Unification of Italy

Unification of Italy by Rome in the third century BC. For 700 years, it was a de facto territorial extension of the capital of the Roman Republic and Empire, and for a long time experienced a privileged status but was not converted into a province until Augustus.

Decline of Italy:-

Glory Faded:

At the beginning of the 17th century, Italy  had begun to decline. Her glory and influence had faded. It seemed that the future for Italy was dim and that: Italians could only look backwards at the proud achievements of their great ancestors, who had built the classical culture of Rome and at the achievements of the pioneers of the Renaissance in their country. Italy could no more boast of a great name either in culture or in wealth. Other European countries began to shine, while Italy, the leader of the Renaissance, was pushed into the backwaters.

Commercial Decline:

After the discovery of the new Sea routes by the geographical explorers, the Atlantic became the main highway of trade, and the importance of the countries including Italy around the Mediterranean declined. The great Italian cities of Venice and Genoa fell far behind the ports on the Atlantic.

Political Decline:

Politically also Italy had a terrible setback. The country, which had made great political experiments in her great cities in the later middle ages, was hardly divided and part of it went under foreign control.

Italy and the Congress of Vienna:-

Victim of the Vienna Congress:

Italy was one of the an fortunate victims of the Congress of Vienna (1815), which was dominated by Prince Metternich of Austria and others, who were the sworn enemies of nationalism and democracy.

Italy Under Napoleon:

Italy had felt the tremendous impact of the French Revolution, and the minds of the Italians had been roused by the ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Napoleon did not give freedom to Italians after he conquered Italy. Under him Italy had only a change of masters. Instead of Austrian imperialism over part of Italy; there was to be French imperialism, But Italians realised that Napoleon’s rule was far better, than Austrian rule, because Napoleon had created a sense of oneness after driving out the Austrians from North Italy. He had brought about the integration of the different states of Italy for administrative purposes. The country had the benefit of the Code Napoleon, which was comparatively fair, just and enlightened. Like the people of France, the Italians:too enjoyed the principle of equality, personal freedom and religious toleration.

Badly Divided Italy only a Geographical Expression:

As desired by Metternich, the high priest of the Congress of Vienna, Italy was broken into several pieces, and she was nothing more than a geographical expression. Italy was reduced to the unenviable position of a country having a body only but no soul. Italians, who had to hang their head in shame without nationhood, reacted sharply against the decisions of the Congress of Vienna. Revival of Austrian domination, payment of -heavy taxes to  foreigners and the abolition of Napoleonic reforms were highly resented by all patriotic and nationally conscious Italians.

Politically Italy went back to the position obtaining in 1789, the year in which the French Revolution broke out. Under the Treaty of Vienna, 1815, Lombardy and Venetia, the wealthiest and the best provinces of North Italy, were handed over to Austria, whose Chancellor Metternich wanted to keep Italy divided.

In Central Italy, the States of Parma, Modena and Duseany went under rulers, who were the kinsmen of Metternich and the worst enemies of Italian unification. Some parts of Central Italy and Rome went under the control of the Pope. The States of South Italy were placed under the Bourbon kings of Spain. The island of Sardinia and the Kingdom of piedmont on the mainland were under king Charles Albert.

Causes Favourable for a Great National Movement:-

Certain causes were favourable for launching a great national movement in Italy.

Metternich Stood Discredited:

Everywhere in Europe Metternich and his reactionary friends, who championed the cause of oppressive autocracy and decaying aristocracy, became very Unpopular and stood discredited. Several revolts broke out to destroy the Metternich System. Italy was bound: to be influenced  by the anti-Metternich movements. Particularly the revolutions of 1848 in France and other European countries had their impact on the Italian mind.

Great Leaders:

Italy produced great leaders, who worked for unification with unflinching seal, singleness of purpose, and sense of dedication. Charles Albert of Sardinia, Mazszini, Garibaldi, Cavour and Victor Emmanuel II did much for unification.

People’s Readiness:

The most important factor favourable for starting a national movement was the readiness of the people to support their leaders, whether they were princes or nobles or great patriots like Mazszini and Garibaldi. People whose passion for national unification had been roused were prepared for staging revolts, for fighting in wars and for making sacrifices.

Movement for Unification with Patriotism, Nationalism, Revolts and wars:-

Patriotism, nationalism, revolts and wars entered into the movement for unification.

