Italian History


Figure 1.--

Italy is a country that has been at the center of Western civilization. Italy is central for several reasons. It was the continuation of classical Greek civilzation and helped transmit it throughout Western Europe. Rome was not as innovative as classical Greece, but it effectively preserved and transmitted classical Greek thought. Rome's own main unique contribution to Western civilization was secular law. As imperfectly administered as it was, the legal tradition guaranteeing rights to the individual which even the state cannot violate, was perhaps Rome's greatest achievement. It stands to day as one of the central pillars of Western civilization. It is ironic that the origin of the Western legal tradition was a war-like state based upon conquest and slavery. Italy's importance is not limited to ancient Rome. It was medieval Italy that reintroduced classical thinking to the West through the Renaisance which played such a central role in the development of the Western tradition. Some of the great treasures of Western civilization come down to us from the Italian Renaissance which of course sparked a Renaissance throughout Western Europe. The Western Christianity and Islam share many of the same traditions. Where they diverge stems from the fact that Islamic culture did not experience the Renaissance. After the Renaissance, the focus of European history shifts north, in part because the Catholic Counter Reformation prevented the Reformation from entering Italy. Italy was one of the last major European states to unify. The country participated in the colonial scramble for Africa, but felt slighted. Large numbers of Italians emigrated to America. Italy fought with the Allies during World War I. The country afterthe War embraced Fascism under Mussolini and fought with NAZI Germany during World War II. Italy joined NATO during the Cold war despite having the largest Communist Party in the West.

Resources

The Italian Peninsula is located centally in the Meditrerranran. The Apennine mountain range forms the backbone of the peninsula. The peminsula has rich soil and summer pastures. There are copper deposits along the northern coast of Tuscany and rich iron deposits on Elba. Thus providing important assetts for both the broze and iron age. Italy has a long coastline, but relatively few sheltered inlets. There are few important rivers other than the Po in the north.

Human Settlement

There were many varied groups which settled Italy and Sicily. The area of modern Italy was settled by a variery of different prople. Traces of human habitation appear about 500,000 BC. Two destinct cultures develop, the Terramaricoli people in the north (Po valley) and the Apennie in central and southern Italy.

Pre-Roman Italy

The Italian Peninsula in the 1st millenium BC was inhabited by many varied people. The basis for the regionalism of modern Italy is the ethnic and cultural diversity of pre-Roman Italy. Urban socities appeared on the peninsula (7th cenury BC). One culture were the Latins among which Rome was only one of the developing city states. The most important Iron Age people on the Italian peninsula were the Villanovan culture out of which the Etruscans developed. The most notable pre-Roman culture in Italy itself was the Etruscans which dominated central Italy. The Etrusans are not a very well known people, but Rome itself was essentially built on an Etrusan base. Historians disagree as to the origins of the Etruscans. They developed out of settlement in Etruia and Campania. There was no centralized Etruscan state which is one reason they could not resist Roman incursions. The Estrucans were a group of culturally related city states. Modern Bologna is one of the Estruscan city states. They were innovative builders and Roman architecture has Etruscan roots (stone arches, paving, aqueducts, and sewers). Urban society also appeared in souther Italy (6th century). Historians report true cities appearing (4th cenyury BC). Appenine Italy continued as a largely nonurban culture. [Flower] The Greeks had established several colonies, mostly in the south and on Sicily. The Celts (Gauls) dominated much of Europe. They had pushed beyond the Pyrenees into Spain and were pushing through the Alps into northern Italy where they would pose a major challenge to Rome.

