On the 26th July 1936, Adolf Hitler informed General Francisco Franco that Germany would support his Nationalist rebellion in Spain. Benito Mussolini, the leader of Italy, also agreed to intervene in the war on the Nationalist side after being encouraged to do so by Hitler. Although both countries later signed the Non-Intervention Agreement, they continued to send troops and equipment to support Franco’s forces.
The Spanish Civil War broke out on the 17th July, when an army uprising against the Spanish Second Republic that began in Morocco spread to the mainland. In the face of early rebel gains, the Republican government sought assistance from France and the USSR. Meanwhile the Nationalists turned to the right-wing governments of Germany and Italy.
Hitler in particular had a number of reasons for getting involved. As well as giving him the opportunity to take action against what he called “communist barbarism”, assisting Franco would win Germany an important ally and access to Spain’s natural resources. Militarily, German involvement also provided an opportunity to test the new equipment developed since the Nazi rearmament programme began in 1933.
Both Hitler and Mussolini were concerned about the risk of the Spanish Civil War escalating into a European-wide conflict, so at first their support for the Nationalists was small-scale and consisted mainly of transporting existing Spanish troops from Morocco to the mainland. However, as the war progessed their involvement grew. The German Condor Legion in particular began to take an active role in the aerial bombing of Republican areas, most notably the Basque town of Guernica, on the 26th April 1937.
Elena Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Philosophy, otherwise known as a Ph.D.
Elena Cornaro was the daughter of Giovanni Battista Cornaro Piscopia, a member of an influential Venetian noble family. When she was seven years old her father was persuaded to start her on a classical education at which she excelled. By the time Giovanni was appointed to the powerful position of Procuratore di San Marco de supra in 1664, his daughter had already become fluent in numerous languages as well as showing an impressive ability in subjects ranging from music and mathematics to philosophy and theology.
In 1669 Cornaro translated the Spanish volume the Colloquy of Christ by the Carthusian monk Giovanni Lanspergio into Italian. This accomplishment led to her becoming president of the Venetian society Accademia dei Pacifici in 1670. Just two years later at the University of Padua, Cornaro’s tutor in philosophy persuaded his colleague in theology to petition the university to grant her the highest level of degree.
Gregorio Cardinal Barbarigo, the bishop of Padua, initially supported her pursuit of a degree but later withdrew this when he learned that the female savant wished to earn it in theology. He instead offered the compromise that she could pursue a degree in philosophy.
Due to the number of people who wished to see her intellect in person, her examination was held in Padua’s Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin on 25 June 1678. Cornaro’s defence saw her explain two passages chosen at random from Aristotle. She spoke confidently and fluently in classical Latin for over an hour, and was subsequently awarded the doctoral degree in front of the rapturous audience.
The 22nd June 1633 saw Galileo Galilei, the famed scientist, was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” by the Papal Inquisition and forced to recant his belief in the heliocentric universe originally put forward by Copernicus ninety years previously. Galileo was sentenced to house arrest where he remained for the final nine years of his life.
Galileo had visited Rome nearly two decades earlier in order to defend his belief that the Earth orbits the Sun rather than the other way round after complaints to the Inquisition had been raised in early 1615. Despite his attempt to prove that heliocentrism didn’t contradict the Bible, an Inquisitorial commission in 1616 unanimously declared it to be “formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.”
At that time Galileo was ordered to “abandon completely… the opinion that the sun stands still at the center of the world and the earth moves”. However, he was permitted to discuss heliocentrism in theory. It was this that caused him problems when, in 1632, he published a new book called Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Although written with permission from the Inquisition and the Pope, the book implicitly defended heliocentrism. Therefore, argued the Inquisition, Galileo had broken the sentence passed down 16 years earlier and should be forced to recant and be imprisoned.
Nearly 400 years later, in 1992, Pope John Paul II issued a declaration that recognised and expressed regret at the way the Catholic Church had handled the so-called Galileo affair.
On the 2nd June 1946, Italians voted in a referendum to abolish the monarchy and turn their country into a republic. The question was simple: Monarchy or Republic? More than 89% of eligible Italian citizens voted in the referendum, with 54.3% voting in favour of a republic.
