Many Italians are afraid of being appreciated
only for their past; yet, for a proper understanding of present-day Italy,
it is necessary to go back to pre-Roman times, at least seven or eight
centuries before the present era. The Etruscans, who occupied the region
between the Arno and the Tiber rivers, and the Greek colonists of Sicily
and the lower peninsula established societies in which the city was the
basis of the whole political and social system. To this day even the peasant
generally identifies himself with his neighboring city, the municipio,
that ancient bond among generations of Italians. And indeed, in a convulsive
and tumultuous history, in which gloriously creative and original periods
have alternated with periods of corruption, devastation, and despair, the
dimensions of Italian history have been universal or municipal, but never,
until the 19th century, were they national.
Even with the rise of the Romans the cities
retained many of their local differences and powers, and under republican
Rome Italy was essentially a federation of self-governing cities. The decline
of the glories and powers of the cities began with the reign of the emperor
Hadrian, who ruled from a.d. 117 to 138. Imperial rule and administration
gradually replaced local autonomy, and the decline of the cities set in.
At the end of the third century the empire was in danger of disintegration from the attacks of the barbarians, and under Diocletian (reigned 284-305) and Constantine the Great (reigned 306-337) it was finally transformed into a bureaucratic monarchy, at least on paper. Italy no longer had any special and individual place in the empire, and the establishment of the new seat of empire at Constantinople in 330 was symptomatic of the decline of Italy and symbolic of the increased importance of the East, even though the new imperial capital was closely modeled after Rome.
During the imperial years the Catholic Church
was growing in both membership and importance, and during the fourth century
it became the state church. Subsequently, from the time of Theodosius (reigned
378-395), paganism and heresy became crimes against the state. The death
of Theodosius was followed by an administrative division of the empire
into the Eastern empire, with its seat at Constantinople, and the Western
empire. It had been customary to divide it in this fashion since the days
of Diocletian, but now the division became permanent, although the political
unity of the empire was maintained in theory. The empire of the West had
largely been occupied by barbarian tribesmen. Italy had been invaded, but
not until Odoacer was there a permanent occupation. In 476 Odoacer was
proclaimed king by his Herulian soldiers, and although he in theory accepted
the rule of the emperor at Constantinople, the year 476 is the date generally
designated as the end of the Roman empire in the West.
In 493, Theodoric, leader of the Ostrogoths (East Goths), under commission from the Byzantine emperor, killed Odoacer and was in turn proclaimed king by the Ostrogoths. Later, Emperor Justinian (reigned 527-565) undertook the reconquest of Italy, and by 553 the Italian lands were ruled in the name of the emperor. But Italy was still to be invaded, this time by the Lombards, or Longobardi, whose influence was both long and widespread. They were a Germanic people who first made their home on the banks of the Elbe River in northern Germany and then migrated to the middle Danube in the latter half of the second century and gradually came down toward Italy. In 568, three years after the death of Justinian, the Lombards swept down into Italy, following the track of earlier Germanic invaders from the Balkans into northern Italy, and soon occupied the great plain between the Alps and the Apennines, ever since called Lombardy. They made no alliance with the empire, as had the Ostrogoths, and they confiscated the estates of the Italians. Roman civilization, though tempered by the previous numerous invasions, had survived them all. Now, however, the continuity of Roman civilization was at last broken, or at least severely strained. By the beginning of the seventh century the Lombards had conquered all of Italy except the territories around Ravenna, Rome, Naples, and the extreme south, which were still ruled by representatives of the emperor. The Lombard kingdom itself was very loosely united, and there was no longer even a pretense of the unity of Italy. The national consciousness was not to be recovered for many centuries.
As the emperor lost power and prestige, the papacy gained both. Under Gregory the Great, who ruled as pope from 590 to 604, the Catholic Church increased in spiritual and temporal power. Forced to negotiate with the Lombards, Gregory made himself the actual ruler of Rome and the land around it, and, at the same time, pressed his claims to universal authority over the Catholic Church in the rest of Europe. His success over the Frankish bishops was not marked, but a precedent was set, at least by claim.
In 725 a serious quarrel arose between state and church when Emperor Leo the Isaurian (reigned 717-741) attempted to increase taxation and forbade the presence of pictures or images (icons) of the saints in the churches. In the resulting "iconoclastic controversy," the pope was the champion of both Catholic orthodoxy and Italian independence. The Lombards, not immediately involved in the quarrel, took advantage of the situation to increase their power at the expense of the emperor. Rome itself was saved, in part because the Lombards had gradually been converted to Catholicism. By 751 Rome was all that remained of imperial Italy, save for the Greek province at the southern tip. The pope still recognized the overlordship of the emperor, but he refused to bow on the matter of icons.
The popes had appealed to the Franks for support, and finally Pepin, king of the Franks, made two successful expeditions against the Lombards in 754 and 756. On the latter date Pepin forced the Lombards to give the pope the territory extending from Rome to Ravenna, clear across central Italy. Called the Donation of Pepin, this land was to become the nucleus of an independent principality under the rule of the papacy, known as the Papal States.
The Lombards soon succeeded in regaining most of this territory, and in 773 Pope Adrian I called upon Pepin's son and successor, Charles, for help. Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, marched into Italy, defeated the Lombards, in 774 declared himself king of the Lombards, and renewed the Donation of Pepin. In 800 Charlemagne was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III. Though the immediate practical effect was negligible, an empire had been proclaimed, an empire that was linked to the Roman Catholic Church. Within three generations, however, the Carolingian empire had disappeared, broken up into separate kingdoms. Although in Italy the imperial title lingered for a while, during the next century there came about the breakup of political authority and the destruction of almost all economic ties that involved any considerable distance. Society was now in its feudal and manorial age.
Italy, for half a century, was in a state
of chaos. Powerful nobles prevented unity under either the Lombards or
the pope, and the Saracens had conquered Sicily and were ravaging southern
Italy. In 951, Otto the Great invaded Italy and, in 962, had himself crowned
Holy Roman emperor. The Holy Roman Empire of Otto was considered a revival
of the Carolingian empire, just as the latter had been regarded as a continuation
of the ancient Roman empire.
The people of medieval Europe had inherited two great traditions from Roman antiquity: that of a universal church and a universal state. The pope ruled the former, and Charlemagne, and now Otto, governed the latter. But the attempt to rule both in Germany and in Italy was ruinous for the kings who attempted it. Although there were other reasons as well, an important cause of the disunity of both Germany and Italy, which lasted till the second half of the 19th century, was that the German rulers would not relinquish their desire to control Italy. They were unable to achieve this, and their efforts to do so prevented them from gaining control of Germany. For nearly a century, from the coronation of Otto the Great to the death of Henry III in 1056, the emperors were the dominant members of the papal-imperial partnership, which claimed the right of uni versal rule over all Christendom. The struggle between the popes and the emperors continued for more than two centuries and ended with the destruction of imperial authority.
The situation in Italy was further complicated by the invasions of the Normans in southern Italy, beginning with the landing at Salerno of a band of Norman knights on their way home from a pilgrimage. And in 1059 Pope Nicholas II, hard pressed in Rome by a revolt, gave Robert Guiscard title to the lands in the south that he had conquered.
The conflict between church and state was a struggle over spiritual values as well as temporal property. Many churchmen were also wealthy landowners who owed allegiance to the emperor; and it was true, also, that the emperor had in the past deposed popes and chosen their successors. At the same time the papacy asserted the supremacy of spiritual over temporal power. By the Concordat of Worms (1122) a division of the ceremony was agreed upon. The emperor was to invest bishops and abbots with the insignia of their secular office (that is, their fief), and the pope was to invest them with the ring and staff that symbolized their spiritual authority. In Italy, where the emperor had lost real authority, imperial investiture was to follow consecration.
In their contest with the imperial power, the popes found allies in the Lombard cities. Since the middle of the 11th century, the Italian towns had been growing rapidly as the result of a great revival of international trade, and by the middle of the 12th century, the cities of the Lombard Plain were centers of commerce and industry. With the increase in their economic strength, there also grew the demand for political power, and after a bitter struggle the Lombard cities, organized as the Lombard League, won almost complete self-government, expressed in the Peace of Constance (1183). Although the pope did not acquire any extra power, the weakening of the emperor served to enhance the pope's power. The popes, however, soon suffered a severe loss when Emperor Henry VI (reigned 1190-1197) won a victory over the Sicilian nobles who had been supported by the pope, who then lost his temporal power over the Papal States, except for the duchy of Rome.
Just as the fortunes of the papacy seemed at their lowest ebb, Innocent III became pope, and his pontificate (1198-1216) marked the highest point of papal power. His temporal power was great, and his assertions of the sovereignty of the papacy over the church and secular government were greater still. He fought with the emperors, twice excommunicated Otto IV (reigned 1198-1215) and made an alliance with Frederick II (reigned 1211-1250) who, after Innocent's death, fought with both the papacy and the Lombard cities. From 1254 to 1273 there was no generally recognized emperor, and the papacy had at last triumphed, at least to the extent of temporarily destroying the empire and of leaving it permanently weakened. The papacy's power over French and English rulers had now almost completely disappeared, but the popes had helped to prevent Italy from being united under the emperor. Italy was to remain disunited for five centuries longer.
At this time, however, the power of the papacy began to wane, especially during the 67 years (1309-1376) that the popes were at Avignon, where they were under the influence of the French government. Finally, in 1377, the popes returned to Italy. There the pope was an Italian prince; there, because the land was not united, political force could not so effectively be brought to bear against him; and there the pope could be the independent head of the Church, though with severely restricted powers.
Though not politically unified, Italy underwent
in the 14th and 15th centuries a profound, if gradual, transformation.
The character of European civilization was changed in many respects during
this period, but in very few places did the changes equal those in Italy.
Italy was the land of opportunity. Political unrest, the riches in this
hub of world trade, and its history finally gave rise to a ferment out
of which rose the Renaissance, the rebirth of the civilization of Greece
Growing wealth had created in Italy a society that was urban, worldly in its interests, and highly individualistic. Cities dating from a Roman past, which had never completely died out, were revived as a result of the great rise in trade and industry. Furthermore, the quarrels between the emperors and popes had enabled the cities, by playing off one side against the other, to win freedom from outside control. Except for the south, the cities began to dominate the countryside. The feudal lords had to renounce, in effect, their own way of life, if they were to participate in the intellectual and economic advantages offered by the cities.
Politically, however, feudal anarchy was replaced by chaos. Except for the southern kingdom of Naples, the Italian Peninsula was divided into a host of petty city-states that were almost completely independent of emperor or pope. Conquest and amalgamation took place, but many of the Italian cities were too evenly matched, and neither agreements nor force succeeded in unifying them. However, the sharp internal divisions within the cities and the need for presenting a unified front against outside enemies served to help bring on the end of many republican governments and to make easy the despots' rise to power. Men weary of instability sought or accepted the rise of these tyrants, who, though they ruled with the help of hired mercenaries (condottieri), nevertheless sought to win the respect and admiration of their people.
A marked expansion of the greater states at the expense of the lesser ones took place in this period, so that by 1494 only five great states and a few lesser ones remained of the scores of city-states that had dotted the map of Italy at the beginning of the Renaissance.
The duchy of Milan, the republics of Florence and Venice, the Papal States, and the kingdom of Naples were the most important entities in the Italian Peninsula. Under the leadership of the House of Sforza, Milan became one of the richest states in Italy, and a center of art and learning.
Just as Milan dominated the Lombard Plain and the Alpine passes to northern Europe, so did Venice, built on lagoons, command the Adriatic Sea. Cut off from the mainland and the tangled feuds of Italian politics, Venice, through its geographical position, was the natural middleman in the trade between the East and Western Europe. Venice was ruled by an oligarchy of wealthy families who elected a doge, or president for life, who in turn ruled with the aid of a senate and a council of ten. By the treaty of 1454, signed with Milan, Venice's claim to a mainland state (Venetia) in eastern Lombardy and around the head of the Adriatic was recognized.