Rome

Roman history covers more than a millenium. Roman legend dates their fondation to the sons of Mars (the War god), twin brothers Romulus and Remus (735 BC). They were raised a she-wolf. Romulus decided that he was a descendant of the Trojan Army defeated by the Greeks. He saw Rome as a great city that would inherit the mantle of Troy. When his brother laughed at the Idea, Romulas killed him and declared himself the first king of Rome. Rome at first was governed by a monarchy. Romans overthrew their last king (509 BC) and set up a Republic. Rome under the Republic was ruled by two elected officials (consuls) and legislative bodies. This was a tradition of divided powers upon which modern representative government is based. There were two legislative bodies. The Senate was composed of wealthy aristocrats (patricians) and was the more important body. The lower body which represented the common Romans (plebeians) and limited powers. Rome's Republican institutions served well, but Rome gradually changed from a small city state to the center of a substantial overseas empire. Substantial territories were assed during the Punic Wars with Carthage. Caesar added Gaul. Roman leaders were unable to adjust republican institutions to these changes and the growth of of a large population of urban poor. Rome's conquests brought in huge numbers of slaves on which the economy increasingly depended. The Republic almost fell in the Servile Wars, especially Spartacus' revolt. The Republic as military leaders established dictatorships and the Repulican instititutions mere formalities (1st century BC). Caesar finally brouht his Army south from Gaul and seized Rome. He was assasinated by senators loyal to the Republic. In the Civil War War that followed, Caesar's nephew Octavian emerged victorious after defeating Abthony and Cleopatra at Actium (29 BC). Octavian as the Emperor ugustus established the Pax Romana and a realm that included the entire Mediterranean ans almost all of Western Europe. The Germanic Tribes stopped his efforts to expand east in the Turonber Forrest (9 AD). Rome thrived for 200 years under the Pax Romana even during the rule of some disolute emperors. A long process of decline began with the death of Marcus Aurelius, often seen as Rome's last great emperor (180 AD). Rome was beset by a range of difficulties, including economic problems, barbarian invasions, domestic instability, and territorial rebellions. The end of conquests reduced the wealth flowing into Rome. Maintaining Rome's borders proved expensive. Christianity which was persecuted for over three centuries became the state religion (380 AD). Rome divided into an Eastern and Western Empires. The Eastern Empire based at Constantinope managed to fend off the barbatrians and went on to thrive, evolving into the Byzantine Empire. Rome in the West declined and was eventually destroyed by barbarians, both the Huns and Germanic tribes.

Barbarian Invasions

The Western and Eastern Empire attempted to maintain the borders at the Rhine and Danube. The Germanic tribes presured in the East by Asiatic tribes proved to numerous to stop. The tribes made increasing inroads into the Empire. The last real attempt by the Romans to stop the barbarians ended with the destruction of an entire Roman army and the death of the Western emperor at Adrinople (378 AD). Barbarians sacked Rome (410 AD). The Germanic Tribes were not the only barbarian invaders. The Huns proved to be the most devetating of the barbarian hordes the Empire faced. The Eastern Empire managed to defend Constantinople, but was unable to to protect the Western Empire. The Westen Empire collapsed.

Creating Medieval Italy

As the Western Empire declined in the 5th century, Germanic peoples (Visigoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Huns, Heruli, Alemanni etc.) migrated west, many settled in Italy. The fall of Rome, however, meant a gradual decline in the economy and falling populations, especially urban populations. Despite the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy remained largely united in the early Mideveal era. First Odoacer ruled who ws then replaced by Theodoric the Ostrogoth (493-526). With the fall of the Roman imperial regime, the influnce of the Christian church became increasingly important and the Papacy began exerting its auhority. Leo I (440-461) and Gregory the Great (590-604) played especially important roles. With Gregory the Papacy begn to assume temporal political functions as it expanded its territory from Rome to an increasing part of central Italy. Westen monachism began to grow with the guidance of St. Benedict of Nursia (480-543). The Benedictine monasteries and abbeys and those of other orders were not only places of religious veneration, but centers for preserving culture and important economic institutions. A period of stability permitted the Eastern Emperor Justinian (527-565) the opportunity to recapture lands lost to the barbarians. This raised the prospect of restablihing the Roman Empire. The result was the lomg Italian campaign--tge destructive Graeco-Gothic War (535-553). There were three sieges of Rome which turned the once great metropolis into a foresaken ruin. Justinian suceeded in recapturing much of Italy and other areas of the former Roman Empire. The gains, however, proved transitory. [Jacobsen] The Gothic War resulted in the Lombards invaded Italy. They were followed by the Germans (Holy Roman Empire). Eventually Italy became a patchwork of competing city-states. Rome became the domaine of the Catholic Church and the papal states became the most powerful Italian state. Other developments began the process of craeting the modern map of Europe and North Africa. The Franks began transforming Roman Gaul into France. And Christian North Africa soon fell to the first wave of Arab expansion transplaning Islam.

