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3300 BCE - 2023

History of Italy

The history of Italy covers the ancient period, the Middle Ages, and the modern era. Since classical antiquity, ancient Etruscans, various Italic peoples (such as the Latins, Samnites, and Umbri), Celts, Magna Graecia colonists, and other ancient peoples have inhabited the Italian Peninsula. In antiquity, Italy was the homeland of the Romans and the metropole of the Roman Empire's provinces. Rome was founded as a Kingdom in 753 BCE and became a republic in 509 BCE, when the Roman monarchy was overthrown in favor of a government of the Senate and the People. The Roman Republic then unified Italy at the expense of the Etruscans, Celts, and Greek colonists of the peninsula. Rome led Socii, a confederation of the Italic peoples, and later with the rise of Rome dominated Western Europe, Northern Africa, and the Near East.

The Roman Empire dominated Western Europe and the Mediterranean for many centuries, making immeasurable contributions to the development of Western philosophy, science and art. After the fall of Rome in CE 476, Italy was fragmented in numerous city-states and regional polities. The maritime republics, in particular Venice and Genoa, rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce, and banking, acting as Europe's main port of entry for Asian and Near Eastern imported goods and laying the groundwork for capitalism. Central Italy remained under the Papal States, while Southern Italy remained largely feudal due to a succession of Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Spanish, and Bourbon crowns. The Italian Renaissance spread to the rest of Europe, bringing a renewed interest in humanism, science, exploration, and art with the start of the modern era. Italian explorers (including Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, and Amerigo Vespucci) discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the Age of Discovery, although the Italian states had no occasions to found colonial empires outside of the Mediterranean Basin.

By the mid-19th century, the Italian unification by Giuseppe Garibaldi, backed by the Kingdom of Sardinia, led to the establishment of an Italian nation-state. The new Kingdom of Italy, established in 1861, quickly modernized and built a colonial empire, controlling parts of Africa, and countries along the Mediterranean. At the same time, Southern Italy remained rural and poor, originating the Italian diaspora. In World War I, Italy completed the unification by acquiring Trento and Trieste, and gained a permanent seat in the League of Nations's executive council. Italian nationalists considered World War I a mutilated victory because Italy did not have all the territories promised by the Treaty of London (1915) and that sentiment led to the rise of the Fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini in 1922. The subsequent participation in World War II with the Axis powers, together with Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan, ended in military defeat, Mussolini's arrest and escape (aided by the German dictator Adolf Hitler), and the Italian Civil War between the Italian Resistance (aided by the Kingdom, now a co-belligerent of the Allies) and a Nazi-fascist puppet state known as the Italian Social Republic. Following the liberation of Italy, the 1946 Italian constitutional referendum abolished the monarchy and became a republic, reinstated democracy, enjoyed an economic miracle, and founded the European Union (Treaty of Rome), NATO, and the Group of Six (later G7 and G20).

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17000 BCE Jan 1 - 238 BCE

Nuragic civilization

Sardinia, Italy

Born in Sardinia and southern Corsica, the Nuraghe civilization lasted from the early Bronze Age (18th century BCE) to the 2nd century CE, when the islands were already Romanized. They take their name from the characteristic Nuragic towers, which evolved from the pre-existing megalithic culture, which built dolmens and menhirs. Today more than 7,000 nuraghes dot the Sardinian landscape.

No written records of this civilization have been discovered, apart from a few possible short epigraphic documents belonging to the last stages of the Nuragic civilization. The only written information there comes from classical literature of the Greeks and Romans, and may be considered more mythological than historical.

The language (or languages) spoken in Sardinia during the Bronze Age is (are) unknown since there are no written records from the period, although recent research suggests that around the 8th century BCE, in the Iron Age, the Nuragic populations may have adopted an alphabet similar to that used in Euboea.

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900 BCE Jan 1 - 27 BCE

Etruscan Civilization


The Etruscan civilization flourished in central Italy after 800 BCE. The origins of the Etruscans are lost in prehistory. The main hypotheses are that they are indigenous, probably stemming from the Villanovan culture. A mitochondrial DNA study of 2013 has suggested that the Etruscans were probably an indigenous population.

It is widely accepted that Etruscans spoke a non-Indo-European language. Some inscriptions in a similar language have been found on the Aegean island of Lemnos. Etruscans were a monogamous society that emphasized pairing. The historical Etruscans had achieved a form of state with remnants of chiefdom and tribal forms. The Etruscan religion was an immanent polytheism, in which all visible phenomena were considered to be a manifestation of divine power, and deities continually acted in the world of men and could, by human action or inaction, be dissuaded against or persuaded in favor of human affairs.

Etruscan expansion was focused across the Apennines. Some small towns in the 6th century BCE have disappeared during this time, ostensibly consumed by greater, more powerful neighbors. However, there exists no doubt that the political structure of the Etruscan culture was similar, albeit more aristocratic, to Magna Graecia in the south. The mining and commerce of metal, especially copper and iron, led to an enrichment of the Etruscans and to the expansion of their influence in the Italian peninsula and the western Mediterranean sea. Here their interests collided with those of the Greeks, especially in the 6th century BCE, when Phoceans of Italy founded colonies along the coast of France, Catalonia and Corsica. This led the Etruscans to ally themselves with the Carthaginians, whose interests also collided with the Greeks.

Around 540 BCE, the Battle of Alalia led to a new distribution of power in the western Mediterranean Sea. Although the battle had no clear winner, Carthage managed to expand its sphere of influence at the expense of the Greeks, and Etruria saw itself relegated to the northern Tyrrhenian Sea with full ownership of Corsica. From the first half of the 5th century, the new international political situation meant the beginning of the Etruscan decline after losing their southern provinces. In 480 BCE, Etruria's ally Carthage was defeated by a coalition of Magna Graecia cities led by Syracuse.

