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Italy before and after unification

The early history of Italy is that of Rome and -the Roman Empire, a martial and cultural administration which left its mark on the language and history of the Western World. This Empire was divided into two parts, Eastern and Western in the 4th century A.D. and began to break up the following century. Rome was taken by the Ostrogoths and the centralized government finally failed.

Throughout medieval times, the history of Italy followed no coherent form. It became a pattern of feudal states and fiefs which changed allegiances and led to many internal wars and tyrannic dynasties. From this nebulous grouping of dukedoms, emerged the Renaissance, a period of artistic and creative endeavour which led to the pre-eminence of Italian merchants throughout western Europe and the Levant. The need for these merchant princes to communicate throughout their areas of control led to the early establishment of regular messenger services which developed into an international European postal service.

The development of power of Venice into the control of the Adriatic and Aegean with services to many of the islands which they controlled saw the spread of Italian merchants towards the east, while the Florentines moved north. Merchant postal services in France, Britain and Germany were operating in the 16th century. Postal markings were not used, but letters which exist carry charge marks, sometimes in Italian or local currency and those which are marked with a Guild mark, do not appear to have been charged. An early example of Free Franking.

In the 17th and early 18th centuries, Italy became the battle grounds for the political interests of Spain, France and Austria. The War of the Spanish Succession began in Italy in 1701 and the country was divided into kingdoms and dukedoms at the Peace of Utrecht in 1713. In 1720, the Duke of Savoy became the King of Sardinia - a move which was to have far reaching results some 130 years later.

Postally, the states developed separately - in part because of the differences in currency which made the interchange of mail between them complicated. The use of handstamps developed during the 18th century and the spheres of influence were clearly defined by the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars.

In May 1796, Italy was invaded by France and gradually overrun until Rome was occupied. In 1797, at the Treaty of Campo Formi, the northern states of Italy were divided between France and Austria and the Cisalpine Republic was formed as a French puppet. The Roman Republic was formed soon afterwards. However, war continued between Austria and France and, after the Victory of Marengo in 1800, Bonaparte created the Italian Republic to replace the Cisalpine and Roman Republics. Italy became a kingdom within the French Empire in 1805.

Italy became incorporated into the French postal service and the provinces were given French style hand-stamps which were used until the collapse of the French control at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

The Kingdom had taken over the Austrian provinces of North Italy in 1806 and they were returned in 1815 when the Lombardy-Venetia state was established. The boundaries of the dukedoms and kingdoms were ratified by the Congress of Vienna and the scene was set for the unification which finally began in the 1850s.



1850, 100 centesimi = 1 lira.

1858, 100 soldi = 1 florin.

100 kreuzer = 1 gulden.


After the Napoleonic Wars, Lombardy-Venetia was formed by the allied sovereigns and awarded to Austria to replace the Netherlands, which had been lost. This arrangement was not popular with the inhabitants and several minor uprisings took place. In March 1848 a major uprising took place and the kingdom joined Sardinia. However, defeated by Austria at Novara on 23 March 1849, the provinces were again subjected to Austria. The two states were administered postally as part of the Austrian Empire and normal postal markings were employed.



These provinces issued their first stamps on the same day as the Austrian Empire. Different stamps were needed because the two currencies were different; Lombardy-Venetia used currency based on silver while those of the Empire used paper currency. The stamps were printed by the state printing works in Vienna.

Unrest continued to trouble the provinces and in 1856 an amnesty was proclaimed for political offences. However, Austria felt animosity towards Sardinia following the uprising of 1848-9. In 1857 diplomatic relations were suspended and in April 1859 Austrian forces crossed the River Ticino into Piedmont. The French Emperor, Napoleon III, declared war on Austria and sent troops to the help of Sardinia. Although the war is notable for the bravery of the troops and the incompetence of the general staff, the Piedmontese and French armies overwhelmed the Austrians in a series of battles - culminating in Solferino on 24 June 1859. Henri Dunant, a young Swiss banker, was present at the battle; observing the carnage and suffering of the wounded he called for a neutral body to care for the wounded. This led to the formation of the Red Cross in 1864. War was ended by the Peace of Villafranca on 11 July 1859 and most of Lombardy was awarded to France. It was immediately transferred to Sardinia in return for Savoy and. Nice, which were incorporated into France.

Stamps for Lombardy-Venetia continued to be used in Venetia and the remainder of Lombardy until Venetia was incorporated into the kingdom of Italy in 1866. From that date these two provinces have remained part of Italy and have used Italian stamps.



