Historical evolution. Although M. complained in some famous pages of the political fragmentation of the peninsula, it would be anachronistic to consider him a precursor of the national unitary state or an early prophet of the Risorgimento. M. considered the different regions as belonging to the same “province” with the name “Italy” first of all because, in his eyes, they shared a long historical experience.
Both in Discourses (II ii) and in the Art of War M. describes the Italy ancient as a seat of great military virtue and the love of freedom. The judgment refers not only, and perhaps not mainly, to the Romans, but to the peoples who had to fight against the Romans to defend their freedom. In the Art of War M. makes Fabrizio Colonna say that Europe has produced more “excellent men in war” than Asia or Africa, because it has had more states, in particular “infinite republics” (II 285-86), from which ” There are more excellent men than kingdoms “:” in Italy there were the Romans, the Samnites, the Tuscans, the Cisalpine Gauls “(II 293, 296). The freedom of these peoples was, however, stifled precisely by Roman expansionism: “Therefore, the Roman empire having subsequently grown, and having extinguished all the republics and principalities” of the world, “left no way to virtue but Rome”, with the consequence that the number of “virtuous men” decreased everywhere and also in Italy. After the fall of the empire, Fabrizio continues, “this virtue is not reborn there”, because the Christian religion “does not impose that necessity to defend oneself that it once was”, Art of War II 303-09). In the Prince (xii 28-31), however, M. observes that it was the citizens of the free communes themselves who weakened the military virtue. When “Italy was divided into several autonomous states”, the citizens “became princes” and, “Italy having come almost into the hands of the Church and of some republics, and those being priests and other citizens used not to know weapons, I begin to soldier foreigners ”, followed by Italian mercenary captains at the head of their own private armies; finally “all the others came who up to our times have governed these weapons: it is the end of their virtue” – concludes M. with angry bitterness – “it was that Italy was run by Charles, preyed upon by Luigi, forced by Ferrando and reviled by the Swiss ». Unlike the ancient “peoples”, the republics of the more recent history of Italy they had not been able to keep strong.
While the Italy romana is, in the works of M., almost always only a geographical area, in the first book of the Flor., which briefly tells the history of the peninsula up to the early fifteenth century, the concept of ‘Italy’ acquires its own political-cultural physiognomy. It is worth noting that this Italian history does not begin with ancient Rome, nor with the affirmation of the municipalities, but with the invasions, in the 5th century, of the overseas peoples forced to leave “the homelands” and migrate to Italy, where “they destroy the Roman Empire”, as if to signify that the Italy it took shape and began to exist as a political-cultural space only when the Roman world merged with the new peoples from the north and east. In this context, M. affirms that “if some times were ever miserable in Italy”, it was these in which “not only the government and the prince changed, but the laws, the customs, the way of life, the religion, the language, I live in it, the names “, a series of transformations such as to “frighten” anyone who thought of them, as well as lived. In fact, anticipating some of these changes by several centuries, M. assigns precisely to these events of the 5th century. The “ruin” of many cities and the “birth and augmentation” of others; the emergence of “new languages, as it appears in speaking that in France, Spain, and Italy is customary, which, mixed with the native language of those new peoples and with the ancient Roman, create a new order of speaking” ; and the replacement of old names with “new names and entirely from the ancient aliens”, both of rivers and lakes and of men, who “again of Cesari and Pompeii, Pieri, Giovanni and Mattei became” (Ist. Fior. I v 1-7). Between Roman antiquity and Italy of the immediately following centuries (which we call medieval) M. does not see a slow evolution, but an abrupt fracture, which generated profound transformations over a very few generations. Today historians are more inclined to the hypothesis of gradual development, but M. wanted to underline the historical abyss that separated ancient Rome from his idea of Italy.
In the reconstruction of M. the characteristics of the Italy they were produced by the waves of new peoples and new invasions in the medieval centuries. The Greek-Byzantine domination established in all the most important cities, including the former imperial capital, “dukes” sent from Ravenna, and “this division made the ruin of Italy easier, and more quickly gave the Lombards the opportunity to occupy it “(Ist. Fior. I vii 2-4). After two centuries in Italy, the Lombards “thought nothing of foreigners other than the name”; they too instituted a new administrative system, more decentralized, under thirty dukes, which “was the reason that the Lombards never occupied all of Italy” (I viii 14-15). At this point M. explains the origin of what he considered one of the most serious and lasting political defects of the Italy, that is, the politics of the popes who, repeatedly, called in Italy foreign princes to avoid falling under the domination of powers. Italian. No longer having the protection of the Byzantine Empire and feeling threatened by the Lombards, the papacy “resorted to those kings in France” (the Carolingians). M. immediately comments:
So that all the wars which, after these times, were made by the barbarians in Italy, were mostly caused by popes; and all the barbarians that showered it were most often by those called. This way of proceeding still continues in our times: which has kept and keeps Italy disunited and infirm (I ix 8-10).
About the alliance in the 13th century. between the papacy and Charles of Anjou, called to avert the looming danger that the Italy whole was conquered by the Hohenstaufen, and the turnaround decided by the successive popes who, fearing the excessive power of the Angevin, urged “Ridolfo emperor to come to Italy against Charles”, M. comments again:
And so the popes, now for the sake of religion, now for their own ambition, never ceased to call new homors to Italy and to stir up new wars; and then that heglino had made a prince powerful, they repented, and sought his ruin; nor did they allow that province which due to their weakness they could not possess, that others possess it (I xxiii 3).
Already in the 11th century, M. sees the Italy “Governed […] partly by the peoples, partly by the principles”. The “peoples” represented a new and ever more autonomous power, so much so that even the “Popes […] received many more insults […] from that [Roman] people than from any other Christian prince” (I xiv 1, 4). Their effective independence allowed the “peoples” to play a leading role in the struggles between Church and empire: “some Italian peoples followed the pope and some [the emperor]; which was the seed of the Guelph and Ghibelline moods, so that Italy, without the barbaric floods, might be torn apart by the internal wars “(I xv 4). More than the division between Guelphs and Ghibellines, however, M. was interested in that between republics and principalities. One of the absolutely new pages of the Discourses (I lv 18-25) examines the political geography of Italy to understand why republics dominate in some regions and princes in others. Everything depends on the presence, or not, of two categories of nobles: the “gentlemen”, that is to say land owners, who “live off the income from their possessions” and whom M. defines “pernicious in every republic”; and those, even “more pernicious”, who “command a castella, and have subjects who obey them”, or feudal lords who exercised jurisdiction in their lands. In the regions dominated by “gentlemen” or “lords of castella” – “the kingdom of Naples, the land of Rome, Romagna and Lombardy” – “no republic or political life has ever arisen, because such generations of men are at the all hostile to every civilization “, that is to any form of civil and republican government. Where, on the other hand, these nobles were reduced to a few and without power, republics flourished, as M. writes, “with the example of Tuscany, where three republics, Florence, Siena and Lucca », and other cities that« would like to maintain their freedom »: a fertile ground for the republics« not to be in that province any lord of castella and none or very few gentlemen ». To those who say that the Republic of Venice is an exception “to this opinion of mine” because the members of its ruling class are called “gentlemen”, says M., “one replies” that they are gentlemen “more in name than in fact”, being of merchants who “do not have large income from possessions”, Discourses I lv 31-32).