A few years later, in 474 BCE, Syracuse's tyrant Hiero defeated the Etruscans at the Battle of Cumae. Etruria's influence over the cities of Latium and Campania weakened, and it was taken over by Romans and Samnites. In the 4th century, Etruria saw a Gallic invasion end its influence over the Po valley and the Adriatic coast. Meanwhile, Rome had started annexing Etruscan cities. This led to the loss of their north provinces. Etruscia was assimilated by Rome around 500 BCE.

753 BCE - 476
Roman Periodornament
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753 BCE Jan 1 - 509 BCE

Roman Kingdom

Rome, Metropolitan City of Rom

Little is certain about the history of the Roman Kingdom, as nearly no written records from that time survive, and the histories about it that were written during the Republic and Empire are largely based on legends. However, the history of the Roman Kingdom began with the city's founding, traditionally dated to 753 BCE with settlements around the Palatine Hill along the river Tiber in Central Italy, and ended with the overthrow of the kings and the establishment of the Republic in about 509 BCE.

The site of Rome had a ford where the Tiber could be crossed. The Palatine Hill and hills surrounding it presented easily defensible positions in the wide fertile plain surrounding them. All of these features contributed to the success of the city. According to the founding myth of Rome, the city was founded on 21 April 753 BCE by twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who descended from the Trojan prince Aeneas and who were grandsons of the Latin King, Numitor of Alba Longa.

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509 BCE Jan 1 - 27 BCE

Roman Republic

Rome, Metropolitan City of Rom

According to tradition and later writers such as Livy, the Roman Republic was established around 509 BCE, when the last of the seven kings of Rome, Tarquin the Proud, was deposed by Lucius Junius Brutus, and a system based on annually elected magistrates and various representative assemblies was established.

In the 4th century BCE the Republic came under attack by the Gauls, who initially prevailed and sacked Rome. The Romans then took up arms and drove the Gauls back, led by Camillus. The Romans gradually subdued the other peoples on the Italian peninsula, including the Etruscans.

In the 3rd century BCE Rome had to face a new and formidable opponent: the powerful Phoenician city-state of Carthage. In the three Punic Wars, Carthage was eventually destroyed and Rome gained control over Hispania, Sicily and North Africa. After defeating the Macedonian and Seleucid Empires in the 2nd century BCE, the Romans became the dominant people of the Mediterranean Sea.

Towards the end of the 2nd century BCE, a huge migration of Germanic tribes took place, led by the Cimbri and the Teutones. At the Battle of Aquae Sextiae and the Battle of Vercellae the Germans were virtually annihilated, which ended the threat.

In 53 BCE, the Triumvirate disintegrated at Crassus' death. Crassus had acted as mediator between Caesar and Pompey, and, without him, the two generals began to fight for power. After being victorious in the Gallic Wars and earning respect and praise from the legions, Caesar was a clear menace to Pompey, that tried to legally remove Caesar's legions. To avoid this, Caesar crossed the Rubicon River and invaded Rome in 49 BCE, rapidly defeating Pompey. He was murdered in 44 BCE, in the Ides of March by the Liberatores. Caesar's assassination caused political and social turmoil in Rome. Octavian annihilated Egyptian forces in the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. Mark Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, leaving Octavianus the sole ruler of the Republic.

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27 BCE Jan 1 - 476

Roman Empire

Rome, Metropolitan City of Rom

In 27 BCE, Octavian was the sole Roman leader. His leadership brought the zenith of the Roman civilization, that lasted for four decades. In that year, he took the name Augustus. That event is usually taken by historians as the beginning of Roman Empire. Officially, the government was republican, but Augustus assumed absolute powers. The Senate granted Octavian a unique grade of Proconsular imperium, which gave him authority over all Proconsuls (military governors).

Under Augustus's rule, Roman literature grew steadily in the Golden Age of Latin Literature. Poets like Vergil, Horace, Ovid and Rufus developed a rich literature, and were close friends of Augustus. Along with Maecenas, he stimulated patriotic poems, as Vergil's epic Aeneid and also historiographical works, like those of Livy. The works of this literary age lasted through Roman times, and are classics. Augustus also continued the shifts on the calendar promoted by Caesar, and the month of August is named after him. Augustus' enlightened rule resulted in a 200 years long peaceful and thriving era for the Empire, known as Pax Romana.

Despite its military strength, the Empire made few efforts to expand its already vast extent; the most notable being the conquest of Britain, begun by emperor Claudius (47), and emperor Trajan's conquest of Dacia (101–102, 105–106). In the 1st and 2nd century, Roman legions were also employed in intermittent warfare with the Germanic tribes to the north and the Parthian Empire to the east. Meanwhile, armed insurrections (e.g. the Hebraic insurrection in Judea) (70) and brief civil wars (e.g. in 68 CE the year of the four emperors) demanded the legions' attention on several occasions. The seventy years of Jewish–Roman wars in the second half of the 1st century and the first half of the 2nd century were exceptional in their duration and violence. An estimated 1,356,460 Jews were killed as a result of the First Jewish Revolt; the Second Jewish Revolt (115–117) led to the death of more than 200,000 Jews; and the Third Jewish Revolt (132–136) resulted in the death of 580,000 Jewish soldiers. The Jewish people never recovered until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

After the death of Emperor Theodosius I (395), the Empire was divided into an Eastern and a Western Roman Empire. The Western part faced increasing economic and political crisis and frequent barbarian invasions, so the capital was moved from Mediolanum to Ravenna. In 476, the last Western Emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by Odoacer; for a few years Italy stayed united under the rule of Odoacer, only to be overthrown by the Ostrogoths, who in turn were overthrown by Roman emperor Justinian. Not long after the Lombards invaded the peninsula, and Italy did not reunite under a single ruler until thirteen centuries later.

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476 Jan 1

Fall of the Western Roman Empire

Rome, Metropolitan City of Rom

The fall of the Western Roman Empire was the loss of central political control in the Western Roman Empire, a process in which the Empire failed to enforce its rule, and its vast territory was divided into several successor polities. The Roman Empire lost the strengths that had allowed it to exercise effective control over its Western provinces; modern historians posit factors including the effectiveness and numbers of the army, the health and numbers of the Roman population, the strength of the economy, the competence of the emperors, the internal struggles for power, the religious changes of the period, and the efficiency of the civil administration. Increasing pressure from invading barbarians outside Roman culture also contributed greatly to the collapse. Climatic changes and both endemic and epidemic disease drove many of these immediate factors. The reasons for the collapse are major subjects of the historiography of the ancient world and they inform much modern discourse on state failure.

