In 1861, few Italians spoke Italian?

In 1861, few Italians spoke Italian?

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The Economist claims

Italy was created by a small elite at a time when more than 90% of the peninsula's inhabitants did not speak Italian. (Source: Special Report on Italy, June 11th, 2011, p. 3)

And Wikipedia states

Only 2.5% of Italy's population could speak the Italian standardized language properly when the nation unified in 1861.

Are the above claims true and if so, what evidence is there for them?

The claim is true if we take "Italian" as meaning modern standard Italian.

At the time of Italy's unification, what we know today as "Italian" was more of a literary language than a vernacular one. The 2.5% figure cited is a lower bound figure, but the higher end only goes up to 12% or so. Either way, only a small minority of Italy's inhabitants spoke it. That's because what we call "Italian" was only one of many descendants of the ancient Latin language.

In fact, modern standard Italian was merely Florentino, a dialect of the Tuscan language spoken in Tuscany. In other regions of Italy, multiple different languages (some Romance, some not) dominated. Understandably, and unsurprisingly, few common folk outside of Florence and the city's hinterland spoke the Florentine dialect when it was chosen to be the national language in 1861.

Florentino's adoption as the Italian national language reflects Florence's cultural prestige. Notably, Florence native Dante, called the Father of the Italian Language composed his works in that language. His Divine Comedy helped established Florentine as the literary language of Italy, a statue enhanced by other literary giants writing in Florentine. This however did not replace the local vernacular language of each region.

Even today, regional languages are still quite alive on the Italian peninsula:

Semaphore's answer is largely, but not entirely correct. The standard Italian language is based mainly on the written language used by late-mediaeval authors like Dante and Petrarca. They wrote in Florentine as it was then spoken, but modern Florentine has moved on from this. For the example in standard Italian you write “la casa” and pronounce it as it is written /la kasa/, but in Florence and Tuscany people actually say /la hasa/. This is because Florentine has changed since the time of Dante. The standard language follows the literary language, not the spoken idiom in Florence.

For centuries, Italy had been a battleground for ambitious foreign and local princes. Frequent warfare and foreign rule had led people to identify with local regions. The people of Florence considered themselves Tuscans, those of Venice Venetians, those of Naples Neapolitans, and so on. But as in Germany, the invasions of Napoleon had sparked dreams of national unity.

The Congress of Vienna, however, ignored the nationalists who hoped to end centuries of foreign rule and achieve unity. To Prince Metternich of Austria, the idea of a unified Italy was laughable. At Vienna, Austria took control of much of northern Italy, while Hapsburg monarchs ruled various other Italian states. In the south, a French Bourbon ruler was put in charge of Naples and Sicily.

In response, nationalists organized secret patriotic societies and focused their efforts on expelling Austrian forces from northern Italy. Between 1820 and 1848, nationalist revolts exploded across the region. Each time, Austria sent in troops to crush the rebels.

How Capicola Became Gabagool: The Italian New Jersey Accent, Explained

“Don’t eat gabagool, Grandma,” says Meadow Soprano on an early episode of The Sopranos, perhaps the most famous depiction of Jersey Italian culture in the past few decades. “It’s nothing but fat and nitrates.” The pronunciation of “gabagool,” a mutation of the word “capicola,” might surprise a casual viewer, although it and words like it should be familiar to viewers of other New Jersey–based shows like Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of New Jersey, where food often drives conversation. The casts are heavily Italian-American, but few of them can actually speak, in any real way, the Italian language. Regardless, when they talk about food, even food that’s widely known by the non-Italian population, they often use a specific accent.

And it’s a weird one. “Mozzarella” becomes something like “mutzadell.” “Ricotta” becomes “ree-goat.” “Prosciutto” becomes “pruh-zhoot.” There is a mangling of the language in an instantly identifiable way: Final syllables are deleted, certain consonants are swapped with others, certain vowels are mutated in certain places.

Most immigrant groups in the United States retain certain words and phrases from the old language even if the modern population can’t speak it. But for people outside those groups, and even, often, inside them, it’s next to impossible to pick out a specific regional accent in the way a Jewish American says “challah” or a Korean-American says “jjigae.” How can someone who doesn’t speak the language possibly have an regional accent?

Gabagool? Over here! Corina Daniela Obertas / Alamy Stock Photo

Yet Italian-Americans do. It’s even been parodied. On an episode of Kroll Show, comedian Nick Kroll’s character Bobby Bottleservice, a Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino–type, describes his lunch in this thick accent, eliminating the final syllable of each item. “Cap-uh-coal,” he says, pointing at capicola. “Mort-ah-dell,” he says, as the camera pans over a thin, pale arrangement of mortadella. “Coca-coal,” he finishes, as the camera moves over to a glass of Coke. “Capicola,” made famous in its mutation by The Sopranos, gets even more mutated for comedic effect on The Office, where it becomes “gabagool.”

I spoke to a few linguists and experts on Italian-American culture to figure out why a kid from Paterson, New Jersey, who doesn’t speak Italian, would earnestly ask for a taste of “mutzadell.” The answer takes us way back through history and deep into the completely chaotic world of Italian linguistics.

“One thing that I need to tell you, because this is something that is not clear even for linguists, let alone the layperson—the linguistic situation in Italy is quite complicated,” says Mariapaola D’Imperio, a professor in the linguistics department at Aix-Marseille University who was born in Naples and studied in Ohio before moving to France. The situation is so complicated that the terms used to describe pockets of language are not widely agreed upon some use “language,” some use “dialect,” some use “accent,” and some use “variation.” Linguists like to argue about the terminology of this kind of thing.

The basic story is this: Italy is a very young country made up of many very old kingdoms awkwardly stapled together to make a patchwork whole. Before 1861, these different kingdoms—Sardinia, Rome, Tuscany, Venice, Sicily (they were called different things at the time, but roughly correspond to those regions now)—those were, basically, different countries. Its citizens didn’t speak the same language, didn’t identify as countrymen, sometimes were even at war with each other. The country was unified over the period from around 1861 until World War I, and during that period, the wealthier northern parts of the newly-constructed Italy imposed unfair taxes and, basically, annexed the poorer southern parts. As a result, southern Italians, ranging from just south of Rome all the way down to Sicily, fled in huge numbers to other countries, including the United States.

A group of Italian arrivals at Ellis Island circa 1905, photographed by Lewis Hine. Bettmann/Getty Images

About 80 percent of Italian-Americans are of southern Italian descent, says Fred Gardaphe, a professor of Italian-American studies at Queens College. “Ships from Palermo went to New Orleans and the ships from Genoa and Naples went to New York,” he says. They spread from there, but the richest pockets of Italian-Americans aren’t far from New York City. They’re clustered in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and in and around Philadelphia.

Yet those Italians, all from southern Italy and all recent immigrants in close proximity to each other in the United States, wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves countrymen. That’s because each of the old Italian kingdoms had their own … well, D’Imperio, who is Italian, calls them “dialects.” But others refer to them in different ways. Basically the old Italian kingdoms each spoke their own languages that largely came from the same family tree, slightly but not all that much closer than the Romance languages, such as French, Spanish, or Portuguese. The general family name for these languages is Italo-Dalmatian. (Dalmatian, it turns out, refers to Croatia. The dog is from there, too.) They were not all mutually comprehensible, and had their own external influences. Calabrian, for example, is heavily influenced by Greek, thanks to a long Greek occupation and interchange. In the northwest near the border with France, Piedmont, with its capital of Turin, spoke a language called Piedmontese, which is sort of French-ish. Sicilian, very close to North Africa, had a lot of Arabic-type stuff in it. I use the past tense for these because these languages are dying, quickly. “Dialects do still exist, but they’re spoken mainly by old people,” says D’Imperio. (Sicilian put up more of a fight than most.)

During unification, the northern Italian powers decided that having a country that speaks about a dozen different languages would pose a bit of a challenge to their efforts, so they picked one and called it “Standard Italian” and made everyone learn it. The one that they picked was Tuscan, and they probably picked it because it was the language of Dante, the most famous Italian writer. (You can see why calling these languages “dialects” is tricky Standard Italian is just one more dialect, not the base language which Calabrian or Piedmontese riffs on, which is kind of the implication.)

Standard Italian has variations, like any other language, which we’ll call accents. Someone from Sicily would have a Sicilian accent, but when speaking Standard Italian, a person from Milan will, hopefully, be able to understand them, because at a basic level, they’ll be using a language with the same structure and a vocabulary that is mostly identical.

Rolls of “pruh-zhoot.” ermingut/Getty Images

But this gets weird, because most Italian-Americans can trace their immigrant ancestors back to that time between 1861 and World War I, when the vast majority of “Italians,” such as Italy even existed at the time, wouldn’t have spoken the same language at all, and hardly any of them would be speaking the northern Italian dialect that would eventually become Standard Italian.

Linguists say that there are two trajectories for a language divorced from its place of origin. It sometimes dies out quickly people assimilate, speak the most popular language wherever they live, stop teaching their children the old language. But sometimes, the language has a firmer hold on its speakers than most, and refuses to entirely let go. The Italian dialects are like that.

“I grew up speaking English and Italian dialects from my family’s region of Puglia,” says Gardaphe. “And when I went to Italy, very few people could understand me, even the people in my parents’ region. They recognized that I was speaking as if I was a 70-year-old man, when I was only 26 years old.” Italian-American Italian is not at all like Standard Italian. Instead it’s a construction of the frozen shards left over from languages that don’t even really exist in Italy any more, with minimal intervention from modern Italian.

There’s a spectrum to all this, of course. Somebody, even in their 70s or 80s, who was born in Italy and lived in the United States can still be understood in Italy. But Italian has undergone huge standardization changes in the past few decades, and it’ll be hard for modern Italian speakers to understand them, even harder than if somebody showed up in New York today speaking in 1920s New Yorker “Thoity-Thoid Street” slang and accent.

For whatever reason, foods and curse words linger longer in a disrupted language. I think of my own complete lack of knowledge of Yiddish, with my lousy vocabulary made up entirely of words like blintzes, kugel, kvetch, nudnik, and schmuck. If you can’t eat them or yell them, foreign words don’t often stick around.

Ann Marie Olivo-Shaw, who grew up on and studied the sociolinguistics of Long Island, thinks the various pockets of southern Italian immigrants could understand each other, sort of, a little. (Jersey Italians are not, linguistically, distinct from New York or Rhode Island or Philadelphia Italians when speaking Italian.) Generally being fairly close in proximity, even if they were only speaking similar languages, they would necessarily have some cultural similarities. Culinarily similarities also abound: less meat-heavy, more like Provence or Greece in the use of seafood, vegetables, and even, rare for western Europe, spice. (Capicola and mozzarella are, probably, creations of southern Italy, though there are versions elsewhere and Italians love to argue about who invented what.)

And they shared some qualities linguistically as well. Let’s do a fun experiment and take three separate linguistic trends from southern Italian dialects and combine them all to show how one Standard Italian word can be so thoroughly mangled in the United States.

