Italy’s earliest archaeological record can be traced to the Stone Age over a half of a million years ago. Several generations passed, leaving little trace, until the presence of the Etruscans and the arrival of the Greeks, from the 8th – 4th century BCE.
One of the most important dictators of the Roman Empire was Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BCE), though he was never given the title Emperor. The first title of Emperor was bestowed upon Julius Caesar’s grandnephew, adopted son and heir, Octavius (63 BCE – 14 CE). Octavius was responsible for many social reforms, public works and military campaigns which saw Rome emerge as the cultural, religious and political centre of the world.
From the early 11th century the city-states of Italy began to form. These municipal power bases flourished and their legacies lasted well into the 19th century until Italy was completely unified as we know it today. In fact, these separate townships continue to be quite a part of the Italian character. Most Italians identify themselves with the city they come from rather than being “Italian”.
Until the late 19th century, Italy was still ruled and divided by various powers. Austria ruled in the north, the Papacy controlled central Italy and the Spanish dominated Sicily and the southern part of the country. Italy participated in both World Wars with the intention of territorial gain. Their success, however, in 1918 led only to debt and disappointment which gave rise to Fascism. The country’s misery and decline at the end of Word War II ironically laid the foundations of the post-war progress and the country’s present prosperous state. In fact, Italy’s progress since World War II has been remarkable developing in less than a generation from an agricultural backwater to one of the world’s leading industrial nations.
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