In 376, unmanageable numbers of Goths and other non-Roman people, fleeing from the Huns, entered the Empire. In 395, after winning two destructive civil wars, Theodosius I died, leaving a collapsing field army, and the Empire, still plagued by Goths, divided between the warring ministers of his two incapable sons. Further barbarian groups crossed the Rhine and other frontiers and, like the Goths, were not exterminated, expelled or subjugated. The armed forces of the Western Empire became few and ineffective, and despite brief recoveries under able leaders, central rule was never effectively consolidated.

By 476, the position of Western Roman Emperor wielded negligible military, political, or financial power, and had no effective control over the scattered Western domains that could still be described as Roman. Barbarian kingdoms had established their own power in much of the area of the Western Empire. In 476, the Germanic barbarian king Odoacer deposed the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire in Italy, Romulus Augustulus, and the Senate sent the imperial insignia to the Eastern Roman Emperor Flavius Zeno.

476 - 1250
Middle Agesornament
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493 Jan 1 - 553

Ostrogothic Kingdom

Ravenna, Province of Ravenna,

The Ostrogothic Kingdom, officially the Kingdom of Italy, was established by the Germanic Ostrogoths in Italy and neighbouring areas from 493 to 553. In Italy, the Ostrogoths led by Theodoric the Great killed and replaced Odoacer, a Germanic soldier, erstwhile-leader of the foederati in Northern Italy, and the de facto ruler of Italy, who had deposed the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustulus, in 476. Under Theodoric, its first king, the Ostrogothic kingdom reached its zenith, stretching from modern southern France in the west to the modern western Serbia in the southeast. Most of the social institutions of the late Western Roman Empire were preserved during his rule. Theodoric called himself Gothorum Romanorumque rex ("King of the Goths and Romans"), demonstrating his desire to be a leader for both peoples.

Starting in 535, the Byzantine Empire invaded Italy under Justinian I. The Ostrogothic ruler at that time, Witiges, could not defend the kingdom successfully and was finally captured when the capital Ravenna fell. The Ostrogoths rallied around a new leader, Totila, and largely managed to reverse the conquest, but were eventually defeated. The last king of the Ostrogothic Kingdom was Teia.

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568 Jan 1 - 774

Kingdom of the Lombards

Pavia, Province of Pavia, Ital

The Kingdom of the Lombards, later the Kingdom of Italy, was an early medieval state established by the Lombards, a Germanic people, on the Italian Peninsula in the latter part of the 6th century. The capital of the kingdom and the center of its political life was Pavia in the modern northern Italian region of Lombardy.

The Lombard invasion of Italy was opposed by the Byzantine Empire, which retained control of much of the peninsula until the mid-8th century. For most of the kingdom's history, the Byzantine-ruled Exarchate of Ravenna and Duchy of Rome separated the northern Lombard duchies, collectively known as Langobardia Maior, from the two large southern duchies of Spoleto and Benevento, which constituted Langobardia Minor. Because of this division, the southern duchies were considerably more autonomous than the smaller northern duchies.

Over time, the Lombards gradually adopted Roman titles, names, and traditions. By the time Paul the Deacon was writing in the late 8th century, the Lombardic language, dress and hairstyles had all disappeared. Initially the Lombards were Arian Christians or pagans, which put them at odds with the Roman population as well as the Byzantine Empire and the Pope. However, by the end of the 7th century, their conversion to Catholicism was all but complete. Nevertheless, their conflict with the Pope continued and was responsible for their gradual loss of power to the Franks, who conquered the kingdom in 774. The Kingdom of the Lombards at the time of its demise was the last minor Germanic kingdom in Europe.

Franks and Donation of Pepin
Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne ©Friedrich Kaulbach
756 Jan 1 - 846

Franks and Donation of Pepin

Rome, Metropolitan City of Rom

When the Exarchate of Ravenna finally fell to the Lombards in 751, the Duchy of Rome was completely cut off from the Byzantine Empire, of which it was theoretically still a part. The popes renewed earlier attempts to secure the support of the Franks. In 751, Pope Zachary had Pepin the Short crowned king in place of the powerless Merovingian figurehead king Childeric III. Zachary's successor, Pope Stephen II, later granted Pepin the title Patrician of the Romans. Pepin led a Frankish army into Italy in 754 and 756. Pepin defeated the Lombards – taking control of northern Italy. In 781, Charlemagne codified the regions over which the pope would be temporal sovereign: the Duchy of Rome was key, but the territory was expanded to include Ravenna, the Duchy of the Pentapolis, parts of the Duchy of Benevento, Tuscany, Corsica, Lombardy, and a number of Italian cities. The cooperation between the papacy and the Carolingian dynasty climaxed in 800 when Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as 'Emperor of the Romans'.

After the death of Charlemagne (814), the new empire soon disintegrated under his weak successors. There was a power vacuum in Italy as a result of this. This coincided with the rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and the Middle East. In the South, there were attacks from the Umayyad Caliphate and the Abbasid Caliphate. The turn of the millennium brought about a period of renewed autonomy in Italian history. In the 11th century, trade slowly recovered as the cities started to grow again. The Papacy regained its authority and undertook a long struggle against the Holy Roman Empire.

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836 Jan 1 - 915

Islam in southern Italy

Bari, Metropolitan City of Bar

The history of Islam in Sicily and Southern Italy began with the first Arab settlement in Sicily, at Mazara, which was captured in 827. The subsequent rule of Sicily and Malta started in the 10th century. The Emirate of Sicily lasted from 831 until 1061, and controlled the whole island by 902. Though Sicily was the primary Muslim stronghold in Italy, some temporary footholds, the most substantial of which was the port city of Bari (occupied from 847 until 871), were established on the mainland peninsula, especially in mainland Southern Italy, though Muslim raids, mainly those of Muhammad I ibn al-Aghlab, reached as far north as Naples, Rome and the northern region of Piedmont. The Arab raids were part of a larger struggle for power in Italy and Europe, with Christian Byzantine, Frankish, Norman and local Italian forces also competing for control. Arabs were sometimes sought as allies by various Christian factions against other factions.

