In particular, Southern Italy was impoverished and cut off from the mainstream of events in Europe. Flag of the Italian Navy , displaying the coat of arms of the most prominent maritime republics: All these cities during the time of their independence had similar systems of government in which the merchant class had considerable power. The Roman Empire at its greatest extent, AD. The republics were heavily involved in the Crusades , providing support but most especially taking advantage of the political and trading opportunities resulting from these wars.
The Medici became the leading family of Florence and fostered and inspired the birth of the Italian Renaissance,   along with other families of Italy, such as the Visconti and Sforza of Milan , the Este of Ferrara , and the Gonzaga of Mantua. In the meantime, the discovery of the Americas , the new routes to Asia discovered by the Portuguese and the rise of the Ottoman Empire , all factors which eroded the traditional Italian dominance in trade with the East, caused a long economic decline in the peninsula. In a league of city-states, the Lombard League , defeated the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the Battle of Legnano , thus ensuring effective independence for most of northern and central Italian cities. The republics were heavily involved in the Crusades , providing support but most especially taking advantage of the political and trading opportunities resulting from these wars. Flag of the Italian Navy , displaying the coat of arms of the most prominent maritime republics: The Lombard kingdom was subsequently absorbed into the Frankish Empire by Charlemagne in the late 8th century. In the wake of Julius Caesar 's rise and death in the first century B. Venice , Genoa , Pisa and Amalfi In coastal and southern areas, the maritime republics grew to eventually dominate the Mediterranean and monopolise trade routes to the Orient. In —, general Giuseppe Garibaldi led the drive for unification in Naples and Sicily,  while the House of Savoy troops occupied the central territories of the Italian peninsula, except Rome and part of Papal States. The Roman Empire at its greatest extent, AD. The Colosseum in Rome, built c. Although in practice these were oligarchical, and bore little resemblance to a modern democracy , the relative political freedom they afforded was conducive to academic and artistic advancement. In the context of the liberal revolutions that swept through Europe, an unsuccessful war was declared on Austria. Christopher Columbus discovered America in , opening a new era in the history of humankind Following the Italian Wars to , ignited by the rivalry between France and Spain, the city-states gradually lost their independence and came under foreign domination, first under Spain to and then Austria to The Italian Peninsula was named Italia and, as the territory of the city of Rome, maintained a special status which made it "not a province, but the Domina ruler of the provinces ". War between the city-states was endemic, and primarily fought by armies of mercenaries known as condottieri , bands of soldiers drawn from around Europe, especially Germany and Switzerland, led largely by Italian captains. Greatest artists like Leonardo da Vinci , Brunelleschi , Botticelli , Michelangelo , Giotto , Donatello , Titian and Raphael produced inspired works — their paintwork was more realistic-looking than had been created by Medieval artists and their marble statues rivalled and sometimes surpassed those of Classical Antiquity. Italian unification Main articles: Venice and Genoa were Europe's gateway to trade with the East, and a producer of fine glass, while Florence was a capital of silk, wool, banks and jewellery. Until the 13th century, Italian politics was dominated by the relations between the Holy Roman Emperors and the Papacy, with most of the Italian city-states siding for the former Ghibellines or for the latter Guelphs from momentary convenience. The capital of Italy was moved from Turin to Florence. All these cities during the time of their independence had similar systems of government in which the merchant class had considerable power. Rome , a settlement around a ford on the river Tiber conventionally founded in BC, was ruled for a period of years by a monarchical system, initially with sovereigns of Latin and Sabine origin, later by Etruscan kings. The Western Empire , under the pressure of the barbarian invasions , eventually dissolved in AD, when its last Emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by the Germanic chief Odoacer , while the Eastern half of the Empire survived for another thousand years. In particular, Southern Italy was impoverished and cut off from the mainstream of events in Europe. Giuseppe Garibaldi , considered one of the greatest generals of modern times and one of Italy's "fathers of the fatherland",  commanded and fought in many military campaigns that led eventually to the Italian unification, and is known as the Hero of the Two Worlds  The patriotic journalist Giuseppe Mazzini , member of the secret revolutionary society Carbonari and founder of the influential political movement Young Italy in the early s, favoured a unitary republic and advocated a broad nationalist movement.
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