History Of Italy
Attempting to put together a brief history of Italy is a
challenge, because, due to its location at the center of the Mediterranean trading routes, Italy has had a lengthy
and tumultuous history.
Both the Mediterranean and overland trade routes were also used
as military and expansionist conduits over the centuries, as well as channels for the dissemination of culture and
knowledge. As a result, Italy was subject to the most brutal of invasions, as well as serving as a focal point for
creativity and learning.
For the sake of simplicity we can divide our brief history of
Italy into seven distinct eras:
The 20 Regions of
Evidence of civilization has been found on the Italian peninsula
dating far into pre-history. Thousands of rock drawings discovered in the Alpine regions of Lombardy date from
around 8,000 BC. There were sizable settlements throughout the Copper Age (37th to 15th century BC), the Bronze Age
(15th to 8th century BC) and the Iron Age (8th to 5th century BC). In the north of Italy, the Etruscan culture took
hold around 800BC, while Greeks settled in southern Italy from 700 to 600BC, namely in Apulia, Calabria and Sicily
(then known as Magna Graecia).
Empire (5th Century BC to 5th Century AD)
According to legend, Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus in the
heart of Etruscan Italy in 735BC. Over the next several centuries, Rome expanded its territories into what became
known as the Roman Empire. The Romans named the Italian peninsular “Italia”. The Italian states north of
Emilia-Romagna were considered part of the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul.
Italia flourished under the Roman Empire, which ended in 476AD
with the death of the emperor Augustus. The Italian peninsular was later divided into separate kingdoms, with
reunification only achieved in 1861.
Middle Ages (6th to 14th Century)
A brief history of Italy in the Middle Ages begins with a series
of invasions. In 493, the Ostrogoths, an eastern Germanic tribe, conquered the Italian peninsula. The resulting
Gothic War led to the Lombards, another Germanic tribe, establishing a kingdom in northern Italy and three regions
in the South in 568. Subsequently, the popes began building an independent state. In 756, when the Franks (French)
defeated the Lombards, they granted the popes authority over central Italy, and the Papal States were created. The
northern states of Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany were ruled by the Germanic Holy Roman Empire from
By the end of the 11th century, the worst of the invasions was
over and trade began to flourish once again. Four Italian cities – Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi and Venice – became major
commercial and political powers. In the twelfth century the Italian cities ruled by Holy Roman Empire campaigned
for autonomy. The result was that northern Italy became a group of independent kingdoms, republics and
Renaissance (14th to 16th Century)
At this point in our brief history of Italy, the disparity among
the regions was extreme. In contrast to the prosperous northern states, central and southern Italy were
economically depressed. The Papacy temporarily relocated to Avignon in France, returning to Rome in 1478. Naples,
Sicily, and Sardinia were controlled by foreign powers.
The Italian Renaissance was a cultural movement that began in
Tuscany in the 14th century, spreading from Florence to Siena. A number of factors contributed to its emergence,
including the influx of Greek scholars following the second invasion of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in
1453. The patronage of the arts afforded by the Medici family was another contributing factor. The era gave rise to
a number of artistic giants – Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarotti, Sandro Botticelli, Dante Alighieri and
Francesco Petrarch, to name a few. The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1440s also
contributed to a freer flow of information.
Reaching southwards to Rome, the Renaissance inspired the Italian
popes to rebuild their city and Rome flourished once again. The movement also spread to Milan, Venice, and further
north into Europe, influencing art, literature, philosophy, politics, science, religion and other intellectual
arenas. Within Italy, the dominance of Tuscan culture led to the Tuscan dialect later becoming the official Italian
Rule (1559 to 1814)
Once again in this brief history of Italy, a 'golden' era is
followed by a dark one. In 1494, France invaded northern Italy and many of the city-states collapsed. In 1527 Spain
and Germany attacked Rome. By the end of the “Italian Wars” in 1559, three Italian republics regained their
independence – Piedmont Savoy, Corsica-Genoa and Venice. Both Savoy and Corsica were later sold to France – Corsica
in 1764 and Savoy in 1860.
By 1559 Spain controlled Milan, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia and
southern Tuscany, and dominated the rulers of Tuscany, Genoa, and other smaller states in northern Italy. Spanish
control of Italy lasted until 1713.
During the era of domination by Habsburg Spain (1559 to 1713) and
Habsburg Austria (1713 to 1796), Italians enjoyed a long period of relative peace. During the Napoleonic era (1796
to 1814), Italy was briefly united by Napoleon as the Italian Republic and later the Kingdom of Italy, becoming a
client state of the French Republic.
After the defeat of Napoleonic France in 1814, the Congress of
Vienna divided Italy into eight parts, most under foreign rule: Parma, Modena and Tuscany were ruled by the
Hapsburgs; Lombardy and Venetia were ruled by Austria; Piedmont-Sardinia-Genoa and the Papal States were
independent; and Naples and Sicily were ruled by France. This abysmal condition was the impetus behind the Italian
Unification (1814 to 1861)
Our brief history of Italy culminates in unification.
The Risorgimento was a complex process that eventually unified the different states of
the Italian peninsula into the modern nation of Italy. The movement began in 1815 with a growing resentment towards
the peninsula's domination by Austria.
Two prominent figures in the unification movement were Giuseppe
Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi. A native of Genoa, Mazzini was imprisoned in 1830 for his role in the Carbonari
secret society. From his exile in France and later England, he mounted a series of unsuccessful uprisings in Italy,
but eventually worked with Garibaldi to achieve their dream of unification. His funeral in 1872 attracted 100,000
Giuseppe Garibaldi was born in Nice (Nizza), and, like Mazzini,
was a member of the Carbonari secret society. He fled Italy in 1834 after a failed insurrection, but returned in
1854 to continue his campaign. Italy was officially unified in 1861, with Rome and Latium annexed in 1870 and the
Trieste region after World War 1.
Since unification, Italy has experienced a tumultuous period that
saw a mass exodus of her people and the disastrous consequences of two World Wars. Yet over the past 60 years the
country has reclaimed its position as a major social and cultural player in world affairs. Italian goods and
services have excellent international reputations, and Italy remains one of the most popular tourist destinations
in Europe. Italy was one of the founding members of the European Economic Community, and despite the turbulent
nature of Italian politics, enjoys positive economic growth and a high standard of living.
The richness of its past and the 'live-life-to-the-fullest'
attitude of its present combine to make Italy a must-see travel destination.
Brief History Of Italy Isn't Enough...
This brief history of Italy can't do justice to the many events
that make up the story of a nation. If history is your passion, there are many online sources for books on Italy.
Here are three of the best from Amazon Books:
[Pass your cursor over each image for more
To understand Italy and the Italians, it's essential to take a
look at history, even if it's simply a brief history of Italy. To learn more about Italy's story,
visit A Brief History
of Italy: Rome.