History of Italy

Giuseppe Garibaldi formed the current kingdom of Italy in 1861, but the roots of Italian history date back to a largely undocumented tribe called the Etruscans. Between 1200 to 1000 BC, these Mesopotamian relatives conquered most of Tuscany and Campania as Rome began growing from a meager collection of shepherds into an agricultural and militaristic power. But the history of Italy is nothing if not violent. The Etruscan attack was almost inevitable.

For a hundred years they ruled Rome and its outlying areas, until their subjects revolted, aided by the help of the Greeks, Gauls and Sicilians. By 250 BC, they had wiped out the entire Etruscan culture. The Roman Republic was established after the initial overthrow of the Etruscans, in 510 BC, and within 200 years, Rome had acquired a vast Empire, controlling the entire Mediterranean as it conquered one rival after another.

The next chapter of history in Italy found the Roman Republic beneath a series of charismatic and powerful leaders - none greater or more dominant that Augustus Caesar. Ruling for over 40 years, from 27 BC to 14 AD, by this time the entire Western World was centered in the brick and marble expanses of his city. This was the crest of Rome"s power - its walls held the crux of every major political, cultural or commercial event.

After Augustus" death, however, that period of Italian history came to an end and the first intimations of Rome"s eventual downfall sprung forth. Overwhelming corruption and a long series of political assassinations began to cripple the city - emperors were elected and murdered within the blink of an eye. By the third century, Rome was merely a shell of its previous affluence, a ghost of what was built by Julius and Augustus Caesar. In 330 AD, history in Italy took a major turn when emperor Constantine established a second capital in Constantinople, taking with him many of the wealthiest and most powerful aristocrats and artisans of Rome. By 395, the entire shift was complete. The split was final. And the walls of Rome, for the first time in centuries, were vulnerable.

It didn"t take long for Barbarian hordes to notice - the city was sacked by a variety of warriors before eventually succumbing in 476 AD. It was an ignoble end for the great city - many of its citizens, weary with decades of incompetent rulers and heavy taxes did not lift a hand to defend its walls and the history of Italy would never be the same. Instead, they fled, and Rome"s population, which at its height had numbered well over 4 million, was shrunk to almost a tenth of that. The Fall of the Roman Empire would forever remain a striking example of the vagaries of excess, a tremendous blight amidst the storied history of Italy.

The middle ages were a new chapter in Italian history. Beneath the rule of the Vatican, Rome carved out its identity as an innocuous rural town. But the rest of Italy was still besieged with warfare, and the peoples of the area fragmented into haphazard city-states. The northern port towns such as Genoa, Pisa and Venice prospered, growing strong on two important pillars of finance - trade and banking. The southern area of Italy was not so lucky - bloody warfare continued until the Normans invaded Sicily and much of the southern principalities.

The next phase of history in Italy was the Renaissance. One could write for hours on the artistic and philosophical shifts during this period and it would still be insufficient. But no matter how many masterpieces were created, it wasn"t until the 19th century that the country finally moved from an amalgamation of city-states to the country we know today.

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