First: “The features that you’ll find across a lot of these dialects, and one that you still hear a lot in southern Italy today, is vowels at the ends of words are pronounced very very softly, and usually as more of an ‘uh’ vowel,” says Olivo-Shaw. D’Imperio is a little more extreme, calling it “vowel deletion.” Basically, if the final syllable is a vowel? You can get rid of it. Vowel deletion is common in many languages, and is done for the same reason that, sometimes, vowels are added: to make the flow from one word to another more seamless. It’s easiest, in terms of muscle movement, to transition from a vowel to a consonant and vice versa. A vowel to a vowel is difficult. In English, that’s why we have “a” versus “an” in phrases like “a potato” or “an apple.” Some Italian words that would follow food words, such as prepositions or articles, would start with a vowel, and it’s easier to just remove it so you don’t have to do the vowel-to-vowel transition.

Some Italian American women conversing with each other in front of a grocery store in New York’s Little Italy in the 1950s. Mondadori via Getty Images

The stereotypical Italian “It’s a-me, Mario!” addition of a vowel is done for the same reason. Italian is a very fluid, musical language, and Italian speakers will try to eliminate the awkwardness of going consonant-to-consonant. So they’ll just add in a generic vowel sound—“ah” or “uh”—between consonants, to make it flow better.

Second: “A lot of the ‘o’ sounds will be, as we call it in linguistics, raised, so it’ll be pronounced more like ‘ooh’,” says Olivo-Shaw. Got it: O=Ooh.

And third: “A lot of what we call the voiceless consonants, like a ‘k’ sound, will be pronounced as a voiced consonant,” says Olivo-Shaw. This is a tricky one to explain, but basically the difference between a voiced and a voiceless consonant can be felt if you place your fingers over your Adam’s apple and say as short of a sound with that consonant as you can. A voiced consonant will cause a vibration, and voiceless will not. So like, when you try to just make a “g” sound, it’ll come out as “guh.” But a “k” sound can be made without using your vocal cords at all, preventing a vibration. So “k” would be voiceless, and “g” would be voiced. Try it! It’s fun.

Okay so, we’ve got three linguistic quirks common to most of the southern Italian ancient languages. Now try to pronounce “capicola.”

Nothing like fresh “mutzadell.” Picture Partners / Alamy Stock Photo

The “c” sounds, which are really “k” sounds, become voiced, so they turn into “g.” Do the same with the “p,” since that’s a voiceless consonant, and we want voiced ones, so change that to a “b.” The second-to-last vowel, an “o” sound, gets raised, so change that to an “ooh.” And toss out the last syllable. It’s just a vowel, who needs it? Now try again.

If you were to go to southern Italy, you wouldn’t find people saying “gabagool.” But some of the old quirks of the old languages survived into the accents of Standard Italian used there. In Sicily or Calabria, you might indeed find someone ordering “mutzadell.” In their own weird way, Jersey (and New York and Rhode Island and Philadelphia) Italians are keeping the flame of their languages alive even better than Italian-Italians. There’s something both a little silly and a little wonderful about someone who doesn’t even speak the language putting on an antiquated accent for a dead sub-language to order some cheese.

“Language is so much a part of how we identify,” says Olivo-Shaw. “The way we speak is who we are. I think that for Italians, we have such a pride in our ancestry and such a pride in our culture that it’s just kind of an unconscious way of expressing that.”

Correction: An earlier version of the story had the wrong age for Fred Gardaphe.

This story was updated with new images and minor edits on October 25, 2018.

Renaissance and the Kingdom of Italy

By the eighth and ninth centuries, a number of powerful and trading-oriented city-states emerged, including Florence, Venice, and Genoa these were the forces that incubated the Renaissance. Italy and its smaller states also went through stages of foreign domination. These smaller states were the fertile grounds of the Renaissance, which changed Europe massively once more and owed a lot to the competing states trying to outspend each other on glorious art and architecture.

Unification and independence movements throughout Italy developed ever stronger voices in the 19th century after Napoleon created the short-lived Kingdom of Italy. A war between Austria and France in 1859 allowed several small states to merge with Piedmont a tipping point had been reached and the Kingdom of Italy was formed in 1861, growing by 1870—when the Papal States joined—to cover almost all of what we now call Italy.

Joseph Luzzi, author of 'My Two Italies,' talks about Italy's profound north-south divide

Joseph Luzzi came from a family steeped in the Italy of the south, but found himself drawn toward the cultural riches of the north.

Joseph Luzzi learned young about the fractured nature of Italy. He grew up the son of Calabrian immigrants, who fled from southern Italy – a world of "stillborn babies, barefoot children, and no meat on the Sunday table." But as a young college student spending his junior year in Florence, Luzzi discovered northern Italy – the land of Dante and Michelangelo.

Today, as a professor of Italian at Bard College, Luzzi finds that his degree has rooted him firmly in northern Italy. "My Ph.D. in Italian would be the passport to a cultural homeland that class, history, and society had all conspired to deny me and my family," he writes in his memoir My Two Italies.

But nothing in life is simple and neither are Luzzi's feelings about the land of his ancestors. Luzzi recently answered answered questions from Monitor Books editor Marjorie Kehe about Italy, its divided heritage, and his own complicated ties to his ancestral homeland.

Q. There is some evidence that the world is becoming more homogenized in this digital era. Can you ever foresee a time when the split between the two Italies will become less pronounced?

The Calabria of my parents is not the Calabria of today. When I visited for the first time in 1987, there were still some vestiges of the poor, ferocious land that my parents had left behind – especially in u voscu, “the woods,” a forested area outside of my parents’ hometown of Acri filled with toothless men and women in sackcloth. Yet even amid this poverty I could see that Calabria had changed. My cousins owned thriving gas stations in the center of Cosenza and homes with all the latest perks – one was even building what he called his “villa,” a private palace that certainly dwarfs anything I’ve ever lived in! Today that split between north and south is less dramatic in some respects, worse in others. Now young people in the south know all about northern Italy and beyond because of social media and the opportunities for cultural exchange that have come with rising standards of living. But the Italian south is still plagued by high unemployment, especially among its youth (as high as fifty percent in some places), and there are considerable tensions between the locals and immigrants from Asia, North Africa, and Eastern Europe. So while some of that ancient cultural divide between the north and south has been bridged, many of the intense political and economic divisions linger.

Inheritance, fairness, and the billionaire class

Q. If you had to choose, with which group do you feel the greatest affinity and most comfort: northern Italians or southern Italians?

It depends…. If we’re talking about a professional context – the subjects I teach, the cities I visit, the topics I write on – then most of my world remains “northern Italian.” It has been this way since I was an undergraduate, when I spent a year in Florence surrounded by the works of art and architecture that I had previously only dreamed about: Brunelleschi’s Duomo, the outdoor market of San Lorenzo, the covered stalls of the Ponte Vecchio. But on a more visceral level, I have never left my parents’ southern Italian culture. The dialect of my parents – especially my father’s genius for curses (for instance, “ti vo’ brusciare l’erba,” “may the ground beneath you combust,” when you annoyed him) – are connected to my earliest memories, as are Calabrian foods and customs. For a long time, I wanted nothing to do with this immigrant world and was desperate to fit in – to become a “real” American. As I’ve grown older, and especially since I became a father, I realize that this primal link to Italy is my parents’ greatest gift to me.

Q. What do Americans most misunderstand about Italy?

I think the biggest misunderstanding is the desire – in America and elsewhere – to separate the Italian past and present. So many people have heard of Dante and Michelangelo, and have visited Italy and marveled at its ancient splendors and Renaissance art. But very few know that Italy as an official nation (it was unified in 1861) is younger than the United States. And few realize that the Italian language is a relatively recent phenomenon that was derived from Tuscan and created after unification, before which time each region spoke a dialect of its own. As a writer, teacher, and speaker, I try to get people excited about those works of art and literature that were produced after the epoch of da Vinci and company.

Q. Do you worry about the future of Italy?

Yes and no. As I wrote in "My Two Italies," when I arrived in Rome in 2012, just months after Silvio Berlusconi’s controversial resignation, I expected to find, if not blood in streets, at least fear and chaos. Instead, I found the same withering skepticism toward government – the same resigned sense that things would not improve and that, if anything, they would get worse. Yet I soon realized that this supposed Italian “non-reaction” to the surrounding crises had to do with their peculiar relation to history. Denied a country for centuries, Italians learned to handle with remarkable resilience and dexterity botched laws, failed governments, and foreign occupation. The Berlusconi scandals, the “Bribe City” era of the 1990s, the terrorism of the anni di piombo (“years of lead”) in the 1970s and 1980s, and before that the world and civil wars associated with Mussolini – Italians have faced them all and always emerged intact, even when they appeared to be buckling under the weight of their own cynicism.

Q. If you could spend (or recommend) just one magic day in Italy, what and where would it be?

I would start with a cappuccino and brioche alla marmellata in Caffè Gilli, an ornate bar in Florence’s Piazza Repubblica, then head south to the Uffizi and spend a few blessed hours among some of my favorite paintings: Piero della Francesca’s "Duke and Duchess of Urbino," the Botticelli Room, Caravaggio’s "Bacchus." Afterward I would casually loop northeast, making sure to pass by the massive cobblestone expanse of the Piazza della Signoria, for lunch in the university district of Piazza Sant’Ambrogio. In the covered market there I would visit the salumeria of my friend Umberto, who would probably be singing the praises of his food while handing out samples to worshipful tourists. I’ll order a panino of prosciutto and mozzarella di bufala with mayonnaise, pick up a copy of la Repubblica, and then head over to the stately Piazza Beccaria and its quiet park. Then I’ll spread out my treasure and sit, feast, and read for an hour or so…. then time for an espresso at ChiaroScuro on the Via del Corso – which leads back to where we started, the Piazza della Repubblica!

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Q. What relationship do you hope your daughter will have with Italy?

I hope my daughter will be able to feel the force of her southern Italian ancestry. With each member of my parents’ generation that dies, with each turn of Calabrian dialect that disappears from usage, that world of la miseria – the Calabrian “misery” caused by economic privation – with its fabulous curses and ancient dishes (like pig-blood pudding) fades from memory. I wish that the resourcefulness, courage, and iron will of my parents – the heroism they showed in abandoning all they knew and loved for the great American unknown – can somehow inform my daughter’s character as she looks back on what she calls “the olden days” – the time connected to those strange stories about her nonna and nanuzzo, grandmother and grandfather, from planet Calabria.

By Brent Staples Mr. Staples is a member of the editorial board. Oct. 12, 2019

Congress envisioned a white, Protestant and culturally homogeneous America when it declared in 1790 that only “free white persons, who have, or shall migrate into the United States” were eligible to become naturalized citizens. The calculus of racism underwent swift revision when waves of culturally diverse immigrants from the far corners of Europe changed the face of the country.

As the historian Matthew Frye Jacobson shows in his immigrant history “Whiteness of a Different Color,” the surge of newcomers engendered a national panic and led Americans to adopt a more restrictive, politicized view of how whiteness was to be allocated. Journalists, politicians, social scientists and immigration officials embraced the habit, separating ostensibly white Europeans into “races.” Some were designated “whiter” — and more worthy of citizenship — than others, while some were ranked as too close to blackness to be socially redeemable. The story of how Italian immigrants went from racialized pariah status in the 19th century to white Americans in good standing in the 20th offers a window onto the alchemy through which race is constructed in the United States, and how racial hierarchies can sometimes change.