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1017 Jan 1 - 1078

Norman conquest of southern Italy

Sicily, Italy

The Norman conquest of southern Italy lasted from 999 to 1139, involving many battles and independent conquerors. In 1130, the territories in southern Italy united as the Kingdom of Sicily, which included the island of Sicily, the southern third of the Italian Peninsula (except Benevento, which was briefly held twice), the archipelago of Malta, and parts of North Africa.

Itinerant Norman forces arrived in southern Italy as mercenaries in the service of Lombard and Byzantine factions, communicating news swiftly back home about opportunities in the Mediterranean. These groups gathered in several places, establishing fiefdoms and states of their own, uniting and elevating their status to de facto independence within 50 years of their arrival.

Unlike the Norman conquest of England (1066), which took a few years after one decisive battle, the conquest of southern Italy was the product of decades and a number of battles, few decisive. Many territories were conquered independently, and only later were unified into a single state. Compared to the conquest of England, it was unplanned and disorganised, but equally complete.

Guelphs and Ghibellines
Guelphs and Ghibellines ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1125 Jan 1 - 1392

Guelphs and Ghibellines

Milano, Metropolitan City of M

The Guelphs and Ghibellines were factions supporting the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, respectively, in the Italian city-states of Central Italy and Northern Italy. During the 12th and 13th centuries, rivalry between these two parties formed a particularly important aspect of the internal politics of medieval Italy. The struggle for power between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire arose with the Investiture Controversy, which began in 1075, and ended with the Concordat of Worms in 1122.

In the 15th century, the Guelphs supported Charles VIII of France during his invasion of Italy at the start of the Italian Wars, while the Ghibellines were supporters of the emperor Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. Cities and families used the names until Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, firmly established imperial power in Italy in 1529. In the course of the Italian Wars of 1494 to 1559, the political landscape changed so much that the former division between Guelphs and Ghibellines became obsolete. 

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1200 Jan 1

Rise of Italian city-states

Venice, Metropolitan City of V

Between the 12th and 13th centuries, Italy developed a peculiar political pattern, significantly different from feudal Europe north of the Alps. As no dominant powers emerged as they did in other parts of Europe, the oligarchic city-state became the prevalent form of government. Keeping both direct Church control and Imperial power at arm's length, the many independent city states prospered through commerce, based on early capitalist principles ultimately creating the conditions for the artistic and intellectual changes produced by the Renaissance.

Italian towns had appeared to have exited from Feudalism so that their society was based on merchants and commerce. Even northern cities and states were also notable for their merchant republics, especially the Republic of Venice. Compared to feudal and absolute monarchies, the Italian independent communes and merchant republics enjoyed relative political freedom that boosted scientific and artistic advancement.

During this period, many Italian cities developed republican forms of government, such as the republics of Florence, Lucca, Genoa, Venice and Siena. During the 13th and 14th centuries these cities grew to become major financial and commercial centers at European level.

Thanks to their favourable position between East and West, Italian cities such as Venice became international trading and banking hubs and intellectual crossroads. Milan, Florence and Venice, as well as several other Italian city-states, played a crucial innovative role in financial development, devising the main instruments and practices of banking and the emergence of new forms of social and economic organization.

During the same period, Italy saw the rise of the Maritime Republics: Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi, Ragusa, Ancona, Gaeta and the little Noli. From the 10th to the 13th centuries these cities built fleets of ships both for their own protection and to support extensive trade networks across the Mediterranean, leading to an essential role in the Crusades. The maritime republics, especially Venice and Genoa, soon became Europe's main gateways to trade with the East, establishing colonies as far as the Black Sea and often controlling most of the trade with the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Mediterranean world. The county of Savoy expanded its territory into the peninsula in the late Middle Ages, while Florence developed into a highly organized commercial and financial city-state, becoming for many centuries the European capital of silk, wool, banking and jewellery.

1250 - 1600
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1300 Jan 1 - 1600

Italian Renaissance

Florence, Metropolitan City of

The Italian Renaissance was a period in Italian history covering the 15th and 16th centuries. The period is known for the development of a culture that spread across Europe and marked the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. Proponents of a "long Renaissance" argue that it started around the year 1300 and lasted until about 1600.

The Renaissance began in Tuscany in Central Italy and centred in the city of Florence. The Florentine Republic, one of the several city-states of the peninsula, rose to economic and political prominence by providing credit for European monarchs and by laying down the groundwork for developments in capitalism and in banking. Renaissance culture later spread to Venice, heart of a Mediterranean empire and in control of the trade routes with the east since its participation in the crusades and following the journeys of Marco Polo between 1271 and 1295. Thus Italy renewed contact with the remains of ancient Greek culture, which provided humanist scholars with new texts. Finally the Renaissance had a significant effect on the Papal States and on Rome, largely rebuilt by humanist and Renaissance popes, such as Julius II (r. 1503–1513) and Leo X (r. 1513–1521), who frequently became involved in Italian politics, in arbitrating disputes between competing colonial powers and in opposing the Protestant Reformation, which started c. 1517.

The Italian Renaissance has a reputation for its achievements in painting, architecture, sculpture, literature, music, philosophy, science, technology, and exploration. Italy became the recognized European leader in all these areas by the late 15th century, during the era of the Peace of Lodi (1454–1494) agreed between Italian states. The Italian Renaissance peaked in the mid-16th century as domestic disputes and foreign invasions plunged the region into the turmoil of the Italian Wars (1494–1559). However, the ideas and ideals of the Italian Renaissance spread into the rest of Europe, setting off the Northern Renaissance from the late 15th century. Italian explorers from the maritime republics served under the auspices of European monarchs, ushering in the Age of Discovery. The most famous among them include Christopher Columbus (who sailed for Spain), Giovanni da Verrazzano (for France), Amerigo Vespucci (for Portugal), and John Cabot (for England). Italian scientists such as Falloppio, Tartaglia, Galileo and Torricelli played key roles in the Scientific Revolution, and foreigners such as Copernicus and Vesalius worked in Italian universities. Historiographers have proposed various events and dates of the 17th century, such as the conclusion of the European wars of religion in 1648, as marking the end of the Renaissance.

