The earliest inhabitants of the Italian peninsula were the Etruscans and the Latins. Between the 8th and the 3th century B.C., a settlement on the Tiber River grew into the city of Rome. Through war and colonization, Rome came to control the Mediterranean world.

At first, Rome was a republic, but in 44 B.C., it became an empire. The empire expanded to include much of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. In the 4th century, the Roman emperor adopted the Christian faith and moved the empire's capital to Constantinople. The empire split into east and west. During the 5th century, barbarians from the north invaded the peninsula and Rome was attacked and looted. 

Italy of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was a collection of independent city-states that often feuded with each other. France, Austria and Spain fought to control different parts of the peninsula. The pope controlled an area called the Papal States.

 In 1800, Napoleon invaded Italy and made it part of his empire. When the Allies defeated him in 1815, Italy was again divided. Italy was finally united by Giuseppe Garibaldi and Camillo Cavour into the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont became king. Rome remained under the pope's control until 1870, when it became the capital of Italy. The pope never gave up control over the Vatican and Vatican City (which was officially created in 1929) is still a separate state within Italy.

Did you know? 

The Northern League, a northern separatist party, wants to separate from the south. They would call their new state Padania. The Northern League does not represent the views of all Northerners. 

In the late 19th century, Italy established colonies in Africa. Italy fought on the side of Great Britain and its Allies in the First World War. The Fascists under Benito Mussolini took control of the country in 1922. He suppressed opposition to his government and reorganized the economy. In 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia.

 In 1939, Italy entered the Second World War on the side of Germany. During the war, Germany gradually assumed control over Italy. In 1943 the Allies, including many Canadian regiments, invaded Sicily and moved north toward Rome, fighting the Germans. Mussolini was captured and executed by Italian partisans (resistance fighters) in 1945. The Italians voted in a referendum to overthrow the monarchy and establish the Italian Republic in 1946.

Italy has had a series of short-lived governments since the war. After a period of turbulence and terrorism in the 1970s, current governments are working to bring about political and economic reforms and eradicate political corruption.