The Italian Republic (Repubblica Italiana) is a unitary parliamentary republic in Europe. To the north, Italy borders France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia, and is roughly delimited by the Alpine watershed, enclosing the Po Valley and the Venetian Plain. To the south, it consists of the entirety of the Italian Peninsula and the two Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia, in addition to many smaller islands. The sovereign states of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within Italy, while Campione d’Italia is an Italian exclave in Switzerland. Italy has a coastline on the Adriatic, Ionian, Tyrrhenian seas. The country covers an area of 116,347 square miles (301,338 km²) and has a largely temperate seasonal climate and Mediterranean climate; due to its shape, it is often referred to in Italy as lo Stivale (the Boot). With 61 million inhabitants, it is the fourth most populous EU member state. As a reflection of its cultural wealth, Italy is home to 51 World Heritage Sites, the most in the world, and is the fifth most visited country.
The assumptions on the etymology of the name Italia are very numerous and the corpus of the solutions proposed by historians and linguists is very wide. According to one of the more common explanations, the term Italia, from Latin Italia, was borrowed through Greek from the Oscan Víteliú, meaning “land of young cattle”. The bull was a symbol of the southern Italic tribes and was often depicted goring the Roman wolf as a defiant symbol of free Italy during the Social War. Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus states this account together with the legend that Italy was named after Italus, mentioned also by Aristotle and Thucydides. The name Italia originally applied only to a part of what is now Southern Italy — according to Antiochus of Syracuse, the southern portion of the Bruttium peninsula. By his time Oenotria and Italy had become synonymous, and the name also applied to most of Lucania as well. The Greeks gradually came to apply the name Italia to a larger region, but it was during the reign of Emperor Augustus (the end of the first century BC) that the term was expanded to cover the entire peninsula until the Alps.
Excavations throughout Italy revealed a Neanderthal presence dating back to the Palaeolithic period, some 200,000 years ago, modern Humans arrived about 40,000 years ago. The Ancient peoples of pre-Roman Italy — such as the Umbrians, the Latins (from which the Romans emerged), Volsci, Oscans, Samnites, Sabines, the Celts, the Ligures, and many others — were Indo-European peoples; the main historic peoples of possible non-Indo-European heritage include the Etruscans, the Elymians and Sicani in Sicily and the prehistoric Sardinians, which includes the Nuragic civilization. Other ancient Italian peoples of undetermined language families but of possible non-Indo-European origins include the Rhaetian people and Cammuni, known for their rock carvings.
Between the seventeenth and the eleventh centuries BC, Mycenaean Greeks established contacts with Italy and in the eighth and seventh centuries BC, Greek colonies were established all along the coast of Sicily and the southern part of the Italian Peninsula became known as Magna Graecia. The Phoenicians also established colonies on the coasts of Sardinia and Sicily.
Rome, a settlement around a ford on the river Tiber conventionally founded in 753 BC, grew over the course of centuries into a massive empire, stretching from Britain to the borders of Persia, and engulfing the whole Mediterranean basin, in which Greek and Roman and many other cultures merged into a unique civilization. The Roman legacy has deeply influenced Western civilization, shaping most of the modern world. In a slow decline since the third century AD, the Empire split in two in 395 AD. The Western Empire, under the pressure of the barbarian invasions, eventually dissolved in 476 AD, when its last Emperor was deposed by the Germanic chief Odoacer, while the Eastern half of the Empire survived for another thousand years.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Italy was seized by the Ostrogoths, followed in the sixth century by a brief reconquest under Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The invasion of another Germanic tribe, the Lombards, late in the same century, reduced the Byzantine presence to a rump realm (the Exarchate of Ravenna) and started the end of political unity of the peninsula for the next 1,300 years. The Lombard kingdom was subsequently absorbed into the Frankish Empire by Charlemagne in the late eighth century. The Franks also helped the formation of the Papal States in central Italy. Until the thireenth 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.
