How old is Italy?

Italy is famous throughout the world for its delicious food, rich culture, and a long history. But when did Italy come to be? Who discovered it? And what customs influenced its culture? 

With thousands of years of highlights including the renaissance period and the Roman empire, learning about Italy’s birth is low on the country’s historic moments. Trying to trace back a country’s history is hard enough when we’re going back by a few hundred years, let alone a thousand. This becomes a very difficult task when we consider that people did not read and write as commonly as we do now. This means they had different systems of documenting and processing everyday transactions and significant events. And in many cases, did not document them at all. Instead, historians have had to rely on art, archaeological remains, stories, legends and myths to piece together an accurate representation of the past. The beginnings of Italy are no exception. To try and find out when Italy came to be what it is today we must look back at its founding fathers – the ancient civilisations that have made it what it is today. 

The Etruscans

This ancient civilisation was spread throughout Italy, with its main city centre located north of Rome, now known as Tuscany. There is much debate over the origin of the Etruscans. Some historians believe the Etruscans descended from a people who invaded Etruria from Anatolia before 800 BCE and established themselves over the native Iron Age inhabitants of the region. Whilst other historians believe the Etruscans to be native to Italy being skilled craftsmen and merchants. Either way, what historians can agree on is that the Etruscans existed from the 8th century BCE to the 3rd century BCE. 

During this time, the Etruscan’s expanded over much of Italy, conquering towns and cities as they battled to gain more control than the Greeks. Despite this rivalry, however, the Etruscan’s language was heavily influenced by their trade with the Greeks, speaking a language unlike any of its neighbours. Under their control, Italy flourished, as they turned small villages into bustling towns, building public works such as the walls of Capitoline hill and the Cloaca Maxima (sewer). Other cultural developments included their worshipping of gods and goddesses, a religion similar to that of the Greeks. These customs may remind many of you of ancient Rome, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Whilst the Roman Empire is known for its engineering and technological advancements, we shouldn’t forget that much of this was influenced by the Etruscans. They laid the foundations for a thriving commercial and agricultural civilisation, passing on their culture, religion and even their alphabet onto the Romans. Sadly, this civilisation slowly died out after numerous factors contributed to the loss of trade and decline in cities.

The Foundation of Rome

This puts into question the famous legend of Rome that states that the brothers Romulus and Remus founded the city in  753 BCE. Although with what we know about the Etruscans and their belief in the gods, this is a legend that could have descended from them. For Romulus and Remus were believed to be the sons of Mars, the god of war, and a Vestal Virgin and were then abandoned on Palatine Hill to be left for dead. Being heavily influenced by the religion of the Etruscans, the Romans shared many of the same cults and rituals as them, which in turn hugely influenced Roman culture. The brothers survived when they were found by a she-wolf who let them drink her milk. When the boys grew up and decided to found a city of their own they soon started to quarrel. This was put to an end when Romulus slew his brother Remus, and founded Rome alone, naming it after him. 

The Roman Republic

The Roman republic ruled Italy for 500 years, beginning in 509 BCE and forming a government that allowed people to elect the officials. It was known for its very complicated government, with a number of different types of officials and leaders in charge. After being established, they colonised a large portion of Italy, invading many foreign areas to claim as their own. However, the republic soon grew weak, with its inability to adjust to the expanding empire. As well the internal conflicts with the republic created the foundation of the republic to waver. Julius Caesar, the famous dictator of Rome who dismantled the government, was assassinated in 44 BCE, which became the trigger to end the Roman Republic and officially making it the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire

This ancient civilisation is one of history’s legendary realms. With advanced technology, engineering, and architecture, many of the ancient structures are still found today. It ruled for nearly a thousand years, with numerous emperors that ranged in wisdom, cruelty, and inspiration. There is not one defining the reason why the empire fell, but a series of triggers that influence the collapse in 476 AD. 

The Papal States

After Christianity spread to Rome, the bishops of Rome, started calling themselves Popes and created the Papal States. This began in 754 CE and took control of a large portion of Italy. However, the Kingdom of Italy appeared in 1861 and slowly started to take control of all the papal territories, with the last remaining papal section being Rome. The pope withdrew into the Vatican city walls and hide from the approaching Kingdom of Italy. Refusing to acknowledge the Kingdom of Italy or as a rightful country, all while grumbling on how he was confined within the Vatican Walls for protection.

Kingdom of Italy

The Kingdom of Italy at this point had control over the entire country except for Vatican City where the pope still remained. Instead of forcing him out, they decided instead to simply wait until the Pope cracked. However, this lasted sixty long years, with a number of different Popes accepting this self-imposed captivity. In 1929, the Prime Minister of Italy proposed an agreement that made Vatican City its own country, where it would be controlled by the Pope but has no say in any politic arguments.

See Italy’s history first hand on our Private Pompeii Tour from Rome!