Darker skinned southern Italians endured the penalties of blackness on both sides of the Atlantic. In Italy, Northerners had long held that Southerners — particularly Sicilians — were an “uncivilized” and racially inferior people, too obviously African to be part of Europe.

Racist dogma about Southern Italians found fertile soil in the United States. As the historian Jennifer Guglielmo writes, the newcomers encountered waves of books, magazines and newspapers that “bombarded Americans with images of Italians as racially suspect.” They were sometimes shut out of schools, movie houses and labor unions, or consigned to church pews set aside for black people. They were described in the press as “swarthy,” “kinky haired” members of a criminal race and derided in the streets with epithets like “dago,” “guinea” — a term of derision applied to enslaved Africans and their descendants — and more familiarly racist insults like “white nigger” and “nigger wop.”

Italian-Americans were often used as cheap labor on the docks of New Orleans at the turn of the last century. Library of Congress Mulberry Street in the Little Italy section of New York around 1900. Library of Congress

The penalties of blackness went well beyond name-calling in the apartheid South. Italians who had come to the country as “free white persons” were often marked as black because they accepted “black” jobs in the Louisiana sugar fields or because they chose to live among African-Americans. This left them vulnerable to marauding mobs like the ones that hanged, shot, dismembered or burned alive thousands of black men, women and children across the South.

The federal holiday honoring the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus — celebrated on Monday — was central to the process through which Italian-Americans were fully ratified as white during the 20th century. The rationale for the holiday was steeped in myth, and allowed Italian-Americans to write a laudatory portrait of themselves into the civic record.

Few who march in Columbus Day parades or recount the tale of Columbus’s voyage from Europe to the New World are aware of how the holiday came about or that President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed it as a one-time national celebration in 1892 — in the wake of a bloody New Orleans lynching that took the lives of 11 Italian immigrants. The proclamation was part of a broader attempt to quiet outrage among Italian-Americans, and a diplomatic blowup over the murders that brought Italy and the United States to the brink of war.

Historians have recently showed that America’s dishonorable response to this barbaric event was partly conditioned by racist stereotypes about Italians promulgated in Northern newspapers like The Times. A striking analysis by Charles Seguin, a sociologist at Pennsylvania State University, and Sabrina Nardin, a doctoral student at the University of Arizona, shows that the protests lodged by the Italian government inspired something that had failed to coalesce around the brave African-American newspaper editor and anti-lynching campaigner Ida B. Wells — a broad anti-lynching effort.

A Black ‘Brute’ Lynched

The lynchings of Italians came at a time when newspapers in the South had established the gory convention of advertising the far more numerous public murders of African-Americans in advance — to attract large crowds — and justifying the killings by labeling the victims “brutes,” “fiends,” “ravishers,” “born criminals” or “troublesome Negroes.” Even high-minded news organizations that claimed to abhor the practice legitimized lynching by trafficking in racist stereotypes about its victims.

As Mr. Seguin recently showed, many Northern newspapers were “just as complicit” in justifying mob violence as their Southern counterparts. For its part, The Times made repeated use of the headline “A Brutal Negro Lynched,” presuming the victims’ guilt and branding them as congenital criminals. Lynchings of black men in the South were often based on fabricated accusations of sexual assault. As the Equal Justice Initiative explained in its 2015 report on lynching in America, a rape charge could occur in the absence of an actual victim and might arise from minor violations of the social code — like complimenting a white woman on her appearance or even bumping into her on the street.

The Times was not owned by the family that controls it today when it dismissed Ida B. Wells as a “slanderous and nasty-minded mulattress” for rightly describing rape allegations as “a thread bare lie” that Southerners used against black men who had consensual sexual relationships with white women. Nevertheless, as a Times editorialist of nearly 30 years standing — and a student of the institution’s history — I am outraged and appalled by the nakedly racist treatment my 19th-century predecessors displayed in writing about African-Americans and Italian immigrants.

When Wells took her anti-lynching campaign to England in the 1890s, Times editors rebuked her for representing “black brutes” abroad in an editorial that joked about what they described as “the practice of roasting Negro ravishers alive and boring out their eyes with red-hot pokers.” The editorial slandered African-Americans generally, referring to rape as “a crime to which Negroes are particularly prone.” The Times editors may have lodged objections to lynching — but they did so in a rhetoric firmly rooted in white supremacy.

‘Assassins by Nature’

Italian immigrants were welcomed into Louisiana after the Civil War, when the planter class was in desperate need of cheap labor to replace newly emancipated black people, who were leaving backbreaking jobs in the fields for more gainful employment.

These Italians seemed at first to be the answer to both the labor shortage and the increasingly pressing quest for settlers who would support white domination in the emerging Jim Crow state. Louisiana’s romance with Italian labor began to sour when the new immigrants balked at low wages and dismal working conditions.

The newcomers also chose to live together in Italian neighborhoods, where they spoke their native tongue, preserved Italian customs and developed successful businesses that catered to African-Americans, with whom they fraternized and intermarried. In time, this proximity to blackness would lead white Southerners to view Sicilians, in particular, as not fully white and to see them as eligible for persecution — including lynching — that had customarily been imposed on African-Americans.

Clams being sold from a cart in Little Italy. Library of Congress Many Italian-Americans lived in a section of New Orleans that became known as Little Palermo. Library of Congress

The Three Jewels in the Crown

  • Dante Alighieri (1265-1321): Dante's Divine Comedy is one of the great works of world literature, and it was also proof that in literature the vulgar tongue could rival Latin. He had already defended his argument in two unfinished treatises, De vulgari eloquentia and Convivio, but to prove his point it needed the Divine Comedy, "this masterpiece in which Italians rediscovered their language in sublime form" (Bruno Migliorini).
  • Petrarch (1304-74): Francesco Petrarca was born in Arezzo since his father was in exile from Florence. He was a passionate admirer of ancient Roman civilization and one of the great early Renaissance humanists, creating a Republic of Letters. His philological work was highly respected, as were his translations from Latin into the Vulgate, and also his Latin works. But it’s Petrarch's love poetry, written in the vulgar tongue, that keeps his name alive today. His Canzoniere had enormous influence on the poets of the 15th and 16th centuries.
  • Boccaccio (1313-75): This was a man from the rising commercial classes, whose principal work, ​​Decameron, has been described as a "merchant's epic." It consists of one hundred stories told by characters who are also part of a story that provides the setting for the whole, much like The Arabian Nights. The work was to become a model for fiction and prose writing. Boccaccio was the first to write a commentary on Dante, and he was also a friend and disciple of Petrarch. Around him gathered enthusiasts of the new humanism.

Language Evolution: How One Language Became Five Languages

(Image: Gustavo Frazao/Shutterstock)

Latin, spoken in what is now Italy, was one of many Indo-European languages from a collective group called Italic, and is the only one to have survived. It happened that the peoples who created the Roman Empire spoke Latin. This Italic variant moved around much more than the typical language did or even does today.

This is a transcript from the video series The Story of Human Language. Watch it now, Wondrium

The Roman Empire was relatively unique in that as the Romans spread and conquered beyond their original boundaries, they imposed their language on other people—a relatively new concept at the time. An empire could prosper without subjects speaking the language. That has often been the case throughout human history. Compared to the Romans, the Persian Empire, now Iran, used to be a major geopolitical player in the world. It extended westward all the way to the shores of Greece and a considerable degree eastward of present-day Iran. If subjects were brought to Persia, then they probably learned Persian. But as far as other parts of their territories, Persian was used only for very official purposes. As rulers, the Persians accommodated the languages of their subjects.

Latin Variations Become the Romance languages

The Romans, however, were interested in spreading Roman culture and Latin. As Latin spread to various Western and Eastern European locations, it was imposed upon those who spoke other languages. Suddenly Latin was all over this vast region. This means that Latin was not only developing from point A to point B in Italy, but evolving in Gaul, Spain, other parts of Italy, and in Romania. New versions of Latin were developing in different directions across the empire.

The big five Romance languages are French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian.

Once that process was started, the Latin varieties evolved so differently from each other they became new languages. That’s how the languages we know as the Romance languages came to exist. The big five, as they are known, are French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian. Great evidence reveals their relation if you learn one, learning one of the others is fairly easy.

The Fragile H

To understand how Latin transitioned to today’s Romance languages, let’s look at the evolution of one word. The word for grass in Latin was herba. It’s our English word for herb with an a at the end. That same word exists in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian, but over the centuries a sound change has created a different rendition of the word in each language. As a result, we have a variety of forms. In French it’s herbe, in Spanish it’s hierba, in Italian it’s erba, in Portuguese it’s erva, and in Romanian it’s iarbã.

All of these words, even when you just hear them, are clearly related, but they’re different. For example, Latin had herba, which began with an h—but in all five of these languages the h is gone. French and Spanish kept it in the spelling the French spell the word h-e-r-b-e, but the h hasn’t been pronounced for a long time. Spanish has the word hierba the h sound is long gone.

H is fragile and has a way of disappearing in languages. In Pygmalion (My Fair Lady), poor Eliza Doolittle drop her h’s and says ’orse instead of horse. She’s typical in this worldwide. If you see h’s at the beginnings of words, chances are the h is fragile and in some closely related language, those h’s aren’t going to be there. Or, if you often deal with speakers of the language, you find they often drop the h’s.

The same thing happened to our word. There’s no h in any of the variations. We’re left with erba. Italian, of the five Romance languages, is closest to Latin. Italian is what’s called a conservative language it hasn’t gone as far in its changes as some of the others, such as French and Romanian.

Aside from dropping the h, the Latin herba became the Italian erba.

Other languages, though, have gone a little further. In French, it’s herbe. Not only is the h dropped in pronunciation, but the letter a is dropped at the end. It’s spelled with an e at the end that is not pronounced, like the silent e at the end of words in English.

Then, you have in Portuguese erva. The b changed to a v.

In Portuguese you have erva. The b transformed to a v. In the Latin alphabet, b is near the beginning, and v is down at the end. If you think about it, b and v are related in terms of how they are pronounced in the mouth. Just as a t will often become a d, you can feel a d as a version of t in pronunciation, just with a little bit more belly in it. A b is often going to become a v there’s a relationship in how the sounds are created.

For those who know Spanish, think about the pronunciation of b as v in many Spanish dialects. That’s not an accident. The Spanish hierba in Portuguese is erva. Spanish and Romanian use unusual manipulations with the vowels. In Spanish the “her-” has become a “hier-” with a silent h, so you have “hierba” instead of the “erba” of Italian.

Romanian has gone even further with iarbã, the word for grass. Instead of “her-” to “hier-,” it’s “her-” to “iar-.” Talk about the great vowel shift where the vowels just lurch and change. Instead of an –a at the end (herb-a/erb-a), it’s made into an indistinct kind of sound. What is that? Is it an a, e, i, o, or u in terms of how it’s said?

All of this goes back to herba. To review, we have erba, herbe, erva, hierba, and iarbã all from the original herba. This type of lingual shift happens to every word in the language. Very few words in any of these languages trace back to Latin in anything like an unbroken form.

A Latin speaker who listened to any of them would be baffled. If they could get any of it, they would think that something had gone terribly wrong.

As a result you have what’s obviously a new language. None of the people who speak these five languages could make their way in Latin. They’d have to learn it in school. A Latin speaker who listened to any of them would be baffled. If they could get any of it, they would think that something had gone terribly wrong. There couldn’t be a conversation.

