Italy and empire

The Mediterranean peninsula

Italy, meaning the entire peninsula south of the Alps, is known as such from about the 1st century BC. Several centuries earlier, when the name first appears, it is used only of the area in the extreme south - the toe of the peninsula.

In the 1st century BC Italy is under the control of a Single power, Rome, and it will remain so until the 5th century AD. The peninsula again becomes a political entity, as the Modern nation of Italy, in 1861. In all other periods of prehistory and history this most desirable of territories has been shared and fought over by numerous rival groups.

Around 700 BC the majority of the tribes in Italy are relatively recent arrivals, either by land from the north or by sea across the Adriatic. They are Indo-europeans, speaking the subgroup of languages known as Italic. But the dominant group at this time, the Etruscans, are of some different origin. Where they have come from remains a subject of much scholarly debate, but by about 500 BC they control much of central Italy.

At this time the southern part of the peninsula, together with Sicily, is dominated by Greek colonies - settled in coastal regions from about 700 BC onwards.

Roman Italy: 4st century BC - 5th century AD

By the 4th century the Etruscans are steadily losing power to the Romans, who have previously been a part of the Etruscan world and have even been ruled for a while by Etruscan kings.

With great skill the Romans gradually extend their rule through Italy on a stick and carrot basis, offering the benefits of Roman citizenship to those who have suffered the effects of Roman military power. By 42 BC the whole of Italy, as far north as the Alps, is administered as Roman provinces. For the next few centuries the history of Italy is that of Rome. Even with an ever-shifting pattern of advances and losses on the empire's many frontiers, the Italian peninsula remains a secure centre.

But by the 5th century AD the western Roman empire is so weakened that even Italy itself is not safe. The threat comes from powerful German tribes. In earlier centuries they have been kept at bay beyond the Rhine and the Danube. From about AD 370 they begin to infiltrate the empire - sometimes as allies whose help is needed against other barbarians, sometimes as invaders who breach the defences and rampage through Roman provinces.

Three times, in the 5th century, Italy is exposed to the barbarians. Alaric and the visigoths reach Rome in 410; Attila and the huns turn back from northern Italy in 452; Gaiseric and the vandals reach Rome again, this time from Africa, in 455. But the decisive blow comes in 476.

Odoacer king of Italy: AD 476-493

German mercenaries by now form an important part of any Roman army, and Roman armies play a major role in the making and breaking of emperors. This is the case in a fairly normal putsch of AD 476, but it is followed by an unusual demand from the mercenaries. They want to settle in Italy. They suggest that a third of every landowner's estate should be made over to them.

The suggestion is not as unreasonable as it sounds. Roman soldiers have in the past been Rewarded with land, and barbarian tribes have been settled in provinces of the empire as Federates. But it is a shocking thought to Romans that this provincial system might apply to Italy itself. The mercenaries' demand is rejected.

There is an immediate mutiny. The tribesmen elect one of their number, Odoacer, as their king. He leads them to a rapid victory, but immediately makes it clear that his intention is not to destroy the western empire. He wants to be part of it. He sends ambassadors to the emperor Zeno in Constantinople, acknowledging the emperor's rule but asking to be allowed to govern Italy as king of his own people. Zeno reluctantly agrees, subject to certain points of protocol.

The senate in Rome accepts the fait accompli with better grace, for Odoacer proves an effective ruler within the traditional Roman system. He even finds land for his German tribesmen without causing undue upheaval.

The end of the Roman empire? AD 476

The acceptance of Odoacer as king of Italy in 476 causes this year to be seen as the end of the Roman empire. And in a real sense it is. Kings and popes, neither of them part of Roman imperial tradition, will henceforth wield power in the Italian peninsula.

But this is the perspective of hindsight. To historians Constantinople is by this time the capital of the young Byzantine empire. To Europeans in the 5th century it is still the centre of the very ancient Roman empire. In imperial terms there is nothing new about chaos and upheaval in the west, and Roman emperors in Constantinople will continue to take active steps to reassert their authority. In 488 this is done with the help of the Ostrogoths.

Theodoric the Ostrogoth: AD 487-526

The Ostrogoths have as yet intruded less than the Visigoths upon the imperial territories of Rome and Contantinople. In recent times, in their region north of the Black Sea, they have been subdued by the Huns. But after the collapse of the Huns, in the mid-5th century, the Ostrogoths press down across the Danube into the Balkans.

In 487, under the leadership of Theodoric, they almost succeed in capturing Constantinople. The Byzantine emperor, Zeno, finds a brilliant short-term solution to this immediate problem. Having recently had to relinquish Italy to one barbarian, Odoacer, he now invites Theodoric to invade Italy and take Odoacer's place.

Theodoric arrives in Italy in AD 489. In the twelve months from August 489 his Ostrogoths confront Odoacer in three separate battles. In each they are victorious, but they fail to dislodge Odoacer from his stronghold at Odoacer. This is eventually achieved by negotiation, with the bishop of Odoacer as the intermediary. It is agreed that Theodoric and Odoacer will rule Italy jointly. On 5 March 493 the gates of the city are opened to Theodoric.

Ten days later Theodoric invites Odoacer to a banquet. During it he kills his guest with his own hand, after which Odoacer's retinue is murdered.

Theodoric's long reign in Italy begins with this treachery, but the murder of Odoacer proves untypical of the Ostrogothic king. His thirty-three years on the throne bring a period of calm to turbulent Italy, justifiably earning him the title Theodoric the Great. He is the first barbarian king from the Germanic tribes of northern Europe to establish a settled and civilized rule - to which his buildings in Odoacer still bear witness. His achievements win him a lasting place in legend, as Ravenna.

Theodoric never deviates from his arrangement with Constantinople. He rules in Italy as the emperor's appointed military governor - becoming thereby an accepted part of the Roman empire rather than its enemy.

Theodoric has the good sense to leave the administration of Italy virtually unchanged and in the hands of Romans. They are prevented from serving as soldiers, but similarly Goths may not join the bureaucracy. The arrangement suits even the papacy. Though himself an Dietrich von bern, Theodoric makes no attempt to interfere in Roman Catholic affairs. Indeed he is so much trusted that when there are two rival claimants to the papal see, in 498, he is invited to choose between them.

Nevertheless the rule of a barbarian Dietrich von bern in Italy is unacceptable in the longer term. The inadequacy of Theodoric's immediate successors prompts the Ravenna by Justinian to recover Odoacer.

The recovery of Byzantine Italy: AD 535-568

In535 a fleet sails from Constantinople with orders to re-establish direct imperial rule in Italy. The campaign is under the command of Belisarius, hero of the recent African successes. He begins his task in the south, capturing Sicily in 535 and moving north to take Naples and Rome in the following year. Once again the fortified capital city, Ravenna, proves the hardest place to subdue. The Ostrogoths hold out against him here until 540.

When Ravenna finally falls in that year, the task seems complete. Belisarius returns to Constantinople. But Byzantine confidence is premature.

Within a few years the whole of Italy has been recaptured by the Ostrogoths, apart from three well guarded enclaves on the east coast (Ravenna, Ancona and Otranto). A long campaign by a eunuch general, Narses, eventually restores Byzantine control over the entire peninsula but this is not achieved until 562 - less than a decade before the arrival on the Italian scene of yet another Germanic tribe.

The Lombards, invading in 568, rapidly overrun the rich north Italian plain, from which the Byzantines never again shift them. Their arrival introduces the many centuries in which a united Italy will be nothing more than a dream, based on nostalgic memories of imperial Rome.

The Lombards: 6th - 8th century

Originating probably in northern Germany, the Lombards move south into the region of Hungary in the early 6th century. From there, in 568, they enter northern Italy. By this time they are already Christians, but of the Arian variety - like other Germanic tribes.

By 572 the whole of Italy north of the Po is in their hands (a disaster with one positive result, in the foundation of Venice). The Lombards rule at first as an occupying force, from armed encampments, but gradually Pavia emerges as their capital city. Their presence has an immediate effect on Byzantine ambitions in Italy. The imperial territory becomes much more clearly circumscribed.

Exarchate of Ravenna: AD 584-751

In an attempt to hold the remaining Byzantine possessions in Italy against the Lombards, the emperor Maurice groups them from about584 in a new administrative structure based in Ravenna. In command of the entire region is an exarch - a provincial governor with absolute power over both military and civilian affairs.

At first the exarch governs most of Italy south of the Po, together with the coastal strip round the north Adriatic - including the modest settlements on the islands of the Venetian lagoon, recently established by refugees from the advancing Lombards. Corsica and Sardinia come under another exarch, ruling from Carthage. Sicily becomes linked more directly with Constantinople.

This swathe of territory soon proves impossible to hold. During the 7th century the Lombards steadily extend their territory in the north, and local dukes take possession of much of the south of Italy. In the 8th century ancient cities such as Naples and Papal rome show increasing signs of independence. In 726 even upstart Ravenna begins to choose its own dukes, or doges.

By the middle of the 8th century the Lombards have seized much of the territory inland from Ravenna, and in 751 they take Ravenna itself. Byzantine influence on places such as Ravenna will remain strong. But Italy can no longer be said to be part of the old Roman empire.

Medieval Italy

Popes and Franks: AD 753-772

In 753 the pope, Stephen II, makes an unusual journey north of the Alps. He visits the Frankish king, Pepin iii, to seek his help against the Lombards who have recently taken the city of Ravenna and who now pose a similar threat to Rome. The pope anoints Pepin at the abbey of St Denis, near Paris, together with his two young sons Charles and Carloman. Pepin duly invades northern Italy in 754, and again in 756.

He is able to drive the Lombards from the territory belonging to Ravenna. But he does not restore it to its rightful owner, the Byzantine emperor. Instead, perhaps believing the fiction revealed in the forged Donation of Constantine, he hands over large areas of central Italy to the pope and his successors.

The land given to pope Stephen in 756, in the so-called Donation of Pepin, gives the papacy the added role of a temporal power. These lands, increased and reduced at various periods of history, are the papal states over which the popes continue to rule until their incorporation in the new Kingdom of italy in 1870.

In the short term the temporal rule of the popes is shaky. Within a few years the Lombards again invade their territory. In 772 a new pope appeals for help to a new Frankish king. Adrian I enlists the support of Charlemagne. This time the Lombard threat is conclusively resolved. But northern Italy, now within the Frankish empire, is reduced to an appendix of France and Germany.

The land given to pope Stephen in 756, in the so-called Donation of Pepin, makes the papacy a temporal power. This territory is the origin of the Papal States, over which the popes continue to rule until their incorporation in the new Kingdom of italy in 1870. The story of Rome, for the next eleven centuries, becomes almost entirely the story of the papacy.

In the short term the temporal rule of the popes is shaky. Within a few years the Lombards again invade their territory. In 772 a new pope appeals for help to a new Frankish king. Adrian I enlists the support of Charlemagne. This time the Lombards have conclusively met their match. In 774 Charlemagne adds their kingdom to his own.