1852, 100 centesimi = 1 lira.

Before 1850

Duchy in northern Italy which was part of the Cisalpine Republic set up by France in 1797. It became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1805 but the archduke was restored in 1814. An invasion of his state by Murat in April 1815 was defeated. In 1831 the people rose against the duke but he was restored with the support of the Austrians. Although there was support for the people of Lombardy-Venetia in the rising against the Austrians in 1848-9, Modena did not become involved.



First stamps were printed by the state stamp office in Modena and showed the arms of the ruling family of Este. Soon after the start of the war of 1859 between Austria and Piedmont with French support the duke was expelled and a provisional government established on 11 June 1859. Stamps were issued on 15 October.

On 16 March 1860, after a plebiscite, Modena became part of Sardinia, and stamps of Modena were replaced.



1858, 100 grana = 200 tornesi = 1 ducato.


Port and continental division of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies formed in 1816 by the union of Naples and Sicily. Because of the cruelty and tyrannical rule of the kings, several risings occurred and a major revolution took place in 1848. This lasted until 1850 and the liberals were virtually annihilated by royal troops. The precarious balance was retained by support from foreign powers but the scene was set for the beginning of the unification of Italy.



Although Naples and Sicily were a joint kingdom, both parts issued their own stamps; Sicily (q.v.) followed in 1859.

Garibaldi landed in Sicily in May 1860 and defeated the Neapolitan army. On 30 July the Neapolitans withdrew from Sicily, but more internal unrest led to a further invasion by Garibaldi of the mainland and he occupied Naples on 7 September 1860.

Stamps were issued under control of the Garibaldi regime on 6 November 1860. These were produced by modifying the earlier design on the printing plates. A further modification was made in December 1860 when stamps showing the cross of Savoy were produced by excising the arms of Naples from the original plate.

On 21 October 1860 Naples and Sicily voted by plebiscite to join Sardinia and on 26 October Garibaldi, as a step towards the unification of Italy, acclaimed the King of Sardinia as King of the Neapolitan provinces.

On 15 February 1861 stamps were issued for the Neapolitan provinces (Naples and Sicily). Though similar in design to those of Sardinia they used the currency of Naples. These were superseded by the stamps of Italy in 1862.

Papal States


1852, 100 bajocohi = 1 scudo.

1866, 100 centesimi = 1 lira.

Before 1850

Temporal sovereignty of the Popes began in the 8th century when the Lombards made a gift of the territory that they had gained from the Franks. From 1503 the area was fully administered.

In 1798-9 during the Napoleonic wars the region became the Republic of Rome and was regained by the Neapolitans for the Pope. It was retaken by the French in 1800 but was restored by them to the Pope. It was annexed by Napoleon as part of the Kingdom of Italy in May 1808. Rome was declared the second city in the Empire.

The States were returned to the Pope in 1814. The population wished to join with Sardinia against the Austrians in 1848 and the government was defeated by insurrection in the town. The Romans demanded a democratic ministry and the proclamation of Italian nationality. In November the Pope (Pius IX) escaped from the city and appealed to the Catholic powers. After extensive fighting Rome surrendered to the French in June 1850 and was returned to the Pope.



In 1850 the Papal States comprised Rome and the surrounding territory, the provinces of Romagna and the Marches and Umbria.

Romagna seceded from the States in 1859. During the war for the unification of Italy, Rome was garrisoned by French troops, who assisted in the defence until they were withdrawn during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Italian troops were in control of the city from 20 September and a plebiscite was held on 2 October 1870 which led to the incorporation of the states into Italy. The Pope lost all temporal power (see also Vatican City).



1852, 100 centesimi = 1 lira.

Before 1850

Duchy in northern Italy which was a dependent state of France during the Napoleonic wars; the Duke of Parma was made King of Etruria in 1801. The dukedom was re-established but the area was occupied by the Austrians and Sardinians in the war of 1848. The Sardinians retired after the battle of Novara in April 1849.



Stamps showing the coat-of-arms of the Bourbons were used until the duke was assassinated in 1854. His son was a minor and a regency was established. On 9 June 1859 the regent handed authority to a provisional government in order to prepare for union with Sardinia.

The dukedom of Parma with Piacenza became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia on 18 March 1860 following a plebiscite. As a result stamps of Parma were withdrawn and Sardinian stamps introduced until the first Italian general issue in 1862.


