Brief History of Italy – the triumphs and the sorrows

Italy had undergone a lot of periods with the peninsula divided into ethnic groups and small countries.

The Brief History of Italy page will discuss the timeline of the history of Italy. How the immortal Rome established the country into what it is today, a nation of beauty and influence. We are not just talking about the current city but the Kingdom, the Republic, and the Supreme Empire. The power that once controlled principal domains all over Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. The empire without end.

Brief History of Italy – the Timeline

Italy with the Romans

Italy was an ancient land. Ethnic groups and small countries divided the area. The arrival of the first humans nearly a million years ago in Emilia Romagna described prehistoric Italy. Then, to the Nuragic of Sardinia that started from the Bronze Age to the various culture of the early Italic people. These comprise of the Etruscans from the now Tuscany and parts of Umbria and Lazio. It also included the Latins, the origins of the Romans, the Samnites and many others.

The influence of the then Greek customs and religion or Magna Graecia also reached a large portion of South Italy. It was around 8th and 7th centuries BC where colonies stationed near the sea. You can still observe remains of the early Greek cities in Sicily and Campania. The ancient Punic town of Motya for example, as well as, Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples and the Temple of Apollo at Paestum.

Roman Kingdom

Although archaeologists study the origin of Rome, the story about Romulus and Remus is a traditional founding myth too. Different versions were told. Believed, that the twin brothers were of royal blood and sons of Mars, the god of war. Another tale says their parents left them at birth on the Tiber River. A wolf then found them and nursed them until shepherds raised them. They then grew up as legendary leaders but fought each other for power. Romulus killed Remus. He, later on, built the city of Rome around the Palatine Hill. Romulus named it after him. It flourished into a Kingdom of men from different walks of life with him as its first king. Slaves, noblemen and freemen alike as his followers, ancestors of the patricians.

Roman Republic

The monarchy surpassed 244 years, seven rulers, and series of wars, victories and losses until the Roman Republic replaced it. The Romans kept the Senate. A new system allowed consuls, and old and new nobles gained control. They expanded its rule from its nearby tribes to cities in the land and countries across the sea. Even with internal conflicts and civil wars, the change was still a success. It lasted for less than five centuries. The death of its famous dictator Julius Ceasar caused by his political enemies followed the fall of the Republic.

Western Roman Empire

Its collapse made way to the Roman Empire, both the Western and Eastern eras. The new age that lasted for 1400 years. Octavian, also known as Augustus Ceasar founded the Empire. He was the adopted son and nephew of Julius Ceasar. With the help of Marcus Lepidus and Mark Anthony, he defeated his great uncle. They divided the Roman command by themselves. However, their alliance did not last long. Lepidus, accused of betrayal, was removed from office and exiled. On the other hand, Mark Anthony with her lover Cleopatra committed suicide after losing battles against Augustus.

Emperor Augustus Ceasar became the first emperor of the Empire. During his reign, the citizens used the term Italia as an official name. Italy was composed of united regions from the mountain ranges of the Alps to the Ionian Sea in the south, distinguishing it from the other countries within the imperial borders. He granted the people with the privileges of a first-class Roman citizen until 212 A.D. The Edict of Caracalla extended these benefits later on to all the subjects of the sovereign.

Byzantine Roman Empire

The empire’s massive gap in social division started the decline of one of the world’s largest empires. The officials’ abuse of power, as well as inefficiency and corruptions, were also the main factors. Military reforms were not effective. It did not help but only improve increased tensions with the invaders. The Western Roman Empire ended while its Eastern chapter continued to prosper for a millennium.

How was Italy in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance?

The Brief History of Italy described the Middle Ages as wars, wars, and wars or the Dark Ages. A phase in history which archival records were limited or lost in time. There were a lot of sorrows all over Europe, plague, poverty, calamities, famine and chaos everywhere. Foreign enemies finally invaded Italy. From the Ostrogoths to the reconquest of the Byzantine Roman Empire, the Lombards takeover of the countryside and the inclusion of the kingdom into the Frankish Empire.

The Papal States

The constant player during these times was the Pope and their Papal States then pursued. In the midst of darkness, people run to religion for answers. Prayers became the basic need to survive for the poorer. Offerings were the way to repent the sins for the richer. Christianity was widespread in the entire continent. The religion, its teachings and laws expanded its influence. Monasteries and churches were symbols to convey their strong presence. It was either to reach the deprived or affect their way of living. These medieval villages are still existing up to this day. A visit to one of them will give one a picture of the earlier days.

Frankish Empire

The Frankish Empire later emerged into the Holy Roman Empire, a strong monarchy in central Europe under the rule of the German nation. Its name derived from the prestige of the August Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Emperor headed the empire with the Papacy. The Papacy assisted in shaping policies to its Papal States and numerous imperial regions. They include the Kingdom of Italy and many other estates in Europe except for Venice. Venice had it’s own Republic. On the South, the Arabs, then the Normans conquered Sicily in particular.

The Renaissance Period

After a series of gloomy stages came the light and the rainbow with it. The era that slowly transformed Italy into its another highest peak. No longer the Caput Mundi but the centre of the Renaissance period. The catalyst of change in the mainland. Awareness in Humanism and critical thinking, art and cultural innovation. Accomplishments in the studies of architectures and literature. A wave of geniuses that influenced the rebirth of Western Civilisation. Artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael were among them.​ Popes commissioned their works which anyone can admire at the Vatican Museum.

brief history of italy
photo courtesy of Phil Wiffen

It started in Florence and intensified from the 13th to 16th centuries. It diffused in all directions across Europe.  Foreign occupations threatened the peace and order in the Italian peninsula Wars and battles, against kingdoms of the same nation. Venice versus Milan. The Salt War between the Duke of Ferrara versus the Papal forces. French Empire versus the Spanish Empire. Both struggled to dominate the country. The Napoleonic Wars against superpower states on the continent. United Kingdom, Russia to name a few, which ended the Holy Roman Empire.

Did we forget anything on our Brief History of Italy page? Please visit this page for more

Feature photo courtesy of Antonio Castagna

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