Middle Ages. Trade slowly increased, especially on the seas where the four Italian cities of Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa and Venice became major powers. The papacy regained its authority, and started a long struggle with the empire, about both ecclesiastical and secular matter. The first episode was the Investiture controversy. In the twelfth century those Italian cities which lay in the Holy Roman Empire launched a successful effort to win autonomy from the Holy Roman Empire; this made north Italy a land of quasi-independent or independent city-states until the 19th century.

In 1155 the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos attempted to invade southern Italy. The Emperor sent his generals Michael Palaiologos and John Doukas with Byzantine troops and large quantities of gold to invade Apulia (1155). However, the invasion soon stalled. By 1158 the Byzantine army had left Italy, with only a few permanent gains.

No ultramontane Empire could succeed in unifying Italy—or in achieving more than a temporary hegemony—because its success threatened the survival of medieval Italy's other powers: the Byzantines, the Papacy, and the Normans. These—and the descendants of the Lombards, who became fused with earlier Italian ethnic groups—conspired against, fought, and eventually destroyed any attempt to create a dominant political order in Italy. It was against this vacuum of authority that one must view the rise of the institutions of the Signoria and the Communi.

Comuni and Signorie

Palazzo Vecchio, originally called the Palazzo della Signoria.

In Italian history the rise of the Signorie (sing.: Signoria) is a phase often associated with the decline of the medieval commune system of government and the rise of the dynastic state. In this context the word Signoria (here to be understood as "Lordly Power") is used in opposition to the institution of the Commune or city republic.

Indeed, contemporary observers and modern historians see the rise of the Signoria as a reaction to the failure of the Communi to maintain law-and-order and suppress party strife and civil discord. In the anarchic conditions that often prevailed in medieval Italian city states, people looked to strong men to restore order and disarm the feuding elites. In times of anarchy or crisis, cities sometimes offered the Signoria to individuals perceived as strong enough to save the state. For example, the Tuscan state of Pisa offered the Signoria to Charles VIII of France in the hope that he would protect the independence of Pisa from its long term enemy Florence. Similarly, Siena offered the Signoria to Cesare Borgia.

Types of Signoria

The composition and specific functions of the Signoria varied from city to city. In some states (such as Verona under the Della Scala family or Florence in the days of Cosimo de Medici and Lorenzo the Magnificent) the polity was what we would term today a single party state in which the dominant party had vested the Signoria of the state in a single family or dynasty.

In Florence this arrangement was unofficial as it was not constitutionally formalized before the Medici were expelled from the city in 1494.

In other states (such as the Milan of the Visconti) the dynasty's right to the Signoria was a formally recognized part of the Commune's constitution, which had been "ratified" by the People and recognized by the Pope or the Holy Roman Empire.

Maritime Republics

Ensign of the Italian Navy, sporting the coat of arms of the four main Repubbliche Marinare[11]

Italy at this time was notable for its merchant Republics, including the Republic of Florence and the Maritime Republics. They were city-states and they were generally republics in that they were formally independent, though most of them originated from territories once belonging to the Byzantine Empire (the main exceptions being Genoa and Pisa). All these cities during the time of their independence had similar (though not identical) systems of government in which the merchant class had considerable power. Although in practice these were oligarchical, and bore little resemblance to a modern democracy, the relative political freedom they afforded was conducive to academic and artistic advancement.

The four classic Maritime Republics in Italy are Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi and they are always given in that order, reflecting the temporal sequence of their dominance. However, other towns in Italy also have a history of being Maritime Republics, though historically less prominent. These include Gaeta, Ancona, Molfetta, Trani and, in Dalmatia (under Italian cultural influence), Ragusa and Zara.

Venice and Genoa were Europe's gateway to trade with the East, and a producer of fine glass, while Florence was a capital of silk, wool, banks and jewelry. The wealth such business brought to Italy meant that large public and private artistic projects could be commissioned. The Maritime Republics were heavily involved in the Crusades, providing support but most especially taking advantage of the political and trading opportunities resulting from these wars. The Fourth Crusade, notionally intended to "liberate" Jerusalem, actually entailed the Venetian conquest of Zara and Constantinople.

Each of the Maritime Republics over time had dominion over different overseas lands, including many of the islands of the Mediterranean and especially Sardinia and Corsica, lands on the Adriatic, and lands in the Near East and North Africa.

Renaissance (15th to 16th c.)

Italy in 1494, before the invasion by Charles VIII of France that year.

