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"Let them learn to be soldiers. Let them know, and teach their children." — Livy

While the Roman Empire had been over for more then fifteen centuries, the vestiges of its empire in the form of religion, and the memories of its glorious past would continue to affect and inspire many great nations and the word "Rome" today is still very much a byword for culture and style in the present day.

Dawn on the Mediterranean (c 1500BCE)Edit

The Italy of today is vastly different from the land our early ancestors discovered, back in the early Paleolithic Age. The ice ages had left exposed vast tracts of land now submerged under the sea. The very first people to settle in what is now known as Italy arrived nearly half a million years ago and were the Neanderthals, followed later by our modern human ancestors.

With the arrival of the Neolithic Age, Italy became host to several prominent prehistoric peoples such as the Terramare, the Villanova and the Camuni. The earliest archeological findings in Italy so far, date back to more than 50,000 years ago. More than twenty of the earliest sites in the country are associated with the Neanderthal people.

Modern man first appears in Italy's archaeological record 34,000 years ago, in the Grotta di Furmane, with other sites discovered in Lombardy, Liguria and Sardinia. The most famous of Italy's prehistoric remains are the rock carvings and paintings in Valcamonica and of course, Otzi the Iceman, the mummy of a Copper Age hunter found in a glacier.

The First Steps (1000–100BCE)Edit

During the Bronze Age, the Italian peninsula was colonised by warlike nomadic herdsmen who displaced the previous Stone Age peoples to form what would be the numerous Italic tribes such as the Sabines, Umbrians, and Latins.

Between 900 BC and 700 BC, Greek and Etruscan settlers also began to establish colonies along the Italian penninsula, who brought the seeds of civilisation into the area, with the Greeks primarily in the south and Etruscans mostly in the north. The Etruscans were believed to have originated from Asia Minor, and used an alphabet based on the Greek alphabet and exerted a great deal of hegemony over the smaller tribes.

In the 7th century CE, one of the vassals of the Etruscans was a tribe of rustics called the Latins who lived on the banks of the River Tiber in a shantytown called Rome. Little did both the Etruscans nor the Latins know that they were on a 1,000-year road towards greatness due to Rome's proximity to a port and because of its fertile agricultural lands.

At first Rome was ruled by a monarchy for the first 200 years of its existence, but they would eventually tire of being ruled by their Etruscan overlords and in 509 BC drove them out of Rome, forming a republic. Within the next 500 years, the Roman Republic managed to unify the entire Italian Peninsula under its reign. They would also go on to conquer much of the ancient Mediterranean superpowers.

The Sons of Mars and Jupiter (100–27BC)Edit

Contrary to popular belief, the Romans' most famous military unit — the legion — was not a wholesale innovation, but was instead the results of the percolation of various experiences in war — especially the ones where the Romans did not fare so well. Actual evidence and accounts so far suggest that the first Romans fought as their Etruscan overlords did — who in turn copied the Greek style of fighting in phalanx formation, using equipment more or less similar to that used by the Greeks. Armies, however, were also recruited on a somewhat feudal basis, with only those with property obliged to take up arms. However, the increasing intensity of conflict and the weaknesses of the phalanx soon began to take its toll, and by the 1st century BC the Romans were obliged to look for a new means of organising their fighting men, which the legion proved to be. The legionaires that was part of this army were career soldiers serving for a period of twenty years, and trained constantly in the art of warfare. A legion roughly consisted of 6,000 men, each equipped with a short sword called the Gladius, a dagger, two pilums (a special form of a javelin) that could be used to hurl at the enemy or ward off cavalry. For defence, the legionaries wore a metal helmet and carried a large retangular shield that was slighly curved to surround the soldiers body. Behind this he wore either a kind of banded plate armour called the lorica segmentata, a chainmail jacket, or a jacket made of metal scales. 

This process of military organisation was also aided by the Marian Reforms, named after the general Gaius Marius, which advocated the need for a professional army independent of property ownership and for the settling of soldiers on conquered lands as part of their pay. As Rome grew to cover most of the Mediterranean, more enterprising barbarians soon discovered that it was more lucrative to collaborate with the Romans than to perpetually oppose them. There was much cultural syncretism and religious tolerance in the republican era (after all, the Romans did borrow different equipment styles from different cultures — the Legion combined Greek discipline with Celto-Iberian arms) although by the Imperial Era there were attempts to "Romanise" citizens into following the same cultures and (eventually) religious beliefs, as will be mentioned later below.

