Italy consists of three parts–its boot-shaped mainland which includes the regions of Tuscany in the north to Calabria in the south, the island of Sicily which lies west of the mainland’s toe, and the island of Sardinia, which lies off the mainland’s western coast, south of Corsica.
Italy’s history is far more than the story of ancient Rome, or the Renaissance art of da Vinci and Michelangelo, or the political tension of the Medicis. Before Rome was founded, traditionally in 753 BC, Greeks, Etruscans, Oscan-speaking Latins, all established colonies and cities in the Italian mainland. Greeks, Phoenicians and Carthaginians battled constantly over who controlled Sicily. Phoenicians and Carthaginians settled much of western coastal Sardinia, while Sardinia already had an indigenous population. Sardinia took part in the so-called Truceless War which occurred between the First and Second Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage and she played a role in the growth of Pisa and Genoa in the late medieval period.
One must, of course, begin the story of Italy with the story of Rome. As an ancient civilization Rome’s history is filled with rich personalities, exciting battles, bloodshed, corruption, tense political maneuverings, deeds of honor and courage–much like a modern 21st-century political-social drama. From her first seven kings, through her Republican consuls and temporary dictators, until the more than 80 emperors until the end of the western Roman empire, Rome existed as a political, economic and social entity for more than 730 years.
Gothic kings began to rule Rome, formally as agents of the Eastern emperors. Even there, the political wrangling did not stop, as the Eastern Emperor first urged the Ostrogoths to expel Odoacer, then invited the Lombards to oust the Ostrogoths, then encouraged the Franks to expel the Lombards. With Rome becoming little more than a seat of religious authority, rather than of royal political ruling power, the story of Italy’s various dukedoms and principalities now arises. Lombard duchies in the south confront the Carolingian emperors in northern Italy, the Byzantine empire in the East, and Arab invaders into Sicily and part of the Italian mainland.
Eventually, northern Italian cities such as Pisa, Genoa and Venice become mercantile powers, who have to deal with the Byzantine empire and the southern Italian cities.
In these posts, I hope to share my fascination in the story of Italy’s history from the early days of Rome’s founding, through to the Italian Renaissance.