The history of Tuscany


About the history of Tuscany

Ferdinand Fourth Tuscany

Tuscany looks back on a varied history. It is of course shaped by Etruscan and Roman rule in antiquity, but few know that, for example, a branch of the (German-speaking) Habsburgs provided the Grand Dukes of Tuscany with interruptions from 1737 to 1860. Their rule ended in 1860 with the abdication of Ferdinand the Fourth, when the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont annexed Tuscany. The Kingdom of Sardinia was absorbed into the Kingdom of Italy just a year later.

Image: Ferdinand the Fourth, last Grand Duke of Tuscany. After him, the title of Grand Duke passed to the Austro-Hungarian Emperor.
Licensed under the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - FerdinandVierteToskana.jpg # / media / File: FerdinandVierteToskana.jpg

Tuscany in antiquity

351 B.C. In the 1000th century BC, the Romans annexed what was then Etruria, the land of the Etruscans, who had ruled since around XNUMX BC. BC settled the country. Etruscan ruins can still be found throughout Tuscany today. For example, there are some museums in the vicinity of the city of Grosseto. Under Emperor Augustus the region was given the name “Tuscia”, from which today’s “Tuscany” is derived. There are still some Roman remains all over Tuscany today Thermal baths in Tuscany were already used by the Romans 2000 years ago.

From the Middle Ages to the Habsburgs

Like other areas of Europe, Tuscany experienced a changeable time in the Middle Ages. Different ruling houses alternated after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, only from 1434 came with the house of the Medici (Florence) some order back in Tuscan history. In addition, Tuscany was temporarily divided into republics (Florence, Pisa, Siena, Arezzo, Lucca and Pistoia). As the Medici's influence grew, Tuscany first became a duchy and later a grand duchy.
In 1738 the Medici family ultimately died out - a branch of the Habsburg-Lorraine family took over rule under Francis I, but Tuscany suffered because Francis I severely neglected his property. High taxes and mismanagement, as well as famine, led to poverty. His son and successor, the future Emperor Leopold II, finally succeeded in reforming Tuscany economically and politically. What is particularly interesting is that during his reign, Tuscany was probably the first country in the world to abolish the death penalty. The influence of the church (the Vatican played a much more powerful role then than it does today, see map) was also severely restricted in Tuscany, but this was not only met with approval in conservative circles.

spehr church state

Map of Tuscany from 1825 by Friedrich Wilhelm Spehr. At this time, Tuscany was surrounded by Parma and Modena to the north, and the Papal States to the east and south. 
The map was made available with the kind permission of the Institute for Geography and Geology at the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University of Greifswald (

Tuscany under Napoleon and its annexation to the Kingdom of Italy

In 1799, Habsburg rule ended abruptly with the invasion of French troops. The French proclaimed an “Etrurian Republic,” which ultimately led to a popular uprising that initially drove the French out. With the return of French troops just a year later, Napoleon consolidated his rule over Tuscany, whereupon he initially gave it to the Spanish Bourbons, but later gave it to his sister. In 1814 the Habsburgs under Ferdinand III took over. regained control of Tuscany, but became increasingly dependent on the Austrian Empire.
In 1859 Austria was defeated by French and Italian (Sardinia-Piedmont) troops. The Habsburgs were unable to counteract this, so the last Habsburg Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand IV, finally had to abdicate in 1860. As a result, Tuscany became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont and ultimately, from 1861, part of the united Kingdom of Italy, of which Florence became the capital until Rome was finally conquered by Italian troops in 1870, which until then had been conquered by French troops was occupied. What is particularly noteworthy, however, is that the grand ducal title ultimately belonged to the Austrian Empire. It was not until the end of the First World War in 1918 that Tuscany finally broke away from Austria.

Tuscany in the 20th century

Large areas of Tuscany were considered impoverished until the middle of the 20th century. Tuscany lived almost exclusively from agriculture; it was only in the 70s and 80s that tourism developed, which is now Tuscany's main source of income and to which many Tuscan residents owe their current prosperity.
The sharecropping system (Mezzadria) only ended in 1950, which meant that tenants no longer had to hand over half of their income to the landowner. The last swamp areas that covered large parts of Tuscany have also been successfully drained. These had repeatedly caused outbreaks of malaria in the past. In addition, the land was unusable because of them. Nevertheless, up until the 70s, an exodus from the countryside meant that entire villages were left empty. Many people from Tuscany, for example, emigrated to the United States or moved to Germany as guest workers. At times the fallow areas are said to have even been used by shepherds who immigrated from even poorer areas of Italy. Some specialties of Tuscan cuisine are still reminiscent of those difficult days due to their simplicity.
This changed with tourism, but also with increasing wine cultivation since the 60s. Today, Tuscany is an increasingly “noble” address for German tourists, but it has largely retained its charm.

Last updated: 29.02.2024

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