C., Rome grew over the course of centuries into a massive empire stretching from Britain to the borders of Persia, and engulfing the whole Mediterranean basin, in which Greek and Roman and many other cultures merged into a unique civilisation.The long and triumphant reign of its first emperor, Augustus, began a golden age of peace and prosperity.With around 61 million inhabitants it is the fourth most populous EU member state.Since classical times, ancient Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Greeks established settlements in the south of Italy, with Etruscans and Celts inhabiting the centre and the north of Italy respectively and various ancient Italian tribes and Italic peoples dispersed throughout the Italian Peninsula and insular Italy.Rome, a settlement around a ford on the river Tiber conventionally founded in 753 BC, was ruled for a period of 244 years by a monarchical system, initially with sovereigns of Latin and Sabine origin, later by Etruscan kings.
During the Early Middle Ages, Italy suffered sociopolitical collapse amid calamitous barbarian invasions, but by the 11th century, numerous rival city-states and maritime republics, mainly in the northern and central regions of Italy, rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce and banking, laying down the groundwork for modern capitalism.
The Ancient peoples of pre-Roman Italy – such as the Umbrians, the Latins (from which the Romans emerged), Volsci, Oscans, Samnites, Sabines, the Celts, the Ligures, and many others – were Indo-European peoples; the main historic peoples of possible non-Indo-European heritage include the Etruscans, the Elymians and Sicani in Sicily and the prehistoric Sardinians, which includes the Nuragic civilisation.
Other ancient Italian peoples of undetermined language families but of possible non-Indo-European origins include the Rhaetian people and Cammuni, known for their rock carvings.
After various unsuccessful attempts, the Italian Wars of Independence, the Expedition of the Thousand and the Capture of Rome resulted in the eventual unification of the country, now a great power after centuries of foreign domination and political division.
Despite being one of the main victors in World War I, Italy entered a period of economic crisis and social turmoil, leading the way to the rise of a fascist dictatorship in 1922.