Culturally and linguistically, the origins of Italian history can be traced in the 9th century BCE, when earliest accounts date the presence of Italic tribes in modern central Italy. Linguistics they are divided into: Oscans , Umbrians and Latins. Later the Latin culture became dominant, as Rome emerged as dominant city around 350 BCE.
Roman Republic and Empire that dominated this part of the world for many centuries came an Italy whose people would make immeasurable contributions to the development of European philosophy, science, and art during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Dominated by city-states for much of the medieval and Renaissance period, the Italian peninsula, Italy also experienced several foreign dominations. Parts of Italy were annexed to the the Austrian empire, the Spanish empire and Napoleon's empire, while the Vatican mantained control over the central part of it, before the Peninsula was eventually liberated and unified amidst much struggle in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Villanovan culture brought iron-working to the Italian peninsula; Villanovans practiced cremation and buried the ashes of their dead in pottery urns of distinctive double-cone shape. Generally speaking, Villanovan settlements were centered in the Po River valley and Etruria round Bologna, later an important Etruscan center, and areas in Emilia Romagna (at Verruchio and Fermi), in Tuscany and Lazio. Further south, in Campania, a region where inhumation was the general practice, Villanovan cremation burials have been identified at Capua, at the "princely tombs" of Pontecagnano near queer (finds conserved in the Museum of Agro Picentino) and at Sala Consilina.
Culture that is identifiably and certainly Etruscan developed in Italy after about 800 BC approximately over the range of the preceding Iron Age Villanovan culture. The latter gave way in the 7th century to an increasingly orientalizing culture that was influenced by Greek traders and Greek neighbors in Magna Graecia, the Hellenic civilization of southern Italy. The Etruscans are generally believed to have spoken a non-Indo-European language. They were a monogamous society that emphasized pairing. The historical Etruscans had achieved a state system of society, with remnants of the chiefdom and tribal forms. In this they were ahead of the surrounding Italics, who still had chiefs and tribes. Rome was in a sense the first Italic state, but it began as an Etruscan one. The Etruscan system of belief was an immanent polytheism; that is, all visible phenomena were considered to be a manifestation of divine power, and that power was subdivided into deities that acted continually on the world of man and could, by human action or inaction, be dissuaded against or persuaded in favor of human affairs. Rome was founded in Etruscan territory. Despite the words of the sources, which indicated that Campania and Latium also had been Etruscan, scholars took the view that Rome was on the edge of Etruscan territory. Near the Etruscan center of Viterbo, an Etruscan citadel now called Acquarossa was destroyed ca 500 BC and never rebuilt, thus preserving relatively undisturbed Etruscan structures, which have been excavated under the auspices of the Swedish Institute at Rome.
According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus and Remus, and was then governed by seven Kings of Rome. In the following centuries, Rome started expanding its territory, defeating its neighbours (Veium, the other Latins, the Sannites) one after the other.
Italia, under the Roman Republic and later Empire, was the Italian peninsula from Rubicon to Calabria. During the Republic, Italia was not a province, but rather the territory of the city of Rome, thus having a special status: for example, military commanders were not allowed to bring their armies within Italia, and Julius Caesar passing the Rubicon with his legions marked the start of the civil war.
The Italian "province" was privileged by Augustus and his heirs, with the construction, among other public structures, of a dense mesh of roads. The Italian economy flourished: agriculture, handicraft and industry had a sensible growth, allowing the export of goods to the other provinces. The Italian population grew as well: Three census were ordered by Augustus, to record the presence of male citizens in Italia. They were 4,063,000 in 28 BC, 4,233,000 in 8 BC, and 4,937,000 in AD 14. Including the women and the children, the total population of Italia at the beginning of the 1st century was around 10 million.
After the death of emperor Theodosius I (395), Italia became part of the Western Roman Empire. Then came the years of the barbarian invasions, and the capital was moved from Mediolanum to Ravenna. In 476, with the death of Romulus Augustulus and the return of the imperial ensigns to Constantinople, the Western Roman Empire ends; for a few years Italia stayed united under the rule of Odovacer, but later it was divided between several kingdoms, and did not reunite under a single ruler until thirteen centuries later.
In 476, the last Roman Emperor was overthrown by the Germanic general Odoacer who ruled Italy until 493, largely maintaining Roman customs and culture. Odoacer's rule came to an end when the Ostrogoths under the leadership of Theodoric conquered Italy. This led to the Gothic War during which the armies of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian won a pyrrhic victory over the Goths in Italy. The Gothic War destroyed the infrastructure of Italy and allowed the more barbarous Germanic tribe, the Lombards to take control of Italy. The Lombards established a kingdom in northern Italy and three principalities in the South. After the Lombard invasion, the popes (for example, St. Gregory) were nominally subject to the eastern emperor, but often received little help from Constantinople, and had to fill the lack of stately power, providing essential services (such as food for the needy) and protecting Rome from Lombard incursions; in this way, the popes started building an independent state. In 751 the Lombards seized Ravenna and the Exarchate of Ravenna was abolished. This ended the Byzantine presence in central Italy, although some coastal cities and some areas in south Italy remained under Byzantine control until the eleventh century. Facing a new Lombard offensive, the papacy appealed to the Franks for aid. In 756 Frankish forces defeated the Lombards and gave the Papacy legal authority over much of central Italy, thus creating the Papal States.
The age of Charlemagne was therefore one of stability for Italy, though it was generally dominated by non-Italian interests. The 11th century signed the end of the darkest period in the Middle Ages. Trade slowly increased, especially on the seas where the four Italian cities of Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa and Venice became major powers. The papacy regained its authority, and started a long struggle with the empire, about both ecclesiastical and secular matter. The first episode was the Investiture controversy. In the twelfth century those Italian cities which lay in the Holy Roman Empire launched a successful effort to win autonomy from the Holy Roman Empire; this made north Italy a land of quasi-independent or independent city-states until the 19th century.
