Italy - History

Italy - History

Italy is considered as the focal point of modern history of the world. It was home to one of the most powerful and great empires, the Roman Empire, the starting point for Renaissance and also produced some the greatest artists and personalities like Picasso and Leonardo-da-Vinci.

Italy has a very lengthy and and tumultuous history. Mainly due to its location at the center of Mediterranean trading routes.Italy was subject to some of the most brutal invasions as well as serving as a focal point for creativity and learning. The history of Italy can be divide into 6 major eras.

  1. The Roman Empire (5th century BC to 5th century AD)
  2. The Middle Ages (6th to 14th century)
  3. The Renaissance (14th century to 16th century)
  4. Foreign Rule (1559 to 1814)
  5. Unification (1814 to 1861)
  6. The World Wars
Get ready to take a look into the amazing history of Italy. So lets get started.

The Roman Empire: -

The first civilization known in Italy was established by Etruscans in around 8th century BC. They were based in modern day Tuscany. During the 5th century, their power began to wane. Taking advantage of this Romulus and Remus founded Rome. In the years to come, Rome expanded its territories and came to be known as the Roman Empire. 

The Roman Empire, at the beginning, was actually a republic system based on annually elected magistrates and various representative assemblies. In the coming years the Republic was attacked by several troops, the Gauls, the Tarentum and Carthage. But all the efforts failed and Rome gained control over Hispania, Sicily and North Africa. After defeating the Macedonian and Seleucid Empires, Roman became the dominant people in the Mediterranean region.

During the mid of 1st century BC, the Republic faced political crisis and social unrest. This period saw the rise of Julius Caesar. Gradually, Caesar starting accumulating offices and after defeating in opponents, established himself as a dictator of Rome. Following Caesar's assassination, Rome was left in political and social turmoil.


In 27 BC Octavian was left as the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. The empire reached its zenith under his leadership. In the same year Octavian took the name Augustus. There was a lot of development in Latin Literature in this period. His enlightened rule resulted in 200 years long peaceful and thriving era for the empire.

After the death of Emperor Theodosius in 395 AD, the Empire was divided into Eastern and Western Roman Empire. Later, Italy was reunited by Odoacer for a few years. But soon after, it was divided into several barbarian kingdoms and did not reunite for the next thirteen centuries.

The Middle Ages Era: -

This era of Italian history is marked with a series of invasions, formation of Papal States and the rise of four major commercial centers of Italy - Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi and Venice. 

It began with the end of Odoacer's rule by Ostrogoth's a German tribe. This was followed by the Lombards, which ended the Byzantine Empire in central Italy. Due to offence from the Lombards, the Papacy appealed French for help. In 756, the French defeated the Lombards and gave Papacy legal authority over central Italy, thus establishing Papal States. This was followed by a series of attacks Islamic States from North Africa, Arabian Peninsula and Middle East.

This darkest period of Italian history continued till the 10th century AD. From the 11th century, trade began to flourish again and cities began to grow. Papacy also regained its authority.

During the 12th and 13th century many city-states emerged in Italy, with their society based on merchants and commerce. Milan, Florence, Venice and many other city-states became international trading centers, banking hubs and intellectual crossroads. These Italian city-states played a crucial role in financial development and emergence of new forms of social and economic organisation.

All these changes coupled with direct Church control and Imperial powers created ideal conditions for the artistic and intellectual changes which were created by Renaissance.

The Renaissance: -

Italy was the main center of Renaissance, whose flourishing of arts, architecture, literature, science and political theory influenced all of Europe. The Italian Renaissance was a cultural movement that began in Tuscany in 14th century and then spread from Florence to Siena. The major factors which resulted in this movement were the influx of Greek scholars and the second invasion of Constantinople by Ottoman Turks in 1453.

The era gave rise to some of the best artists in the world - Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Buonarotti, Sandro Botticelli and Francesco Petrarch were some of them. The invention of printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 also saw freer flow of information. Inspired by Renaissance, the Italian popes rebuild Rome and it began flourishing once again. The movement also spread to other cities like Milan, Venice and other northern parts of Europe influencing arts, architecture, literature, science, philosophy and intellectual arenas. Within Italy, the dominance of Tuscan culture led to Tuscan dialect which later became the official Italian language.

The most amazing works from this period include the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral or the Florence cathedral, St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini. 

Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral

The Foreign Rule: -

Every time in the history of Italy, a golden era was followed by a dark one. The foreign invasions of Italy are also known as the Italian Wars and it began in 1494 with the invasion of France and a widespread destruction of northern Italy and ending the independence of many city-states. There were a series of wars that followed for power and territory, all of which ended in 1559. During this period, Venice's hinterland was attacked and devastated twice, first by Turks in 1499 and later by League of Cambrai in 1509.

In 1527, Spain and Germany attacked Rome. By 1559, Spain controlled Milan, Naples, Sardinia, Sicily and southern Tuscany. The Spanish control of Italy lasted till 1713. Under the Spanish rule, Italy saw a long period of peace. The Spanish rule was followed by Austrian rule from 1713 till 1796.

During the Napoleonic Era(1796 to 1814), Italy was briefly united by Napoleon as the Italian Republic. After the defeat of Napoleonic France in 1814, Congress of Austria divided Italy into 8 different parts.
  1. Parma, Modena and Tuscany were ruled by Hapsburg.
  2. Lombardy and Venetia were ruled by Austria. 
  3. Piedmont-Sardinia-Genoa and Papal states were independent.
  4. Sicily and Naples were ruled by France.
This abysmal condition was the major reason behind the Italian Unification Movement.

Unification: -

The Risorgimento was a political and social process that unified different states of Italian Peninsula into a single 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. Both of them were a member of Carbonari secret society. Carbonari was a secret society formed by some revolutionists after being inspired from the French Revolution. 

Mazzini was born in Genoa. He launched a series of unsuccessful uprisings in Italy, but later worked with Garibaldi to achieve his dream. His funeral in 1827 attracted 100,000 people.

Garibaldi was from Nizza. He fled Italy after an unsuccessful insurrection in 1834. In 1854, he returned back to complete his campaign. Italy was officially united in 1861, with Rome and Latium annexed in 1870 and Trieste region after World War I.

The World Wars: - 

Italy did not enter the World War I. Britain decided to pay subsidies and loans to get 36 million Italian soldiers, so as to threaten the southern flank of Austria. Italy proved unable to prosecute the war effectively. In 1916, Italy declared war on Germany which provided significant aid to Austrians.

Italy had participated in the war mainly to gain new territory in the north and the east. But Italy did not receive all the territories as promised by the Pact of London, so the outcome was denounced as Mutilated Victory.

This led to discrepancies between Italy and the Allied powers. Benito Mussolini, declared himself as the dictator of Italy and started his military campaigns to gain new territories. This led to the rise of Fascism in Italy. In 1934, Mussolini and Hitler met for the first time. Mussolini signed a pact with Hitler and set Italy as Nazi allies in World War II. 

Benito Mussolini

Italy invaded Africa but had a disastrous campaign which led to the loss of all her colonies to the Allies. In 1943, American and British troops landed in Sicily and Italy became the first of the Axis powers to be invaded. The Fascist party ousted Mussolini and surrendered to Allies. 

After the war had ended, a referendum abolished monarchy and established the First Italian Republic.

The history of Italy is full of ups and downs. Yet it has contributed a lot to the world history mainly during its Renaissance period. The two world wars had disastrous consequences on the country. Yet over the last 70 years, the country has reclaimed its position as a major social and cultural player in world affairs.



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