The Marian Reforms were a highly rousing success, because it meant that Rome could always have a professional military corps on hand to deal with any military contingencies, instead of having to wait out a lengthy period of mobilisation. However, the granting of land as retirement benefits to soldiers soon resulted in a shift of loyalty in soldiers away from the Roman state and to individual generals instead, resulting in the mutation of the democratic republic into a crypt-feudalistic military state. This would soon lead to the rise of the Roman Imperium or Empire, as civil wars reduced the power of the Roman senate, and led to the rise of a new type of ruler — the Imperator or emperor.

The Empire (27BC–476CE)Edit

The first Emperor of Rome would be Gaius Octavius in 27 BC. He would usher in the period of Imperial Rome and for this deed would receive the epithet of "Augustus" or "august one". Despite having been founded on democratic principles, Rome prior to Augustus had been ravaged by civil war, and was ready to accept peace at any cost. Augustus' rule, while dictatorial, did indeed lend a semblance of stability and Rome even continued to prosper under his sway but the old republic that had been founded almost five centuries ago had dwindled to little more than a legal fiction used to legitimise the rule of a military hereditary monarchy disguised as a democracy. Nevertheless, Rome would begin reaching the peak of all power, which was achieved under the Antonine Emperors.

However, by this time there were troubles ahead. With military power and not popular representation forming the deciding factor in choosing political leaders, it soon meant that civil wars would become more rife, especially after the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Political chaos and a heavily slave-dependent economy eventually sapped the vitality and resilience of the Empire, even as it was buckling under the incursions of German tribes who had began to become restless again and looked to the Roman Empire for plunder and territory.

In 330CE, Emperor Constantine moved the capitol of the empire to Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople. The western empire would be ruled by one of his generals based in Rome. However, with the capital now in the east, and the inability of the western empire to stem the flow of barbarian invaders, the power of the former Roman Empire became firmly held by now a Greek Byzantine Empire.

In 476CE Odovacar, the leader of a Germanic tribe called the Ostrogoths, marched into Rome and crowned himself the King of Rome, marking the formal end to Roman dominance in Western Europe. The Eastern part of the Empire which was still intact would continue to hang on for another 1,000 years after the fall of Rome until it was overcome by Muslim invaders in the 15th century.

Regression and Rebirth (500CE–1500CE)Edit

Although Rome had fallen to the barbarian onslaught, it was not the entire end. As the empire broke down after the 3rd century CE, the disintegration of Imperial authority meant that the various German tribes of the north had free reign and many of them would fight for Rome as much as they themselves would invade, forming new nations as they went. The most long-lived and most successful of these new Germanic kingdoms was the so-called Lombard "Kingdoms" with northern "Langobardia Majora" centred around present-day Pavia and forming the region of present-day Lombardy, and "Langobardia Minora" based around the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. Langobardia Majora was eventually assimilated into the Frankish "Kingdom of Italy" of the 8th century, but the southern kingdoms would hold out well until the Middle Ages.

In many of these new nations which split up old Europe and Italy, the idea of Rome somehow managed to live on. The first was that the Lombard invaders wished to control the nation as effectively as possible, and so attempted to retain a cultural continuity by adopting Roman cultre. This was aided by the adoption of a new reigion — Christianity. Christianity, with its promised comforts in the afterlife in spite of the world's excesses, and its Latinised rituals soon attracted a new audience even as the invaders slowly formed a new Germano-Roman society. Italy of the 7th century constituted mostly an agrarian which would swear allegiance to the Church, the sole institution to favour a peaceful existence which neither the expansionist Byzantines nor the warlike Lombards would ever think of promising to their subjects. The ecclesiastic administration, which had always till then used with great liberality what it was given for the protection of the poor and incapacitated, easily filled in the new administrative roles that Italians simply did not want to see given to Byzantines or Lombards. In many places Roman basilicae were converted to churches, and local landowners and aristocracy themselves, tired of Imperial excesses, re-aligned themselves to the invaders.

Italy was to experience a rebirth of sorts during the years between the fall of Rome and the advent of industrialisation. Although the Church had taken over the city of Rome and its surrounds, the decline of the Lombards and the rise of trade and commerce in Europe after countless generations of barbarisation and neglect gave rise to a new player in the game of Italian politics — the city-state. From the 13th century onward, while the centre-south of Italy around Rome would be plagued by the feuds of the local aristocracy, new republican cities dominated by trade and commerce would spring up — Genoa, Milan and Venice to the north, Florence and Pisa in the Apennines just north of Rome, and Sicily to the south. By the early modern era, Venice had carved out an empire of itself in the Eastern Mediterranean at the expense of her former Roman overlords (now repackaged as the Hellenic Byzantines) and Florence was a major banking and textile industry powerhouse.

