How the split between North and South and the representation of the “other” led to the ideology of Southern Italy being a burden to the Nation


The North and South seem to be “different” in economic, social, technological, and other factors due to their rich history after the Roman Empire. The Northern parts of Italy were heavily influenced by Northern tribes such as Germanic tribes. Meanwhile, the South obtained more influence from the immigration of Northern Africa.  On top of that, Northern Italy’s political structure was more decentralized due to having city-states such as Milan and Venice. Southern Italy was under a feudalistic society primarily based on agriculture. The feudalistic community was enforced on Southern Italy. It was a part of the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Two Sicilies.   

As it was part of a feudalistic society, the South could not “flourish”: under the Renaissance. In contrast, in the North social classes emerged, such as bankers, merchants, and artists. The rise of the monetary system and trade and the city-states made places like Florence and Venice extremely rich: it eventually led to the end of feudalistic society in the North and a profound “urban revolution” in politics, economics, and culture. The “lack” of urban revolution in the South began to “split” the region as the North grew richer.   

During Italy’s unification, the North and the South’s differences seemed more apparent. The South was still agriculture-based with a more feudalistic hierarchy while the North was already industrialising. Furthermore, after the unification, the Brigand War, the idea of inferiority of the South began. The “Brigands” were subjugated to extreme violence by the Piedmont army. This idea of inferiority was then further supported through society and gained credibility by the views of superior races created by people such as Alfredo Niceforo.    

Economy of the Regions after the Renaissance

The South’s economy was primarily agriculture, with few places specialising in manufacturing, such as Naples. It had a fixed feudalistic society where the elites would rule and had a significant population of peasants that worked on the large estates known as latifondo. The latifondos were poorly structure because they provided small salaries for the workers. These peasants were not given a permanent contract: this made the labor cost per latifondo extremely low but damaged the relationship between “peasants” and the landowner. It created a volatile system that could theoretically harm productivity in the South.  Northern Italy had fewer agricultural activities as it predominately focused on industry and manufacturing. It had a far vaster economic system that could provide more capital. Industrial production would aid in the development of city-states, i.e., created better standards of living. Even with few agricultural practices, the farmlands known as mezzadoria had a more stable system than their counterparts in the South. There was a more significant social harmony between the landowner and workers: the workers were given annual contracts which provided a regular income. More effective social harmony aids productivity measure, and the yearly income obtained by workers in the North further aided the increase in living standards. Thus, the Southern economic structure on latifondos and industrialisation caused a drastic difference in economic productivity and living standards. The split/inferiority of the South financial-wise was visible, especially later in the late 1800s and early 1900s. For example, in 1891, the difference in GDP per Capita between the North and South was 7 percent (Malanima).

The Brigand War

The Brigand War began after the unification of Italy in 1861. Particular populations in the South oppose Northern rule. The Piedmont monarchy responded by fighting the Brigand in Guerilla warfare that was highly bloody, especially for the Brigands. It was during the Brigand War where the inferiority of the South began. The army often oppressed the Brigands as the “brigandage was constructed as the very antithesis of law, civilisation, and reason, then the use of unconstitutional measures … not only justifiable but ethically imperative” (Dickie, 10). Brigandage gained a connotation of evil, deceitful, and irrational in a racist manner by the army. The idea of brigandage became associated with the South. Thus, the South was viewed as uncivilised, backward, and irrational. The South needed cleansing.

Furthermore, the South was seen as a completely different race due to the previous migration of African and “Oriental” people. This immigration “justified” why the South was “backwardness.” Since the brigandage was seen as uncivilised, the army had “the right” to punish them in every way they wanted to. For example, “display brigand head-on posts” (Dickie, 17), and the brigands were often shot on the back of the head. Getting shoot from the back meant that the person was not qualified to wear the Italian uniform. Thus, the forms of execution further exemplified the idea of Brigands/South/Other being inferior as they were unfit to receive as “normal death.” 

 Besides the inhumane treatment within the South, stories from the army and by other high members in Northern parliament aided the inferiority. “Its [referring to Naples population] is the ugliest I have seen… weakness and vice, in filth” (General Paolo Solaroli). Calling Naples ugly and filthy applied those connotations to the rest of the Southern population, creating Northern ethnocentrism that would resonate throughout the country. The worthlessness of the South questions various members of parliament if it’s worthy of adding the South to Italy, “king’s government has been like a surgeon that finds himself before a tremendous operation to perform and has not the courage to attempt it” (Discussioni Della Camera). Adding these “filth, ugly, uncivilised people” would cause the government to “waste” essential resources on them without any exceptional opportunities, meaning the North would not benefit- i.e., making Southern Italy a burden to the North. 

Post Unification

After the Brigandage War, the idea of inferiority towards the South remains throughout society. For example, the pictures above displayed by the L’illustazione Italiana, a newspaper based in Milan. The first picture depicts all the magnificent monuments within Italy nation: The cathedral of Milan, Palacio Vittorio, the Tower of Pisa, etc. It highlights the intellect of the North for having the ability to construct such complex architecture. However, it does not highlight any Southern monuments: it only displays Mount Vesuvius. Thus, the northern-centric newspaper advertently reminds the population of the lack of architecture development in the South: another aspect in which the South is inferior to the North and provides little to no benefit in terms of architectural masterpieces. The two photos to the right further depict the uncivilised South. They have very minimal industrialisation, as seen by their “pathetic” houses and roads. Besides, “they seem barbaric” as they eat with no cutlery, have no socks, and are wearing dirty clothes. This further subjugates the South as backward. It also makes the North question what the South brings to Italy as they lack infrastructure and living standards. The South seemed like a “liability.” 

