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TOSCA'S PRISMThree Moments of Western Cultural History
Northeastern University PressCopyright © 2004 Deborah Burton and Susan Vandiver Nicassio
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Chapter OneThe Napoleonic Legacy in Italy * * *
The Napoleonic invasion of northern Italy in 1796 marked the end of the settecento [eighteenth century] and the beginning of modern Italy and the Italian Risorgimento [Rebirth]. With the exception of Germany, no other country was as much affected by the Napoleonic rule as the Italian peninsula. For many centuries prior to the invasion, the peninsula constituted what Metternich would call in 1815 "a geographical expression." Before 1796, Italy was divided into ten states: the kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont); the duchy of Milan, a part of the Habsburg empire; the republics of Venice, Genoa, and Lucca; the Papal States; the duchies of Modena and Parma; the grand duchy of Tuscany; and the kingdom of Naples, which included Sicily. Those Italian states varied substantially. Different dynasties and social elites ruled them, and they possessed diverse legal codes, economic systems, administrative structures, currencies, and spoken dialects. Provincial and municipal rivalries and competition between city and countryside intensified the diversity. In the second half of the eighteenth century, the gap increased between regions such as Lombardy and Tuscany, which underwentbroad reform programs initiated by enlightened absolutists, and states such as the kingdom of Naples, where the ruler was unable or unwilling to carry out such reform policies.
During the two decades of French rule (the ventennio francese, 1796-1815), Napoleon introduced the French Revolution to the Italian peninsula. He deposed old dynasties, eliminated aristocratic and ecclesiastic privileges, and unified regions by gradually establishing uniform legal, fiscal, administrative, and conscription systems. The French presence also inspired Italians to articulate plans of unity and independence, thereby inaugurating Italian nationalism. The unifying Napoleonic experience, along with the beginning of Italian nationalism, laid the foundations for the formation of a modern Italian state and society and started the long march toward the unification of the peninsula. At the same time, it is important to stress that, because of different historical contexts and pre-Napoleonic structures, the extent and depth of change caused by the Napoleonic reforms varied from region to region.
The epoca fracese [French epoch] in Italy was divided into two distinct periods: the revolutionary triennium (1796-99) and the Napoleonic rule (1800-1815). The revolutionary triennium, or triennio rivoluzionario, constituted a period of important changes and lively debates that were stimulated by the first Napoleonic invasion in April 1796 and the French victories over the Austrians. The French replaced the old regime states with "sister republics," including the Cisalpine, Roman, and Neapolitan (or Parthenopean) republics, whose governments were dominated by moderate reformers who represented the propertied and educated classes. The new governments experimented with democratic systems and proclaimed the first Italian constitutions modeled on the French example. They established a number of important innovations including legal equality, civil liberties (most notably freedom of the press), and the abolition of entails. The republican authorities also abolished internal restrictions on trade and reduced the power of the church by establishing freedom of religion, abolishing religious orders, and confiscating and selling church property. Roman Jews received equal rights for the first time. In the Neapolitan Republic, the revolutionary government proclaimed the end of the feudal system, although it was unable to implement that important reform before being toppled.
The triennio planted the seeds of modern Italian nationalism. The French invasion inspired Italian Jacobins, who called themselves patrioti [patriots], to articulate plans of Italian unity and independence. They formed popular societies and published numerous newspapers in various cities. Melchiore Gioia reflected the opinion of most patriots by stressing the formation of an Italian republic, "one and indivisible." Only in a republic, insisted Gioia, could liberty flourish. The patrioti viewed an independent, united republic as a precondition for the creation of a modern state and a democratic society. The radical among them viewed support of the popular classes as crucial for the new system. They wished "to realize ... an equality of opportunity, and establish limits on concentration of wealth; [also] to create instruments of political participation for all citizens, and exercise a continuous and conscious control on government's activity." They stressed the need for public education, distribution of church land, progressive taxation, and the creation of a welfare system. While the radical patrioti were marginalized by the French, their new ideas marked the beginning of an intense debate about the future of society in a united Italy, a debate that would continue well into the nineteenth century. The sister republics lasted, however, for a short time only. In early 1799 the Second Coalition forces invaded Italy and, with the help of popular revolts in various regions, defeated the French, toppled the republican governments, and restored the old regime rulers (February to September 1799).
