A Brief History of Italy

Some 200,000 years ago, Ice Age hunters crossed the Alps in search of game and settled in caves. Later wanderers arrived from the east and by 2000 BC, the people of the Italian peninsula had evolved into an agricultural society. With the introduction of iron about 900 BC, trade between the different groups developed and prosperity increased.

Around 800 BC, Greek mariners and traders began to settle the southern shores of Italy and Sicily, and the Etruscan culture began to gain prominence in the west-central area of modem day Tuscany, north of Rome. Believed to be descended from the local indigenous population and ancestors of

Rome was founded in c.753 BC, presumably by the Latin and Sabine tribes, but were ruled by Etruscan kings from 616 BC. The last of these lungs were expelled about 510 BC simultaneous to the establishment of the Roman republic. The unification of Italy soon began. It was a process that did not reach its final stage until 89 BC, when the right of Roman citizenship was granted to peoples living from the Alps in the north to Sicily in the south. Roman institutions and the Latin language and culture spread throughout the region.

In 31 BC, the Roman Empire was born largely as a result of the military conquests of Augustus who would later become the Roman emperor. The following centuries were a period of great expansion when Roman influence grew to extend from Scotland to the Red Sea, and from the Caspian Sea to the Strait of Gibraltar. As a consequence to this external growth, the importance of Italy grew less; and in 330, the capital was transferred from Rome to Constantinople. It was, however, gradually becoming an important center for Christianity. In 378 AD, it became the state religion.

The Empire fell in 476, after which, military control of much of the Empire fell into barbarian hands. A series of foreign invasions by the Byzantines, Lombards (568 AD), Franks (774 AD), Saracens from Africa (827 AD) and Normans (1046 AD) saw Italy come under the control of many different authorities. Much of the old order was destroyed but luckily the Church and its scattered monasteries preserved a great amount of period art and culture which would bloom anew later in the Middle Ages.

Under the rule of the foreigners, the peninsula was divided into many duchies which gradually grew into city-states. By the eleventh century, the coastal towns of Venice, Arnalfi, Genoa, and Naples grew into important maritime trading centers. Florence, Pisa, and Milan also prospered. In 1046 AD, the Normans invaded the south and expelled the Saracens and Byzantines, and established a stronghold in the areas of Apulia Calabria, Campania, and Sicily. By the early 13th century, Palerrno had become one of the wealthiest and most powerful states in Europe.

The Renaissance period from 1300 to 1700 saw many changes in Italy. The Papacy tried to extend its influence over the rest of Europe and for much of the 14th century located itself at Avignon, France, while the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire focused their attentions on German affairs. There was an intellectual revival and much of what is cherished today in art, architecture, and sculpture, as well as much of our political science and scientific methods, date from this period in Italy. Florence rose to become the most magnificent and prestigious center of the arts while Italian thought and style grew to influence all of Europe. From thisera we get Giotto, Machiavelli, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. North American explorers Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) and Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus) also came from this period in Italy. The Renaissance period came to a gradual close in the 18th century with the advent of new ideas from France and Britain.

18th century with the advent of new ideas from France and Britain.

General Napoleon Bonaparte of France invaded Italy in 1796 and brought the entire peninsula under French rule. Before the Italians rid themselves of their French aggressors and peace returned to Europe in 1814, an Italian movement began to restore an independent and united Italy. In 1815, the peninsula consisted of the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont, Sardinia, Savoy, and Genoa); the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Naples and Sicily); the Papal States; Tuscany; and a number of smaller duchies in north central Italy. Lombardy and Venetia were under the control of the Austrians.

The unification movement, known as the Risorgimento, began to work actively for unity and independence. A series of revolts began in the 1820s and continued up until 1848. In 1849 they warred against Austria. The Italians lost but their quest for a single country free of foreign rule continued under the new leadership of Sardinia's Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour. He led Italy to unification, culminating in the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Venetia was added in 1866 and Rome in 1870.

The new country faced many serious problems, but to gain international influence, it joined with Germany and Austria to form the 'Triple Alliance' in 1882. Subsequent wars with Ethiopia and Turkey erupted. When World War I broke out, Italy initially remained neutral; but, in 1915, the Italians joined the Allies after being promised territories that they generally regarded already as being Italian, although unliberated. Unprepared for major war, however, the country suffered great losses of people and property. The treaties following the war delivered only a small number of the territories they expected. This, coupled with staggering levels of unemployment and unrest (directed against the Allies as well as their own government), led to the establishment of Fascism by Benito Mussolini in 1919.

Though his shrewd political maneuvering and widespread violence perpetrated by his squads, Mussolini and his Fascist followers gained increasing support. In October 1922, King Victor Emmanuel III named Mussolini prime minister. Within four years, Mussolini became a dictator, destroyed civil liberties and imposed a totalitarian regime. Despite this, and because of the energy he expended on public works projects and propaganda, Mussolini gained popularity. With his foreign policy based on aggression and expansion, in 1935-36 the Italian army invaded and conquered Ethiopia, and in 1936, became involved in the Spanish Civil War. Later that year Mussolini and Adolf Hitler of Germany established the Rome-Berlin Axis and in 1940, nine months after the outbreak of World War II, Italy entered the conflict on Germany's side.

Mussolini's troops encountered defeat on all fronts. When the Allies invaded Sicily 1943, the Fascist leadership turned against Mussolini, and the lung forced him to resign. The king and his new prime minister, Pietro Badoglio, surrendered to the Allies in September and then joined in the war against Germany. Two years of bitter clashes between the Allies and Germans ensued but by April 1945, Mussolini was captured and executed.

After the war, in June 1946, a new republic of Italy was formed. Industrial growth and agricultural reform became the focuses for a rejuvenated economy. In 1949, Italy joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Community in 1958. Today it is also a member of the 'Group of Seven' leading industrialized countries.

Sicily, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, south-west of Italy. In the 8th century BC Phoenicians founded trading posts in the west of the island, while Greeks colonized the eastern and southern coasts. From the 5th to the 3rd centuries BC conflict between Carthage and the Greeks (led by Syracuse) was a feature of the island's history. Then in 264 BC the first of the Punic wars between Carthage and Rome began, and by 210BC the island was totally under Roman control, and remained so until it was occupied by the Vandals and then the Ostrogoths. Belisarius took possession of the island for the Byzantine empire in A D 535, a rule which lasted until the 9th century when the Arabs won control after prolonged and ferocious fighting. Under their benevolent regime Palermo in particular flourished. Two centuries of Arab rule were ended by Norman colonization. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was formed by Roger II in 1139, when Sicily was linked to the kingdom of Naples. Norman rule was followed by Surabian and Angevin rule, the latter ended by the infamous "Sicilian Vespers in 1282.There then followed more than four centuries of rule by Aragonese princes and Spanish kings. Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies, was overthrown by a French Revolutionary army in 1799 and seven years later Joseph Bonaparte was crowned King of Naples.

Sicilian Vespers, the name given to an uprising and massacre in Sicily which began at the time of vespers (the evening church service) on Easter Tuesday in 1282. It marked the end of the rule of the Angevins in the island and of their dynastic ambitions in Italy. Charles I of Anjou had received the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from Pope Urban IV in 1266 and to claim it had defeated the Hohenstaufen Manfred, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. His rule was extremely harsh, enforcing heavy taxation, and the French occupation was generally hated. Within a month all the French had been killed or forced to flee and the crown was later given to Pedro III of Aragon, who thwarted Angevin attempts at reoccupation, and who passed the crown to his son Frederick III of Sicily.