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Italy gained its present-day single political identity only in 1861 but varieties of people have lived in the region from the early ages. The Etruscans were the first people to rule the peninsula around the 8th century BC and were eventually overrun by the Roman Empire. The ancient Greeks also set up a few colonies along the southern coast.

The first Roman Republic was founded in 509 BC and driven by strong, military and dictatorial monarchs, the empire expanded into many parts of Europe and beyond and grew so large that it was eventually divided into eastern and western sectors. However, as often happens with nations driven by the politics of greed, this power proved unsustainable in the long term. Plague, famine and foreign incursions drove the Roman empire into the dark ages, a terrible time of continual invasions by the Lombards, Muslims and Normans till the tumultuous brew settled somewhat in the 12th century.
The rise of cities and a merchant class led to the Renaissance in the 15th century during which painters, architects, poets, philosophers and sculptors produced works of genius that prevail till today. In the next few centuries, Spain, Austria and France had their turns at controlling the peninsula until Italy was unified in 1861.

Industrialization and modernization increased through the 19th century but Italy’s participation in WWI extracted a heavy price. Economic and political instability made it easy for Benito Mussolini to seize power and establish his dark, fascist reign over the country in 1922. The Fascist movement lasted for 21 years during which a totalitarian regime was put into place and earlier ties with France and the United Kingdom gave way to an alliance with Nazi Germany. Italy was defeated by the Allied forces in WWII and liberated from fascism by a national uprising on 25 April 1945. Italy became a Republic after the result of a popular referendum held on 2 June 1946.