For more than four centuries Italians were struggling to preserve their identity. Italy cannot be referred to it as merely the geographic unity, it is the national identity shaped and modified by culture of Medieval Italy which evolved into the nation known as "Italians" to the world today.
From the early medieval ages, Italians were different from their neighbours. They preferred to live on the tops of the hills, while the Romans lived in the valleys (Hodges 47). Based on the interpretation of the medieval monastic sources, hilltop villages evolved along with the Italian life out of the introduction of the monetary economy in the 9th century. This transformation has led to the process of incastellamento - the foundation of castelli on the top of the hills. Notably, Italian cities had the tendency not to grow, but to reduce as well. Unlike many other Italian urban centres, Florence's growth has declined in the 7th and 8th centuries, while Rome and Milan became the centres occupied only by aristocracy. Rural estates and houses of aristocracy were built in the distinct towns.
Hodges continues that "the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 6th century led to the rural communities of the peasants reshaping the landscape and defining their own rules" (48). The economy activity in rural regions was insignificant and there is the evidence that town and country were truly separated in economic, social and political life. Even though Italy was the distinct community with common heritage, culture was embraced by only a handful of intellectuals – Dante, Petrarch, historian Guicciardini, and few others. ...
Their works were the bonds of material and emotional importance which linked together the peninsular inhabitants and counterbalanced its fragmented structure. "While the Latin language had been replaced by a cluster of regional dialects, it remained the standard mode of discourse of university education and of the professions of law, medicine, and theology" (Brucker 1).
In addition to common language, Italians shared the same administration of justice - it was based on the principles of Roman law and applied in every Italian court. The power of Roman papacy in Italy was due to its wealth, administrative structure, and regulation of religious practices and beliefs. Despite of the great influence of Roman Empire over the Italy, Italian cities and towns managed to retain the physical features of those ancient sites. A native of Naples could travel to any other city and feel at home: the buildings, the streets, the social structure and culture were all the same (Brucker 1). Traders were the most cosmopolitan segment of the medieval Italy and travelled along with the pilgrims, soldiers seeking employment and workers. Such unity with the citizens without permanent place of living and similarity of all towns, helped to create the feeling of belonging to the community larger than their native village.
The Roman papacy was the only Italian institution that provided the focus on the Italian history in the early medieval ages. The papacy had the direct influence on the every region and medieval popes were so preoccupied with the concerns for their security as well as with the expanding authority over the whole society, that they unwillingly shaped the Italian national identity.