Italy 200  BCE

What is happening in Italy in 200BCE

The centuries between 500 and 200 BCE have seen huge changes to the political map of Italy. The Etruscans, having reached a peak of power in around 500 BCE, were pushed out of the Po valley, in northern Italy, by Celtic tribes coming in from Gaul. There they settled, and their raiding parties penetrated deep into the peninsula, sacking Rome in around 390 BCE.

The Romans recovered from this disaster, and by the end of the fourth century were expanding their power across central and southern Italy. Long, fierce wars ended in Sabine, Samnite and Umbrian hill tribes, and Etruscan and Greek city-states, all falling under Roman domination. Pursuing a far-sighted policy, Rome did not treat defeated opponents as conquered peoples, but formed them into a confederation of allies under her leadership. A network of roads and colonies underpinned Roman control of the peninsula.

Rome’s Italian allies provided troops for the great wars Rome fought with Carthage in the third century (264-241 BCE and 218-202 BCE), and mostly held firm in their loyalty to the Romans in the face of Hannibal’s devastating invasion of Italy.

Next map, Italy 30 BCE


Read more about the early history of ancient Rome

What is happening in Italy in 500BCE

By 700 BCE, when Italy first appears in (Greek) written records, most of its inhabitants lived as farmers or herders in villages or small towns, and spoke an Indo-European language.  Colonists from Greece had already established several city-states in the south of Italy and in Sicily. These have brought Greek civilization to the peninsula, and with it the alphabet, Greek styles of art and architecture, and other Greek ways.

The Etruscans – and Rome

Another sophisticated civilization – that of the Etruscans – has emerged, under Greek influence. It is centred on a group of wealthy city-states in central Italy. At around this time their power reaches its peak with the establishment of outposts in the Po valley, in the north. By 500 BCE, other Italian peoples are living in city-states, and that distinctively Greek political form, the republic, is taking root in the peninsula.

In central Italy, the small city of Rome is even now winning its independence from Etruscan domination and becoming one of these new-fangled city-republics. It is from this time and place that one of the greatest empires in world history can trace its rise.

Next map, Italy 200 BCE

Read more about early Rome here


What is happening in Italy in 30BCE

Troops provided by Rome’s Italian allies played their full part in Rome’s wars of conquest in the second century BCE. Wherever Roman power spread throughout the Mediterranean, moreover, Italian businessmen followed. More and more wealth flowed into the cities of Italy. The second century was a time of peace and prosperity for the whole of Italy.

As its overseas empire grew, however, Rome behaved more and more arrogantly towards her allies in Italy. This led the Italians to demand full Roman citizenship, and finally, in 90 BCE, to take up arms in this cause. The Roman senate quickly granted full citizenship to all Italians south of the Po valley, although the war dragged on in places until 82 BCE.

Italy was then caught up in the sequence of Roman civil wars, with a stable peace only being restored in 30 BCE.

By this time, Latin culture has come to predominate over the numerous local cultures of previous centuries. The Roman army and administrative institutions are staffed by men drawn from all over Italy, and, with the old Roman families dwindling in number, many Roman senators have their roots in Italian towns.

Next map, Italy 200 CE

What is happening in Italy in 200CE

Italy has seen more than two centuries of almost unbroken peace. The peninsula is very much the metropolitan core of the Roman empire.

On the other hand, Italy’s traditional industries have been increasingly challenged by new industries springing up in the provinces. Also, Italy’s population seems unable to replace itself properly, which has alarmed the imperial government – special schemes to support orphans have been set up throughout Italy to help promote population growth.

Some towns show signs of economic strain, perhaps due to the preponderance of great senatorial estates in the peninsula (Roman senators are required to have at least a quarter of their property in Italy). These take large amounts of land (and hence wealth) beyond the reach of local town governments.

Next map, Italy 500 CE


What is happening in Italy in 500CE

This map shows Italy in the period immediately after the fall of the Roman empire in the west.

Although the peninsula did not experience many large-scale invasions in the troubled third century, new taxation (which Italy had virtually escaped during the first two centuries of the empire) hit Italy hard. In the fourth century, Italy was divided into provinces, putting it on the same administrative footing as the rest of the empire, and Italians lost their privileged status in the imperial administration and army.

In the fifth, despite several major barbarian invasions, Roman administration and society remained largely intact here. The emperors, by now resident at Ravenna, were more or less cyphers, with real power in the hands of German military commanders. Finally, in 476, the last emperor in the west was despatched to Constantinople.

A German tribe, called the Ostrogoths, invaded Italy in 489 and now rule here. They are Arian Christians, and a gulf of suspicion separates them from the Roman population, who are Catholics. Nevertheless, civil government is still in the hands of the Roman governing class, and Roman law and administration carry on much as before.

