The Process of the Italian Nation-State

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Claudio Cignitti BA European Studies

“L’Unità d’ Italia”

The process of the Italian nation-state

Introduction On November 17, 2011 Italy will celebrate its 150 years of national unity. However, Italy and its identifying characteristics certainly do not go back only to 1861. The process of Italian state- and nation- building is incredibly ancient. In the nineteenth century the problem of national histories became the common patrimony of the whole European cultural history including its ideology, as the definition of national identity or as a result of nationalistic choices. During the twentieth century in Italy the problem was exalted by the fascist culture and its desire to reconstruct the historical and cultural influences to re-establish continuity with the legacy of civilization and empire of Rome. This paper therefore aims to investigate how much major steps in Italian history contributed to the formation of the Italian nation-state, in a time period that stretches from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the outbreak of the First World War. Nevertheless, in the first part I briefly introduce the importance that the Roman Empire which had influenced significantly the Italian culture. In fact, despite many centuries of wars, invasions and foreign domination after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Italian people still identified themselves as Romans. I then examine the chaotic period after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in which various barbarian invasions (Lombards, Byzantines, Franks, Arabs) and the politics that they brought, especially feudalism, made Italy extremely fragmented. In the second part I analyze the transition from the age of the communes, in which the Church and the autonomous city-states of the central and northern Italy had emerged as main political powers to the emergence of permanent lordships or signorie that gradually increased their size leading thus the formation of the Five Regional States in the peninsula. In this period I decided to focus on figures such as Machiavelli, who with his Prince had gave to the Italians a first glimmer of nationalism, and the Medici family which brought a situation of “apparent equilibrium” between the Italian States. In the last part I talk about the Risorgimento and the emergence of a nationalistic feeling that led to the unification and the Italian Liberal State, which contributed to the extreme division of Italy in 59 provinces, that prevented the formation of a real national unity once again.

The Roman Empire and the Ostrogoths The first time that the Italian geographical region was politically united was under the Roman Republic (509-27 BC). However, the imperial character of the gains made in the following centuries by Rome and by Italic socii ended up “distorting the national character that the Italian geographic region was acquiring” (Montanelli, 1998, p. 3) at the end of the first century BC. Arrived at the apex of the political, economic and social development, the Roman Empire is considered a very 2

significant stage in history, with an unrepeatable socio-political organization and with the importance of the mark left in the history of mankind. In all the territories on which they extended its borders, the Romans built towns, roads, bridges, aqueducts, fortifications, exporting their model of civilization everywhere and, at the same time, assimilating the subject peoples and civilizations, in a process so profound that for centuries, even after the end of the Empire, these people will “continue to call themselves Romans” (Montanelli, 1998, p.3) The Roman civilization, which was born on the banks of the Tiber, grown and spread in the Republican era, and finally fully developed in the Imperial age, is thus at the basis of the current Western civilization. The Italian political union of the geographic region achieved in Roman times ended in 476 AD with the fall of the Western Roman Empire. A “primitive political unity of Italy”...
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