These are brand-new languages. That’s how one word became five—from Latin to the Romance languages.

Common Questions About the Evolution of Latin

Latin did not die but evolved into the five Romance languages: French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian.

Latin evolved from the Etruscan, Greek, and Phoenician alphabets. It was widely spoken throughout the Roman Empire.

Italy became a unified nation in 1861, but only a small portion of the population spoke Italian. Citizens mostly spoke local dialects. World War I and II helped to unify Italians and, by extension, the Italian language.

Latin is a valuable language to learn because many widely spoken languages including English, Italian, and Spanish, contain Latin words and root words. Therefore, Latin can enable you to learn a new language or expand your vocabulary.

Second War of Italian Independence, 1859-61

The Second War of Italian Independence (1859-61) was the most significant of the four wars, and resulted in the establishment of a Kingdom of Italy that contained all of Italy apart from the Venetia and the area around Rome.

By the nineteenth century Italy had been divided into a number of competing states for over a thousand years. The French, Austrians and Spanish had all dominated at different periods, and at the start of the French Revolutionary Wars the Austrians controlled Lombardy and Tuscany, while branches of the Bourbon family ruled in Parma, Modena and Naples. Much of central Italy was ruled by the Pope, forming the Papal States. Finally the north-west of Italy and Sardinia were ruled by the House of Savoy as the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. This mix was swept away during the Napoleonic Wars, and from 1806 until the end of the wars Italy was split into two. In the north was the Kingdom of Italy, with Napoleon as king while in the south Marshal Murat ruled in Naples.

After the final defeat of Napoleon the pre-war status quo was almost restored. The Bourbons returned to Naples, the House of Savoy to Piedmont-Sardinia and the Habsburgs to Lombardy. The Papal States were restored. Venetian independence, which had been ended by Napoleon, wasn't restored and the Venetia became part of Habsburg Lombardy. New Habsburg rulers took over in Tuscany, Parma and Modena.

Italy didn't settle down under the restored status-quo. A series of revolutions broke out across the country, normally with one of two aims &ndash either to impose a constitutional government or to expel foreign rulers. The two aims eventually merged and by the middle of the nineteenth century most Italian revolutionaries were Liberals, who wanted a united Italian state with no foreign rulers and constitutional rule.

There was thus a series of revolts across Italy in the years between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the Second War of Independence. Naples rose in 1820 Piedmont in 1821 Parma, Modena and the Papal States in 1830. Each of these revolts was put down with the help of Austrian troops. In 1848 revolutions broke out across large parts of Europe, including Italy. This time the revolutionaries had the support of one of the major Italian rules, King Charles Albert I of Piedmont-Sardinia. He declared war on Austria, but the resulting First War of Italian Independence (1848-49) was a total disaster. Charles Albert was defeated in campaigns in 1848 and 1849 and abdicated. He was succeeded by his son Victor Emmanuel II. Revolts in Venice and Rome were also put down.

One of the few successful revolts in 1848 was in France, where the restored Bourbons were overthrown and Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte became President of the Second French Republic. Louis-Napoleon had actually fought in Italy during the revolts of the 1830s and considered himself to be pro-Italian. The new republic was short-lived and was overthrown by its own president in 1851. In 1852 he was crowned as Napoleon III. The new Emperor would be a valuable ally to Piedmont-Sardinia. A second significant figure came onto the scene in 1852 &ndash Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour became prime minister of Piedmont-Sardinia. Cavour's diplomacy would mean that next time the Italians attempted to expel the Austrians they wouldn't fight alone.

Austria was more isolated in 1859 that her leaders realised. The Russians had helped restore Austrian authority after the rebellions of 1849, but the Austrians had failed to support Russian during the Crimean War (1854-56). The Russians thus weren't interested in helping Austria again in 1859. Austria was still an important power in Germany, but they had alienated the Prussians. The German Confederation didn't become a factor in the war until after Solferino, when the threat of Prussian intervention was one of the factors that helped convince Napoleon III to end the war.

Cavour knew that the key to any successful campaign would be the attitude of Napoleon III and France. In January 1858 Cavour's hopes looked to have been crushed when Felice Orsini, a follower of the republic revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini attempted to assassinate Napoleon III. Instead Orsini's attack and his claim that Napoleon had betrayed the Italians shocked Napoleon into action. Napoleon and Cavour conducted several months of secret negotiations, before meeting at Plombières on 21 July 1858.

The Plombières agreement laid the basis for the upcoming war. Cavour and Napoleon agreed to a defensive alliance - if Cavour could trick the Austrians into attacking Piedmont then Napoleon would come to her aid, and not stop until the Austrians had been expelled from Lombardy and Venetia. In return Piedmont would give France the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice. Although these areas were the original home of the House of Savoy, they were largely French speaking. Piedmont would also get the Duchies of Modena and Parma. The Kingdom of Naples would remain untouched. In the centre of Italy Napoleon proposed the formation of a new kingdom of central Italy which would include Tuscany, the Romagna and the Papal Legations. The Pope would be left with Umbria, the Marche and the area around Rome. Preparations continued early in 1859, under the cover of a marriage between Prince Jérôme Napoleon and Clothilde, daughter of Victor Emmanuel II. At the same time French officers visited Piedmont and the two states began to plan for war.

All Cavour needed now was a way to provoke the Austrians. His original plan was to encourage revolts in Austrian or allied territory that would provoke a harsh Austrian response. He soon abandoned this plan, and instead encouraged Italians in the Austrian north-east to flee across the border to avoid military service. Some of these men joined a new military unit under the command of the famous revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had fallen out with his more extreme colleagues and was now willing to work with the Piedmontese monarchy.

At the same time the Piedmontese army was moved to the eastern border (January), leave was cancelled (February) and mobilization ordered (March). By the end of April the Piedmontese had 77,348 men under arms. At the same time the French were moving troops south, and Napoleon had 120,000 men in the south ready to move to Italy by the middle of April. Plans were in place to move this army to Italy, some by steam ship, others largely by rail.

They were still outnumbered by the Austrians. At the start of the year the Austrian Second Army only had 44,837 men, but three new corps were moved across the Alps, and by the start of the war the field army was 110,235 strong, while half as many men were in garrisons in Lombardy and Venetia.

The looming crisis was obvious, and the European powers reacted in different ways. Tsar Alexander II came to a secret agreement with Napoleon not to interfere. The British government tried to arrange an international congress. If this had gone ahead then Cavour's plans would probably have failed. Napoleon had to agree to attend, as his role as an innocent party forced into a defensive war would otherwise have been rather unconvincing.

During April the French, Austrians, Russians and Prussians all agreed to attend the British international congress, but Emperor Franz Josef didn't take it seriously. He believed that the German Confederation would support him, and would thus prevent the French from intervening. On 23 April the Austrians issued an ultimatum to Piedmont, giving her three days to demobilize her army and withdraw the normal peacetime army from the border with Lombardy.

This was all Cavour needed. The ultimatum was telegraphed to Paris, arriving at evening. Napoleon III was able to activate his defensive alliance, and that night the French army was ordered to begin the move to Piedmont. While the Austrians waited, the French were on the move. By the time Victor Emmanuel officially rejected the ultimatum on 26 April the first 10,000 troops had arrived at Genoa.

The Franco-Austrian War of 1859

The fighting in the Franco-Austrian period of the war fell into two phases. In the first phase, which lasted from the start of the war on 26 April to 12 May, the Austrians had the advantage in numbers. The Piedmontese were thus forced to act on the defensive while they waited for the French to arrive, while the Austrians had a chance to go onto the offensive and defeat one ally before the other could arrive.

The second phase of the fighting began once the French had arrived in force and lasted from 12 May until the Armistice of Villafranca came into force on 11 July. This period saw the allies go onto the offensive, and contained the main battles of the war.

Plans and First Moves

The Austrian army in Italy was commanded by Feldzeugmeister Franz Count Gyulai. He and his staff realised that their best hope of victory was a rapid advance towards Turin. They could win either by defeating the isolated Piedmontese army or by threatening Turin, a move that might force Victor Emmanuel to seek peace terms rather than risk the loss of his capital.

On the Allied side the Piedmontese decided to abandon their eastern frontier on the Ticino and instead defend a line that ran north from Novi on the edge of the Appenines, to the railhead at Alesandria and on north to Casale. Four infantry divisions were posted in this area, where they could both threaten any Austrian advance towards Turin and guard the rail link to Genoa, the port that most of the French troops were to use. One infantry and one cavalry division were posted on the Dora Baltea, nearer to Turin, to hold up any Austrian attack.

The French planned to take advantage of the rail network in France and Piedmont and steamships on the Mediterranean to move their entire army into place in only ten days. The Imperial Guard and two corps were to move from Paris and Lyon respectively to Marseille and Toulon. They would then steam to Genoa and use the Piedmontese rail network to move to Alessandria (only three hours to the north) or to Turin (six hours more). Two more corps were to use the French railways to reach Savoy, march across the Alps and then use the Piedmontese railways to reach Turin.

For unclear reasons the Austrians failed to take advantage of their chance of an early victory and they didn't cross the Ticino and invade Piedmont until 29 April, three days after the rejection of the ultimatum. By this date 30,000 French troops had already landed at Genoa, and more were approaching over the Alps.

In early May the Austrians finally began a slow advance. Benedek's VIII Korps advanced to the south of the Po, where it could have threatened the vital railway from Genoa, but it was withdrawn without doing any damage. II, III, V and VII Korps advanced towards the Allied centre around Valenza and Casale, but didn't apply any pressure on the Piedmontese line. One brigade from VII Korps did threaten the Allied left at Vercelli.

At the end of the first week in May the Austrian right wing finally began to move north-west to threaten Turin. Victor Emmanuel wanted to use Marshal Canrobert's IV Corps to reinforce the line of the Dora Baltea and directly defend Turin, but Canrobert convinced the king that the most effective way to defend the capital would be to concentrate further to the south-east, at Alessandria. The presence of a French army on his left flank was too much for Gyulai, and on 9-10 May he cancelled the advance and ordered his men to pull back to the east.

By 12 May one brigade was still at Vercelli. VIII Korps was on the Po while the rest of the army was concentrated around Mortara. The two main armies were now facing each other on a line that from the north-west around Vercelli to the south-east east of Alessandria. 12 May also saw Napoleon III arrived at Genoa on his flagship, the Reine Hortense, to take personal command of the army. The danger of a rapid Austrian victory was over.

The Allied Offensive

Napoleon III wasn't much quicker to act than the Austrians. A week passed after his arrival before the Allies finally went onto the offensive, and even then their first movement was on a fairly small scale. This delay allowed the Austrians to reorganise their forces. VII Korps at Vercelli made up their right. II and III Korps were next in line at Mortara, with V Korps half way to Pavia and VIII Korps at Pavia. Urban's IX Korps also arrived on the scene, and was posted at Piacenza, at the far left of the line. The Austrian army was now lined up from west to east, ready to guard against any Allied movement south of the Po.

The first significant clash of the campaign was south of the Po. The Allies moved Marshal Baraguey d'Hilliers's I Corps east from Alessandria, first to Tortona and then on to Vohera. General Forey's division, supported by three Piedmontese cavalry regiments, was pushed a little first east, towards Montebello.