Ideology of Superior Races

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, theories of evolution had led to the justification of superior races. This form of thinking influenced a lot of Italians thinking. One “prominent” sociologist in Italy was Alfredo Niceforo. In his book Le due Italie, Niceforo mentions how the extreme physical and sociological difference between the North and South is due to the shape of the human body’s particular features influenced by the migration into Italy. The South, being influenced by the Mediterranean, have “long skulls and pentagonal shaped,” and the North, affected by Germanic/Slavic tribes, had “short, flat, and heavy skull” (Niceforo). These differences in the human body “dictated” the worthiness of the “race.” South Italy, being influenced by Africa and other Mediterranean countries, were “uncivilised, savage, rebellious, inferior, and challenging to educated,” whereas the North was “industrial, easily educated, civilised” (Niceforo). Due to these differences, two societies exist in Italy, “a civilised one, the other less advanced” (Niceforo). Thus, two governments must be instituted for the two “countries,” one that civilizes and removes all local autonomy in the South. Their removal from the government signifies that they are unfit to rule themselves and need guidance from the superior race, the North. This ideology justified the colonisation of African countries by Europe. Niceforo reinforces the split between the two regions by pointing out their drastic differences and how different governments must be deployed; also how the South is more chaotic than the North. The South should be “treated” and developed for Italy to “blossom,” meaning that the North currently does not benefit from the “uncivilised” South. 

Contemporary Italy

Economically the split between the North and South was/is more apparent in the 21st century. “GDP per capita between Centre-North and the South last year reached the highest in 15 years (53.7%), returning to levels from 2000” (Perrone). Specific organizations see the type of economic figures and infer that the South’s lack of development damages the rest of Italy. Lega Nord is a prime example. Their ideology in the late 1900s was to have the North split from the rest of Italy. They saw the South as a “leech.” For example, their propaganda poster shown above depicts the rest of Italy, primarily the South, as a fat, greedy lady that takes all the profits from the defensively industrial North. According to the Lega Nord, the less industrially developed Italy was corrupt and a burden to the country economically. “The Northern League has attacked the idea of Italian unity by asserting that the South is different and a burden on the nation” (Patriarca). Lega Nord draws upon the xenophobic, racist, and ethnocentric ideologies of prior Italian history and uses that form of thinking to stressed the need for a split between the two regions. Even after Matteo Salvini’s reinvigoration of the party into the Lega Nord. There are still numerous amounts of criticism towards the party’s xenophobia.

Numerous brutal depictions of the “other” have affected the method certain members in Italy think. For example, Richard Lynn in 2006 developed the idea of intellect being correlated with race. Northern Italians have a more excellent IQ as they are more in common with central Europe: thus, they are more efficient and can bring greater value to society. Additionally, because they keep their children at school for longer and provide them with more excellent nutrition, their children will retain a high IQ. Meanwhile, “diffusion of genes from the Near East and North Africa may explain why the populations of Southern Italy have IQs in the range of 89-92, intermediate between those of Northern Italy and central and North Europe” (Lynn, 99). Lynn’s ideology is similar to that of Niceforo as Lynn explains how the difference in IQ is due to the South being highly influenced by Northern Africa. He essentially states that South Italy is intellectually inferior because “inferior races have influenced them” As a result, the South cannot supply goods and services with as much value as the North due to their low IQs.  Thus, the representation of the “other” in Italy’s post-unification has influenced contemporary Italians to see the South as a burden.


The split between the North and the South occurred around the Renaissance. The South could not urbanise like the North. This lack of development defined the South primarily as an agricultural economy. Thus, it could not industrialise, so its economy was not as strong as the North. With the lack of economic power and the racist depiction of the South, due to their African influence, the South became inferior. The inferiority and lack of economic power led caused the South to be a burden during the late 1800s and throughout most 1900s. In contemporary Italy, this sort of thinking has reduced, but some still believe that the South is a burden due to its inferior financial condition. Such forms of thinking can lead to demoralisation in the South and threaten national stability/unity within Italy. Thus, it is essential to prevent the use of heinous historical ideologies in today’s society as they are unethical.

Work Citied

Dickie, John. “A Word at War: The Italian Army and Brigandage 1860–1870.” History Workshop Journal 33.1 (1992): 1-24. Print. 

Discussioni della Camera, 1861, 1st period: 413 

Grieco, Ludovica. “JPIA: The Rebranded Populism of the Italian Lega Nord Party.” The Journal of Politics & International Affairs. The Journal of Politics & International Affairs, 14 Mar. 2019. Web. 07 Apr. 2021.

Silvestre, Marta. “Forbice Nord-Sud: Troppo Larga Su Università.” Iostudio. 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2021.

Lynn, Richard. “In Italy, North–south Differences in IQ Predict Differences in Income, Education, Infant Mortality, Stature, and Literacy.” Intelligence 38.1 (2009): 93-100. Print.

Malanima, Paolo, and Vera Zamagni. “150 Years of the Italian Economy, 1861–2010.” Taylor & Francis. Informa UK Limited, 26 Jan. 2010. Web. 06 Apr. 2021.

Niceforo, Alfredo. “Le Due Italie.” Italians of the North and Italians of the South, 1901. 

Perrone, Manuela. “Cyclical Crisis Might Turn into “permanent …” Il Sole 24 Ore Digital Edition. 31 June 2015. Web. 7 Apr. 2021.

Sassi, Janet. “Conflicting National Identity Is Part of Italy’s History.” Fordham Newsroom, Fordham, 12 Feb. 2015, 

Verga, Giovanni. Illustrazione Italiana, 15 Oct. 1876. 

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