Italy had emerged from the Second World War as a country torn apart by conflict. The royal family was blamed by many people for allowing the growth and domination of Mussolini’s fascist regime, and was therefore also held responsible for the war and the Italian defeat. Even the wartime king, Victor Emmanuel III, had recognised the precarious nature of his position when Mussolini’s government collapse in 1944, and so handed over the responsibilities of head of state to his son, Crown Prince Umberto.
Umberto II formally ascended to the Italian throne in May 1946 but, despite his relative popularity with the Italian population compared to his predecessor, the pro-monarchy campaign was unable to gain sufficient support. However, the results of the referendum demonstrated a very clear split between a generally pro-republican north (where 2/3 of the population voted to abolish the monarchy) and a pro-monarchist south where 2/3 of the population wanted to keep it.
Umberto II was magnanimous and dignified in defeat. In his final speech to the Italian people he didn’t bear them any ill will, and encouraged them to be loyal to the republic. The monarchy formally ended on the 12th June 1946, and Umberto was exiled to Portugal. He died in 1983, having never set foot in Italy again.
On the 23rd May 1915, Italy entered the First World War on the side of the Triple Entente and declared war on Austria-Hungary. Italy was actually Austria-Hungary’s ally under the terms of the Triple Alliance, but the Italian government had initially opted for neutrality before being persuaded to join with its theoretical opposition. Under the terms of the Triple Alliance, Italy was well within its rights not to provide military assistance to Germany and Austria-Hungary since the treaty was entirely defensive. Since Austria-Hungary had instigated hostilities against Serbia, Italy argued that the alliance was void.
Italy therefore remained neutral for the first nine months of the war. However, behind the scenes Prime Minister Antonio Salandra and his minister of Foreign Affairs, Sidney Sonnino, were investigating which side would be the best to join. In a secret agreement signed on 26th April in London, Italy agreed to leave the Triple Alliance, join the Triple Entente, and declare war on Austria-Hungary and Germany. Assuming they won, Italy would in return receive large areas of territory from the Central Powers such as Italian-populated areas of Austria-Hungary and in the region of the Adriatic Sea.
Italy duly entered the war against Austria-Hungary on 23rd May 1915. Despite superior numbers, the Italians struggled against Austria-Hungarians. However, they did emerge victorious and so Premier Vittorio Emanuele Orlando went as the Italian representative to the Paris Peace Conference. However, the offers of land were not as much as Italy had hoped for and so he left the Conference in a boycott.
Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy formed the Triple Alliance.
Germany and Austria-Hungary had formed the defensive Dual Alliance in 1879 in which both countries agreed to assist each other if they were attacked by Russia and promised benevolent neutrality to the other in case of war with another nation.
Two years later Italy, which had North African imperial ambitions, was frustrated by France’s seizure of Tunisia. Wishing to secure a foreign alliance in case of future aggression from France, Italy consequently turned to Germany and Austria-Hungary, expanding their established relationship to form the Triple Alliance in 1882.
The alliance provided Italy with German and Austro-Hungarian assistance in case France chose to attack, in return for which Italy would assist Germany if they were attacked. Meanwhile Austria-Hungary benefited from a guarantee that Italy would remain neutral in case of a war with Russia, removing the risk of a war on two fronts and providing some security amidst the rising tensions in the Balkans.
The alliance was renewed in 1887, 1907 and 1912. Meanwhile, in October 1883, Romania had secretly joined the Triple Alliance. This move was so secret that only King Carol I and a few senior politicians even knew.
However, similar to Italy’s involvement in the agreement, this did not result in Romania joining the Central Powers when war broke out in 1914. Having based their decision on the fact that the first country to take offensive action was Austria-Hungary when it attacked Serbia, both Italy and Romania initially opted for neutrality. They claimed that, since the Triple Alliance was defensive, they were not duty bound to support the aggressor.
On the 27th April 1509, Pope Julius II excommunicated the entire republic of Venice. Having been elected pontiff six years previously, Julius II was determined to reclaim Italian territory that had been gradually taken by Venice throughout the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
Having joined together with France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire to form the League of Cambrai in December 1508, the Papacy was ready to mount military action to seize control of the Romagne region from Venice. Shortly before invading, however, the Pope issued the interdict against the Republic that excommunicated every single one of its citizens.
The interdict deprived the Venetians of their spiritual salvation, and was therefore a formidable weapon. When Venetian forces were defeated at the Battle of Agnadello the following month, the Republic entered what was referred to by one contemporary as a ‘foul mood’.
