Italian culture has a long and rich history. However, Italy as a recognized country is relatively young, in fact, it’s younger than the United States by about 85 years.
In the time before the Roman empire was established, Italy was mostly made up of independent city-states, including the Romans. However, the Etruscans held the power and control over these areas. The Romans eventually overthrew the Etruscans and established a Republic. Once the Roman Empire fell, the city-states were re-established and existed for many years after. Granted their were duchies, communes, and couple Maritime republics, but overall trade was the only thing that connected them.
Around 1792, France invaded and set up another Republic. Then Austria and Russia kicked the French out for a time. Eventually, the French came back, with Napoleon as their leader, and took back Northern Italy. At that point, Italy was divided into three sections: Piedmont, Liguria, Parma, Piacenza, Tuscany, and Rome were all under French rule; the Kingdom of Italy which included Lombardy, Venice, Reggio, Modena, and Romagna; and The Kingdom of Naples which was ruled by Napoleon’s brother.
After Napoleon fell from power, the Congress of Vienna divided Italy into five sections. These included: The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Parma, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The Papal States were also established during this period.
All of this upheaval and continuous reorganization eventually led to what we now call the Unification of Italy. This idea began as wishful thinking, but citizens began embracing it and even formed secret societies devoted to the cause.
In 1831, A group called Young Italy, led by Guiseppe Mazzini, began spreading the ideas of a unified Italy to the other parts of the peninsula. Mazzini was exiled for his radical notions, but the fires had already lit. Seventeen years later, Lombardy and Milan attempted to rebel against Austrian rule. Although several other cities tried to revolt as well, the uprisings were crushed, and control was re-established.
The unification process made some headway when Austria lost to France in the Franco-Austrian Wars. The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia had aided the French during this fight and took Lombardy when Austria relinquished control. Over the next two years, other Northern Italian states joined the Kingdom. In 1860, Giuseppi Garibaldi organized an army to march on the Southern states of Italy.
This part of the unification process was not as easy as the beginning stages had been. There were many battles, while citizens faced food shortages and disease. It was during this time the United States began to see a sharp increase in Italian immigration. Eventually, the southern states lost, and in 1861 the Kingdom of Italy, led by King Victor Emmanuel II, was born.
Rome and Venetia remained unincorporated for the next couple of years. However, the 1866 Austro-Prussian War allowed the Kingdom to take Venetia. Four years later, during the Franco-Prussian War, France pulled its troops from Rome, leaving the city vulnerable to King Emmanuel. His army marched into Rome, and the unification of the country was complete.
The following years were rough. The Papacy was against the unification up until World War II, and the wealthy and middle classes were wary of the other revolutionary ideas that might follow. With time, the country found its footing and even managed to grow its empire during World War I with the additions of Trentino, Friuli, and Trieste. In 1946, the Kingdom of Italy was abolished in favor of a Democratic Republic.
Though Italy spent so much time being divided, then redivided, the cultural impact remained strong and through their struggles, they built the Italy that everyone knows today.
- History of Italy [USHistory.org]
- The Kingdom of Italy [History.state.gov]
- Italian Unification [School History]
- Feature Picture [Wikimedia]