55 Years of Struggle:

Though the Italians were awakened to react angrily against the injustice done by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 itself, they did not have the necessary means and leadership to expel foreigners and pin down the anti-national elements in Italy. This was clearly realized, when Charles Albert of Sardinia openly espoused the national cause in 1821, six years after the Congress of Vienna. The foreign and the local enemies of nationalism and democracy were strongly entrenched in Italy, and the struggle had to continue for 55 years to realize the goal. The Italian patriots and nationalists, soldiers and rebels had to fight long in the teeth of great hardships and obstacles.

Secret Societies:

Any open movement had very lean chances of survival in the early days, as the Austrian rulers and their collaborators nipped it in the bud. Therefore secret movements were started. The great patriot Joseph Mazzini established in 1831 a secret society called Young Italy.

Type of Government:

There was no uniformity of opinion among nationalists on the type of government for Italy after complete freedom and unification, Vincent Gioberti (1801-1852), a priest, and his followers wanted to establish an Italian Federation with the Pope as leader.

Many Italians wanted a Limited monarchy in Italy under the King of Sardinia. The enlightened rule of King Charlies Albert of Sardinia under the liberal constitution he had given to the people had made a strong impression in favor of constitutional monarchy, Moreover, Charles Albert himself was willing to give a great lead to the Italians for national unification. If he would succeed in this noble task, he was sure to win great fame and glory. In 1821 itself, he had openly championed the cause of Italian unification.

Many Italians wished to have a republican system of government.

Revolts of Lombardy and Venetia in 1848:

In 1848 Lombardy and Venetia (which were under Austrian rule) declared their independence from Austrian domination. They took full advantage of the anti-Metternich movement all over Europe, particularly the revolutions in France, and the revolts of Hungary and Bohemia against Austrian rule in 1848. However, later the enthusiasm of Lombardy and Venetia in favor of independence cooled, as they thought that they might go under Sardinian control.

War Declaration by Sardinia in 1848:

Taking full advantage of the new mood and revolts in Italy everywhere in 1848, Sardinia declared war on Austria for freeing Italy.

Stand of the Pope:

In 1848 the Pope also said that he was in support of the Italian nationalists. But later he revised his stand and withdrew his help from the movement, as he feared that he might lose the friendship and support of Austria.

Charles Albert Routed:

The new attitude of Lombardy and Venetia, and the pro-Austrian stance of the Pope made matters. difficult for Charles Albert of Sardinia, who was left alone to bear the brunt of Austrian attack. As the plans of Charles Albert. failed miserably, he was routed by the Austrians and was compelled to go in exile leaving the throne to his son Victor Emmanuel II.

Failure of Mazzini’s Republic:

Massini, who returned from exile to Italy, forced the Pope to retire to Sicily. He established & republican form of government in Rome and introduced a series of reforms. Unfortunately, he had not fully understood the mood of the people, and thus he lost their support, His quick reforms became very unpopular, as great nervousness and fear spread everywhere. Obviously, the reforms were far in advance of the times, and the people were not prepared for them. The Pope took advantage of this and sought the help of Emperor Napoleon III of France, who was quite willing to interfere in Italian affairs. Napoleon’s armies drove out the republicans from Rome. The failure of Mazrini’s republic v Was another great blow to the nationalists.

Victor Emmanuel II And Count Cavour:-

We observed above how-the rout of Charles Albert and Mazzini brought about great set-back for the movement. But  the situation was not irretrievable, as two great men came on the scene of the movement. They were Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia and his Prime Minister Count Cavour Cavour was a man of extraordinary ability, great foresight, breadth of vision and national spirit.

Cavour’s Reforms:

Count Camillo Cavour (1810-1861) infused a new spirit and vigor into the movement, which had got into the doldrums. As he himself stated, Cavour was not a man of words but of deeds. He was an aristocratic landlord, but his liberal views were well known. He was practical minded, and invariably followed realistic policies. In 1852, when he entered office, he further liberalized the liberal constitution, which had been granted to the people of Sardinia by Charles Albert. He introduced many beneficial reforms and won the goodwill, and support of the people. He exploited the natural resources, of the country, introduced economic reforms for bettering the condition of the people, and spread education. He was aware that unless a well trained and disciplined army was organized, Sardinia would fail and with it the national unification movement. So a fine army was kept in readiness.

