Under Republican Rome, Italy in reality was only an immense federation of cities, each free to administer itself in its own way within its own territory; something which reminds us of the British Empire in its most recent form, when the democratic term Commonwealth has been substituted for the haughty term Empire.The beginning of the decadence of the cities appeared in the Roman Empire in the time of Hadrian. Until then the municipia and coloniae had been governed by that wealthy and active citizen class out of which came the Fabii.
The decemviri elected from among the notables (people with very large incomes) carried out the administration from the Tribunal -- the high court of Justice. But with Hadrian the officers of the Imperial administration progressively made themselves masters of all local affairs; and under Diocletian the Totalitarian State (as one might say today) was completely established. The ancient courts, freely elected by the citizens, became corporations bound by numerous restrictions; they quickly lost all vitality; even the defensor civitatis became no more than a functionary to whom men looked -- though it was but a pretence -- for a denunciation of the errors of his superiors.
And soon, whether by encroachment of the military or by reason of the distrust of the citizens, there remained only prefectures entrusted to comites sent from the Capital. Under the Emperors of the East these comites, become even more corrupt, were called duces, whence came the title Doge which was for centuries the name of the head of the aristocratic Republics of Venice and Genoa.Thus, already under Diocletian, the Barbarians had invaded Italy; a work of the military anarchy of the third century rather than of certain starving tribes descending from Germany; out of which German vanity, and the desire of the Italians to attribute their ills to a foreign cause, have later made "the invaders" and their uncontrollable onrush.The old and empty German boast became an official dogma under Nazism, which imposed on the schools of the Reich that to the new generation they should insist on the "fundamental part which the German emigrations had in diffusing the new civilization of the Middle Age, in northern Italy, in France and in England".One might well ask what the few young Germans who seriously studied history thought, if they thought at all, when they discovered:
1. That the Goths did not know how to make their dominion in Italy last more than sixty years.
2. That in Spain they were defeated by those Semites who were the Arabs, and lost everything in a single day.
3. That. the Lombards, although invited into Italy by a part of the population, never succeeded in occupying the coasts, never dared to measure themselves with the young and growing defences of Venice, nor with the ancient walls of Rome, and that their dominion ended in confusion and contempt.
Without the decomposition provoked by the Empire when fallen on the one hand into a military anarchy and on the other into a bureaucratic despotism, the German tribes would never have succeeded in establishing themselves here at all. The Italian cities would have opposed a sufficient resistance if the Empire had not broken their vitality.