The city of Florence retained the appearances of a republican form of government, but frequent revolutions, party feuds, and control by an oligarchy consisting of a small group of wealthy families conditioned its inhabitants to accept, beginning in 1434, the rule of the Medici. The republican form of government was retained, but in reality Cosimo de' Medici and his successors ruled as despots. The high point was reached under Lorenzo the Magnificent (r. 1469-1492). Poet, patron of art and learning, statesman, and diplomat, Lorenzo raised the Medici prestige to its zenith.
The Papal States, stretching across central Italy and including Romagna, which extended up the eastern coast almost to the borders of Venetia, was nominally ruled by the pope. Actually, the territory was not centralized, and numerous petty despots set up governments that were virtually independent. Many of the Renaissance popes were as worldly as the Italian princes and maintained luxurious courts. Nicholas V (r. 1447-1455), who started the Vatican library, and Pius II (r. 1458-1464) did much to help revive Classical learning. The high point of the Renaissance was reached under Julius II (r. 1503-1513) and Leo X (r. 1513-1521).
The kingdom of Naples included all of Italy south of the Papal States, although Sicily formed a separate kingdom. Naples was ruled by the French Angevin dynasty until the succession passed to Alfonso the Magnanimous of Aragon in 1435. Under Alfonso's rule Naples experienced a period of prosperity and artistic brilliance, even though the political order remained different from the city-states of the North. In 1504 Naples was conquered by Spain and ceased to be an independent state for more than two centuries.
Renaissance Italy was sustained by and thrived upon a delicate balance of political and cultural forces successfully operating within a special context of European and global conditions. In the course of the 14th century and through the first half of the 15th century, Italy was divided into a number of independent states (stati) whose diversified geographic status and historical development led to the crystallization of a political order that, in miniature, resembled the larger condition of Europe itself. Both economic and cultural elements tended to cut across the frontiers of the Italian stati and thus made for a unique community of material interests and spiritual values among Italians. Dynastic, institutional, and social factors, however, stood tenaciously in the way of converting that Italian community of culture into any kind of real political unity. As Machiavelli and a few other great minds of a later era of crisis were to point out, in that historical paradox lay both the splendor and the tragedy of Renaissance Italy. The downfall of the two great universal powers of the High Middle Ages, empire and papacy, created an opportunity for a succession of attempts from a variety of Italian quarters to impose sovereignty upon the rest of Italy.
For over a century (1305-1414) strenuous efforts were made from north, center, and south to realize some kind of Italian "unity" or at least to reduce the multiplicity of stati under a common political sovereignty. The most significant of these efforts were sponsored successively by Robert of Naples (1308-1343), Cola di Rienzo in Rome (1347-1354), Archbishop Giovanni Visconti from Milan (1349-1359), and Cardinal Egidio Albornoz from Rome (1352-1367). The last two great attempts from north and south respectively were led by Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan (1385-1402) and King Ladislas of Naples (1402-1414). In each case coalitions of other Italian forces banded under the banner of "the liberty of Italy" (la libertà d'Italia) successfully resisted the imposition of a single rule. For a generation after the fall of Gian Galeazzo and Ladislas a series of wars among the five greater Italian stati succeeded only in revealing the impossibility of establishing a single indigenous mastery over Italy and the grave dangers from without to which all the Italian states were being equally exposed.
In the middle of the 15th century, Italy faced two new overriding facts of international life. In the west, across the Alps, the long, dreary feudal-dynastic European struggles, particularly the Anglo-French conflict, were coming to an end. A consequent reorganization of the monarchies into national and imperial states was foreseen. From the point of view of Italy, renewed intervention in Italian politics by the greater continental states of France, Spain, and Austria had to be expected. More immediately ominous was the rise on Italy's eastern Mediterranean and Adriatic flanks of the Ottoman Turkish power. The almost simultaneous fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the close of the Hundred Years' War spelled also the end of an Italian era.
Farsighted statesmen in each of the five great Italian stati soon clearly understood that the long Italian "civil war" that had dragged on among themselves for over a generation had become a dangerous luxury they could no longer afford. Negotiations for peace were undertaken. Through the intervention of Cosimo de' Medici of Florence and Pope Nicholas V, the Doge of Venice (Francesco Foscari) and the new Duke of Milan (Francesco Sforza) sealed the peace among themselves at Lodi in April 1454. The great Peace of Lodi was soon converted into a general Italian pacification, indeed an embryonic federation, through the adherence of the king of Naples, Alfonso of Aragon, and eventually through the admission of the lesser Italian stati. Under the presidency of the pope a "Holy League" (Santissima Lega ) of Italian states arrested the conflicts within the Italian Peninsula and brought about a new, if very delicate, structure of peaceful coexistence. From a mere battle cry la libertà d'Italia had become an empirical political reality.
For some 40 years (1454-1494) Renaissance Italy enjoyed a general peace only occasionally broken by local disturbances. A flowering of the culture of the Renaissance as expressed in the arts and sciences, in humanism, and in philosophy coincided with this era of Italian peace. Until 1492 Lorenzo de' Medici acted as a sort of arbiter of Italian politics and steered Italy clear of entangling alliances with foreign European powers, which, he insisted, were now more than ever disposed toward asserting their "right" to intervene in its affairs. Within only two years of the death of Lorenzo, fear, ambition, and egoism combined again to create a state of mutual suspicion in Italy among the rulers of the states and, worse still, revived the tendency toward invoking foreign "redeemers."
In 1494 Charles VIII of France assumed the mission of delivering Italy from its part-real, part-mythical troubles created by selfish princes and decried by the apocalyptic voice of Savonarola. Charles of France invaded Italy in 1494; this was followed by other invasions and a series of Italian disasters that lasted through two generations to 1559. In 1527 Rome was sacked, and by the Treaty of Barcelona in 1529 the pope and Emperor Charles V came to terms; in the same year, by the Treaty of Cambrai, France relinquished its claims in Italy to Spain.
Spain's victory over the French on the peninsula
ended the political independence of the Italian states, many of which remained
under foreign control for nearly two centuries. The commercial prosperity
that underpinned the cultural achievements of the Renaissance in Italy
ebbed away in the 16th century with the rise of the Atlantic trade following
the discovery of the Americas. Genoa and Venice survived as independent
republics, but their economies were in decline. The most powerful of the
Italian rulers was now the pope, not only as temporal head of the Papal
States but also as leader of the Counter-Reformation. The reform of Catholic
doctrine at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) affected political and cultural
as much as religious life in Italy, and under Pope Paul IV (r. 1555-1559)
the Catholic Church became committed to stamping out heresy. The activities
of the Inquisition increased and among its victims were the freethinking
Dominican priest Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), who was burned at the stake
as a heretic, and Galileo Galilei, who was forced to recant his innovative
Despite a major revolt led by Masaniello in Naples in 1647, Spanish rule continued in the 17th century, although it was repeatedly challenged by the French, especially during the reign of Louis XIV. But when France was defeated in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) left the Austrian Hapsburgs as the main power in Italy. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 that ended the War of the Austrian Succession finally brought peace to the Italian Peninsula and reorganized the Italian states on terms that would survive -- except for the Napoleonic interlude and some modifications in the early 19th century -- down to the time of unification more than 100 years later. Most important, Piedmont, under the House of Savoy, and Naples, under new Spanish Bourbon rulers, regained real autonomy. The mid-18th century throughout Italy was a period of economic and cultural revival, in which Milan, Florence, and Naples became important centers of the European Enlightenment. Cesare Beccaria's (1738-1794) essay on Crimes and Punishments marks the beginning of modern criminology and criminal jurisprudence and was quickly translated into many European languages. Beccaria helped draft the new legal code introduced by Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany, one of the most progressive rulers in 18th-century Italy. In the South, where the Bourbons were also strongly committed to reform, Antonio Genovesi (1712-1769) was appointed to the first chair in political economy in Europe.
The participation of so many Italians in the debates of the Enlightenment period brought Italy back into the mainstream of European history and also strengthened the demand for reform and progress. But while important changes were introduced by the Austrian government in Lombardy, in the kingdom of Sardinia (which included Piedmont), in the grand duchy of Tuscany (whose rulers were a branch of the Austrian imperial family), and in the South, these met strong resistance. In other parts of the peninsula (notably the Papal States and the old republics of Venice and Genoa), reform made little headway.
The French Revolution of 1789 had a decisive impact on the Italian states and their future. The revolution gave new confidence to radical reformers and when the first French armies led by the young Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) invaded northern Italy in 1796, supporters of the revolution had their opportunity to set up republican governments under the tutelage of the French armies: Genoa became the Ligurian Republic (June 1797), Milan was the center of the Cisalpine Republic (July 1797), while the French advance south brought into being the Roman Republic (February 1798) and finally in Naples the Parthenopean Republic (January 1799).
The republican experiment proved short-lived. In April 1799 the French armies in northern Italy were defeated by a joint Austrian-Russian army led by General Aleksandr Suvórov. The French withdrew and the Italian republics collapsed, leading to bitter reprisals against those who had sided with the French. But Napoleon's coup d'état of 1799 in France and his spectacular victory over the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo (1800) paved the way for a more permanent French occupation and resettlement of the Italian Peninsula. Piedmont was annexed to France, and a new satellite state based on the earlier Cisalpine Republic was created. It took the name of the Italian Republic, but in 1804 this was changed to the kingdom of Italy when Napoleon declared himself emperor and crowned himself king of Italy in the cathedral of Milan. The kingdom of Italy included Lombardy, Venetia (where Napoleon abolished the centuries-old republic), and much of Emilia and was governed by Eugène de Beauharnais (son of the Empress Josephine). In 1806 Napoleon invaded Naples, whose king and court fled to Sicily, where they remained under the protection of the British navy until 1814. Napoleon made his brother Joseph king of Naples, but in 1808 he moved Joseph to Madrid, making him king of Spain, and gave the throne of Naples to his brother-in-law Joachim Murat. The Papal States retained their independence until Napoleon quarreled with Pius VII (r. 1800-1823) and annexed Rome to France in 1809.
Down to 1814 the Italian states were an integral part of Napoleon's imperial system. French rule helped modernize Italy. Feudalism, where it still survived, was abolished, public finances and administration were reorganized on centralized and bureaucratic lines, and legal codes were reformed on the basis of the French civil code. But French rule was in many ways oppressive, and Italians made heavy sacrifices, not least in Napoleon's unrelenting military campaigns. As the empire began to crumble after Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Leipzig (1813), opposition in Italy grew and found expression in the demand for constitutional government. Joachim Murat defected from the French cause in the closing days of the empire and, from Rimini in 1814, called on Italians to rally to him to create an independent state. Poets such as Ugo Foscolo (1778-1827) stressed the need for Italians to think of themselves as a single nation.
The Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), which redrew the map of Europe after the collapse of the Napoleonic empire, took little notice of such aspirations and was concerned to restore the legitimate rulers of the Italian states. That meant returning to the political geography prior to the French Revolution, although with some changes. The Venetian Republic was not reinstated, and the lands once ruled by Venice now formed part of the kingdom of Lombardy and Venetia that was administered from Vienna through an Austrian viceroy in Milan. Although Austrian rule and the interventionist policies of Prince von Metternich would become the main target of Italian nationalists, Lombardy and Venetia were among the best-governed provinces in the whole of Italy in the early 19th century.
Elsewhere the legitimate rulers returned to their thrones, but almost everywhere Austria remained the power behind the throne. Members of the Hapsburg family ruled in Tuscany and in the smaller duchies of Parma and Modena. The pope was restored to the former possessions of the Holy See, with papal legates governing the cities of Bologna and Ferrara. In the South, Naples and Sicily were unified under the restored Bourbons into a single monarchy, the kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Apart from Naples, only Piedmont (the kingdom of Sardinia) enjoyed any real dynastic autonomy and the possessions of the house of Savoy were increased by incorporating the former republic of Genoa. But the Piedmontese rulers were fearful of revolution and looked on Austria as their principal ally. Indeed, the king of Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel I, was one of the most reactionary rulers in Italy after 1815.