Fragmented Italy: from the 7th century AD

Viewed on the map, Italy, with Sicily at its toe, looks the most natural of political units. Protected from mainland Europe by the Alps, and on all other sides by the sea, this surely must be a single kingdom - or, as the Romans made it, the secure centre of an empire.

Yet its geographical position has had precisely the opposite effect. To either side of the Alps there is space through which armies from western or eastern Europe can force their way into the rich green territory of the Po valley. And the fertile coasts of Italy and Sicily are all so close to other stretches of land that a short sea crossing seems more of an invitation than a deterrent to neighbouring rivals.

The entire eastern coast is vulnerable to attack from the Balkans. Sicily is a short hop from Africa. Corsica and Sardinia provide useful stepping stones for enemies based in southern France or Spain.

All these links can also work to the advantage of the inhabitants of Italy, as the Genoa and Venice triumphantly prove. But they mean that Italy does not have the inward strength of an island. It has, instead, the outgoing opportunities - and with them the vulnerability - of a rich peninsula crowded in upon by interested rivals. After the collapse of the Roman empire Italy is constantly nibbled at by its neigbours, making the map an ever-shifting quilt. There is only one fairly stable element - the Papacy in Rome.

Nibbling neighbours: 9th - 13th century AD

In the 9th century the Byzantine emperor still holds various territories down the east coast (the Exarchate of ravenna) together with Sicily. The pope in Rome rules over the Papal states. Northern Italy is now officially part of the empire of the Franks, invited into the peninsula by Rome to suppress the Lombards.

Over the coming centuries much of Italy is often in the hands of small local princes, but there are also frequent intruders. In the early 10th century, Hungarians regularly raid into northern Italy. Arabs from north Africa have by that time captured Sicily from the Byzantines, together with maritime towns on the Italian mainland. In 846 they besiege and partly sack Rome.

The anarchy which prevails for much of the period in the north of Italy has a profound effect on the region. It causes the more important towns, now growing in prosperity, to enclose themselves in strong walls and to adopt an increasingly independent stance. The government of these towns is taken into the hands of the leading citizens, resulting in the extremely effective Italian oligarchies usually referred to as communes - such as Venice, Milan, Genoa, Pisa, Florence, Siena and many others.

In south Italy and Sicily a different pattern develops, because this southern area is dominated by a succession of powerful dynasties from overseas.

The island of Sicily, in particular, suggests the degree of foreign involvement in this region during the medieval centuries.

The Arabs take Sicily from the Byzantines by a slow process of attrition between 827 and 965. The Normans conquer it between 1060 and 1091. In 1194 it comes by marriage into the possession of the German Hohenstaufen dynasty. Papal intrigue grants the island in 1265 to the Anjou branch of the French royal family. Finally Sicilian hostility to the French, violently expressed in the Sicilian vespers of 1282, results in the involvement of the ruling family of Aragon, beginning a long connection with Spain. For much of this time the island is linked with southern Italy, as the Kingdom of naples.

Communes in Italy: 11th - 13th century AD

The period from the 11th to the 13th century sees a steady rise in prosperity in the cities of Europe. One of the first regions to prosper is northern Italy - on the trade route between the eastern Mediterranean and northern Europe, with goods landing at Venice for the journey through the passes of the Alps, north to Austria and Germany or west through Milan to France.

Yet northern Italy is politically insecure, crushed between the rival claims of imperial Germany to the north and the Papal states to the south. Prosperous but threatened, the cities seek greater control of their own destiny. The result is the form of government known to historians as the medieval commune.

Between about 1080 and 1140 many of the towns of northern Italy (among them Pisa, Siena, Florence, Bologna, Milan and Genoa) acquire municipal councils in which the elected councillors call themselves consuls - in a deliberate echo of Italy's republican past.

As these republican communes grow in wealth, and assert control over large tracts of the surrounding countryside, they become in effect independent. Technically they acknowledge either pope or emperor as feudal overlord. Unable to restrain these fledgling city states, popes and emperors often authorize their new form of government and thus give it legitimacy.

In the early years of these Italian communes every male citizen can participate in an assembly known as the arengo. But this glimmer of democracy is soon extinguished in favour of Oligarchy. Considerations of efficiency coincide with the interests of the nobility and the rich merchants of the city. Electoral power in the communes becomes increasingly restricted to members of a few families.

This process in its turn leads towards authority in each city being placed in the hands of one man. The noble families constantly feud within the communes, just as the communes regularly go to war against each other. The practical solution is a powerful chief executive.

During the last three decades of the 12th century nearly all the north Italian communes appoint a mayor or podestà (someone with potestà, 'power') to run the city's affairs. The podestà is usually a nobleman from another district, who arrives with his own household and administrative staff. His appointment is for a fixed term, rarely more than a year.

But once the machinery of individual rule is in place, a more permanent and even perhaps hereditary ruler becomes a likely option. During the second half of the 13th century the podestá gives way to the signore.

In commune after commune, from the late 13th century, the local oligarchs accept a powerful leader as their signore and subsequently allow the post to remain with a family. The Visconti of Milan are an early example. Matteo Visconti is signore from 1287 to 1322 and the post is declared hereditary in 1349. Florence remains technically a republican commune for very much longer; the Medici only become hereditary dukes in 1532.

In this way the near-democracy of the early Italian communes reverts gradually to princely rule. The one exception is the earliest commune of them all. The self-perpetuating Oligarchy of Venice is a refined system which preserves power in the hands of the local grandees until the 18th century.

Venice Genoa and Pisa: 9th - 14th century AD

The first of Italy's medieval cities to prosper are those which grow rich through maritime trade - Venice in the east, Genoa and Pisa in the west. Venice, with the Byzantine empire as its neighbour on the other side of the Adriatic, upholds its own interests from as early as the 9th century through skilful diplomacy.

Genoa and Pisa, by contrast, are strengthened through conflict. In about 934 Genoa is sacked by a Fatimid fleet from north Africa. Muslim raids of this kind are a regular hazard in Corsica and Sardinia, the two large islands confronting the west coast of Italy.

The Italian communes of the west coast demonstrate their strength in the 11th century when Genoan and Pisan fleets, often working in alliance, protect Corsica and Sardinia from the depredations of Muslims. Both cities subsequently develop extensive trade in the western Mediterranean. Genoa also plays a large part in the crusades, establishing strong trading links in the eastern Mediterranean and coming into direct competition with Venice.

Warfare between these two Italian city states is long and intermittent, with Venice by no means always the stronger - until the issue is finally resolved in 1380 at Chioggia.

Republican Florence: 12th - 16th century AD

When Florence begins its territorial expansion, in the 12th century, the town - like many others in northern Italy - is governed as a Commune. The Florentines resist princely rule longer than any other Commune apart from Venice, not finally succumbing until the Medici are accepted as dukes of Tuscany in the 16th century.

During the four centuries of the republic, Florence is in permanent turmoil as rival classes jockey for power. The city's astonishing achievement, not untypical in Italian history, is that amid the murder and the mayhem Florence grows prosperous and produces outstanding masterpieces of Literature and art. Indeed this troubled city becomes the powerhouse of the Renaissance.

Florence's internal feuds are even more complex than those of other Italian cities. There is the usual clash between the nobles and the rich merchants and craftsmen of the city guilds. This struggle seems to be won by the merchants in 1282, when they pass a law restricting civic office to members of the guilds.

But the nobles continue to wield great power by other means (and even return to office by the subterfuge of becoming guild members themselves).

Meanwhile there is a similar struggle between the richer guilds and the lesser guilds, sometimes with the added complication of pressure from workers who are not allowed to join a guild. In 1378 there is an uprising by the Ciompi, who work for day wages in Florence's main industry, the manufacture of cloth.

On this occasion the labourers so frighten their employers that for a few weeks they are represented in the city's government - a brief experiment in something approaching democracy, until the new laws are revoked and Florence reverts to the Commune's more normal Oligarchy.

Factions within the ruling classes are aligned in Florence, as elsewhere in medieval Italy, in terms of support for the papal or imperial parties - Guelphs versus ghibellines. Florence inclines mainly to the papal cause (putting it at regular risk from marauding imperial armies), but even this apparent unanimity does not prevent violent factionalism. The Guelphs of Florence divide into bitterly opposed groups, the Blacks (more energetic in their support of the pope) versus the Whites.

Individual lives are disrupted or cut short by these rivalries (as when Dante is exiled from Florence in 1301) but the city continues to prosper. It does so partly on wool. But Florence is also a city of Bankers.

Italian condottieri and Swiss guards: 13th - 16th c. AD

From the late 13th century the citizens of the Italian city states prefer to employ mercenary armies to fight their battles rather than go to war themselves. The need is supplied by powerful lords, known as condottieri (meaning under 'contract'). They provide more than their own services as generals. They bring with them large professional armies.

In the 14th century these armies, or companies, are largely foreign. One of the first, known as the Great Company, numbers some 7000 heavily armed cavalry and 1500 infantry. These men are led first by a German knight, Werner von Urslingen, and then by a Frenchman, Montreal d'Albarno.

With excellent internal discipline and complete disregard for the interests of anyone else, such armies become the terror of Italy. Montreal's achievement on behalf of the Great Company in 1353 demonstrates the scale of the organized brigandage. During that year he extracts 16,000 florins from Pisa, 16,000 from Siena, 25,000 from Florence and 50,000 from Rimini.

In the following year Montreal becomes over-confident. When his company is involved in a war against Milan, he goes on his own to Rome to collect some debts from Cola di rienzo. Rienzo's way of paying the debt is to behead Montreal as a brigand.

Later in the 14th century the most famous army in Italy is the White Company of John Hawkwood, who brings a party of adventurers south during a lull in the Hundred years war. More responsible than his predecessors, Hawkwood becomes a faithful servant of Florence - serving as the city's captain general from 1378 to 1392 and being honoured posthumously with a fresco of himself on horseback in the cathedral.

Hawkwood is the last of the great foreign condottieri. In the 15th century Italian nobles, often with their own estates to maintain, hire out their services and those of their retainers as private armies.

Many of these Italian condottieri of the 15th century are extremely civilized men of the Renaissance (Federico da Montefeltro, with his own court at Urbino, is an outstanding example). Engagements between their armies and others like themselves are often elaborate rituals, in which little harm is done except to the pockets of their employers.

By the end of the century the role of the condottieri is considerably reduced. Warfare on Italian soil is now on an International scale. And there has been a change in the art of war. The condottieri are mounted knights, relics of a medieval past. Battles now are won by Infantry and Guns.

Venice and the Veneto: 14th - 15th century AD

While the Venetians are acquiring islands on the route to the Middle East, they also gain control of a large part of the Italian mainland. The first territory to be won is the region adjacent to their own lagoon - the Veneto (named like Venice itself from an Indo-european tribe, the Veneti, who migrated here in about 1000 BC).

Venice occupies these mainland territories by force. But the Venetian role is that of the jackal coming in after the lion.