Once more, Rome came back into vogue. With new money and ideas being shipped in from the former eastern vestiges of the Roman Empire, Italy developed a new urbanised culture surrounding the restoration of all that was Roman and good. This was the Renaissance. Initially an attempt to emulate and restore the glories of ancient Rome, the Renaissance however became a major cultural revolution in its own right, as Europe didn't just learn to rediscover Roman jurisprudence, art and literature, but imported mathematics, philosophy and science from Byzantium and the Muslims as well.

Unification (1500–1830CE)Edit

For all the money and culture that they acquired, however, none of the city-states of Italy were destined to unify the whole of Italy as a single sovereign nation. That task, however, feel to a small duchy ensconced in the French Alps called Savoy which was making its presence felt on the world stage.

At the onset of the Italian Wars during the first half of the sixteenth century, Savoy had extended its power eastwards and south, and had managed to control parts of Switzerland as well as Piemont, the mountainous region just north of Genoa and the Ligurian coast. War with France soon forced Savoy to cede its Alpine regions to France, but the ruling house of Savoy would however remain, and soon acquired the kingship of the Italian island of Sardinia while holding on to Piemont. The small Duchy of Piedmont–Savoy nevertheless managed to weather the storms which occasionally buffeted it, and emerged at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814 as a stronger entity than ever. It often punched well above its weight, as its role in the War of the Spanish Succession showed, and its rulers would later go on to reign over the united Kingdom of Italy in the late 19th century.

However, it would take another French invasion of Italy in order to convince the Italians of the benefits of unity. This happened during the French revolutionary wars, when a new French republic fought for its life against the many monarchies of Europe banded together to crush the French republic and its ideals. To relieve pressure from the northeast, it was decided to send an army through northern Italy to attack Austria itself, one of the larger powers in the coallition against France. This was headed by a young Frenchman of Italian extraction called Napoleone Buonaparte — now Frenchified as Napoleon Bonaparte.

By 1800, Italy was unified once more albeit as an administrative department under Napoleon's attempt at recreating the Holy Roman Empire. Although French rule was erratic and filled with excesses as the war wound on, however, Bonaparte brought in new ideas to replace the old feudalism and religious-inspired parochialism of the Church — liberalism, as well as a set of unified laws. However, Napoleon's defeat fifteen years later soon meant that Italy would soon find itself under Austrian domination. Previously, the Austrians were merely content with replacing the Italian nobility with Austrian leaders as their lines died out, but with Napoleon gone and soon to die on St Helena, the Empire began attempting to exert its control all over its new Italian possessions.

From Savoyard Duchy to Italian Crown (1830–1861CE)Edit

By the 19th century, it was clear that the Savoyard state would be better focussed on the weaker and more rebellious Italian states than continuing to hanker after its former Swiss possessions. By then, Italy was ripe for conquest. Having been forced to live alternately under Austrian and French rule since the last independent ruler of indigenous extraction, the Tuscan Grand Duke Gian Gastone de' Medici, passed away heirless in 1737, the Italian people now clamoured for change — and the Piedmontese crown listened. Northern Italy was racked by uprisings against Austrian rule. Soaring food prices and stymied reform continued to stoke unrest, leading to anti-establishment uprisings throughout Austrian Italy, the Papal States, Sardinia and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (which ironically had its capital on the mainland as opposed to Sicily itself).

The first blow was struck against Austria by Sardinia, coinciding with a general uprising in Lombardy against the Austrians. Italian revolutionaries in Milan managed to drive the Austrians into fortresses in the Veneto; then the Sardinians marched from Piemont and struck them before they could regroup, culminating in the battle of Goito outside Brescia in 1848. Flush with success, the Sardinians attacked again but were soundly defeated at Novara in 1849, forcing the king to abdicate. In the face of the defeat at Novara, the Sardinians scrambled to learn from their mistakes, even as the prime minister, count Cavour, negotiated a series of strategic alliances between Sardinia, the French and the nascent Prussian Empire.

The Sardinians went on the march again in 1859 while at the same time Giuseppe Garibaldi launched an invasion in the summer of 1860. Marching initially only with a thousand men, he attracted rebels and Italian patriots throughout southern Italy from Sicily all the way to Naples, taking advantage of the popularity of the House of Savoy and the incompetence of the Neapolitans. This time, the Sardinians were victorious, although they had to cede their ancestral lands of Nice and Savoy to France in exchange for all of northern Italy, with the Sardinian king, Victor Emmanuel II, being crowned king of Italy by 1861.

