Modern humans arrived in the Italian peninsula about 40,000 years ago. The region was inhabited by several different ancient peoples such as the Etruscans. The Mycenaean Greeks arrived during the seventeenth and eleventh centuries BC and in the eighth and seventh centuries BC, they established colonies in the south and on Sicily.
Rome developed from an agricultural society into the Roman Empire, which took over the entire Mediterranean region during its years of existence, after merging with the Ancient Greeks. Many parts of Western civilization today are based on this society, including the legal system and the arts. In 395 AD, the enormous Roman Empire split into Western and Eastern Roman Empire. The Western Roman Empire broke up in 476 AD.
During the Middle Ages, after years of invasions, the Italian peninsula was split between the Holy Roman Emperors, whose supporters were called the Ghibellini, and the popes, whose supporters were the Guelfi. The struggle for power between these two parties led to the division of the Italian peninsula into many sections. Venice and Genoa, among other coastal regions, became leaders in international trade. Sicily was conquered by the Arabs and became an Islamic state from 965 to 1072.
During the recovery from the Black Death of 1348, which killed a third of Italy’s population, the Italian Renaissance emerged, peaking in the mid-sixteenth century. The city-states in northern Italy began feuding, and some swallowed up the areas around them, becoming larger, stronger territories that were called Signorie (regional states). The largest ones that emerged were Florence, Milan, and Venice, who eventually agreed to a peace treaty, the Peace of Lodi in 1454, which lasted about forty years. In the lower regions of Italy, land was divided into Papal States and Naples.