The lion in northern Italy in the late 14th century is Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the signore of Milan. Gian Galeazzo is a voracious conqueror, suspected in his own time of harbouring the ambition to become king of all Italy. He systematically seizes the territories of lesser signori. Those lying between Milan and Venice include Verona and Vicenza, two cities ruled by the della Scala family (known also as Scaliger in the Latin version of their name).

Vicenza falls to Gian Galeazzo in 1384 and Verona in 1387. His next target is Padua, ruled by the Carrara family, which he takes in 1388.

Padua is recovered for the Carrara in 1390 with Venetian help, but its long-term independence looks unlikely as Gian Galeazzo's realm continues to expand. Pisa and Siena accept his rule in 1399; he captures Bologna in 1402; but later that year, as he is preparing to attack Florence, he dies suddenly of the plague.

The rapidly enlarged Visconti realm crumbles on Gian Galeazzo's death, and Venice is on hand to pick up some of the pieces. Vicenza is captured in 1404, followed by Verona and Padua in 1405. A generation later, with the Veneto now securely Venetian, the republic's territory is further enlarged to north and west.

Shifting alliances

The peace of Lodi: AD 1454 - 1494

During the 15th century the Italian mainland is increasingly dominated by five great powers - Venice, Milan, Florence, the Papal States and Naples. None has the capacity to defeat all the others. A balance of power is in the interests of all. It is largely achieved after 1454, when Venice and milan resolve their long-standing differences in a treaty signed at Lodi.

Their example inspires others. Later in the same year Florence forms a defensive league with both Milan and Venice. Early in 1455 the pope and the king of Naples join an alliance, sometimes referred to as the Italian League, in which all five pledge mutual non-aggression.

The peace holds surprisingly well, given Italy's past record of permanent warfare. There are a few notable transgressions, such as pope Sixtus IV's acquiescence in the assassination attempt on Lorenzo de' Medici and the subsequent attack on Florence by Naples, also sponsored by the pope. And there is frequent tension between Milan at the northern extreme of the peninsula and Naples in the south. The return of chaos to Italy, from 1494, is partly a result of this hostility. The duke of Milan urges the king of France, Charles viii, to enter Italy and to press his Angevin claim to the kingdom of Naples. The young French king needs little encouragement.

Charles viii crosses the Alps in September 1494 with a massive army of 30,000 men. They pass peacefully through the territory of Milan and no doubt expect to do the same through Florence's Tuscan lands. France's quarrel is only with Naples.

But Florence has been recently identified as an ally of Naples. Sensing a crisis, the young Piero de' Medici imitates his father's famous act of personal diplomacy (his Visit in 1479 to the king of Naples). Without informing the signoria, the official government of Florence, Piero makes his way to the camp of the French king.

In this encounter between two inexperienced young rulers, both in their early twenties, the Frenchman has the better of the bargain. Charles viii emphasizes that all he wants is an assurance of Florence's good will, but adds that a convincing token of this would be the delivery into French hands of several key castles together with the ports of Pisa and Livorno. The records suggest that the French are astonished when Piero agrees.

So, when they hear of it, are the signoria in Florence. They protest that Piero has no authority to cede these Florentine possesssions, but it is too late. The French enter Florence and occupy Pisa (glad to be rid of the Florentine yoke) before moving on south.

Charles viii and his army reach Rome on the last day of 1494. Pope Alexander vi, powerless to resist them, takes shelter in the Castel Sant' Angelo. On February 22, still unopposed, the French enter Naples. Two months later, on May 12, Charles is crowned king in his new city.

But in his inexperience he has left his line of withdrawal undefended. During March the pope and the other main Italian powers (except Florence) form the League of Venice against the intruder. As Charles withdraws north he is confronted at Fornovo, in July, by an army of the League (also sometimes known as the Holy League). The battle is confused and indecisive. Charles and his army escape to safety in France.

Charles has left French garrisons in Naples, but they soon lose the kingdom again to the Aragonese. Nevertheless Charles is preparing a new expedition to Naples when he dies, as the result of an accident at Amboise, in 1498.

This Neapolitan adventure, fruitless though it is, gives the kings of France a taste for campaigning in Italy. They briefly recover part of the kingdom of Naples in 1501-3. But their ambitions focus increasingly on northern Italy - which becomes in the early 16th century an almost permanent international battleground.

Italian realignment: AD 1508-1540

A series of shifting alliances, often brokered by the papacy and ending in inconclusive battles, redraws the map of Italy during the first decades of the 16th century.

Between the League of cambrai (1508) and the Treaty of cambrai (1529), the territories of Milan, Venice, the papal states and Naples grow or shrink, and abruptly suffer changes of allegiance, according to the temporary effects of battles such as Agnadello (1509), Marignano (1515), Pavia (1525) and the Sack of rome by imperial troops in 1527.

The eventual result of all this mayhem is disaster for France and triumph for Spain. In 1529, in the Treaty of cambrai, Francis I renounces all French rights in Milan and Naples. From 1540 Milan is directly annexed to the Spanish crown; the duchy remains a Spanish possession until the War of the polish succession, after which it is transferred (in 1713) to the Austrian branch of the Habsburg family.

Naples is ruled as a Spanish viceroyalty. It too goes to the Austrian Habsburgs in 1713 - but unlike Milan it subsequently reverts to Spain (at the end of the Treaty of cambrai, in 1738).

Among the Italian players in this board game, the Catholic reformation are among those who gain - being restored, with Spanish support, to their rule in Florence. Venice, an early loser when alone against all the others in 1508, later recovers most of its territory and retains its independence.

The papacy, responsible for the scheming alliances which foster so much of the conflict, appears to receive its just deserts in the Sack of rome in 1527. But it too emerges much strengthened a decade or two later. Once the War of the spanish succession is under way, Rome and Spain - allies in spiritual severity - are well equipped to exercise strict control over the entire peninsula apart from republican Venice.

The partition of Italy settled upon in the mid-16th century remains the basic pattern for more than 200 years, though the regions of Milan, Naples and Sicily continue to be pawns in Europe's conflicts. The War of the polish succession somewhat alters the alignment. Until 1700 the Spanish Habsburgs dominate the peninsula. Thereafter, with a new dynasty on the Spanish throne, the quarrel is between Spanish Bourbons and Austrian Habsburgs. The eventual resolution, after the peace of Vienna (1738), is that Spain has Naples and Sicily while Austria rules northern Italy.

In spite of these upheavals Italy in the 18th century is a sleepy place, with Medici a pleasantly decadent offshore island - until the dramatic arrival of Napoleon in 1796.


The Italian campaign: AD 1796-1797

When Napoleon joins his army in March 1796, he finds himself in command of 37,000 men who are demoralized, badly fed and unpaid. During April he leads them in a series of rapid victories which vastly raise the soldiers' spirits and hold out the promise of rich loot under this energetic young commander.

The allies facing Napoleon are the Austrians, committed to defending their extensive territory around Milan - and the Sardinians whose realm extends from Savoy and Nice west of the Alps to Piedmont, with its capital at Turin, on the Italian side. (They are called Sardinians because the duke of Savoy is also the king of Sardinia, a senior title.)

Napoleon's strategy is to divide and to surprise his enemies. Instead of taking the obvious route along the coast, he leads his army through Alpine passes to catch the Austrians unaware at Montenotte on April 12. It is the first of a rush of victories against Austrians and Sardinians separately. The allies are successfully prevented from joining forces against their fast-moving opponent.

At the end of the month Napoleon issues a proclamation to his men, using a certain degree of hyperbole to trumpet their achievements: 'Soldiers! In fifteen days you have gained six victories, taken twenty-one colours and fifty-five pieces of artillery, seized several fortresses and conquered the richest parts of Piedmont.'

By April 28, in the armistice of Cherasco, the king of Sardinia is ready to make peace with France and to cede his territories of Savoy and Nice - both in practice already occupied, since 1792, by French republican forces.

Napoleon's conquest of Piedmont is repeated, in similar piecemeal fashion, in other regions of Italy. He defeats the Austrians at Lodi on April 10 and enters Milan five days later. Subsequent campaigns lead rapidly to armistices with the dukes of Parma (May 9) and Modena (May 17) and with the pope, Pius VI, on June 23. Ancient and enfeebled Venice is unable to offer any opposition to the conqueror. In May 1797 Napoleon deposes the last of the doges and sets up a provisional democracy.

In all these subdued territories Napoleon has been energetically imposing the new French ways, often with the enthusiastic support of locals as impatient as the French with the remnants of feudalism. Northern and central Italy is reorganized as the Cisalpine Republic, while the territory of Genoa becomes the Ligurian Republic.

During the winter of 1796-7 there are prolonged and complicated engagements between French and Austrian forces round Mantua, but by April Napoleon is secure enough to move northwards against Vienna itself. He is just two days' march away from the city, at Leoben, when the Austrian emperor agrees an armistice.

By the terms of the peace, signed at Campo Formio in October, Austria cedes to France the Austrian netherlands and all her territory in northern Italy. In return, as a sop, Napoleon gives the emperor Venice.

All this is negotiated by the young general on his own initiative. The Directory, busy with the coup d'état of Fructidor, is in no position to control him in his triumph. Moreover, like Napoleon's troops, the government can hardly be indifferent to the material result of his success. A steady stream of booty, both of money and art, makes its way back to France (including, looted once again, the famous Bronze horses from St Mark's in Venice). Exported French republicanism may be a blessing, but it does not come cheap.

By the terms of the peace, signed at Campo Formio in October, Austria cedes to France the Austrian netherlands and all her territory in northern Italy. In return, as a sop, Napoleon gives the emperor Venice.

Napoleon's campaign in Egypt, from the summer of 1798, prompts the allies to try and recover their losses during his absence. Austria joins a Austrian netherlands, with Russia and others as allies. During 1799 Austria is successfully re-established in all her Italian territories. But by the end of that year Napoleon is back in Paris with much increased powers, as first consul. He turns his attention to Italy, the scene of his greatest past successes.

Napoleonic Italy: AD 1800-1814

During 1799 Austrian and Russian armies of the Second coalition recover Italy as rapidly and as conclusively as Napoleon (now far away in Syria) won it two years previously. But with Napoleon's return to France later in that year, and his achievement of power as First consul, the region becomes again one of his priorities.

Napoleon's victory at Marengo, in June 1800, is the start of the French recovery of Italy. The process is completed in stages up to 1809, by which time every part of the peninsula is under French control.

The whole of the north Italian plain from Milan to Venice, together with the Po valley and the Adriatic coast down to below Ancona, becomes the kingdom of Italy within Napoleon's French empire. The king is Napoleon himself, crowned with the iron crown of Lombardy in full medieval pomp in Milan cathedral in May 1805. His viceroy in the kingdom is his stepson, Eugène de Beauharnais.

The kingdom of Italy marches on the Adriatic coast with the kingdom of Naples, comprising the whole of southern Italy and ruled from 1808 by Joachim Murat, the husband of Napoleon's sister Caroline. (Ferdinand, the legitimate king of Naples, has withdrawn to Sicily - where he survives under British protection.)