Peace negotiations were concluded on February 24th the next year, at which point the interdict against Venice was lifted. France and the Holy Roman Empire, however, were keen to maintain their advance. Having underestimated his former allies, the Pope sought to stop the French advance that was threatening the Papal States. Amazingly he formed a new alliance with Venice and Spain, and placed France under papal interdict. By the time he died in 1513, Julius II had therefore fought and formed alliances with France, Spain, Venice and the Holy Roman Empire. That’s quite some diplomacy.
The Pazzi family in Florence launched their unsuccessful plot to overthrow the Medici family with an assassination attempt against the brothers Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici.
The Pazzis had been a powerful and influential family since the 13th century. Yet by the early 1400s their successful banking network, and the status that came with it, had been overshadowed by that of the Medici family who had grown to dominate Florentine political and economic life. The Pazzi Conspiracy saw family members conspire with other opponents of the Medicis including the Pope’s nephew, Girolamo Riario, and the archbishop of Pisa, Francesco Salviati. Although Pope Sixtus IV lent his support to the plot, he was very careful not to sanction killing.
The assassins struck during High Mass on the morning of 26 April 1478. Having gathered with a crowd of up to 10,000 other worshippers at the Duomo, Bernardo Bandini dei Baroncelli and Francesco de’ Pazzi stabbed Giuliano de’ Medici 19 times. His brother Lorenzo was wounded but managed to escape with the help of his friend Angelo Poliziano.
Over the next few months the people of Florence pursued the conspirators and killed at least 80 people associated with the plot by 20 October. Francesco de’ Pazzi and Salviati were hanged from the windows of the Palazzo della Signoria while other plotters were thrown from windows to be set upon by the angry crowds below.
The failure of the conspiracy resulted in the opposite situation to what had been intended. Lorenzo de’ Medici was able to strengthen his hold on Florentine politics despite Pope Sixtus IV placing the city under interdict, while the Pazzi family were banished and their lands and property confiscated.
On the 21st April 753 BC, the ancient city of Rome was founded. You may already be familiar with the Italian myth of Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who were suckled by a she-wolf. The story goes that, as adults, they decided to establish a new city but disagreed on the location. After a quarrel about the walls, Remus was killed by his brother and so Romulus named the city after himself.
The foundation myth became quite commonly accepted by ancient historians, although modern scholars disagree. However, they virtually all accept that Rome began on the 21st April. The precise date seems implausible at first glance, but there’s a clear reason that it is used.
The ancient Roman scholar, Marcus Terentius Varro, is the person who pinpointed the founding of Rome to 21st April 753 BC. He created a timeline of Roman history by using a combination of a list of Roman consuls, together with a little bit of historical license to allow for periods of dictatorial rule. Therefore Varro’s timeline is known to be slightly inaccurate, but nobody has ever provided sufficiently trustworthy evidence to propose a different calendar. Therefore his system is accepted as the standard chronology.
Despite the inaccuracies of Varro’s work the recent discovery of ancient walls on Palatine Hill in Rome support the legend that Romulus plowed a furrow to mark his new city. The walls have also been dated to the 8th Century BC, broadly supporting the chronology of Varro’s calendar.
On the 25th March 1957 the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations for the European Economic Community, was signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The EEC, sometimes referred to as the Common Market, was formally established on the 1st January 1958 and survived, with some changes under the Maastricht Treaty, until 2009 when it was absorbed into the European Union.
The aim of the EEC was to establish economic integration between its members, such as a common market and customs union. However in reality the EEC operated beyond purely economic issues since it included organisations such as the European Atomic Energy Community that sought to generate and distribute nuclear energy to its member states.
The EEC was preceded by the European Coal and Steel Community, which came into force in 1952. The ECSC sought to amalgamate European coal and steel production in order to reconstruct Europe after the devastation of the Second World War and reduce the threat of a future conflict by establishing mutual economic reliance. Within just three years the idea of a customs union was being discussed, with the 1956 Intergovernmental Conference on the Common Market and Euratom establishing the parameters for the Treaty of Rome.
Over time the EEC expanded its membership with Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joining in 1973; the 1980s saw the addition of Greece, Spain and Portugal. With the creation of the European Union in 1993 and its absorption of the EEC in 2009 the union currently contains 28 states, the most recent member being Croatia in July 2013.