The Italian peninsula extends from the Southern Alps in the North to the central Mediterranean Sea in the South. The medieval history of Italy usually stretches from the collapse of the Western Roman Empire all the way to the Italian Renaissance.
The middle ages began when the Western Roman Empire was collapsing because of the attacks of the Germanic tribes. The Exarchate of Ravenna came under the Lombard rule in 751.
In 773, Lombard’s rule ended with the invasion of Charlemagne 773 who established the Papal States and the Kingdom of Italy.
The sack of Rome occurred on 24 August 410 CE when Visigoths attacked the city under the command of their king Alaric. Rome was no longer the capital of the Western Roman Empire but was still considered an eternal city.
Many of the city’s buildings were ransacked including the Museums of Augustus and Hadrian. After three days of looting the city, Alaric set his forces toward Italy. He took all the valuable wealth and hostage, Galla Placida, sister of Emperor Honorius.
They destroyed regions of Campania, Lucania, and Calabria and further threatened to invade Sicily and Africa. However, they were unable to cross the Strait of Messina because of the storm. Alaric died of illness in late 410.
The Sack of Rome is often considered the beginning of the European medieval period.
The Lombards were Germanic people who ruled the Italian Peninsula from 568 to 774. They descended from a small tribe called Winnili from Southern Scandinavia.
The Lombard king Alboin decided to set his forces towards Italy which at that time was devastated after the long Gothic war (535-554).
The arrival of Lombards in Italy broke the political unity of the Italian Peninsula so that it was divided between Byzantines and Lombards.
Lombards divided Italy into two parts, the Langobardia Major which comprised Northern Italy, and Langobardia Minor which comprised Southern Italy, and the duchies of Spoleto.
During the 5th century, Italy was devastated by Germanic invasions and people were looking for a place to live.
The republic of Venice was established in 697 for providing a safe haven for the people escaping from mainland Europe after the decline of the Roman Empire.
Venice maintained religious and ideological independence personified by the Patriarch of Venice. It became a home for wealthy people with renowned art and rich architecture. It was ruled by a Doge who was elected by the Great Council of Venice.
The Frankish king, Charlemagne, set his troops in Northern Italy in the late 8th century. In the battle of Pavia, the Frankish army was able to surround the Lombard capital.
Lombards failed in taking sufficient measures, the city was poorly stocked with food and the surrounding countryside was in the hands of Franks.
The war was ultimately won by Franks and Lombards under king Desiderius was defeated. After the victory, Charlemagne declared himself Rex Langobardorum which means the king of Franks and Lombards.
The Frankish conquest in Italy was great as Franks rose to a position of authority in the Italian Peninsula.
Otto I, also known as Otto the Great, was King of Germans from 936 and Roman Emperor from 962 until his death. In 960, while Italy was in its political turmoil, the Pope asked Otto for his aid against Berengar II.
Otto’s army set foot in Northern Italy in August 961.
He moved toward Pavia which was the former Lombard capital of Italy. He took the title of King of Italy.
Berengar II’s army retreated to avoid battle with Otto. Otto became the new emperor and with his coronation, the Kingdom of Italy and Germany were unified into one realm to be known as the Holy Roman Empire.
The Mahdia campaign of 1087 was an attack by armed ships of the Italian maritime republics of Genoa and Pisa on the North African town of Mahdia.
The attack was led by Hugh of Pisa with military aid from Rome and the Genoese Navy. The attack was successful in capturing the city. The money from the plunder was spent on building the church and cathedral of Pisa.
The attack was prompted by the actions of Zirid ruler Tamim ibn Muizz. After the attack, there was a dominance of Christians in the Mediterranean.
Dante Alighieri was an Italian poet who wrote the famous poem, Divine Comedy, originally known as Comedia. He began writing the poem in 1308 and it was completed in 1320.
It was among the greatest literary works of Italy and considered one of the most important poems of the Middle Ages. It was written in the Tuscan language which is the standardized Italian language.
The poem envisioned the afterlife as representative of the medieval view developed in the Western Church. It was divided into three parts, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. It described Dante’s travels through hell, purgatory, and heaven.
The War of Chioggia was fought between the city-states of Italy. The principal belligerents included Genoa and Venice. Both city-states vied for control over the maritime trade routes in the Mediterranean.
The war began in 1378 and lasted until 1381. At the end of the conflict, Venice emerged victoriously and was able to achieve supremacy in the Mediterranean trade.
Genoa was crippled in the wake of the war and although Venice suffered many losses, it survived with its strength intact.
The war was one of the first times that ship-borne cannons were used by both sides. Although Venice won the war, it lost Dalmatia to the Kingdom of Hungary.
Medieval Italy was marked by the existence of many powerful city-states like Florence, Naples, Venice, and Milan.
These city-states were often at war with each other in a bid to expand their sphere of influence. The Treaty of Lodi aimed to resolve this by preventing aggression between city-states and promoting mutual cooperation and diplomacy.
It was signed on April 9, 1454, by three key signatories: Naples, Milan, and Florence. The treaty was signed in Lodi, Lombardy. Some historians argue that this treaty was instrumental in securing around 50 years of general peace in Northern Italy.
The First Italian War was the first of a series of Italian wars. It was fought by Charles VIII of France against the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, and an alliance of Italian powers led by Pope Alexander VI.
Charles VIII gathered an army of 25,000 men and invaded the Italian Peninsula. On 19 October, the forces besieged the fortress of Modano.
The fortress was bombarded and taken by French-Milanese forces upon its refusal to surrender. A republican government was established and members of the Florentine Oligarchy negotiated peaceful accords with Charles.
The Last Italian War, also known as Habsburg-Valois War, was fought between Henry II of France against Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
This war was fought to recapture Italy and to gain French dominion over Europe. Henry II signed a treaty with Suleiman the Magnificent to cooperate against the Habsburgs in the Mediterranean.
At the end of the battle, the French renounced their claim to Italy and Siena was conquered by the Duchy of Florence.
Remaining loyal to his alliance with Sultan Suleiman, Henry II sent his forces to assist the Ottomans in the reconquest of Tripoli.
At the end of the war, Italy was divided into states of Spanish Habsburgs in the South and formal fiefs of Austrian Habsburgs in the North.