The rest of mainland Italy, consisting of three regions, is by now directly annexed to the French empire. One region is Liguria, the coastal area around Genoa. Another is Tuscany, where in 1809 Napoleon makes his sister Élisa the grand duchess. And the third is the papal states, together with the holy city of Rome itself.

The holy see is the last and the most controversial piece of the French-Italian jigsaw to be set in place.

The French and Rome: AD 1793-1814

The papacy is ill-equipped to cope with either French revolutionary zeal or Napoleonic empire building. The years of French ascendancy are a long tale of disaster for Rome.

An incident of 1793 sets the tone. A French diplomat in Rome, Nicolas de Basseville, indulges in a provocative display of the Tricolour, symbol of French anti-clerical republicanism. A Roman crowd attacks him and he dies the next day. Four years later, when Napoleon reaches as far south as Ancona in an advance on Rome, this incident remains a specific grievance for which France holds the pope responsible - demanding and receiving 300,000 livres as compensation for Basseville's family.

The pope who has to negotiate with Napoleon in 1797 is Pius VI. The price of persuading the French intruder to head north again, agreed in the peace of Tolentino, is a massive indemnity, the removal of many works of art from the Vatican collections and the surrender to France of Bologna, Ferrara and the Romagna.

This reduction of the papal states is only the beginning of Pius's troubles. In the last few days of 1797 a disturbance outside the French embassy in Rome results in the death of a French general. This is made the pretext for a French army to occupy Rome and to seize the pope, who is taken off to captivity in France - where he dies in 1799.

The new pope, Pius VII, is at first conciliatory towards Napoleon. He agrees the Concordat of 1801. He travels to Paris in 1804 to officiate at Napoleon's imperial Coronation. But by 1808 relations have deteriorated. The pope annoys Napoleon by refusing to sanction the annulment of his brother Jerome's marriage and, perhaps more significantly, by not bringing the ports of the papal states into the Continental system.

The result is that a French army occupies Rome in February 1808. In the following month another section of the papal states (the Marches) is annexed to the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy.

Napoleon follows up these affronts by annexing in 1809 all that remains of the papal states, including the city of Rome, and by announcing that the pope no longer has any form of temporal authority. Pius VII responds by an immediate use of his spiritual authority, excommunicating Napoleon himself and everyone else connected with this outrage. He is immediately arrested and removed to imprisonment in France.

These are the events which bring the entire Italian peninsula under French control by 1809. The situation remains unchanged until after Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig in 1813 - an event followed by Austrian recovery of much of Italy and a subsequent seal of approval at the Congress of vienna.

Austria and Italy: AD 1815-1831

The terms agreed at the Congress of vienna return Italy almost precisely to the situation prevailing before the French intrusion. The king of Sardinia (head of the ancient house of Savoy) recovers his bloc of territory around the western Alps, comprising Savoy, Nice and Piedmont; he acquires also a valuable extension along the coast in the form of Liguria, which previously was the republic of Genoa.

Austrian rule is restored in the large and rich area of northern Italy - from Lombardy, through Parma and down into Tuscany. Here too there is an important addition resulting from the Napoleonic upheavals. Venetia, the province of the republic of Venice, is added to the Austrian empire.

In the central part of the peninsula Rome recovers the papal states. And the whole of southern Italy, previously consisting of the two kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, reverts to its Bourbon monarch Ferdinand. His realm is now merged into a single kingdom of the Two Sicilies, of which he becomes Ferdinand I (having previously been Ferdinand IV of Naples and Ferdinand III of Sicily).

Among these Italian powers Austria is by far the strongest. With Metternich's determination to preserve the royalist status quo in Europe, Austrian armies become the natural policemen on patrol in Italy for any sign of revolution. And there seems to be much going on of a suspicious nature.

In the Italy of the restoration there are many secret societies harbouring radical ideas. Army officers and civil servants, who in many cases have had first-hand experience of the modern French style of administration, are disturbed to find themselves in a reimposed version of the ancien régime.

They crave independence from reactionary rulers. And some are influenced by a vision deriving from Napoleon's hold on the entire peninsula - that of a united Italy, under a single government.

The earliest and best-known among Italy's revolutionary groups are the Carbonari, meaning 'charcoal-burners'. As befits a secret society, their origin is uncertain. When they first emerge from the shadows, in around 1806, the Carbonari are anti-French, opposing in particular the royalist aspect of French rule now that Napoleon is emperor.

After 1815 their quarrel is with the restored royal dynasties in Italy. The first real success of the Carbonari is a revolution in Naples in 1820. It causes Ferdinand to bring in a liberal constitution. But nine months later he invites an Austrian army into his kingdom and returns to absolutist rule.

This pattern of Austrian involvement is soon repeated elsewhere. Secret societies achieve a revolution in Piedmont in 1821, leading to the abdication of the king and a brief spell of constitutional rule - until an Austrian army marches into Turin and restores the status quo. Similarly, when the revolutionary ferment of 1830 results in unrest in the papal states (in February 1831), the papacy regains control with the help of Austrian forces.

These events prompt new policies among Italy's radicals. All are agreed that the Austrians must be removed and Italy united, and it now seems clear that the Carbonari and their like are not up to the task. But how should it be achieved? This is a matter of passionate disagreement.

The pattern of Austrian involvement is soon repeated elsewhere. Secret societies achieve a revolution in Piedmont in 1821, leading to the abdication of the king and a brief constitutional rule until an Austrian army enters Turin and restores the status quo. Similarly, when the revolutionary ferment of 1830 results in unrest in the papal states (in February 1831), the papacy regains control only with the help of Austrian forces.

But the Austrian empire itself is not immune from the spirit of the age, particularly in the regions north and east of Vienna which during the past three centuries have come piecemeal under Habsburg rule.

Towards the nation state

Blueprints for Italy: AD 1831-1848

The first man to devote his life to revolution on behalf of a united Italy is a young member of the Carbonari, Giuseppe Mazzini. In 1831 he founds Giovine Italia (Young Italy), an organization devoted to education and insurrection. By 1834 he is under sentence of death in Piedmont, where he has tried to provoke a popular revolution with the help of a sailor in the Sardinian navy, Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Both men spend the years between 1834 and 1848 in exile - Garibaldi taking part in several wars in Latin America and Mazzini editing a succession of inflammatory journals, mainly from London. Meanwhile there are differing views about the Italy which patriots should be eager to fight for.

Mazzini is a republican, obsessed with the concept of insurrection and by nature disinclined to compromise. His value to the cause in inspirational terms is considerable, but success is more likely to be achieved by the practical realities of politics. This means aiming for a united Italy under one of the existing rulers.

There are two candidates. Of the four powers in Restoration italy (the king of Sardinia, the Austrian emperor, the pope, the king of the Two Sicilies), two - the Austrian Habsburgs and the Bourbons in Naples and Sicily - are foreign dynasties much hated by their subjects.

By contrast the pope can expect the allegiance of most Catholics, and the King of sardinia represents an ancient Italian dynasty (his house of Savoy has been linked with Turin since the 11th century). Either ruler would be convincing as an Italian figurehead.

The first proposal to gain serious support is for a federal Italy ruled by the pope (in effect extending the papal states to incorporate the entire peninsula). This policy is advocated in a widely read book of 1843, Vincenzo Gioberti's Del primato morale e civile degli italiani (Moral and civil primacy among the Italians). This campaign is given a strong boost when a cardinal of liberal reputation is elected pope, in 1846, as Pius ix.

The alternative scheme, for the King of sardinia to become king of Italy, is an equally logical development from the existing state of affairs. It would merely represent the expansion of his north Italian territory in Piedmont to include the entire peninsula. As yet this is not a programme much considered outside Piedmont itself.

But anything seems possible during the dramatic events which erupt unexpectedly in 1848. Mazzini and Garibaldi hurry back to Italy to take part in the revolutionary turmoil. And Camillo Benso di Cavour is already taking an interest in the politics of Piedmont.

Eighteen dramatic months: AD 1848-1849

An uprising in Sicily against Bourbon rule, in January 1848, is the event which sparks off Europe's most dramatic year of political upheavals. Revolutions in the next two months in Paris and Vienna make it evident that no outside intervention is likely for the moment in Italy. Patriots in the Austrian territories are quick to take their cue.

A rebellion in Venice on March 17 is followed by the proclamation of a revived republic. On March 18 the citizens of Milan rise against their Austrian rulers; after five days of fierce fighting they expel from the city the garrison of 12,000 troops.

The events in Milan tempt Charles Albert, the king of Sardinia, into declaring war on Austria on March 24. Seeing a chance of extending his territory of Piedmont into rich Lombardy, he marches east from Turin to join forces with the Milanese. But his adventure proves a disaster. He is outfought by the veteran Austrian field marshal Joseph Radetsky, now aged eighty-two. The end result is that Charles Albert is forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Victor Emmanuel II.

Meanwhile other rulers have been losing control throughout Italy, including even Pius IX in Rome. Amid mounting unrest his chief minister, Pellegrino Rossi, is assassinated in November 1848. The pope flees for safety to the fortress of Gaeta.

A Roman republic is proclaimed in February 1849. This promising event is followed by the arrival of the veteran revolutionaries Mazzini and garibaldi. Mazzini plays a major part in running the republic during its brief existence and Garibaldi fights magnificently in its defence (against an army sent by the new French republic on behalf of the pope, a measure of how much Italian affairs are intertwined with the broader issues of European politics).

The Roman republic falls to the French forces in early July 1849. Pius IX is restored to his papal throne - turning the clock safely back, in a pattern which becomes common almost everywhere during 1849.

The Venetian republic succumbs in August 1849 to the Austrians, who are also now securely back in Milan. Ferdinand II, the Bourbon king, reasserts control in Naples and Sicily. The response by the authorities to these alarming upheavals is increased repression. Pius IX concludes with some justification that liberalism is not in the papal interest.

In the initial panic of the various rulers, confronted by the uprisings of 1848, many liberal constitutions were hurriedly introduced in the states of Italy. All but one are repealed in the restoration of 1849. The exception is Piedmont where the king, Charles albert, has been toppled in the events of these eighteen months.

Charles albert's son and successor, Victor Emmanuel II, resists the general trend back towards repression. Instead, over the next few years, his kingdom of Piedmont is gradually transformed into one which Italian nationalists can respect.

The reason for the change is not so much the king himself as Camillo Benso di Cavour. During the events of 1848 Cavour is the most influential journalist in Piedmont, editing the newspaper which he has founded in 1847 under the title Il Risorgimento (The Resurgence). In June 1848 he is elected to parliament under the new constitution. By 1852 he is prime minister.

Cavour and the Risorgimento: AD 1852-1859

As the movement towards a united Italy gathers pace, it becomes known by the title of Cavour's newspaper in Turin - the Risorgimento. The events of 1848-9 have made it plain that a new Italy will not emerge from uncoordinated uprisings in different states (as Mazzini continues to believe) and that the Italians require foreign allies if they are to confront successfully the might of Austria.