By the late Middle Ages, central and southern Italy, once the heartland of the Roman Empire, was far poorer than the north. Rome was a city largely in ruins, and the Papal States were a loosely administered region with little law and order. Partly because of this, the Papacy had relocated to Avignon in France. Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia had for some time been under foreign domination. The Italian trade routes that covered the Mediterranean and beyond were major conduits of culture and knowledge. The city-states of Italy expanded greatly during this period and grew in power to become de facto fully independent of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Italian Renaissance began in Tuscany, centered in the city of Florence. It then spread south, having an especially significant impact on Rome, which was largely rebuilt by the Renaissance popes. The Italian Renaissance peaked in the late 15th century as foreign invasions plunged the region into turmoil. From the late fourteenth century, Florence's leading family had been the Albizzi. The Renaissance ideals first spread from Florence to the neighbouring states of Tuscany such as Siena and Lucca. The Tuscan culture soon became the model for all the states of Northern Italy, and the Tuscan variety of Italian came to predominate throughout the region, especially in literature. In 1447 Francesco Persaliano came to power in Milan and rapidly transformed that still medieval city into a major centre of art and learning. Venice, one of the wealthiest cities due to its control of the Mediterranean Sea, also became a centre for Renaissance culture, especially architecture. In 1478 the Papacy returned to Rome, but that once imperial city remained poor and largely in ruins through the first years of the Renaissance. As a cultural movement, the Italian Renaissance affected only a small part of the population. Northern Italy was the most urbanized region of Europe[citation needed], but three quarters of the people were still rural peasants.

The Renaissance was so called because it was a "rebirth" of certain classical ideas that had long been lost to Europe. It has been argued that the fuel for this rebirth was the rediscovery of ancient texts that had been forgotten by Western civilization, but were preserved in some monastic libraries and in the Islamic world, and the translations of Greek and Arabic texts into Latin.

Renaissance scholars such as Niccolò de' Niccoli and Poggio Bracciolini scoured the libraries in search of works by such classical authors as Plato, Cicero and Vitruvius. The works of ancient Greek and Hellenistic writers (such as Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, and Ptolemy) and Muslim scientists were imported into the Christian world, providing new intellectual material for European scholars.

The Italian Renaissance is best known for its cultural achievements. Accounts of Renaissance literature usually begin with Petrarch (best known for the elegantly polished vernacular sonnet sequence of the Canzoniere and for the craze for book collecting that he initiated) and his friend and contemporary Boccaccio (author of the Decameron). Famous vernacular poets of the fifteenth century include the renaissance epic authors Luigi Pulci (Morgante), Matteo Maria Boiardo (Orlando Innamorato), and Ludovico Ariosto (Orlando Furioso). Fifteenth century writers such as the poet Poliziano and the Platonist philosopher Marsilio Ficino made extensive translations from both Latin and Greek. In the early sixteenth century, Castiglione (The Book of the Courtier) laid out his vision of the ideal gentleman and lady, while Machiavelli cast a jaundiced eye on "la verita effetuale delle cose" — the actual truth of things — in The Prince, composed, humanist style, chiefly of parallel ancient and modern examples of Virtù. Italian Renaissance painting exercised a dominant influence on subsequent European painting (see Western painting) for centuries afterwards, with artists such as Giotto di Bondone, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Perugino, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Titian. The same is true for architecture, as practiced by Brunelleschi, Leone Alberti, Andrea Palladio, and Bramante. Their works include Florence Cathedral, St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini (to name a only a few, not to mention many splended private residences: see Renaissance architecture). Finally, the Aldine Press, founded by the printer Aldo Manuzio, active in Venice, developed Italic type and the small, relatively portable and inexpensive printed book that could be carried in one's pocket, as well as being the first to publish editions of books in Ancient Greek. Yet cultural contributions notwithstanding, some present-day historians also see the era as one of the beginning of economic regression for Italy (due to the opening up of the Atlantic trade routes and repeated foreign invasions) and of little progress in experimental science, which made its great leaps forward among Protestant culture in the seventeenth century.

The Black Death in 1348 inflicted a terrible blow to Italy, killing one third of the population.[12]

The recovery from the disaster led to a resurgence of cities, trade and economy which greatly stimulated the successive phase of the Humanism and Renaissance (15th-16th centuries) when Italy again returned to be the center of Western civilization, strongly influencing the other European countries with Courts like Este in Ferrara and De Medici in Florence.