It was during this chaotic era that Italian towns saw the rise of a peculiar institution, the medieval commune. Given the power vacuum caused by extreme territorial fragmentation and the struggle between the Empire and the Holy See, local communities sought autonomous ways to maintain law and order. In 1176, 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. In coastal and southern areas, the maritime republics, the most notable being Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi, heavily involved in the Crusades, grew to eventually dominate the Mediterranean and monopolize trade routes to the Orient.
In the south, Sicily had become an Islamic emirate in the ninth century, thriving until the Italo-Normans conquered it in the late eleventh century together with most of the Lombard and Byzantine principalities of southern Italy. Through a complex series of events, southern Italy developed as a unified kingdom, first under the House of Hohenstaufen, then under the Capetian House of Anjou and, from the fifteenth century, the House of Aragon. In Sardinia, the former Byzantine provinces became independent states known as Giudicati, although some parts of the island were under Genoese or Pisan control until the Aragonese conquered it in the fifteenth century. The Black Death pandemic of 1348 left its mark on Italy by killing perhaps one third of the population. However, the recovery from the plague led to a resurgence of cities, trade and economy which allowed the bloom of Humanism and Renaissance, that later spread in Europe.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, northern-central Italy was divided into a number of warring city-states, the rest of the peninsula being occupied by the larger Papal States and the Kingdom of Sicily, referred to here as Naples. Though many of these city-states were often formally subordinate to foreign rulers, as in the case of the Duchy of Milan, which was officially a constituent state of the mainly Germanic Holy Roman Empire, the city-states generally managed to maintain de facto independence from the foreign sovereigns that had seized Italian lands following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The strongest among these city-states gradually absorbed the surrounding territories giving birth to the Signorie, regional states often led by merchant families which founded local dynasties. 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. Decades of fighting eventually saw Florence, Milan and Venice emerged as the dominant players that agreed to the Peace of Lodi in 1454, which saw relative calm brought to the region for the first time in centuries. This peace would hold for the next forty years.
The Renaissance, a period of vigorous revival of the arts and culture, originated in Italy thanks to a number of factors, as the great wealth accumulated by merchant cities, the patronage of its dominant families like the Medici of Florence, and the migration of Greek scholars and texts to Italy following the Conquest of Constantinople at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. The Italian Renaissance peaked in the mid-sixteenth century as foreign invasions plunged the region into the turmoil of the Italian Wars. The ideas and ideals of the Renaissance soon spread into Northern Europe, France, England and much of Europe. 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.
Following the Italian Wars (1494 to 1559), ignited by the rivalry between France and Spain, the city-states gradually lost their independence and came under foreign domination, first under Spain (1559 to 1713) and then Austria (1713 to 1796). In 1629–1631, a new outburst of plague claimed about 14% of Italy’s population. In addition, as the Spanish Empire started to decline in the seventeenth century, so did its possessions in Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, and Milan. In particular, Southern Italy was impoverished and cut off from the mainstream of events in Europe.
In the eighteenth century, as a result of the War of Spanish Succession, Austria replaced Spain as the dominant foreign power, while the House of Savoy emerged as a regional power expanding to Piedmont and Sardinia. In the same century, the two-century long decline was interrupted by the economic and state reforms pursued in several states by the ruling élites.
During the Napoleonic Wars, northern-central Italy was invaded and reorganized as a new Kingdom of Italy, a client state of the French Empire, while the southern half of the peninsula was administered by Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, who was crowned as King of Naples. The 1814 Congress of Vienna restored the situation of the late eighteenth century, but the ideals of the French Revolution could not be eradicated, and soon re-surfaced during the political upheavals that characterized the first part of the nineteenth century.
The Cavallini (“little horses”) of Sardinia was an early private mail service, notable for the introduction of prepaid stamped lettersheets in 1819.
The birth of the Kingdom of Italy was the result of efforts by Italian nationalists and monarchists loyal to the House of Savoy to establish a united kingdom encompassing the entire Italian Peninsula. In the context of the 1848 liberal revolutions that swept through Europe, an unsuccessful war was declared on Austria. The Kingdom of Sardinia again attacked the Austrian Empire in the Second Italian War of Independence of 1859, with the aid of France, resulting in liberating Lombardy.
