History’s Oldest Independent State
How a small Italian city-state managed to keep its independence
The maps of our world stay everchanging. Throughout history, borders have changed through conquest, politics, and economical pressure. As such, it is surprising that there exists one country who has managed to remain independent after hundreds of years of such circumstances. The country in question is known as San Marino, a small Italian city-state.
The story of San Marino starts in the Roman Empire in 301 A.D. Its founder, San Marino (Translated: Saint Marinus), moved into mainland Italy from Croatia in search of a job as a stonemason. During his time in Italy, he experienced the Diocletianic Persecution, the last Roman persecution of Christians across the empire. In the search for safety against the persecution, Saint Marinus fled to a town called Monte Titano.
In Monte Titano he would build a small church, funding the state of San Marino on 3 September 301, and declaring independence from the Roman Empire. As the Diocletianic Persecution was the last persecution against the Christians of the Roman Empire, the small independent city-state was left alone as the entire Empire embraced Christianity. Throughout the rest of the lifespan of the Roman Empire, and after its collapse, the small country remained the same size, independent of foreign influence. The country would remain in this state until 1320.
The small Italian city-state’s borders would remain unchanged, being defined by the borders of the city, until 1320, when the small neighbouring town of Chiesanuova decided to join the republic. The state continued to expand throughout the early to mid-1000s with the local settlements of Serravalle, Faetano, Montegiardino, and Fiorentino joining San Marino in 1463. This would be the last time the country’s borders changed.
Italy’s political climate started to heat up as the 1500s rolled in and, as such, the countries surrounding the small state changed continuously. At the start of the 1500s, the sovereignty of the state was threatened by Cesare Borgia, as for a brief period of six months he took over the state. It took the power of the Pope to free the country from the grasps of the commander, ensuring their freedom once more.
As the Papal States grew, they surrounded the small republic, notably after their annexation of the Duchy of Urbino in 1625. Although not the de facto leaders of the republic, for most of the latter half of the 1000s, the Papal states acted as the guarantors of the republic, saving the state’s independence multiple times until they were absorbed into the country of Italy upon the region’s unification during the 19th century.
San Marino remained independent even after Italy’s unification. As, once again, the political climate around the republic started to heat up its independence was uncertain. Even so, they managed to remain independent throughout the 20th century by remaining neutral during both World Wars.
Due to this policy of neutrality, the city-state remains independent to this day still controlling the just-over sixty square kilometres it did more than 500 years ago. The country also stands as the world’s oldest republic, being funded under this system over 1700s years ago, although it only received a written constitution in the 1600s. San Marino stands as a case study of what good political manipulation and good international relations management can do for a country, no matter its size.
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