The History of Italy’s Division Between the North and the South 

By Arlly Saint-Fort,

Following Italy’s unification in the 1860s under the family of Savoy, the Country faced many hardships through its maturity. One prime example being the tension and divisions between the northern and southern parts of Italy due to differences such as wealth, and racist notions created to perceive southerners as lesser humans. Another example would be the creation of the mafia in southern Italy, which harmed the region’s reputation even more. 

Wealth and Culture

Firstly, one of the main reasons for the divisions between the north and the south are due differences in wealth, ethnicity, propaganda, and racist ideals made to seperate northern Italians from southern Italians. Shortly after the unification of Italy under the royal family of Savoy, many problems began to arise between the north and the south of Italy. One example being the “Regional differences in per capita income being exceptionally large in Italy. The north is as prosperous a central and northern europe, but the south is much poorer”(Lynn, 2009). This was partly do the fact that for much of Italy’s life, the south had practiced feudalism, even after it had been outlawed by other countries. As a result, the south of Italy was vastly behind on systems brought in by the Industrial revolution.

Images of the south

Images of the north

Culture also played a major part in the divisions between northern Italy and southern Italy, which is still felt even today. Because of the major difference in wealth between the north and the south, taxation on southerners was very heavy, and as a result brigandage broke out in the south. Bridandage, meaning banditry or the life and practice of highway robbery and plunder. Within the first decade of Italy’s unification (1860-1870). The Kingdom of Italy began military campaigns to control the rise in revolution in the south. in John Dickie’s “A word at ar – The Italian Army and Brigandage”, Dickie explains how the rise in brigandage was mainly due to “economic hardship, the introduction of conscription and the accumulated discontent caused by the erosion of collective land-use rights”(Dickie, 1992). In response to the rise in brigandage in the south, The Italian army issued several martial laws, antibrigandage laws, and even used propaganda to instill fear on southerners, and control the south through violence.

In order to continue pushing their agenda of violence against southerners, the Italian government sought to moralize their actions against the southerners by describing “Brigandage, in the last analysis, as irrational, violent, primative, and it either has something missing, or it is excessive”(Dickie, 1992). This perception of brigandage was widely used by the Italian government and its army to perceive southerners as primative, and violent to set them apart from northern Italians.

Lombroso’s “Criminal Man”

The Italian government used propaganda to create depictions of southerners, and explaining that these faces are that of criminals. They depict northerners as fair, and with symmetrical facial bone structures showing their intelligence and good temperance, whereas southerners tend to have much more imperfections to be depicted as evil, and less human.

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The Mafia’s Influence on the South

The emergance of the Mafia also had a largely negative influence on southern Italy. The term “Mafia” is born of Sicilian, which reveals its place of origin. According to Umberto Santinos “Mafia and Mafia-type organizations in Italy”, a Mafia is described as “any organized criminal group”(Santino, 2015). The rise in criminal organizations in the south did not help the already poor perception on southerners by the northerners. Intersestingly enough, it wasnt until 1982 that the Mafia was official considered to be a criminal organization. As such, “the murders and other crimes commited by the Mafiosi were, but the impunity that they enjoyed signifes the renunciation of the state of its monopoly on violence”(Santino, 2015).

The mafia had taken advantage of corruption in the state, and had been effectively allowed to run free committing many crimes, in the interest of political agendas, and economic gain shared between the mafiosi, and the Italian government itself. the Mafia’s influence resided mostly within southern Italy, so it created even more divisions between the north and the south. The south became more connected with violence, poverty, and crime running rampant.

The unification of Italy in 1860 was poorly excecuted, and as a result a division between northern Italy and Southern Italy is felt even today because of the large difference in wealth, and racist representations of southern Italians. The influence of the Mafia in southern Italy led to northerners perceiving southerners as criminals because of these organizations. This division between the north and south of Italy is significant, as it is still felt today, and it continues to affect the state of the country because of the lack of unity between the two regions. Political Agendas in Italy seem to rival the needs of northerners versus southerners leading to even more tension and aggression that needs to be quelled for the sake of the wellbeing of the country in the future.