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History of Italy

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The Romans

Greeks settled in the southern tip of the Italian peninsula in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.; Etruscans, Romans, and others inhabited the central and northern mainland. The peninsula subsequently was unified under the Roman Republic. After the victory in the Punic wars against the rival city of Carthage, the neighboring islands also came under Roman control by the third century B.C.; in the first century A.D. the roman state effectively dominated the Mediterranean world but was subject to several civil wars, leading to the transformation into the Roman Empire. In the 4th century A.D., the empire was split into eastern and western halves. The Eastern Roman Empire (a.k.a. the Byzantine Empire) lasted for another millennium, but the Western Roman Empire rapidly collapsed.

The Middle Ages and the Renaissance

After the 5th century A.D., the peninsula and islands were subjected to a series of invasions, and political unity was lost. Italy became an oft-changing succession of small states, principalities, and kingdoms, which fought among themselves and were subject to ambitions of foreign powers. Popes of Rome ruled central Italy; rivalries between the popes and the Holy Roman Emperors, who claimed Italy as their domain, often made the peninsula a battleground. Beginning in the 11th century, and in spite of the political turmoil, Italian cities (especially in the northern and central regions) enjoyed an era of commercial prosperity which lasted until the 16th century and led to great intellectual and artistical achievements such as those of the Renaissance.

Foreign domination

In the 16th century most of the small Italian states were defeated and conquered by foreign powers, especially Spain. Italy suffered the move of the main trade routes from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, and the Catholic Counter-reform[?], preventing the development of science (see Galileo Galilei) put an end to Italian cultural leadership. The result was that the country steadily declined in the following centuries.

Italian unification

After the Napoleonic wars, by the early 19th century, a nationalist movement developed and led to a series of Italian Independence wars, mainly against Austria-Hungary (which had replaced Spain as the dominant foreign power). As a result, the small kingdom of Sardinia (including also the north-western regions of continental Italy) achieved the reunification of the whole of Italy (except for Rome) in the 1860s. In 1861, Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy was proclaimed King of Italy. Rome was incorporated in 1870. From 1861 until 1922, Italy was a constitutional monarchy with a parliament elected under limited suffrage.

The World Wars

During World War I, Italy renounced its standing alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary and, on May 23, 1915, entered the war on the side of the Entente. Under the postwar settlement, Italy received some former Austrian territory along the northeast frontier. In 1922, Benito Mussolini (leader of the Fascist Party[?]) came to power and, over the next few years, eliminated political parties, curtailed personal liberties, and installed a fascist dictatorship termed the Corporate State. The king Victor Emmanuel III, with little effective power, endorsed the change and remained titular head of state.

At the beginning of World War II Italy was allied with Germany and declared war on the United Kingdom and France in 1940. In 1941, Italy--with the other Axis powers, Germany and Japan--declared war on the United States and the Soviet Union. Following the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, the King dismissed Mussolini and appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio as Premier. In September 1943 the Badoglio government declared war on Germany, which quickly occupied most of the country and freed Mussolini, who led a brief-lived regime in the north. An anti-fascist popular resistance movement grew during the last 2 years of the war, harassing German forces before they were driven out in April 1945.

Birth of the Italian Republic

In 1946, a referendum (the first case in which women were allowed to vote, in Italy) ended the monarchy, and a constituent assembly was elected to write a constitution for the republic. The birth of the Italian Republic was however object of deep discussion.

Recent history

Under the 1947 peace treaty, minor adjustments were made in Italy's frontier with France, the eastern border area was transferred to Yugoslavia, and the area around the city of Trieste was designated a free territory. In 1954, the free territory, which had remained under the administration of U.S.-U.K. forces (Zone A, including the city of Trieste) and Yugoslav forces (Zone B), was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia, principally along the zonal boundary. This arrangement was made permanent by the Italian-Yugoslav Treaty of Osimo[?], ratified in 1977 (currently being discussed by Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia). Under the 1947 peace treaty, Italy also relinquished its overseas territories (Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia and Libya) and certain eastern mediterranean islands.

After the war, Italian politics was dominated by the Democrazia Cristiana (christian democrat) party, which (together with minor allies, such as socialists) held the government for about 40 years. The main opposition party was the Partito Comunista Italiano, probably the largest communist party in western Europe. In the fifties Italy became a member of the NATO alliance and an ally of the United States, who helped to revive the Italian economy through the Marshall Plan. In the same years, Italy also became a member of the EEC (European Economical Community) and then of the European Union. Despite problems such as criminal organizations (such as themafia and the terrorist Brigate Rosse) and the deep corruption of the Italian political system, the country benefited from rapid economic growth.

The Roman Catholic Church's status in Italy has been determined, since its temporal powers ended in 1870, by a series of accords with the Italian Government. Under the Lateran Pacts[?] of 1929, which were confirmed by the present constitution, the state of Vatican City is recognized by Italy as an independent, sovereign entity. While preserving that recognition, in 1984, Italy and the Vatican updated several provisions of the 1929 accords. Included was the end of Roman Catholicism as Italy's formal state religion.

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