Cavour's policy, as prime minister of Piedmont-Sardinia, centres on addressing these problems. At home he needs to present Piedmont as a kingdom which radicals from all over Italy will be prepared to support. Abroad he needs to find an ally of Austria's stature.

His problem internally is that Piedmont-Sardinia has been a typical reactionary monarchy of the post-Napoleonic period. He therefore takes steps to liberalize the government, though he is himself instinctively conservative (see Liberal and conservative). And he welcomes political refugees from other Italian states.

Mazzini's views remain too radical (the Piedmontese death sentence on him stands until 1866), but Garibaldi's support is successfully enlisted - in 1859 he is given the Piedmontese rank of general. Daniele Manin, leader of the Venetian republic of 1848-9, declares in 1856 (when he is in exile in Paris) that he supports royal Piedmont in the cause for a united Italy.

Piedmont's attempt to cut a dash on the international stage begins with a small part in the Crimean War as the ally of France and Britain. The main advantage of this is that Cavour takes part in the Peace talks in paris in 1856, where he is able to give the impression that Piedmont somehow represents Italy.

In the search for an ally against Austria, he first approaches Britain but without success. His chances are better with France, where Napoleon III is now emperor. He has a romantic interest in driving Austria from Italy, as his uncle did twice (in 1796-7 and in 1800), and in avenging the humiliation suffered by the Napoleonic cause at the Congress of vienna.

In July 1858 Napoleon III and Cavour meet secretly in France, at Plombières. They agree that Cavour will foment unrest in Austrian territories in north Italy so as to entice Austria into making the first military move. An allied French and Piedmontese army will then respond by invading Lombardy and Venetia. At the end of the operation these north Italian provinces will be merged with Piedmont. In return the two regions belonging to Piedmont on the French side of the Alps (Savoy and nice) will be ceded to France. And the alliance is to be confirmed in the old-fashioned way by the marriage of a cousin of Napoleon III to a daughter of Victor Emmanuel II.

A muddled war: AD 1859-1860

The war begins much as Napoleon III and Cavour have planned, though Napoleon has cold feet in the interim and tries to back out - until an aggressive move by Austria against Piedmont in April 1859 makes intervention inevitable. The French and Piedmontese army, assisted by Garibaldi and his volunteers, has a rapid success. On June 8 Napoleon III enters Milan.

Two weeks later, on June 24, there is an extremely savage encounter at Solferino, with very heavy casualties on both sides. The carnage leads directly to the formation of the Red Cross. It also appals Napoleon III (who lacks his uncle's familiarity with battlefields) and contributes perhaps to his sudden abandonment of his pact with Cavour.

Without informing his Piedmontese allies, Napoleon makes peace with the Austrians at Villafranca in July. Whatever the impact of Solferino, there are also political reasons for this sudden change of heart. Cavour's notion of a future Italy seems to be diverging from Napoleon's. Cavour, busy encouraging revolutions within the states of central Italy, has clear ambitions to merge them within the kingdom of Piedmont. But Napoleon supports the concept of a federal Italy ruled by the pope (he was already president of the French republic when France restored Pius ix to Rome in 1849).

Nevertheless the terms of Villafranca have considerable advantages for Piedmont. Venetia, not yet reached by the allied armies, will remain Austrian. But Lombardy is now ceded to Piedmont. Moreover Savoy and Nice have not yet been transferred to France.

These two regions soon prove of diplomatic value. Uprisings against the Austrians in Parma, Modena and Tuscany, and against papal rule in the Romagna, are followed by plebiscites. All these regions vote to be merged with Piedmont-Sardinia. This is contrary to Napoleon's policy, but Savoy and Nice do the trick. The treaty of Turin, in March 1860, transfers them to France and the central Italian territories to the kingdom of Sardinia.

Final steps to unity: AD 1860-1861

Garibaldi, a native of Nice, is profoundly displeased by Cavour's transfer of his birthplace to France. While remaining loyal to Victor Emmanuel II, he prefers now to revert to his earlier buccaneering style of revolution - taking his volunteers wherever they may best aid the cause of Italian nationhood.

An uprising in Sicily attracts his attention in May 1860. With about 1000 men, many of them wearing red shirts (with the result that they become known as i Mille, the thousand redshirts), he sails from Genoa. Landing at Marsala on May 11, he proclaims himself dictator of Sicily - liberating the island from Neapolitan rule in the name of Victor Emmanuel.

Garibaldi has a rapid success in Sicily. After three days of street fighting Palermo surrenders on May 30. A week later 20,000 Neapolitan troops lay down their arms. By July 20 there is no further resistance in the island. With a much increased army Garibaldi crosses to the mainland on August 18. By September 7 he is in Naples.

This striking success by the radical revolutionary alarms the conservative Cavour, who responds with a bold move of his own. Ostensibly to prevent Garibaldi from invading Rome, Cavour sends a Piedmontese army to occupy the papal states. His troops meet little opposition. Towards the end of October they join up with Garibaldi's volunteers in Neapolitan territory.

On November 7 Victor Emmanuel II makes a triumphal entry into Naples with Garibaldi by his side. The last Neapolitan stronghold, the fortress of Gaeta, falls to the Italians in February 1861.

Parliament in Turin annexes the kingdom of the Two Sicilies together with the papal states (apart from Rome itself and the surrounding Campagna). There is nothing now to delay the establishment of the kingdom of Italy. Victor Emmanuel is proclaimed monarch on 17 March 1861. Garibaldi and others would wish him to be Victor Emmanuel I, inaugurating the new Italy, but Cavour insists that he is Victor Emmanuel II - king of a much enlarged Sardinia-Piedmont. Only Rome and Venetia remain outside his realm.

Kingdom of Italy

Venice and Rome: AD 1866-1870

The kingdom of Sardinia has received Lombardy in 1859 by going to war as France's ally. The kingdom of Italy now wins Venetia through a brief alliance with Prussia. The Prussian prime minister Bismarck, in planning war against Austria in 1866, makes a treaty with Italy committing the Italians to come in on Prussia's side should there be a conflict with Austria. Victor Emmanuel needs little persuading, with the prospect on offer of possibly driving the Austrians from Venetia.

In the event the Austrian army in Italy and the Austrian navy in the Adriatic win the only encounters between the two nations during the exceptionally brief Seven Weeks' War.

Italy therefore proves to be an irrelevant factor in Prussia's crushing victory over the Austrian empire. Nevertheless in the treaty of Vienna, in October 1866, Venetia is ceded by the Austrians - to the neutral French emperor, for face-saving reasons, on the understanding that he will present the province to the king of Italy. He does so after a plebiscite has confirmed the wishes of the Venetians.

This leaves only the problem of Rome, where France is also involved. A French garrison has been stationed there since 1849 to protect the pope. In 1870, on this issue too, Prussia helps the Italian cause.

The outbreak of the Franco-prussian war means that the French garrison is hurriedly withdrawn from Rome, in August 1870. The French defeat at Sedan in September is immediately followed by the deposing of the emperor Napoleon III. Nothing now remains to deter the Italian state from seizing the holy city. Troops break in through the Porta Pia on September 20.

In October a plebiscite in Rome and the surrounding Campagna results in a vote for union with the kingdom of Italy. Pius IX refuses to accept this act of force majeure. He remains in his palace, describing himself as a prisoner in the Vatican.

The provisional capital of Italy since 1865 has been Florence, in an attempt to appease those nationalists who resent the usurping of their cause by the northern kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont. Now, in 1871, the Italian government moves to the banks of the Tiber. Victor Emmanuel instals himself in the Quirinale Palace. Rome becomes once again, for the first time in thirteen centuries (since the dying gasp of the western empire in the reign of Odoacer), the capital city of a united Italy.

It is unusual among capital cities only in that it contains a powerful figure and a small parcel of land (the pope in the Vatican) beyond national control. This anomaly is not formally resolved until the concordat of 1929.

Internal politics: AD 1871-1914

The early decades of democratic rule, conducted from Rome as a restored capital city, establish a pattern of politics which remains characteristic of Italy a century later in the Years after world war ii. Governments are remarkably brief, rarely lasting as much as three years. But the names of the same leading politicians recur again and again as coalitions and cabinets form, dissolve and regroup.

This political system acquires a name, trasformismo ('transformism'), implying that the leading politicians transform their alliances and even their policies in order to remain in power. In practical terms this means balancing a cabinet by including a mix of politicians from both right and left of the political spectrum. It is a political system pioneered from 1876 by Agostino Depretis.

Depretis forms a succession of administrations, with few periods out of office, in the eleven years up to his death in 1887. He is himself on the liberal wing of politics. His measures include extending the franchise and educational reform. He is followed, as premier in 1887 and subsequently as the dominant figure in Italian politics, by a far less conciliatory figure, Francesco Crispi.

Crispi has begun his political career as a radical republican, but an admiration for Bismarck accompanies a gradual move towards monarchy and autocracy as political principles. When Victor Emmanuel II dies, in 1878, Crispi is minister for the interior in Depretis' cabinet. He secures the succession of Umberto I, whose prime minister he becomes nine years later.

Crispi takes an unprecedented degree of power into his own hands, keeping for himself both the home and foreign portfolios in his cabinet. His early measures are in keeping with his radical past (they include the abolition of the death penalty and reforms in prisons and public health policy), but he soon develops a dictatorial streak, reducing the power of parliament and stifling opposition.

When he dies, in 1901, he has a fervent admirer in an 18-year old Italian; Mussolini later reveres Crispi as the father of fascism. But Crispi's years in power are disastrous for Italy.

Crispi's Hostility to france, Italy's main trading partner, has dire effects on the economy. His Ethiopian policy brings shame and humiliation to Italy. A peasant uprising in Sicily in 1893 is met with drastic repression rather than any attention to the genuine grievances and poverty underlying it.

Meanwhile Crispi is constantly on the verge of being engulfed in a banking scandal which is first exposed in 1892. In spite of his best efforts to suppress any enquiry, the judiciary in 1897 recommends that he should be prosecuted. A commission clears him of personal embezzlement but reveals his protection of his friends in shady deals. The Ethiopian disaster has already forced his resignation as premier (in 1896). In 1897 Crispi retires from political life.

Giovanni Giolitti, the third dominant figure in this period of Italian politics, is like Crispi heavily implicated in the banking scandal but survives. Becoming prime minister five times between 1891 and 1921, he is as adept as any of his predecessors at forming the shifting coalitions which keep him in power. His policies are mainly reformist. In 1909 he is only narrowly defeated in his attempt to introduce a progressive income tax. In 1911 he brings in universal male suffrage and a national insurance act.

Giolitti's foreign policy is as aggressive as Crispi's and brings Italy almost as little real benefit. But a Declaration of war against a weakened Turkey does deliver, in 1912, a much desired Mediterranean colony in the form of Libya.