Forey ran into parts of two Austrian corps. Gyulai had decided to carry out a reconnaissance in force south of the Po, using elements of Stadion's V Korps from the north and Urban's IX Korps from the east. The Austrians split their force into three columns and a reserve. Two brigades from Urban's Korps made the left hand columns, and it would be this force that ran into Forey on 20 May (battle of Montebello, 20 May 1859). After some hard fighting the French forced the Austrians out of Montebello. Convinced that the rest of I Corps must be close behind Forey the Austrians retreated, giving the French and Piedmontese their first victory.

In the aftermath of this battle Gyulai moved his troops further to the south. VII Korps was kept on the right, watching the Sesia and the approaches to Mortara. VIII Korps moved to the confluence of the Po and the Sesia. II and III Korps were moved south of Mortara. V Korps was posted at Pavia on the Po, with IX Korps at Piacenza, further east on the same river.

While the Austrians were preparing for an attack in the south, the Allies were preparing for a daring move to the north. Napoleon III wanted to manoeuvre the Austrians out of their positions in Piedmont if possible, and a dramatic move to their weaker right flank offered the best hope of doing that.

The main movement took place on 27-29 May. Niel's IV Corps moved first, followed in order by Canrobert's III Corps, MacMachon's II Corps and Baraguey d'Hilliers' I Corps. The Austrians could hear the noise of steam engines behind the lines, but believed it to be a ruse. By 29 May most of the French troops were around Casala, while the Piedmontese army was at Vercelli. The Austrians only reacted after the Piedmontese crossed the Sesia and defeated them over two days of fighting at Palestro (30-31 May 1859).

Gyulai now realised that he could no longer stay in his current positions. At first he planned to concentrate his army at Mortara and attack north towards Novara. A similar move had led to Austrian victory in 1849, but Gyulai wasn't as skilled as leader as Marshal Radetzky, and he missed the change. By 2 June he had decided to retreat from Piedmont and attempt to defend Milan at the line of the Ticino River. The retreat began on 2 June, and was largely completed on 3 June, despite the Austrians having wasted a great deal of time deciding which side of the river to defend. On the same day the French captured two river crossings, at Turbigo and San Martino. MacMahon's II Corps crossed the river to the north-west of Magenta and defeated a small Austrian force that tried to stop them (battle of Turbigo, 3 June 1859).

The following day brought the first decisive battle of the war - the battle of Magenta (4 June 1859). Neither side was expected to fight a major battle on 4 June, but the advancing French ran into an unexpectedly strong Austrian force around Magenta and a major battle developed. Both the French and Austrian high command lost control of the situation, and troops were fed into the fight as they arrived. Eventually the Austrians were forced to retreat south-east, after suffering heavier losses than the Allies. The Austrian army retreated to the Chiese River, east of Milan and then across the Mincio into the heavily defended area of the Quadrilateral. One rearguard action was fought, at Melegnano on 8 June, but after that the two armies separated.

On 16 June Gyulai resigned. Emperor Franz Josef decided to take personal command of the Austrian army in Italy. Gyulai's single 2nd Army was split into two, both of four corps. The 1st Army was commanded by Feldzeugmeister Count Wimpffen while General der Kavallerie Count Schlick commanded the 2nd Army.

On 8 June 1859 Victor Emmanuel II and Napoleon III entered Milan in triumph. The Allied successes in northern Italy encouraged revolts elsewhere in the peninsula. Tuscany, Parma, Modena and some of the Papal States overthrew their existing rulers. In order to prevent more radical elements taking control of these revolts the Allies landed the French V Corps at Livorno on 23-25 May. This corps reached Florence just before Magenta, and in the aftermath of that victory also sent troops to Parma and Modena. All of these areas would soon be absorbed by Piedmont, and then become part of the new Kingdom of Italy, although that all depended on the rest of the campaign.

By 22 June the two armies were on different river lines. The French and Piedmontese were on the Chiese, while the Austrians were on the Mincio. Despite their earlier defeats the Austrians did not believe they had been beaten, and Franz Josef decided to move his armies west in an attempt to seek battle and win a victory that would restore his control over Lombardy. At the same time the Allies prepared to move east. The Allied advance began on 22 June, while the Austrians moved on 23 June. The result was yet another unexpected encounter battle. The battle of Solferino (24 June 1859) was the largest battle involving the European powers since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, with around a quarter of a million men engaged. Just as at Magenta the quality of the French soldiers, this time aided by some excellent corps commanders, led to an Allied victory, while neither Napoleon III nor Franz Josef had much impact on the battle. The Austrians were saved from a more serious defeat by their rearguard, and were able to retreat into their fortresses.

The battle of Solferino wasn't a decisive victory. If the political will had existed the fighting could have gone on for some time. The Allies prepared to besiege Mantua, while the Austrians had performed well enough to suggest that an attack on the Quadrilateral fortresses at Mantua, Peschiera, Verona and Lagnago would be very costly. The fighting ended partly because Napoleon III realised that any attempt to conquer Venetia would prolong the war to the point where other powers, and in particular the Germans, might intervene and partly because he was horrified by the heavy loss of life at Solferino. Franz Josef was also willing to consider an end to the war, aware that his position as the active commander in chief of the army meant that his own prestige was at stake.

The first tentative suggestions of peace were made in the first days of July, and on 6 July Napoelon's aide de camp General Fleury travelled to Verona where he met Franz Josef and passed on a request for an armistice. A ceasefire was agreed on 8 July and on 11 July Franz Josef and Napoleon III met at Villafranca. The two men came to a general agreement in which Lombardy was ceded to France, who could then pass it on to Piedmont. The Austrians also accepted the loss of Parma, but wanted the ruling houses of Modena and Tuscany restored. The Austrians would keep Venetia, despite Napoleon III's earlier agreement not to end the war until that area was in Piedmontese hands.

The Piedmontese leaders reacted rather differently to the armistice of Villafranca. Victor Emmanuel II realised that the wider European situation was beginning to turn against the allies, and the terms on offer were better than nothing. Cavour was more emotional, claiming that it was a betrayal. He resigned as Prime Minister, although remained important behind the scenes and was soon back in power.

Over the next few months the peace terms became gradually more acceptable to Piedmont. By the time the French and Austrians met again in Zurich in September it was clear that Tuscany, Modena, the Romagna and the Papal Legations could not be kept from uniting with Piedmont. The Peace of Zurich of November 1859 effectively acknowledged this, and the first phase of the war ended with Piedmont greatly strengthened. In March 1860 plebiscites were held in Parma, Tuscany, Modena, the Romagna and the Papal Legations and all five areas voted to be annexed to Piedmont.

At the start of 1860 Franz Josef saw the Peace of Zurich as a temporary pause in the conflict. He hoped to form an alliance with the Kingdom of Naples and the Pope and restore the pre-war situation. The events of 1860 would shatter those plans, as Garibaldi's remarkable expedition to the south toppled the Kingdom of Naples and gave Cavour a chance to intervene in the Papal States. Although the major battles ended with Solferino, in many ways the most dramatic part of the war was yet to come.

Garibaldi&rsquos Alpine Campaign, 1859

Although his main successes came in 1860 Garibaldi was also involved in the campaign of 1859. Late in 1858 he met with Cavour and was offered command of a force of volunteers. Cavour hoped to use this force to help trigger the war, at first by using it to trigger a revolution, but by early in 1859 his plans had evolved. Large numbers of volunteers had crossed into Piedmont from Austrian Lombardy, and Garibaldi was given command of 3,000 of these volunteers. Their presence in the Piedmont army offended the Austrians, and helped raise tension.

The main weakness in Cavour&rsquos plans was that at the start of the war Piedmont would have to stand alone against the Austrians until the French army arrived. As a result Garibaldi&rsquos men spent the first three weeks of the war serving with the main army on the Po, guarding against a possible Austrian attack. Once the French had arrived in force Garibaldi was sent north. His task was to advance along the Alps, threatening the Austrian right flank.

Garibaldi&rsquos first task was to cross the Ticino River, which marked the boundary between Piedmont and Austrian Lombardy. He achieved this on 22-23 May, using barges to cross the river after convincing the Austrians that he intended to march north. Garibaldi&rsquos men reached Varese late on 23 May and prepared to defend that city against the Austrian army of General Karl von Urban.

Urban attacked on 26 May (battle of Varese). Part of his slightly larger army failed to reach the battlefield, and an initial Austrian attack was repulsed. Garibaldi then launched a counterattack and forced the Austrians into a retreat. Urban retired to Como, and reported that he had been defeated by 7,000 men. Reinforcements were rushed to him by rail, and by the early afternoon of 27 May he had over 6,000 infantry at Como.

On the same day Garibaldi marched east from Varese towards Como. He convinced the Austrians that he was planning to attack around the southern flank of the mountains west of Como, but instead turned north and captured a lightly defended pass (battle of San Fermo, 27 May 1859). The Austrians were unable to dislodge Garibaldi, and instead of defending Como they decided to retreat. Garibaldi occupied the town, where he captured a large amount of supplies.

He then turned back west and attempted to capture the Austrian stronghold at Laveno on Lake Maggiore (combat of Laveno, 30 May 1859). This attack failed, and at the same time Urban recaptured Varese. Garibaldi was in real danger of being trapped against the high mountains, but he was saved by events elsewhere. On 30 May the Austrians were defeated at Palestro, and Urban was ordered to move closer to the main army. On 1 June Garibaldi had moved back to Como, where the news reached him of the French victory at Magenta on 4 June 1859.

It was soon clear that the Austrians were retreating east towards the Quadrilateral, their stronghold in the north-east of Italy. Garibaldi decided to use his position on Lake Como to pressure the Austrian right flank. He sailed around the lake to Lecco, and advanced east to Bergamo and Brescia, always somewhat ahead of the main Franco-Piedmontese army. This placed him in a potentially dangerous position just to the north of the main Austrian army, but he managed to avoid danger, reaching Brescia after a night march on 12-13 June.

At Brescia Garibaldi came back under the control of the Italian high command. On the night of 14-15 June he was ordered to advance towards Lonato. During this advance Garibaldi&rsquos rearguard was attacked (battle of Tre Pont, 15 June 1859). Both sides had some successes during this battle, but it ended as something of a draw.

After this battle the Austrians continued to retreat east. Garibaldi advanced to Lake Garda, but on 20 June he was ordered to move to the Valtelline (at the northern tip of Lake Como), to deal with a possible Austrian threat. He was thus no longer in the main theatre of the war when the Allies won the decisive victory at Solferino (24 June 1859). Although this Alpine Campaign had little impact on the outcome of the war, it did demonstrate that Garibaldi was capable of beating high quality Austrian troops.

Sicily and Naples

The end of the war in the north of Italy left Garibaldi and his supporters temporarily unemployed. Amongst many plans put forward to use his talents, one of the most popular was that he should lead an expedition to Sicily, and liberate that island from the Bourbon dynasty at Naples. This idea had been suggested to Garibaldi in 1854 and 1859, and on both occasions he had refused to go to Sicily unless a revolt was already under way. Early in 1860 the idea was suggested yet again, and on 24 January Garibaldi made the same reply.