However, more still had to be done - the Austrians still held Venetia and several other smaller outposts in Italy, and the Papal States still had to be reckoned with, but luck was with Italy. The Austro-Prussian War broke out in the summer of 1866. In two months, Prussia acquired all of present-day Germany, while Italy managed to seize Venice, leaving only Trentino in Austrian hands. In 1870, Prussia went to war with France, and the French were compelled to quit Rome to tend to defence of the homeland. The Italians took advantage and after occupying the Papal States, held a referendum which approved the annexation of Rome into Italy.

Decline and fall of the monarchy (1861–1946CE)Edit

Problems remained for the new nation-state, however. Italy was saddled with large economic and social problems. In addition, the papacy did not recognize the Italian state, and crime was rampant. Despite all of this, Italy did manage to make some progress, and even managed to seize Libya from the Turks. They entered the Great War on the side of the Allies, with the promise that they would gain additional territory that they considered to be yet "un-liberated Italy". However at the end of the war they received far less then what they were expecting from the Allies. This created popular nationalistic resentment of the western powers, and of the Italian government who acquiesced to the deal.

The postwar economic depression combined with these feeling gave fertile ground for Benito Mussolini to found the Fascist party in 1919. With shrewd political manipulation, and the help of his "Black Shirt Squads" to intimidate the population, he would be able to force King Victor Emmanuel III to appoint him as Prime Minister, and within four more years the title of dictator, usurping power from the government, stylising himself as the Duce or "military leader" of the kingdom of Italy. This acquiescence to the Duce would prove to be the monarchy's downfall, however. With the dismissal and arrest of the Duce in 1943 and his subsequent execution in 1945 as well as the humiliation of Italy by foreign powers, the monarchy's reputation was irredeemably besmirched. A referendum held in 1946 declared Italy a republic, sealing the fate of the House of Savoy after nearly three centuries of influence in European affairs.

Years of Lead (1950s–2001)Edit

Italy became an integral member of NATO and the European Economic Community (later the EU) as it successfully rebuilt its postwar economy, but even then, the process has not been without upheaval.

Until recently, there had been frequent government turnovers since 1945. Although the dominance of the Christian Democratic (DC) party during much of the postwar period lent continuity and comparative stability to Italy's political situation, “Revolving door” governments, political instability, political terrorism, scandal, and corruption characterized Italian politics in the 1980s and 1990s. Of this, the last must be given much mention.

From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges as voters--disenchanted with past political paralysis, massive government debt, extensive corruption, and organized crime's considerable influence--demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. Scandal investigations — the Maxiprocessi or "Maxi Trials" — touched thousands of politicians, administrators, and businessmen, eventually resulting in the dissolution of many major political parties and the imprisonment of many leading party figures. The Socialists and the Christian Democrats were not spared and were amongst the many casualties. In a 1993 referendums, voters approved substantial changes, including moving from a proportional to a largely majoritarian electoral system and the abolishment of some ministries.

New political forces and new alignments of power emerged in March 1994 national elections. A new populist and free-market oriented movement, Forza Italia, gained wide support among moderate voters. The National Alliance broke from the neofascist Italian Social Movement. The election saw a major turnover in the new parliament, with 452 out of 630 deputies and 213 out of 315 senators elected for the first time. The 1994 elections also swept media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, and his Freedom Pole coalition, into office as Prime Minister. A trend toward two large coalitions--one on the center-left and the other on the center-right--emerged from the April 1995 regional elections.

Berlusconi, however, was forced to step down in January 1995 when one member of his coalition withdrew support. The Berlusconi government was succeeded by a technical government headed by Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, which fell in early 1996. For the 1996 national elections, the center-left parties created the Olive Tree coalition while the center right united again under the Freedom Pole. The new elections in 1996 brought a center-left coalition to government for the first time after World War II.

A series of center-left coalitions dominated Italy's political landscape between 1996 and 2001. In April 1996, national elections led to the victory of a center-left coalition (the Olive Tree) under the leadership of Romano Prodi. Prodi's government became the second-longest to stay in power before he narrowly lost a vote of confidence (by three votes) in October 1998. A new government was formed by Democratic Party of the Left leader and former-communist Massimo D'Alema.

Italy adopted the euro as its currency in January 1999. Treasury Secretary Carlo Ciampi, who is credited with the economic reforms that permitted Italy to enter the European Monetary Union, was elected president in May 1999. Italy joined its NATO partners in the Kosovo crisis. Aviano Air Base in northern Italy was a crucial base for launching air strikes into Kosovo and Yugoslavia.

