Italy is a special country, it united late and has never been among leading European powers. However, his position in European history is unparalleled in any country. In classical era, majestic Roman Empire towered here, in Middle Ages residence of Catholic Pope was located here. In transition from Middle Ages to New Age, Italy became forerunner. To understand modern world history, you must first understand Europe, and to understand modern European history, you must first understand Italy.One, one of origins of modern political system
Italy in Middle Ages was only a geographical concept, not a national concept. During Middle Ages, Italy became a battlefield for Germany, France and Arabia, it was divided and politically chaotic. Beginning in 9th century, city-states in northern Italy began to rise, represented by Venice, Florence, Genoa and Milan. They prospered thanks to trade and became a transit point for trade between East and West.
The city-state political system in northern Italy is not a monarchy, but a republic, a legacy of ancient Greek political system. In Venice, highest authority of country is "Great Council", which has powers of legislation, supervision, elections, etc. and is controlled by "Great Council", consisting of 480 people, who are mainly merchants and aristocrats. The "Big Council" elected "Small Council" (Senate), which was country's highest administrative body. In 14th century, Venice formed a "Committee of Ten", which was responsible for public administration. The highest authority in Florence is "Parliament of Elders", which is mainly controlled by businessmen, financiers and manufacturers, who are called "fat men". Small merchants have two members in parliament.
Of course, democratic system of Italian city-states is not a universal democracy, and most civilians do not have right to vote. But Italian democratic system had an important influence on European parliamentary system, it is successor of Athenian democracy and one of origins of European representative system. In such a relatively calm political environment, prosperity of Italy's industry and commerce can be guaranteed, and culture can flourish rapidly.
In 14th century, Italian nation was formed, opposed to split in past and hoping to create a united Italy. One of themes of Renaissance was unity against pope and separatist regimes, among which Petrarch and Bruni advocated a democratic republic, and Dante advocated a monarchy. Machiavelli believed that republic is best system, but it must first go through stage of "enlightened autocracy." His theory laid foundation for modern European political science and had a great influence on Enlightenment. In Dante's "On World Empire" there are already beginnings of modern international legal thought.
Machiavelli: father of modern European politics
Although Italian thinkers have long advocated unification, unification of Italy has been delayed. Only in 1871 did Italy unite and become one of European powers.Secondly, place where capitalism first arose
In Middle Ages, Italy became most important foreign trade route in Mediterranean. However, ports on Greek peninsula were heavily silted up due to soil erosion, and their glory was gone. The only one who could compete with Italy was Byzantium. But Crusades destroyed Byzantium, its trade monopoly was broken, and its prosperity ceased.
During Fourth Crusade, Venetians incited crusaders to attack Byzantium, which led to its decline. Venice took opportunity to change commercial status of Byzantium. In 1378, Venice defeated Genoa and became a trading hegemony with a monopoly over Mediterranean. Venice has over 3,000 merchant ships and 40,000 sailors, making it largest fleet in Europe. The golden ducat coin issued by Venice became an international currency. In 1171, world's first bank, the Bank of Venice, was founded.
Florence mainly develops textile industry and financial industry. In 14th century, Florence had over 200 textile factories, over 20,000 weavers and an annual output of 100,000 woolen goods. Many of these handicraft factories belong to capitalist mode of operation of "domestic system", which shows that European capitalist mode of production originated in Florence. In 1378, Cardera uprising broke out in Florence, which became world's first struggle of proletarian resistance. The financial industry of Florence is very developed, in 14th century there were more than 100 banks with branches throughout Europe.
Marco Polo Route
Prosperity of industry, trade and finance provided Italy with material basis for movement towards modern civilization. These Italian city-states, like ancient Greek city-states, democratized politics and liberalized thinking. At same time, contacts between Italian cities and East increased, and more advanced technological inventions and cultural knowledge were brought to Italy. In 13th century, Marco Polo from Venice traveled to East and introduced Europeans to prosperity of East, which caused "Eastern Gold Rush" and contributed to discovery of new sea routes.
But it is a pity that Italy missed century of great navigation. While Spain and Portugal were busy with maritime development, Italy was indulging in last glory of traditional commercial route. When new sea route for Spain and Portugal was successfully opened, Atlantic coast quickly became a world trade center, Mediterranean seemed like a stagnant basin, and Italian trade declined. It is also an important factor for Italy to keep up with other countries nowadays.Three, birthplace of modern culture
Generally speaking, Middle Ages was a cultural wilderness, and education and culture in Europe were largely monopolized by Church. But Italians under pope were first to break cultural monopoly of church. The prosperity of city led to rise of citizens who paid more attention to real interests and opposed religious asceticism. Both Florence and Venice imitated way of life of classical cities, built massive building projects, indulged in extravagance, rewarded culture, and promoted revival of classical culture.
In 1088, University of Bologna was founded, world's earliest university that mainly studies Roman civil law and is center of legal studies in Europe. Later, University of Salerno in Italy was founded, which was originally a medical school, famous for compiling ancient Greek, Roman and Arabic medical works, and in 11th century was center of medical research in Europe. These two universities became mother universities of Europe. The formation of these universities was due to needs of development of a commodity economy, broke church's monopoly on education, created a standard, secular and professional higher education, and had a profound impact on cultural revival of Europe. .
Distribution of medieval European universities
After Crusades, a large number of Arabic and Byzantine documents poured into Italy, expanding our horizons. Italians browse classical archives and visit monuments of Rome, which creates a sense of classicism. Under such circumstances, Renaissance arose in Italy, Three Masters of Literature and Three Masters of Fine Arts appeared. They defended value of man and fought against church, becoming first ideological liberation movement in modern Europe. The Renaissance appeared not only in field of literature and art, but also had major breakthroughs in field of history, political science, science and philosophy, for example, comparison of documents and archeology appeared in Italy during Renaissance.
However, with decline of industry and trade, Italian ideas began to lag behind other Western European countries. After Renaissance spread throughout Europe, there was a religious reformation in Europe, a scientific revolution, enlightenment, etc., but there were few achievements in Italy. Later, idea of the Enlightenment was brought to Italy from France by Napoleon. Florence, once cultural center of Europe, has also been replaced by Paris.Conclusion
Italy is beginning of modern European history. Here is one of origins of modern representative system, which produced earliest capitalism, earliest bank, earliest university, Renaissance and so on. But Italy lagged behind in era of Great Geographical Discoveries, its politics, economy and culture turned from ahead of Europe into lagging behind global trend. Competition between countries is also like swimming against current. If you don't move forward, you will retreat. Italy enjoyed decline of old trade route for a time, but was thrown back by new Atlantic route. It can be seen how important it is for country to be prepared for danger in peacetime.