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(rēsôr'jēmĕn`tō) [Ital.,=resurgence], in 19th-century Italian history, period of cultural nationalism and of political activism, leading to unification of Italy.

Roots of the Risorgimento

The Risorgimento's roots lie in 18th-century Italian culture in the works of such people as Ludovico Antonio MuratoriMuratori, Ludovico Antonio
, 1672–1750, Italian historian, a Roman Catholic priest. One of the foremost scholars of his age, he was long archivist and ducal librarian at Modena. He discovered the Muratorian Canon, a scrap of early Christian literature (c.A.D.
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, Vittorio AlfieriAlfieri, Vittorio, Conte
, 1749–1803, Italian tragic poet. A Piedmontese, born to wealth and social position, he spent his youth in dissipation and adventure. From 1767 to 1772 he traveled over much of Europe but returned to Italy fired by a sense of the greatness of his
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, and Antonio GenovesiGenovesi, Antonio
, 1712–69, Italian philosopher and economist, a pioneer in writing philosophy in Italian instead of in Latin. Genovesi introduced new ideas, particularly those of Locke, Leibniz, and Hume into Italy, and this introduction was bitterly opposed by the
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. Italy had not been a single political unit since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th cent., and from the 16th through the 18th cent. foreign domination or influence was virtually complete. During the French Revolutionary Wars and the period dominated by Napoleon INapoleon I
, 1769–1821, emperor of the French, b. Ajaccio, Corsica, known as "the Little Corporal." Early Life

The son of Carlo and Letizia Bonaparte (or Buonaparte; see under Bonaparte, family), young Napoleon was sent (1779) to French military schools at
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, the temporary expulsion of Austrian and other repressive regimes and the formation of new states in Italy (see Cisalpine RepublicCisalpine Republic
, Italian state created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797 by uniting the Transpadane and Cispadane republics, which he had established (1796) N and S of the Po River.
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) encouraged hopes for unification.

Early Years and Factions

Secret societies such as the CarbonariCarbonari
[Ital.,=charcoal burners], members of a secret society that flourished in Italy, Spain, and France early in the 19th cent. Possibly derived from Freemasonry, the society originated in the kingdom of Naples in the reign of Murat (1808–15) and drew its members from
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 appeared and carried on revolutionary activity after the restoration of the old order by the Congress of Vienna (1814–15). The Carbonari engineered uprisings in the Two Sicilies (1820) and in the kingdom of Sardinia (1821). Despite severe reprisals inspired by the Holy AllianceHoly Alliance,
1815, agreement among the emperors of Russia and Austria and the king of Prussia, signed on Sept. 26. It was quite distinct from the Quadruple Alliance (Quintuple, after the admission of France) of Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia, arrived at first in
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, new uprisings occurred in 1831 in the Papal States, Modena, and Parma. Italian literature of this period, especially the novels of Alessandro ManzoniManzoni, Alessandro
, 1785–1873, Italian novelist and poet. Taken in his youth to Paris by his mother in 1805, Manzoni embraced the deism that he was later to discard for an ardent Roman Catholicism. He returned to Italy in 1807 and in his later years was a senator.
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 and the marchese d'AzeglioAzeglio, Massimo Taparelli, marchese d'
, 1798–1866, Italian premier and author, b. Turin. He studied painting, then turned to literature and wrote two historical novels. In 1845 he became a leader of the movement for national liberation.
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 and the poetry of Ugo FoscoloFoscolo, Ugo
, 1778–1827, Italian poet and patriot. His name was originally Niccolò Foscolo. A devoted Venetian, he pinned his hope of a restored republic on Napoleon and fought under him against the Austrians, even after Napoleon's political untrustworthiness had
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 and Giacomo LeopardiLeopardi, Giacomo
, 1798–1837, Italian poet and scholar, considered Italy's outstanding 19th-century poet. An intellectual prodigy, he taught himself Hebrew and ancient Greek and was devoted to the study of the classics and philosophy from early childhood.
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, did much to stimulate Italian nationalism.

