Civilization has been present in Italy since before 8,000 BC. This period of pre-history in Italy included settlements during the Copper Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. The Etruscan culture was present around 800 BC and the Greeks settled the Southern part of the country from 700 to 600 BC.
The first notable period in Italian history was during the Roman Empire, from the 5th century BC until the 5th century AD. Legend has it that the city of Roman in Italy was founded by Romulus and Remus. It continued to expand and eventually grew into an empire. It was the Romans who “named” Italy when they began calling the Italian peninsula Italia. The area flourished under Roman rule and continued until the death of the emperor Augustus in 476 AD.
The fall of the Roman Empire was followed by a series of invasions during the Middle Ages, from the 6th to 14th centuries. During this time, tribes from Germany and France moved into the area and established kingdoms. By the end of the 11th century many of the invasions were over and trade began to expand. Four Italian cities including Venice, Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi gained major political and commercial power. By the end of the 12th century, the Holy Roman Empire had gained autonomy and northern Italy was a group of independent kingdoms, city states, and republics.
The Renaissance was an important time in the history of Italy. From the 14th to the 16th century, there was a great deal of disparity between the
regions of the country. Many of the areas were economically depressed and the Papacy was relocated to France. It did not return to Rome until 1478. Naples, Sardinia, and Sicily were all controlled by foreign powers. The Italian Renaissance began in Tuscany, later spreading to Milan, Venice, and into other areas of Europe. It grew out of groups of Greek scholars moving into the area. The Medici family also played a role, as did the invention of the printing press, which helped to spread information. Many of history’s best known artists were a part of this period in Italian history, including Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Michelangelo. It was during this time that the Tuscan dialect took hold in the country.
Unrest and Occupation
Following the Italian Renaissance was another period of unrest. France invaded northern Italy in 1494, and Spain and Germany attacked Rome in 1527. The Italian Wars ended with three separate Italian Republics gaining independence, but Spanish control of certain areas lasted until 1713. Following the defeat of France in 1814, the Congress of Vienna divided the country into eight parts, most of which fell under foreign rule. Parts of the country were ruled by the Hapsburgs, Austria, and France. The areas of Piedmont, Sardinia, and Genoa, as well as the Papal States remained independent.
The Risorgimento was the process by which Italy was unified again once and for all. It began in 1815 when Giusseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi worked together to achieve their shared dream of unification. The two were members of the Carbonari secret society and achieved their dream in 1861.
There have been difficult periods since the unification and many people left the country during both World Wars I and II. In the past half century, Italy has become a world super power with a strong economy. The country has seen political strife in recent years, but continues to play a role in world affairs.