The first half of the 19th century is known
in Italian as the Risorgimento, the period in which a national consciousness
was reawakened and Italians were able to achieve not only independence
from Austrian domination but also national unification. The Restoration
of 1815 was particularly oppressive in Italy because Austria, the papacy,
and legitimist rulers were agreed on the necessity of stamping out the
ideas of progress and liberalism that had been associated with the French
Revolution and the Napoleonic empire. No concessions were made to the propertied
classes' expectations of some form of political representation, while the
Church exercised wide controls over all forms of cultural expression in
all the Italian states. In reaction to this censorship, poetry and literature
became important vehicles for articulating opposition. The description
of Spanish rule in 17th-century Milan in Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed
has often been seen as a coded appeal to Italian nationalism, yet the book's
message was also a deeply religious one. Manzoni's novel helped establish
a standard literary language and was a clear sign of the emergence of a
new sense of cultural cohesion. This was reflected in the poetry of exiles
like Ugo Foscolo and in the work of Giacomo Leopardi, and more generally
in the vigorous new forms of journalism that were centered on Florence
and then Milan in the 1840's. Music and, in particular, opera also played
a major role in the development of a new Italian cultural awareness, and
the works of Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868), Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848),
Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835), and Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) all won wide
The influence of nationalism in the struggle for Italian independence has often been overstated. Political tensions in the Italian states arose primarily from the refusal of the restored Italian rulers to share power with the propertied classes, who were in large part landowners. These were the people who gravitated toward secret societies, of which the Carbonari was the most famous. The Carbonari originated as a clandestine movement in Napoleonic France and was transplanted to southern Italy by French officers opposed to Napoleon's autocracy. The Restoration's authoritarianism was a natural focus for political dissidents. In the revolutions that occurred in Naples in 1820 and in Piedmont in 1821, the demand was primarily for constitutional government. In both cases, Austria stepped in to restore order by force, which demonstrated to many that reform would only be possible once Austria's political stranglehold over the peninsula's rulers was ended. That message was reinforced when in 1831 Austrian troops crushed a series of insurrections in the Papal States.
Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872) was the first to set out the connections between political reform and independence explicitly. Mazzini argued the need to adopt a clear plan for national unification and independence, and for that purpose in 1831 he created a movement known as Young Italy. He tried to organize revolutions from Switzerland, France, and England, where he lived in exile after his involvement in an unsuccessful conspiracy in Piedmont. Real contact with Italy became difficult and it was not until the revolutions of 1848 that Mazzini was able to return to his homeland -- and then only briefly. But his ideas were known and, for most moderate supporters of political reform, seemed radical and alarming.
However, even conservatives in Italy by the 1840's saw the need for changes to make the existing states stronger. In a book published in Brussels in 1843 a Piedmontese priest named Vincenzo Gioberti argued for the creation of an independent federation of Italian rulers under the leadership of the pope. A year later, another Piedmontese writer, Cesare Balbo, recommended a loose confederation of Italian states under the king of Piedmont. Gioberti's proposal attracted wide attention when in 1846 a new pope, Pius IX, was elected. Unlike his predecessors, Pius at first seemed sympathetic to the case for reform and progress.
The revolutions that swept through much of Europe in 1848 started in January with rioting in Palermo. Once the Neapolitan government conceded a limited constitution in the hope of averting further disorder and of appeasing the propertied classes, other Italian leaders, including the pope, quickly followed. Meanwhile, revolution brought down the rulers in both Paris and Vienna, forcing Prince von Metternich to flee the Austrian capital. In Milan, growing tension exploded into a violent uprising in March when Austrian artillery was turned on a working-class district. In response to the massacre, the people took up arms and drove the Austrians out of the city. In the Veneto they were also on the retreat; in Venice a republican government headed by Daniele Manin was proclaimed.
With Austrian forces withdrawing and the clamor for political change in Italy growing, Charles Albert of Sardinia tried to seize the initiative by declaring war on Austria and marching into Lombardy at the head of a nationalist army. This aroused grave suspicions among many Lombards, who mistrusted Charles Albert's motives, and provoked Pius IX to denounce the war. When the king's armies were resoundingly defeated by the Austrians at the Battle of Custozza in July 1848, the political situation became even more confused. In Naples, King Ferdinand had already regained control and was preparing to crush the revolution in the provinces and in Sicily. In Florence, Rome, and Venice, there was growing pressure for more radical political measures, which culminated in the declaration of a republic in Rome in February 1849 after the murder of the leader of the constitutional government and the flight of Pius IX. The life of the Roman Republic was to be short; in the spring the Austrian armies commanded by Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky returned in force. In a last attempt to rally nationalist support to the Piedmontese monarchy, Charles Albert went into battle but suffered a crushing second defeat at the hands of the Austrians (Battle of Novara, Mar. 23, 1849) that forced him to abdicate in favor of his son Victor Emmanuel II.
By the middle of 1849 Austria was back in control and the Italian rulers were restored once again to their thrones. Only in Piedmont did constitutional government survive, making the kingdom a haven for political exiles from the rest of Italy. During the next decade Count Camillo Benso di Cavour (1810-1861) emerged as the central figure in Piedmontese politics. From a minor aristocratic family that had grown wealthy during the Napoleonic period, Cavour was convinced that moderate reform was necessary to protect the existing political and social order in a period of rapid economic change. He entered the Piedmontese parliament in 1848 and in 1852 became prime minister and minister of foreign affairs. His relations with Victor Emmanuel II were always tense, but Cavour set about modernizing the Piedmontese state and introduced legislation to promote trade, to encourage economic growth, and to develop infrastructure. He was very successful in attracting foreign capital investment.
Despite growing opposition from conservative forces, Cavour began to take a closer interest in the national question. In 1855 Piedmont became an ally of France and Great Britain in the Crimean War, in which Austria remained neutral. In 1858 Cavour secretly negotiated an alliance with Napoleon III (the Treaty of Plombières), by which France agreed to assist in a war against Austria. On this basis, Cavour provoked Austria into a declaration of war in 1859. Following the battles of Solferino and Magenta, Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II agreed to an armistice with Austria without consulting Cavour.
By the terms of the peace of Villafranca, Piedmont acquired Lombardy, but Venetia remained under Austrian control and the rulers of Tuscany, Modena, and Parma were to be reinstated. Cavour, now out of office, believed that this left the new state open to an Austrian counterattack and equally to the discontent of the nationalists, particularly since their demonstrations during the war had forced the grand duke of Tuscany to flee to Vienna. Under the leadership of Mazzini, the nationalists were also mobilizing in Piedmont. Considering them to be dangerous radicals, Cavour acted to forestall their moves by staging fictional "revolutions" through a network of political moderates, the Italian National Association. In this way Sardinia was able to annex through plebiscites the duchies of Tuscany, Parma, and Modena and the northern parts of the Papal States.
There is little evidence that Cavour himself thought that the new Italian state should be any bigger than this, but events took a different turn. The terms of the agreement with France obliged Piedmont to hand over Nice and Savoy. The nationalists were outraged, and in May 1860 Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) set off from Quarto near Genoa with two old steamers and a thousand volunteers to join a revolution that had begun in Palermo. Against every expectation, Garibaldi's expedition brought about the collapse of the Bourbon regime not only in Sicily but also in Naples. Garibaldi's objective was to continue until he reached Rome, but this would have led to war with France, which since 1849 had been a guarantor of the integrity of the papacy. To prevent that, and under the pretext of protecting the pope, Cavour sent an army into the Papal States to cut off Garibaldi's advance. With the real possibility of civil war, Garibaldi agreed to surrender his command to Victor Emmanuel II at Teano in October 1860.
The basis of the new state was not established, although Venetia remained under Austrian command and the pope continued to govern in Rome. On Mar. 17, 1861, Victor Emmanuel II was officially proclaimed king of Italy, and the Piedmontese constitution of 1848 was extended to the rest of the country. Shortly afterward, on June 6, 1861, Cavour died suddenly at the age of 50, leaving his successors with the challenging problem of creating a single nation out of peoples that had always been divided by widely different cultural traditions and economic and social conditions. Supporters of the four deposed dynasties (the former rulers of Naples, Tuscany, Modena, and Parma) remained fiercely hostile to the new state, as did the papacy, which openly denounced the new Italian state. By 1861 serious revolts were spreading through the South, led by former Bourbon soldiers with support from legitimist exiles in Rome. The disorder was described officially as brigandage, and a major military offensive was launched to restore order. Amid growing unrest, the government of the new state attempted to reorganize central and local government and to find ways to meet the heavy costs of the wars of independence.
Garibaldi's March on Rome, 1862
The Italian government moved cautiously in the matter of annexing Rome, for the pope's claim to the temporal sovereignty of Rome was supported by the Catholic powers of Europe -- especially by France, which still kept an army in Rome. The govern ment's policy was in sharp contrast to the impatience of the Party of Action, which counted among its leaders many followers of Mazzini. In 1862, under pressure from the Party of Action, Garibaldi and his volunteers gathered in the city of Palermo, Sicily, determined to march on Rome with the cry of "Rome or death." Prime Minister Urbano Rattazzi may have connived at the movement; he certainly made no effort to stop Garibaldi until France made serious threats. But it was now too late to halt Garibaldi with words alone, and on Aug. 29, 1862, the Italian army was forced to open fire on Garibaldi's volunteers at Aspromonte. Garibaldi himself suffered a wound in the thigh, and he was imprisoned for a short time in a fortress at La Spezia.
The September Convention with France
The mismanagement of the Garibaldi insurrection
led to the fall of the Rattazzi government, and Prime Minister Marco Minghetti
invited the French emperor to a meeting to reexamine the entire Roman question.
The talks took place in 1864 and resulted in an agreement known as the
September Convention. According to its terms, the Italian government assumed
the responsibility of protecting the pope against all external and internal
attacks, particularly against threats from the Party of Action. The French
government, in turn, agreed to withdraw its troops from Rome. The Italian
government also agreed to transfer, within six months, its capital from
Turin to another, more central city. This was to indicate that it did not
intend to seek Rome as its capital. The convention was secret, but when
the provision concerning the transfer of the capital became known, bloody
riots and disturbances occurred in Turin. The unnecessary violence used
to repress the riots caused the fall of the Minghetti government. Nevertheless,
the September Convention was ratified under the administration of General
Alfonso La Marmora, and the following year Florence became the capital
The War of 1866 and the Annexation of Venetia. Since the end of the war of 1859, the Italians had known that the Austrians could be driven out of Venetia only at the price of another war. Realizing that it was too weak to risk another war alone, Italy was forced to seek aid. France was unwilling to fight another war against Austria, but Prussia, under Minister President Otto von Bismarck, was aiming to achieve the political unity of Germany, even at the price of a final struggle against Austria. In April 1866 La Marmora sent General Giuseppe Govone to Berlin to sign a secret treaty of alliance. On June 16 Prussia declared war against Austria, and on June 20 Italy followed suit.
Inefficient military command and organization and the jealousy and rivalry between the Italian army leaders were responsible for the grave defeat the Italians suffered at the battle of Custozza on June 24. However, on July 3, Prussia won a brilliant and decisive victory at the Battle of Königgrätz. Meanwhile, the Italian fleet suffered a humiliating defeat in a naval battle that was fought off the island of Lissa (Vis) in the Adriatic on July 20, 1866. Finally, on July 22, without previous consultation with Italy, Prussia signed an armistice with Austria that provided, among other things, that Austria would cede to Italy, through Napoleon III, all of Venetia as far as the Isonzo River, including the strategic city of Verona. However depressing to the morale of the Italian people -- the war had been won by Germans, not Italians -- peace was concluded between Italy and Austria at Vienna on October 3. On October 19, Napoleon turned Venetia over to Italian representatives. By popular plebiscite held on October 21-22, the people of Venetia voted -- 647,246 in favor and 69 against -- to be annexed to the kingdom of Italy.
Garibaldi's Second Attempt to Seize Rome, 1867
By December 1866, in accordance with the
terms of the September Convention, Napoleon III had withdrawn his army
from Rome. But the Vatican recruited forces in France and placed them under
the command of French officers, and the French war office considered service
in the papal army the same as service in France. The Italians interpreted
these measures as being in direct violation of the September Convention.