FIRST STAMPS Papal States from 1 January 1852.



1852, 100 centesimi = 1 lira.

One of the Papal States; the Popes had full authority in the province after 1503 when it was regained from the Borgias. As with other Papal States it was part of the Kingdom of Italy during the Napoleonic Wars.

On 12 June 1859 a provisional government was formed to prepare for unification with Sardinia. A plebiscite was held and on 25 March 1860 Romagna became part of Sardinia, and stamps of Romagna were replaced by those of Sardinia until the Italian general issue in 1862. Romagna became part of the province of Emilia with Modena and Parma.



1851, 100 centesimi = 1 lira.

Before 1815

Island in the Mediterranean south of Corsica. Acquired by the Duke of Savoy as King in 1720, it had previously been held by the Spaniards. The court of the combined territory was held in Turin until Piedmont was overrun by the French in 1792. Piedmont was annexed by the French to the Kingdom of Italy in 1805. The King of Sardinia resided in the island until 1814. At that time Piedmont was restored to the Kingdom, and Genoa, which had formed the Ligurian republic under the French, was also awarded to the Kingdom.


Centre of the movement to unify Italy. On 23 March 1848 the King openly began to support unification and an attack on the Austrians. After a successful campaign against the Austrians which led to the capture of Lombardy and Venetia (July 1848), the Sardinian army was defeated by the Austrians under Marshal Radetzky. The war ended with an armistice between Austria and Sardinia signed on 6 August 1849.



To obtain support from the western powers, Sardinia supported Britain and France against Russia during the Crimean War. A convention was signed in April 1855 and 10,000 troops were sent to the Crimea.

In 1859 the war with Austria began again, this time with the support of France. Lombardy was gained in July, but Sardinia gave up Savoy and Nice to France in return. With the activities of Garibaldi and Cavour the states of Italy gradually came under the control of Sardinia.

Sardinian stamps were used in most of the states as they decided to join unified Italy, as follows:

MODENA 16 March 1860
PARMA 18 March 1860
TUSCANY 22 March 1860
ROMAGNA 25 March 1860

Venetia and the Papal States did not use the stamps of Sardinia as by the time they joined the kingdom Italian stamps had been issued. Naples and Sicily had a special issue because they had a different currency. The King of Sardinia was recognized as King of Italy in February 1861.



1859, 100 grano = 1 ducato


Island off southern Italy which was unified with Naples as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1816. All major cities in Sicily rose against the Bourbon king in 1848. A provisional government was proclaimed on 12 January but the Neapolitans attacked Messina and the rising collapsed in April 1850.



The postal cancellation of Sicily was unusual; it took the form of a framework so that the head of the king would not be defaced.

Garibaldi landed in Sicily on 11 May 1860 and defeated the Neapolitan army which evacuated the island on 30 July. A new constitution was proclaimed in August but no new stamps appeared until the issue for the Neapolitan provinces on 15 February 1861. The Sicilians had voted to join Sardinia in October 1860 and stamps of Italy were issued in 1862.



1851, 60 quattrini = 20 soldi = 12 crazie = 1 Tuscan lira.

1859, 1 Tuscan lire = 1 Italian lira.

Before 1850

Duchy in central Italy which was the chief base of the Medicis in the sixteenth century. When the Medicis died out in 1737, Tuscany was given to the Duke of Lorraine, who was married to Maria-Theresa of Austria. The French took Tuscany in the 1799 Italian campaign and the duke was dispossessed. The duchy was given to the Duke of Parma, who governed it as the King of Etruria.

Tuscany was incorporated into the French Empire in 1807 and was given as a grand-duchy to Eliza, sister of Napoleon. The Duke of Tuscany was reinstated in 1814. Lucca was united with Tuscany in 1847. After the insurrections of 1849 a provisional government was proclaimed but the duke was reinstated by the Austrians in July 1850.



Stamps showing the arms of Tuscany were issued. These were printed at the Grand Ducal Printing Office in Florence.

The Tuscan army demanded alliance with the Sardinians in the war against Austria in April 1859. The duke refused and fled to Bologna. A provisional government was formed on 27 April and new stamps with the arms of Savoy were issued on 1 January 1860. On 22 March 1860, after a plebiscite, Tuscany became part of Sardinia, and the stamps of Tuscany were replaced. Sardinian stamps were used until the first Italian general issue in 1862.

Italian Unification 1850-70
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