Dark Ages

The early medieval era became known as the Dark Ages and life was dominated by the Church.

Renaisance

Prosperity did not return to Italy again until the late medieval era (14th century). Italian city-states (Florence, Milan, Pisa, Genoa, and Venice) became important trading centers. The most notable Italian trader was Marco Polo. Expanding trade brought increasing wealth. Expanding trade and increasing wealth helped to make Italy the major European cultural center. Wealthy patrons funded artists (Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo) who created great works of art as well as advanced science. This was in part due to the inceased familiarity with classical woks. Here the Arabs, Crusades, and Byzantines played an important role. The European mind set shifted from God and the Church to man and secular learming. Great advances were made in art, literature, politics, and science. The Ottoman pressure on Byzantium helped to force classoval scholars and clasical works to the Italian srates, further fueling the renaissance. When Byzantium fell (1453), trade routes to the east wer closed off. This was a factor in Western Europe seeking trades routes by sailing south an west--the voyages of discovery. Here the Italian states did not fund the voyages, but Italian learning and navigators did, most prominantly Christopher Columbus.

Economic Decline

Italy began to decline ecomomically (16th centuty). The fall of Constantinople (1453) closed off trade routes to the East. European trade routes shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atantic. This seriosly reduced the trading profits of Italian city states like Venice and Genoa. The decline continued as the countries of Western Europe developed maritime trading routes to the East. The Protestant Reformation also eroded the authority of the Catholic Church in northern Europe, furthern weakening the Italian economy. This left Italy vulnerable to foreign invasion, particularly from France and Austria.

Reformation

The Protestan Revolution was the religious struggle during the 16th and 17th century which began as an effort to reform the Catholic Church and ended with the splintering of the Western Christendom into the Catholic and Protestant churches. Combined with the Renaissance which preceeded it, the reformatuin marked the end of the Medieval world and the beginning of a modern world view. The French Revolution which followed the Reformation in the 18th century marked the beginning of our modern age. Conditions developing in Medieval Europe laid the groundwork for the Reformation. The Reformation began when a German monk, Martin Luthur nailed his 95 Thesis on the church door in ??? (1517). Luthur was offended by the papal sale of indulgences by which the Renaissance popes were fiancing the splendid new church of St. Peters in Rome. Luthur's concern with indulgences were soon mixed with a complex mix of doctrinal, political, economic, and cultural issues that would take Ruropean Church anfd temporal leaders nearly two centuries to partially resolve and several devestating wars, especially the 30 Years War in Germany. Western Christendom would be left permanently split and even the Cathloic Church profoundly changed. Changes in man's view of himself and the Church were to also affect his view relative to the state and many in Europe began to question royal absolutism and divinr right monarchy, a process keading to the French Revolution.

Counter Reformation

The Catholic response to the Reformation is refrred to as the Counter or Catholic Reformation. The Counter Reformmation was at first an effort to supress the escalating Protestant Reformtion, but there was also a movement to revive and reform the Roman Catholic Church. The effort was not only inspired by the Lutheran and Calvinist movements as well as within the Catholic Church itself. Many issues are associated with the Counter Reformation. Many were primasrily concerned with defeating the Lutherans and other developing Protestant sects. Others were concerned with correcting abuses within the Catholic Church as well as reassess doctrinal issues. The first major step in the Counter Reformation was the Council of Trent (1545-63).

French Revolution

Napoleon made is name as a great general in Italy. The earliest campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars are fought there. His victories there gave him the ability to redraw the map of Italy. The percecution of the Jews was ended. And the seeds of Italian nationalism was sewn.