In 1850, Count Camillo Cavour drafted a report to the Piedmont Chamber of Deputies proposing postal reform along the lines of that which had been adopted in several European states, and including postage stamps, for which a new word — francobollo — was coined. The reform became law in November, and went into effect January 1, 1851.
After some casting around for expertise in the newfangled art of stamp printing, the government settled on the house of Francesco Matraire in Turin. Matraire produced stamps with an embossed profile of Victor Emmanuel II. Other states in Italy also issued stamps during the 1850s: Modena, Naples, the Papal States, Parma, Romagna, Sicily, and Tuscany.
In 1860–61, general Giuseppe Garibaldi led the drive for unification in Naples and Sicily, allowing the Sardinian government led by the Count of Cavour to declare a united Italian kingdom on March 17, 1861.
The Constitutional Law of the Kingdom of Sardinia the Albertine Statute of 1848 was extended to the whole Kingdom of Italy in 1861, and provided for basic freedoms of the new State, but electoral laws excluded the non-propertied and uneducated classes from voting. The government of the new kingdom took place in a framework of parliamentary constitutional monarchy dominated by liberal forces.
The stamps of Francesco Matraire’s printing house were reprinted several times, and those printed after March 17, 1861, are normally considered the first stamps of Italy. During 1860 and 1861, Sardinian stamps supplanted those in use in each of the territories that joined Italy, with Modena, Parma, and Romagna changing over on February 1, 1860, and Naples not converting until September 15, 1862 (although the local authorities had earlier printed stamps featuring the arms of Savoy).
Perforated stamps began in 1862 and, starting on January 1, 1863, uniform postal rates went into effect. In 1862, Count Ambjörn Sparre won the stamp contract, but his designs were not liked, and he seemed unable to produce the stamps. In danger of running out of stamps altogether, at the end of 1862 the Italian government once again turned to Matraire, who quickly produced a 15c-centesimi value by lithography. Sparre’s contract was canceled in March 1863, and a new contract let to the British printer Thomas de La Rue, who produced a series of eight types ranging from 1 centesimi to 2 lira. They continued in use until the end of 1889.
In 1866, Victor Emmanuel II allied with Prussia during the Austro-Prussian War, waging the Third Italian War of Independence which allowed Italy to annex Venetia. Finally, as France during the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870 abandoned its garrisons in Rome, the Italians rushed to fill the power gap by taking over the Papal States.
Italy joined the Universal Postal Union on July 1, 1875.
Humbert I succeeded his father in 1878, which necessitated a new issue of stamps. First appearing on August 15, 1879, they were the first stamps of the kingdom to be entirely designed, engraved, and printed by Italians. Since considerable stocks of Victor Emmanuel stamps were left over and finances were poor, the old stamps continued in use for some years, and some values of Humbert’s stamps were little-used during his reign. The new series incorporated rates and colors mandated by the Universal Postal Union.
In 1913, male universal suffrage was adopted. As Northern Italy quickly industrialized, the South and rural areas of North remained underdeveloped and overpopulated, forcing millions of people to migrate abroad, while the Italian Socialist Party constantly increased in strength, challenging the traditional liberal and conservative establishment. Starting from the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Italy developed into a colonial power by forcing Somalia, Eritrea and later Libya and the Dodecanese under its rule.
Italy, nominally allied with the German Empire and the Empire of Austria-Hungary in the Triple Alliance, in 1915 joined the Allies into the war with a promise of substantial territorial gains, that included western Inner Carniola, former Austrian Littoral, Dalmatia as well as parts of the Ottoman Empire. The war was initially inconclusive, as the Italian army get struck in a long attrition war in the Alps, making little progress and suffering very heavy losses. Eventually, in October 1918, the Italians launched a massive offensive, culminating in the victory of Vittorio Veneto. The Italian victory marked the end of the war on the Italian Front, secured the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was chiefly instrumental in ending the First World War less than two weeks later.
The world’s first official airmail stamps were issued in 1917 when Poste italiane overprinted their existing special delivery stamps.
