On January 8, in this space, I wrote an article entitled
“The Plot Against The World Atlas” in which I pointed
out the numerous secession movements active in virtually
all regions of the globe. The latest place where this has
just occurred is the autonomous region of Crimea which
has declared its independence from Ukraine (and imminent
merger into Russia). The status of neighboring eastern
Ukraine is, as of this writing, uncertain as it too might be
(forcibly?) separated from Ukraine. These developments have
dominated world headlines for some several weeks.
But almost ignored has been another place considering
secession, one of the world’s most famous cities (and its
surrounding region). For more than a thousand years, the
Venetian Republic existed until Napoleon invaded and took it
over. Now the voters of Venice and it surrounding
region are voting during the next week whether or
not they will secede and re-create a sovereign state
separated from Italy. It’s not a official vote, although
Venetian secessionists are hoping its results will lead directly
to the famed tourist city separating from Italy, and the creation
of an independent nation.
Having visited Italy many times, and being a enthusiast of
Italy’s music, cuisine, art, literature and culture, I thought I
had some sense of what Italian history was, but after recently
reading The Pursuit of Italy (2011) by British historian David
Gilmour, I realized how little I did know about this European
nation which arose after the demise of the Roman empire on
It also helped me understand what the citizens of Venice and
environs are doing, why they are doing it, and why it just
The “nation” of Italy did not exist at all until after the
mid-nineteenth century. Portrayed as an heroic and epic
unification of the Italian peninsula, the creation of a
“unified” Italy was actually a contrivance in which its
component parts rather reluctantly were cobbled together.
After the end of the Roman empire in the mid-first
millennium, A.D., the territory around Rome divided
into numerous city states, kingdoms and duchys. In the
eight century A.D. the young city of Venice became one
of the world’s first true and successful republics (a
thousand years, it should be remembered, before the
creation of the United States of America in 1782).
The Republic of Venice itself lasted for more than a
millennium, and was one of the political glories of
Europe until Napoleon decided to embroil it in his
schemes of conquest.
There were other states on the Italian peninsula,
including most notably, Duchy of Savoy (capital: Turin),
the Papal States (capital: Rome), Kingdom of Naples
(capital: Naples), Kingdom of Sicily (capital: Palermo),
Duchy of Milan (capital: Milan), Republic of Siena
(capital: Siena), Republic of Genoa (capital: Genoa),
Republic of Florence (capital: Florence), as well as
city states in Mantua, Asti, Lucca, Ferrara and elsewhere.
Each of the cities and regions developed their own dialect
of what has become the Italian language, their own
distinct customs, traditions, cuisine and identities ---
and in large part, maintain them today.
In effect, Dr. Gilmour suggest, there is no true “Italy” at
all, but a conglomeration of idiosyncratic cities and places
cobbled together. This goes a long way to explain, perhaps,
why the Italian peninsula, source of so much of the
Western World’s culture from Roman times to the present,
has had since World War II one of Europe’s most unstable
and dysfunctional series of governments.
Most Americans, if they think much about Italy, think of
it as divided between north and south, with its dominant
city being Rome, and most of its other major cities being
in the north, i.e., Milan, Genoa, Florence and Venice. In fact,
until the nineteenth century, the largest city in Italy was
Naples, capital of southern Italy.
Boundaries between this potpourri of city states and regions
changed frequently, as did their rulers, especially as Italy
became a Mediterranean focal point of trade and commerce.
The military intrusions of England, France and the
Austro-Hungarian empire were frequent, and for many
hundreds of years, much of southern Italy was part of the
Ottoman (Islamic) empire.
Dr. Gilmour makes the case, with considerable evidence and
argument, that the Republic of Venice --- of all this myriad
of republics, kingdoms, and republics --- was the most
accomplished polity on the Italian peninsula for so many
centuries in the past. With the plebiscite now taking place
there, we might be seeing the re-emergence of that
historic national personality, and the first of many renewed
divisions in Europe now underway --- in Scotland,
Catalonia, Belgium, Netherlands --- each of them more
peaceable and voluntary than what seems to be occurring
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.