Again under pressure from the Party of Action, Garibaldi in 1867 once more
announced his intention to march into Roman territory. Rattazzi, who had
returned to power, this time ordered Garibaldi's arrest and confinement
in Caprera. On October 14, however, Garibaldi escaped and led his promised
march on Rome at the head of a badly armed and badly disciplined band of
volunteers. Napoleon III dispatched a French army to Rome, and the crisis
forced Rattazzi to resign. The 5,000 Garibaldians defeated the papal troops,
but on November 3 they were attacked by a superior force of French troops.
The Garibaldians surrendered after firing their last cartridge, and Garibaldi
was sent back to Caprera.
The return of French troops to Rome caused Franco-Italian relations to deteriorate. There was strong resentment against France everywhere in Italy, especially following a statement made in the French chamber of deputies by one of Napoleon's principal ministers, declaring that France would never permit Italy to take Rome.
The Occupation of Rome, 1870
Nevertheless, only three years after Garibaldi's
second insurrection, Italy gained Rome as a casual by-product of the Franco-Prussian
War of 1870, which resulted in the fall of Napoleon III. In August the
French troops were withdrawn from Rome. The Italian foreign minister immediately
informed the European powers that Italy intended to occupy the city, and
King Victor Emmanuel II appealed to the pope to accept the protection of
Italy. Pius IX replied that he would yield only to force. Thereupon Prime
Minister Giovanni Lanza ordered General Raffaele Cadorna to occupy Rome.
On Sept. 20, 1870, after a brief show of resistance, the pope ordered the
garrison to surrender. He declared himself a voluntary prisoner of the
Italian government and shut himself up in the Vatican palaces.
On Oct. 2, 1870, a plebiscite vote of the Roman citizens showed 133,681 for and 1,507 against annexation to Italy. The vote brought to an end the temporal sovereignty of the Holy See that had started 11 centuries earlier, and Rome became the capital of Italy in July 1871.
The Law of Papal Guarantees
To reassure the Roman Catholic world, including
its own citizens, and to protect itself against foreign remonstrances,
the Italian government soon after its seizure of Rome departed from the
strict logic of nationalism and on May 13, 1871, astutely enacted a surprisingly
liberal law, the so-called Law of Papal Guarantees. It granted the pope
sovereign honors and personal inviolability, full freedom for the exercise
of his spiritual authority, the right to receive and send ambassadors,
extraterritorial privileges in the Vatican and Lateran palaces in Rome
and in the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo, and a yearly pension of
3,250,000 lire. The law also abolished all restrictions on the right of
meeting of the clergy, and bishops were no longer required to swear fealty
to the king. Pius IX, however, not only refused to acknowledge the Law
of Guarantees, but urged the Roman Catholic rulers of Europe to restore
him to his temporal sovereignty.
The relations between the Church and the Italian government deteriorated further when, in May 1873, the Italian chamber of deputies approved a measure that extended to Rome the law of 1866 on the religious orders. While leaving the general houses of the confraternities intact and providing pensions for monks and nuns, this law had abolished the legal personality of the religious orders and placed schools and hospitals under civil administration and churches under the secular clergy.
Although there were no threats from foreign powers, General Cesare Ricotti-Magnani, the minister of war, and Admiral Pacoret de Saint-Bon, minister of the navy, were instructed in the early 1870's to reinforce Italy's national defenses. However, with taxes already high and a national budget deficit of 212,500,000 lire, the finances of the country presented a serious problem. In the face of grave difficulties and violent popular opposition, Quintino Sella, the minister of finance, had succeeded in 1869 in getting approval for a tax on the grinding of cereals, called the "grist tax" or "tax on hunger," increasing revenues from 25 million lire to more than 80 million. By the application of strict economies, he was able in 1872 to lay the foundations of a balanced budget, but the balance could not be maintained for long.
The elections of 1876 saw an important change in Italian politics. Since unification, power had been held by the party founded by Cavour known as the Right (Destra), which was composed primarily of Northerners. In 1876, victory went to the Left (Sinistra). Despite its name, the Left was a very loose coalition whose principal coherence was regional, representing above all the interests of the South. This was one reason why clear-cut differences between political parties with well-defined and alternative political programs did not emerge. Under the premiership of Agostino Depretis (1813-1887), Italian politics became dominated by a process of political bartering referred to as trasformismo, by which the political allegiance of interest groups was secured by political rewards and concessions irrespective of party affiliation.
The Accession of Umberto I
On Jan. 9, 1878, King Victor Emmanuel II
died and was succeeded by his son, Umberto I. Umberto's reign, extending
over a period of 22 years to 1900, was marked by violent domestic disorders,
graft, bank scandals, increasing deficits in the national budget, the rise
of labor unions, the spread of socialist doctrines, the extension of the
franchise, the degeneration of parliamentary democracy, the worsening of
Franco-Italian relations, the conclusion of the Triple Alliance with Germany
and Austria, the revival of irredentism (the popular movement that aimed
at redeeming Trentino and Trieste), and the failure of attempts at colonial
expansion. Throughout this period the outstanding politician and dominating
personality was the Sicilian Francesco Crispi, first as minister of the
interior in the Depretis cabinet at the time of Umberto's accession and
later as prime minister (1887-1891, 1893-1896). Formerly a revolutionary
republican and follower of Garibaldi, Crispi had become an adherent of
the monarchy and a leader of the moderate left. He provided strong leadership
on behalf of both liberal reform and an aggressive foreign policy.
Soon after the accession of Umberto I, Italy was invited to participate in the Congress of Berlin (1878), at which Turkish territory in the Balkans was partitioned by the European powers. Italy's role was, however, a minor one. Prime Minister Benedetto Cairoli refused to stoop to bartering territories and negotiating secret treaties, and Italy returned from the congress with nothing. The failure of Italian ambitions stimulated nationalistic feeling against Austria and revived irredentism. Revolutionary groups were soon active in northern Italy, preparing for the annexation of Trentino and Trieste.
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From 1876 to 1887, Depretis dominated Italian
politics. One of the issues confronted by the Left was Italy's small number
of voters. Property and educational qualifications in 1861 limited the
electorate to less than 2 percent of the population. This was seen as a
major weakness, and new legislation in 1882 tripled the size of the suffrage
and gave the vote to most literate male adults. Depretis' government introduced
compulsory elementary education in 1877 but, in response to conspiracies
by anarchists and others, also took measures to limit civil and constitutional
Social tensions mounted during the 1880's mostly because of the impact of a steep fall in agricultural prices. The whole of Europe was shaken by the crisis, but Italy was particularly vulnerable because of the size of its agricultural sector and the number of small farms. Following the first break with liberal commercial practice in 1878, when limited industrial tariffs had been introduced, Italy in 1887 adopted one of the highest tariff regimes in Europe to protect its agriculture and industry.
Protectionism marked a fundamental turning point in Italian politics. Depretis died in 1887 and was replaced by Crispi, the first Southerner to become prime minister and one of the most important figures in the history of the liberal state. From youthful republicanism, he switched his support to the monarchy but remained staunchly anticlerical. Above all, he admired Bismarck's reforms in Germany and began an energetic reorganization of the Italian bureaucracy. But in 1891 his government collapsed, owing to the deteriorating economic situation and a crisis that threatened to bring down the whole Italian banking system.
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Crispi was followed briefly by Marquis Antonio
Di Rudinì and then Giovanni Giolitti, but when Giolitti was implicated
in the collapse of a leading bank, Crispi returned to power in 1893 with
a mandate to restore order after serious protest movements developed in
Sicily and other parts of the country. Unemployment and high food prices
had triggered demonstrations by groups of workers, and the government's
fears were increased by the founding of the Italian Socialist Party in
1892 at Genoa. This crisis erupted when Sicilian peasants formed fasci
di lavoratori and attempted to renegotiate their leases. The authorities
called for assistance, and Crispi placed Sicily under military law. Similar
measures were used in other parts of Italy and emergency laws were introduced
that effectively outlawed both Socialist and Catholic opponents of the
The political crisis grew as opposition parties challenged Crispi's tactics, but it was the news that an Italian colonial division had been defeated by an Ethiopian force at Adowa in 1896 that brought down the government and led to the disgrace of Crispi. Unrest at home continued and culminated in many deaths when the new premier, Di Rudinì, in 1898 instructed the army to restore order in the city of Milan. The "May events" there were followed by mass arrests and long prison sentences handed out by military courts, which discredited Di Rudinì's government. His successor, General Luigi Pelloux, attempted to gag the opposition but was blocked by the Radicals, who staged a prolonged filibuster that made parliamentary government unworkable.
In this climate of growing unrest and political turmoil, parliamentary government came close to collapse. During the course of the 1890's, criticism of the political system became increasingly vocal. Sidney Sonnino, an influential conservative politician, called for a revision of the constitution to increase the powers of the monarchy, while writers such as Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto voiced more far-reaching doubts about the effectiveness and desirability of parliamentary democracy.
Italian foreign policy was much of the time in the experienced and professional hands of Emilio Visconti-Venosta, who sought to keep Italy out of risky adventures. For a while, most of the European powers appeared friendly to the new state. But, before long, Italy's desire to redeem Trentino and Trieste aroused the suspicion of Austria. The Vatican continued its opposition to the Italian monarchy and government. England, although friendly, was at the moment committed to a policy of isolation. France was hostile because of the manner in which Rome had been obtained. The indignation of the Italians against France became particularly pronounced following France's occupation of Tunisia in 1881. The Italians themselves had had their eyes on Tunisia, for many Italians had settled there; and France's expansion in the Mediterranean constituted a threat to the security of the Sicilian and southern Italian coasts. The only country with which Italy could form an alliance was Germany, and every effort was exerted by the several governments to bind the ties between the two countries more firmly.
The Triple Alliance
There was increasing conviction among a group of Italian political leaders that it was necessary to strengthen Italy's friendship with both Germany and Austria, despite the fact that Italy's desire to redeem Trentino and Trieste would inevitably result in war with Austria. After a period of intensive negotiations among the three powers, the Treaty of the Triple Alliance was signed on May 20, 1882. The treaty provided, during a period of five years, that Germany and Austria would come to the aid of Italy if it were attacked by France; that Italy would come to the aid of Germany if it were attacked by France; that if any party to the treaty were attacked by two other powers, the other parties would come to its assistance; and that if any party went to war with another great power, the other parties would maintain a benevolent neutrality. The treaty caused considerable consternation among many Italians, who held that in entering the alliance, Italy had sacrificed Trentino and Trieste. This agreement with two monarchies was also seen as a blow by Italian republicans. Nevertheless, the Triple Alliance had positive aspects. Italy maintained the integrity of its territory, was able to protect its boundary with France, and was assured of the continued possession of Rome. In fact, as the period of the renewal of the Triple Alliance grew closer in 1887, Italy secured from the Central Powers (Germany and Austria) "something more" than the bare territorial guarantee of the original treaty. Not only did the government obtain concessions from both countries corresponding in some degree to the improved conditions of the Italian army and navy, but in virtue of a growing Anglo-Italian friendship, assured the practical adhesion of Great Britain to the European policy of the Central Powers. This meant the establishment of an Anglo-Italian naval understanding providing for common action by the British and Italian navies in the Mediterranean in case of war.
Colonial Expansion in Africa
Italy's late 19th-century efforts to acquire
extensive colonies met with failure. As early as 1869, the Rubattino Navigation
Society, needing a coaling station for its ships, had bought land on the
Bay of Assab on the Red Sea coast of Africa with funds supplied by the
Italian government. In 1881, Assab was declared an Italian colony, and
four years later the government ordered the army to occupy the city of
Massawa 300 miles (480 km) up the coast from Assab. The coastal strip between
the two ports became the nucleus of the colony of Eritrea, which remained
in Italian hands until after World War II.
To facilitate the flow of commerce from the Ethiopian interior to the sea, the army in Africa established friendly relations with Yohannes, the emperor of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). But Yohannes soon became suspicious of Italy's desire to expand, and in 1887 he ordered 20,000 Ethiopians to attack the Italian fortress at Dogali. Five hundred Italians were massacred. The Depretis-Robilant government was replaced by one headed by Crispi, who was determined to avenge the Italian defeat. The new Italian aggressiveness was helped by the assassination of the Abyssinian emperor by his own men on Mar. 10, 1889. Taking advantage of the civil war among the pretenders to the Abyssinian throne, the Italian government ordered its troops inland to occupy Cheren and Asmara. Meanwhile, the government came to terms with Menelik, one of the Abyssinian pretenders. In return for Italian support, Menelik signed the Treaty of Uccialli on May 2, 1889, recognizing the Italian acquisitions on the Red Sea.