During the war, more than 650,000 Italian soldiers and as many civilians died and the kingdom went to the brink of bankruptcy. Under the Peace Treaties of Saint-Germain, Rapallo and Rome, Italy obtained most of the promised territories, but not Dalmatia (except Zara), allowing nationalists to define the victory as “mutilated”. Moreover, Italy annexed the Hungarian harbor of Fiume, that was not part of territories promised at London but had been occupied after the end of the war by Gabriele D’Annunzio.
The socialist agitations that followed the devastation of the Great War, inspired by the Russian Revolution, led to counter-revolution and repression throughout Italy. The liberal establishment, fearing a Soviet-style revolution, started to endorse the small National Fascist Party, led by Benito Mussolini. In October 1922, the Blackshirts of the National Fascist Party attempted a coup (the “March on Rome”) which failed but at the last minute, King Victor Emmanuel III refused to proclaim a state of siege and appointed Mussolini prime minister. Over the next few years, Mussolini banned all political parties and curtailed personal liberties, thus forming a dictatorship. These actions attracted international attention and eventually inspired similar dictatorships such as Nazi Germany and Francoist Spain.
In 1935, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, resulting in an international alienation and leading to Italy’s withdrawal from the League of Nations; Italy allied with Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan and strongly supported Francisco Franco in the Spanish civil war. In 1939, Italy annexed Albania, a de facto protectorate for decades. Italy entered World War II on June 10, 1940. After initially advancing in British Somaliland and Egypt, the Italians were defeated in East Africa, Greece, Russia and North Africa.
After the attack on Yugoslavia by Germany and Italy, suppression of the Yugoslav Partisans resistance and attempts to Italianization resulted in the Italian war crimes and deportation of about 25,000 people to the Italian concentration camps, such as Rab, Gonars, Monigo, Renicci di Anghiari and elsewhere. After the war, due to the Cold war, a long period of censorship, disinterest and denial occurred about the Italian war crimes and the Yugoslav’s foibe killings. Meanwhile, about 250,000 Italians and anti-communist Slavs fled to Italy in the Istrian exodus.
An Allied invasion of Sicily began in July 1943, leading to the collapse of the Fascist regime and the fall of Mussolini on July 25. On September 8, Italy surrendered. The Germans shortly succeeded in taking control of northern and central Italy. The country remained a battlefield for the rest of the war, as the Allies were slowly moving up from the south.
In the north, the Germans set up the Italian Social Republic (RSI), a Nazi puppet state with Mussolini installed as leader. The post-armistice period saw the rise of a large anti-fascist resistance movement, the Resistenza. Hostilities ended on April 29, 1945, when the German forces in Italy surrendered. Nearly half a million Italians (including civilians) died in the conflict, and the Italian economy had been all but destroyed; per capita income in 1944 was at its lowest point since the beginning of the twentieth century.
Italy became a republic after a referendum held on June 2, 1946, a day celebrated since as Republic Day. This was also the first time that Italian women were entitled to vote. Victor Emmanuel III’s son, Umberto II, was forced to abdicate and exiled. The Republican Constitution was approved on January 1, 1948. Under the Treaty of Peace with Italy of 1947, most of Julian March was lost to Yugoslavia and, later, the Free Territory of Trieste was divided between the two states. Italy also lost all its colonial possessions, formally ending the Italian Empire.
Fears in the Italian electorate of a possible Communist takeover proved crucial for the first universal suffrage electoral outcome on April 18, 1948, when the Christian Democrats, under the leadership of Alcide De Gasperi, obtained a landslide victory. Consequently, in 1949 Italy became a member of NATO. The Marshall Plan helped to revive the Italian economy which, until the late 1960s, enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth commonly called the “Economic Miracle”. In 1957, Italy was a founding member of the European Economic Community (EEC), which became the European Union (EU) in 1993.
From the late 1960s until the early 1980s, the country experienced the Years of Lead, a period characterized by economic crisis (especially after the 1973 oil crisis), widespread social conflicts and terrorist massacres carried out by opposing extremist groups, with the alleged involvement of US and Soviet intelligence. The Years of Lead culminated in the assassination of the Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro in 1978 and the Bologna railway station massacre in 1980, where 85 people died.
