Italy, history of since earliest times the history of Italy has been influenced by cultural and political divisions resulting from the peninsula's disparate geography and by circumstances that made Italy the scene of many of Europe's most important struggles for power.
Human activity in Italy started during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods. By the beginning of the Neolithic period (c.5000 BC), the small communities of hunters of earlier times were disappearing and people started to have agricultural settlements, with some stock breeding and widespread use of stone implements and pottery. Painted vessels that seem to have been influenced by contemporary styles in Greece have been found at Castellaro Vecchio on the island of Lipari.
The Bronze Age
About 2000 BC, metalworking was introduced into southern Italy and Sicily by new immigrants from the east; the northern Italian Polada culture of the same period left evidence of strong links with cultures from north of the Alps. During the Bronze Age (c.1800-1000 BC), much of central and southern Italy had a unified culture known as the Apennine, characterized by large agricultural and pastoral settlements; on the southeastern coast and in Sicily evidence indicates trading contacts with the Mycenaeans. After c.1500 BC, in the Po Valley to the north, the terramara culture--with its villages constructed on wooden piles, its advanced techniques of bronze working, and its cremation rites--rose to prominence. By the time of the introduction of iron into Italy (c.1000 BC), regional variations were well established.
In the late 8th century BC Greek colonizers arrived in the south and in Sicily; while in central Italy and the Po Valley came the ETRUSCANS. The diverse cultural patterns of the early Iron Age were further complicated. Historians generally agree that Etruscan culture was the result of outside (probably eastern) influence on indigenous peoples; the source, degree, and chronology of that outside influence remain uncertain. By the end of the 7th century BC, LATIUM and part of CAMPANIA had joined central Italy under Etruscan rule. As the Etruscans expanded their rule, many city-states were founded by the Italians.
According to later Roman historians, the city of ROME, founded in c.753, probably by local LATINS and SABINES, was ruled by Etruscan kings from 616 BC. But after the expulsion of Lucius TARQUINIUS SUPERBUS in 510 BC, the last of the Etruscan kings, and the foundation of the Roman republic in 509, the power of the Etruscans declined as the Romans began the unification of Italy. This process reached its final stage in 89 BC, when the right of Roman citizenship was extended throughout Italy, with the consequent diffusion of Roman institutions and the Latin language and culture from the Alps to Sicily.
The Roman Empire
The Roman Empire began effectively in 31 BC with the defeat of Mark ANTONY and CLEOPATRA by GAIUS OCTAVIUS, a grandnephew of Julius Caesar, who later became known as Emperor AUGUSTUS. In 330, Emperor CONSTANTINE I transferred his capital from Rome to Constantinople, built on the site of Byzantium. Italy's administrative autonomy was lost shortly afterwards when two dioceses were joined with that of Africa to form a single prefecture. The loss of temporal power, however, was to some degree compensated for by the growing importance of Italy as a center of Christianity: starting in the 2nd century AD several bishoprics were founded in addition to that of Rome: in Milan, Ravenna, Naples, Benevento, and elsewhere. After 476, when the Germanic chieftain ODOACER deposed the last western emperor, Romulus Augustulus (r. 475-76), military control of Italy passed into barbarian hands. Under the Ostrogothic king, THEODORIC (r. 493-526; see GOTHS), in practical terms Italian political and social ties were with the West, in spite of continuing theoretical ties with the...