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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a nation (natsiia, nation in the historical sense); the basic population of Italy. In Italy there are about 54 million Italians (1971, estimate). Large groups of Italians live in other European countries (more than 2.5 million), North and South America (about 7 million), North Africa (about 200, 000), and Australia (more than 200, 000). A small number of them live in Asia. The language of the Italian people is Italian. The overwhelming majority of believers among them are Catholic.

In the first millennium b.c., Italic tribes made up a significant part of the population of the Apennine Peninsula. Between the sixth and second centuries b.c. the Latins, an Italic tribe that inhabited the region of Latium and founded Rome, subjugated the remaining Italic tribes and the Etruscans, Ligurians, Veneti, and Celts, who inhabited the northern part of the peninsula, as well as the Greeks, Carthaginians, and Siculi, who lived in the south and on the islands of Sardinia, Sicily, and Corsica. The entire population of the peninsula was speaking vulgar Latin by the first and second centuries a.d. However, the languages of the tribes of Italy provided the foundation for the development of local dialectal characteristics, which subsequently influenced the formation of the dialects of the Italian language. From the first centuries of the Common Era many of the Romanized people of the Apennine Peninsula intermarried with slaves of diverse origins and from the fifth century, with Germanic tribes (Visigoths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Lombards). The Byzantines, Franks, Arabs, Hungarians, and Normans conquered parts of Italy during the sixth through the tenth century. Large numbers of the Italic population intermingled with the conquerors, giving rise to the Italian nationality and popular language. Literary Latin, however, remained the official language.

During the 11th to 13th centuries the formation of the Italian nationality was completed. The gradual establishment of a single literary language was very important for the shaping of the Italian nation. In the 13th and 14th centuries the Tuscan dialect began to acquire this significance. However, the prolonged political fragmentation of the country prevented the consolidation into a single nation of the population of the various regions of Italy, each of which had its own dialect and material and spiritual culture. The consolidation of the regions of Italy was completed only in the second half of the 19th century, with the development of capitalism and the establishment of a unified state.

Even today some differences persist in the material and spiritual culture of the various regions. (For example, village settlements and dwellings differ in northern, central, and southern Italy.) Oral folklore varies from region to region. Epic poems are characteristic of northern Italy, whereas short lyrical poems (strambotti) are typical of central and southern Italy. Folk songs, the rhythms and melodies of which vary from region to region, are widely enjoyed. (In Campania, for example, lyrical songs prevail. They are called “Neapolitan songs” after Campania’s chief city, Naples.) Italy’s folk dances—the tarantella, saltarello, lombarda, and bergamasca —are distinguished by their great variety. In the folk decorative and applied arts there are age-old traditions. The Italians have made a major contribution to the music and fine arts of the world.


Narody zarubezhnoi Evropy, vol. 2. Moscow, 1965. (Bibliography, p. 610.)
Candeloro, G. Istoriia sovremennoiItalii, vols. 1-4, 1958–66. (TRANSLATED from Italian.)
Istoriia Italii, vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1970–71.
Iro-Volkskunde. Munich [1963].
Le regioni dTtalia, vols. 1–2, 13–16, 18. Turin, 1960–66.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
"I've always heard that Greeks don't like Italians," Charley laughed, as he ran aft to the tiller.
Virtue against fury shall advance the fight, And it i' th' combat soon shall put to flight: For the old Roman valour is not dead, Nor in th' Italians' brests extinguished.
No privateers ever came, though I once had notice from Turin that the Florida had been sighted off Ancona; and I had nearly four years of nearly uninterrupted leisure at Venice, which I meant to employ in reading all Italian literature, and writing a history of the republic.
They protested that they did not wish to be there when it happened, and some one suggested going to a big Italian rancho four miles away, where they could get up a dance.
The Renaissance, penetrating northward, past first from Italy to France, but as early as the middle of the fifteenth century English students were frequenting the Italian universities.
We arrived at a tumble-down old rookery called the Palazzo Simonetti--a massive hewn-stone affair occupied by a family of ragged Italians. A good-looking young girl conducted us to a window on the second floor which looked out on a court walled on three sides by tall buildings.
The Italian officers' uniforms are very much the most beautiful I have ever seen; and, as a general thing, the men in them were as handsome as the clothes.
"This," answered Ezza gravely, "is not the costume of an Englishman, but of the Italian of the future."
She spoke of the Italian character; she became almost garrulous over the incident that had made her faint five minutes before.
Once more, however, the Italian ran over his round of melodies.
"Bartolomeo Cavalcanti," joyfully replied the Italian; "yes, I am really he."
I had first become acquainted with my Italian friend by meeting him at certain great houses where he taught his own language and I taught drawing.