A small scale revolt finally broke out in Palermo in April 1860. A plumber named Riso, with seventeen supporters, planned to rise on 4 April. Their plot was discovered, and put down after only four hours, but it triggered a low level revolt in the countryside, where the squadre (bands of peasants from the interior of the island) skirmished with Bourbon troops.

News of this revolt reached Turin just in time to stop Garibaldi permanently falling out with Cavour. On 24 March 1860 Cavour signed the treaty that handed Nice and Savoy over to France in return for Napoleon III's approval of the Piedmontese take-over of Tuscany and Emilia. Garibaldi's own home city, for which he was an elected MP, was thus going to be excluded from the new Italy. If he hadn't been distracted by the question of Sicily, Garibaldi might have gone too far in his attempts to prevent the handover and the expedition to Sicily might never have happened (or have lacked the essential covert support from Piedmont).

The news of the revolt was brought to Garibaldi late on 7 April. When it was confirmed by the British Minister at Turin (8 April) Garibaldi agreed to lead an expedition to the island. He had already begun to gather arms (through an organisation rather optimistically called the Million Rifles Fund), and just needed men. The obvious source of recruits was the 3,000 or so men he had led in the Alps. Some were available, and signed up, but others had joined the Piedmontese army, and after some debate King Victor Emmanuel refused to give these men permission to join the expedition. Piedmont would support Garibaldi's expedition, but not publically, at least not until it was well under way.

In mid April Garibaldi moved to Genoa, where he prepared for the expedition. One steam ship, the Piemonte, had already been promised by the Rubattino Company, and at first Garibaldi hoped to sail in this ship, with 200 volunteers and 200 Enfield Rifles from his fund, but the rifles were stuck in Milan. These were eventually replaced by 1,000 obsolete smooth-bore muskets, while a second steamer, the Lombardo, was found. By late April 500 volunteers had arrived, and that rose to 1,089 by the time the expedition left on 5 May.

The attitude of Piedmont to the expedition was somewhat mixed. Garibaldi had met with Victor Emmanual, who thus knew of the plan and generally approved of it. Cavour also supported the expedition, although by the time it set off he was worried that it would fail. He also saw it as a method of distracting Garibaldi from his plans to interfere in the Papal States, something that might have threatened the alliance with France.

The expedition left Genoa in conditions of entirely fake secrecy. In order to protect the Piedmontese government from accusations that they had supported an expedition against an officially friendly state the two steamers were 'stolen' from Genoa harbour and sailed along the coast. The volunteers would row out to the ships close to Genoa and the supplies would be brought out from Bogliasco. The local authorities set a guard on a different part of the harbour, and just before midnight on 5 May the two steamers were seized and the expedition got under way. The contrived nature of the departure was rather well illustrated by the hours it took to prepare the steamers for departure once they had been seized - a period in which nothing was done to stop them. The over-complicated departure nearly caused disaster when the gunpowder was left behind, but supplies were taken from the fortress at Talamone, the expedition's first stop (as were 100 Enfield rifles and five elderly cannon). A tiny diversionary force was sent into the Papal States and after a two day stop (7-8 May) the expedition continued on its way.

While Garibaldi was at sea Cavour had to deal with the diplomatic response to his expedition. Prussia and Russia both blustered, claiming that if they had any ships in the area then they would have stopped him. Austria protested, but less violently, and provided no assistance for the Bourbons. The British tended to side with Garibaldi, especially after Cavour reassured the British government that France wouldn't be gaining any further territory in Italy. The French protested, and decided not to withdraw their garrison from Rome, but didn't make any other moves. At least in part to guard against the international reaction Cavour ordered the Governor of Cagliari to arrest Garibaldi, but only if he entered a port on Sardinia. Garibaldi didn&rsquot make that mistake, and on 11 May 1860 Garibaldi and the Thousand landed at Marsala at the western tip of Sicily.

Garibaldi faced a daunting task. The Bourbons had 21,000 men on Sicily, split between Siracusa and Messina. This force was raised to 40,000 while Garibaldi was at sea. The Bourbons also had a large navy, and attempted to intercept the expedition before it could land. Garibaldi's original plan had been to sail around the western tip of the island and land at Sciacca, from where he could march north to Palermo. The decision to land at Marsala, at the western tip of the island, was made on the morning of 11 May, and was confirmed when two Neapolitan warships were sighted some way to the south. They turned back towards Marsala and attempted to prevent the expedition from landing.

Two British warships (HMS Argus and HMS Intrepid) were already anchored off Marsala, having arrived earlier on 11 May. They were there to protect a British colony of winemakers, who had been disarmed by the Neapolitans a few days before. Garibaldi's larger ship ran aground outside the harbour, and his men had to be brought ashore on a flotilla of small boats. The first of the Neapolitan warships reached the port while most of Garibaldi's men were still on the Lombardo, but worried by the presence of two British warships her captain missed his chance. He wasted time arranging a meeting with the captains of the British ships, and by the time he finally opened fire most of Garibaldi's men and their equipment had been unloaded. The Neapolitan gunfire caused one minor shoulder injury.

On 12 May Garibaldi began to march towards Palermo. He spent two days at Salemi, before advancing to attack a Neapolitan force at Calatafimi on 15 May. This force, under General Landi, had been sent from Palermo on 6 May but had made slow progress. When it became clear that Garibaldi had already landed, Landi paused at Calatafimi, a key position on the road to Palermo. He outnumbered Garibaldi, and his men were better equipped, but despite all of their advantages the Neapolitans were defeated at the battle of Calatafimi (15 May 1860). Garibaldi's men fought their way slowly up a terraced hillside, relying on their bayonets to push back the Neapolitans.

The victory at Calatafimi cost Garibaldi 30 dead and 100 severely wounded, but it was essential for his success. The victory encouraged the Sicilians to join his cause, and demoralised the Neapolitans, who wouldn't fight as well again, at least not on Sicily.

In Naples the defeat hastened the replacement of Castelcicala as governor of Sicily by the incompetent Ferdinando Lanza. He arrived at Palermo on 16 May, the day before Landi's column returned to the city. Lanza had some 21,000 men at his disposal, but although he prepared to defend Palermo he really wanted to retreat east to Messina. By the time Garibaldi attacked Palermo he had just over 3,000 men at his disposal, so was outnumbered massively.

Garibaldi decided to try and overcome his numerical disadvantage by slipping into the mountains, moving around Palermo and attacking from an unexpected direction. Once he was inside the walls he expected the people of Palermo to join the uprising, increasing the strength of his force. A minor setback at Monreale on 21 May forced Garibaldi to move further east, and eventually he would approach Palermo from the south-east.

On the morning of 27 May Garibaldi's men attacked Palermo, and broke into the city through the Porto Termini. Three days of street fighting followed, with the main effort taking place in the west of the city, where Lanza concentrated his men. By the end of 29 May both sides were in trouble - Garibaldi was running out of ammunition, and Lanza was running out of nerve. Lanza was also worried about the attitude of the Royal Navy, and may have misinterpreted an offer to provide a safe haven for negotiations as a veiled threat that the British might intervene to protect their own citizens.

On the afternoon on 30 May Garibaldi and two Neapolitan generals met on HMS Hannibal. A 24 hour armistice was agreed. The Neapolitans planned to resume the battle on the 31st, but lost their nerve and the armistice was extended until on 6 June they agreed to surrender. Over the next few weeks the Neapolitan garrison sailed away from Palermo, leaving Garibaldi in control of western Sicily. He also began to receive reinforcements from the north, beginning with 3,500 fresh volunteers with 8,000 rifled carbines and large stocks of ammunition.

As the size of his army increased Garibaldi reorganised and renamed it. The Thousand became the Southern Army, part of the armed forces of Piedmont. The army was split into three divisions - the Hungarian Stefan Türr commanded the 15th Division, Enrico Cosenz commanded the 16th Division and Nino Bixio commanded the 17th Division. By the end of July Garibaldi had 17,000 regular soldiers and a larger but uncertain number of Sicilian volunteers.

While Garibaldi was consolidating his control over most of Sicily, Francis II was reorganised his armies. Marshal Clary was sent to Sicily to command the army, which was withdrawn to garrison Messina and Siracusa. Clary was a more able commander than his predecessors, and he decided to post a garrison at Milazzo, a coastal fortress to the west of Messina and five miles from the main road.

After the fall of Palermo Garibaldi split his army into three columns. Medici was sent along the north coast towards Messina. Cosenz was sent along the inland road towards Catania and Bixio was sent along the south coast towards Siracusa. As Medici advanced towards Messina he had to leave troops to watch Milazzo. Colonol Bosco, the commander at Milazzo, used his 4,500 infantry effectively, raiding Medici's outposts. Garibaldi was forced to move Cosenz north to support Medici. The combined divisions then attacked Bosco, winning the costly battle of Milazzo (20 July 1860). Bosco was forced to retreat into the fortress. By now the threat of the Neapolitan fleet had been reduced, and Garibaldi was able to bring a warship, the Türkory, to Milazzo. When a Piedmontese naval squadron appeared as well Bosco realised that he had been defeated, and on 1 August he surrendered with full honours of war. His men were shipped to Messina, where they joined Clary in the Citadel. This was then besieged by Garibaldi's men, but held out until March 1861.

Garibaldi's next aim was to cross the Straits of the Messina and invade the mainland of Naples. Once again the Neapolitan fleet failed to intercept him and in the third week of August his army crossed to the mainland. He then began a careful advance towards Naples, but Francis II chose not to defend his capital. On 6 September he fled to the fortress city of Gaeta, and on 7 September Garibaldi's men captured Naples. Francis II still had a powerful army. He had strong garrisons at Gaeta, Capua and Messina and a field army 25,000 strong on the Volturno River close to Capua. Garibaldi had 22,000 men, mostly veterans of the fighting on Sicily. Both sided decided to go onto the offensive on 1 October (battle of the Volturno, 1 October 1860). Garibaldi handled his army better than the Neapolitan commanders, and won a narrow victory.

The situation changed dramatically on 2 October, when the Savoia Brigade of the regular Piedmontese army landed north of Capua. Garibaldi was no longer the sole commander against Naples, and he soon decided to hand command of his Second Army to the Piedmontese. More Piedmontese troops arrived across the newly conquered Papal States. Garibaldi's men besieged Capua (before being replaced by the Royal army), while the regular Piedmontese army moved to besiege Gaeta (12 November 1860-14 February 1861). The city finally fell after a French fleet withdrew, exposing the city to a naval bombardment. Francis II went into exile, and his kingdom joined the soon to be formed Kingdom of Italy.

Papal States

Earlier in the war Victor Emmanuel had convinced Napoleon III to allow Piedmont to annex those parts of the Papal States that bordered the Adriatic - the Romagna in the north and the Legations in the centre. These areas had risen against Papal rule early in the conflict and at the end of 1859 the Austrians were unwilling to risk another war just to restore Papal rule. Pope Pius IV would be allowed to keep the Marche, the southern most part of his Adriatic lands, Umbria in the centre of the Peninsula and a large area around Rome on the western coast. The shrunken Papal States would thus still run from coast to coast and split Piedmont from Naples in the south.