Once assured of the obedience of all Abyssinia, Emperor Menelik protested against the treaty, contending that the Italian text reduced Abyssinia to the status of an Italian protectorate. An open struggle followed. In 1895, General Oreste Baratieri, the Italian military governor, began operations to occupy Tigré, the Abyssinian province that bordered on Eritrea. On Mar. 1, 1896, an Italian army of 17,000 men advanced to Adowa (Aduwa) against an enemy numbering 100,000 men. The unfamiliarity of the Italians with the mountainous terrain enabled Menelik to attack small detachments of the Italians separately -- a strategy that assured him an easy victory.
The defeat at Adowa caused deep indignation and dismay among the Italians. Crispi's cabinet was forced to resign, and the first act of the new Di Rudinì cabinet was to instruct the army to sue for peace. The Treaty of Uccialli was annulled, and Italy was compelled to recognize the independence of Ethiopia. An indemnity of 10 million lire was paid to Menelik. Italy's aspirations in Africa had suffered a severe setback. Although Italy kept Eritrea and established a protectorate over much of Somaliland, both areas were sparsely populated and generally unproductive.
On July 29, 1900, King Umberto was shot by an anarchist assassin named Gaetano Bresci, who was seeking to avenge the execution of revolutionaries in Milan. Umberto was succeeded by his only son, Victor Emmanuel III, then only 30 years of age, who was reputed to be liberal-minded, intelligent, and studious.
Giolitti's Democracy in the Making
The first 15 years of the reign of Victor Emmanuel III were much more peaceful than had been the reign of his father. From November 1903 to March 1914 the premiership was held almost continuously by the calm, well-balanced, and cautious minister Giovanni Giolitti. Largely credited with giving the Italians a period of prosperity and well-being, Giolitti established a dialogue with the Socialists and slowed parliamentary opposition to the reforms of the government. He was able to devote considerable attention to economic improvements and to carry out many significant and constructive measures. The Simplon Tunnel through the Alps, more than 12 miles (19 km) in length, was completed in 1906. Lombardy and Piedmont, in particular, were able to point to substantial increases in the production of sugar, silk, wool, cotton, metal goods, and automobiles. With the backing of the government and the utilization of hydroelectric power, these industries reached a high enough point of development to begin exporting some of their products. New lines increased the total railroad mileage from 1,200 miles (1,930 km) in 1861 to 9,000 miles (14,480 km) in 1911. The productivity of the soil also increased through the use of machinery and chemical fertilizers. The Apulian Aqueduct, which carried water to more than 400 towns, was completed. Meanwhile, the population of the country increased from 22 million in 1861 (excluding Venetia and Latium) to 35 million in 1911. Giolitti introduced a range of innovations in the field of welfare. He also established the principle of government neutrality in industrial disputes, which resulted in a massive increase in trade union organization and strikes. Giolitti's relations with the Socialists became increasingly difficult, while at the same time he alienated many employers and industrialists. As a result, his efforts to maintain a consensus became more complex and finally broke down.
During the first decade of the 20th century, the government pursued a policy of peace. Particularly significant were the signs of improved relations with France. In 1902, France pledged not to oppose Italian ambitions in Tripolitania in exchange for Italy's promise not to interfere with any action France might take in Morocco. Shortly thereafter, Italy negotiated commercial conventions with both France and Great Britain, thus demonstrating its ability to exercise independent action between these two powers and those of the Triple Alliance. In June 1902, Italy had renewed the Triple Alliance and was able to strengthen its position therein. This was especially important because Germany was threatening to make use of the alliance as an instrument to impose its will on the rest of Europe. The Italian government was able to assure France that under no circumstances would Italy resort to or aid any aggressive action against it. The official state visits of the king of Italy during this period to St. Petersburg, Berlin, London, and Paris served to strengthen the bonds that united Italy with the major European countries. Only relations with the Vatican remained unfriendly. On Aug. 4, 1903, immediately after his election to the papacy, Pius X (r. 1903-1914) shut himself up in the Vatican and followed the same policy as his predecessors.
The Conquest of Libya
The desire for space for Italy's growing
population led Italian statesmen to embark once again on a campaign for
colonial expansion, this time in North Africa. The problem became the more
urgent as France's occupation of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco and Great
Britain's conquest of Egypt had upset the balance of power in the Mediterranean.
At first, Italy sought to occupy Libya, then part of the Ottoman Empire,
through peaceful penetration. It sent out scientific missions, encouraged
com mercial and agricultural enterprises with loans made by Banca
di Roma, and established Italian schools. But Turkey viewed Italy's activities
in Libya with suspicion, especially when it became known that the Italian
Nationalist Party had been organized to promote war. In March 1911, Giolitti
became prime minister again, mainly because he favored a war for Libya.
With the exception of the Socialists, Giolitti was upheld by the entire
nation. After a series of diplomatic incidents, Italy declared war on Turkey
on Sept. 29, 1911.
Despite their declarations of neutrality, the major powers of Europe, particularly Italy's partners in the Triple Alliance, were opposed to Italy. Germany did not want to see Turkey weakened, while Austria, fearing a Turkish counterblow in the Balkans, was not eager to see Italy expand.
In the war, the Italian army and navy received the full support of the government and people. The army had no difficulty in occupying the entire Mediterranean coastline of Libya; while, in an effort to shorten the war and force Turkey into early submission, the navy occupied the Dodecanese Islands, between Greece and the Turkish mainland. Finally, on Oct. 15, 1912, the peace preliminaries were signed at Ouchy. The treaty of peace, which was signed at Lausanne on Oct. 18, 1912, provided for the withdrawal of Italian troops from the Aegean islands as soon as Turkey withdrew all her troops from Libya. However, since the Turks were slow in evacuating Libya, Italy continued its occupation of the islands. The Libyan war gave Italy a vast colony in the Mediterranean, to which many Italians soon began to emigrate.
The invasion of Libya exacerbated internal political conflicts in Italy. The nationalists were incensed that Giolitti had signed a premature peace, while the invasion ended any hope of an accord with the Socialists. Partly in an attempt to pacify them and partly with the aim of bringing conservative Catholic peasant voters into the electorate, Giolitti introduced a universal male suffrage bill in 1911 that added a new element of uncertainty to Italian elections. Between 1913 and 1914 Italian politics became increasingly polarized, with the government facing opposition from a strident nationalist movement, while on the left extremists took control of the Socialist Party.
A gunshot fired by a Serbian nationalist
on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, killed the heir apparent to the
Austrian throne and plunged Europe into war. On July 28, Austria declared
war on Serbia. Within a week the major European powers were declaring war
on one another: Russia against Austria, Germany against Russia, France
and Great Britain against Germany. Other countries allied themselves with
one or the other of the belligerents. Turkey and Bulgaria supported Germany,
while Romania sided with France. Italy, however, proclaimed its neutrality.
Not only had it not been previously consulted, but it interpreted Austria's
declaration of war against Serbia as an act of aggression rather than a
defensive action, as had been stipulated in the treaty of alliance.
Italy's neutrality was a temporary expedient. Two sharply conflicting opinions had developed in Italy: a minority that desired to keep Italy neutral and a majority that fought actively for intervention. Having withdrawn from the Triple Alliance, the Italians turned their eyes toward Austrian-held Trentino and Trieste. Many Italians agreed that the time was ripe to resume the war of 1866 and welcomed the chance to side with the Allies. Among those who advocated Italy's intervention on the side of the Allies were Cesare Battisti, a deputy from Trent in the Austrian parliament; the flamboyant poet-turned-politician Gabriele D'Annunzio, who stirred the hearts and minds of the Italians with his eloquent speeches; and a violent Socialist agitator named Benito Mussolini, who eventually left the Socialist Party because of his strong views on intervention. Besides their involvement in the issues of Trentino and Trieste, the natural sympathies of the Italians were enlisted on the side of the Allies because of what was portrayed as the brutal German aggression against Belgium, the atrocities committed by the Germans in the invaded countries, and the vandalism of the German troops.
The terms and conditions under which Italy entered the war on the side of the Allies were fixed in the London secret pact of Apr. 26, 1915, by which Italy was promised the Trentino region up to the Brenner Pass; Trieste and its peninsula, Istria; and part of Dalmatia (the present-day Croatian coast), including Zara (Zadar), Sebenico (Sibenik), and the adjacent islands. More important, Italy was also promised a share in the distribution of the German colonies. On May 24, 1915, Italy declared war on Austria. Formal declaration of war on Germany, however, was delayed until Aug. 27, 1916.
The war proved to be difficult and arduous. In the early days of the conflict, the Italian army won several victories. In May 1916 the Austrians wiped out many of the Italian gains, but a successful counterattack along the Isonzo River enabled the Italian army to occupy the important city of Gorizia.
Nevertheless, by the end of 1916, it became clear that the war was going to be a long one. Russia's withdrawal from the war in late 1917 enabled the Central Powers to throw the full weight of their forces on the western fronts. Meanwhile, on Oct. 24, 1917, the Italian army suffered a disastrous defeat at Caporetto, forcing it to withdraw along the entire Austrian front to the Piave River. The Paolo Boselli cabinet, which had come to power after the Austrian offensive of 1916, fell and was replaced by a government formed by Vittorio Orlando. Meanwhile, the Italian army rallied and successfully stemmed the Austro-German advance.
The course of the war was radically altered by the entry of the United States on the Allied side in 1917. In the spring of 1918, in an effort to end the war before the full weight of the United States Army could be felt, the Germans tried to force their way into Paris. Similarly, on June 15, the Austro-German armies made a fierce attack against the Italian line on the Piave but were repelled after seven days of stubborn fighting. Finally, on Oct. 24, 1918, the anniversary of the Caporetto disaster, the Italian army launched a major attack against the Austro-German forces along the entire front, initiating the battle of Vittorio Veneto. On November 3 the Italians entered Trent and Trieste, and on the following day the Austrians signed the armistice at Villa Giusti, near Padua. Within a week the Allies initiated a major offensive along the French front that forced Germany to capitulate. The war had cost Italy 600,000 lives.
At the peace conference, which opened in
Paris on Jan. 18, 1919, Italy presented its territorial claims, which included
a demand for annexation of the city of Fiume in addition to the territories
agreed to in the Treaty of London. But France, Great Britain, and the United
States all opposed the expanded Italian claims. On April 24, Prime Minister
Orlando left the conference in protest. Italy greeted his decision with
enthusiasm but became disillusioned when, a week later, Orlando returned
to Paris without having obtained any concessions in advance. Finally, on
June 2, 1919, the Treaty of St. Germain fixed the peace terms with Austria,
which, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of London,
established the frontiers of Italy to the Brenner Pass. Italy thus obtained
Trentino, with the entire valley of the Adige River, as well as Trieste
and Istria. However, the treaty did not give to Italy the Adriatic islands
that had been promised in the Treaty of London, nor did it define the territorial
boundaries between Italy and the new kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and
Slovenes (later called Yugoslavia).
Italy came out of the war with the firm conviction that its former Allies regarded its interests, which it deemed vital to itself, as unconnected with their own. The Orlando cabinet fell on June 23, and Francesco Nitti became prime minister.
From Oct. 29, 1918, the date of the armistice with Austria-Hungary, to Oct. 28, 1922, when Benito Mussolini came to power, events in Italy were confused and demoralizing. Coupled with this was the failure to achieve marked success abroad. Popular indignation ran especially high over the attitude of the Allies toward Italian claims to Istria and Dalmatia. The seizure of Fiume in September 1919 by Gabriele D'Annunzio, at the head of 2,000 volunteers, brought the nation to a high pitch of excitement, and the subsequent expulsion of his troops by the Italian government turned many of the disillusioned into active malcontents. Contrary to earlier promises, the peace treaties did not give Italy any share in the spoils of Turkey and of the German colonial empire. Trentino and Trieste had been acquired, and the new Italian frontiers actually included some territories that contained more Germans and Slavs than Italians. Nevertheless, in their demand for additional territories many Italians forgot that they had already gained much from the war.