Support from England and France:

Cavour followed a realistic foreign policy to suit the needs of Italy. To win British support, he made common cause with England and France against Russia in the Crimean War (1853-1855). This policy yielded a  good dividend, and he was able to have friendly relations with Britain and France. After the end of the Crimean War (1855), he was able to have a seat at the peace table.

War between Austria and Sardinia:

Francis Joseph, the emperor of Austria, who was annoyed with Sardinia for, having stirred revolts in Lombardy and Venetia, declared war on Sardinia in 1859.

Support of Napoleon III:

Cavour knew that Sardinia alone would not be able to fight against Austria, and so in 1858 he took the military help of Napoleon III of France, who as observed earlier was deeply interested in meddling with Italian affairs. Napoleon was not popular in his problem-ridden country, and he wished to distract the attention of the French by going to the rescue of Sardinia. Moreover, Cavour had promised to give him as a price of his support the Duchy of Savoy and part of Nice.

Sardinia Let Down:

The French and the Sardinian army was able to do well and occupy Lombardy and Venetia. But unfortunately, the crooked Napoleon III let down Sardinia, when French help was most needed. This was because he thought that complete victory would make Sardinia very powerful, if she secured the whole of Italy. He feared that if the Austrians were totally expelled from Italy, the whole of Italy would be unified under Vietor Emmanuel II. As Sardinia alone was unable to continue the war, she was forced to make peace with Austria.

Lombardy Secured:

While Sardinia was allowed to occupy Lombardy, she was forced to quit Venetia (1860). Napoleon’s tactics spoiled what would have been a complete victory for Sardinia. However, the independence of Lombardy from Austria was of great significance, as the unification movement was able to achieve something and hope for better results in the future.

Central Italian States Annexed by Sardinia:

The Central Italian states were not slow to realise the achievement of Sardinia, and they thought of supporting Sardinia fully. This explains why the states of Modena, Parma, Romagna and Tuscany shook off the yoke of their rulers and allowed themselves to be annexed by  Sardinia. The very next year a major part of South Italy overthrew foreign rule and came under the leadership of Sardinia.

First Great Milestone:

The annexation of Lombardy and of the Central Italian states by Sardinia was the first great milestone in the Italian unification movement.

Sicily Freed:

The people of Sicily rose in revolt against the Spanish rulers and appealed to the Italian nationalists for help. The Sicilians, who secured the help of Garibaldi and his one thousand volunteers known as the Red Shirts succeeded in expelling the foreigners from Sicily.

Naples Freed:

Garibadi and his Red Shirts then overran Naples in South Italy and freed it. Garibaldi placed Sicily and Naples at the disposal of Victor Emmanuel II.

King of Sardinia Became King of Italy:

With Sicily and Naples coming under the leadership of Sardinia, a major part of Italy was freed and unified by 1861. In 1861 Victor Emmanuel gave up the title of King of Sardinia and took the title of King of f Italy.

Venetia Freed as a Result of Austro-Prussian War:

In the Austro-Prussian War 1866. Italy supported Prussia. The War ended in a victory to Prussia, which asked Austria to give up her control over Venetia. Thus Venetia was freed from Austrian domination, and Italy further moved towards complete unification.

Attack on Rome and Merger of the Church States:

The Pope had refused to support or sympathies with the forces of Italian unification. But he could not resist the high tide of Italian nationalism 1870 was a lucky year for Italian nationalists.  Napoleon III of France was routed by Prussia in the Franco. Prussian War, and in 1870 the French army, which had been sent earlier to Rome for helping the Pope against Mazzini, had to be withdrawn. This gave the Italian nationalists under Victor Emmanuel II a golden opportunity to march on Rome in 1870. With the occupation of Rome and the merger of the Church States except Rome with the rest of Italy, the Italian unification was complete.

Vatican Sovereignty:

The Pope was to enjoy sovereignty only over the land occupied by the Vatican and the Latern Palaces in Rome. By the success of the nationalists, he lost the best part of temporal power. The Pope, whose position was very unenviable, shut himself in the Vatican Palace and declared that he was  prisoner.

Great Leaders of Italian Unification:-

Charles Albert of Sardinia, Mazzini,Garibaldi, Victon Emmanuel I and Cavour were the great leaders of the Italian national unification movement.

