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The first known Homo Sapiens living on Italy date of 50,000 years ago. Italy on the time was very different from what is now: The islands of Elba and Sicily were connected to the Italian Mainland.
During the Neolithic, the most important cultures on Italy were the Apennines, the Nuragic, the Camuni and the Terramare. These created several artworks had semi-advanced cultures.
Many cultures lasted extremely long. For example, the Nuragics survived in Corsica and Sardinia until the mid-2nd century B.C, when they were assimilated by the now Romanized majority.
However, as with the rest of pre-Roman Italian history, not much is truly known about this ancient cultures.
Maybe the most known Stone Age object of Italy is "Ötzi the Iceman", a frozen man in remarkably good conditions found in the South Tyrol area in Italy.
The Pre-Roman Italy (or Ancient Italy) speaks about the Bronze and early Iron ages in which the Romans do not still dominate the lands of Italy. During this time, the Italian peoples were divided into many tribes.
Ligures, Etruscans and Veneti were the main populations on the north, while Latins, Samni, Mesapi and Greeks dominated the south. However, during this period, the most important settlements were the Etruscans on the north (on latin Etruria, on later Italian, Tuscany) and the Greeks on the south (then called Magna Graecia). Both had semi-Hellenic customs, greatly influenced by other Italian tribes. This tribes together would form the Roman traditions and culture. From the Latin language through Greek and Etruscan architecture, they formed the many customs and beliefs of Rome.
A new cultural tidal wave through the 500's BC found a new tribe within the Italian peninsula: The Gauls. They conquered many of the Etruscan lands on Padania (the Po Valley river then) and what today is Emilia-Romagna. They even tried to sack the (relatively new) city of Rome in 390 BC, but it was saved (according to legend) by the sacred geese of Juno.
From then on, the Romans started invading the Italian peninsula. They conquered Erturia, starting with the Siege of Veii (starting in 396 BC) and which had ended by 264 BC, by the dawn of the First Punic War.
The Roman Times
The Romans also entered in war with fellow Latins (Latin War, c. 338 BC), the Samni (Three Samnite Wars, ending on 290 BC) and finally had gotten the Veneti and formerly Etruscan and then Gallic lands of Northern Italy, plus Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily, on the end of the First Punic War (218 BC). Italy would then only be menaced by a non-Roman army once: In Hannibal's campaign on the Second Punic War, Rome was almost taken and Italy almost conquered. After that, the whole Italian peninsula was completely (and almost decisively) under Roman hands for almost 600 years.
Italy became the centered of the emergent Roman Empire during it's existence. It's culture was unified into one, and it got extremely rich by it's provinces. Many cities prospered. During this time, Rome became one of the largest cities on the time, and many new cities were founded on the age (such as Fiorentia, which was destroyed in the Marius-Sulla wars and then rebuilt after Julius Caesar seized the power). Other cities grew large too, such as Mediolandum (later Milan, which from then on was the second city in Italy).
Italy would be maintained on Roman hands almost until the Sack of Rome in 401 AD and then again until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD.
Directly After Rome and the Medieval Times
Italy then started became most of the territory of the short-lived Empire of Odoacer and the longer (but still short) lived Ostrogoth Empire.
Under Justinian's reign, Belisarius embarked on a series of re-conquests on the former Western Roman lands. The Byzantine Empire, the successor to the Roman Empire (even though it was led by Greeks and not Romans) were strong enough to destroy the Ostrogoth Kingdom.
However, this recuperation of culture on Italy would not last long. The Lombards invaded the former Ostrogoth Kingdom and soon conquered most of it (excepting Magna Graecia on Southern Italy and a small strip of land between Rome and Ravenna, which was lost by the Byzantines later). Further invasions consolidated the Lombard position over the Italian peninsula. But it was around this time that the (till now) united ex-Roman provinces of Illyria and Italia separated. During this age it was that the Italian language was given one of it's main distinctions with Latin, as (with all other Romance languages) the barbarian invaders implanted parts of their language into them (it is notable that only on Britain did the barbarians completely erase Roman customs and language).
By now Italy's population had many of its modern characteristics: It spoke it's own Romance language, it was deeply Catholic, and lived in an area similar to modern Italy (with the exception of the territory of Bolzano-Bolzen).