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1494 Jan 1 - 1559

Italian Wars


The Italian Wars, also known as the Habsburg–Valois Wars, were a series of conflicts covering the period 1494 to 1559 that took place primarily in the Italian peninsula. The main belligerents were the Valois kings of France and their opponents in Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Many of the Italian states were involved on one side or the other, along with England and the Ottoman Empire.

The 1454 Italic League achieved a balance of power in Italy and resulted in a period of rapid economic growth which ended with the death of Lorenzo de' Medici in 1492. Combined with the ambition of Ludovico Sforza, its collapse allowed Charles VIII of France to invade Naples in 1494, which drew in Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Despite being forced to withdraw in 1495, Charles showed the Italian states were both wealthy and vulnerable due to their political divisions. Italy became a battleground in the struggle for European domination between France and the Habsburgs, with the conflict expanding into Flanders, the Rhineland and the Mediterranean Sea.

Fought with considerable brutality, the wars took place against the background of religious turmoil caused by the Reformation, particularly in France and the Holy Roman Empire. They are seen as a turning point in the evolution from medieval to modern warfare, with the use of the arquebus or handgun becoming common, along with significant technological improvements in siege artillery. Literate commanders and modern printing methods also make them one of the first conflicts with a significant number of contemporary accounts, including Francesco Guicciardini, Niccolò Machiavelli and Blaise de Montluc.

After 1503, most of the fighting was initiated by French invasions of Lombardy and Piedmont, but although able to hold territory for periods of time, they could not do so permanently. By 1557, both France and the Empire were confronted by internal divisions over religion, while Spain faced a potential revolt in the Spanish Netherlands. The Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559) largely expelled France from northern Italy, gaining in exchange Calais and the Three Bishoprics; it established Spain as the dominant power in the south, controlling Naples and Sicily, as well as Milan in the north.

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1545 Jan 2 - 1648


Rome, Metropolitan City of Rom

The Counter-Reformation was the period of Catholic resurgence that was initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation. It began with the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and largely ended with the conclusion of the European wars of religion in 1648. Initiated to address the effects of the Protestant Reformation, the Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort composed of apologetic and polemical documents and ecclesiastical configuration as decreed by the Council of Trent. The last of these included the efforts of Imperial Diets of the Holy Roman Empire, heresy trials and the Inquisition, anti-corruption efforts, spiritual movements, and the founding of new religious orders. Such policies had long-lasting effects in European history with exiles of Protestants continuing until the 1781 Patent of Toleration, although smaller expulsions took place in the 19th century.

Such reforms included the foundation of seminaries for the proper training of priests in the spiritual life and the theological traditions of the Church, the reform of religious life by returning orders to their spiritual foundations, and new spiritual movements focusing on the devotional life and a personal relationship with Christ, including the Spanish mystics and the French school of spirituality.

It also involved political activities that included the Spanish Inquisition and the Portuguese Inquisition in Goa and Bombay-Bassein etc. A primary emphasis of the Counter-Reformation was a mission to reach parts of the world that had been colonized as predominantly Catholic and also try to reconvert nations such as Sweden and England that once were Catholic from the time of the Christianisation of Europe, but had been lost to the Reformation.

Key events of the period include: the Council of Trent (1545–63); the excommunication of Elizabeth I (1570), the codification of the uniform Roman Rite Mass (1570), and the Battle of Lepanto (1571), occurring during the pontificate of Pius V; the construction of the Gregorian observatory in Rome, the founding of the Gregorian University, the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, and the Jesuit China mission of Matteo Ricci, all under Pope Gregory XIII (r. 1572–1585); the French Wars of Religion; the Long Turkish War and the execution of Giordano Bruno in 1600, under Pope Clement VIII; the birth of the Lyncean Academy of the Papal States, of which the main figure was Galileo Galilei (later put on trial); the final phases of the Thirty Years' War (1618–48) during the pontificates of Urban VIII and Innocent X; and the formation of the last Holy League by Innocent XI during the Great Turkish War (1683–1699).

1559 - 1814
Counter-Reformation to Napoleonornament
Thirty Years' War and Italy
Thirty Years' War and Italy ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1618 May 23 - 1648

Thirty Years' War and Italy

Mantua, Province of Mantua, It

Parts of northern Italy, which were part of the Kingdom of Italy, had been contested by France and the Habsburgs since the end of the 15th century, as it was vital for control of south-west France, an area with a long history of opposition to the central authorities. While Spain remained the dominant power in Lombardy and in Southern Italy, its reliance on long exterior lines of communication was a potential weakness. This applied particularly to the Spanish Road, which allowed them to safely move recruits and supplies from the Kingdom of Naples through Lombardy to their army in Flanders. The French sought to disrupt the Road by attacking the Spanish-held Duchy of Milan or blocking the Alpine passes through alliances with the Grisons.

A subsidiary territory of the Duchy of Mantua was Montferrat and its fortress of Casale Monferrato, whose possession allowed the holder to threaten Milan. Its importance meant when the last duke in the direct line died in December 1627, France and Spain backed rival claimants, resulting in the 1628 to 1631 War of the Mantuan Succession. The French-born Duke of Nevers was backed by France and the Republic of Venice, his rival the Duke of Guastalla by Spain, Ferdinand II, Savoy and Tuscany. This minor conflict had a disproportionate impact on the Thirty Years War, since Pope Urban VIII viewed Habsburg expansion in Italy as a threat to the Papal States. The result was to divide the Catholic church, alienate the Pope from Ferdinand II and make it acceptable for France to employ Protestant allies against him.