Northern Italy and upper Central Italy were divided into a number of warring city-states, the most powerful being Milan, Florence, Pisa, Siena, Genoa, Ferrara, Mantua,Verona and Venice. High Medieval Northern Italy was further divided by the long running battle for supremacy between the forces of the Papacy and of the Holy Roman Empire: each city aligned itself with one faction or the other, yet was divided internally between the two warring parties, Guelfs and Ghibellines. Warfare between the states was common, invasion from outside Italy confined to intermittent sorties of Holy Roman Emperors. Renaissance politics developed from this background. Since the thirteenth century, as armies became primarily composed of mercenaries, prosperous city-states could field considerable forces, despite their low populations. In the course of the fifteenth century, the most powerful city-states annexed their smaller neighbors. Florence took Pisa in 1406, Venice captured Padua and Verona, while the Duchy of Milan annexed a number of nearby areas including Pavia and Parma.

The first part of the Renaissance saw almost constant warfare on land and sea as the city-states vied for preeminence. On land, these wars were primarily fought by armies of mercenaries known as condottieri, bands of soldiers drawn from around Europe, but especially Germany and Switzerland, led largely by Italian captains. The mercenaries were not willing to risk their lives unduly, and war became one largely of sieges and maneuvering, occasioning few pitched battles. It was also in the interest of mercenaries on both sides to prolong any conflict, to continue their employment. Mercenaries were also a constant threat to their employers; if not paid, they often turned on their patron. If it became obvious that a state was entirely dependent on mercenaries, the temptation was great for the mercenaries to take over the running of it themselves—this occurred on a number of occasions.[13]

At sea, Italian city-states sent many fleets out to do battle. The main contenders were Pisa, Genoa, and Venice, but after a long conflict the Genoese succeeded in reducing Pisa. Venice proved to be a more powerful adversary, and with the decline of Genoese power during the fifteenth century Venice became pre-eminent on the seas. In response to threats from the landward side, from the early fifteenth century Venice developed an increased interest in controlling the terrafirma as the Venetian Renaissance opened.

On land, decades of fighting saw Florence, Milan and Venice emerge as the dominant players, and these two powers finally set aside their differences and agreed to the Peace of Lodi in 1454, which saw relative calm brought to the region for the first time in centuries. This peace would hold for the next forty years, and Venice's unquestioned hegemony over the sea also led to unprecedented peace for much of the rest of the fifteenth century. In the beginning of the fifteenth century, adventurer and traders such as Niccolò Da Conti (1395–1469) traveled as far as Southeast Asia and back, bringing fresh knowledge on the state of the world, presaging further European voyages of exploration in the years to come.

A series of foreign invasions of Italy known as the Italian Wars would continue for several decades. These began with the 1494 invasion by France that wreaked widespread devastation on Northern Italy and ended the independence of many of the city-states. Most damaging was the May 6, 1527 Sack of Rome by Spanish and German troops that all but ended the role of the Papacy as the largest patron of Renaissance art and architecture.

Foreign domination (1559 to 1814)

1559–1796

The War of the League of Cambrai was a major conflict in the Italian Wars. The principal participants of the war were France, the Papal States, and the Republic of Venice; they were joined, at various times, by nearly every significant power in Western Europe, including Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of England, the Kingdom of Scotland, the Duchy of Milan, Florence, the Duchy of Ferrara, and the Swiss.

The history of Italy in the Early Modern period was characterized by foreign domination: Following the Italian Wars (1494 to 1559), Italy saw a long period of relative peace, first under Habsburg Spain (1559 to 1713) and then under Habsburg Austria (1713 to 1796). During the Napoleonic era, Italy was a client state of the French Republic (1796 to 1814). The Congress of Vienna (1814) restored the situation of the late 18th century, which was however quickly overturned by the incipient movement of Italian unification.

The Black Death repeatedly returned to haunt Italy throughout the 14th to 17th centuries. The plague of 1575–77 claimed some 50,000 victims in Venice.[14] In the first half of the 17th century a plague claimed some 1,730,000 victims, or about 14% of Italy’s population.[15] The Great Plague of Milan occurred from 1629 through 1631 in northern Italy, with the cities of Lombardy and Venice experiencing particularly high death rates. In 1656 the plague killed about half of Naples' 300,000 inhabitants.[16]

Galileo's first observations of the moons of Jupiter.
The Musicians by Caravaggio

Napoleonic invasion

Italy before the Napoleonic invasion (1796).

At the end of the 18th century, Italy was almost in the same political conditions as in the 16th century; the main differences were that Austria had replaced Spain as the dominant foreign power after the War of Spanish Succession (and that too was not true with regards to Naples and Sicily), and that the dukes of Savoy (a mountainous region between Italy and France) had become kings of Sardinia by increasing their Italian possessions, which now included Sardinia and the north-western region of Piedmont.

