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Revolutionary Movements of Italy and Greece: Movements, Unification & Modernization

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  • 0:02 Italy and Greece
  • 0:44 Italy
  • 4:00 Greece
  • 7:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we examine the revolutionary and nationalist movements in Italy and Greece. We'll also look at the obstacles both states had to overcome to become internationally recognized nations.

Italy and Greece

Sometimes, the same event can have different results in different places. For example, election fraud in the United States often results in court cases, new elections, arrests, and sometimes even jail sentences for the perpetrators. In other, less stable areas, election fraud can cause civil war. The same thing can be said about 19th century nationalism in Europe. Nationalism, or the pride in one's own country and its common language and/or values, manifested itself across the continent in the 19th century. In two such places, Italy and Greece, nationalism had significantly different obstacles in results, as both fought for the creation of their own independent states.

Italy

For most of the Medieval and Early Modern Periods, the territory that makes up modern Italy was a fragmented region, often under control of monarchs elsewhere in Europe. While the Pope carved out states around Rome as his own personal kingdom, northern and southern Italy often alternated between rule by local kings and periods under control by foreign powers, like Austria, Spain, France, or the Holy Roman Empire. This political reality had created large regional differences between different parts of the peninsula, though most of the region still came from a similar ethnic background and shared similar customs and the Italian language.

The man with the real political power and acumen to unify Italy was Camilo Benso di Cavour, the prime minister of the most powerful independent Italian state in the early 19th century, Sardinia. In addition to the island of Sardinia, the state also controlled Savoy, Piedmont, and Nice in northern Italy. Cavour realized that the most powerful nation in northern Italy in the mid-19th century was Austria, who possessed the large and rich territory of Lombardy. Knowing Sardinia could not defeat the Austrians by themselves, Cavour tried to position Sardinia in a politically advantageous position by entering the Crimean War on the side of France, Great Britain, and the Ottoman Empire in the mid-19th century.

Meanwhile, Cavour continued to strengthen Sardinia and its territories from within, building railroads and improving the military. Though Sardinia joined the war late and made very little real impact on the outcome, Cavour's move had gained Sardinia powerful international friends in Great Britain and France, who were simultaneously upset with Austria for steadfastly refusing to get involved in the Crimean War. With help secured, Cavour stirred up nationalist rebellions in the territory controlled by Austria. Cavour's troops invaded from the Sardinian territory of Piedmont and Napoleon III of France immediately sent French troops to aid in the Sardinian effort.

The conflict did not take long and Austria surrendered Lombardy to Sardinia. At the same time, Italians in Parma, Tuscany, and other central and northern Italian states rebelled against their independent rulers and joined Sardinia in the hope of creating a pan-Italian state. With northern Italy now largely under the Sardinian flag, Cavour sent Giuseppe Garibaldi with a small force to southern Italy in 1860. Garibaldi was a long-time Italian revolutionary and had been part of a force that had attempted to set up a republic in Rome in 1848. Garibaldi's forces were wildly successful, but the assault on the southern territories nearly stopped before it even began.

After learning that in return for French help against the Austrians, Cavour had ceded Savoy and Nice to France, Garibaldi was furious with Cavour and Sardinia. Garibaldi was from Nice and was outraged: the very city with which he was hoping to unite Italy was now French. Somehow, Cavour placated him and Garibaldi began his campaign, swiftly conquering Sicily before crossing to the southern Italian countryside, encountering little resistance along the way.

Garibaldi finished his campaign in October of 1860, turned his conquests over to Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia. In 1861, Victor Emmanuel proclaimed all of his territory to be the 'kingdom of Italy'. In 1866, the new Italian state annexed Venice and the remaining Papal States reluctantly joined Italy in 1870, largely creating the Italian borders we know today.

Greece

While prior to Italian unification Italy had been controlled by various states, Greece had for centuries been under the auspices of a single power: the Ottoman Empire. Despite this, the Greek language, culture, and the Greek Orthodox Church had endured and Greeks still maintained a sense of cultural and ethnic identity. As nationalist movements grew in Europe during the 19th century, Greeks began organizing their own organizations promoting Greek independence, the most important of these being Philiki Etaereia, or the 'Friendly Brotherhood'.

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