Charlemagne's invasion on the 800's proved an end to Italian unification. The almost simultaneous invasions of the Arabs on south Sicily and the Franks on northern Italy proved devastating by the Lombard kingdom.
The first independent state created was the Papal States on Central Italy. Charlemagne, a devoutly Christian man, created a strip of land between Rome and Ravenna, which would be led directly by the Pope.
Charlemagne's reign left a vacuum of power on Northern Italy. Many independent states (such as the Magravate of Tuscany and the Duchy of Milan. This nations would be almost left alone for the next years.
The news were much more worrying in the south, however. The Arabs had created a caliphate on Sicily with it's capital in Syracuse, and had started colonies on Corsica and Sardinia. The new Caliphate of Sicily had pledged it's allegiance to the powerful Shi'ite Fatimid Caliphate, and it would be almost until the later's fall that it could be conquered. The Emirate's army, now supported by the Fatimid's own too, had temporarily conquered an area on eastern France (today Marseilles) which was recuperated by the French soon. However, Italy was probably on mortal danger from the Arabs on the age.
This caused the three richest Italian republics of the age (Pisa, Genoa and Venice) to start greatly improving it's navy. This navy later proved to be essential to the Crusader history.
The Renaissance could have started when imported culture from the Emirate of Sicily and the Holy lands arrived to the city of Florence. It is known that by 1240 Florence was an independent state. It was in Florence where the Renaissance started (hence the name "Florentine Renaissance").
The XV Century was characterised by the richness that expanded to all of Italy, and also the imposing of Florence and Venice as the main city-states after the Florentine-Milanese war and the decline of Genoa. During this time, many of the most important people in the world (Lorenzo de' Medici, Machiavelli, Sandro Boticelli, Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo, Leonardo De Vinci, Catalina de' Medici, Amerigo Vespucci, Christopher Columbus) were Italian. Some (such as Machiavelli) were great politicians. Others (like Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Sandro Boticelli, and Dante Alighieri)were artists, and a few (Lorenzo de' Medici) were some of the greatest rulers the Western world has ever seen.
Excerpt from Grand Duchy of Tuscany (Divided Italy)
Republic of Florence
On 1115, the Republic of Florence was founded by Florentine rebels which wanted independence from the Margravate of Tuscany, which disintegrated after that. The Golden Florin was made, the first gold-based coin made on great quantities since the Byzantine 7th century coins, enough to play a significant roll on commerce on the trade routes based on Florence. That made the Republic of Florence to become very rich.
Over the ages, even if Florentine trade fell, culture went on a high peak. The Tuscan dialect of Italian became the standard Italian language. Unfortunately, Florence was hit rather hardly by the Black Death. At the end of it, a great revolt of cotton workers, called the Ciompi Revolt, happened. It established a revolutionary commune.
During the reign of the Medici, which transformed the Republic of Florence into the Duchy of Florence and then the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Renaissance started. Florence became the cultural centre of the world, but militarily it got weaker till the Duchy of Milan forced Florence to submit to some terms that reduced the sovereignty of it. War broke up on the early 15th Century. The Florentines were victorious because of the Venecian interference in the pro-Florentine side.
Cosimo I de' Medici became the first Medici ruler of the Republic of Tuscany on 1433, starting the illustrious royal family of De' Medici. He and his grandson, Lorenzo de'Medici, were great patrons of the arts. During their reigns the Renaissance started on a serious way. Great publishings were made, such as Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince, and the many pieces of the finest artwork by Tuscan artists, such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci. Scientific progress was greatly improved too, which some Tuscan scientists as Galileo Galilei. The Medici, not only patrons of the arts and the sciences but also of Roman Catholicism, were also popes and cardinals.
For a while, after the reign of the Dux Piero di Medici the Unfortunate, Girolamo Savonarola ascended to the throne. He was excommunicated by Alexander VI and he declared war upon Pisa, which miserably failed and led to widespread plague and famine. He was then tortured and executed by Fiorentine funcionaries, and killed on May 1498. Soderini supplanted him, and his secretary Niccolò Machiavelli, previous author of other books under Lorenzo the Magnificent's reign, was able to conquer Pisa. Soderini was deposed on 1512, when Cardinal Giovanni de Medici entered Florence with Papal troops. Unfortunately, he had to go back to Rome as the Pope had just died, and he had to attend to the conclave. However, Giovanni was able to become the pope, and became Pope Leo X. This made the Papal States and Florence to be in a personal union, and he placed his brother Giuliano de'Medici, as the ruler of Tuscany. On 1527, as the city of Rome itself was on siege, the Medici were deposed. Puritanism swept through the Republic, and someone appointed Jesus of Nazareth (Christ) as the King of Florence. Many new restricting fundamentalist laws were passed. But on one moment, Clement VII (Another Medici) made a treaty with Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. In return for the Pope's blessing, Charles attacked Florence and reposed the Medici yet again after a long siege.