In April 2000, following a poor showing by his coalition in regional elections, D'Alema resigned. The succeeding center-left government, including most of the same parties, was headed by Giuliano Amato, who previously served as Prime Minister in 1992-93.

The Once and Future Republic (21st Century)Edit

National elections, held on May 13, 2001, returned Berlusconi to power at the head of the five-party center-right Freedom House coalition, comprising the prime minister's own party, Forza Italia, the National Alliance, the Northern League, the Christian Democratic Center, and the United Christian Democrats. Berlusconi pledged to reduce unemployment, cut taxes, revamp the educational system, and reform the bureaucracy. His critics were alarmed by the apparent conflict of interest of a prime minister who also owned 90% of Italy's media. He was accused of Mafia connections and was under indictment for tax fraud and bribery. Found guilty in three out of four of his trials, he was acquitted in all of them on appeal. Several other cases are pending.

In Nov. 2002, Giulio Andreotti, who served as Italy's prime minister numerous times between 1972 and 1992, was sentenced to 24 years for ordering the Mafia to murder a journalist in 1979. At 84, however, he was deemed too old for prison.

At the end of 2003, Italian food giant Parmalat was accused of a massive accounting fraud scheme—$5 billion the company claimed was in fact nonexistent.

In April 2005, regional elections had disastrous results for Berlusconi's center-right coalition. The dismal state of the economy was blamed for the poor showing. Prime Minister Berlusconi resigned and formed a new government. The 60th government since the liberation of Italy was formed on April 23, 2005, with a new program emphasizing economic concerns. The previous Berlusconi government was the longest serving in Italy’s post-war history. In the same year parliament passed a new electoral law based on full proportional assignment of seats.

In national elections held April 9-10, 2006, the center-left Union coalition led by Romano Prodi, a successor to the Olive Tree, won 49.8% of the vote and Berlusconi's House of Liberties coalition won 49.7%—a mere 25,000 vote difference. The Union coalition includes the Democratic Party of the Left, the Daisy Party, UDEUR (Union of Democrats for Europe), Rose in the Fist (made up by Italian Social Democrats and Italian Radical Party), Communist Renewal, the Italian Communist Party, and the Greens. Berlusconi refused to concede and called for a recount. He eventually relented, and Prodi was given the go-ahead by the newly installed president Giorgio Napolitano to form a government. Prodi served as prime minister once before (1996–98) and also as president of the European Union. Prodi's government proved fragile almost immediately. Indeed, he submitted his resignation just nine months into his term after a key foreign-policy vote about the deployment of troops to Afghanistan and an expansion of a U. S. military base failed in the Senate. Days later, the Senate, facing the prospect of Silvio Berlusconi returning to power, narrowly passed a vote of confidence in Prodi's government. Prodi remained in office, surely to face similar obstacles in the near future.

In April 2006, Italy caught and arrested Bernardo Provenzano, the alleged boss of the Sicilian Mafia, who had eluded authorities for 42 years.

In October 2007, the Democrats of the Left and the Daisy parties officially merged to form the Democratic Party.

Logo-pdl-berlusconi.jpg The Prodi government collapsed on January 24, 2008, when it lost a vote of confidence in the Senate and the Prime Minster submitted his resignation to the President. The Prodi government fell when small coalition partner UDEUR withdrew support. In February, the President dissolved parliament and Silvio Berlusconi returned to power after defeating former Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni by a comfortable margin in elections on April 13-14, 2008. Berlusconi's winning coalition was composed of the People of Liberty (a union of Forza Italia and Gianfranco Fini's National Alliance), the Northern League, and the Movement for Autonomy. The election greatly simplified parliament, dramatically reducing the numbers of parties, and for the first time since World War II, leaving communist parties out of parliament. People of Liberty (37.4%) won the largest share of the vote and took power in coalition with a strengthened Northern League (8.3%) and the tiny Movement for Autonomy (1.1%). The Democratic Party scored 33.2% and ran in alliance with Italy of Values (4.4%), while the Union of the Center (5.6%) ran alone.

Berlusconi was sworn in as Prime Minister on May 8. Veltroni resigned as leader of the opposition in February 2009, and his deputy, Dario Franceschini, was elected new Democratic Party leader. In March 2009, Forza Italia and National Alliance changed the People of Liberty identification from an alliance to a party. The new mass center-right party is Italy's largest party and one of the largest in Europe. Party leaders define the party as post-ideological, charismatic, and pragmatic. It is led by Berlusconi.

In 2010, Gianfranco Fini's conservative party Future and Freedom emerged from a split from Berlusconi's People of Liberty party.

ReferencesEdit

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