The Risorgimento was primarily a movement of the middle class and the nobility; since economic issues were virtually ignored, the peasantry remained indifferent to its ideals. Political activity was carried on by three groups. Giuseppe MazziniMazzini, Giuseppe
, 1805–72, Italian patriot and revolutionist, an outstanding figure of the Risorgimento. His youth was spent in literary and philosophical studies. He early joined the Carbonari, was imprisoned briefly, and went into exile.
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 led the radical faction through his secret society Giovine Italia [young Italy], founded in 1831. Its program was republican and anticlerical; it vaguely alluded to social and economic reforms. The conservative and clerical elements among the nationalists generally advocated a federation of Italian states under the presidency of the pope. The moderates—the propertied bourgeoisie and the north Italian promoters of industry—favored unification of Italy under a king of the house of Savoy. This monarch, as it later turned out, was Victor Emmanuel IIVictor Emmanuel II,
1820–78, king of Sardinia (1849–61) and first king of united Italy (1861–78). He fought in the war of 1848–49 against Austrian rule in Lombardy-Venetia and ascended the throne when his father, Charles Albert, abdicated after the defeat
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 of Sardinia.

The Fight for Unification

Sardinia assumed the leadership of the Risorgimento in 1848 when the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom rose against Austrian rule and King Charles AlbertCharles Albert,
1798–1849, king of Sardinia (1831–49, see Savoy, house of). Because he had not been entirely unsympathetic to the revolutionary movement of 1821 in Sardinia, Charles Albert developed an ambiguous political reputation prior to acceding to the throne in
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 intervened in favor of the rebels. After initial victories Charles Albert was defeated by the Austrians at Custoza and was forced to sign an armistice and withdraw his forces. Renewing his attack in 1849, he was again defeated by the Austrians at Novara and abdicated in favor of his son, Victor Emmanuel II, who made peace. Meanwhile, revolutions were suppressed in Venice (under Daniele ManinManin, Daniele
1804–57, Venetian leader of the movement to free N Italy from Austrian rule. His father, a Jew, was converted to Christianity and took the name of his patrons, the illustrious Venetian family of Manin.
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), Parma, Modena, Tuscany, the Two Sicilies, and the Papal States, where a short-lived Roman Republic was proclaimed under the leadership of Mazzini.

The liberal movement gradually coalesced around Victor Emmanuel II and the policies of his minister Camillo Benso di CavourCavour, Camillo Benso, conte di
, 1810–61, Italian statesman, premier (1852–59, 1860–61) of the Kingdom of Sardinia. The active force behind King Victor Emmanuel II, he was responsible more than any other man for the unification of Italy under the house of
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. Cavour realized that Sardinia could not defeat Austria without foreign aid. He set out to win French support and British sympathy by introducing sweeping social reforms within Sardinia, by inaugurating a free-trade policy, and by joining (1855) the allies in the Crimean War. Emperor Napoleon III met Cavour at Plombières (1858) and promised military aid against Austria.

War broke out in 1859. The French and Sardinians defeated the Austrians at Magenta and caused them to retreat at Solferino. These victories were so costly, however, that Napoleon signed a separate armistice at Villafranca di VeronaVillafranca di Verona
, town (1991 pop. 27,036), Venetia, NE Italy. In 1859, Napoleon III and Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria met there after the Austrian defeats at Magenta and Solferino and signed a preliminary peace treaty, which was formalized the same year by the Treaty
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 (ratified by the Treaty of Zürich). Austria retained Venetia, and Sardinia gained only Lombardy. It was also stipulated that Tuscany, Modena, Parma, Bologna, and the Romagna, where revolutionists had organized provisional governments, were to return to their former rulers. This provision was not fulfilled; plebiscites were held (Mar., 1860) in these states, which voted for union with Sardinia. In return for recognizing these plebiscites, Napoleon received Savoy and Nice. The spectacular conquest of the Two Sicilies (1860) by Giuseppe GaribaldiGaribaldi, Giuseppe
, 1807–82, Italian patriot and soldier, a leading figure in the Risorgimento. He remains perhaps the most popular of all Italian heroes of the Risorgimento, and a great revolutionary hero in the Western world.
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 was followed by Sardinia's annexation of Umbria and the Marches. After the Two Sicilies had voted for union with Sardinia, the kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in Mar., 1861.