After the outbreak of the Franco-Spanish War in 1635, Richelieu supported a renewed offensive by Victor Amadeus against Milan to tie down Spanish resources. These included an unsuccessful attack on Valenza in 1635, plus minor victories at Tornavento and Mombaldone. However, the anti-Habsburg alliance in Northern Italy fell apart when first Charles of Mantua died in September 1637, then Victor Amadeus in October, whose death led to a struggle for control of the Savoyard state between his widow Christine of France and brothers, Thomas and Maurice.

In 1639, their quarrel erupted into open warfare, with France backing Christine and Spain the two brothers, and resulted in the Siege of Turin. One of the most famous military events of the 17th century, at one stage it featured no less than three different armies besieging each other. However, the revolts in Portugal and Catalonia forced the Spanish to cease operations in Italy and the war was settled on terms favourable to Christine and France.

Age of Enlightenment in Italy
Verri c. 1740 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1685 Jan 1 - 1789

Age of Enlightenment in Italy


The Enlightenment played a distinctive, if small, role in 18th century Italy, 1685–1789. Although large parts of Italy were controlled by conservative Habsburgs or the pope, Tuscany had some opportunities for reform. Leopold II of Tuscany abolished the death penalty in Tuscany and reduced censorship. From Naples Antonio Genovesi (1713–69) influenced a generation of southern Italian intellectuals and University students. His textbook "Diceosina, o Sia della Filosofia del Giusto e dell'Onesto" (1766) was a controversial attempt to mediate between the history of moral philosophy, on the one hand, and the specific problems encountered by 18th-century commercial society, on the other. It contained the greater part of Genovesi's political, philosophical, and economic thought – guidebook for Neapolitan economic and social development. Science flourished as Alessandro Volta and Luigi Galvani made break-through discoveries in electricity. Pietro Verri was a leading economist in Lombardy. Historian Joseph Schumpeter states he was ‘the most important pre-Smithian authority on Cheapness-and-Plenty’. The most influential scholar on the Italian Enlightenment has been Franco Venturi.

War of the Spanish Succession in Italy
War of the Spanish Succession ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1701 Jul 1 - 1715

War of the Spanish Succession in Italy

Mantua, Province of Mantua, It

The war in Italy primarily involved the Spanish-ruled Duchies of Milan and Mantua, considered essential to the security of Austria's southern borders. In 1701, French troops occupied both cities and Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy, allied with France, his daughter Maria Luisa marrying Philip V. In May 1701, an Imperial army under Prince Eugene of Savoy moved into Northern Italy; by February 1702, victories at Carpi, Chiari and Cremona forced the French behind the Adda river.

A combined Savoyard-Imperial attack on the French base of Toulon planned for April was postponed when Imperial troops were diverted to seize the Spanish Bourbon Kingdom of Naples. By the time they besieged Toulon in August, the French were too strong, and they were forced to withdraw. By the end of 1707, fighting in Italy ceased, apart from small-scale attempts by Victor Amadeus to recover Nice and Savoy.

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1792 Apr 20 - 1801 Feb 9

Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars

Mantua, Province of Mantua, It

The Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802) were a series of conflicts fought principally in Northern Italy between the French Revolutionary Army and a Coalition of Austria, Russia, Piedmont-Sardinia, and a number of other Italian states.

Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy
Napoleon I King of Italy 1805–1814 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1805 Jan 1 - 1814

Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy

Milano, Metropolitan City of M

The Kingdom of Italy was a kingdom in Northern Italy (formerly the Italian Republic) in personal union with France under Napoleon I. It was fully influenced by revolutionary France and ended with Napoleon's defeat and fall. Its government was assumed by Napoleon as King of Italy and the viceroyalty delegated to his step-son Eugène de Beauharnais. It covered Savoy and the modern provinces of Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino, South Tyrol, and Marche. Napoleon I also ruled the rest of northern and central Italy in the form of Nice, Aosta, Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio, but directly as part of the French Empire, rather than as part of a vassal state.

1814 - 1861
Let him who loves his country in his heart, and not his lips only, follow me.
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1848 Jan 1 - 1871

Unification of Italy


The unification of Italy, also known as the Risorgimento, was the 19th-century political and social movement that resulted in the consolidation of different states of the Italian Peninsula into a single state in 1861, the Kingdom of Italy. Inspired by the rebellions in the 1820s and 1830s against the outcome of the Congress of Vienna, the unification process was precipitated by the Revolutions of 1848, and reached completion in 1871 after the Capture of Rome and its designation as the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.

Some of the states that had been targeted for unification (terre irredente) did not join the Kingdom of Italy until 1918 after Italy defeated Austria-Hungary in the First World War. For this reason, historians sometimes describe the unification period as continuing past 1871, including activities during the late 19th century and the First World War (1915–1918), and reaching completion only with the Armistice of Villa Giusti on 4 November 1918. This more expansive definition of the unification period is the one presented at the Central Museum of the Risorgimento at the Vittoriano.

Kingdom of Italy
Victor Emmanuel meets Giuseppe Garibaldi in Teano. ©Sebastiano De Albertis
1861 Jan 1 - 1946

Kingdom of Italy

Turin, Metropolitan City of Tu

The Kingdom of Italy was a state that existed from 1861—when King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia was proclaimed King of Italy—until 1946, when civil discontent led an institutional referendum to abandon the monarchy and form the modern Italian Republic. The state was founded as a result of the Risorgimento under the influence of the Savoy-led Kingdom of Sardinia, which can be considered its legal predecessor state.

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1915 Apr 1 -

Italy during World War I


Although a member of the Triple Alliance, Italy did not join the Central Powers – Germany and Austria-Hungary – when World War I started on 28 July 1914. In fact, those two countries had taken the offensive while the Triple Alliance was supposed to be a defensive alliance. Moreover the Triple Alliance recognized that both Italy and Austria-Hungary were interested in the Balkans and required both to consult each other before changing the status quo and to provide compensation for whatever advantage in that area: Austria-Hungary did consult Germany but not Italy before issuing the ultimatum to Serbia, and refused any compensation before the end of the war.