Savoy


Unification

The Italian nationalist movement is known as the "Risorgimento" (Resurgence) and resulted in unification. Italy was the source of the Renaissance which swept over Europe beginning in the 14th century. As a result of the Counter Reformation, however, Italy did not share in the Enligtenment that followed the Reformation. The Church effectively stifled scientific inquiry and other intelectual pursuirs. The country continued to be very traditional and the south virtually feudal. This began to change with the French Revolution when new poliical ideas and and modern concepts of nationalism were introduced to Italy. The great powers divided Italy following Napoleon's defeats in 1814-15 into the Papal States, Austrian duchies, the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and several smaller principalities. . The Congress of Vienna sought to reinstate the conservative monrchial regime that had been almost overthrown by the French Revolution and Napoleon. The seeds of Italian national sentiment and the ideals of liberty had been sown in Italy as a result of the French invasion which brought with it the ideals of the French Revolution. Giuseppe Mazzini was a fervent Italian patriot who led the initial Italian national movement. He led the Liberal Movement and sought to create an Italian republic to govern a united Italy. It was to be te House of Savoy, however, that wouls succeed in unifying Italy. While conservative regimes were restored in Italy, Piedmont-Sardinia survived as a constitutional monarchy. King Victor Emanuel appointed Count Camillo di Cavour prime minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia (1852). Cavour was to play a major role in the unification. Under his leadership Italy would be unified under monarchial rule rather than the republic Mazzini so desired. Cavour was no revolutionary, he was, however, a swreud politican. Giuseppe Garibaldi was the nationlist military leader played a more flamboyant rtole and helped complete the unification of Italy.

Scramble for Africa

Italy obtained colonies in East Africa. The Kingdom of Italy itself was declared in 1861, after Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia had annexed Kingdom of Lombardy and Venice (this Kingdom was not independent, but controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and Kingdom of Naples (including all South Italy and Sicily). Rome became Italian only in 1870. Italy was a poor country. Many Italians emigrated to North and South America. The colonial effort was a attempt to share in the partition of Africa. This was bnoth a matter of national pride as well the result of the widly heald opinion that colonies were needed for a healthy economy. An Italian company (Rubattino) bought the rights to Assab Bay from the local Sultan (1869). The Italian Government bought these rights from the company and declared Assab an Italian colony (1882). This was Italy's first territorial acquisition in Africa. Assab became the primary port in what was to become the colony of Eritrea. The Italians also seized Somaliland. A small protectorate was estanlished (2889). Some resistance was encoutered as the Italians expanded their new colony (1889-92). The Italians assisted Ethiopian Emperor Menelik expand his territory in East Africa. The Italians claimed that in exchange Menelik had agreed to a protecorate and invaded. They were decisively defeated by the Ethiopians at the battle of Aduwa/Adowa (1895). This was a rare African victory over European colonizers. Italy was forced to recognize the independence of Ethiopia. After the war with Memelik, Italy declared the colony of Eritrea in the coastal area they still controlled. Italy nexed seized Libya after a brief war with the Ottomans (1912). Ethiopia remained independent until the Italians under Mussolini invaded (1935), causing a major incident. The young Emperor Haile Salassie appealed to the League of Nations, but jhalf-hearted anctions were quickly abandoned. Mussolini dreamed of seizing Egypt and Suez after declaring war pn Britain and France (1940). Subatantial Italian forces were stationed in both Libya and Italian East Africa. The massive Itlaian invasion from Libya was defeated by a small British force (1940) and only German intervention prevented the fall of Libya (1941). Another small British Commonwealth force attacking from Sudan and Kenya seized Italian East Africa (1941).

Emigration

Italians began coming to America in large numbers during the late 19th century. The Italian immigration is notable not only for the number who stayed and made successful lives in America, but also or the number who returned to Italy. Perhaps because of strong family ties, many came to America to earn money and then return to Italy. An estimated half of the 4 million Italians who came to America returned. These were Italians often from deprived backgrounds who returned to Italy with money and were able to buy land and live in vastly improved circumstances. Their tales of life in America helped create an image of America which caused more Italians to immigrate. The impact on Italy itself must have been significant, but I do not yet know of a study which addresses this. Perhaps our Italian readers will be more familiar with the literature. The Italians were among the most preyed upon of all the European immigrants and largely by the earlier genration of Itlalian immigrants. Many Italians, especially those from southern Italy were largely uneducated. Many were illiterate even in their own language and thus easy prey for the padroni who served as employment broakers. We have several images of Italian immigrants archived on HBC.