This situation was shaken in 1796, when the French Army of Italy under Napoleon invaded Italy, with the aims of forcing the First Coalition to abandon Sardinia (where they had created an anti-revolutionary puppet-ruler) and forcing Austria to withdraw from Italy. The first battles came on 9 April, between the French and the Piedmontese, and within only two weeks Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia was forced to sign an armistice. On May 15 the French general then entered Milan, where he was welcomed as a liberator. Subsequently beating off Austrian counterattacks and continuing to advance, he arrived in the Veneto in 1797. Here occurred the Veronese Easters, an act of rebellion against French oppression, that tied down Napoleon for about a week.

On October 1797 Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio, by which the Republic of Venice was annexed to the Austrian state, dashing Italian nationalists' hopes that it might become an independent state. This treaty gave Austrian recognition to the existence of the Cisalpine Republic (made up of Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and small parts of Tuscany and Veneto), and annexed Piedmont to France. Even if, like the other states created by the invasion, the Cisalpine Republic was just a satellite of France, these satellites sparked a nationalist movement. The Cisalpine Republic was converted into the Italian Republic in 1802, under the presidency of Napoleon.

In 1805, after the French victory over the Third Coalition and the Peace of Pressburg, Napoleon recovered Veneto and Dalmatia, annexing them to the Italian Republic and renaming it the Kingdom of Italy. Also that year a second satellite state, the Ligurian Republic (successor to the old Republic of Genoa), was pressured into merging with France. In 1806, he conquered the Kingdom of Naples and granted it to his brother and then (from 1808) to Joachim Murat, along with marrying his sisters Elisa and Paolina off to the princes of Massa-Carrara and Guastalla. In 1808, he also annexed Marche and Tuscany to the Kingdom of Italy.

In 1809, Bonaparte occupied Rome, for contrasts with the pope, who had excommunicated him, and to maintain his own state efficiently[17], exiling the Pope first to Savona and then to France.

After Russia, the other states of Europe re-allied themselves and defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig, after which his Italian allied states, with Murat first among them, abandoned him to ally with Austria.[18] Defeated at Paris on 6 April 1814, Napoleon was compelled to renounce his throne and sent into exile on Elba. The resulting Congress of Vienna (1814) restored a situation close to that of 1795, dividing Italy between Austria (in the north-east and Lombardy), the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (in the south and in Sicily), and Tuscany, the Papal States and other minor states in the centre. However, old republics such as Venice and Genoa were not recreated, Venice went to Austria, and Genoa went to the Kingdom of Sardinia.

On Napoleon's escape and return to France (the Hundred Days), he regained Murat's support, but Murat proved unable to convince the Italians to fight for Napoleon with his Proclamation of Rimini and was beaten and killed. The Italian kingdoms thus fell, and Italy's Restoration period began, with many pre-Napoleonic sovereigns returned to their thrones. Piedmont, Genoa and Nice came to be united, as did Sardinia (which went on to create the State of Savoy), while Lombardy, Veneto, Istria and Dalmatia were re-annexed to Austria. The dukedoms of Parma and Modena re-formed, and the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples returned to the Bourbons. The political and social events in the restoration period of Italy (1815–1835) led to popular uprisings through-out the peninsula and greatly shaped what would become the Italian Wars of Independence. All this led to a new Kingdom of Italy and [[Italian unification].

Unification (1814 to 1861)

Italian unification process

The Risorgimento was the political and social process that unified different states of the Italian peninsula into the single nation of Italy.

It is difficult to pin down exact dates for the beginning and end of Italian reunification, but most scholars agree that it began with the end of Napoleonic rule and the Congress of Vienna in 1815, and approximately ended with the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, though the last "città irredente" did not join the Kingdom of Italy until the Italian victory in World War I.

As Napoleon's reign began to fail, other national monarchs he had installed tried to keep their thrones by feeding those nationalistic sentiments, setting the stage for the revolutions to come. Among these monarchs were the viceroy of Italy, Eugène de Beauharnais, who tried to get Austrian approval for his succession to the Kingdom of Italy, and Joachim Murat, who called for Italian patriots' help for the unification of Italy under his rule.[19] Following the defeat of Napoleonic France, the Congress of Vienna (1815) was convened to redraw the European continent. In Italy, the Congress restored the pre-Napoleonic patchwork of independent governments, either directly ruled or strongly influenced by the prevailing European powers, particularly Austria.