At home, the government was even less successful than abroad. In the postwar years every country was faced with high prices and industrial depression. In Italy the situation was aggravated by chronic poverty. At the end of the war, prices in Italy had doubled. Transportation was disorganized, and inequitable distribution of food and supplies added to the difficulties.
In the midst of these difficulties, in 1919, elections were held. The Socialists gained heavily, electing 156 deputies, 34 percent of the seats. Having opposed the war from the start, they had prophesied disaster. They now called for support on the grounds that socialism would have prevented the war and that socialism would solve the problems of Italy and the Italians. The Socialist Party vote would have been larger but for the Popolari, an avowedly Roman Catholic party that had been organized in 1919 under the leadership of the priest Don Luigi Sturzo. The Popolari elected 101 candidates and became the second largest party in the chamber of deputies.
Some Socialist elements, influenced by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, sought to transform Italy into a soviet system by revolution. Lenin himself, however, was opposed to this, for he did not believe that poverty-stricken and backward Italy, which depended upon capitalist neighbors, could be the site of a successful proletarian revolution. The Socialists withdrew from parliament on Dec. 1, 1919, a general strike was proclaimed, and disorder became general during the remainder of 1919 and most of 1920.
Strikes and occupation of the factories by workers reached a peak in August and September of 1920; but the workers proved unable to run the factories in the face of a capitalist boycott that deprived them of bank credit, skilled management, raw materials, and markets. The industrial depression that everywhere followed the postwar boom affected Italy, too, and the workers found that they had either to surrender or to extend the scope of the movement by giving it a definitely revolutionary cast. Disillusioned by their experiences, many workers retreated and permitted the factories to be returned to their former owners. By the first week in October 1920, all factories had reverted to their owners, the government by then having promised to introduce a bill providing for some reforms demanded by the workers. The workers were forced to accept their defeat, although they were by no means reconciled to it.
The agrarian revolts that accompanied the workers' movements remained undefeated, however, and a growing number of peasant riots and risings were taking place at the very time that the revolutionary workers seemed to have been defeated in the towns. Peasant disturbances, which were especially marked in the cities of Bergamo and Cremona and in the regions of Latium, Tuscany, Sicily, and Veneto, led the landowners to organize resistance, and they found a major source of aid among the members of the Fascio di Combattimento (Union of Combat), an ultranationalistic group with rather vague radical social ideas.
The Rise of Fascism
The Fascio di Combattimento was founded by
Benito Mussolini in 1919. Mussolini had been a Socialist leader and editor
of the party's paper, Avanti. He had broken with the party late in 1914,
when he advocated Italy's immediate entrance into World War I on the side
of the Allies. Most of the members of the Fascio were former officers and
soldiers (100,000 officers had been demobilized) who found it impossible
to readjust to an unstable civilian existence; many felt that they had
been insulted by the Socialists, who had opposed the war. Included in the
party were social misfits, ultranationalists, and extreme left-wing elements
disappointed with the Socialist Party and opposed to developments in Soviet
Russia. An added element was youths who had been too young for military
service and felt "cheated" of the opportunity. Acting as financial supporters
of these "Blackshirts" were many frightened businessmen, farmers, and aristocrats,
who saw the bogey of revolution everywhere. The Fascists had not yet promulgated
a party platform, and Mussolini explained that "the Fascists are the gypsies
of Italian politics; not being tied down to any one goal." "We have no
fixed principles," he said, "and we have none because we are no church,
we are a movement. We are not a party, we are an athletic body of men."
Under pressure from his followers, Mussolini, who had hoped to collaborate
with the Socialists, decided that power had to be seized while the turmoil
had not yet subsided. In November 1921 he prepared for political power
by transforming the Fascist movement into the Fascist Party, with a new
and elaborate, though less radical, program.
The political situation in Italy tended to favor drastic action. The Socialist Party was disunited and the extremists had broken away in January 1921 to form the Communist Party. In April 1921 the old Prime Minister Giolitti, who had succeeded Francesco Nitti, had dissolved the chamber of deputies. In the election held on May 15, 1921, the Fascist movement, made respectable by an electoral bloc with Giolitti, had won 35 seats, and the Socialist representation had fallen from 156 to 122. There followed a series of cabinet changes with no appreciable improvement in the disordered political, economic, and social life of the country. Although the peak of industrial and agrarian disorders had passed, strikes were called by the Communists, and discontented workers and peasants often violated the letter and the spirit of the laws. Conflicts between Communists, Socialists, and Fascists were numerous. And when disorders were not fomented by the Communists, the Fascists did their best to stir up and to organize trouble and rioting.
These outbreaks of violence, the government's weakness, and confusion in parliament combined to make the situation in 1922 look worse than it actually was. The threat of a Communist revolution was over, the fire of discontent was burning itself out. This was, of course, what Mussolini feared most. In the absence of disorder, he would not be able to seize power; without the fear of violence and subversion, power would not be yielded up to him. In October he threatened that "either the government will be given to us or we shall seize it by marching on Rome." On October 28 the Fascists began a much-publicized "March on Rome." Several thousand Blackshirts moved toward the capital from northern and central Italy, threatening to take over the government by force and promising at the very least disorder and disturbance. After some hesitation, Prime Minister Luigi Facta decided to deal with Mussolini by opposing force with force and, in order to do this, he asked the king to declare martial law. But the king, fearing civil war, refused. Facta resigned, and Mussolini, who had been waiting in Milan, executed his "March on Rome" by sleeping car. On his arrival, King Victor Emmanuel III appointed him prime minister.
Thus Mussolini, who later claimed that he had saved Italy from Bolshevism and who was acclaimed for this by many, both in Italy and abroad, came into power by threats of illegal violence. The legend of a Bolshevist danger in Italy has little basis in fact, although the Fascists owed much of their reputation to their name as "restorers of law and order" and as "the saviors of Italy from Communism." But sporadic strikes, the haunting, if unfounded, fear of a renewal of revolutionary activity, and the further unbalancing of an already unstable economy aroused fear among many Italians. What was lacking, in the eyes of many industrialists and landlords, was a strong government that would institute a reign of order and stability and "put workers and peasants back in their places." Most people were weary of chaos, and Il Duce ("the leader"), as Mussolini styled himself, had promised that he would bring "cohesion, authority, and prestige."
Mussolini first proceeded to win the support
or acquiescence of a majority in the chamber of deputies. To do this he
had to win the support of other parties, for Fascist representation in
the chamber was only 35. Mussolini chose a cabinet selected from various
parties in addition to the Fascists, who made up a majority. He himself
was also minister of foreign affairs and minister of the interior; consequently,
he gained control over the police and local government. Mussolini now proceeded
to consolidate his power. In November he asked for and received by an overwhelming
majority from the chamber of deputies what practically amounted to dictatorial
powers for a year. First, the offices of government were put under Fascist
control by a law giving the government the right to dismiss civil servants
on political grounds. Next, parliament was packed by an electoral "reform"
bill that provided that the party obtaining the largest vote in a parliamentary
election would receive two thirds of all seats. In April 1924 a general
election was held in which 7,628,859 votes were cast. About 65 percent
were in favor of Fascist candidates, although it was charged by the opposition
that this majority had been achieved by violence and intimidation.
Popular control of local government was also gradually abolished. Representatives of the central government, called podestà, were appointed to replace elected officials in all towns and cities. Mussolini took to himself various other powers. He was freed from dependence on parliament and made responsible only to the king; no item might be placed on the agenda of either house of parliament without his consent; he was given permanent control over the country's armed forces. He now, also, had the authority to issue governmental decrees with the force of law.
Political terrorism became an instrument of governmental policy. Newspapers were censored and suppressed, education was controlled, and the freedoms of speech, of the press, and of association were destroyed. A secret police force, Organizzazione Volontaria per la Repressione dell' Antifascismo (OVRA), was organized and procedures were established for dealing with dissident elements. Mussolini or his henchmen also used, especially in the early years, outright illegal methods, of which forcible dosing with large amounts of castor oil and bludgeoning of opponents with rubber truncheons were the more usual. Occasionally, murder of political opponents both at home and abroad was resorted to by some of the more extreme elements, with the knowledge and often with the approval of Fascist leaders.
The abduction and murder of the Socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti in June 1924, for which Mussolini assumed full responsibility, did much to shake and ultimately to strengthen the Fascist regime. The deputies of the opposition groups withdrew from parliament in protest, hoping to mobilize public opinion against the Fascists and to force the resignation of the government. However, the king refrained from taking any action, reportedly alleging that he could not move until parliament indicated lack of confidence in the government. This was out of the question since the electoral law of 1924 had given the Fascists a safe majority. Soon afterward all parties except the Fascists were officially disbanded and their representatives were excluded from parliament on the grounds that they had forfeited their seats by withdrawing from parliament. The opposition was thereby deprived of the last public forum for voicing its protest.
Reforms or changes had meanwhile been made in other directions by the Fascist regime. Both employers and employees were regimented in industry-wide syndical organizations whose leaders were designated by the Fascist Party. Contracts were binding on the entire industry, and both strikes and lockouts were made illegal. Later, in 1934, all industries, trades, and professions were organized into 22 corporations, or guilds, under a national council of corporations, described as "the general staff of the Italian economy." This corporative system, as it was called, created a vast and expensive bureaucracy, but it had little effect on practical affairs.
In 1928 the grand council of the Fascist Party was made an official organ of the state. Although strictly under Mussolini's control, it was given a role in determining the successor to both the dictator and the king. It was also given the power to choose the membership of the chamber of deputies, candidates for which were to be nominated by the national confederations of syndicates. Only in the unlikely event that the voters rejected the entire list of the grand council's choices, which could be voted on only as a unit, were there to be elections based on nominations by other political parties.
While these constitutional changes were taking place, Italian problems, many of them of long standing, were not easily solved by Mussolini. A superficial efficiency was introduced: trains ran on time, streets were clean and freed of beggars, and public officials observed office hours. However, financial problems were pressing. With a budget very greatly out of balance, with a rapidly rising national debt and an inflated national currency, the Italian state was confronted by imminent bankruptcy. The Fascists instituted economies and reforms. Taxes were increased until, in proportion to the national income, they became the heaviest in the world. In 1928 the lira, worth five to the U.S. dollar before World War I, was stabilized at 19 to the dollar. But more basic than the monetary problem was that of the overpopulated, relatively barren land. The birth rate declined, despite Fascist agitation and rewards for large families, but a sharper decline in the death rate gave Italy an increasing population that depended on foreign sources for supplies. Mussolini mapped out plans to make Italy more self-sufficient and sought to expand its exports and merchant marine. In 1937 Italy's wheat production was 70 percent greater than in 1922, but it is very questionable whether the increase was sound economically. A gigantic public works program, including the drainage of malaria-ridden areas and the construction of roads and bridges, was undertaken, but corruption was widespread and many Fascist leaders accumulated large fortunes. In any case, events on a worldwide scale were more decisive than the efforts of Mussolini and the Fascists. The world depression, beginning in 1929, had a most disastrous effect on Italy. In 1935 the lira was taken off the gold standard, and later, as a result of the Ethiopian War and World War II, the Italian economy suffered even greater losses.
The Lateran Treaty
Mussolini strengthened his hold on the masses with his negotiation of the Lateran Treaty with the Roman Catholic Church. This treaty finally resolved a question that had troubled Italy since the occupation of Rome by the Italian army in 1870. By the terms of the treaty, signed on Feb. 11, 1929, the Vatican City was recognized as an independent sovereign state. Certain basilicas and other religious buildings received extraterritorial privileges; the person of the pope became sacred and inviolable; the Vatican could maintain diplomatic relations with foreign countries; the Roman Catholic religion became the official state religion; and the sum of 1,750,000,000 lire was paid to the pope for the loss of his territory. In return the pope recognized the kingdom of Italy.
