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About this book

Until the beginning of the eighteenth century, to be 'Italian' meant to identify with a number of collective memories, rather than a national memory. Yet there are elements of continuity that have shaped Italian identity over the past 1,500 years. Religion, food, art and architecture, a literary language, as well as a particular relationship between cities and countryside, between family and civil society have all contributed to present day Italian culture and politics. Baldoli explores the history of Italy as a country, rather than as a nation, in order to trace its fascinating cultural and political development.

Offering a way into each period of Italian history, the book brings Italy's past to life with extracts from poetry, novels and music. Drawing on the latest research published in English and Italian, this is the ideal introduction for all those interested in Italy's cultural and social past and its significance for the country's present.

Table of Contents

1. The ‘Barbarian’ Middle Ages: Invasions, Culture, Religion

Abstract
When did the Middle Ages start? The German mathematician Johann Christoph Keller, who lived at the end of the seventeenth century, suggested that they began between 313 (when Constantine’s Edict legalized Christianity) and 326 (when the capital of the Roman Empire moved to Constantinople), though he also considered 395, the date of the division of the Empire by Theodosius. Others proposed different dates, such as the capture of Rome by the Visigoths (410) or the death of Justinian, the emperor of the eastern Roman Empire (565). The Belgian historian Henri Pirenne (author, among many works, of the 1937 classic Mohammed and Charlemagne) argued that only with the Islamic invasions around 650 was it possible to really confirm the end of the Roman tradition, and so he dated the Middle Ages from that time.
Claudia Baldoli

2. The Middle Ages of the Cities

Abstract
In the period leading up to 1000 there were fears that the millennium might herald the end of the world. Even though people did not necessarily expect the end of the world in that exact year, the eleventh century recovery appeared like the reawakening of a society which, as the historian Henri Pirenne observed, ‘for a long time had seemed oppressed by a distressing nightmare’. The decades around the year 1000 were times of transition; economic and social changes intensified people’s need for the kinds of reassurance typical of pre-industrial ages, and these years were characterized by mysticism, belief in miracles, heresy, and opposition to the corruption and worldliness of the clergy. As Georges Duby showed, that age of hope and fear was marked by epidemics, eclipses and famine; monks interpreted astrological signs as prefiguring the end of the world. This atmosphere of impending doom persisted for two centuries, and is the origin of many monastic orders, such as that founded by Joachim of Fiore on a mountain near Cosenza in Calabria at the end of the twelfth century. Joachim offered a bridge to make the transition less traumatic between a world in decline and a new age of hope, which was optimistically expected but still threatened by uncertainties.
Claudia Baldoli

3. The Middle Ages of the Courts

Abstract
In the fourteenth century a terrible plague, known as the ‘Black Death’, hit Italy. It arrived during a period of dynamic commercial exchange between East and West on ships from the eastern Mediterranean; ships which also brought the rats carrying the plague bacillus. In Italy, the plague attacked first in Sicily, originating from contaminated Genoese ships arriving at Messina from Constantinople in 1347. From there, the epidemic spread across most of Italy and into the rest of Europe. The population of Europe was approximately 80 million people at that time, around 25 million of whom died of the plague. Its effects on Italy were worse than elsewhere because of the degree of urbanization; the peninsula had more than 150 cities of over 5,000 inhabitants, and the disease spread more easily where contact between people was closer. In many cities, the plague killed citizens a small number at a time, reappearing often after 1348. The population reached its lowest point in the first decades of the fifteenth century, by which time Florence, for example, had lost two-thirds of its population (down from 100–120,000 to 37,000). While cities organized defence measures (medicinal remedies and forms of social control, as well as processions and rituals invoking God and the patron saints), many inhabitants moved temporarily to the countryside, where the plague was less prevalent. At the end of the fourteenth century, the population of Italy had fallen to 8 million — from 11 million in 1300 and 9.5 million in 1350. Seeing the many empty dwellings, built during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when the population was increasing, must have had a profound impact on contemporaries.
Claudia Baldoli

4. Renaissance Italy: From the European Model to the ‘End of Italy’?

Abstract
For European monarchies in possession of solid armies and finances, Italy was a kind of promised land. The peninsula’s political fragmentation encouraged ambitions for conquest. Italian states attempted to avert foreign occupation with the constitution of an Italian League in 1454, in the hope of maintaining a balance by avoiding internal wars and in defence of what they publicly called ‘Italian liberty’. This balance was, however, very fragile, and the period between the end of the fifteenth century and 1559 is known as that of the ‘Italian wars’, during which France, Spain and the Germanic Empire fought each other on Italian territory. Paradoxically, it was during this terrible period that Italy experienced the period of the high Renaissance. Historian and politician Francesco Guicciardini (1483–1540) observed that the multiplicity of capital cities and princely courts in the regional states guaranteed Italy’s political and cultural polycentrism, without which the Renaissance would probably have been impossible. He therefore concluded that the absence of a unified monarchy had perhaps been an advantage for Italy:
But the misfortunes of Italy … tended to stir up men’s minds with all the more displeasure and dread inasmuch as things in general were at that time most favorable and felicitous … Not only did Italy abound in inhabitants, merchandise and riches, but she was also highly renowned for the magnificence of many princes, for the splendour of so many most noble and beautiful cities, as the seat and majesty of religion, and flourishing with men most skillful in the administration of public affairs and most nobly talented in all disciplines and distinguished and industrious in all the arts.
(Guicciardini, 1969, Book I, pp. 3–4)
Claudia Baldoli

