Italian Historical Society of America


  Political and Social Thinkers

 The body of knowledge developed through the philosophers and religious thinkers form the cultural foundations of all societies. In the West there have been many significant thinkers who have contributed to Western thought. Here are a few individuals of Italian heritage who have contributed to the panoply of thought in the West in the areas of metaphysics, epistemology and axiology.


  Augustus [Gaius Octavius] (63 B.C.-A.D. 14)

The first Emperor of the Roman Empire, Augustus – born Gaius Octavius – was the great nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar. As sole Emperor, he ruled for 41 years and built Rome into a strong sovereignty, establishing a standardized government, border security, postal service, and currency; creating a police and fire department, and a legal system; building roads, bridges, aqueducts, and many buildings; and restoring temples. Horace, Livy, Ovid, and Virgil formed the Golden Age of Roman Literature under the reign of Augustus, and his reign was the beginning of the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome), an era that signifies the prime of the Roman Empire; it ended in 180 with the death of Marcus Aurelius.

 Octavius was born in Rome and was four years old when his father died. His mother, Caesar’s niece, supervised his education in language and philosophy; and at 12 years old, Octavius made his first public speech – the eulogy at his grandmother’s (Caesar’s sister) funeral. He served as a Roman priest, celebrated Caesar’s victorious return to Rome in 46, and endured several hardships while traveling to Hispania to assist Caesar in a battle with Pompey’s sons. Some historians note that it was the determination of Octavius to join Caesar in battle that prompted Caesar to make Octavius his heir. Octavius was in Apollonia (in Albania) when he heard about Caesar’s murder, but didn’t know he was Caesar’s heir until he reached Brundisium (Brindisi in Puglia). There, Octavius was able to gain the support of Roman soldiers and financial backing and made his way to Rome.

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 In 43, Octavius formed an alliance with Mark Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus to create the Second Triumvirate, sharing the powers of the title of Emperor. A series of battles and struggles for power led Octavius to become sole ruler of the Roman Empire in 31. In 27, Octavius was named Emperor of the Roman Empire and took the name Augustus. He ruled until his death in A.D. 14. During his rule Jesus was born, and Augustus ordered the census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.
Written by Janice Mancuso

Here are some other relevant websites:
The Deeds of the Divine Augustus by Augustus 
Life of Augustus
The Life of Caesar by Niclaus of Damascus (64BC to 4 BC)


  Julius Caesar (c.100-44 B.C.)


One of the most well known rulers of ancient Rome, Julius Caesar was born during a time of notable transformation for the Roman Empire. His family was politically connected to Gaius Marius, the leading general and consul, who would influence Caesar at an early age. Caesar’s education was typical for a child of a patrician Roman family, and his interest was in a political career. In his teens, he married the daughter of an ally of Marius; however, when Lucius Cornelius Sulla – an advisory of Marius – came into power in Rome, he ordered Caesar to divorce his wife. Caesar refused, and joined the Roman army, receiving the Corona Civica (Civic Crown) for his service.

Caesar returned to Rome after Sulla’s death in 78 B.C., and began to practice law. He became known as a respected orator, even winning the praise of Cicero, who had studied in Rhodes. To further increase his oratory skills, Caesar traveled to Rhodes in 75 B.C, but was intercepted and kidnapped by pirates. After his release, he fought in Asia, and on his return to Rome in 72 B.C. he was elected military tribune. Within ten years he advanced from quaestor to aedile to praetor; and in 60 B.C., he had entered an alliance with Pompey and Crassus, forming the First Triumvirate. The following year, Caesar was elected consul, and he was appointed Governor of Roman Gaul a year later. During this time he had married twice, further advancing his career.

After eight years in Gaul, and two invasions on Britain, Caesar had added much of (what is now) central Europe to the Roman Empire. While in Gaul, he wrote Bellum Gallicum, his account of the Gallic and Civil wars. In 50 B.C., Caesar was ordered to revoke his command of the Roman army and return to Rome without a title to protect him. Fearing prosecution, Caesar and his troops crossed the Rubicon River – the border of Gaul – and entered into Civil War with Rome. After battling Pompey’s army, following him to Egypt (where Pompey died), and forming an alliance with Cleopatra, in 46 B.C. Caesar returned to Rome in victory, and declared himself consul and dictator. Until his murder in 44 B.C., Caesar instituted many reforms that have affected society today, among them the revision of the calendar.
Written by Janice Mancuso

Julius Caesar Historical Background
Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars 
More information about Julius Caesar
The Life and Death of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare


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  Matilda of Canossa [Matilda of Tuscany] (1046-1115)

In the early tenth century, Atto Adelberto became the first Count of Canossa, gaining the title and land after he helped Queen Adelaide, who had escaped her captor. The Count built a castle on a hill with panoramic views overlooking miles of valleys in the northern Apennines of Tuscany.