At the time, the struggle for Italian unification was perceived to be waged primarily against the Austrian Empire and the Habsburgs, since they directly controlled the predominantly Italian-speaking northeastern part of present-day Italy and were the single most powerful force against unification. The Austrian Empire vigorously repressed nationalist sentiment growing on the Italian peninsula, as well as in the other parts of Habsburg domains. Austrian Chancellor Franz Metternich, an influential diplomat at the Congress of Vienna, stated that the word Italy was nothing more than "a geographic expression." [20]

Artistic and literary sentiment also turned towards nationalism; and perhaps the most famous of proto-nationalist works was Alessandro Manzoni's I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed). Some read this novel as a thinly veiled allegorical critique of Austrian rule. The novel was published in 1827 and extensively revised in the following years. The 1840 version of I Promessi Sposi used a standardized version of the Tuscan dialect, a conscious effort by the author to provide a language and force people to learn it.

Those in favour of unification also faced opposition from the Holy See, particularly after failed attempts to broker a confederation with the Papal States, which would have left the Papacy with some measure of autonomy over the region. The pope at the time, Pius IX, feared that giving up power in the region could mean the persecution of Italian Catholics.[21]

Even among those who wanted to see the peninsula unified into one country, different groups could not agree on what form a unified state would take. Vincenzo Gioberti, a Piedmontese priest, had suggested a confederation of Italian states under rulership of the Pope. His book,Of the Moral and Civil Primacy of the Italians, was published in 1843 and created a link between the Papacy and the Risorgimento. Many leading revolutionaries wanted a republic, but eventually it was a king and his chief minister who had the power to unite the Italian states as a monarchy.

One of the most influential revolutionary groups was the Carbonari (coal-burners), a secret organization formed in southern Italy early in the 19th century. Inspired by the principles of the French Revolution, its members were mainly drawn from the middle class and intellectuals. After the Congress of Vienna divided the Italian peninsula among the European powers, the Carbonari movement spread into the Papal States, the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Modena and the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. The revolutionaries were so feared that the reigning authorities passed an ordinance condemning to death anyone who attended a Carbonari meeting. The society, however, continued to exist and was at the root of many of the political disturbances in Italy from 1820 until after unification. The Carbonari condemned Napoleon III to death for failing to unite Italy, and the group almost succeeded in assassinating him in 1858. Many leaders of the unification movement were at one time members of this organization. (Note: Napoleon III, as a young man, fought on the side of the 'Carbonari'.)

Two prominent radical figures in the unification movement were Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi. The more conservative constitutional monarchic figures included Count Cavour and Victor Emmanuel II, who would later become the first king of a united Italy.

Mazzini's activity in revolutionary movements caused him to be imprisoned soon after he joined. While in prison, he concluded that Italy could - and therefore should - be unified and formulated his program for establishing a free, independent, and republican nation with Rome as its capital. After Mazzini's release in 1831, he went to Marseille, where he organized a new political society called La Giovine Italia (Young Italy). The new society, whose motto was "God and the People," sought the unification of Italy.

The creation of the Kingdom of Italy was the result of concerted efforts by Italian nationalists and monarchists loyal to the House of Savoy to establish a united kingdom encompassing the entire Italian Peninsula.

The Kingdom of Sardinia industrialized from 1830 onward. A constitution, the Statuto Albertino was enacted in the year of revolutions, 1848, under liberal pressure. Under the same pressure, the First Italian War of Independence was declared on Austria. After initial success the war took a turn for the worse and the Kingdom of Sardinia lost.

Garibaldi, a native of Nice (then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia), participated in an uprising in Piedmont in 1834, was sentenced to death, and escaped to South America. He spent fourteen years there, taking part in several wars, and returned to Italy in 1848.

After the Revolutions of 1848, the apparent leader of the Italian unification movement was Italian nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi. He was popular amongst southern Italians.[22] Garibaldi led the Italian republican drive for unification in southern Italy, but the northern Italian monarchy of the House of Savoy in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia whose government was led by Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, also had the ambition of establishing a united Italian state. Though the kingdom had no physical connection to Rome (deemed the natural capital of Italy), the kingdom had successfully challenged Austria in the Second Italian War of Independence, liberating Lombardy-Venetia from Austrian rule. The kingdom also had established important alliances which helped it improve the possibility of Italian unification, such as Britain and France in the Crimean War.