5. Under Popes and Distant Kings: Italy in the Age of the Baroque

Abstract
While reflecting on the age that followed the Counter-Reformation, the early-twentieth-century historian, Benedetto Croce, observed that, while Italy’s rejection of Protestantism had kept the country in one sense united, it had done so at the price of a kind of cultural hibernation, cut off from the movement of ideas that spread across the rest of Europe, because of the domination of the Papacy and Spain. Italy, he claimed, ‘was resting, tired; and it is a beautiful and wishful metaphor, to say that she was not completely finished and dead’. These views were typical of a historiography that saw the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth century as a period of decline between two glorious ages — the Renaissance and the Risorgimento. This was a reading influenced by nineteenth-century nationalism, which hoped that the Risorgimento marked a break with an era considered hostile to the ‘modern age’, in which Italy was disunited and subject to the will of foreign powers. This chapter explores the common threads of Italy’s culture and society in the period between the Counter-Reformation and the Enlightenment, a long period which left important legacies for modern Italy, in terms of social discipline (as a result of the Council of Trent), of scientific discoveries, and of achievements in art, architecture, music and literature. As John Marino has remarked, while the French and Spanish invasions conquered Italy politically, Italy continued to export its culture to France and Spain, as well as to the rest of early modern Europe.
Claudia Baldoli

6. A National Melodrama: The Epic of the Risorgimento

Abstract
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, most of Italy was living under famine conditions, which encouraged rulers to implement ‘Enlightened’ policies of reform. To confront both economic crisis and relative cultural decline, Italian intellectuals began to promote a sense of revival, or risorgimento. The movement was initiated in Naples and Milan, influenced by a wider European Enlightenment culture. For late-eighteenthcentury thinkers who took part in the Enlightenment, famine and disease were no longer signs of God’s will, but the result of poor government policies. Debates on the best form of government had continued from the post-Renaissance period. Political thought in this earlier period had been inspired by the publication of Machiavelli’s Discourses and The Prince in 1531–32, and Guicciardini’s History of Italy in 1561–4 (previously circulated in manuscript); these works formed the basis for the subsequent analysis by the Piedmontese priest and political thinker Giovanni Botero (1544–1617), author of The Reason of State, and of Paolo Sarpi. As seen in the previous chapter, the political movements of the Renaissance and post-Renaissance were revived by the work of early Enlightenment thinkers such as Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Giambattista Vico and Pietro Giannone, and, in the second half of the eighteenth century, by reformers such as the Milanese Pietro Verri (1728–97) and Cesare Beccaria.
Claudia Baldoli

7. Liberal Italy

Abstract
In 1876, Pasquale Villari addressed the Italian parliament, reminding members that ‘outside our narrow circle there is a numerous class to which Italy has never given a thought, and which it must finally take into consideration’. As early as 1843, in On the Civil and Moral Primacy of the Italians, Vincenzo Gioberti (1801–52) had argued that Italy existed on two levels: living and active for intellectuals and for some among the ruling classes, passive and ‘vegetative’ for the masses. Once unification had been achieved politically, the major question was, therefore, how to create an active loyalty to the new state among those who had hitherto been passive.
Claudia Baldoli

8. From Hunger to Hedonism: Italy in the Twentieth Century

Abstract
‘Sacred selfishness’: with these words, prime minister Antonio Salandra justified the shift in alliance that took Italy into the First World War on the side of the Entente in 1915. This cynical image confirmed the ideas that many contemporary Europeans held about Italy, especially among its former allies. Austro-Hungarian propaganda depicted Italian soldiers as sinister dwarfs with a regimental feather in their hats and a knife behind their backs, and represented Italy as a country of cunning people dating back to Machiavelli’s time (a country of machiavellici); after unification, Italy had inherited from Piedmont the art of ‘managing’: of changing alliances when it suited them. The Austrian chancellor referred ironically to Italian ‘waltz turns’ as both Germany and Austria tried to persuade Italy not to turn its back on them.
Claudia Baldoli

9. Conclusion

Abstract
In a recent address to the students of the Johns Hopkins University in Bologna, Cardinal Biffi argued that it was necessary to return to the values that have unified Italy: ‘and they are only two: religion and pasta’. As this book has sought to demonstrate, there are also other elements of continuity that have shaped Italian identity throughout the centuries — art and architecture, a unitary literate culture, and particularism in relationships between cities and countryside, between religion and politics, between family and civil society.
Claudia Baldoli
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