Unification of Italy

creation of the politically and administratively integrated nation of Italy

The unification of Italy, or Risorgimento, was the process in which numerous Italian states merged to become the first Italian nation-state. A unification had been a major goal of Italian nationalists and liberals for most of the 19th century. The process began with the Revolutions of 1848 and concluded in 1871 when the Kingdom of Italy annexed the Papal States and declared Rome as its new capital. The major leaders of the unification were King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy; Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour; Giuseppe Garibaldi; and Giuseppe Mazzini.


  • Nationalism at first had seemed to pose a threat to Europe's monarchies. In the 1860s, however, the kingdoms of Piedmont and Prussia had created new nation states by combining the national principle with their own instincts for self-preservation and self-aggrandizement. The results - the kingdom of Italy and the German Reich - were no doubt very far from being perfect nation states. To Sicilians, the Piedmontese were as foreign as if they had been Frenchmen; the true unification of Italy came after the triumphs of Cavour and Garibaldi, with what were in effect small wars of colonization waged against the peoples of the south. Many Germans, meanwhile, lived outside the borders of Bismarck's new Reich; what historians called his wars of unification had in fact excluded German-speaking Austrians from a Prussian-dominated Kleindeutschland. Nevertheless, an imperfect nation state was, in the eyes of most nationalists, preferable to no nation state at all.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), p. 75
  • In our own day classics have been dethroned without being replaced. But throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries our statesmen were so brought up that they thought of Rome as the hearth of their political civilization, where their predecessor Cicero had denounced Catiline; where the models of their own eloquence and statecraft, as taught them at Eton, Harrow and Winchester, had been practised and brought to perfection. And, therefore, the ruins of the Forum were as familiar, as sacred, and as moving to Russell and to Gladstone as to Mazzini and Garibaldi themselves. This was a prime fact in the history of the Risorgimento.
    • G. M. Trevelyan, 'Englishmen and Italians: Some Aspects of Their Relations Past and Present', read before the British Academy (June 1919), quoted in Clio, A Muse: And other Essays (1913; rev. ed. 1930), p. 107

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