Monarchy, Fascism and World Wars (1861-1945)

Italy became a nation-state belatedly — on March 17, 1861, when most of the states of the peninsula were united under king Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy dynasty, which ruled over Piedmont. The architects of Italian unification were Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the Chief Minister of Victor Emmanuel, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, a general and national hero. In 1866 Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck offered Victor Emmanuel II an alliance with the Kingdom of Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War. In exchange Prussia would allow Italy to annex Austrian-controlled Venice. King Emmanuel agreed to the alliance and the Third Italian War of Independence began. The victory against Austria allowed Italy to annex Venice. The one major obstacle to Italian unity remained Rome.

In 1870, Prussia went to war with France starting the Franco-Prussian War. To keep the large Prussian army at bay, France abandoned its positions in Rome in order to fight the Prussians. Italy benefited from Prussia's victory against France by being able to take over the Papal State from French authority. Italian unification was completed, and shortly afterward Italy's capital was moved to Rome. Rome itself remained for a decade under the Papacy, and became part of the Kingdom of Italy only on September 20, 1870, the final date of Italian unification. The Vatican City is now, since the Lateran Treaty of 1929, an independent enclave surrounded by Italy, as is San Marino.

Liberalism to Fascism, and World War I

In Northern Italy, industrialisation and modernisation began in the last part of the 19th century. The south, at the same time, was overpopulated, forcing millions of people to search for a better life abroad. It is estimated that around one million Italian people moved to other European countries such as France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. Parliamentary democracy developed considerably in the 20th century. The Sardinian Statuto Albertino of 1848, extended to the whole Kingdom of Italy in 1861, provided for basic freedoms, but the electoral laws excluded the non-propertied and uneducated classes from voting.

After unification, Italy's politics favored radical socialism due to a regionally fragmented right, as conservative Prime Minister Marco Minghetti only held on to power by enacting revolutionary and socialist-leaning policies to appease the opposition such as the nationalization of railways. In 1876, Minghetti was ousted and replaced by socialist Agostino Depretis, who began the long Socialist Period. The Socialist Period was marked by corruption, government instability, poverty, and use of authoritarian measures by the Italian government.

Depretis began his term as Prime Minister by initiating an experimental political idea called Trasformismo (transformism). The theory of Trasformismo was that a cabinet should select a variety of moderates and capable politicians from a non-partisan perspective. In practice, trasformismo was authoritarian and corrupt, Depretis pressured districts to vote for his candidates if they wished to gain favourable concessions from Depretis when in power. The results of the 1876 election resulted in only four representatives from the right being elected, allowing the government to be dominated by Depretis. Despotic and corrupt actions are believed to be the key means in which Depretis managed to keep support in southern Italy. Depretis put through authoritarian measures, such as the banning public meetings, placing "dangerous" individuals in internal exile on remote penal islands across Italy and adopting militarist policies. Depretis enacted controversial legislation for the time, such was abolishing arrest for debt, making elementary education free and compulsory while ending compulsory religious teaching in elementary schools.[23]

The first government of Depretis collapsed after his dismisal of his Interior Minister, and ended with his resignation in 1877. The second government of Depretis started in 1881. Depretis' goals included widening suffrage in 1882 and increasing the tax intake from Italians by expanding the minimum requirements of who could pay taxes and the creation of a new electoral system called which resulted in large numbers of inexperienced deputies in the Italian parliament.[24] In 1887, Depretis was finally pushed out of office after years of political decline.

In 1887, Depretis cabinet minister and former Garibaldi republican Francesco Crispi became Prime Minister. Crispi's major concerns before during his reign was protecting Italy from their dangerous neighbour Austria-Hungary. To challenge the threat, Crispi worked to build Italy as a great world power through increased military expenditures, advocation of expansionism,[25] and trying to win Germany's favor even by joining the Triple Alliance which included both Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1882 which remained officially intact until 1915. While helping Italy develop strategically, he continued trasformismo and was authoritarian, once suggesting the use of martial law to ban opposition parties.[26] Despite being authoritarian, Crispi put through liberal policies such as the Public Health Act of 1888 and establishing tribunals for redress against abuses by the government.[27]

The overwhelming attention paid to foreign policy alienated the agricultural community in Italy which had been in decline since 1873.".[28] Both radical and conservative forces in the Italian parliament demanded that the government investigate how to improve agriculture in Italy.[29] The investigation which started in 1877 and was released eight years later, showed that agriculture was not improving , that landowners were swallowing up revenue from their lands and contributing almost nothing to the development of the land. There was aggravation by lower class Italians to the break-up of communal lands which benefited only landlords.[29] Most of the workers on the agricultural lands were not peasants but short-term labourers who at best were employed for one year.[29] Peasants without stable income were forced to live off meager food supplies, disease was spreading rapidly, plagues were reported, including a major cholera epidemic which killed at least 55,000 people.[30]

