The history of Italy

It is important to know the history of the country you live in. Italy has a very ancient history and is known almost all over the world. Find out what Italy was like in the past and what are the events that shaped Italy.

The Italian history is rich in conquests, occupations, wars and reconstructions.

The most important period was the era of the Roman Empire, which began in 27 BC. The Roman Empire was born in Italy, but thanks to many conquests, the Romans had control of many other territories. In fact, the countries we now call England, Germany, Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, and many others were part of the Empire.

In all of these countries, the Romans contributed to the development of society, and we can still find Roman remains, such as temples, statues, aqueducts, or baths.

The great Roman Empire falls in 476 AD, and for many centuries in Italy there are clashes between many different peoples who want to conquer the country.

After the end of the Roman Empire begins a period called the Medioevo (Middle Ages). Medioevo in this case means the middle age between ancient and modern age. This period is also called the “dark period”, because there are many wars, poverty and many diseases, such as the plague. The Medioevo ended with the discovery of America in 1492.

The period after the Medioevo that goes from 1400 to 1500 is very important in the history of Italy and Europe. This period is called the Rinascimento (Renaissance). Rinascimento means a new beginning, in this case of Italian culture, and the birth of modern culture. During the Rinascimento art, architecture, literature, philosophy and science developed. Very important people live in these years, like the painter and scientist Leonardo da Vinci.

Until 1800, the Italian territory was divided into many small states. Among these small states were the Regno Lombardo-Veneto (which was part of the Austrian Empire) and the Regno di Sardegna (ruled by the Dukes of Savoia) in the north, the Granducato di Toscana and the Stato della Chiesa in the center, and the Regno delle Due Sicilie (ruled by the Spanish royal family of the Borbone) in the south.

The event that unites all these small states and creates the Italian state as we know it today is called “Unità d’Italia

In the second half of the 1800s, many citizens want the Italian peninsula to become a united nation. Even one of the main kingdoms, the Regno di Sardegna, wants to unite the Italian territories. Therefore, these citizens and the Regno di Sardegna unite to free the country from foreign governments and create a single independent nation, Italy.

The army of the Regno di Sardegna wins three wars, called “guerre di indipendenza” against the Austrian Empire to free the north and the center of the peninsula.

Instead, to free the south of Italy the famous “Spedizione dei Mille” is organized. As we have already seen, in the south there is the Regno delle Due Sicilie governed by the kings of the Borbone family.

The expedition to free the south is led by General Giuseppe Garibaldi who, with an army of about a thousand volunteer men, arrives in Sicilia and manages to defeat the Borbone and free the south.

On March 17, 1861, Italy’s unity and independence were proclaimed. On this date Italy is not yet the same as today because the regions of the north east (what is now called Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia) and the region where Roma is located (which today is called Lazio) are not part of it.

The first united and independent Italy is a monarchy and the king was re Vittorio Emanuele II di Savoia.

At the beginning the capital was Torino, then in 1864 the city of Firenze was chosen.

In 1870, an important event happens. The Italian army entered Roma to conquer the Stato della Chiesa and unite it with Italy. After various battles, the Italian army defeats the army of the Chiesa and the Stato della Chiesa is united with Italy. Roma becomes the new capital, just like today.

The other two important events in Italian history are the two World Wars, so called because they involve almost all the countries of the world.

World War I took place between 1914 and 1918. England, France and Russia (and after Italy and the United States) fought against Germany and Austria-Hungary. England also involves some of her colonies in the war, such as South Africa, India and Siam (now Thailand).

The war ends with the victory of England, France, Italy, Russia and the United States and the defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

There are many soldiers and civilians who lose their lives in this war. For Italy they are about one million.

At the end of the conflict, Italy is destroyed and very poor. There are many people who do not work and who do not know how to live.

Many poor people fought the war and led Italy to victory. Despite this, after the war they receive no help and no one recognises their commitment.

For these reasons workers and peasants hold protests, demonstrations, and strikes.

Even the richest people are not happy because the economic crisis affects everyone. During this difficult situation a new political party was born: the Partito Fascista (Fascist Party).

In 1922, a few years after the end of World War I, the Fascist Party led by Benito Mussolini became the most important party in the country. The party leader Mussolini makes a coup d’état (the “Marcia su Roma”) and becomes Head of the government.

Over the years Mussolini became more and more important, even more important than the king. In 1925 his government became a dictatorship: it means that he rules alone and that everyone must agree with him. There is no freedom of speech, of the press or of association. 

The population is controlled and must abide by very tough laws. Anyone who does not respect them is likely to go to prison or be murdered.

The fascist dictatorship ends in 1943, during World War II.

During his dictatorship Mussolini wants to conquer new territories of other countries and wages wars to colonize Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Albania.

Because of the Italian colonization, in these countries it is still possible to see the Italian influence in the names of streets, buildings, or in some commonly used words. Moreover, in the past, many people from these countries spoke Italian. When Mussolini’s dictatorship ended in 1943, Italy lost these territories.

World War II was fought from 1939 to 1945. This war starts because the German Nazi government, led by Adolf Hitler, wants to conquer new territories in Europe.

To stop these conquests, England and France declare war on Germany. At first, Italy and Japan fight on the same side as Germany.

Also in this new war many African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries are fighting on behalf of Western countries. Among these are Cameroon, Liberia, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, South Africa, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, India, and many other Asian and South American countries.

The US also participates in the war against Germany along with England.