Now, with Garibaldi in the south of Italy and issuing proclamations suggesting he would march on Rome after dealing with Naples, Cavour and Victor Emmanuel were able to convince Napoleon III that the only way to save Rome itself was to allow the Piedmontese to invade and occupy the Marche and Umbria. Piedmont already had an army in the former Papal Legations. This force contained 40,000 men and 78 guns, under the overall command of General Manfredo Fanti. It contained two corps - IV Corps under General Cialdini and V Corps under General Enrico Della Rocca.

The Papal army was around 20,000 strong, and was commanded by General Lamoricière, a former French general. His field army was much smaller, around 13,000 strong, with the rest of the men scattered in garrisons. Lamoricière knew that he couldn't defeat Piedmont without external help, and he was expected to receive aid from France and Austria, the two powers that had helped preserve the Papal States in previous crisis. He was entirely unaware of Napoleon III's decision to allow Piedmont to take the Marche and Umbria. The Austrians had not yet recovered from their defeat in Lombardy in 1859 and were also unwilling to intervene.

The invasion began on 11 September. The garrisons of Pesaro and Citta di Castello put up some resistance, but were quickly overwhelmed, and by 13 September the Piedmontese were already threatening the vital port of Ancona, the only possible base for any Austrian expeditionary force. Lamoricière responded by dashing towards Ancona, but Cialdini's IV Corps had moved too quickly. The two armies clashed at Castelfidardo (18 September 1860), and most of the Papal army was forced to retreat away from Ancona. Lamoricière managed to reach the city with a fragment of his forces, and a short siege began (siege of Ancona, to 29 September 1860). The newly conquered areas were soon integrated into Piedmont, leaving Pope Pius IX with the modern province of Lazio (the area around Rome and a significant area along the coast on either side).

Garibaldi wasn't happy to leave Rome out of the new united Italy. In 1862 he led his First March on Rome. Napoleon III made it clear that he wouldn't accept a Piedmontese annexation of Rome, and Victor Emmanuel was forced to send his army to intercept Garibaldi. The resulting battle of Aspromonte (29 August 1862) saw the Piedmontese open fire on the national hero, who was wounded in the fighting. He was soon pardoned, although Rome remained independent, and the government of Prime Minister Ratazzi fell as a result. Garibaldi made a second March on Rome in 1867, with similar results. This time he was defeated by a combined Franco-Papal Army at Mentana (3 November 1867) and captured for a second time. Once again he was soon released, and only had to wait three years for the final unification of Italy.

By the end of the Second War of Italian Independence all of Italy apart from Rome and Venetia had joined to form a new Kingdom of Italy, under Victor Emmanuel (II of Piedmont and I of Italy). This had not been a smooth process. After the end of the Franco-Austrian phase of the war Piedmont had gained Lombardy. Over the winter of 1859-60 Cavour managed to manipulate events and on 15 April 1860 the people of Parma, Modena, Tuscany, the Romagna and the Papal Legations voted to join Piedmont.

Naples and Sicily wouldn't have joined the new kingdom without Garibaldi's remarkable conquest of Sicily and Naples. This gave Cavour the chance to annex Umbria and the Marche, and to move his armies into Naples. On 26 October 1860 Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel II shook hands at Teano, east of Caserta (north of Naples). A plebiscite was held in Naples on 7 November, and the Neapolitans voted for the union of northern and southern Italy. Afterwards Garibaldi returned to private life (only to return for his unsuccessful first March of Rome of 1862).

The official founding of the Kingdom of Italy came early in 1861. In February 1861 an emergency government was formed, and an all-Italian parliament met in Turin. On 17 March 1861 this parliament proclaimed the formation of the united Kingdom of Italy, with Victor Emmanuel I as its first king. Cavour did not survive long to enjoy his triumph, dying unexpectedly on 17 March 1861. His guiding hand was thus missing during the efforts to annex Rome and Venetia, although both areas would join Italy within a decade. In both cases the Italians were able to take advantage of wider European conflicts. The Third War of Italian Independence (1866) was part of the Austro-Prussia War. The Austrians defeated their Italian opponents but were defeated by the Prussians and were forced to abandon Venetia. The Fourth War of Italian Independence (1870) was a shorter affair. As Napoleon III's French tumbled to defeat during the Franco-Prussian War, Rome was left without her protector, and the Italians were finally able to take control. After yet another plebiscite Rome was formally annexed by Italy, and became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.

The Second War of Italian Unification 1859-61, Frederick C. Schneid. Focuses on the three separate conflicts that made up the Second War of Italian Unification (the Franco-Austrian War, Garibaldi's invasion of the kingdom of Naples and the invasion of the Papal State), the conflict that saw the creation of the Kingdom of Italy. [read full review]

Solferino 1859: The Battle for Italy's Freedom, Richard Brooks. The battle of Solferino was the main event in the Franco-Austrian War of 1859, a key moment in the unification of Italy, and the first battle to be decided at least partly by the extensive use of the railway and steamships and rifled artillery. It also led directly to the foundation of the Red Cross, but despite these claims to fame it has since been overshadowed by the American Civil War and Franco-Prussian War. Brooks' volume is an excellent single-volume account of the entire campaign, and will be of value to anyone with an interest in nineteenth century warfare [see more].

In 1861, few Italians spoke Italian? - History

Until the unification of Italy in 1861, it was the largest, most prosperous, wealthiest and populous of the Italian states. Nearly half of the world's Italians - in Italy and its diaspora - trace their roots to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The last dynasty to rule Sicily (and almost half of the Italian peninsula) as a sovereign kingdom is a branch of the royal houses of France and Spain. The Bourbons of the Two Sicilies are descended in the direct male line from Hugh Capet, Saint Louis and the Angevins, and more recently the Bourbons through Louis XIV.

Leaving aside the genealogical complexities, we can say that in 1282 the War of the Vespers brought Sicily into the Aragonese and then Spanish orbits. The early decades of the eighteenth century saw the kingdom founded in 1130 by Roger II ruled briefly by Savoys and Austrian Hapsburgs.

In 1731, Charles (Carlos) de Bourbon, a younger son of King Philip V of Spain (the monarch who had ruled Sicily until 1713), landed in Italy and soon claimed the crown of Parma inherited through his mother, Elisabeth Farnese. It appeared that the young prince might not succeed his father as King of Spain because that right appertained to Philip's elder son by an earlier wife, so the tiny but flourishing Duchy of Parma would have to suffice.

Before long, the ambitious Charles and his army swept through the southern part of the Italian peninsula and then to Sicily, wresting the island kingdom from Austrian control. He was crowned King of Sicily in Palermo Cathedral in 1735. Establishing himself at Naples, the young monarch was the first king to actually live in the "Two Sicilies" in centuries. Charles ceded Parma to a younger brother.

Though the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily were not unified (to form the Two Sicilies) until 1816, they had sometimes been ruled by the same kings over the centuries, usually from afar. The name Two Sicilies dates from the Vespers, when two kings - in Naples Charles Anjou (the less-than-saintly brother of Saint Louis) and in Sicily Peter of Aragon - claimed the Sicilian crown, the former by right of conquest supported by the Pope, the latter by his queen's right of inheritance from Frederick II and support from the Sicilian barons.

An enlightened monarch, Charles de Bourbon did much to develop his kingdoms. Under him Naples became the wealthiest city in the Italian states and an important metropolis, boasting Europe's highest population after London and Paris. Ambitious building programmes resulted in grand palaces and led to industry advanced for its time in fields such as metalworks, and glass and porcelain production. (A list of a few of the kingdom's accomplishments follows.)

In 1759 Charles succeeded his elder half-brother, Ferdinand, as King of Spain. Taking his own older son Carlo (later Carlos IV of Spain) with him, he left young Ferdinando as King of Naples and Sicily, establishing that the Spanish and Neapolitan-Sicilian crowns were to be forever separate and distinct. In other words, no single sovereign could succeed to both thrones. Unlike Vittorio Amedeo of Savoy, who raided the treasury before leaving Sicily in 1720, Charles took no monetary assets with him to Spain.

Charles' immediate heirs never approached his intellectual stature, but Ferdinando I was at least competent if occasionally cynical. Seeking refuge in Palermo during uprisings and then the French occupation of Naples, he eventually granted a Constitution to the Sicilians in 1812. In the process he abolished feudalism and established a peerage and parliament loosely based on the model of the British whose troops were then preparing Sicily against a possible Napoleonic invasion.

His first wife, the mother of his children, was the popular Marie Caroline Hapsburg of Austria, who is still remembered in the annals of the history of the Palermitan aristocracy.

Unfortunately, in 1798 Ferdinando lost Malta, a Sicilian fief and protectorate since the eleventh century, to the French, who expelled the Knights of Saint John. The islands of Malta and Gozo were subsequently occupied by the British.

Ferdinando's grandson, the future Ferdinando II, was born in Palermo in 1810. He was, in fact, the first monarch born on Sicilian soil in centuries, and he was to be the last.

Upon returning to Naples, Ferdinando promptly rescinded the Constitution and united the Sicilian and Neapolitan realms under one crown. He thus broke several promises, prompting dissension by malcontents over the next few decades. This was especially unfortunate because Sicily's British-influenced Constitution of 1812 was far ahead of its time in its guarantees of fundamental rights nothing like it would be formulated in Italy for another 36 years.

His son, Francesco I , who succeeded in 1825 was a proven administrator, having occasionally served as the king's de facto representative, or alter ego, in Sicily. He wed, firstly, Clementine Hapsburg of Austria, but his heir was a child of his second wife (and cousin), Marie Elisabeth of Spain. Francesco died in 1830 and was succeeded by the Palermo-born Ferdinando II.

Ferdinando II seems to have been a born bureaucrat, but at least he was a shrewd one. He sponsored various agricultural projects which were at the cutting edge for their time. In 1832, he ordered the first differentiated refuse collection in what is now Italy, with a focus on recycling glass. In 1839, he sponsored construction of the first railroad in Italy, from Naples to his palace at Portici, and the network was soon extended along the coast and inland. (Piedmont had more track by 1860 because in the Two Sicilies - a peninsula and large island - transport by sea was often more convenient and economical than by land, and therefore developed further.)

This efficiency extended to politics. Ferdinando adroitly but ruthlessly put down the revolts of 1848, which began in Palermo and spread across Europe. On balance, he was no better or worse than his contemporaries, and probably more intelligent than many. Yet for his authoritarian rule he was widely criticized, especially in Britain.

Like his father, he spoke Neapolitan as his mother tongue. His first wife, mother of his heir Francesco, was Maria Cristina of Savoy, who died young but was venerated as a saint almost immediately. Her kin, the King of Sardinia (who ruled from Turin in Piedmont), wanted to unite Italy and effectively offered the hypothetical crown to Ferdinando, who refused out of loyalty to the Pope - at that time the zealous Pius IX. It would have been impossible to unite the Italian territories without annexing the Papal States in the middle of the peninsula. Moreover, unificationists considered Rome the "natural" capital of a united Italy.

Nobody in Italy dared challenge Ferdinando II militarily. He commanded the largest army and navy in the Italian states, and had shown his willingness in using it when necessary. The country's resources in arms manufacture were formidable, while the sulphur mines in Sicily and Basilicata provided for a seemingly infinite supply of gunpowder. (Sadly, directives to prevent children from working as miners were rarely obeyed.) Moreover, Naples' gold reserves eclipsed those of all the other Italian states combined.

