Following Italy's unification in 1861, the nation suffered from a lack of raw materials, economic imbalance between the North and South, the absence of educational systems and the great cost of unification itself. Italy faced these challenges and made great advances over the fifty years that followed.
Specifically, political resolutions and the Industrial Revolution helped to restore some balance, both to government and the economy.
Some important problems remained unresolved, however, including illiteracy and poverty, with the latter being a major contributor to Italian emigration to the United States.
Prior to its unification, following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Italy had long been a conglomeration of independent city-states and territories. Occasionally these were subject to foreign rule, especially by Spain, France and the Holy Roman Empire.
Following the defeat of Napoleon I, many of these independent territories were consolidated by the Congress of Vienna. The resulting sovereign territories were:
- The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies — Naples and the southern part of the Italian peninsula — ruled by Spanish Bourbons
- The Kingdom of Sardinia, or Piedmont (Savoy, Sardinia, Genoa), ruled by the House of Savoy, an Italian dynasty
- The Papal States, consisting of Papal possessions in central Italy, ruled by the Pope
- The Kingdom of Lombardy — Northern Italy excluding Piedmont, Tuscany, some central Italian states, Venetia — ruled by the Habsburg Empire