Charles Albert:

Charles Albert, the king of Sardinia, dream of Italian unification under his own leadership. His approach was unrealistic and impractical. He was found wanting in statesmanship and military ability. The mistakes he committed were costly. While his great aims were no doubt noble, his policy failed. In 1821 he under-estimated the power of his enemies and prematurely espoused the cause of Italian nationalists. The army of the pious and vacillating king was routed by the Austrians, and he had to go into exile. Then his son Victor Emmanuel II became king. With all his drawbacks, he served the cause of Italian unification m a noble way.


Joseph Mazzini (1805-1872) was one of the greatest leaders of Italian unification, In 1831, he started Young Italy, a secret society dedicated to the cause of national unity. With  its great motto of God and the people, this society was able to mobilize much support.

He had great faith in the youth of Italy and felt that the young men alone would lead the country to unification. He did not admit into this society men a who were above forty years old.

He was a lawyer, who made up his mind to serve the cause of a united Italy. He wrote extensively and delivered many Speeches to whip up patriotism and national sentiments, and to popularize great ideals. The anti-national forces, local and foreign, were quite formidable, and he was defeated before he reached his goal.

For some time, Mazzini had to retire into exile. But he returned, forced the Pope to go to Sicily and established his republic in Rome. But his republic failed miserably. The army of Napoleon III, which had come to the Pope’s aid, overthrew the republic and restored Papal power in Rome.

Victor Emmanuel II:

The dream of Charles Albert of Sardinia Was realized in the time of his son Victor Emmanuel II (1820 – 1878), He was king of Sardinia during 1849-1861, and of Italy during 1861-1878. He became the most important figure in the Risorgimento movement for Italian unification. Charles Albert’s strategy was poor ultimately he had to abdicate, leaving the throne to Victor Emmanuel, in whose time the whole of  Italy was unified under the leadershop of his country Sardinia. He was wise in appointing Cavour as his Prime Minister in 1852. In 186 Victor Emmanuel became the king of united Italy. In 1870,he occupied the Papal States and Rome, the Eternal City. Thus he was fortunate to see Italian nationalists realize their great dream.


Count Cavour, who became the Prime Minister of Sardinia in 1852 under. Victor Emmanuel II, was successful in leading Italians to the goal of a complete national unification. As observed earlier, he introduced good reforms in Sardinia, and had the support of the contented people. He followed vigorous and intelligent foreign policy and won the support of big powers like England and France. It was under him that the first great step of national unification was taken by freeing Lombardy. Unfortunately he died in 1861 before he could see a united Italy.


Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) was the greatest and the most colorful figure of the Italian national movement. He was born in 1807 at Nice. He joined Young Italy, the secret Society of Mazzini, at the age of 24. National unification became & passion with him and since the age of 24 he continued to struggle till his death. His memorize which have been translated into English relate the saga of his fight for freedom and unification.

This tall and tough romantic figure, who was to lead the Italians, was familiar to his compatriots with his red shirt and slouch hat. He was able to inspire a large number of young Italians to join the movement. His followers known as the Red Shirts formed what was called the Red Legion.

The path of Garibaldi was strewn with pointed stones and thorns. He was captured, as he raised the standard of revolt and condemned to death. He escaped the jaws of death and fled to South America, where he participated in several revolutions (1834-1848) At an opportune time he returned to Italy to help Mazzini in founding the republic at Rome. When this republic was destroyed, once again he became a refugee. He fled to the United States and lived on Staten Island. He returned to Italy in 1854.

Garibaldi was fearless, and he was always ready to fight and die for his cause. In 1859, he fought in the war between the Austrian army on the one side and the French and the Italian armies on the other.

He helped the Sicilians to overthrow the Spaniards and later fall in line with Sardinia. He and his Red Shirts also freed Naples, and like Sicily, Naples followed the leadership of Sardinia. He won a decisive victory on October. 1, 1860 and a few days later Victor Emmanuel II was proclaimed as the king of United Italy. He handed over all his conquests to Victor Emmanuel II and retired.

After some time Garibaldi marched on Rome contrary to Victor Emmanuel’s wishes. The king therefore sent an army against him and defeated him in 1863. His second attempt to conquer Rome in 1867 also failed. In 1874 he was elected a8 member of Parliament.

The whole life of Garibaldi with its vicissitudes of fortune was a noble and heroic saga, which was a great source of inspiration to the fighters for freedom in every country. His passion for liberty,  his willingness to suffer and his determination to win roused the admiration of all patriots in Italy. His spirit of adventure and incorrigible optimism made him a great hero of Italian nationalists.

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