History of Italy

Germanic tribe (the Lombards) late in the same century reduced the Byzantine presence to a strip of land between Ravenna and Rome plus other lands in southern Italy, breaking the unity of the peninsula until 1870.

The Lombard reign of northern and central Italy was absorbed into the Frankish Empire by Charlemagne in the late 8th century. The Frankish kings also helped the formation of the Papal States in central Italy, extending from Rome to Ravenna, although for most of the Middle Ages the Papacy effectively controlled only Latium. The existence of this theocratic state hindered for centuries the unification of the peninsula. Until the 13th century, Italian politics were dominated by the relationship between the German Holy Roman Emperors and the popes, with most of the Italian cities siding for the former (Ghibellini) or for the latter (Guelfi) from momentary convenience.

It was during this vacuum of authority that the Italy saw the rise of a peculiar institution, the medieval commune. In the anarchic conditions that often prevailed in medieval Italian city-states, people organised themselves to restore order and disarm the feuding elites. In the 12th century, a league of comuni, the Lombard League, defeated the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa, leading to a process granting effective independence to most of northern and central Italian cities. Despite the devastation of the numerous wars, Italy maintained, especially in the north and center, a relatively developed urban civilization.

During the same period, Italy saw the rise of numerous Maritime Republics, the most notable being Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi. Heavily involved in the Crusades, they took advantage of political and trading opportunities. Venice and Genoa soon became Europe's main gateways to trade with the East, establishing colonies as far as the Black Sea and often controlling most of the trade with the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Mediterranean world. The county of