In response to threats from the landward side, from the early 15th century Venice developed an increased interest in controlling the terrafirma as the Venetian Renaissance opened. On land, decades of fighting saw Florence, Milan and Venice emerge as the dominant players, and these three powers finally set aside their differences and agreed to the Peace of Lodi in , which saw relative calm brought to the region for the first time in centuries. This peace would hold for the next forty years, and Venice's unquestioned hegemony over the sea also led to unprecedented peace for much of the rest of the 15th century.
The foreign invasions of Italy known as the Italian Wars began with the invasion by France that wreaked widespread devastation on Northern Italy and ended the independence of many of the city-states. Originally arising from dynastic disputes over the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples, the wars rapidly became a general struggle for power and territory among their various participants, marked with an increasing number of alliances, counter-alliances, and betrayals.
Much of Venice's hinterland but not the city itself was devastated by the Turks in and again invaded and plundered by the League of Cambrai in In most of the towns of Apulia and Abbruzzi had been sacked. Worst of all was the 6 May Sack of Rome by Spanish and German troops that all but ended the role of the Papacy as the largest patron of Renaissance art and architecture. The long Siege of Florence — brought the destruction of its suburbs, the ruin of its export business and the confiscation of its citizens' wealth.
Italy's urban population fell in half, ransoms paid to the invaders and emergency taxes drained the finances. The wool and silk industries of Lombardy collapsed when their looms were wrecked by invaders. The defensive tactic of scorched earth only slightly delayed the invaders, and made the recovery much longer and more painful.
The history of Italy in the Early Modern period was characterized by foreign domination and economic decline. Nonetheless, following the Italian Wars to , Italy saw a long period of relative peace, first under Habsburg Spain to and then under Habsburg Austria to in which some important cultural and scientific achievements were made. During the Napoleonic era , Italy was invaded by the French Empire and divided into a number of client states.
The Congress of Vienna restored the situation of the late 18th century, which was however quickly overturned by the incipient movement of Italian unification. The 17th century was a tumultuous period in Italian history, marked by deep political and social changes. These included the increase of Spanish influence over the Peninsula, as well as of the power of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church at the peak of the Counter Reformation , the Catholic reaction against the Protestant Reformation. Despite important artistic and scientific achievements, such as the discoveries of Galileo in the field of astronomy and physics and the flourishing of the Baroque style in architecture and painting, Italy experienced overall economic decline.
Effectively, in spite of Italy having given birth to some great explorers such as Cristopher Columbus , Amerigo Vespucci and Giovanni da Verrazzano , the discovery of the New World undermined the importance of Venice and other Italian ports as commercial hubs by shfting Europe's center of gravity westward towards the Atlantic. The Black Death returned to haunt Italy throughout the century. However, Spain tried again to retake territories in Italy and to claim the French throne in the War of the Quadruple Alliance , but was again defeated.
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At the end of the 18th century, Italy was almost in the same political conditions as in the 16th century; the main differences were that Austria had replaced Spain as the dominant foreign power after the War of Spanish Succession and that too was not true with regards to Naples and Sicily , and that the dukes of Savoy a mountainous region between Italy and France had become kings of Sardinia by increasing their Italian possessions, which now included Sardinia and the north-western region of Piedmont.
This situation was shaken in , when the French Army of Italy under Napoleon invaded Italy, with the aims of forcing the First Coalition to abandon Sardinia where they had created an anti-revolutionary puppet-ruler and forcing Austria to withdraw from Italy. On 15 May the French general then entered Milan, where he was welcomed as a liberator. Subsequently, beating off Austrian counterattacks and continuing to advance, he arrived in the Veneto in Here occurred the Veronese Easters , an act of rebellion against French oppression, that tied down Napoleon for about a week.
Napoleon conquered most of Italy in the name of the French Revolution in He consolidated old units and split up Austria's holdings. He set up a series of new republics, complete with new codes of law and abolition of old feudal privileges. Napoleon's Cisalpine Republic was centered on Milan. Genoa the city became a republic while its hinterland became the Ligurian Republic. The Roman Republic was formed out of the papal holdings while the pope himself was sent to France.
The Neapolitan Republic was formed around Naples, but it lasted only five months before the enemy forces of the Coalition recaptured it. In he formed the Kingdom of Italy , with himself as king and his stepson as viceroy. All these new countries were satellites of France, and had to pay large subsidies to Paris, as well as provide military support for Napoleon's wars.
Their political and administrative systems were modernized, the metric system introduced, and trade barriers reduced. Jewish ghettos were abolished. Belgium and Piedmont became integral parts of France. Also that year a second satellite state, the Ligurian Republic successor to the old Republic of Genoa , was pressured into merging with France.
