A Summary of Italian History

Location of Italy
Location of Italy. Public Domain Map from Clker.com. Modifications by R. Wilde.

The history of Italy can be characterized as two periods of unity separated by a millennia and a half of division. In the sixth to third centuries BCE the Italian city of Rome conquered Peninsular Italy; over the next few centuries this empire spread to dominate the Mediterranean and Western Europe. This Roman Empire would go on to define much of Europe's history, leaving a mark in culture, politics and society that outlasted the military and political.

After the Italian part of the Roman Empire declined and “fell” in the fifth century (an event no one at the time realised was so significant), Italy was the target of several invasions, and the previously united region broke apart into several smaller bodies, including the Papal States, governed by the Catholic Pope. A number of powerful and trading orientated city states emerged, including Florence, Venice and Genoa; these incubated the Renaissance. Italy, and its smaller states, also went through stages of foreign domination. These smaller states were the incubating grounds of the Renaissance, which changed Europe massively once more, and owed a lot to the competing states trying to outspend each other on glory.

Unification and independence movements for Italy developed ever stronger voices in the nineteenth century after Napoleon created a short lived Kingdom of Italy. A war between Austria and France in 1859 allowed several small states to merge with Piedmont; a tipping point had been reached and a Kingdom of Italy was formed in 1861, growing by 1870 - when the Papal States joined – to cover almost all of what we now call Italy.

The kingdom was subverted when Mussolini took power as a fascist dictator, and although he was initially skeptical of Hitler, Mussolini took Italy into World War 2 rather than risk losing out. It caused his downfall. Modern Italy is now a democratic republic, and has been since the modern constitution came into effect in 1948.

This followed a referendum in 1946 which voted to abolish the previous monarchy by twelve million votes to ten.

Key Events in Italian History

Location of Italy

Italy is a country in south-western Europe, comprised largely of a boot shaped peninsular which extends out into the Mediterranean, as well as a region on the core landmass of the continent. Italy is bordered by Switzerland and Austria to the north, Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea to the east, France and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west, and the Ionian Sea and the Mediterranean to the south. The country of Italy also includes the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

Key People from the History of Italy

  • Julius Caesar c. 100 – 44 BCE
    A great general and statesman, Caesar won a civil war to become both sole ruler of the extensive Roman domains and dictator for life, setting in motion a process of transformation which led to the creation of the Roman Empire. He was assassinated by enemies and is arguably the most famous ancient Roman.


  • Giuseppe Garibaldi 1807 – 1882
    After exile in South America, forced upon him because of his role in an attempted republican revolution, Garibaldi commanded forces in several Italian conflicts of the nineteenth century. He played an important role in Italian unification when he and his volunteer army of “Redshirts” captured Sicily and Naples and allowed them to join a Kingdom of Italy, although Garibaldi fell out with the new king. He was offered a command in the US Civil War by Lincoln.


  • Benito Mussolini 1883 - 1945
    Mussolini became the youngest ever Prime Minister of Italy in 1922, using his fascist organisation of “Blackshirts” to propel him to power. He transformed the office into a dictatorship and allied with Hitler’s Germany, but was forced to flee when World War 2 turned against this him. He was captured and executed.

Rulers of Italy