In the 1980s, for the first time since 1945, two governments were led by non-Christian-Democrat premiers: one liberal (Giovanni Spadolini) and one socialist (Bettino Craxi); the Christian Democrats remained, however, the main government party. During Craxi’s government, the economy recovered and Italy became the world’s fifth largest industrial nation, gaining entry into the G7 Group. However, as a result of his spending policies, the Italian national debt skyrocketed during the Craxi era, soon passing 100% of the GDP.
In the early 1990s, Italy faced significant challenges, as voters — disenchanted with political paralysis, massive public debt and the extensive corruption system (known as Tangentopoli) uncovered by the ‘Clean Hands’ investigation — demanded radical reforms. The scandals involved all major parties, but especially those in the government coalition: the Christian Democrats, who ruled for almost 50 years, underwent a severe crisis and eventually disbanded, splitting up into several factions. The Communists reorganized as a social-democratic force. During the 1990s and the 2000s (decade), center-right (dominated by media magnate Silvio Berlusconi) and center-left coalitions (led by university professor Romano Prodi) alternatively governed the country.
In the late 2000s, Italy was severely hit by the Great Recession. From 2008 to 2013, the country suffered 42 months of GDP recession. The economic crisis was one of the main problems that forced Berlusconi to resign in 2011. The government of the conservative Prime Minister was replaced by the technocratic cabinet of Mario Monti. Following the 2013 general election, the Vice-Secretary of the Democratic Party Enrico Letta formed a new government at the head of a right-left Grand coalition. In 2014, challenged by the new Secretary of the PD Matteo Renzi, Letta resigned and was replaced by Renzi. The new government started important constitutional reforms such as the abolition of the Senate and a new electoral law. On December 4, the constitutional reform was rejected in a referendum and Renzi resigned on December 12; the Foreign Affairs Minister Paolo Gentiloni was appointed the new Prime Minister.
Italy was affected by the European migrant crisis in 2015 as it became the entry point and leading destination for most asylum seekers entering the EU. The country took in over half a million refugees, that caused great strain on the public purse and a surge in the support for far-right and euroskeptic political parties.
Scott #382 was issued on September 23, 1937 as part of a 15-stamp set (Scott #377-386 and Scott #C95-C99) commemorating the bimillenary of the birth of Emperor Augustus Caesar (Octavianus) on the occasion of the opening of a special exhibition of army trophies opened in Rome by Mussolini on September 22, 1937. The 50-centesimi purple stamp portrays Augustus receiving acclaim.
Augustus was born Gaius Octavius on September 23, 63 BC, into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian gens Octavia. His maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir, then known as Octavianus (Anglicized as Octavian). He, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat the assassins of Caesar. Following their victory at the Battle of Philippi, the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as military dictators. The Triumvate was eventually torn apart by the competing ambitions of its members. Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his position, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Octavian in 31 BC.
After the demise of the Second Triumvirate, Augustus restored the outward façade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies. In reality, however, he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator. By law, Augustus held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including supreme military command, and those of tribune and censor. It took several years for Augustus to develop the framework within which a formally republican state could be led under his sole rule. He rejected monarchical titles, and instead called himself Princeps Civitatis (“First Citizen of the State”). The resulting constitutional framework became known as the Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire.
The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana (The Roman Peace). The Roman world was largely free from large-scale conflict for more than two centuries, despite continuous wars of imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers and the year-long civil war known as the “Year of the Four Emperors” over the imperial succession. Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia; expanding possessions in Africa; expanding into Germania; and completing the conquest of Hispania.
Beyond the frontiers, he secured the Empire with a buffer region of client states and made peace with the Parthian Empire through diplomacy. He reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard, created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign.
Augustus died August 19, AD 14, at the age of 75. He probably died from natural causes, although there were unconfirmed rumors that his wife Livia poisoned him. He was succeeded as Emperor by his adopted son (also stepson and former son-in-law) Tiberius.