Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

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Marco Polo


These are links to my pages on Italy's various historical eras.   

Click on 'The History Guide' logo to go to their list of online lectures on Ancient and Medieval Europe.

Cover of the free e-book on Ancient Rome.  This is a textbook:  'Ancent Rome from the Earliest Times down to 476 A.D.' by Robert F. Pennell from 1890.  I had to edit the text due to the iffy quality of the public domain edition.  

Sample page from the free e-book on Ancient Rome.  The book is 228 pages and the only thing omitted from the original book is the index which is not needed because you can search the e-book easily for any word using the e-book Reader.  I’ve added a small piece about the author at the end of the book, and many graphic images to highlight various parts of the text.

Interactive map of ancient Roman empire from a history site.  Click on the map to visit the site and learn about ancient Rome.

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius kept a diary that is still in print today.  Click on his image to read more about him and his 'Meditations'.  Living in Italy today as compared to Roman times?  Click here to visit my page on this, I hope, interesting topic.

Pope John Paul II, accompanied by Rabbi Toaff, Chief Rabbi of Italy, during his visit to the synagogue of Rome, April 13, 1986. Click on the image to link to a Jewish Italy site that has many links both about the history of and the current Jewish communities in Italy.

While Italy houses the Vatican, the seat of the Catholic church, and the vast majority of Italians are brought up in the Catholic faith, there has been a vibrant Jewish community in Italy since 161 B.C.  The Jewish community in Rome is the oldest community in Europe and is one of the oldest continuous Jewish settlements in the world!  For histories of the Italian Jewish communities in Rome, Venice, and four other Italian cities, click here.  

Cover of the free e-book of Plutarch's famous 'Lives'.  Plutarch's famous 'Lives', or the original title 'Parallel Lives' is a series of four single biographies and twenty-three pairs of biographies of Greeks and Romans, originally written in Greek by Plutarch who lived from approximately 46 to 120 A.D.  

Title page from the free e-book by Plutarch.  The book is a whopping 1719 pages.  I've added no graphics to the text to keep the file size small.   Most offer the book in volumes, and for a price, but I've put it all in one free book so you can search it in it’s entirety with ease.   I’ve added a preface giving the newcomer an introduction to Plutarch and this book.

There is a very complete site dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi on the web.  Click on his image above to visit it.  There you can read many of his writings as well as about his life and times.

The above Medieval bridge (from roughly 1050) in the Tuscan town of Borgo a Mozzano, as photographed by Federica Tronci, has been dubbed 'The Devil's Bridge' because local lore has it the builder had the Devil's help in building it. 

Ancient History


It was the more martial Roman tribes who expanded their territory the fastest and furthest starting in around 300 B.C..  They slowly took over the Greek and Etruscan regions, and every other region between and beyond. 


The Romans brought effective administration, means of quick and efficient communication and travel, security, order, and an administrative language for better communication between the various tribes of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. 


The most contentious issues were the collection of taxes, and eventually religious rebellion and corruption of the military and the political rulers.


The administration of Rome went from:

  • tribal control

  • to a republic

  • to an empire under an emperor

  • to imperial incompetence and decadence, just as tribes from as far away as Mongolia were attacking the empire. 

But as with all empires built with force, force was necessary to maintain it.  When the military became incompetent and corrupt, and when the faltering economy made it difficult to pay the military’s wages, the empire began to fall apart. 


Parts fell away from rebellions, invasions, and extortions.  All this happened over hundreds of years of declining wealth and worsening quality and security of life within the empire, but roughly by the year 500, the empire was gone.


Two important things remained after the decline and dismemberment of the Roman Empire: 

  • The idea of a unified Italy of Italians remained a dream that would last centuries but only come to fruition in 1861 with the formation of the Kingdom of Italy. 

  • And the idea of a unified, peaceful Europe remained a dream that would last even longer, only coming to fruition in 1951 with the signing of the Treaty of Rome forming the precursor of the European Community. 


The Middle Ages


As the Roman empire disintegrated, order was brought to the various regions of Italy by people we would call tribal warlords, in a era we’ve named The Dark Ages from the year 500 to 800.  They built up armies to protect their regions, and exacted tributes to finance the peace and security they ensured. 


These warlords, or their descendents, or conquering enemies, eventually:

  • called themselves Princes,

  • built castles as homes and military outposts, walls to defend towns,

  • and invested in military research to develop new weapons to defeat their enemies and to increase their domains. 

Tribes from all over Asia and Europe were on the move, eager to pick off the remains of the empire.  These times are considered the Early Middle Ages, roughly from the year 800 to 1000.


Also growing in strength during this time was the Catholic Church.  The reach of the Church throughout Europe, and it’s “outposts” of monasteries, cathedrals and churches provided an administrative base that easily replaced the crumbling Roman administrations. 


As Rome declined, the church grew, and as attempts at European unity failed again and again, and foreign invaders renewed attacks on Europe, the church grew stronger.  This is the era called the Later Middle Ages, roughly from the year 1000 to 1300.  


Religion dominated this period of medieval society. 

  • It made church laws the laws of the land. 

  • It collected taxes. 

  • It raised armies. 

  • It demanded allegiances and tributes. 

The Church declared war on the growing Muslim faith and commanded invasion after invasion of the Holy Lands, ostensibly to “liberate” Jerusalem, but really to rob the wealthy Muslims of anything that could be carried away to enrich the Papacy, the Princes and the soldiers themselves. 


Religious pilgrimages were required of the faithful.  The old Roman roads were used to visit the growing shrines and churches, each boasting an “original” relic from the Near East, often stolen during a crusade, but just as often faked.  Frauds from this era are still being uncovered today.


There were a few voices to challenge the violence and corruption of the church, the most famous being St. Francis of Assisi.  The Italian San Francesco shunned the greed and possessions of the Church and encouraged a return to faith and mysticism.  Other future saints followed his example. 


Tensions within the Church eventually lead to a division of the authority of the Roman Pope between the Western Church and the Byzantine Church.  Territory, wealth, administration, and the control of religious doctrine was split. 


And a Holy Roman Empire lived briefly in Western Europe from just before the millennium until a few generations after the millennium (962 to 1250 A.D.). 


But starting in 1309, when the Papacy was forcibly moved to Avignon, France, and continuing at least until 1378 when a so-called anti-Pope was installed in Rome, the power of the Papacy declined most markedly.


As the Middle Ages progressed, Princes formed Kingdoms and created dynasties to ensure the continuity of their realms.  Kingdoms established burocracies based on feudalism that functioned even during the perilous succession periods. 


And city-states grew rich from trade, especially those with access to ports, like Venice, Genoa, Pisa (Florence).  The growing trade required bankers, accountants, interpreters, craftsmen, salesmen, distributors…in short, a middle class. 


This growing counter-balance to the power of the evermore corrupt church dominated the end of the Middle Ages, and pushed Italy ahead of Europe into the Renaissance. 


Dante Alighieri was right there.  He is a late Middle Ages writer that is considered the bridge with the Renaissance.  He lived from 1265-1321.  


Petrarch wrote during this transitional period, and is considered the father of humanism, the main philosophy of the Renaissance.



Next Section:  The Renaissance