Almost a year after the war's commencement, after secret parallel negotiations with both sides (with the Allies in which Italy negotiated for territory if victorious, and with the Central Powers to gain territory if neutral) Italy entered the war on the side of the Allied Powers. Italy began to fight against Austria-Hungary along the northern border, including high up in the now-Italian Alps with very cold winters and along the Isonzo river. The Italian army repeatedly attacked and, despite winning a majority of the battles, suffered heavy losses and made little progress as the mountainous terrain favoured the defender. Italy was then forced to retreat in 1917 by a German-Austrian counteroffensive at the Battle of Caporetto after Russia left the war, allowing the Central Powers to move reinforcements to the Italian Front from the Eastern Front.

The offensive of the Central Powers was stopped by Italy at the Battle of Monte Grappa in November 1917 and the Battle of the Piave River in May 1918. Italy took part in the Second Battle of the Marne and the subsequent Hundred Days Offensive in the Western Front. On 24 October 1918 the Italians, despite being outnumbered, breached the Austrian line in Vittorio Veneto and caused the collapse of the centuries-old Habsburg Empire. Italy recovered the territory lost after the fighting at Caporetto in November the previous year and moved into Trento and South Tyrol. Fighting ended on 4 November 1918. Italian armed forces were also involved in the African theatre, the Balkan theatre, the Middle Eastern theatre and then took part in the Occupation of Constantinople. At the end of World War I, Italy was recognized with a permanent seat in the League of Nations' executive council along with Britain, France and Japan.

1922 - 1946
World Warsornament
Italian fascism
Benito Mussolini and fascist Blackshirt youth in 1935. ©Anonymous
1922 Jan 1 - 1943

Italian fascism


Italian fascism is the original fascist ideology as developed in Italy by Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini. The ideology is associated with a series of two political parties led by Benito Mussolini: the National Fascist Party (PNF), which ruled the Kingdom of Italy from 1922 until 1943, and the Republican Fascist Party that ruled the Italian Social Republic from 1943 to 1945. Italian fascism is also associated with the post-war Italian Social Movement and subsequent Italian neo-fascist movements.

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1940 Sep 27 - 1945 May

Italy during World War II


The participation of Italy in the Second World War was characterized by a complex framework of ideology, politics, and diplomacy, while its military actions were often heavily influenced by external factors. Italy joined the war as one of the Axis Powers in 1940, as the French Third Republic surrendered, with a plan to concentrate Italian forces on a major offensive against the British Empire in Africa and the Middle East, known as the "parallel war", while expecting the collapse of British forces in the European theatre. The Italians bombed Mandatory Palestine, invaded Egypt and occupied British Somaliland with initial success. However the war carried on and German and Japanese actions in 1941 led to the entry of the Soviet Union and United States, respectively, into the war, thus foiling the Italian plan of forcing Britain to agree to a negotiated peace settlement.

The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was aware that Fascist Italy was not ready for a long conflict, as its resources were reduced by successful but costly pre-WWII conflicts: the pacification of Libya (which was undergoing Italian settlement), intervention in Spain (where a friendly fascist regime had been installed), and the invasion of Ethiopia and Albania. However, he opted to remain in the war as the imperial ambitions of the Fascist regime, which aspired to restore the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean (the Mare Nostrum), were partially met by late 1942. By this point, Italian influence extended throughout the Mediterranean.

With the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia and the Balkans, Italy annexed Ljubljana, Dalmatia and Montenegro, and established the puppet states of Croatia and Greece. Following Vichy France's collapse and the Case Anton, Italy occupied the French territories of Corsica and Tunisia. Italian forces had also achieved victories against insurgents in Yugoslavia and in Montenegro, and Italo-German forces had occupied parts of British-held Egypt on their push to El-Alamein after their victory at Gazala.

However, Italy's conquests were always heavily contested, both by various insurgencies (most prominently the Greek resistance and Yugoslav partisans) and Allied military forces, which waged the Battle of the Mediterranean throughout and beyond Italy's participation. The country's imperial overstretch (opening multiple fronts in Africa, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and the Mediterranean) ultimately resulted in its defeat in the war, as the Italian empire collapsed after disastrous defeats in the Eastern European and North African campaigns. In July 1943, following the Allied invasion of Sicily, Mussolini was arrested by order of King Victor Emmanuel III, provoking a civil war. Italy's military outside of the Italian peninsula collapsed, its occupied and annexed territories falling under German control. Under Mussolini's successor Pietro Badoglio, Italy capitulated to the Allies on 3 September 1943, although Mussolini would be rescued from captivity a week later by German forces without meeting resistance. On 13 October 1943, the Kingdom of Italy officially joined the Allied Powers and declared war on its former Axis partner Germany.

The northern half of the country was occupied by the Germans with the cooperation of Italian fascists, and became a collaborationist puppet state (with more than 800,000 soldiers, police, and militia recruited for the Axis), while the south was officially controlled by monarchist forces, which fought for the Allied cause as the Italian Co-Belligerent Army (at its height numbering more than 50,000 men), as well as around 350,000 Italian resistance movement partisans (many of them ex-Royal Italian Army soldiers) of disparate political ideologies that operated all over Italy. On 28 April 1945, Mussolini was assassinated by Italian partisans at Giulino, two days before Hitler's suicide.

Italian Civil War
Italian partisans in Milan, April 1945 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1943 Sep 8 - 1945 May 1

Italian Civil War


The Italian Civil War was a civil war in the Kingdom of Italy fought during World War II from 8 September 1943 (the date of the Armistice of Cassibile) to 2 May 1945 (date of the Surrender of Caserta), by the Italian Fascists of the Italian Social Republic, a collaborationist puppet state created under the direction of Nazi Germany during its occupation of Italy, against the Italian partisans (mostly politically organized in the National Liberation Committee), materially supported by the Allies, in the context of the Italian campaign. The Italian partisans and the Italian Co-Belligerent Army of the Kingdom of Italy simultaneously fought against the occupying Nazi German armed forces. Armed clashes between the National Republican Army of the Italian Social Republic and the Italian Co-Belligerent Army of the Kingdom of Italy were rare, while there was some internal conflict within the partisan movement. In this context, Germans, sometimes helped by Italian Fascists, committed several atrocities against Italian civilians and troops.

