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The history of the Italian peninsula can be divided quite neatly in seven distinct periods, spanning almost three millennia of human civilisation.
The earliest evidence of human presence on the Italian peninsula dates back to 16,000 BC, although nothing much can be said of the period before the late Iron Age (approx. 800 BC) when early Greeks founded colonies on the southeast of the peninsula and Sicily. Etruscan presence in central Italy dates back to the same period, who were to rule these lands as a kingdom that prospered almost 700 years. The principal remains of Etruscan civilisation can still be visited near Cerveteri; much of the Greek remains can be seen in Campania and on Sicily.
The Roman period consists of three main eras. The era of (Etruscan) kings (753 BC - 509 BC), during this time Rome did not extended beyond present day Italy. During the Etruscan era there was very little Greek influence. The Roman Republic, which went from 509 BC to 31 BC, this was the time that the senate ruled Rome and it eventually became more and more corrupt. This lead to Julius Caesar's storming into Rome with his soldiers and making himself dictator. After the Senate organized an assassination which made Rome descend into chaos. Augustus Caesar came to power starting the Roman Empire, which went from 31 BC to 476 AD. With the rise of Christianity the empire changed greatly and started to deteriorate. The empire was split in 286 and at roughly the same time christianity was legalized.
In 476 AD due to great corruption and inability even to protect the city of Rome the western empire fell. Although most areas continued to keep Roman laws and legal systems and the legacy of the Catholic Church can be felt to this day. After 476 AD, the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, remained together until 1453 AD with its capital in current day Istanbul. Several times it tried to retake the western empire but was never successful because of cultural difference between Catholics and Orthodox beliefs, also the identity of tribes had grown so strong that rebuilding a larger Roman identity could not be done.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy existed of many smaller states and city states, and was invaded many times by foreign forces. Slowly out of this patchwork of states, some bigger more dominant states emerged in the late Middle Ages. The kingdom of Naples controlled the south, the Republic of Florence, the Republic of Siena and the Papal States the centre, the Genoese and the Milanese the north and west, and the Venetians the east. Sicily and Sardinia was controled by the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon.
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The Renaissance was an extremely important period in Italian history, and in European history, and brought along numerous political, philosophical, literary, cultural, social and religious reforms. The Renaissance was so called because it was a "rebirth" of many classical ideas that had long been buried in the chapters of classical Antiquity. During the Renaissance Florence became the most important city in the region, and many of the most famous artists, like Botticelli, Da Vinci and Michelangelo worked there. This all happened under the rule of the Medici family which was almighty for some centuries, and had family members elected as Pope. During the Renaissance some of the most famous pieces of arts were created, including the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci and the most important one: The paintings at the Sistine Chappel by Michelangelo.
From the late 15th century France and Spain, competed to conquer the several kingdoms. Spain succeeded in this and took firm control over the country. In the south this control was the thoughest, and is the cause for the economical division between the north and the south today. After the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, it was Austria which were the dominant force in Italy, after it acquired the State of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples.
The French revolution, and other revolutions taking place in Europe, sparked the idea that a united Italy could be possible on the peninsula. It took three wars to achieve an independent and unified Italy, but that goal was finally realised in 1870, when the French, which controlled the Papal States, abandoned their positions in Rome during the Franco-Prussian War. Soon after that Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. In the last decades of the 19th century Italy developed into a colonial power by adding the colonies of Somalia, Eritrea and later Libya and the Dodecanese (a group of what are now Greek Islands, but where conquered from Turkey). In all cases these colonies were taken by force.
Until 1915 Italy was neutral in World War I, but became involved with the signing of the treaty of London. As a result of that Italy received obtained just Bolzano-Bozen, Trento, Trieste and Istria after the war, as compensation. This however was less than what was promised when signing the treaty. In the years after the war the power struggle that took place in the whole of Europe between liberals, communists and fascists also reached Italy. With the liberals supporting the fascists to prevent a socialist state, Mussolini could rise to power in Italy, leading Italy into World War II on the side of Nazi-Germany. During the war Italy lost all of its colonies, was invaded in june 1943 and remained a battleground for the remaining years of the war. After the war, the Kingdom became a republic, and became a member of NATO, and a founding member of the E.E.C. (later the E.U.).
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