Foreign policies 1871-1914

Until 1871 the main preoccupation of Italian politicians has been, first, the establishment of a nation and then the addition to the new nation of Venice and rome. During this same period the main priority of foreign policy has been to remain free of fixed alliances, enabling the fledgling state to play off the European powers against each other as the situation may require.

But new circumstances bring new ambitions. If Italy is to take her place as a leading European nation, she must - or so it seems to the politicians - engage in the diplomatic game of alliances. Similarly she should compete for the spoils of empire. The Scramble for africa gathers pace in the 1880s, but several years before this Italy is already closely involved in Tunisia. From 1869 she shares jointly, with France and Britain, responsibility for Tunisian finances.

Of the three nations Italy has the best claim, in terms of investment, to become the colonial power. But France and Britain do a deal behind Italy's back, and France secures control of Tunisia with a sudden coup in 1881. The resulting sense of outrage in Italy has a profound effect on the nation's foreign policy.

Abandoning Italy's non-aligned stance, the government of Agostino Depretis opens negotiations with Germany and Austria. The result is a Triple Alliance, signed in May 1882, by which the three nations agree to support each other if attacked by foreign powers and to maintain a benevolent neutrality if any of the three has to declare war. The alliance with Austria is seen as particularly beneficial to Italy. It protects Tunisia from Austrian claims and gives a seal of approval to Italy's seizing of Rome.

An underlying theme of the alliance, Italian antagonism to France, is further developed when Crispi comes into power in 1887. Instinctively anti-French, and a fervent admirer of Bismarck, he repudiates in 1888 a commercial treaty with France. The result harms Italy very much more than France, which until now has taken 40% of Italy's exports. The French can find these supplies elsewhere. But the Italian economy suffers a severe dip.

Crispi is equally aggressive on the imperial front. With Italy foiled in the Mediterranean over Tunisia, he attempts to make gains on the Red Sea. Italian shipping firms have been developing the coast of Venice from 1869. During the 1880s Italian merchants and troops press further inland. In 1889 Crispi builds on this success, using it to sign a treaty with the emperor of neighbouring Ethiopia.

Overstating the terms of the treaty (at any rate according to the Ethiopian interpretation of what has been signed) Crispi declares to the world that Aduwa is now an Italian protectorate. Aduwa immediately denies this and in 1893 repudiates the entire treaty. The result is a war which ends in humiliating disaster for Italy. The Italian defeat at Eritrea in 1896 leads to the resignation of Crispi.

Italy's final attempt at imperialism is more successful, though achieved at a heavy cost. By the first decade of the 20th century Italian ambitions in Africa are focused on Ethiopia, still ostensibly part of the enfeebled Ottoman empire. In 1911 Italy claims the right to station troops there, to protect Italian citizens, and immediately follows this announcement with a declaration of war on Turkey.

In the autumn of 1912 the Turks, distracted by troubles closer to home in the Libya, cede much of Ethiopia to Italy. The rest of the province is soon seized by Italian troops. But the entire campaign has been conducted against strenuous opposition from the local tribesmen. Ethiopia never settles down in its brief period under Italian rule.

But these are turbulent years everywhere. The three decades until the Italians are driven out of Ethiopia see two world wars and the rise and fall of fascism

World War I: 1915-1918

When World War I breaks out, in August 1914, Victor Emmanuel III is king of Italy (his father Umberto I has been assassinated by an anarchist in 1900) and Antonio Salandra is the prime minister. The Triple alliance with Germany and Austria has been renewed as recently as 1912. But the mood in the country is less belligerent than in other major powers. Indeed there have been socialist demonstrations and riots in June 1914, prompted partly by resistance to conscription.

In these circumstances Salandra is confronted with an urgent dilemma when Austria declares war on Serbia on July 28. In the spirit of the Triple alliance Italy should side with Austria. But the letter of the agreement allows for neutrality if one of the three declares war.

Salandra opts for neutrality. To the relief of most of its citizens Italy remains on the sidelines while the other major powers rush to arms in August 1914. But there are dangers too in remaining outside the conflict. No spoils of any war come to those who have taken no part in it. It is assumed on all sides that this war will end quite quickly, and Italy is hoping for a postwar expansion of her northern frontier both in the Alps and around Trieste.

Triple alliance is formally revoked.

Remarkably, all this is done by the prime minister and the king without reference to parliament, which is not sitting at this period. Moreover there is a strong body of opinion among the deputies and the general public in favour of continuing neutrality. The veteran statesman Giolitti has been foremost in urging this policy, well aware of the enfeebled state of the Italian army after the Libyan campaign conducted under his leadership. But with the king resolutely supporting Salandra, parliament ratifies their policy. On 23 May 1915 Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary (but not, as yet, on Germany).

Giolitti's instinct for caution proves justified. Italy's involvement in the war is limited to a static and costly campaign on the vulnerable northeast frontier with the Austrian empire.

A battlefield of trench warfare, as static and costly as the equivalent in Flanders, becomes established along the Isonzo river. As many as half a million Italians die here during the course of the war, with little to show for their sacrifice. A brief success in August 1916 (the capture of the city of Gorizia) prompts Italy at last to declare war on Germany. But October 1917 brings a major setback when the Austrians, after a victory at Caporetto, push southwest almost as far as Venice. It is a full year before Italy recovers this territory. With the tide of war now clearly against the Central powers, an Italian advance in October 1918 prompts a rapid Austrian request for an armistice. It is signed on November 3. Eight days later Germany too signs an armistice with the Allies.

In the event Italy gets less from the postwar treaty (signed at St germain on 10 September 1919) than was promised in London, since the northeastern coast of the Adriatic goes to the newly created state of Yugoslavia. But Italy achieves her most important requirements: a border which reaches north to all the Alpine passes (bringing within Italy many German-speakers in the Brenner region), together with the important city of Trieste.

Nevertheless the more nationalist elements in the country feel frustrated, and the mood of unrest is aggravated by the economic damage done to the country in the war. Moreover, in the aftermath of the successful Russian revolution, extremism is the mood of the times. A turbulent postwar period seems inevitable in Italian politics.

Fiume 1919-1920

Italian right-wing nationalism is first seen, in miniature and slightly comic form, in the crisis over Fiume. This port, on the other side of the Istria peninsula from Trieste, has been allotted by the peace treaty to Yugoslavia but it has a mainly Italian population. Within two days of the signing of the treaty, Fiume (or Rijeka in its Slav name) is seized by a force of some 300 Italian volunteers led by the flamboyant poet Gabriele d'Annunzio.

The European powers are not pleased, but much of Italian opinion is delighted - with the result that the government declines to act. For many months d'Annunzio is left in peace to mouth bombastic speeches in his self-proclaimed role as Italian regent.

In June 1920 the veteran politician Giolitti forms the last of his five administrations, and he at last takes the necessary steps. On Christmas Day 1920 Italian troops bombard the poet's headquarters. Within days he leaves Fiume without putting up any resistance.

But d'Annunzio's example has not gone unnoticed. An ambitious 33-year-old Italian politician takes note of what can be achieved with a small measure of force and a sufficient dash of bravado. He is Benito Mussolini, a failed candidate for parliament but leader since March 1919 of a political party with a marked tendency to violence. He vigorously supports d'Annunzio's swashbuckling adventure and later sees him as a precursor of Fascism.

Fascist Italy

Rise of Mussolini: to 1922

In the years before World War I Mussolini is an active revolutionary socialist, becoming in 1912 the editor of Avanti, the official publication of the Italian Socialist party. But in October 1914 he is expelled from the party when he abandons the policy of neutrality and advocates joining the war on the side of France and Britain.

Within weeks he is publishing a new belligerent paper, Il Popolo d'Italia, around which he attempts to gather the few socialist members of the people of Italy who share his views. Six months later the Italian government adopts his policy, declaring War on austria-hungary in May 1915. Mussolini is called up and serves as a private in the infantry until he is wounded in 1917.

After the war Mussolini devotes his energies to attacking the official Socialist party and all others who supposedly harmed Italy's interests by advocating neutrality. This gives him a new constituency, much of it well-heeled, among those either terrified of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia or aggrieved by the postwar settlement.

He harnesses the support of this group by founding, at Milan in March 1919, the Fasci di Combattimento or 'league for combat'. (The Italian word Fasci, meaning a tight political group, has by this time been used for several previous movements - but it is from Mussolini's party that the generic word 'Fascism' will emerge.)

During 1920 Mussolini's policy shifts from residual socialism (in this year he briefly supports striking workers who seize their metal-working factories) to support for the status quo in a strong centralized state. He has always argued that violence is a necessary part of the socialist programme. It now becomes central to his own politics.

Mussolini's armed thugs, instantly recognizable in their black shirts, become much feared. Their violence at this stage is mainly directed against socialists of all kinds (communists and democratic socialists are tarred with the same brush). The authorities, obsessively concerned with the supposed threat from the extreme left wing, turn a blind eye to the illegal activities of the right-wing blackshirts.

The campaign on the streets brings little immediate benefit in mainstream Italian politics. But with the help of Giolitti, who includes them among the candidates for his proposed coalition, Mussolini and thirty-five of his colleagues are elected to parliament in May 1921. In November of that year they formally establish themselves as a political party, the Partito Nazionale Fascista. But elections do not play an important part in Mussolini's plans. Violence, and eventually the mere threat of it, will prove sufficient for his purposes.

He is given a perfect opportunity in August 1922 when the trade unions and the socialist parties call a general strike in opposition to the Fascists. The strike is broken, to the approval of much of the public, by armed gangs of blackshirts (officially referred to as squadre d'azione) who take over essential services.

With his destiny seeming within his grasp, Mussolini is by now further trimming his principles. Patently no longer a socialist, he abandons republicanism and modifies his criticism of the church. Powerful right-wing interests in society, grateful already for the suppression of organized labour, are further reassured.

By October 1922 Mussolini is ready for his next step. Declaring that the weakness of the government makes intervention necessary, he gives orders for the armed squads to convene in large numbers in four areas around Rome. From there they are to march on the capital, under the command of four of his closest colleagues. He himself moves to Milan to observe from a safe distance the outcome of this gamble.

The March on Rome: AD 1922

In subsequent Fascist mythology, Mussolini comes to power as the result of a dramatic march on Rome. The reality is rather different, and could perhaps have been entirely different if the king and the government (now under a weak compromise prime minister, Luigi Facta) had acted decisively in the developing crisis.

At a Fascist convention in Naples, on 24 October 1922, Mussolini reviews a march past of 40,000 blackshirts and declares that Italy's national crisis must be resolved within days: 'Either they give us the government or we shall take it, by marching on Rome'. While he speaks, there are already three armed columns of Fascists, numbering some 14,000 men, within thirty miles of the capital.

