Book Review: Italy and Its Eastern Border, 1866-2016


by Marina Cattaruzza

New York: Routledge, 2016. Pp. xii, 302. Maps, notes, index. $145.00. ISBN: 1138791741

Defining Italy’s Frontiers

Although the study of frontiers and border zones has become an important part of ancient and colonial history, Dr. Cattaruzza (Berne) offers what is a rare work dealing with border issues in Modern Europe, in this political history of Italy’s frontiers eastwards from the Veneto.

Following the Seven Weeks War (1866), the Veneto was incorporated into newly unified Italy, but large areas inhabited by Italian speakers, or to which Italian states arguably had historic ties (e.g., the Tyrol, Istria, Dalmatia) still remained under Austro-Hungarian control, areas known to nationalists as Italia irredenta. Cattaruzza opens with a review of the problems of Italian ambitions for Italia irredenta created within the political and diplomatic realities of late 19th century Europe. She then examines the evolution of nationalist thinking about these areas, noting that both “left” and “right” were in general accord that these areas should ultimately be annexed to complete Italy.

Cattaruzza then gives us a chapter on Italy in the Great War, when virtual domination of the Adriatic seemed likely, though the acquisition of the Dalmatian coast was blocked at Versailles. There follows chapters on the frontier question during the Fascist Era, Italy’s now largely forgotten temporary expansion into Dalmatia and Slovenia during the early part of World War II, and the collapse of Italian power and the rise of Yugoslav ambitions to these, and other areas, in the latter part of the war, notably Trieste. The final chapters cover the postwar settlement, in which Italy lost most of what it had gained from the Great War, ongoing cross-border issues, such as dual citizenship and the current refugee migration crisis, plus some general observations.

As she deals with these events, Cattaruzza offers some insights into the uses and misuses of history in international relations, the role of various individuals (e.g., D’Annunzio, Tito), and touches on questions of cultural imperialism and ethnic cleansing.

A volume in the Routledge series “Studies in Modern European History”, Italy and its Eastern Border is an interesting, useful book, but one primarily for the specialist in Italian history.

Note: Italy and its Eastern Border is also available as e-book, $38.47, ISBN 978-1-3157-6258-6.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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