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The Risorgimento - English pronunciation ri-zaw-ji-MEN-to, IPA: /rɪ ˌsɔːrdʒ r ˈmɛnt əʊ/, Italian pronunciation ri-zor-ji-MEN-to, IPA: /ri zɔːrdʒ i ˈmɛnt əʊ/ - was the successful ynineteenth century movement for the political unification of Italy. The term is also used by historians to refer to this period of Italian history, i.e., the period from the early years of the nineteenth century to 1870, when with the annexation of Rome and its establishment as the capital of Italy the process of unification was widely regarded as complete (though see further below). Rather differently, Il risorgimento was the name of a newspaper founded by the Piedmontese politician Cavour (1810-1861, prime minister of Piedmont 1852-1859 and 1859-1861), who, though a proponent of Piedmontese expansion, was not an Italian nationalist. (See further below and Garibaldi).

The Italian noun risorgimento comes from the verb risorgere ('to rise again or to flourish again') and means 'revival, renewal, or resurgence'. It came to be used towards the end of the eighteenth century to refer to the revival in Italian literature, which had been in a state of decline throughout the seventeenth century and well into the eighteenth, and its use in a political rather than a cultural context followed in the early years of the nineteenth century. When used to refer to the movement for Italian unification it must always have an initial capital letter.

During the period of the Roman Empire the Italian peninsula was administered as a single whole and enjoyed a specially privileged position in relation to the other provinces of the empire. This unity briefly survived the fall of the Roman Empire in the West in 476 CE but was lost after the Lombard invasion in the sixth century. From then until the nineteenth century Italy was a patchwork of different states, often in conflict with one another, and often variously in subjection to one or other of the major European powers. From time to time the (re)unification of Italy was proposed as an ideal - e.g., in the early sixteenth century, by the political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) (see Il principe, 'The Prince', ch. XXVI) - but until the early nineteenth century it was not a focus of serious political activity.

The nineteenth century 'movement' for the unification of Italy never enjoyed wide popular support among Italians, drawing its membership overwhelmingly from the professional middle classes, and it included individuals and groups with rather different ideals and programmes:

  • Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), the liberal radical who founded the movement Giovane Italia (Young Italy) and in 1833 converted Garibaldi to the cause of Italian nationalism, believed that the unified state of Italy should be a democratic republic and that unification should be achieved by popular insurrection. He wrote Doveri dell'Uomo (The Duties of Man) in 1860.
  • Vincenzo Gioberti (1801-1852), the conservative author of Del primato morale e civile degli italiani (On the Moral and Civil Primacy of the Italians, 1843), and Antonio Rosmini (1797-1855) argued that Italy should become a confederacy of states under the authority of the Pope.
  • Cesare Balbo (1789-1853), also a conservative and the author of Delle speranze d'Italia (On the Hopes of Italy, 1844), maintained that a unified Italy should be led not by the Pope but by the Piedmontese monarchy.

During the first half of the nineteenth century there were a number of insurrections in Italy:

  • in 1820-1821 the Neapolitan army, at the instigation of the Carbonari ('The Charcoal Burners'), a secret society formed in the Italian south with the aim of establishing constitutional rule in the Italian states, rose up and compelled King Ferdinand, 'King of the Two Sicilies', to grant a constitution. There was also a rebellion in the Sicilian capital Palermo (the largest state in the south of the Peninsula from 1816 to 1860 being known as 'The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies' (i.e. Naples and Sicily).
  • in 1831 there were revolts in Modena and Parma in the Austrian province of Lombardo-Venezia [modern Veneto] and some of the Papal States, but these were quickly suppressed. (Austria maintained her dominance over the north-east of Italy through 'The Quadrilateral', the four powerful fortresses at Peschiera, Verona, Legnago and Mantua (Mantova in talian).
  • in 1848-1849, when a wave of revolutions swept across Europe, there were revolts in a number of Italian cities (including Milan, Venice, Parma and Modena) and in Palermo in Sicily, and a short-lived republic was established in Rome under the leadership of Giuseppe Mazzini.

Although these revolts have sometimes been seen as 'steps' on the road to unification, most historians nowadays interpret them as evidence of a desire among the Italian middle classes for independence from Austria, the occupying power, rather than for a unified state of Italy.

Insofar as the movement for a unified Italy played a part in actually bringing about unification, it was through Mazzini's conversion of Garibaldi to the cause of Italian nationalism. The decisive events which led to unification occurred in 1860 when Garibaldi at the head of his army of a thousand volunteers (I mille, 'The Thousand') invaded Sicily and, having driven out the Spanish army of occupation, crossed to the mainland and marched north to the Bourbon capital Naples. Garibaldi's military successes forced the hand of the Piedmontese prime minister Cavour, who in order to regain the initiative from Garibaldi ordered the Piedmontese army to invade the Papal States. After Piedmont had secured control of the Papal States, Garibaldi met the Piedmontese king Victor Emmanuel II and agreed to hand over to him all the territory he had conquered in Sicily and southern Italy, thereby in effect unifying the greater part of the country under the Piedmontese monarchy. In the following year Victor Emmanuel was proclaimed king of Italy. (For a little more detail see Garibaldi.)

Historians disagree about the date of Italian unification. Most claim that it is either 1861, when Victor Emmanuel was proclaimed king of Italy, or 1870, when Rome was finally annexed and the capital was transferred from Turin in Piedmont to Rome. A small minority, however, have argued that the process of unification was not complete until after the First World War, when in 1919 the so-called terre irredente ('unredeemed lands') in north-east Italy (Trentino and Venezia Giulia) were added to the Italian state. European history