Genoa - One of the medieval maritime republics of Italy, the Republic of Genoa was Venice’s chief commercial and military rival from the early Middle Ages into the fourteenth century. In addition to the city of Genoa and the surrounding Ligurian valley, the Republic of Genoa also ruled the island of Corsica for most of its history (until it was sold to the French in the mid-18th century, shortly before the Republic’s own demise. Other territories included several Greek islands, most notably Chios and Lesbos, the ports of Kaffa and Azow in the Crimea (which both fell to the Turks shortly after Constantinople), and several merchant colonies throughout the Mediterranean Sea, including ones in Alexandria, Constantinople, and Acre. The Cross of St. George of Syria is the heraldic symbol of Genoa and is displayed on its flag. During the Crusades, Genovese (and Venetian) fleets carried Catholic armies from England, France, Germany, and Italy to the Levant; it is from this contact that the city of London adopted the Cross of St. George as its own symbol. In the 16th century, the famous Genovese admiral Andrea Doria led the multinational fleet of the Holy League (the Papacy, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Genoa, and Venice) against the Ottoman navy, which was commanded by the infamous corsair Barbarossa. The battle was a victory for the Turks, partially due to animosity between the various Catholic powers. Doria was instrumental however, in the reestablishment of the Republic, which had been under French domination for nearly twenty years. Christopher Columbus (Chrisoffa Corombo in the medieval Ligurian dialect of Italian) was born in Genoa, but sought fortune with the Kingdom of Spain. By this point the Republic’s merchant activities had severely declined, and a transition to banking was taking hold. Napoleon’s armies conquered the Republic in 1797; at the Congress of Vienna in 1814 it was ceded to the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont.
Scotland - The northern half of the United Kingdom, Scotland originally formed the dynastic union between England and itself when King James VI inherited the throne of England in 1603 (naturally the government shifted southward). The modern border between the two constituent countries was more or less established by the building of Hadrian’s Wall by the Roman Empire, to divide Britannia from Alba. The medieval Scots and the English (or more accurately Anglo-Normans) fought many wars against one another; the most famous was led by William Wallace in the First Scottish War of Independence (1296–1328), who became immortalized as a martyr for the Scottish nation. Today some in Scotland still want independence, although considering the generally cordial relations between England and Scotland over the past 300 years, the case is not nearly as strong as Ireland’s was. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and its flag bears his cross
Mexico - The largest of Spain’s colonial children, Mexico became independent in the early 19th century during the Napoleonic Wars. After being defeated in a war of aggression by the United States, there were several revolutions/civil wars, followed by a European Hapsburg monarch being proclaimed Emperor of Mexico (also toppled in a bloody revolution). Over the next century and a half, millions of Mexicans moved into the United States, both legally and illegally, although a Mexican population had been present since the territorial annexations of the Mexican-American War. Known for its delicious food and disgusting water.
Axis - Nazi Germany, Finland, and the Empire of Japan. These were the countries chose to create the perfect little allies. But Adolf Hitler accidentally added an extra ingredient to the concoction—Italy. And they would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for those meddling Soviets.