In , he conquered the Kingdom of Naples and granted it to his brother and then from to Joachim Murat , along with marrying his sisters Elisa and Paolina off to the princes of Massa-Carrara and Guastalla. In , he also annexed Marche and Tuscany to the Kingdom of Italy.
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In , Bonaparte occupied Rome, for contrasts with the pope, who had excommunicated him, and to maintain his own state efficiently,  exiling the Pope first to Savona and then to France. After Russia, the other states of Europe re-allied themselves and defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig , after which his Italian allied states, with Murat first among them, abandoned him to ally with Austria. The resulting Congress of Vienna restored a situation close to that of , dividing Italy between Austria in the north-east and Lombardy , the Kingdom of Sardinia , the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the south and in Sicily , and Tuscany , the Papal States and other minor states in the centre.
On Napoleon's escape and return to France the Hundred Days , he regained Murat's support, but Murat proved unable to convince the Italians to fight for Napoleon with his Proclamation of Rimini and was beaten and killed. The Italian kingdoms thus fell, and Italy's Restoration period began, with many pre-Napoleonic sovereigns returned to their thrones. The political and social events in the restoration period of Italy — led to popular uprisings throughout the peninsula and greatly shaped what would become the Italian Wars of Independence.
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All this led to a new Kingdom of Italy and Italian unification. The Risorgimento was the political and social process that unified different states of the Italian peninsula into the single nation of Italy. As Napoleon's reign began to fail, other national monarchs he had installed tried to keep their thrones by feeding those nationalistic sentiments, setting the stage for the revolutions to come.
In Italy, the Congress restored the pre-Napoleonic patchwork of independent governments, either directly ruled or strongly influenced by the prevailing European powers, particularly Austria. At the time, the struggle for Italian unification was perceived to be waged primarily against the Austrian Empire and the Habsburgs , since they directly controlled the predominantly Italian-speaking northeastern part of present-day Italy and were the single most powerful force against unification.
The Austrian Empire vigorously repressed nationalist sentiment growing on the Italian peninsula, as well as in the other parts of Habsburg domains. Austrian Chancellor Franz Metternich, an influential diplomat at the Congress of Vienna, stated that the word Italy was nothing more than "a geographic expression. Artistic and literary sentiment also turned towards nationalism; and perhaps the most famous of proto-nationalist works was Alessandro Manzoni 's I Promessi Sposi The Betrothed.
Some read this novel as a thinly veiled allegorical critique of Austrian rule. The novel was published in and extensively revised in the following years.
The version of I Promessi Sposi used a standardized version of the Tuscan dialect , a conscious effort by the author to provide a language and force people to learn it. Those in favour of unification also faced opposition from the Holy See , particularly after failed attempts to broker a confederation with the Papal States , which would have left the Papacy with some measure of autonomy over the region.
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The pope at the time, Pius IX , feared that giving up power in the region could mean the persecution of Italian Catholics. Even among those who wanted to see the peninsula unified into one country, different groups could not agree on what form a unified state would take. Vincenzo Gioberti , a Piedmontese priest, had suggested a confederation of Italian states under rulership of the Pope. His book, Of the Moral and Civil Primacy of the Italians , was published in and created a link between the Papacy and the Risorgimento.
Many leading revolutionaries wanted a republic, but eventually it was a king and his chief minister who had the power to unite the Italian states as a monarchy. One of the most influential revolutionary groups was the Carbonari charcoal-burners , a secret organization formed in southern Italy early in the 19th century.
Inspired by the principles of the French Revolution , its members were mainly drawn from the middle class and intellectuals. The revolutionaries were so feared that the reigning authorities passed an ordinance condemning to death anyone who attended a Carbonari meeting. The society, however, continued to exist and was at the root of many of the political disturbances in Italy from until after unification. The Carbonari condemned Napoleon III to death for failing to unite Italy, and the group almost succeeded in assassinating him in Many leaders of the unification movement were at one time members of this organization.
Two prominent radical figures in the unification movement were Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi. The more conservative constitutional monarchic figures included the Count of Cavour and Victor Emmanuel II , who would later become the first king of a united Italy. Mazzini's activity in revolutionary movements caused him to be imprisoned soon after he joined. While in prison, he concluded that Italy could — and therefore should — be unified and formulated his program for establishing a free, independent, and republican nation with Rome as its capital.
After Mazzini's release in , he went to Marseille , where he organized a new political society called La Giovine Italia Young Italy. The new society, whose motto was "God and the People," sought the unification of Italy.