The event that later gave rise to the Italian Civil War was the deposition and arrest of Benito Mussolini on 25 July 1943 by King Victor Emmanuel III, after which Italy signed the Armistice of Cassibile on 8 September 1943, ending its war with the Allies. However, German forces began occupying Italy immediately prior to the armistice, through Operation Achse, and then invaded and occupied Italy on a larger scale after the armistice, taking control of northern and central Italy and creating the Italian Social Republic (RSI), with Mussolini installed as leader after he was rescued by German paratroopers in the Gran Sasso raid. As a result, the Italian Co-Belligerent Army was created to fight against the Germans, while other Italian troops, loyal to Mussolini, continued to fight alongside the Germans in the National Republican Army. In addition, a large Italian resistance movement started a guerrilla war against the German and Italian fascist forces. The anti-fascist victory led to the execution of Mussolini, the liberation of the country from dictatorship, and the birth of the Italian Republic under the control of the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories, which was operational until the Treaty of Peace with Italy in 1947.

Italian Republicornament
Italian Republic
Umberto II, the last King of Italy, was exiled to Portugal. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1946 Jun 2

Italian Republic


Much like Japan and Germany, the aftermath of World War II left Italy with a destroyed economy, a divided society, and anger against the monarchy for its endorsement of the Fascist regime for the previous twenty years. These frustrations contributed to a revival of the Italian republican movement. Following Victor Emmanuel III's abdication, his son, the new king Umberto II, was pressured by the threat of another civil war to call a Constitutional Referendum to decide whether Italy should remain a monarchy or become a republic. On 2 June 1946, the republican side won 54% of the vote and Italy officially became a republic. All male members of the House of Savoy were barred from entering Italy, a ban which was only repealed in 2002.

Under the Treaty of Peace with Italy, 1947, Istria, Kvarner, most of the Julian March as well as the Dalmatian city of Zara was annexed by Yugoslavia causing the Istrian-Dalmatian exodus, which led to the emigration of between 230,000 and 350,000 local ethnic Italians (Istrian Italians and Dalmatian Italians), the others being ethnic Slovenians, ethnic Croatians, and ethnic Istro-Romanians, choosing to maintain Italian citizenship.

The General Elections of 1946, held at the same time as the Constitutional Referendum, elected 556 members of a Constituent Assembly, of which 207 were Christian Democrats, 115 Socialists and 104 Communists. A new constitution was approved, setting up a parliamentary democracy. In 1947, under American pressure, the communists were expelled from the government. The Italian general election, 1948 saw a landslide victory for Christian Democrats, that dominated the system for the following forty years.

Italy joins Marshall Plan and NATO
The signing ceremony of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 1957, creating the EEC, forerunner of the present-day EU ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1950 Jan 1

Italy joins Marshall Plan and NATO


Italy joined the Marshall Plan (ERP) and NATO. By 1950, the economy had largely stabilized and started booming. In 1957, Italy was a founding member of the European Economic Community, which later transformed into the European Union (EU).

The Marshall Plan's long-term legacy was to help modernize Italy's economy. How Italian society built mechanisms to adapt, translate, resist, and domesticate this challenge had a lasting effect on the nation's development over the subsequent decades. After Fascism's failure, the United States offered a vision of modernization that was unprecedented in its power, internationalism, and invitation to emulation. However Stalinism was a powerful political force. The ERP was one of the main ways that this modernization was operationalized. The old prevailing vision of the country's industrial prospects had been rooted in traditional ideas of craftsmanship, frugality and thrift, which stood in contrast to the dynamism seen in automobiles and fashion, anxious to leave behind the protectionism of the Fascist era and take advantage of the opportunities offered by rapidly expanding world trade.

By 1953, industrial production had doubled compared with 1938 and the annual rate of productivity increase was 6.4%, twice the British rate. At Fiat, automobile production per employee quadrupled between 1948 and 1955, the fruit of an intense, Marshall Plan-aided application of American technology (as well as much more intense discipline on the factory-floor). Vittorio Valletta, Fiat's general manager, helped by trade barriers that blocked French and German cars, focused on technological innovations as well as an aggressive export strategy. He successfully bet on serving the more dynamic foreign markets from modern plants built with the help of Marshall Plan funds. From this export base he later sold into a growing domestic market, where Fiat was without serious competition. Fiat managed to remain at the cutting edge of car manufacturing technology, enabling it to expand production, foreign sales, and profits.

Italian economic miracle
Downtown Milan in the 1960s. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1958 Jan 1 - 1963

Italian economic miracle


The Italian economic miracle or Italian economic boom (Italian: il boom economico) is the term used by historians, economists, and the mass media to designate the prolonged period of strong economic growth in Italy after the Second World War to the late 1960s, and in particular the years from 1958 to 1963. This phase of Italian history represented not only a cornerstone in the economic and social development of the country—which was transformed from a poor, mainly rural, nation into a global industrial power—but also a period of momentous change in Italian society and culture. As summed up by one historian, by the end of the 1970s, "social security coverage had been made comprehensive and relatively generous. The material standard of living had vastly improved for the great majority of the population."



Italy's Geographic Challenge

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Why Was Italy so Fragmented in the Middle Ages?

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Alcide De Gasperi

Alcide De Gasperi

Prime Minister of Italy

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

Roman General

Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi

Venetian Composer



Roman General




Giuseppe Mazzini

Giuseppe Mazzini

Italian Politician

Marco Polo

Marco Polo


Cosimo I de' Medici

Cosimo I de' Medici

Grand Duke of Tuscany

Umberto II of Italy

Umberto II of Italy

Last King of Italy

Victor Emmanuel II

Victor Emmanuel II

King of Sardinia

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius

Roman Emperor

Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini

Duce of Italian Fascism





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