On the following day, while Mussolini travels north to Milan, a Fascist Manifesto declares that the impending march on Rome 'will cut the Gordian knot and hand over to the King and army a renewed Italy'. The appeal to monarchists and the military is blatant, but it apparently fails to dent the loyalty of the garrison in Rome. After two days of dither the prime minister and his cabinet, assured of the army's support, declare a state of emergency and order the army to take whatever steps are necessary.

The outcome of this measure is impossibe to predict. It might well lead to full-scale civil war, for the Fascists undoubtedly have powerful support in the country.

It is this consideration which no doubt persuades the king, Victor Emmanuel III, to take a totally unconstitutional step. He refuses to sign the decree, hoping instead to appease the Fascists with cabinet posts in a coalition government. He sends a message to Milan inviting Mussolini to come to Rome for talks. But Mussolini is well aware that this action by the king leaves him with all the trump cards. He replies that he will only come if it is to form a government.

The gamble pays off. The invitation stands. Mussolini reserves a sleeper on the night train from Milan, arriving in the capital in comfort on the morning of October 30 to take control of Italy. The only problem is that his supporters all over the country are eagerly awaiting the much heralded march on Rome.

Presentation is one of the foremost skills of dictators, and this new dilemma is easily resolved by Mussolini. Blackshirts are immediately brought by train to Rome in sufficient numbers to provide an impressive parade. Still on October 30, they march past Victor Emmanuel III and Mussolini standing side by side. By the early hours of the next morning they have all been sent home. The new prime minister does not want unruly behaviour on the streets. But the photographs are now available to prove that the 'march on Rome' took place. Power, as befits a man of action, was clearly seized rather than given.

Mussolini has been known to Fascists by a simple and effective title. Now the whole of Italy must learn to call him by this name: il Duce, the Leader.

Securing power: AD 1922-1926

Compared to Hitler in 1933, Mussolini moves with circumspection in the process of establishing himself as a dictator. An immediate order is given to prevent further violence by the blackshirts, and his first cabinet includes several non-Fascists - among them even two liberals and a social democrat.

His first two steps towards total control, taken in January and February 1923, can be presented as regularizing the affairs of a young party now in power. First Mussolini sets up a Fascist Grand Council, which can be presented as the central committee of a party but is intended eventually to replace the functions of parliament. Then his thuggish blackshirts are transformed into a 'militia for national security'. They remain a private army, at Mussolini's beck and call, but they have acquired a formal status.

In the summer of 1923 Mussolini introduces a law to ensure a permanent Fascist majority in parliament. Whichever party wins the greatest number of votes in an election (something which he is confident the blackshirts can achieve for him) is now automatically to receive two thirds of the seats in the parliament. When elections are held, in April 1924, the presence of six opposition parties seems certain to assure that the Fascists will top the poll. In the event they win 65% of the votes, making the new law unnecessary in the circumstances.

The success of the Fascists at this stage, as with the Nazis a decade later in Germany, can be put down to two factors.

The first is the hope of the middle classes that a strong government will restore order (or make the trains run on time) in a society all too prone to anarchy and strikes. The other is the cautious optimism of liberals, believing that the upstart rabble-rouser will soon demonstrate his inadequacy and be replaced.

Mussolini weathers one such dangerous moment, in June 1924, after his thugs murder Giacomo Matteotti, a socialist deputy who has dared to criticize the regime. In the aftermath of this event the Fascists become extremely unpopular, but only briefly so. Several of the opposition parties respond by boycotting parliament (the so-called 'Aventine secession'), but their absence causes Mussolini few problems, particularly as the Liberals and the king continue to support him.

During the next two years Mussolini puts in place the final requirements for his personal rule. In January 1925 he declares that for the good of the country he is assuming dictatorial powers; opposition politicians are arrested, national newspapers are handed over to Fascist proprietors. In November 1926 all non-Fascist political activity, whether in the press or public meetings, is specifically prohibited.

Thus the Fascist Grand Council effectively replaces parliament, which now has only the bare semblance of an elected body. By a law of 1928 Fascist associations, such as cultural bodies and trade unions, propose prospective deputies. From them the Grand Council compiles a list of candidates. The electorate has the right only to accept or reject the entire list.

Alongside this stifling of dissent goes Mussolini's obsssive desire to accumulate power in his own hands (many of Hitler's colleagues become household names, none of Mussolini's). He does this by holding numerous cabinet portfolios - as many as eight at one time - and by creating a top-heavy state apparatus under the control of henchmen responsible directly to himself but reluctant to offer any constructive criticism.

As a result the Duce seems unaware of the decrepit state of the Italian economy, dragged down by the inefficiencies of the Fascist state (and also, subsequently, by the world-wide slump). And he is able to deceive himself about the country's military capability - a blind spot which is particularly damaging in view of his grandiose plans for expansion of the Italian realm.

Ethiopia and Albania: AD 1935-1939

Mussolini's dreams of imperial grandeur hark back to the days of the Roman empire, at the peak of which Rome was master of the entire Mediterranean. This modern would-be Caesar has the nostalgic habit of lapsing into Latin when he refers to this great sea; mare nostrum he calls it, 'our sea'.

Not much of the territory around this sea is readily available in the 1920s and 1930s. However in 1927 the Duce does gain a powerful influence over a nearby stretch of coast, in Albania, when the dictator Ahmed Zogu (soon to proclaim himself King Zog I) signs a treaty which makes him heavily indebted to Italy. On the north African coast there is no chance of any colonial expansion from Libya. But further east, where Italy has a foothold in both Eritrea and Somalia, there seem more promising opportunities.

In 1935 Mussolini uses a local disagreement over grazing rights as a pretext for invading Ethiopia - the last region of Africa still available for colonization, and a place which will bring him glory if can avenge the Italian defeat at Aduwa.This time modern weapons prevail. In 1936 Mussolini is able to proclaim that the king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, is also emperor of Ethiopia.

For his next adventure he reverts to Albania, invading the country in April 1939 to take direct control.He makes this move partly in imitation of Hitler, who has in the previous month seized Albania. But it is the last military initiative by Mussolini to meet with any success - partly because he is by now a junior and inadequate partner of the more effective German dictator.

Mussolini and Hitler: AD 1934-1940

When Mussolini and Hitler first meet, in Venice in June 1934, the longer-established Italian dictator is able to present himself on his home soil as the more powerful of the two. But on a return visit, to Munich and Berlin in September 1937, the reality is made all too evident. Hitler lays on spectacular parades, military displays and factory visits which easily convince an impressionable Mussolini of Germany's invincible might. He can feel confident that his decision in the previous year to align Italy with Germany, forming a new 'axis' in European diplomacy, was a wise one.

From this time on it is evident that the Duce is a junior partner in this relationship, though the younger man always retains a degree of admiration for his flamboyant predecessor in the tradition of strutting nationalist demagogues.

Any degree of loyalty on Hitler's part is astonishing in view of the total inadequacy of Mussolini as an ally. When Hitler goes to war in 1939, the Duce fails at first to involve Italy on his side in spite of the Axis agreement of 1936 (which was a loose alignment of common interests rather than a treaty, and did not require him to do so). Mussolini then jumps into the fray at short notice in June 1940, when he can see that France is about to fall after Hitler's astonishingly successful blitzkrieg of the previous month. He hopes to acquire French territory for Italy, but this is not part of Hitler's plan.

Once Mussolini is in the war, and responsible for Italian military efforts in the Axis cause, the results are uniformly disastrous.

In his first campaign (apart from an ineffectual two-day attack on France before the armistice is signed) he sends Italian troops from Albania into neutral Greece. The result is embarrassing. The Greeks counterattack with such vigour that they penetrate deeply into Italian Albania. Hitler, not for the last time, has to rescue his ineffectual ally, sending German troops south through Yugoslavia to resolve the situation.

Africa is the theatre of war in which Italy should be able to make a major contribution. Large numbers of Italian troops in Libya and Ethiopia flank the British in Egypt, a territory crucial to the link through the Suez canal to India. The Italian capture of Egypt would be a major contribution to Hitler's war.

In the event the British under Wavell strike first, rolling the Italians back in Libya as far as Tobruk and soon chasing them out of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Again Hitler comes to the rescue, sending his best general, Rommel, to take charge of the north Africa campaign in March 1941. It proves one of the most hard-fought and significant conflicts of the war. When it finally ends, in May 1943 with the Allied capture of Tunis, Italy has lost all her colonial possessions in Africa.

Even worse, her own territory is the next Allied target. When American and British troops land in Sicily, in July 1943, Italy becomes the first of the Axis powers to be invaded.

Italy changes sides

Soon nearly half a million Allied troops are in Sicily. Between them they clear it by August 16 of its German and Italian defenders, though they fail to prevent them escaping the short distance to safety in mainland Italy.

This campaign in Sicily (the first penetration by the Allies of any Axis territory) has immediate repercussions in Italian politics. During the night of July 24 the Fascist Grand Council in Rome passes a vote of no confidence in Mussolini. The next day the dictator is arrested on the order of the king, Victor Emmanuel III, who appoints in his place a field marshal, Pietro Badoglio. Badoglio's main task is to extricate Italy from the war. But this is complicated by two factors.

One difficulty is that the Germans, whose cause Italy is now eager to abandon, are all around. The other is that the Allies have resolved (at a conference in Casablanca in January 1943) that they will accept only unconditional surrender from any of the Axis powers.

Surrender on this basis is an alarming leap into the unknown, but secret negotiations with the Allies (held in Spain and Portugal) bear fruit. On September 8 Italy surrenders. Three weeks later Badoglio signs an agreement committing Italy to change sides. And on October 13 Italy declares war on her recent ally, Germany. But meanwhile the Germans, in possession of most of Italy, have had time to bring in reinforcements and improve their defences.

The shape of Italy, long and thin with a spinal range of mountains, is perfectly designed for defence against an army attempting to move up the peninsula. As a result the Italian campaign is a long and arduous one for the Allies.

The initial thrust goes reasonably well. A small force is landed without difficulty on September 3 just across the Straits of Messina, in the toe of Italy. A much larger invasion follows on September 8, up the coast at Salerno. Here there is strong German resistance. Even so, within three weeks the Allies are in Naples. It is only at a point further north, near Monte Cassino, that the slow-down begins.

The Italian campaign

About 30 miles up the coast from Naples the Germans create the Gustav Line, a defensive position stretching across the peninsula from the Garigliano river in the west to the Sangro in the east. High on a hill above the Garigliano is the rich and ancient monastery of Monte Cassino, the cradle of the Benedictine movement.

The Germans succeed in holding the Allies along this line for six months, from November 1943, in spite of the landing of an Allied force at Anzio, behind the German lines, in January 1944. Anzio remains an ineffective bridgehead until May, when at last an Allied thrust from both directions breaks the German resistance. In the battle the monastery and the nearby town of Cassino are demolished.

The multinational Allied force (including US, British, Canadian, French and Polish troops) at last moves fast, capturing Rome on June 5. But the German resistance further north does not collapse as hoped. It is another ten weeks before Florence is taken, on August 13, and by now the Germans have established a strong defensive line just a little further ahead. The so-called Gothic Line stretches through hilly country from Pisa in the west to Rimini in the east. Again the Allies grind to a halt, this time until the spring of 1945.

