1902 Encyclopedia > Italy > Italian History - Introduction

Italy
(Part 30)




ITALY - HISTORY

Italian History - Introduction


The difficulty of Italian history lies in this that until our own time the Italians have had no political unity, no independence, no organized existence as a nation. Split up into numerous and mutually hostile communities, they never, through the fourteen centuries which have elapsed since the end of the old Western empire, shook off the yoke of foreigners completely; they never until lately learned to merge their local and conflicting interests in the common good of undivided Italy. Their history is therefore not the history of a single people, centralizing and absorbing its constituent elements by a process of continued evolution, but of a group of cognate populations, exemplifying divers types of constitutional development.

Without attaching undue importance to the date 476 as marking the boundary between ancient and modern history, there is no doubt that this year opened a new age for the Italian people. Odovakar, a chief of the Herulians, deposed Romulus, the last Augustus of the West, and placed the peninsula beneath the titular sway of the Byzantine emperors. At Pavia the barbarian conquerors of Italy proclaimed him king, and he received from Zeno the dignity of Roman patrician. Thus began that system of mixed government, Teutonic and Roman, which, in the absence of a national monarch, impressed the institutions of new Italy from the earliest date with dualism. The same revolution vested supreme authority in a non-resident and inefficient autocrat, whose title gave him the right to interfere in Italian affairs, but who lacked the power and will to rule the people for his own or their advantage. Odovakar inaugurated that long series of foreign rulers— Greeks, Franks, Germans, Spaniards, and Austrians—who have successively contributed to the misgovernment of Italy from distant seats of empire.






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