In 1797, the arrival of General Bonaparte in Italy marked the end of a political system based on the principles ofOld Regime. The troops of the French republic brought a breath of fresh air, with the introduction of government principles based on equality and the end of privileges for certain social classes. These changes also concerned the military sector where many states - before the arrival of the French - relied for their defense on the hiring of mercenary regiments with minimal national involvement. The only exception was the Kingdom of Sardinia which could field a structured army, but with an obsolete and inefficient chain of command.
From 1797 to 1799 various state realities experimented with the new institutional course replicated on the French model, establishing a kind of national defense where all citizens were called to contribute to the defense of the state. The first experiment was the National Guard, a useful tool for educating subjects to become citizens, followed by the formation of the gendarmerie and then the line and cavalry regiments. This transformation had different outcomes, according to the place where it was undertaken, however the best experience was in the new Cisalpine Republic (established on 29 June 1797) where many flocked to the call of General Bonaparte.
The counter-revolution of 1799 marked a severe setback, however the military formations born in the previous years took an active part in the fight against the Austro-Russians. The victory of Marengo on 14 June 1800 sealed the Napoleonic dominion in Italy, resuming the work of administrative and defense reform with greater strength and more conviction. The foundations on which recruitment rested were still voluntary, however the political needs and demands of the first consul Napoleon, pushed for conscription to be introduced in Italy as well.
With the advent of the Empire and the creation of the Kingdom of Italy (1805) the first Italian army was born although - let us remember - it only concerned a portion of the national territory. The army of the Kingdom of Italy participated in all the campaigns of the Empire, educating entire generations of officers and soldiers in the profession of arms which, in the years following the Restoration, allowed the birth both of a national feeling, but above all of a class military aware of some founding values of the Risorgimento.
We'll talk about it Wednesday 31 May at 21.00 with the historian Paolo Palumbo, author of "Stop in danger. Italian and Neapolitan soldiers in the Spanish Campaign 1808-1813".
See you there!