Fascist Foreign Policy
Throughout the two decades of his dictatorship,
Mussolini's foreign policy was dominated by braggart nationalism and blind
imperialism. In 1923 the Treaty of Lausanne obtained for Italy legal recognition
of its possession of the Dodecanese Islands, which had not been evacuated
after Italy's war with Turkey over Libya. Later in the year Mussolini sent
an ultimatum to Greece demanding satisfaction for the murder of a group
of Italians. Although Greece appealed to the League of Nations, Mussolini
ignored that body and ordered the bombardment of the island of Corfu. He
withdrew his forces only after Greece paid an indemnity. Later he ordered
the occupation of Fiume, and in 1926, he all but assumed the protectorate
of Albania. Imbued with an implacable desire to emulate his Roman ancestors,
he brought Italy into open conflict with France and other powers over his
Mussolini's largest conquest was Ethiopia. In December 1934 there was a clash between Italian and Ethiopian border patrols. Ethiopia demanded arbitration in accordance with an Italo-Ethiopian treaty of 1928, but Italy refused to arbitrate and demanded an apology, an indemnity, and punishment of the Ethiopian officers involved. Ethiopia formally appealed to the League of Nations on Jan. 3, 1935. On Sept. 3, 1935, the League Arbitration Commission announced its unanimous decision exonerating both sides from blame for the border clash. In the meantime France and Great Britain had suggested that Italy be given an economic mandate, under the League of Nations, for the financial and administrative organization of Ethiopia. This plan was rejected by Mussolini, who had massed several divisions near the Ethiopian frontiers of the Italian colonies of Eritrea and Somaliland. After further efforts at conciliation and negotiation, Italy attacked Ethiopia on Oct. 3, 1935. Four days later the Council of the League of Nations labeled Italy as an aggressor, and this was soon supported by a vote in the Assembly of the League. But full economic sanctions, as provided for by the League of Nations Covenant, were not immediately applied by all nations. In May 1936, Marshal Pietro Badoglio entered the capital of Ethiopia, and Ethiopia was placed under the "full and complete sovereignty of the kingdom of Italy." Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland were reorganized into a single territorial unit known as Italian East Africa. On July 15 sanctions came to an end. Force had been successful. Proud of his achievement, at the height of his ambition, Il Duce continued his aggressive policies. Italian soldiers were sent as "volunteers" to fight for General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and Albania was occupied in 1939.
Between the conquest of Ethiopia in 1936
and the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Mussolini became increasingly
involved in German dictator Adolf Hitler's plans for conquest. In 1936
Italy and Germany signed an agreement for collaboration on their "parallel
interests." The agreement created the so-called Rome-Berlin Axis. In 1938
Germany annexed Austria and the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia with Mussolini's
approval. Early in 1939, Mussolini and Hitler signed a pact under
which Italy was pledged to support Germany even in a war of aggression.
The crisis came in September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. In June
1940, after nine months of neutrality, Mussolini, believing that the war
would end soon because of the collapse of France, plunged an unprepared
Italy into the conflict.
Scarcity of fuel and the unwillingness to risk their fleet prevented the Italians from taking advantage of their naval and air superiority over the British in the Mediterranean. In East Africa, Italian troops were quickly overwhelmed by the British and Ethiopians, and by May 1941 the short-lived Italian empire in East Africa was completely lost. In North Africa, the Italian advance toward Suez came to a sudden standstill, and by November 1940 the reinforced British troops had pushed the Italians back into Libya and occupied its eastern half. At the same time, a daring attack by British planes against the main Italian naval base at Taranto knocked out some of Italy's best warships.
At the end of October 1940, Italian troops in Albania began to invade Greece, but unexpected Greek resistance and the severe winter season turned the advance into a near debacle. Eventually the stalemate was broken in April 1941 when the Germans succeeded in occupying Athens after a campaign of three weeks. An equally swift campaign had already allowed the Germans to take control of Yugoslavia, and Italy shared in the occupation of both countries. German intervention allowed the Italians to take the initiative again in North Africa. A seesaw battle raged in the desert between Libya and Egypt. Finally, by early May 1943, North Africa had been cleared of Axis troops. The Allied air attacks turned against Sicily and the Italian mainland. In July the Allies landed in Sicily, and within six weeks organized resistance on the island ended.
The Fall of Mussolini
On July 19, 1943, a massive air bombing of
Rome convinced Italian leaders that they had to extricate their country
from a desperate situation. On July 24 the Fascist grand council passed
a motion that in effect demanded that Mussolini resign and the king take
over direct command of the armed forces. The next day the dictator was
dismissed by the king and placed under arrest. Mussolini was freed by German
paratroopers and organized the puppet Fascist Social Republic in the parts
of northern and central Italy that were under German control.
Marshal Pietro Badoglio, who had been the victor in Ethiopia, was appointed prime minister. He immediately decreed the formal dissolution of the Fascist Party and abolition of Fascist anti-Semitic legislation. In September, upon the Allied invasion of the Italian mainland, the Badoglio government signed an armistice with the Allies, and in October Italy declared war on Germany. Despite Mussolini's ouster, the Allies' Italian campaign was a slow, bloody advance up the Italian Peninsula. The Germans had occupied central and northern Italy, and battles raged from Rome to Florence. At the same time, a bitter civil war broke out. The Fascists, strengthened by German protection, continued to fight the Italian army and perpetrated crimes against other Italians.
On June 4, 1944, the Allies liberated Rome. In three more months the Allies were in Florence, and six months later they had breached the last German line guarding the approaches to the Po Valley. Mussolini was finally captured by partisans at Dongo, on the shores of Lake Como, and was executed on Apr. 28, 1945. Early in May the Germans surrendered.
At the conclusion of the war, Italy was still occupied by Allied troops. On Feb. 10, 1947, Italy signed a peace treaty. It lost all its colonies and ceded the Dodecanese Islands to Greece, the Istrian peninsula east of Trieste to Yugoslavia, and four small areas on the northwestern boundary to France. Trieste was established as a free territory under the United Nations, but in 1954 it was returned to Italy. However, with the signing of the treaty of peace, Italy's position as a defeated nation under Allied military occupation was over. The peace treaty was ratified by the Constituent Assembly on July 31, 1947.
While the terms of the Italian peace treaty
were being discussed, the country turned to the enormous task of political
and economic reconstruction. Five days after the liberation of Rome, the
Badoglio government was compelled to give way to a political ministry headed
by Ivanoe Bonomi, a moderate Socialist turned conservative. At the same
time King Victor Emmanuel was forced to turn over his powers to his son
Umberto, without, however, formally abdicating. He finally abdicated in
Bonomi's government, under the aegis of the Allied Control Commission and Military Government, remained in office until June 1945, when it was succeeded by that of Ferruccio Parri, a leader of the Action Party, who had emerged from the underground opposition to Fascism to lead the northern resistance during the last year of the war. During the six months of the Parri ministry, which failed to win popular support, the government was blamed for inefficiency in stamping out the rampant black market, for contributing directly to continued economic chaos and misery, and for mistakes and excesses in the purge of Fascist officials. Within the government itself, the representatives of the Christian Democratic and Liberal parties forced Parri to resign in November. The next month a new cabinet was formed by Christian Democrat Alcide De Gasperi, who dominated the political scene until his death in August 1954. He had been foreign minister since December 1944.
De Gasperi's first cabinet included representatives of the six parties that had played a major role in the old Committees of National Liberation that dominated Italian politics after the fall of Badoglio. In the elections of June 2, 1946, for the new 556-member Constituent Assembly, the Christian Democrats, the Communists, and the Socialists led by Pietro Nenni emerged as the three major parties, polling among themselves 75 percent of the total votes cast.
The June 2 vote was also a plebiscite on the issue of monarchy versus republic. The latter won out, receiving 12.7 million votes, or 54.3 percent of the total valid ballots, and the republic was officially proclaimed on June 13, the king and his family going into exile to Portugal. Enrico De Nicola was elected provisional president of the republic and De Gasperi was confirmed in office as premier.
Over the next year and a half, the assembly worked on the drafting of the new republican constitution, which was formally adopted on Dec. 27, 1947, by a vote of 453 to 62, and which took effect on Jan. 1, 1948. On May 10 the chamber of deputies and the senate, in joint session, elected Luigi Einaudi, Italy's top economic expert and a Liberal from the pre-Fascist days, president of the republic.
A year after the 1948 elections, in which the Christian Democrats scored a major victory, the government announced a draft plan for the partial expropriation of large, poorly cultivated estates and their parceling out among the landless peasants; but by the latter part of 1949, no action had been taken. Disappointed peasants, especially in the South, grew more impatient and restless, and in November they started moving in on the large estates in Calabria, one of Italy's poorest regions, where 262 people owned one fourth of the land while hundreds of thousands of farm laborers worked perhaps 150 days a year for a daily wage of about 50 cents. The movement spread to Sicily, Sardinia, Apulia, and some areas of central Italy. The police were called in and bloody clashes occurred, although in most places the peasants retreated peacefully after staking out their individual claims. The government, finally stung into action, hurriedly approved a draft bill for redistribution of some 110,000 acres (45,000 hectares) of idle land in Calabria, but it was not until the fall of 1950 that the pledges of land redistribution in Calabria began actually to be redeemed. Land reform legislation was also extended to some other areas where social and economic pressures were greatest. Realizing that land reform required more than the transfer of property from the large absentee landlords to the peasants, the government embarked upon a large-scale program of public works and technical and financial assistance designed to enable the peasants to live on and improve their plots.
After a period of uneasy neutrality in the growing cold war that followed World War II, in 1949 Italy went completely over to the Western side by becoming a charter member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
In 1955, the government of new premier Antonio Segni played an active role in the negotiations leading to the signing of the Euratom and European Common Market treaties, which took place in Rome on Mar. 25, 1957. However, by early 1957 the Segni government was hampered by the same condition of immobilismo ("do-nothing-ism") that had become characteristic of Italian governments. The election returns of 1958 confirmed the slight but steady drift toward the Socialist left, reflecting in turn the widespread popular aspiration to social and economic reform. The Socialists and the Christian Democrats were the main gainers, and the parties of the extreme right the chief losers.
In the 1960's, the hopes of the Christian Democrats and Socialists to make gains at the expense of the Communists were disappointed. Although a government measure nationalizing the electrical industry pleased the left, differences between Christian Democrats and Socialists over the creation of new regional governments led to government crises. The Socialists entered the coalition government in December 1963.
The Vatican strongly urged the Christian Democrats to put their house in order and, in addition, cracked down sharply on left-wing Catholics interested in carrying on a "dialogue" with the Communists. Meanwhile, the Communists were shaken by the Socialist Party's entrance into the government.
By 1966, with the economy moving forward strongly, the Socialist and Social Democratic parties were reunited, and the various factions of the Christian Democratic Party began to pull together under pressure from the Church. However, the continued postponement of major reforms gave rise to widespread student and labor strikes. In elections in May 1968 the Socialists suffered heavy losses, and in the following year the Social Democrats broke with the party over its attempts to increase ties with the Communists.
Throughout the 1970's Italy faced severe inflation, economic stagnation, and high unemployment. The principal cause was the huge increase in oil prices after 1973 that added enormously to Italy's balance-of-payments deficit. The situation was aggravated by the concessions that had been made to trade unions and public sector employees in an attempt to restore harmony after the strikes and rioting of 1968 and 1969. The failure of successive governments to find a solution to the worsening economic situation, corruption in high places, and a growth in political and criminal violence steadily eroded the Christian Democrats' popularity.
Although Communist parliamentary representation nearly equaled that of the Christian Democrats, they were excluded from the governing coalition, partly because of pressure from Italy's Western allies. In 1977, however, they were given an unofficial role in government policy-making, in return for which the minority Christian Democratic government of Giulio Andreotti was sustained by the abstention of Communist deputies. In March 1978 the Communist Party joined the official parliamentary majority. Although still barred from the cabinet, the Communists stopped abstaining and began voting with the government.
