Matera, Italy’s 9000-year-old city claims to be the third-oldest continually inhabited settlement in the world.
Across a span of more than 3,000 years, Italian history has been marked by episodes of temporary unification and long separation, of intercommunal strife and failed empires.
Though its archaeological record stretches back tens of thousands of years, Italian history begins with the Etruscans, an ancient civilization that rose between the Arno and Tiber rivers. The Etruscans were supplanted in the 3rd century BCE by the Romans, who soon became the chief power in the Mediterranean world and whose empire stretched from India to Scotland by the 2nd century CE. That empire was rarely secure, not only because of the unwillingness of conquered peoples to stay conquered but also because of power struggles between competing Roman political factions, military leaders, families, ethnic groups, and religions. The Roman Empire fell in the 5th century CE after a succession of barbarian invasions through which Huns, Lombards, Ostrogoths, and Franks—mostly previous subjects of Rome—seized portions of Italy. Rule devolved to the level of the city-state, although the Normans succeeded in establishing a modest empire in southern Italy and Sicily in the 11th century. Many of those city-states flourished during the Renaissance era, a time marked by significant intellectual, artistic, and technological advances but also by savage warfare between states loyal to the pope and those loyal to the Holy Roman Empire.
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