During the war, fascist Italy, together with Nazi Germany, contributed to one of the saddest events in history: the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the extermination of the Jews living in Europe and of all the people whom the Nazi government deemed “inferior” for political or racial reasons. Some 19 million people were killed between 1933 and 1945 for this reason, mainly in concentration camps.

The war ended on September 2, 1945. The United States and the Soviet Union defeat Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. In Italy, it is mainly the anti-fascist partisans together with the American allies defeating the regime.

Anti-fascist partisans are a group of Italian people, mainly workers and peasants, who fight to free Italy from the Nazi and fascist regimes. Their struggle is still recognised today with the name of “Resistenza.”

Even during this war, many people lost their lives, including about 225,000 Italians.

In the period after the war Italians live in poverty, in a country destroyed by bombs. Italy must be rebuilt and strengthened and a decision must be made whether to keep the monarchy or to build a republic.

On June 2, 1946, there are special elections called referendums. Italians must choose between the king or the republican government.

For the first time in Italian history, women can vote in elections as well. This phenomenon is called “suffragio universale”. Suffragio universale is when all citizens of a country above a certain age (now 18) vote in political elections or issues that affect their country’s future. It is a very important phenomenon that indicates that all citizens are equal, no matter what gender, social class, or sexual orientation they are.

The majority of Italians (54% of the votes) vote for the republic.

After these elections, the government begins to write a new Costituzione. The Costituzione is the set of rules and laws that determine how to govern Italy.

In the first part of the Costituzione are stated the fundamental rights of all Italian citizens. These rights are based on freedom, equality, and fraternity.

To avoid other dictatorships, the power of the state is divided into three parts (divisione del potere):

  • The power to make laws (potere legislativo) belongs to the Parlamento. The Parlamento is formed of two chambers: the Camera dei Deputati and the Senato della Repubblica. Citizens elect the members of the two chambers by voting.
  • The power to apply the laws (potere esecutivo) is entrusted to the Governo, made up of the ministers and the Presidente del Consiglio (Prime Minister).
  • The power to judge crimes (potere giudiziario) is of the Magistratura, formed by the judges.

The Presidente della Repubblica is chosen and appointed by the deputies in the place of the king. The Presidente della Repubblica must check that the three powers are shared and managed properly and that everybody respects the rules of the Costituzione.

The Costituzione becomes a law on January 1, 1948 and is still valid today.

After the war Italy was very poor, but around 1950 there was a strong development and growth called a “miracolo economico” (economic miracle).  The Italian economic system grows and becomes one of the most important in the world thanks to the growth of Italian industry and favorable international markets.

In these years, however, there is a huge difference in wealth between the north and the south of Italy.

In the north are most of the country’s industries and agriculture and services are much more developed.

Instead in the south, there are few industries and many people looking for a job. There is less wealth and working conditions are not good.

Precisely because of this difference in the quality of life, many people living in Southern Italy, such as in Calabria, Puglia or Campania, decide to move up north. Many move to Piemonte, Lombardia or Veneto in search of a job and a better life.

The Italian “miracolo economico” ends in the 1970s with a strong worldwide crisis. The crisis is caused by an unprecedented rise in the price of oil, the resource on which the economy of many countries depends.

In addition to the economic crisis, from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, Italy was experiencing a severe social and political crisis. In these years, called “anni di piombo”, (years of lead) there are many terrorist acts, protests and violent demonstrations by far-right and far-left organisations.

After the very difficult and violent anni di piombo, the Italian society is experiencing a new period of transformation.

New parties are born and assert themselves in politics. First of all, the party of the entrepreneur Silvio Berlusconi, called Forza Italia. In the 1994 elections, a year after the party’s birth, Forza Italia received the majority of votes and Silvio Berlusconi became Presidente del Consiglio (Prime Minister). Berlusconi will be re-elected Presidente del Consiglio two more times, in 2001 and 2008.

Between 1989 and 1991 borns the Lega Nord Party. This party aims to give autonomy and independence from the central government to the northern regions of the country. The “Lega” is the party currently headed by Matteo Salvini.

In these years, television becomes the most important means of mass communication. All families learn new things by watching television and Italian culture is mainly influenced by television programs.

More and more people buy computers and start using the internet.

Until the end of the 1970s, the history of Italy was a history of emigration. The Italians who migrated to Germany, Switzerland, the United States, Brazil and Argentina or other countries of the world from the late 1800s to the late 1970s numbered about 25 million.

In the 1980s, due to the new policies of openness to other countries and the need of many people to live a better life, immigration to Italy began to be a significant phenomenon. The countries of origin of people who migrate to Italy in this period are mainly Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal.

In the 1990s the first mass migration to Italy took place. Thousands of Albanian citizens leave Albania after the end of the communist dictatorship and migrate to Italy. They choose Italy mainly because it is very close to Albania and has good economic conditions. With the end of the communist regimes also many people from other former Soviet countries, such as Poland and Moldavia migrate to Italy.

Over the years the number of immigrants from Romania and Ukraine, from China, from other African countries (such as Ghana, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast) and from South Asian countries (such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and India) has grown considerably. All of these people come to Italy to find protection, a job, a better life.

Today in Italy, there are about 6 million people from foreign countries. The largest foreign communities are the Romanian, the Albanian, the Moroccan, the Chinese and the Ukrainian ones.

All of these people contribute significantly to the economic and social development of our country with new ideas, strength, and diversity. Learn more on multicultural Italy.

You might be interested in

Do you want to receive updates on our services and available information?

Subscribe to our newsletter and join the ItaliaHello Community!