In the 1970's terrorism by extreme leftists and extreme rightists became a conspicuous feature of Italian life. The most publicized of these groups was the Red Brigades. A series of attacks on public officials culminated in the kidnapping and murder of Christian Democratic leader Aldo Moro in 1978. The government, supported by the Communists, passed stringent laws in 1978 and 1979 to repress terrorism, but political violence continued. Later inquiries revealed that the extreme right had been the first to resort to terrorist action, although their attacks were often deliberately disguised as the work of the left. This was the case of the bombing that killed 15 people in the Banca Nazionale dell' Agricoltura in Milan in December 1969. Indiscriminate right-wing terrorist acts culminated in a bombing at the Bologna train station in August 1980 that killed 84 people. The violence of gli anni di piombo (the decade of the bullet) declined after that. The Moro assassination left the Red Brigades increasingly isolated, and their networks were rapidly broken up and dismantled under the energetic direction of General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa. Action against right-wing terrorists was less vigorous, and throughout the 1980's evidence mounted of close ties between the extreme right and elements within Italy's secret services. The discovery in 1981 of the existence of a secret Masonic lodge, Propaganda 2, that was headed by Lucio Gelli and whose members included senior politicians, generals, police chiefs, and priests strengthened these suspicions and suggested links with the Mafia as well. Despite a parliamentary inquiry, the aims of P-2 were never made clear, but the subversive and antidemocratic tendencies of many of its leading figures were not in doubt.
During the same period, Italy's Christian Democratic establishment was shaken by a series of scandals. In June 1978 President Giovanni Leone resigned after he was accused of involvement in a Lockheed bribery scandal. Sandro Pertini, a Socialist, was chosen to succeed him. Other scandals actually brought down the government of Premier Arnaldo Forlani in 1981. In June 1981 a five-party cabinet, which included many Christian Democrats, took office with Giovanni Spadolini as premier. Spadolini, leader of the small Republican Party, was the first non-Christian Democratic Italian premier since 1945. In 1983, Bettino Craxi, the Socialist leader, became premier at the head of a five-party coalition government with a majority of Christian Democratic ministers.
Under Craxi's leadership Italy maintained a relatively rapid rate of economic growth, the government's huge budget deficit was cut by almost 25 percent, and inflation fell drastically. However, the Christian Democrats, anxious to retake the premiership, forced a series of new elections, and in 1988 Giovanni Goria, a Christian Democrat, became premier. In July 1989, Giulio Andreotti became premier for the sixth time.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 had a major political impact in Italy because throughout the post-World War II era Italy had the largest Communist party in Western Europe. The size of the party posed a threat to financial and business interests and those who could be induced to identify with them. The PCI had been openly anti-Stalinist and had disavowed the Soviet Union as a model for socialism since at least 1956, but by 1991 the word "Communist," even as in "Eurocommunist," had become an electoral liability. Essentially a broad-based mass social democratic movement, the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) faced an identity crisis.
As early as 1989, the PCI began to question whether to abandon the label "Communist" and, if so, how else to identify itself. In 1991, the party split. About 95 percent of the 1.3 million members did choose to reject the connection to "Communism," naming themselves the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) and embracing allied ideas such as environmentalism and feminism. A left-wing minority chose to keep the historic Marxist connection and regrouped under the name Refondazione Comunista, or Communist Refoundation (PRC). Though the PDS hoped to hold on to the voting bloc of the old PCI, this did not happen, and national support dropped by ten percentage points at the next election, most of the lost votes going to the PRC.
Instead, with the ebbing of the likelihood that the PCI would achieve sufficient clout to set the country's policy, the coalition that held power for nearly 50 years came apart quickly. The new factions that developed to challenge its influence came not from the left but from the right, specifically, from a new party, the Lombard League. In tune with the temper of the day, the Lombard League espoused decentralization of authority and narrow, even racist interpretations of nationhood in the name of regional autonomy. In Italy, this took the form of the wealthier, industrialized, and urbanized north wishing to separate itself from the poor, rural south. Other northern "leagues" soon joined with the Lombard League to form the Northern League.
During the period from the 1950's through 1991, the possibility that the PCI might take a dominant role in Italy's lawmaking was a factor in why the Christian Democratic (DC) party retained almost unbroken control, except for the Craxi years, of the coalition that held sway. In the 1970's, the DC became dependent on the PCI, and the PCI profited and continued to play its part in supporting the DC. This balance of power did not change; rather, a rotation of short-lived coalition governments, all comprised of the same politicians in alternating posts, created a stagnant status quo. The feeling grew that the government was terminally corrupt and helpless to improve conditions or address problems.
Very shortly after the collapse of the East European regimes, a government scandal erupted involving corruption in the construction business, laundering of funds with the cooperation of highly placed government officials, and, finally, bribery of those officials. Socialist leader and longtime premier Craxi was engulfed by the scandal. And other streams of government corruption emerged in a reign of Mafia-led terror in Sicily.
The terror began in March 1992 when Salvatore Lima, a DC politician from Sicily, was murdered there. In Sicily, the DC had traditionally relied on the anti-Communist organized crime syndicates to support reelection of its candidates; Lima was acknowledged to be one of the most Mafia-enmeshed members of parliament, and as a representative of DC premier Giulio Andreotti, his death was seen as a rebuke to Andreotti now that the larger DC/PCI mutual support system was coming apart. Another brutal assassination soon followed, this time of a leading anti-Mafia judge in Palermo. When two more police investigators, including the chief prosecutor against organized crime in Palermo, were killed, 7,000 troops were sent to Sicily. In spite of this, within a week another police official was killed, this time in Catania. It was acknowledged that collaboration between the government and the Mafia underlay the stream of assassinations.
The election that took place during this period strongly reflected the changing dynamics. The DC was humbled, receiving less than 30 percent of the vote for the first time. The coalition of the Christian Democrats, Socialists, Liberals, and Social Democrats fell short of a majority. The degree of fragmentation was unprecedented. The parties that showed developing strength included the Northern League, which received 9 percent of the national vote, and, in Sicily, the anti-Mafia La Rete. After a number of parliamentary ballots, Christian Democratic leader Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, a seasoned politician but one somewhat outside the inbred inner circle, was elected president (see Table 2). Scalfaro named Socialist Giuliano Amato to the post of premier. Amato, too, was seen by most observers as a relative outsider.
Amato's government set to work on a sober but serious reform program. Part of the agenda was to propose constitutional revisions to bring the system into line with dramatic changes that since 1989 had thrown Italy's leading political parties into confusion and to respond to the growing outcry over the scale of political corruption. Another key concern was to meet the timetable for European economic convergence laid down at the Maastricht meeting of the European Community. Despite emergency measures, there was another huge budget overrun and the public debt closed at 103 percent of GDP in 1992.
Arrests and investigations in the corruption scandals continued in 1993. At least 1,500 politicians and business executives were accused or implicated in the scandals. They included two former premiers (Craxi and Andreotti), three party leaders, seven cabinet ministers, at least 100 members of parliament, the mayors of half a dozen major cities, the managers of the three major state holding companies, and leading executives in such private firms as FIAT, Olivetti, and Ferruzzi. Two of the industrialists who were accused, Raul Gardini of Ferruzzi and Gabriele Cagliari of ENI, committed suicide. Investigations of government ties to the Mafia were begun in 1993, and a major crackdown on the Mafia was launched. Salvatore Riina, the Mafia's capo di tutti capi ("boss of all bosses"), was arrested in January 1993, and Benedetto Santapaola, the head of the Catania Mafia, was arrested in May. In March 1993 former premier Andreotti came under formal investigation for alleged collusion with the Mafia. Starting in May, several car bombs were exploded in Florence, Rome, and Milan; one in May killed five people and damaged the world-famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The government blamed the Mafia for the car-bombings, but no proof was offered. Many commentators suggested that the real culprit was the Gladio/P-2 faction of the security services.
In a referendum held in April 1993, the electorate, partially in response to the scandals, voted overwhelmingly to endorse a series of measures mandating government reforms, including the abolition of strict proportional representation in parliamentary elections; the ending of state financing of political parties; the abolition of the ministries of agriculture, tourism, and state shareholding; the ending of political control over savings banks; and decriminalization of drug possession for personal use. Premier Amato resigned shortly after the referendum was held. He was succeeded by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, a political independent and the governor of the country's central bank, the Banca d'Italia. In August 1993 an electoral reform bill was enacted under which 75 percent of the seats in each house of parliament would be contested on a constituency basis and 25 percent would be filled according to proportional representation, but parties winning less than 4 percent of the vote would not obtain seats in the chamber of deputies.
Ciampi's government included such unaffiliated technical experts as Luigi Spaventa and Sabino Cassese, who were brought in to implement programs to reduce public expenditure and the costs of public employment. In the local elections held in June 1993 the Northern League and the Communist successor the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) made strong gains at the expense of the center parties, with the Christian Democrats falling to below half their 1990 votes. In the November local elections in Genoa, Venice, Trieste, Rome, Naples, and Palermo, the same trend was repeated, with the largest gains going to the parties of the extreme left and right. In the northern cities, the PDS was the winner, and in Palermo, the anti-Mafia La Rete won an outright victory. In Rome, the neo-Fascist candidate Gianfranco Fini was narrowly beaten by Francesco Rutelli of the Green Party (with backing from the PDS). In Naples, PDS candidate Antonio Bassolino barely defeated Mussolini's granddaughter, Alessandra Mussolini, on a second vote.
In foreign affairs, Italy contributed to the efforts to keep peace in Bosnia and sent troops to Somalia in the UN relief program there, although it withdrew its force after open disagreement with UN and U.S. commanders over attempts to capture General Mohamed Farah Haideed (Aidid).
The first elections under the new electoral law of August 1993 were held at the end of March 1994. Contrary to trends in the previous administrative elections, the winning coalition was a broad right-wing alliance created only three months earlier by the Milanese media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi. Using his TV channels, publishing empire, and association with the world of sport and advertising to good effect, Berlusconi created a new right-of-center party that took the sportive title Forza Italia ("Go, Italy"). Linked to a residual Christian Democratic group (Christian Democratic Center, or CCD), Berlusconi's Forza Italia fought the election in company with Umberto Bossi's Northern League and the neo-Fascist National Alliance under the umbrella banner of Polo della Libertà ("the Pole of Liberty") on a platform that included promises of clean government, measures to stimulate the economy, and heavy doses of privatization and tax cuts.
In the chamber of deputies, the Pole of Liberty won 365 out of a total of 630 seats, while the parties in the Progressive Alliance won only 213. In the 315-seat senate, the Progressives held up better, winning 122 seats to the Northern League, Forza Italia, and the National Alliance's 165 seats combined. Contrary to previous trends, the left did best in Naples and Basilicata, but Leoluca Orlando's La Rete was heavily defeated in Palermo by the neo-Fascists. Since only those over 25 years old may vote in senate elections, the figures suggest that Berlusconi's program was particularly successful with young voters. However, it was never fully endorsed by his allies, and the election victory was followed by fierce wrangling between Bossi and Fini.
The new government received strong endorsement in the European parliamentary elections in June, when Forza Italia took 31 percent of the vote, an increase from its 21 percent showing in the March general election. However, Berlusconi stumbled badly in July with his decision to release some 2,000 of the suspects held in jail in connection with the "Clean Hands" corruption investigation conducted over the past two and a half years. He ran into fierce opposition -- from his coalition partners, the public, and the Milan magistrates involved in the antigraft drive -- and was forced to rescind his earlier decree. Concern grew about the conflict of interest between Berlusconi's premiership and his business interests (in particular his huge holding company Fininvest, a number of whose senior managers were called to testify in the Clean Hands inquiries). The delay in presenting a coherent program of economic and financial measures brought new pressure on the lira and on Italian government bonds and increased uncertainty about the government's future.
Berlusconi's popularity with the public and with parliament was hurt further when he presented an austerity budget that proposed cuts in the country's pension system. He suffered another blow as a result of the initiation of a criminal inquiry into his media holdings; he was notified that magistrates were investigating the charge that his company paid bribes to officials before he was prime minister. Under the threat of no confidence votes in parliament, Berlusconi resigned in December 1994. In January 1995, Lamberto Dini, a former Treasury minister, formed a new government.