The remaining territorial objectives of the Risorgimento were Venetia, still in Austria's possession, and Rome and Latium, which the pope was able to retain because of French protection. Through its alliance with Prussia in the Austro-Prussian WarAustro-Prussian War
or Seven Weeks War,
June 15–Aug. 23, 1866, between Prussia, allied with Italy, and Austria, seconded by Bavaria, Württemberg, Saxony, Hanover, Baden, and several smaller German states.
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 of 1866, Italy obtained Venetia. Italy seized the remainder of the papal possessions in 1870 when France withdrew its troops during the Franco-Prussian War. Italian unification was then complete, but unsatisfied nationalism continued to exist in the form of irredentismirredentism
, originally, the Italian nationalist movement for the annexation to Italy of territories—Italia irredenta [unredeemed Italy]—inhabited by an Italian majority but retained by Austria after 1866.
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See C. M. Lovett, Carlo Cattaneo and the Politics of the Risorgimento (1972), H. Hearder, Italy in the Age of the Risorgimento (1983), and works on the subject by D. M. Smith and G. M. Trevelyan.

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



a national liberation movement of the Italian people against Austrian oppression with the goal of unifying the small, fragmented Italian states into a single national state. The Risorgimento is also understood as the period during which this movement occurred—from the late 18th century to 1861. The movement culminated in 1870 with the annexation of Rome to the kingdom of Italy.

The Risorgimento reflected the objective historical necessity that had developed in the Italian states for destroying the obsolete feudal-absolutist order and establishing a bourgeois system. The bourgeoisie headed a broad antifeudal front of class forces. Heterogeneous in its social composition, the bourgeoisie comprised two principal political currents. The first was a moderately liberal one, reflecting the interests of the big landowning, commercial-usurious, and industrial bourgeoisie, who acted in alliance with the gentry turned bourgeois; the other current was a democratic one, which reflected the interests of the petite and middle bourgeoisie. These political currents advocated fundamentally divergent programs for the social reorganization of the country. While the liberals were seeking to create a unified Italy headed by the pope or a monarch from the House of Savoy, the democrats were fighting for a unified Italy in the form of a democratic republic.

Taking on greater and greater sweep in scope during the course of its development, the Risorgimento movement at the moments of its greatest surges turned into bourgeois and bourgeois-democratic revolutions—the Neapolitan Revolution of 1820–21, the revolution in Piedmont in 1821, the Revolution of 1831 in central Italy, the Italian Revolution of 1848–49, and the Revolution of 1859-60. Revolutionary actions by the popular masses were significant and at certain stages decisive (the Roman Republic of 1848-49 and the revolutionary events of 1859-60, especially in southern Italy). Italy, as noted by F. Engels, was unified, in contrast to Germany, not “from above” by dynastic wars and diplomatic maneuvers but by revolution (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, p. 430). However, in the course of the complex process of the Risorgimento, the democratic, republican current proved unable to carry out a bourgeois-democratic reorganization of the country because of the class limitations of the bourgeois democrats. The democrats dared not initiate a broad peasant movement aimed at effecting a radical break in feudal agrarian relations. Moreover, they even hampered the revolutionary action of the urban poor to a certain extent. The liberal current took over the political leadership of the movement, and as a result, the unified Italian state created in 1861 was a constitutional monarchy. A capitalist socioeconomic structure was established that preserved a number of feudal vestiges.

The liberation struggle against Fascism waged by the Italian people in the years 1943-45 during World War II is referred to as the second Risorgimento.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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As underlined in Roberts' introduction, translation of writings by the protagonists of the Italian Risorgimento has mostly focused on those key figures (Mazzini, Cavour, Garibaldi and King Victor II) who have also been used as foundation myths for the legitimisation of the new nation-state.