Italy's forebears, the Romans, dominated the known Western world from about 500 years before Christ until the fifth century A.D. In the fourth century, the empire began to falter when it was divided between Rome and Byzantium. While the Byzantine empire strengthened, Rome suffered waves of barbarian assaults which led to its functional dissolution into small nobilities and independent cities. These city-states eventually achieved considerable power. Venice and Genoa came to control the seas, while Florence and Sienna became wealthy through agriculture and commerce. This wealth provided the underpinnings for the Renaissance which bloomed between the 13th and 15th centuries. The powers in Europe, including Austria, Spain, and France, all tried to extend their dominion to Italy. Napoleon set up a Kingdom of Italy (as a French satellite) but his death resulted in t return to the old situation with Austria dominating in the north. In the 19th century, nationalism began to stir and another Kingdom of Italy was brought about by Garibaldi and di Cavour in 1861. It was strong enough to take Venice from Austria and absorb the Papal States in 1870. Though the country was united in land, old divisions died hard:
church and state, urban industry versus rural agriculture, north against south. In World War I, Italy joined the Allies but the cost was high: more than a million dead and immense suffering. The post-war period fostered the rise of Fascism, as Italians dealt with economic problems, fear of communism, and ineffectual government. Mussolini was invited by the king to take over the reins of government in 1922. He quickly became despotic. and joined with Hitler in the Axis. World War Ii was a disaster for Italy, which suffered from Allied attacks beginning in 1943. Mussolini was deposed in 1943 -- King Victor Emmanuel III ordered his arrest --but Hitler saved him. Mussolini proceeded tos et up another Fascist regime in the north, while the south, having prudently switched sides, welcomed the Allied forces as liberators. In 1946, the country voted to abolish the monarchy but republican politics have brought an astonishing 50-plus governments to power since the end of the war. Only in the 1990s have significant political reforms been enacted to bring more stability and effectiveness to government.