The Italian government could not deal with the situation effectively due to the mass overspending of the Depretis government that left Italy in huge debt. Italy also suffered economically because of overproduction of grapes for their vineyards in the 1870s and 1880s when France's vineyard industry was suffering from vine disease caused by insects. Italy during that time prospered as the largest exporter of wine in Europe but following the recovery of France in 1888, southern Italy was overproducing and had to cut back which caused greater unemployment and bankruptcies.[31]


In 1913 male universal suffrage was allowed. The Socialist Party became the main political party, outclassing the traditional liberal and conservative organisations. Starting from the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Italy developed its own colonial Empire. Italian colonies were Somalia and Eritrea; an attempt to occupy Ethiopia failed in the First Italo–Ethiopian War of 1895-1896]]. In 1911, Giovanni Giolitti's government agreed to sending forces to occupy Libya. Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire which held Libya. The annexation of Libya and of the Dodecanese (a group of island in the Aegean Sea) caused nationalists to advocate Italy's domination of the Mediterranean Sea by occupying Greece as well as the Adriatic coastal region of Dalmatia.[32]

The path to a modern liberal democracy was interrupted by the First World War (1914-1918). At the beginning of World War I Italy remained neutral. The Italian government claimed that the Triple Alliance was only for defensive purposes. Therefore, it did not apply to a war that was started by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, both the Central Powers and the Triple Entente continued efforts to attract Italy to their side. In April 1915, the Italian government agreed to sign the London Pact and to declare war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire in exchange for several territories. During the war, 600,000 Italians died and the economy collapsed with high inflation and unemployment. After the war, the Treaty of St. Germain awarded Alto Adige, Trento, Trieste, Istria, and the city of Zadar to Italy, but not other lands scheduled from the Pact of London, so this victory was considered "mutilated". Subsequently, after the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922, Italy formally annexed the Dodecanese (Possedimenti Italiani dell'Egeo), that she had occupied during the war.

Fascism and World War II

The Italian Empire in 1939

The Fascist government of Prime Minister and dictator Benito Mussolini that took over in 1922 led to the alliance with Germany (the Axis) and Japan. Until 1925, when Alberto de Stefani ceased to be Minister of Economics, policies were mostly in line with classical liberalism (suppression of inheritance and luxury tax, suppression of taxes on foreign capital; [33] life insurance transferred to private enterprises in 1923,[34] state monopoly on telephones and matches was abandoned, etc.). However, this policy did not contradict seemingly opposite-minded ones: various banking and industrial companies were financially supported by the state. One of Mussolini's first acts was to fund the metallurgical trust Ansaldo to the height of 400 millions Liras. Following the deflation crisis which started in 1926, banks such as the Banco di Roma, the Banco di Napoli or the Banco di Sicilia were also assisted by the state.[35] In 1924, the Unione Radiofonica Italiana (URI) was formed by private entrepreneurs and part of the Marconi group, and granted the same year a monopoly of radio broadcasts. After the war, the URI became the RAI.

Starting in 1925, Italy's policies became more protectionist. Tariffs of grains were increased in an attempt to strengthen domestic production ("Battle for Grain"), which was ultimately a failure. Thus, according to historian Denis Mack Smith (1981), "Success in this battle was... another illusory propaganda victory won at the expense of the Italian economy in general and consumers in particular". He also pointed out "Those who gained were the owners of the Latifondia and the propertied classes in general... his policy conferred a heavy subsidy on the Latifondisti."[36]

Affected by the Great Depression, the Italian state attempted to respond to it both by elaborating public works programs such as the taming of the Pontine Marshes, developing hydroelectricity, improving the railways which in the process improved job opportunities, and launching military rearmament.[37] The Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI) institute was created in 1933, with the aim of subsiding floundering companies. It soon controlled important parts of the economy, through government-linked companies, including Alfa Romeo.

Economically Italy improved with the GNP growing at 2% a year; automobile production was increasing especially those owned by Fiat,[38] its aeronautical industry was making advances.[39] Mussolini also championed agrarianism as part of what he called battles for Land, Lira and Grain; in aims of propaganda, he physically took part in these activities alongside the workers creating a strong public image.[40][41]

Italy conquered an empire in Ethiopia in 1936 and did an expansionary policy annexing Albania in 1939. Ultimately the alliance with Hitler's Germany led to defeat in World War II. The Allied Powers invaded Sicily in 1943 and gradually made their way to the Italian mainland. Mussolini was thrown out on July 25, 1943, and a new government under Pietro Badoglio and King Victor Emmanuel III joined the Allied Powers. Initially Badoglio's government only controlled the liberated portions of southern Italy. Mussolini, after being rescued by the Germans, set up the Italian Social Republic in the north of Italy. This fascist remnant was crushed by the Allies in 1945, with Mussolini executed by Communist Italian partisans on April 28, 1945. Italy was the first Axis power to surrender.