Next map, Italy 750 CE


What is happening in Italy in 750CE

In 535 the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, emperor, Justinian, ordered his forces to bring Italy back under imperial control. The resulting wars between the Byzantines and the Ostrogoths lasted almost twenty years, and were a disaster for Italy. The Roman cities of Italy, above all Rome itself, suffered terribly, and most (including Rome) shrank to a fraction of their former size. These decades effectively marked the end of Roman Italy.

Further disaster came when another German tribe, the Lombards, conquered much of the peninsula (568-605), since which time Italy has been divided between the Lombards and the Eastern Romans (or Byzantines, as we shall now call them).

The Lombard kingdom is divided amongst powerful dukes; those in southern Italy have become practically independent. The Byzantine part of Italy is governed from Ravenna, in the north, but the local areas have much autonomy. The bishop of Rome, the pope, is by now the effective ruler of that city, as he has the support of the populace, whilst the Byzantine governor does not.

The Lombards continue to pose a potent threat to the Byzantines in Italy, and their army is now threatening Rome.

Next map, Italy 979

What is happening in Italy in 979CE

In the 770’s, most of Italy was conquered by the Frankish king Charlemagne. With the break-up of his empire under his successors, the peninsula fragmented into three main parts. In the north, an independent kingdom of Italy emerged, which was later conquered by the German king, Otto, in the 950’s, and became a part of the huge new political entity he founded, the Holy Roman Empire.

In Central Italy, Charlemagne gave much of the Lombards’ territory to the pope, thus founding the principality known as the Papal State. With the decline in Frankish power, this has emerged as an independent state, with the pope as its ruler.

In southern Italy, the Lombard duchy of Benevento has fragmented into several states which fight continually with each other, and with the Byzantine garrisons still in control of the far south.

Apart from these three main political regions within Italy, the maritime city of Venice has emerged as an effectively independent state under its duke (doge) and ruling council. It is experiencing great commercial expansion in this period, coming to dominate the Adriatic trade.

Next map, Italy 1215

What is happening in Italy in 1215CE

The northern cities of Italy remain within the Holy Roman Empire – but they have taken advantage of the long civil wars within the empire and the decline in imperial authority to become self-governing communities. Imperial control has become merely a formality, and repeated attempts by emperors such as Barbarossa to re-impose Imperial authority have failed. At the Peace of Constance (1183), the Italian cities’ self-government was recognized, so long as they pledge fealty to the emperor and paid taxes.

The cities of northern Italy have experienced a vigorous expansion of trade and industry –  for example Venice and Genoa now dominate the Mediterranean sea routes, and Milan and Florence are developing trade contacts across Europe. The growing commercial prosperity of the region has increased the economic power and self-confidence of the merchants and other urban classes.

In southern Italy, bands of Normans, first coming as mercenaries to fight in the unceasing conflicts between the south Italian principalities, seized control there, and went on to found the kingdom of Sicily (1127). Sicily has became a centralized and wealthy state, and one where Byzantine, Arab and Latin elements have fused to produce a brilliant culture. The kingdom has passed, by inheritance, into the hands of the Holy Roman Emperors, members of the German Hohenstaufen family (1190).

Next map, Italy 1453

What is happening in Italy in 1453CE

The economy of northern and central Italy has continued to expand, with the development of large-scale international commerce and banking. Florence, Venice and Genoa take the lead. This wealth has helped to fund the increasing number of mercenary armies which fight the inter-city wars of the period. The Black Death caused huge loss of life, but only temporarily disrupted the prosperity and economic power of the north Italian city-states. Milan, Florence (by now under the domination of the Medici family) and Venice have expanded their territories to become substantial regional powers, while Venice and Genoa, bitter commercial rivals, continue to dominate the sea-lanes of the Mediterranean. It is the wealth and competitive spirit of these northern Italian city-dwellers that has fuelled the launch of that cultural movement later known as the Renaissance.

The Papal States have fallen into near-anarchy as local tyrants have seized power from papal officials. In the south, Frederick II (1212-50) brought the government of the kingdom of Sicily to a peak of centralized administrative efficiency, quite unknown elsewhere in Europe. After him, weakness and instability set in, and the state fell to foreign domination. The Spanish kingdom of Aragon now rules here.

Next map, Italy 1648


What is happening in Italy in 1648CE

The intense rivalry between the Italian states drew in neighbouring powerful states and Italy became the battleground between the French and Hapsburg monarchies (1494-1559), with consequent misery (notably the terrible sack of Rome by Hapsburg troops in 1527) and loss of independence for Italian states. The treaty of Cateau-Cambresis (1559) imposed Spanish Hapsburg dominance in Italy. Since then the Spanish have dominated Italy, including the kingdom of Naples. The only significant states which retain their independence are Tuscany (now a Grand Duchy under the Medici), the Dukedom of Savoy, and the Republic of Venice.