Matilda was the daughter of Boniface III (Boniface of Canossa), who continued to add to the lands ruled by his ancestors; Atto Adelberto was her paternal great-grandfather. Her mother was Beatrice of Lorraine, daughter of Matilda of Swabia, a descendent of German monarchs and Roman rulers. Beatrice was the second wife of Boniface, and Matilda was the youngest of her siblings, with an older brother and sister. In 1052 her father died, leaving his territories and power to her brother, Frederick, with Beatrice as regent. Matilda’s sister died the following year.

In 1054, Beatrice married Godfrey the Bearded (Duke of Lower Lorraine), an antagonist of Emperor Henry III, and also arranged for Matilda to marry Godfrey’s son, Godfrey IV. Henry ordered their arrest, claiming Godfrey the Bearded was a traitor. Godfrey fled, but Beatrice and Matilda were taken into custody to Germany. Frederick refused to comply and died shortly after, making Matilda the sole heir to her father’s territories. A year later, with the death of Henry III, Matilda and her mother returned to Italy.

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Beatrice and Godfrey reunited and ruled the territories of Canossa until 1069 when Godfrey died. That year it was recorded that Matilda and Godfrey IV – now Duke of Lower Lorraine – were married; but two years later, after the loss of her newborn child, she left him to rule Tuscany with her mother. In 1076, both her husband and mother died, leaving Matilda in command of the family’s and her husband’s land.

That same year a conflict between the church and state escalated. The Investiture Controversy – a disagreement as to whether the pope or monarch should install (invest) church officials – had reached a peak with Pope Gregory VII excommunicating Henry IV. Under her father’s reign, the family had switched alliances from the emperor to the pope, and Matilda sided with, advised, and willed her domains to the pope, who was staying with her at the castle. Henry’s journey to the pope asking for forgiveness is known as the “Walk to Canossa.”

Matilda continued to oppose Henry, planning, overseeing, and sometimes participating in battles against his armies. She financed the military actions of the pope and, in 1089, married Welf V – a political ally more than 20 years younger – combining their resources to back the pope. They remained married, but separated in 1095, with their alliances also split. The clashes for land and power persisted, and Matilda was a leading force in either maintaining or restoring power to cities that supported the pope. During this time, she founded close to 100 religious institutions.

After Henry IV’s death, Matilda and Henry V entered into a peaceful agreement – with some noting that she willed her territories to him – and she received the title Vice-Queen and Vicar of Italy in 1111. In 1115, Matilda died, beginning a conflict between the emperor and the church over her properties. Eventually, the land was divided. (The ruins of Canossa Castle are now in Emilia-Romagna.)

According to her wishes, Matilda was interred at the Abbey of San Benedetto in Polirone, founded by her grandfather in 1007. In the mid-1630s, her remains were moved to St. Peter's Basilica, the first secular woman and one of six women interred in the Vatican. Today, Matilda of Canossa is a hero, celebrated in the towns she once commanded.

Written by Janice Mancuso

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  Camillo Benso di Cavour  (1810-1861)

 Honored in Italy as one of the major figures in the formation of a united Italy, Cavour was born into an aristocratic family in Torino (Region of Piemonte), then ruled by the House of Savoy. As the second son, he was expected to seek a career in the army, and at 10 years old he was sent to a military academy. After graduating at 16, he served as an engineer in the Piedmontese-Sardinian army. He studied the English language and developed liberal political tendencies, which clashed with the policies of Charles Albert, King of Sardinia. Cavour resigned from the army in 1831 and started his career in politics, becoming mayor of Grinzane – the town of the family estate. He traveled to France, Switzerland, and England, studying political and social reform, agriculture, and the economy; and applied his knowledge of agriculture to the management of the estate.

 The election of Pope Pius IX in 1847, who was initially viewed as a more tolerant and liberal pope, offered an opportunity for Cavour – who had become a proponent of Italian nationalism – to begin a newspaper, Il Risorgimento (The Resurgence), with several others. In 1848, the newspaper supported an uprising for liberation from Austria, calling for Charles Albert to back it. His army was defeated and Charles Albert advocated his throne to his son Victor Emmanuel. In 1850, Cavour was appointed Minister of Agriculture, and a year later, Minister of Finance. In 1852, he was appointed Prime Minister of Piemonte, and sought to limit the power of the pope and promote foreign affairs.

