the 18th and 17th centuries BC, the Bronze Age, Arcadians migrated
by sea from the Aegean towards Southern Italy led by their mythical
king Oenotro. The result of their expansion and integration with
the local populations was the Ausonians, the Chones, the Morgetes,
the Itali, and the Siculians. The Latins descended from the Oenotrians,
but the Pelasgi, the Aegean-Asianic type, were thought to be the
first inhabitants of the Palatine, the hill on which Rome would
later be built.
The Itali lived in the southern part of present-day Calabria, that
is, within the "toe" of the "boot" which is
now called Italy. Their name came from Vitulus, meaning veal or
calf, since the area was rich with bovine. In the times of the Magna
Grecia, following the Greek colonisation of the territory, the coastal
regions were renamed Italoi, the Greek word for Vitulus.
When the Romans in their turn conquered the territory, which extended
all the way down to the southernmost tip of the peninsula, they
continued to use the name "Italoi". By the 8th and 7th
centuries BC Etruscans, Romans, and others inhabited the central
and northern mainland with the Greeks settled in the southern tip
of the Italian peninsula. The peninsula subsequently was unified
under the Roman Republic. Remaining political unity was lost after
the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West in the 5th century
AD, and the peninsula and islands changed under a series of invasions.
Then the period began when Italy became a succession of small states,
principalities, and kingdoms, in constant change, fighting among
them and swayed by the ambitions of foreign powers. The centre of
Italy was ruled by the Popes in Rome and the rivalries between the
Popes and the Holy Roman Emperors, who had assumed Italy as their
empire, caused the peninsula to be in a permanent state of war.
These rivalries became controlled and reduced by the rise and the
commercial prosperity of northern and central Italian cities, beginning
in the 11th century.
The Holy Roman Empire was the second medieval revival of the Western
Roman Empire, which lasted from 962 AD to 1806, but by the year
1250, much of its power had vanished and by the 1650's the
empire had lost all its power. The empire endured until 1806 when
it was abolished by Emperor Francis II who ruled from then on as
Francis I of the Austrian Empire, which itself had been established
in 1804. The emperors were normally also King of Germany, to be
the title of most prestige as soon as the pope crowned him.
The influence of the Renaissance also helped to
dampen the impact of the medieval political rivalries and although
Italy's decline began from the 16th century, the idea of a
single Italian nationality had been strengthened by the Renaissance.
The nationalist movements developed in the early 19th century and
led to the reunification of Italy, except for Rome, in the 1860's
with the proclamation as King of Italy of Victor Emmanuel II of
the House of Savoy in 1861. The Risorgimento, as it is known today,
was largely achieved thanks to the efforts of Cavour and Garibaldi.
Rome became part of the unified Italy in 1870.
From 1870 until 1922, Italy was a constitutional monarchy with a
parliament elected under limited suffrage. Between 1796, when General
Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy, and 1814 when the troops withdrew,
the entire peninsula was under French domination. Several short-lived
republics were proclaimed early in the period.
After two decades of Napoleon's modern but harsh rule, profound
changes took place in Italy; many Italians began to see the possibilities
of forging a united country free of foreign control. By 1815, Italy
consisted of the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont, Sardinia, Savoy,
and Genoa); the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (including Naples and
Sicily); the Papal States; and Tuscany and a series of smaller duchies
in north central Italy. The Austrians once controlled Lombardy and
In 1915, Italy entered the First World War on the side of the Allies,
renouncing its standing alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary,
receiving some former Austrian territory along the north-east frontier
under the post-war settlement. In 1922, Benito Mussolini came to
power and, over the next few years, eliminated political parties,
cut personal liberties, and set up a fascist dictatorship termed
the Corporate State while the King, with little effective power,
remaining titular head of state.
In 1940, Italy allied with Germany and declared war on the United
Kingdom and France. In 1941, Italy, as an ally of the other Axis
powers, Germany and Japan, declared war on the United States and
the Soviet Union. The war caused deep social and political crisis
in Italy with changes demanded by unemployed workers, hungry peasants,
and a frightened middle-class, and the 1919 elections suddenly made
the Socialist and the new Popular (Catholic) parties the largest
in parliament. While extreme nationalists agitated for territorial
expansion, strikes and threats of revolution unsettled the nation.
Following the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, the King dismissed
Mussolini and appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio as Premier whose
government then declared war on Germany, which quickly occupied
most of the country and freed Mussolini, who led a brief regime
in the north until he was caught and murdered by the people.
In 1946, a plebiscite ended the monarchy, and a constituent assembly
was elected to draw up plans for the republic. Under the 1947 peace
treaty, minor adjustments were made in Italy's frontier with France,
the eastern border area was transferred to Yugoslavia, and the area
around the city of Trieste was designated a free territory.
In 1954, the free territory, which had remained under the administration
of U.S.-U.K. forces (Zone A, including the city of Trieste) and
Yugoslav forces (Zone B), was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia,
principally along the zoned boundary. This arrangement was made
permanent by the Italian-Yugoslav Treaty of Osimo, ratified in 1977
(currently being discussed by Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia). Under
the 1947 peace treaty, Italy also relinquished its overseas territories
and certain Mediterranean islands.