The Republic of Venice remains an important Mediterranean power, but its position in the Eastern Mediterranean is being progressively whittled down by the Ottoman Turks. At one time it looked as though the Ottoman navy would dominate the entire Mediterranean Sea, but at the decisive battle of Lepanto (1571) the Spanish, Venetian and Papal forces checked Ottoman naval expansion.

Next map, Italy 1789

What is happening in Italy in 1789CE

At the beginning of the 18th century Austria replaced Spain as the major power in Italy, gaining Milan and Naples in 1713, and Sicily in 1720. This situation was partially reversed when, in 1734, the Spanish Bourbons received Naples and Sicily (the kingdom of the Two Sicilies). In compensation, the Austrian Hapsburgs gained Tuscany. The only two Italian states to retain their independence under native rulers are Savoy, whose duke has been made king of Piedmont-Sardinia, and the Venetian Republic.

During the 18th century, Italy has become a magnet for European aristocrats, visiting the country for its Roman remains and Renaissance heritage on the “Grand Tour”.

Next map, Italy 1837

What is happening in Italy in 1837CE

At one time or another during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (1793-1815), all of Italy except Sicily came under French rule.

The settlement of 1815 confirmed Austria’s pre-war dominance of northern Italy, and added Venice and its territories to its pre-war possessions. Southern Italy and Sicily remained under the rule of the Bourbon monarchy. The only state left under rulers of native Italian origin is that of the house of Savoy, kings of Piedmont-Sardinia.

The period since 1815 has seen a rise in pan-Italian – and anti-Austrian – feeling. Revolutionary groups such as the Carbonari have become active, and a number of insurrections occurred throughout Italy in the 1820’s and 30’s. All were suppressed when the local rulers called in Austrian troops.

Next map, Italy 1871

What is happening in Italy in 1871CE

After a period of comparative peace in Italy, a wave of revolutions broke out throughout the Peninsula in 1848. All were crushed the following year, mostly by Austrian forces.

The failure of these revolutions brought the prime minister of Piedmont-Sardinia, Cavour, to centre stage: he was to perform a similar role in Italy as Bismark was to fulfil in Germany. By skillful diplomacy, he brought France into a war against Austria alongside Piedmont-Sardinia (1858-9), which ended up with Piedmont-Sardinia in control of most of northern and central Italy.

The next year (1860) a rag-tag army under the inspirational Garibaldi landed in Sicily and swept all before it as it occupied that island and then marched on Naples. The king of Piedmont-Sardinia, Victor-Emmanuel, then marched south with his army and joined forces with Garibaldi near Naples. The kingdom of Italy was then officially proclaimed (1861), with Victor-Emmanuel as king.

In 1866 Italy was rewarded for being an ally of Prussia in the Austro-Prussian war of that year, by being given Venetia; and in 1870, the Italian army annexed Rome and the Papal States. These additions have given Italy roughly its modern boundaries, and the city of Rome has been made the Italian capital.

Next map, Italy 1914

What is happening in Italy in 1914CE

Since its unification, Italy has been ruled by parliamentary system under a constitutional monarchy. Italian politics has been turbulent, including the assassination of its king, Umberto I, in 1900. Nevertheless, the economy has expanded greatly and Italy has built up a comprehensive railway network, a modern army and an excellent navy.

Next map, Italy 1960

What is happening in Italy in 1960CE

Italy entered World War 1 on the Allies’ side in 1915. As a result, her territory was extended with the acquisition of the Trentino area in the north and Istria at the head of the Adriatic. The end of the war was followed by economic contraction, industrial unrest and political turmoil. In these conditions, Benito Mussolini organized the Fascist movement into a disciplined, quazi-military force and, threatening to march on Rome, was asked by the king to form a government (1922). He soon consolidated his power so that, although the king still reigned as a figurehead, Il Duce (as Mussolini had himself called) eliminated all opposition and gained complete control of the state.

Under Mussolini, Italy built up a large army and navy, conquered Ethiopia (1935-6) and Albania (April 1939), and entered into a formal partnership with Nazi Germany. However, World War 2 brought defeat, humiliation, destruction and foreign occupation by both Allies and Germans. Mussolini was killed by partisans. In 1946, King Victor Emmanuel III abdicated and Italy became a Republic.

Post-war Italy has witnessed a series of weak, short-lived governments, and Italian public life has been characterized by repeated corruption scandals. However, this has not prevented the Italian economy from expanding rapidly, especially in the industrial north. Moreover, Italy plays a full part on the international stage as a member of NATO and the European Common Market.

Next map, Italy 2005

What is happening in Italy in 2005CE

The Italian Republic is a member of the EU and of NATO. The country has witnessed periods of recessions, as well as episodes of political terrorism and natural disaster. These, however, have not prevented it from continuing to grow its economy and play its part as a major nation on the world stage.

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200 BCE