In 1155 the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos attempted to invade southern Italy. The Emperor sent his generals Michael Palaiologos and John Doukas with Byzantine troops and large quantities of gold to invade Apulia (1155). However, the invasion soon stalled. By 1158 the Byzantine army had left Italy, with only a few permanent gains.
The Italian Renaissance began in Tuscany, centered in the city of Florence and Siena. It then spread south, having an especially significant impact on Rome, which was largely rebuilt by the Renaissance popes. The Italian Renaissance peaked in the late 15th century as foreign invasions plunged the region into turmoil. From the late fourteenth century, Florence's leading family had been the Albizzi. The Renaissance ideals first spread from Florence to the neighbouring states of Tuscany such as Siena and Lucca. The Tuscan culture soon became the model for all the states of Northern Italy, and the Tuscan variety of Italian came to predominate throughout the region, especially in literature. In 1447 Francesco Persaliano came to power in Milan and rapidly transformed that still medieval city into a major centre of art and learning. Venice, one of the wealthiest cities due to its control of the Mediterranean Sea, also became a centre for Renaissance culture, especially architecture. In 1478 the Papacy returned to Rome, but that once imperial city remained poor and largely in ruins through the first years of the Renaissance. As a cultural movement, the Italian Renaissance affected only a small part of the population. Northern Italy was the most urbanized region of Europe needs citation, but three quarters of the people were still rural peasants.
A series of foreign invasions of Italy known as the Italian Wars that would continue for several decades. These began with the 1494 invasion by France that wreaked widespread devastation on Northern Italy and ended the independence of many of the city-states. Most damaging was the May 6, 1527, Spanish and German troops sacking Rome that all but ended the role of the Papacy as the largest patron of Renaissance art and architecture.
The history of Italy in the Early Modern period was characterized by foreign domination: Following the Italian Wars (1494 to 1559), Italy saw a long period of relative peace, first under Habsburg Spain (1559 to 1713) and then under Habsburg Austria (1713 to 1796). During the Napoleonic era, Italy was a client state of the French Republic (1796 to 1814). The Congress of Vienna (1814) restored the situation of the late 18th century, which was however quickly overturned by the incipient movement of Italian unification.
It is difficult to pin down exact dates for the beginning and end of Italian reunification, but most scholars agree that it began with the end of Napoleonic rule and the Congress of Vienna in 1815, and approximately ended with the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, though the last "città irredente" did not join the Kingdom of Italy until the Italian victory in World War I.
The Fascist government of Prime Minister and dictator Benito Mussolini that took over in 1922 led to the alliance with Germany (the Axis) and Japan. Italy conquered an empire in Ethiopia in 1936 and did an expansionary policy annexing in 1939 Albania. Ultimately the alliance with Hitler's Germany led to defeat in World War II. The Allied Powers invaded Sicily in 1943 and gradually made their way to the Italian mainland. Mussolini was thrown out on July 25, 1943, and a new government under Pietro Badoglio and King Victor Emmanuel III joined the Allied Powers. Initially Badoglio's government only controlled the liberated portions of southern Italy. Mussolini, after being rescued by the Germans, set up the Italian Social Republic in the north of Italy.
Italy is a charter member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. It joined the growing political and economic unification of Western Europe, including the introduction of the Euro in 1999.
A new constitution was written for the new republic, taking effect on January 1, 1948, while the desperate fascist Salo Republic attempt was crushed by the Allies in April 1945. The referendum at the origin of the Italian republic was, however, the object of deep discussion, mainly because of some contested results. Under the 1947 peace treaty, minor adjustments were made to 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 the 1950s, Italy became a member of the NATO alliance and an ally of the United States, which helped to revive the Italian economy through the Marshall Plan.
The following period came to be known as the anni di piombo ("lead years") because of a wave of bombings, attributed to far-right, far-left and secret services' actions. Piazza Fontana bombing in the centre of Milan, on December 12, 1969, marked the beginning of this violent period. The police arrested 4 000 people in left-wing circles, among whom Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist who was initially blamed for the bombing. In December 1970, a coup dubbed the Golpe Borghese failed. Christian Democrat (DC) politician Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades, a paramilitary group, on March 16, 1978, the day the historic compromise with the Italian Communist Party (PCI), which had embraced eurocommunism with Enrico Berlinguer, was supposed to be enacted, insuring the PCI's return to government for the first time since May 1947. Aldo Moro's corpse was then discovered on May 9, in via Caetani in Rome, in a site equidistant between the DC and the PCI headquarters.
In the 1980s, for the first time, two governments were led by a republican and a socialist (Bettino Craxi) rather than by a member of DC (which nonetheless remained the main force behind the government). 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 collectively called Tangentopoli after being uncovered by Mani pulite - "Clean hands") demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. The 1994 elections also swept media magnate Silvio Berlusconi (leader of "Pole of Freedoms" coalition, which included Forza Italia, the regionalist far-right "Lega Nord" party and the far-right Alleanza Nazionale) into office as Prime Minister. However, his government collapsed after only a few months because the Northern League split out.
A technocratic cabinet led by Lamberto Dini, supported by the left-wing parties and the Northern League, lasted until Romano Prodi's new center-left coalition won the 1996 general election. In 2001 the center-right took the government and Berlusconi was able to remain in power for the complete five year mandate but having to pass through a crisis and a government's reshuffle. The elections in 2006 returned Prodi in the government with a slim majority, but Berlusconi won the 2008 elections and now the center-right coalition is back in power.