On 15 May 1800, about six months after rising to power in France in the coup of Brumaire (9-10 November 1799), Napoleon launched his second invasion into Italy, ordering a French army (60,000 men strong) to cross the Alps into northern Italy. Napoleon himself crossed the Alps on a sturdy mule, not the blazing white stallion portrayed in Jacques-Louis David's glorifying painting. Napoleon's second Italian campaign was crucial for his political survival as the leading figure in the new French government. He needed to defeat the Austrians, who had regained their control over Lombardy, to secure his grip on power and retain the support of the war-weary French people. In the ensuing battle at Marengo on 14 June 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte was nearly defeated by the larger Austrian army led by Michael von Mélas. In fact, Mélas had already believed the battle won, and turned the command over to General Anton von Zach. Fortunately for Napoleon, General Louis Desaix, who had been detached from the main army, returned to the battlefield in time to turn the tide and force the Austrians to retreat in disarray. The next morning, Mélas asked for an armistice.
The battle of Marengo is mentioned twice in the opera Tosca. In the first act, the sacristan joyfully announces the "glorious news" that Napoleon has been defeated; during the second act, Sciarrone delivers to Scarpia the message that "Bonaparte è vincitore" [Bonaparte is the victor] and "Mélas è in fuga" [Melas is fleeing]. Cavaradossi, who has just been tortured, finds the strength to rejoice, viewing the Napoleonic victory as the triumph of freedom and the demise of tyrants.
The victory at Marengo marked the beginning of the second phase of the epoca francese. Initially, Napoleon restored French domination over most of northern Italy, which the Austrians recognized in the treaty of Luneville in February 1801. Gradually, Napoleon established his control over the rest of Italy: the kingdom of Piedmont (1802), Venetia and the kingdom of Naples (1806), Tuscany (1808), and Rome (1809). By 1810, he dominated the entire Italian peninsula except for Sardinia and Sicily, which remained under their former rulers, who were protected by the British. Occupying the peninsula, Napoleon reshaped its map at will, changing boundaries, toppling rulers, annexing territories, and establishing new states. This restructuring was designed to strengthen his control and to assure the successful implementation of the Continental System. Ultimately, Napoleon divided the peninsula into three parts: the republic of Italy (later transformed into the kingdom of Italy) in the north, the kingdom of Naples, and areas such as Piedmont and Rome, which were annexed to imperial France. The consolidation of the Italian peninsula into three parts brought it closer to unity.
Napoleon's main interests in his Italian satellite states, as in others, were drafting soldiers and raising revenues. To achieve those goals more efficiently, the Napoleonic authorities launched a comprehensive set of reforms aimed at forming a strong central state and rationalizing the administrative, legal, and financial organizations. For Italy, those reforms signified the establishment of uniform legal and institutional structures, which would lay the groundwork for the political unity in the peninsula. Many of the central Napoleonic institutions and laws would serve as models for post-Napoleonic Italian governments, including the government of united Italy.
The creation of a new elite constituted another important Napoleonic legacy in Italy. This new elite of notables represented an amalgam between the old nobility and the wealthy bourgeoisie. Landowners constituted the most important element of this elite, since land continued to represent the most important source of wealth in the first half of the nineteenth century in Europe. The commercial, professional, and educated classes also belonged to the "notability." Napoleon rallied this elite around him by appointing them to high positions, sanctioning their purchase of church property and guaranteeing the right to own private property, as well as law and order. This elite would continue to dominate Italian society long after the fall of the Napoleonic regime.
