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The independent Genoa: an example of alternate peace (without Bonaparte)

Home > History and geography > History (General works) > World history
Author: Giampietro Stocco
Contributor(s): Franco Bampi
Published on: August 1, 2005

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I post here an interview about a possible alternate world in case of a sudden death of Napoleone Bonaparte in 1796, while he was busy with the Italian Campaign. This military operation had one of the most important siege at the Cosseria’s fortress, between Liguria and Piemonte regions, in the first half of April. Taking the control of this region was very important because of Genoa’s economic role. That’s why I have interviewed dr.Franco Bampi, professor in Genoa University, Engineery faculty. Born in 1951, Bampi is also a very well-named local historian and a member of various cultural organizations. He is persuaded of the importance of saving genoese language and traditions and would love to restore the independence of the ancient Genoa Republic.

GS: Which was the actual historical background in which Genoa was in 1796, just before Bonaparte crossed the Alps?

FB: In 1796 The Republic of Genoa was far more vital and active than one could imagine. It was a very strong financial power, which was getting a lot of money from different nations, because of interests connected with private and public loans. That was why the big and powerful genovese families were all wealthy; besides, the quality of life that the Genoese people led was far more advanced than elsewhere in Europe. The Genoese leading class, the citizens who were inside of the so-called “Albo D’Oro”, and who were the local aristocracy, loved the Republic and always respected the Imperial Feuds which were lead by Genovese families, without wishing to annex them. Genoa always claimed and defended the independence , the souveranity and the territorial integrity of all Liguria, the land that was given to the city from Emperor Frederick on June 9, 1162. However, by the end of XVIII century, the laws of the Genoese Republic were about to grow too old. The so-called “Leges Novae”, approved and sanctioned by oath in Saint Lawrence’s Cathedral on March 17, 1576, even if modified and integrated with other rules in the course of the centuries, were still medieval laws. And Genoa was keeping inside of Liguria a central role which was felt as more and more unsatisfactory from the people living on the Rivieras. They wanted to count more inside of the Republic’s government.

GS.: Let’s think counterfactual, then. We are facing the Cosseria siege, or maybe we’re elsewhere between Piemont and Liguria, in 1796. Bonaparte falls dead. What happens to the French Armée?

FB.: Bonaparte dead! But he was still a young general, then, even if a promising military leader. The new wouldn’t have woken up a strong echo. But Bonaparte’s death would have caused chaos in between the Armée. The man was very fascinating, indeed, and he had a very strong personality, which everyone thought to be the presupposition of military success and a lucky life, a life which could have changed France’s and Europe’s destiny. Such a man dead! The troops, fascinated by Bonaparten’s personality, would have lost their focus point and the push that made them fight abroad. Even if made by big numbers, the Armée would have been almost lost. Some soldiers would have diserted, some others would have been uncertain, and the officers had not the carisma to prevent this from happening. Luck can help: on April 13, 1796 we can imagine the austo-piemontese troops taking advantage from the situation and beating the French, thanks also to the valor of Italian military leaders such as Filippo Del Carretto. The defeated French would retire, after having received the honor of the arms.

GS: What could have happened to France and to Europe, on the political and military field? Do you believe that, with Bonaparte dead in Italy, a Restoration of the monachies could occur before? And what about the ideals of 1789?

FB: After 1789 Revolution and after the Terror, France was reorganizing. The Italian Campaign was exactly one of the strategical steps that were thought in order to spread the new ideals and with the aim of qualifying the revolutionary France ad a great military power. The eventual French defeat in Italy would have strenghtened the European monarchies. Revolutionary France was not only against princes and kings, but above all against the peoples, who wanted to keep their traditions, even if these had flaws. Many thought that in France, before the Revolution, something did not work. That’s why a small number of rebels could succed in making the insurrection! But, this was the way these people thought, out of the governments of the tradition, there was no government culture. That explained for those people the guillotine, the Terror, the (un)culture of traison and suspect, the giving up to the rules of chavalry and aristocracy which during the centuries had regulated every question in between the kings. With Bonaparte dead, the French Revolution wouldn’t have caused this ruin of the feudal state. With the defeat of the French Armée, the French Revolution and its tremendous new wave would have lost their historical opportunity.

GS: Could Genoa have saved its independence, and how? As an aristocratic Republic, in case of defeat of the French Revolution?