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 During the Crimean War, Piemonte allied with France and England against Russia. Cavour briefly resigned from office and in 1858, he independently met with Giuseppe Garibaldi to enlist his aid in unifying Italy and with Napoleon III to discuss France backing Piemonte in its independence from Austria. A year later, to end the Second War of Italian Independence, the Treaty of Villafranca was signed, but Cavour did not agree with all the terms and again resigned his post. He returned to his position a year later and aided Garibaldi in his seizure of southern Italy. Cavour died in June 1861, three months after Victor Emmanuel II was named the first king of an independent Italy.
Written by Janice Mancuso

Here are some other relevant websites:
Cavour - The Risorgimento
Grinzane Cavour – The Castle
More information about Count Camillo Benso di Cavour


   Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882)

 The Italian National Hero who fought for Italy’s independence and unification, Garibaldi is also known as the Hero of Two Worlds for his military accomplishments in Europe and South America. Born on July 4 in Nice (Nizza) – a town that was first a part of Italy then ceded to France – Garibaldi received a good education, learning English and Italian languages, and he developed an early interest in ancient Rome; but had an inclination for the sea, following his father’s trade. Later, while at sea, he developed a greater interest in many subjects and learned about science, agriculture, literature, poetry, politics, and social justice.

 In 1821, Garibaldi started his apprentice as a seaman, three years later he began his career, traveling the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and in 1832, he became a Captain. A year later he met Giuseppe Mazzini – founder of La Giovine Italia (Young Italy), a political movement created to unite Italy – and Garibaldi joined him. Garibaldi’s participation in an aborted attempt of an uprising in Piemonte resulted in a sentence for his death. He escaped to France, and in 1836, traveled to South America, where he met Anna Maria Ribero da Silva, known as Anita. Anita joined Garibaldi, fighting along side him in Brazil and Uruguay. In 1843, Garibaldi created the Italian Legion, aiding Uruguay in its fight against Argentina. When Garibaldi learned of the election of Pope Pius IX, he was one of the many who believed the pope was more liberal and open to a unified Italy, and offered to assist. The pope refused, but Garibaldi heard about other uprisings for unification and returned, with some of his legionnaires, to Italy.  
 
 After Pope Pius IX fled Rome, Garibaldi defended Rome against the French, but after additional French troops arrived, he – along with Anita and his troops – retreated. On his way to northern Italy, Anita died, and Garibaldi, hunted by the French, Austrian, Spanish, and the Papal army, leaves for Tangier, then America in 1850. In New York, he stayed on Staten Island with Antonio Meucci, and later travels to Peru and England. He returned to Italy in 1854, and purchased land on Caprera, a small island off the coast of Sardinia; and in 1858, met with Camillo Benso di Cavour in Torino to discuss the unification of Italy. Encourage by uprisings in southern Italy, in 1860, Garibaldi assembled 1,000 volunteers, known as Red Shirts, to seize the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from the Neapolitan Bourbons. After his victory, he gives the territories to Victor Emmanuel II, addressing him as the King of Italy. Garibaldi continued to fight for complete unification of Italy, leading two expeditions into Rome. He retired in 1871, spending most of his time on Caprera, and died there in 1882.
Written by Janice Mancuso

Here are some other relevant websites:
Garibaldi and the Risorgimento
Garibaldi’s Speech to His Soldiers
The Garibaldi-Meucci Museum
Life and Times of Giuseppe Garibaldi

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  Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180)

 One of the Five Good Emperors and a proponent of the philosophy of Stoicism, Marcus Aurelius was chosen at an early age to be the succeeding ruler of the Roman Empire. The only son of a wealthy family in Rome, Marcus was three years old when his father died. Marcus was favored by Emperor Hadrian (some say he was a distant relative), who arranged for Marcus to study Greek, Latin, literature, rhetoric, and philosophy under the best educators in Rome; and he was appointed a Roman priest. Marcus took an interest in philosophy, and – some note – an even greater interest in Stoicism.

 Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius, was required to adopt Marcus (and Lucius Aurelius Verus) as his sons and subsequent successors as emperors of the Roman Empire. In 139, Marcus was admitted to the Senate, and became consul twice. In 145, he married Antoninus’ daughter and by 147, Marcus shared some duties with Antoninus. When Antoninus died in 161, Marcus became co-Emperor with Verus, and upon Verus’ death in 169, Marcus was sole Emperor of the Roman Empire.

 Marcus ruled the Roman Empire through its battles with Germany and the Parthians, and through a plague. Around 167, he began to write Meditations, his personal journal that applied logic, and not emotion, to the events that shaped his life. In 176, while in Greece, Marcus created the Four Chairs of Philosophy – Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, and Epicurean. The following year, after a false report that Marcus was dead and another was hailed as Emperor, Marcus appointed his son, Lucius Aurelius Commodus, co-Emperor; and in 180 Commodus succeeded Marcus as Emperor of the Roman Empire.
Written by Janice Mancuso

Here are some other relevant websites:
Emperor Marcus Aurelius
Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Who is Marcus Aurelius?
Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism

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  Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872)

 One of the three most important proponents for the unification of Italy, Mazzini – along with Giuseppe Garibaldi and Camillo Benso di Cavour – spent much of his adult life working towards freeing Italy from foreign rule. Born in Genoa to an accomplished family, Mazzini showed an early penchant for literature and entered college at 15, first studying medicine (his father was a doctor and college professor), then studying law, with a leaning towards politics. At 16, he was influenced by a group of revolutionaries who were unsuccessful in an uprising against Austrian rule.