When Ferdinando died, very prematurely, in 1859, he was succeeded by Francesco II , the pious "son of the saint." That Francesco was half Savoy did not discourage the machinations of Vittorio Emanuele II and his minions, who included the competent Cavour and the wily bigamist Crispi. The Savoy camp made Francis a proposal similar to the one presented to his father to rule a united Italy, possibly as part of a federation including the Papal territories which would be confiscated from Pope Pius IX. Like his father, Francis refused.

Francesco failed to take action when Garibaldi disembarked in western Sicily in 1860, and the following year the peninsular part of the kingdom fell to invading forces sent from Piedmont. Maria Sophia of Bavaria, Francesco's wife, Sicily's last queen, lived until 1925 and was fondly remembered. Francesco had no sons the Bourbons living today descend from Marie Therese Hapsburg of Austria, second wife of Ferdinando II.

Its kings may not have all been exceptional but the kingdom certainly was, despite later propaganda that painted it as "backward." Here are some milestones and figures regarding Italy's most prosperous state just before controversial unification in 1860. First, the gold reserves (plus circulating currency) of the pre-unitary states' central (national) banks, based on "gold lire" in millions but valid as a measure of proportional value:

&bull Two Sicilies - 443.2
&bull Papal State - 90.6
&bull Grand Duchy of Tuscany - 85.2
&bull Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont - 27.1
&bull Venetia - 12.8
&bull Lombardy - 8.1
&bull Duchy of Parma - 1.2
&bull Duchy of Modena - .4
Incidentally, it has been suggested that to this day the Bank of Italy has one of the world's larger gold deposits thanks in part to the inclusion of the Neapolitan reserves of 1860.

For comparison, it is estimated that the former territory of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, with a population of some 7 million, had around 3,216 students enrolled in its public universities immediately after unification (1863/64 academic year), almost half the Italian national total (excluding the city of Rome) of 7,957. Piedmont-Sardinia alone had a population of 4.2 million, and far fewer university students per capita. Incidentally, Piedmont had a much higher national debt at over a billion lire compared to 411 million for the Two Sicilies.

A particular myth about the people of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and their wealth compared to that of other Italians is easily dispelled: The Landless Peasant. Despite the presence of large estates (latifondi) held by the nobility into the twentieth century, especially in grain-growing areas, most Sicilians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries owned their own homes and at least a garden or small parcel of land. The ready proof of this are the land tax records or riveli retained at Palermo's state archive. Those of 1748 and 1811 list numerous smallholders in each Sicilian town.

A few achievements in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies relative to the other Italian states, particularly during the nineteenth century:

&bull First pension system in what became Italy (2% deduction from salaries)
&bull Most printing presses of any Italian city (Naples with 113)
&bull Lowest taxes in Italy
&bull Largest naval yards based on number of employees (1900 in Castellammare di Stabia)
&bull Largest iron and steel engineering/manufacturing plant in Italy (at Pietrarsa)
&bull Largest iron casting foundry in Italy (Ferdinandea in Calabria)
&bull Oldest continuously-active opera house in Europe, the San Carlo in Naples (1737, rebuilt in 1816)
&bull First university chair and department in economics (Antonio Genovesi, Naples, 1754)
&bull Dwarf planet Ceres first observed (Giuseppe Piazzi, Palermo 1801)
&bull First constitution in Italy (Sicily in 1812, later suspended)
&bull First steamship in the Mediterranean, the Ferdinando I (1818)
&bull First glass recycling program (1832)
&bull First steel suspension bridge in Italy (Gagliano River in 1832, components from Mongiana Works)
&bull First gas-fuelled public lighting system (1839)
&bull First railroad in Italy (1839)
&bull First seismic observatory in the world (Vesuvius 1841)
&bull First steamboat with screw propulsion in the Mediterranean (the Giglio delle Onde 1847)
&bull First functioning electric telegraph in Italy (1852)
&bull Ranked 3rd country in the world for industrial development (1st in Italy) at Paris International Exhibition (1856)
&bull First submarine telegraph in Europe
&bull First military steamship in Italy (the Ercole)
&bull First maritime code in Italy
&bull First public housing complex/estate in Italy (San Leucio near Caserta)
&bull Highest per capita number of physicians in Italy
&bull First botanical gardens in Italy (Naples and then Palermo)
&bull First school for the deaf in Italy
&bull Lowest infant mortality rate in Italy (1850-1860)

The aftermath of the fall of the Two Sicilies is too significant to avoid mentioning. A certain degree of historical revisionism sought to disparage the displaced Bourbons, but in fact the police state that supplanted them left much to be desired and after 1922 it became an actual dictatorship. The Bourbons lived in exile from early 1861 until July 1943, when Allied troops liberated Sicily from Fascism. Three years later the House of Savoy was exiled when Italy became a republic. Today historians generally concur that a federalist republic would have been superior to the monarchy that ruled Italy from 1861 until 1946.

Garibaldi's invasion resulted in terrible atrocities &ndash actually reprisals &ndash of a kind unknown in Sicily in centuries, particularly in the Etna region where Nino Bixio's troops massacred numerous, unarmed civilians in the town of Bronte (see Riall's well-researched book mentioned below). This kind of thing did not end in 1860.

Until 1866, a series of protests and riots (particularly in Palermo) demanded the return of King Francis II. By then, Piedmontese troops occupied Sicily to suppress these movements and any other dissent. Throughout the south, thousands of "rebels" and "brigands" of the resistance movement, mostly ex-soldiers of the Two Sicilies, were sent to die in "secret" northern prisons such as Fenestrelle (a large fort in the Alps) similar to concentration camps, and thousands more were sentenced to death and executed in 1869 the Italian (Piedmontese) government sought to purchase an Argentine island to house these prisoners, thereby eradicating any chance of their story making its way into the popular mind. Apart from the post-war resistance, numerous officers of the Two Sicilies were imprisoned and killed by the Piedmontese in 1861 as a matter of course.

Naturally, the press was censored more than ever, regarding Fenestrelle and everything else. The monastic schools which constituted an important part of the educational system were closed as church-owned land was confiscated, yet in Sicily few public schools were established to fill this void until the twentieth century. (As a result, whereas in 1860 illiteracy throughout Italy was about equal from north to south, it became comparatively worse in Sicily after 1861.) In the wake of the fall of the Two Sicilies, the region was abandoned but exploited. Taxes were increased, and so was military conscription, with a disproportionate number of southerners serving in Italy's twentieth-century wars. By 1900, industry was being developed in Milan and Turin rather than in Naples or Palermo, where the level of organized crime increased. Serious land reform breaking up the large hereditary estates did not arrive in Sicily until 1948, after the Savoys had left.

What occurred in Italy from 1861 until 1945 was a classic, text-book example of how not to run a country, and the effects are still with us - throughout Italy - to this day. In the "Two Speed Europe" Italy finds itself on a tier with Spain and Greece rather than Germany, Britain and France, and for decades has received European Union subsidies to aid economic development. A particularly striking effect is Italians' lack of nationalism or a sense of unity as a people. One of the myriad reasons for this is the mediocre "Modern Italian History" taught in schools, so while most Italians are blissfully ignorant of the facts of the Risorgimento (unification movement), they are equally ignorant of the fact that in 1947 their nation was the first to acknowledge having committed both war crimes and crimes against humanity (by its treaty with Ethiopia). Closer to everyday life, the economic divario between North and South is very real. There used to be two Sicilies, but now there are two Italies.

The Bourbon kings' reigns were:

&bull 1734-1759 Charles V of Sicily (later Charles III of Spain), son of Philip V of Spain

&bull 1759-1825 Ferdinand III of Sicily (from 1816 Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies), son of Charles

&bull 1825-1830 Francis I of the Two Sicilies, son of Ferdinand I, above

&bull 1830-1859 Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, son of Francis I, above

&bull 1859-1861 Francis II of the Two Sicilies (died in exile 1894), son of Ferdinand II.

The man who would be king is Carlo, Duke of Castro. This is largely an academic issue, as the Savoys, the last dynasty to reign in Italy, have not sat on a throne since Italy became a republic in June 1946, and the chance of Italy becoming a monarchy could be said not to even exist. But from a purely historical perspective, the House of the Two Sicilies is still a point of reference, not only among the ancien regime but to many who look to the Borboni as a symbol of a time when Neapolitans and Sicilians were not just "southerners" of Italy but citizens of a proud, independent nation rooted in medieval history. In the wake of the fall of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and its annexation to the Kingdom of Italy, Neapolitans and Sicilians became "southerners" and the region's prosperity declined relative to that of northern Italy, spawning the Italian diaspora, the emigration of millions of Italians. (Sicily has the world's best genealogical records, facilitating the discovery of family history for those seeking it.)

Like the House of Savoy and many other non-reigning royal families, the House of the Two Sicilies finds its headship contested - in this case by one of Carlo's cousins who is a member of the Royal House of Spain. That arcane matter need not concern us here except to note that it encourages social-climbing sycophants to seek "vicarious identification" by obsessively defending "their" prince in a bitter "dynastic dispute" that matters little to anybody outside a particular Italian family.

On a more edifying note, the dynasty's Constantinian Order of Saint George, an order of knighthood linked to the Catholic Church, supports various charitable works in Sicily and throughout Italy. Tourists may visit two of the family's historic residences, the Chinese Palace in Palermo (in the lush royal park known as the "Favorita") and the Ficuzza hunting lodge in a forest in the Sicanian Mountains, both built around 1800 when Ferdinando I and his family were in Sicily. They are lasting testaments to the dynasty's presence. Closer to Naples, the Bourbons' country estate at Caserta is Italy's most splendid royal palace, today nicknamed "the Italian Versailles." Other palaces are in Naples, Portici and Capodimonte.

The multilingual website of the Royal House of Bourbon of the Two Sicilies presents additional historical information about the Two Sicilies dynasty.

Further Reading:
&bull The Bourbons of Naples and The Last Bourbons of Naples by Sir Harold Acton.
&bull The Fall of the House of Savoy by Robert Katz.
&bull A History of Sicily by Moses Finley and Denis Mack Smith.
&bull Terroni - All that has been done to ensure that the Italians of the South became 'southerners' by Pino Aprile (2011).
&bull The Pursuit of Italy - A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples by David Gilmour (2011).
&bull The Force of Destiny - A History of Italy Since 1796 by Christopher Duggan (2008).
&bull Italy and Its Monarchy by Denis Mack Smith.
&bull Under the Volcano - Revolution in a Sicilian Town by Lucy Riall (2012).

About the Author: Luigi Mendola has written for various publications. This piece uses (with permission) excerpted material by Vincenzo Salerno and André Mantegna. The gold deposit statistics cited were first published in Francesco Saverio Nitti's Scienze delle Finanze in 1903 and have subsequently been confirmed by other economists, for example by Anteo d'Angio in La Situazione Finanziaria Italiana dal 1796 al 1870 in 1973. See also Nicola Zitara's L'Unita d'Italia - Nascita di una colonia (1971). Numerous books and studies have been published in Italy in recent decades detailing the history of the nation after 1860, many addressing topics censored until 1945.

Watch the video: Italian History 1861-2021 since unification in 1861.


  1. Doll

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  2. Stoke

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  3. Veryl

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  4. Colbey

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  5. Steadman

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