Duchy of Florence
In 1533, Alessandro de' Medici was crowned as Dux of Florence, ending the Florentine Republic and creating the Duchy of Florence. This created great civil unrest. In 1535, a delegation was sent to Charles V to ask him to depose Alessandro De' Medici. It was sent by the several illustrious families such as the Pazzi, which had tried to kill Lorenzo the Magnificent on the Pazzi Conspiracy. On April 17, 1555, both the Duchy of Florence conquered Siena. Florence became a fiefdom of Spain on 1557, but it conserved it's independence. Cosimo then purchased Elba from Genoa, and built Livorno. On Livorno, he implanted a law of freedom of religion. The Medici family moved to the Palazzo Pitti on 1560. Cosimo then commissioned the architect Vasari to build the Uffizi, as office for the Medici Bank and for a storage of artwork, continuing the Medici tradition of patroning the arts.
Excerpt ends here
Early Modern Ages
Italy, on this age, lost political relevance and was confined to exterior domination. However, many Italian people were still important, and Italy still flourished in culture during this era. Napoleone Buonaparte (later Napoleon Bonaparte) was a Corsican, son of rich Italian people. He became an important general during the French Revolution and conquered half of Europe.
However, Napoleone was not the only one who owned Italy. By the XVIII and XIX Centuries, the Italian momentum seemed to have stopped. Austria was conquering Venice and Milan, while the lands of the Rhone were annexed by France. Spain and Austria (and later only Austria) had Habsburg monarchies on Tuscany, the Two Sicilies and Urbino. Only the Papal States seemed independent, and those only because they were the land of the Pope.
Il Risorgimiento: The Italian Unification process
Italy's unification started in the Kingdom of Piedemont-Savoy. It started attacking nearby nations, asking the French for help. Vittorio Emanuele II miraculously won the Battle of Custoza in 1848 with French help, so he gave them the areas of Nice and Savoy to them; Giuseppe Garibaldi won the Campaign of the Thousand in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The Unification process is thought to have been finished on 1870, when the Pope surrendered the areas around Rome to Emanuele's forces. The Kingdom of Italy had been founded.
From Unification to WW1: The Italian Liberal Period
Italy's policies became increasingly liberal during the period between the proclamation of the Kingdom in 1861 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914. However, Italy was in grave danger. During the age, the Italians had a cholera epidemic that killed approximately 50,000 peasants. Italy also was in trouble with Austria, which still owned Tyrol, Istria and Venice. A neighbor in gelid relation, it was forced to join the Triple Alliance in 1884. This alliance was officially maintained intact until 1915, when Italy joined the war in the Allie's side.
Colonialism worked during this age on Italy. The Italians felt weak comparing to the British or French Empires, and wished for a new Roman Empire. This posture later helped the Fascists on Italy to take power on the March of Rome (1922).
Italy entered in war in 1895 with Ethiopia. Although much superior technologically, the Italians were defeated by a (considerably larger) army that mostly wore spears. Few of the Ethiopian army had modern weaponry. The Italian army was defeated in the Battle of Adowa. This is one of the causes for the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936.
Italy entered war with the Ottoman Empire in 1911. The war ended only a year later, with Italian victory and the handing of Libya to Italy.
Italy also started to colonize Somalia. Escaping from the British colonial ambitions on Somaliland, the Italians colonized lower Somalia.
excerpt from Wikipedia
Until 1922, Italy was a constitutional monarchy with a parliament, mostly elected with universal suffrage (in 1913, the first universal male suffrage election was held). The so called Statuto Albertino, which Carlo Alberto conceded in 1848 remained unchanged, even if the kings usually abstained from abusing their extremely large powers (for example, senators were not elected but chosen by the king).