• Slovakia!

    Slovakia: Tatra Mountains. Go Now!

    Slovakia
    The Tatra Mountains (pictured) form the backdrop of this rural country, whose culture is rooted in this beautiful landscape. Go Now!

  • Bulgaria!

    Bulgaria: An old Turkish bridge. Go Now!

    Bulgaria
    The isolated mountains of Bulgaria hide cultural gems around every corner, including this old Turkish bridge in the Rhodopi Mountains. Explore Bulgaria!

  • Italy!

    Italy: Rome' historic buildings. Go Now!

    Italy
    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

  • Portugal!

    Portugal: Palace of Pena. Go Now!

    Portugal
    Although next to the seas and made famous by trade, Portugal boasts dynamic landscapes and architecture, including the Palace of Pena (pictured) near the town of Sintra. Go to Portugal!

  • Denmark!

    Denmark: Landscape. Go Now!

    Denmark
    From cities like Copenhagen to islands, beaches, and vast fields (pictured), Denmark offers incredible history, architecture, scenery, and more. Begin Your Journey!

  • Armenia!

    Armenia: Noravank Monastery. Go Now!

    Armenia
    With a unique language, foods, architecture, and identity, Armenia is a fascinating country and culture unlike no other in the world. Begin Your Journey!

History of Italy

In early history, Italy was essentially just city-states with numerous groups rising and falling from power, but none ever dominating the entire region. As close as any came were the Etruscans in modern-day Tuscany and the Greeks in the south, that is, until Rome emerged in about 500 BC.

Rome slowly gained power from 500 BC on. Their government was revolutionary as they had a senate and political and military consuls ran the government. This system also allowed more social mobility than most governments at the time and class differences were, relatively, based more on economic standing than on personal connections, although the latter was never eliminated. The Romans also adopted many of the Etruscans' and Greeks' knowledge from writing and monetary units to the Greek system of gods.

By 100 BC Rome was arguably the most important city in the world and in the same year Julius Caesar was born. Caesar changed Roman politics by essentially destroying the Senate and leading the country into a dictatorial government for years to come, but this didn't wane Rome's power over the Mediterranean and the world. Rome continued to expand into Africa and the Middle East, peaking in size in about 115 AD.

In 313, Christianity and all religions were free to be practiced in the empire, but a few years later, in 330 the empire split in two, with the western capital in Rome and the eastern in Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey).

Rome slowly deteriorated, but was saved by the Catholic Church, when in 800 the church crowned Charlemagne the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in exchange for giving the church power in Rome and throughout the empire. The church offered Charlemagne power in that they controlled a unifying force, Christianity, which much of Europe had converted to by this point. However, it also shifted power from Rome to France and severed ties with Constantinople, putting Rome itself, and much of present-day Italy in further decline.

For centuries after this time, much of Italy fell under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, but various city-states maintained much independence and self-rule. As the Holy Roman Emperors and the Popes fought over power, each city-state sided with whomever would give them more autonomy, creating further division, but also seeing the rise of prosperity to numerous cities such as Venice and Florence (to learn more about the history of the pope, Vatican City, and the Papal States, read the History of Vatican City).

During this period, until the 1400s there was generally no united country, but small independent states, often times at war with each other as power struggles regularly erupted.

Beginning in 1453 with the immigration of Byzantium scholars, Italy, particularly Florence became the center of the Renaissance, which brought new architectural styles, arts, and thinking to first Italy, then much of Europe.

After the Renaissance, Italy again fell into the pattern of small city-states fighting each other as unity fell to an afterthought. These became either independent states or fell under the influence of Spanish or French rulers. Even after the people wanted unification, it was a long uphill battle, which wasn't completed until 1861, although this was only on paper as more regions and groundwork had to be incorporated.

At the outbreak of World War I Italy tried to avoid siding with its allies, Austria and Germany. Eventually Italy sided with the United Kingdom in order to get independence after the war, but after the war Italy didn't get all the territories they sought. This put Italy squarely on the same page as other countries which felt neglected by the Treaty of Versailles: Germany and Austria.

In World War II the Italians sided with Nazi Germany, but the military was underprepared and underequipped, plus most of the soldiers had no true motivation to fight, making the army a mess that was continuously saved by the Nazis. As the war neared an end, the American front moved up the peninsula and many towns viewed this as a liberation from their fascist government.

After the war, due to the Marshall Plan, Italy worked with France and Germany to rebuild Europe and create a new future. Although the 1900s weren't always a smooth transition, Italy eventually became a leading member in the formation of the European Union (EU) and today continues to be an influential member of the EU.

This page was last updated: March, 2013