In the 18th century, Italy was still divided into smaller states, but differently than during medieval times when the political entities were independent and were flourishing economic and cultural centers almost unrivaled in Europe. During the 18th century, all of them were submitted, in one way or another, to one of the greater hegemonic powers. This process of conquest and submission began during the early 16th century, when France was called on by the Duke Milan to intervene in his favor and from there never stopped.
Starting from the northwest, the kingdom of Sardinia was controlling the Alpine western area and the island from which it took its name and ruled by the Savoy family. The kingdom of Sardinia was the youngest political entity in Italy and, possibly because of that, the strongest and most independent. Milan was found dominating part of the central plane, Venice was in control of the east, and Genova was dominating the coastal area south of the kingdom of Sardinia. Central Italy was ruled by the Duchy of Tuscany and the Papal States, while the south was united under the kingdom of Sicily.
In 1847, the Austrian Chancellor Klement von Metternich referred to Italy as merely a “geographical expression,” and to some extent, he was not far off the mark. The inhabitants did not speak Italian; only a literate few wrote in the Italian of Dante and of Machiavelli, and a mere estimated two and a half percent spoke the language. The rest spoke their own regional dialects, which were so distinct from one another as to be incomprehensible from town to town. Similarly, most future Italian citizens knew nothing of the history of the peninsula, but instead learned of their own local traditions and histories.
The events of 1848-1849 began to pull the peninsula together, however. In January 1848, Sicily had a major revolution, which provoked widespread uprisings and riots, after which the kingdoms of Sardinia, the Two Sicilies, the Papal States and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany all were granted constitutions. In February, the Pope fled Rome and a three-month long Republic was declared, headed by Giuseppe Mazzini. In March, a revolution in Venice led to the declaration of a republic. In April, Milan also rebelled and became a republic. Soon, the Austrian government clamped down again on the peninsula with such intensity that not even the most optimistic would have been able to fathom the nationalist Risorgimento movement would unify Italy a little more than a decade later.
The Unification of Italy: The History of the Risorgimento and the Conflicts that Unified the Italian Nation chronicles the turbulent events and wars that unified Italy, and the struggle to maintain the new nation. You will learn about Italian unification like never before.