FB: Let’s think counterfactual: Genoa gets the new of the French defeat. What happens? First of all the Greater Council is held in order to give the new to the nobles. A fact that can be considered as extraordinary, as the Greater Council was supposed to hold sessions only for the most important matters, as the elections of the Minor Council and of the Doge, while the economical matters were in the hands of the Banco of San Giorgio, the biggest Genoese bank. The Genovese were peacekeepers: they always wanted to hold their traffics and to develop their business, and France was considered as a threaten to all of this. In order to get a true peace, however, France should not only loose a battle, but the war. It was necessary to defeat, once for all, the egalitarian rethoric which led to Terror. In this alternate time line we can imagine Genoa sending ambassadors to all of European courts. Genoa could lend more money to the various nations and give more time to the old loans, in order to make the victory against France durable and to restore the old and reliable French monarchy. This attempt would have shown Genoa’s intelligent way to coinceive outer politics.

Always counterfactually speaking, let’s speak of the Rotschilds. This German and Jewish family of bankers could be very struck by the defeat of France. Why? Because from 1743 they had sterted moving inside of the international market. Genoa’s bankers were their natural enemy. In real time, the Rotschilds are supposed to have secretly helped the Revolution in France and especially Bonaparte, asking him to enter Italy right from Liguria and Genoa. This way he could have conquered the Banco di San Giorgio’s gold and used it for the war and against the Genovese power.

If we assume that Bonaparte dies in 1796, we can figure that the Genovese rulers could bes truck, too. The French Revolution brought some positive ideals, anyway: let’s think about the United States Independence Declaration of 1776 and its influence on 1789 revolution. The Genovese rules could have therefore thought that, after Bonaparte’s death, they could deeply reform the Republic’s Constitution. If we assume that they would have kept the use of “hiring” the ruler class by inscribing every year new Genovese families inside of the so-called Albo d’Oro, we could think a reformation could have been to give more room and importance to the two Riviera’s citizens. They should have counted more.

GS: Let’s go from 1800 to present days, always in our alternate time line. Bonaparte is dead. The world would have known Romanticism and Nationalism and, later on, would have suffered because of Fascism and Communism?

FB: Counterfactually speaking, the French defeat was the one of the imperialistic side of the Revolution. Ideals do not use cannons and rifles, but the books and what people – or rather, its intellectual élite – think. This is what happened in this alternate time line. The United States of America and France taught that one can’t ignore some evidents truths: people are created as equal, they have some basic rights they can’t give up, just like life, freedom, and the seek of happiness. Nations and monarchies, even the most conservative like Savoy, coudn’t base themselves anymore on the godly right in order to oppress people. In this alternate time line we could have seen the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies starting with a modern system of laws; the Papal State would have given more freedom and security to its citizens, too. At the beginning of the alternate XXth century some small terroristic groups which were connected with the most extrem side of the French Revolution tried to involve people inside of totalitarian adventures: the Nazi in Germany, Fascism in Italy and the most bloody, Communism in Russia. However, the wiseness of the governments and the peace Europe enjoyed helped in defeating such bloody utopias just after their uprising. This was, of course, also an effect of the Genovese economical intervention in favor of the wisest monarchies just after the French defeat and Bonaparte’s death.

GS: Would the world have had in this case constitutional monarchies? And would Genoa have had an interest in unifying Italy?

FB: This is curious to find out. Genoa was a Republic all the time, and always disliked kings and princes. A famous Genovese was Giuseppe Mazzini, who thought of a European confederation of republica. He tried, sometimes with the violence of some of his followers, to destroy the European monarchies. In this alternate time line we have seen that the progressive ideals of 1776 and 1789 would have triumphed anyway. I can therefore imagine all of the monarchies becoming anyway constitutional, with kings keeping their representative role. Even now we could have a European Confederation according to Mazzini’s thought. Republics and monarchies, something very much like Europe political map before 1797. There are some important changes: Sicily obtaining independence in 1860 and Sardinia in 1870. You see that only “one” Italy, and undivided nation, is impossibile in this picture.

I close with a note. Keeping on the countefactual side of the street, 1833 could be an important year for Genoa, the year of the new Constitution giving more power and strenght to the Ligurian Rivieras. We can imagine the Republic taking the name of Mediterranean Republic. The Banco di San Giorgio would have had more energy and new modern rules of economical engagement. And I can imagine something very important and new: in this alternate time line, in 1846, one hundred years after the insurrection against Austria, Genoa holds an international scientist meeting: they would end in elaborating the first unified measure system based on the meter: this system would be finally introduced in every nation since April 5, 1849.

The independent Genoa: an example of alternate peace (without Bonaparte)
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