Italian Republic (after 1945)

The First Republic (1946-1992)

In 1946, Vittorio Emanuele III's son, Umberto II, was forced to abdicate. Italy became a Republic after the result of a popular referendum held on June 2, 1946, a day celebrated since as Republic Day. This was the first election in Italy allowing women to vote.[42] The Republican Constitution was approved and came into force on January 1, 1948.

Under the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, the eastern border area was annexed by Yugoslavia. In 1954, the free territory of Trieste was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia. In 1949, Italy became an ally of the United States, which helped to revive the Italian economy through the Marshall Plan. Moreover, Italy became a member of the European Economic Community, which later transformed into the European Union (EU). In 1950s and 1960s the country enjoyed prolonged economic growth.

Italy faced political instability in the 1970s, which ended in the 1980s. Known as the Years of Lead, this period was characterized by widespread social conflicts and terrorist acts carried out by extra-parliamentary movements. The assassination of the leader of the Christian Democracy (DC), Aldo Moro, led to the end of a "historic compromise" between the DC and the Communist Party (PCI). In the 1980s, for the first time, two governments were managed by a republican and a socialist (Bettino Craxi) rather than by a member of DC.

At the end of the Lead years, the PCI gradually increased their votes thanks to Enrico Berlinguer. The Socialist party (PSI), led by Bettino Craxi, became more and more critical of the communists and of the Soviet Union; Craxi himself pushed in favour of US president Ronald Reagan's positioning of Pershing missiles in Italy.

In 2000, a Parliament Commission report from the Olive Tree left-of-centre coalition concluded that the strategy of tension had been supported by the United States to "stop the PCI, and to a certain degree also the PSI, from reaching executive power in the country".[43][44] The report was not approved by the right-of-centre coalition. A source in the U.S. Embassy in Rome characterized the report as "allegations that have come up over the last 20 years" and have "absolutely nothing to them", while other commentators deemed it nothing more than "a manoeuvre dictated primarily by domestic political considerations".[1]

The Second Republic (1992-present)

Bettino Craxi, viewed by many as the symbol of Tangentopoli, leader of the Italian Socialist Party, is greeted by a salvo of coins as a sign of loathing by protesters.

From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges as voters disenchanted with political paralysis, massive government debt, extensive corruption, and organized crime's considerable influence collectively called the political system Tangentopoli. As Tangentopoli was under a set of judicial investigations by the name of Mani pulite (Italian for "clean hands"), voters demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. The Tangentopoli scandals involved all major parties, but especially those in the government coalition: between 1992 and 1994 the DC underwent a severe crisis and was dissolved, splitting up into several pieces, among whom the Italian People's Party and the Christian Democratic Center. The PSI (and the other governing minor parties) completely dissolved.

The 1994 elections also swept media magnate Silvio Berlusconi (leader of "Pole of Freedoms" coalition) into office as Prime Minister. Berlusconi, however, was forced to step down in December 1994 when the Lega Nord withdrew support. The Berlusconi government was succeeded by a technical government headed by Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, which left office in early 1996.

In April 1996, national elections led to the victory of a centre-left coalition under the leadership of Romano Prodi. Prodi's first government became the third-longest to stay in power before he narrowly lost a vote of confidence, by three votes, in October 1998. A new government was formed by Democrats of the Left leader and former communist Massimo D'Alema, but in April 2000, following poor performance by his coalition in regional elections, D'Alema resigned. The succeeding centre-left government, including most of the same parties, was headed by Giuliano Amato (social-democratic), who previously served as Prime Minister in 1992-93, from April 2000 until June 2001. In 2001 the centre-right formed the government and Silvio Berlusconi was able to remain in power for a complete five year mandate, becoming the longest government in post-war Italy. Berlusconi participated in the US-led military coalition in Iraq.

The elections in 2006 returned Prodi in the government with a slim majority in the Senate. In the first year of his government, Mr. Prodi has followed a cautious policy of economic liberalization and reduction of public debt.

Berlusconi won the last elections in 2008 and now the center-right coalition is back in power.

Maps of Italy's historical development

See also

References

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  34. ^ Daniel Guérin Fascism and Big Business, Chapter IX, First section, p.191 in the 1999 Syllepse Editions
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