 In 1826, Mazzini graduated college with a law degree, and by 1828 he had joined the Carbonari, a secret society created to establish unification and liberation. Mazzini planned uprisings and recruited followers, and his actions led him to flee to France in 1830. There, he established Giovine Italia (Young Italy), an organization for Italian national unity, which grew to around 60,000 members. In 1833, Mazzini fled to Switzerland, and in 1837, to England, attracting followers for a united Italy through his published letters and articles.

 His open letter in 1847 to the newly elected Pope Pius IX – who was thought to have more liberal views on unification – was not answered; and the following year, a series of revolutions throughout Europe gave more support to his cause. During one brief time of a short-lived independent government, Mazzini was part of a Triumverate of the newly formed Roman Republic; but within a few months, the Papacy was restored, and Mazzini left soon after for France. He continued to write about Italian unification and plan uprisings, while Cavour and Garibaldi were involved in different unification activities eventually leading to the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, and a united Italy with Rome as the Capitol in 1871. Mazzini died one year later.
Written by Janice Mancuso

Here are some other relevant websites:
The Italian Unification
Giuseppe Mazzini & Young Italy
Giuseppe Mazzini’s International Political Thought

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  Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione (1837 - 1899)

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna had reinstated Italy to independent states and foreign-ruled kingdoms, but the desire for independence persisted. In 1831, Giuseppe Mazzini started a movement to unify Italy; joined by Giuseppe Garibaldi they continued their mission. As the years progressed, others would take up the cause.

Virginia Oldoini was born in Florence to a noble family – her father was a diplomat and her mother was from a titled family. She received a private education, and was proficient in speaking French and English. From an early age, she was known for her great beauty.

While most accounts claim her marriage was arranged, it’s also been noted that Count Francesco Verasis Asinari approached the family for her hand in marriage. Asinari – from a long line of an aristocratic and prosperous family that had held high ranking positions and had numerous business holdings – was the Count of Costigliole d'Asti and Count of Castiglione. He was widowed and twelve years older than Oldoini, and although she had no feelings for the Count, at seventeen she married him. It was a move that pleased her family because of his connections, but also brought her the title of Countess of Castiglione, along with wealth and wider social status.

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The Count advanced in his position, becoming an attendant of King Vittorio Emanuele II, and he and the Countess, along with their new-born child, moved to Paris in 1855. In part, for the Count to carry out his diplomatic duties, and in part – at the suggestion of Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour – for the Countess to convince Napoleon III, Emperor of France, to help Italy in its unification. The Count of Cavour had become an active participant in the unification of Italy, and wanted Napoleon III to back the movement against Austria, which controlled the northern region of Italy. The Countess and Napoleon III began a relationship that lasted about two years, caused her separation from her husband, but introduced the Countess to Parisian society.

Shortly after her liaison with Napoleon III began, the Countess had her picture taken by Pierre-Louis Pierson (studio of Mayer & Pierson), photographer of the Emperor. Photography was becoming popular, and the Countess began posing for hundreds of photographs dressed in elaborate costumes, many she had worn to the galas and masked balls she attended. She also staged the settings and posed as characters from theater, literature, and her imagination.

Throughout the years, the Countess of Castiglione continued to be photographed and had numerous relationships with notable dignitaries. Her picture as the “Queen of Hearts” was included in an exhibit by Mayer & Pierson at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1867. She is often cited as the first model and as a forerunner of self expression in art. It’s noted that her costumes were reproduced for sale in Paris boutiques and her poses were studied and copied by painters and photographers. Two books and two movies have chronicled her life, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art owns and has displayed a collection of her photographs.
Written by Janice Mancuso

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  Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863-1938)

 Considered one of Italys leading writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, at 16, Gabriele DAnnunzio made his debut as a poet with Primo Vere, a collection of his works. It was followed by another collection in 1882, Canto Nova; and while he continued to write poetry, DAnnunzios first full-length novel in 1889, Il Piacere, provided him with another outlet for his imaginative writings. A series of novels followed, each acclaimed for its blend of naturalism and symbolism. His controversial 1904 drama, The Daughter of Jorio, is said to have influenced contemporary Italian writing, and the debut of the play in New York City in 1907 caused a sensation.
 During World War I, DAnnunzio was actively involved on Italys political scene, writing speeches and articles in support of the Allied cause. He enlisted, was made lieutenant, and as a pilot in aerial combat, he became a war hero.
Written by Janice Mancuso

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Here are some other relevant websites:
Gabriele D’Annunzio, His Works and Deeds
Home on Lake Garda