But meanwhile there has been an interesting political development in northern Italy.

Since his arrest, Mussolini has been held in various places. At the time of the announcement of Italy's armistice with the Allies, on 8 September 1943, he is being guarded in a small hotel high in the Abruzzi mountains, northeast of Rome.

When Hitler hears the news of Italy's defection, his sense of outrage reinforces the loyalty which he always shows to his incompetent Fascist ally. On September 10 he speaks on the radio to the German nation, describing Mussolini as 'the greatest son of Italian soil since the collapse of the Roman empire'. At the same time he takes more practical steps, ordering a parachute raid by the Ss to rescue the fallen dictator.

Mussolini might well have preferred a quiet life in a small hotel. After being rescued by the Ss, and taken to see Hitler, he is appointed puppet dictator of a new Fascist republic of Italy - meaning now just the northern part still under German control. Mussolini remains a prisoner, for his palace on Lake Garda has the Ss guarding it. And he must do whatever Hitler tells him.

In the end the Ss fail even to give him protection. As the Allies make their final advance up Italy, in April 1945, Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, are captured and shot by Italian partisans. Their bodies are hung upside down from a gibbet in Milan, where nine years earlier he first described his alliance with Hitler as a new Axis in world politics.

Republic of Italy

Postwar adjustments: AD 1945-1946

From 1943 Italy has been classed by the western powers as a 'co-belligerent' rather than an ally, and the postwar territorial adjustments would probably have been much the same if she had remained with Germany until the bitter end. Various Italian possessions on the Adriatic coast are assigned to Yugoslavia. The Dodecanese islands in the Aegean Sea, Italian possessions since 1912, are ceded to Greece. A decision on the future of Trieste is postponed. Italy's African colonies - Libya, Eritrea, Somalia - are placed in trust for the short period until their anticipated independence. In an Italy shattered and impoverished by the war there is little regret for the end of Mussolini's imperial aspirations. Of greater interest and urgency is the political nature of Italy herself in the coming years.

The king, Victor Emmanuel III, has been closely linked with Mussolini and his now discredited Fascist movement. There is inevitably a republican groundswell against this relatively recent Monarchy (not yet 100 years old). A referendum on the issue is scheduled for June 1946. To improve the royalist chances the king abdicates in May in favour of his 41-year-old son, Umberto II. The result is relatively close but goes in favour of the republicans (in broad terms some 13 million votes for a republic and 11 million for the Monarchy, with a very marked division between a monarchist south of the country and a republican north). The king goes into exile after a reign of only a month, and Italy embarks on an uncharted new course.

The Republic of Italy: from 1947

The first essential political task is the election of a Constituent Assembly with the responsibility of drafting a constitution for the new republic. The Christian Democrats, a centre-left party with strong links to the Roman Catholic church, win more than a third of the votes, almost exactly twice as many as the Communists. With their success a long-term pattern is established. Until the 1980s the Christian Democrats will lead every government, with strong support from both the church and the USA, eager in the Cold War climate to keep the Communists out of power.

A constitution is approved in 1947 setting up a parliamentary democracy, with a president as head of state and a prime minister at the helm of what will almost invariably be a coalition government (the inevitable result of fully proportional representation). In the first parliamentary election, in April 1946, the Christian Democrats win almost 50% of the votes. Alcide De Gasperi becomes prime minister. He frequently has to form new coalitions as small parties abandon him, but he contrives to remain in power for eight years at the head of no fewer than seven different governments.

After De Gasperi's final government, in 1953, coalitions and prime ministers follow each other in such rapid succession that the Italian political system becomes one of Europe's standard jokes. The twenty-seven years from 1953 to 1980 see thirty-two different coalitions headed by a fluctuating cast of twelve different members of the Christian Democrat party. Nevertheless, in what seems like an atmosphere of politic chaos, Italy's economy and status in the world prosper greatly from the late 1940s, initially with help from the USA's Marshall plan, after a period of post-war deprivation.

In 1949 the country becomes one of the twelve founding members of NATO, and in 1957 one of the six founding members of the European Economic Community (now the European union). During the 1960s the economy grows at more than 5% a year. But at the same time, with the new prosperity benefiting some much more than others and a growing disparity between incomes in the rich north and the poorer south, there is increasing social unrest. The arrival in the north of large numbers of migrants from the south and a slow-down in the economy eventually means that there are fewer jobs for the northerners, leading to a massive wave of strikes in what becomes known as the 'hot autumn' of 1969.

At the same time radical terrorist groups, from both extremes of the political spectrum, begin to proliferate. By far the best-known and most dangerous are the left-wing Red Brigades, formed first in 1970. Their most notorious act of terror is the kidnapping and subsequent murder, after two months in captivity, of Aldo Moro, one of Italy's most successful post-war prime ministers (head of five coalition governments).

The most extreme act of violence by right-wing terrorists during this period is the bombing of the Central Station in Bologna by a neo-fascist organization, the Nuclei Armati Revoluzionari (Armed RevolutionaryNuclei). The bomb explodes in a crowded waiting-room, killing 85 people and wounding more than 200.

The Mafia: from the 19th century

While the new paramilitary terrorist groups bring violence and fear to the streets of Italy, hoping to derive sensational publicity from their exploits, the southern regions of the country after the war are infected by something more secretive and ultimately more pernicious. This is the Mafia, a criminal network preferring to extort money discreetly and quietly but willing to commit violence and even murder in pursuit of its acquisitive aims.

It had developed in Sicily during the 19th century. The abolition in 1812 of ancient feudal powers, ruthlessly enforced by often brutal methods, is followed by a long period of lawlessness, during which an increasing amount of property comes onto the market without proper regulation to enforce legal contracts. These conditions provide an opportunity for criminals to offer their own methods of enforcement and to combine threats of violence with the guarantee of protection at a price. For more efficient exploitation of these opportunities the criminals organize themselves into well-structured groups, the origins of the 'clans' or 'families' within what becomes known as the Mafia. They acquire a presence in many fields of commercial activity in which protection can easily be made a necessity, and above all they establish a foothold in politics.

The Mafiosi have things increasingly their own way until the arrival of Fascism in Italy. In 1925 Mussolini, recognizing a clear rival to his own unscrupulous ambitions, launches a strong campaign against the Mafia, trumping their threats and methods of persecution with a stronger state-backed version of his own. The result is that from then until the end of Fascism in Italy in 1943, after the Allied invasion of Sicily, the Mafia maintains only a tenuous presence in Italian life.

This changes dramatically once the Allies are in control of Sicily. They move with incautious haste to sack Fascists in any position of power. But these people need immediate replacements, in particular as the mayors of cities, and the invading powers know little about Sicilian commercial or political life. It is easy for leading Mafiosi to present themselves genuinely as both anti-Fascist and anti-Communist. As a result many soon find themselves in very useful positions of power. A construction boom, funded by state money after the devastations of the war, provides them with one among many opportunities.

From the 1960s the main threats to the Mafia are self-inflicted, resulting from armed conflicts between clans so violent that they have become known as wars. The First Mafia War (1961-3) prompts the first attempted government response. Nearly 2000 Mafiosi are arrested, but their trials yield few convictions and only light sentences. The Second Mafia War, fought over control of the trade in heroin, is normally dated 1981-3, the period of the greatest violence, but it has started earlier and ends later. Far more people die, mainly in inter-clan feuds, but the victims also include random civilians and precisely targeted pillars of society such as police chiefs, judges and prosecutors engaged in a serious attempt by the state to defeat the Mafia. The war ends with the convincing win of the Corleone clan, having killed all their senior clan rivals. They become, in effect, the Mafia.

Two prosecutors, the close friends Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, have been closely involved since the First Mafia War as prosecuting magistrates in the fight against the clans. In spite of the assassinations of several of their colleagues in the second war they continue in their extremely dangerous task. In 1992, within a few months of each other, they are both assassinated on the orders of the chiefs of the Corleone clan. But the state continues its campaign, with major successes in the 1990s.

By this time there are reports of a policy difference within the Corleone leadership. There is a hard-line faction (led by Totó Riina and Leoluca Bagarella) determined to continue the campaign of terrorism against the state, and a reforming group (led by Bernardo Provenzano) which argues that terrorism is counter-productive and that the Mafia should to an extent co-exist with the authorities and concentrate its activities on high-level financial fraud. After the arrests of Riina (1993) and Bagarella (1995), both today still in gaol with multiple life sentences, the approach of Provenzano seems to prevail. Everything is calmer and so far remains so even after the arrest of Provenzano in 2006, who has evaded capture but continued his active role in the Mafia for an astonishing forty-three years after being indictment for murder in 1963. He too is now serving life sentences, for many earlier murders and for his complicity with Riina and Bagarella in the assassinations of Falcone and Borsellino.

Years of Lead and of Berlusconi: from the 1970s

The 1970s and 1980s become known as the Years of Lead, paralyzed economically by high unemployment and frequent strikes, and politically by terrorism and corruption. But something of a corner is turned in 1991 when 95% of the electorate vote in a referendum to adopt a constitutional change against the wishes of the political parties. The change is a minor one but it gives the public a new sense of power and leads soon to other reforms, causing the period from the early 1990s to be known informally as Italy's "Second Republic". It is during the years since then that a new politician comes to dominate the political scene. He is Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi is an extremely successful tycoon, having built up a vast financial empire and great personal wealth. By he 1990s he owns a very wide holding in Italia TV and radio, giving him great potential political power. He begins to exercise this in 1994 when he founds a new centre-right political party, Forza Italia. A mere three months later the new party wins a higher number of seats than any of its rivals and Berlusconi sits for the first time in the Chamber of Deputies, already in the role of prime minister His first coalition government lasts only seven months, and is followed by seven years of centre-left government, the most successful of them (1996-98) led by Romano Prodi. But in 2001 Berlusconi regains power and remains prime minister for a full five-year term, the first time this has been achieved in the post-war years. He later wins a third term (2008-10), making him by far Italy's longest-serving prime minister in recent decades.

His has been a most unusual career for a head of state in a functioning democracy. Within his first brief seven-month an investigation is launched into his business empire. It leads eventually to a conviction for fraud and corruption, which is subsequently overturned, but it proves only the first of a large number of times in which he has to mount a defence in the courts. Most of the cases are overturned, usually by statute of limitation (the process being delayed and extended until it exceeds a time limit). Recently both financial and sex scandals have brought him before the courts, with rumours of orgies and call girls.

In October 2012 he was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to four years in prison, and in June 2013 he was given a seven-year sentence for paying an underage woman for sex and using his powers to attempt a cover-up. In neither case will he go to prison because his age allows him to choose instead either house arrest or community work, but the convictions bring with them a ban on continuing in elected office. His activities have severely tarnished Italian politics and his own international reputation, but a large proportion of the Italian electorate remain firm in their support of him.
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