Napoleon transformed northern Italy more profoundly than any other part of the peninsula, based on the French model. In 1802, he established the republic of Italy, and in 1805, after being crowned as its emperor, he changed it to the kingdom of Italy, becoming its king. The kingdom consisted of regions previously belonging to five states: the Habsburg Empire, the Venetian Republic, the kingdom of Piedmont, the Papal States, and Modena. At its peak, the kingdom of Italy covered an area of 35,000 square miles and possessed a population of 6.7 million inhabitants, about one-third of the peninsula's population.
Napoleon's main accomplishments in the republic and kingdom of Italy were the unification of the diverse regions into a single central state, and the formation of uniform and increasingly effective legal and administrative structures. As in France, a crucial part of the centralized state was a powerful executive. As the republic's president and later the kingdom's ruler, Napoleon concentrated a vast amount of power in his hands. He was represented in Milan by the vice president of the republic, Melzi d'Eril, and the viceroy of the kingdom, Eugene de Beauharnais. An important part of the executive branch was the group of seven ministers appointed by and responsible to Napoleon and his deputies. They included the ministers of the military, interior, finance, treasury, religion, justice, and foreign relations. In contrast to the powerful executive, the legislature was divided into three bodies and had very limited power.
In 1802, Melzi laid the foundation of the central administration, using France as a model. He divided the republic of Italy into departments, districts, and comuni [cities], all possessing a uniform bureaucratic structure. The linchpin of the administrative system was the prefect, a department head nominated by and responsible to the executive. The prefect was in charge of enforcing the laws, maintaining public order, supervising the military draft, and managing the department's finances. In sum, the prefect was the indispensable connection between the center and the periphery. With the growing centralization, the administration became fairly efficient and reliable. Bureaucrats increasingly were gaining in experience and professionalism.
The state's centralization and uniformity were solidified by the introduction of the French legal system. The authorities ordered the translation of the French codes into Italian, and they became the law of the land during the period from 1806 to 1810. The civil code reinforced legal equality and the right to own private property, and it legalized civil marriage. The French court system (including justices of the peace, civil and criminal tribunals, and courts of appeal) also served as a model for the Italian state. To enforce law and order, the government created a police force and a gendarmeria [constabulary].
The success of the state administration was epitomized in the military and financial areas. With growing efficiency, the government drafted more and more people and raised increasing amounts of money. The introduction of annual military conscription and the formation of Italian national armies constituted an important Napoleonic legacy. The emperor integrated the Italian recruits into his Grande Armée and employed them, as he did those of many other nationalities, in his various campaigns. In fact, half of the Napoleonic army invading Russia consisted of non-French troops. In August 1802, the authorities of the Italian Republic proclaimed mandatory military conscription, annually drafting thousands of men between the ages of twenty and twenty-five for four years' service. Finding a substitute was a legal means of avoiding the draft used by the well-to-do. The authorities restricted the movement of potential conscripts and imposed retribution on law violators. The peasantry bore the principal burden of the draft, and many resisted by draft-dodging, desertion, self-mutilation, and even uprisings. To suppress that opposition, the government tightened the draft machinery, ordered the gendarmeria to pursue deserters, and established special tribunals that imposed stiff penalties. The conscription system enabled state officials to move into remote towns, forcing their inhabitants to acknowledge the state and obey its laws. Those steps bolstered the state's power, which (despite the opposition) drafted 155,000 men from 1802 to 1814 and expanded the Italian army to 70,000 men by 1812. Military service in the Italian army also inspired national consciousness among the officers and a part of the rank and file, who began transcending their provincialism and local loyalties and started thinking of themselves as belonging to the Italian nation. In this sense, the Napoleonic military reforms helped to launch the Italian Risorgimento.
The national army meant high costs. Indeed, military expenditures constituted the largest part of the state's budget, and they were increasing annually through the expansion of the army. In addition, the Italian state had to pay high sums for the maintenance of French troops stationed on its soil.
Excerpted from TOSCA'S PRISM Copyright © 2004 by Deborah Burton and Susan Vandiver Nicassio. Excerpted by permission.
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