World War I

taly which was allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary decided to remain neutral when war broke out (1914). This was a critical decesssion as an Italian attack from the south might have been sufficient to have brought a German vicyory in the west. The followung year the Allies convinced Italy to join them, offering financial assistance and territorial concessions at the expense of Austria-Hungary. Italy declared war on May 23, 1915). Four indesivive battles on the Isonzo River followed with Austro-Hungary (June-December 1915). The Italian goal was to take Trieste, a largely Italian city on the Adriatic. The city was important to the Audstria because it was the Empire's only important port. Without Trieste, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was largely land-locked. The War proved to be much more costly than the Government expected. There were huge casualties and the the financial impact destabilized the Italian economy. And despite the losses and cost, Italy achieved only limited territorial gains.

Fascism

Fascism first developed in Italy during the period of economic dislocaion and social unrest which followed World War I. The Fascists coined the term Totalitarian and while Musollini may have expired toward that goal, he never created a truly totalitarian state, but rather a personal dictatorship and authoritarian state. Unlike other political movements, Fascism does not appear to have develoed out of any clearly discernable 19th century tradition. THe Fascists first appear after World War I in 1919 and led by Mussolini managed to seized power in 1922-25. The poltical orientation of Italian Fascism was initially on the Socialist left, but with a strong nationalistic strain. From the beginning the Fascists believd in using violence to achieve thir goals, but their were also elements of idealism and anti-materialism at least in the ideology. Fascists supported Italian colonialism, but initially supported Communist ideals such as opposition to imperialism and racism. Mussolini as il Duce shifted the party to the right in a series of practical and profitable compromises with the country's important institutions. Italian Fascists invented the term "totalitarian" for Fascist Italy, hoever, Mussolini never carried out a comprehensive Fascist revolution. Rather he ruled as an authoritarian leader in a state that some limited pluralist features. After Mussolini's elevation to power, Fascism began its development of a authoritarian form of social organization. Within a few years, representative democracy in Italy had been replaced by a centralized autocracy which at its apex was the absolute dictatorship of Mussolini in whom were concentrated all the principal functions of Government. Directly under him was the Grand Council of Fascism, constituting the political general staff of the regime and of the Fascist Party. The Fascist Party was legally identified with the state, and all other parties were outlawed.

World War II

While little good can be said of the 12 years of NAZI rule in Germany, Italy is significantly different. Although it is not popular to say so, there were, along with the many negative aspects, possitive impacts of Missolini's Fascist movement. It is said that Mussolini made the trains run on time, but in fact there was much more to Fascist rule in Italy. Fascism was in fact a factor for modernization, especially for southern Italy which in the 1920s was still almost feudal. The excesses of the NAZIs were in part limited by the fact that Mussolini was not the homicidal maniac that Hitler was and the that the Italian Fascists were not as committed to the same racist doctrine that the NAZIs persued. Programs like eugenics, Lensensorn, euthenasia, and Eindeutschung, were never persued by the Itlalian Fascists. Here the fact that Mussolini never dared confront the Church as Hitler did, prevented the excesses of the NAZIs. Mussolini was, however, dazzeled by the military success of the NAZIs and joined Hitler in 1940 with an invasion of France, only after France had been essentially destroyed by the Wehrmacht. The Italian people turned on Mussolini as the illconceived War turned against the Italians and their German allies. The Italian Fascit were certainly not the friends of Jews, but the Holocaust in Italy was forced on Italy only after the NAZIs occupied Italy in late 1943 and Mussolini became a pawn of the NAZIs in late 1943 of the NAZIs.

Cold War

Italians after World War II after a refrendum abolished the monarchy and declared itself a republic. With the support of the United States, Italy rebuilt its economy through Marshall Plan loans. Italy despite having the largest Cimmunist Party in Western Europe joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

European Unification

Italy was a strong supporter of European integgration. It has become a successful demoracy and one of the most prosperous countries of Europe.

Sources

Flower, Harriet I. The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic (Cambridge University Press).

Jacobsen, Torsten Cumberland. The Gothic War: Justinian's Campaihn to Reclain Italy (2o013), 384p.







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Created: 7:36 PM 10/20/2007
Last updated: 10:32 PM 3/30/2013