German Empire - The unification of Germany occurred during the mid-19th century after a millennium of fractured rule as principalities, bishoprics, and kingdoms within the Holy Roman Empire. Following the dissolution of that body after the Napoleonic Wars, nationalist sentiments took hold across Germany to unite the German states into one nation-state, like the French or the English. The two largest German states were the Kingdom of Prussia and Austrian Empire, but while the latter was territorially larger, it was Prussia that was predominantly populated by ethnic Germans. The prime minister of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck, was instrumental in orchestrating three nationalist wars during the 1860’s that brought all of Germany under Prussian rule, and in 1871, while Prussian armies were besieging Paris, the German Empire was proclaimed in the Versailles palace. The empire was the most powerful single state in continental Europe, with a superior army to any other individual country and heavy industrialization, albeit no large navy to speak of and possessing only a meager overseas empire. However, the creation of a united German state greatly upset the balance of power and Bismarck sought to preserve the status quo to prevent Germany from being dismantled by a coalition force, like the First French Empire had been under Napoleon. His policies were largely successful; Germany was allied with Austria-Hungary and Italy, had cordial relations with Russia, encouraged and supported French colonialism (so the French would be overextended and unable to challenge Germany on the continent), and largely neutral towards Britain. However, when Kaiser Wilhelm II ascended to the throne in the 1880’s, he pursued an aggressive imperialist and nationalist agenda, which alienated Russia and Britain, and lead to the formation of the Triple Entente against the Triple Alliance, a tense situation that would last until World War One. The empire was defeated in that war by the Allies, and a republic was formed. But unlike the peace treaties of the last century, which sought to preserve peace, the Treaty of Versailles that was imposed on Germany split the country in half, stripped it up its core West Prussian territories, and forced large reparations on it. Austria-Hungary had been dismantled by the treaty, thus placing the brunt of the treaty’s harsh terms on Germany, which was wrongly acknowledged as being to blame for the war. The war was in fact started when Austria declared war on Serbia, following the assassination of the Archduke by Serbian nationalists. The grievances caused by the Versailles Treaty would ultimately lead to the rise of Nazism and World War Two.
Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation - Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Charlemagne was the first emperor, having been crowned by the Pope in Rome. The empire was mostly German, but during parts of its history also included Lombards, Czechs, Slovenes, Dutchmen, Walloons, Flemings, and Burgundians. During the late medieval period and early modern era, all the emperors were from the House of Hapsburg, which crown lands’ included Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary. The emperors were chosen by the elector states of the empire, including Brandenburg and the Palatinate. The Protestant Reformation originated in the northern half of the empire and spread to the Nordic countries, Scotland, England, Switzerland, and southern France, among others. The tensions between Catholics and heretics led to the Thirty Years’ War after a century of religious strife. The conflict severely weakened the Empire and office of emperor, but as with the decline of any state, there were benefits for others. During the latter half of the 17th century, the Hapsburgs expanded their domains outside of the empire’s borders, and Prussia and Sweden became regional powers. The empire was formally dissolved by Napoleon in the 19th century after he occupied most of its territory. The Austrian Empire was proclaimed shortly thereafter, but it did not include the rest of Germany as the Empire had.
Two Sicilies - i.e. Naples and Sicily, the Mezzogiorno. They were often ruled as one territory by a variety of powers; the Romans, the Byzantines, the Aragonese, the Spaniards, the Bourbons, etc. Thought of as culturally distinct from the rest of Italy because of their dialect, cuisine, and such. Most Italian immigrants to the New World in the 19th and 20th centuries came from this region. Also famous for the Mafia.
Italy - Italy has far less of a tradition of being a united country than other European states, such as Spain, France, and the United Kingdom. From the fall of the Roman Empire to the 19th century, for over 1000 years, Italy was never under the rule of a single sovereign. After the Congress of Vienna, most of northern Italy was ruled directly by the Austrian Empire or by Austrian puppets, with the exception of Sardinia-Piedmont, which was ruled by the House of Savoy. Southern Italy was ruled by a Franco-Spanish Bourbon dynasty as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Central Italy was ruled by the Pope. In 1859, Sardinia-Piedmont instigated a war with Austria, and received assistance from France in exchange for the provinces of Savoy and Nice. The war was ultimately won by France, and Piedmont gained Lombardy from Austria. In 1860, several smaller north-central Italian states voted for union with Sardinia-Piedmont, and in that same year, Giuseppe Garibaldi landed with a volunteer army of 1000 Italian patriots in Sicily. His army grew on the march and most of the Two Sicilies either defected or surrendered to him. Although a republican at heart, he surrendered his conquests to Victor Emmanuel, the king of Sardinia-Piedmont, and Italy was united. Except for Rome, Venice, and Trentino, which were taken in later wars. Istria, Dalmatia, Savoy, and Nice never found their way into modern Italy, thanks to poor choices of allies by the Italian government. Italy fought on the side of Nazi Germany in WW2, while under the leadership of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Thanks to the lackluster performance of the ill-led and outdated Italian army, a great deal of resources had to be diverted from the German war effort, ultimately contributing to an Allied victory over Hitler. Following the war, the monarchy was abolished in a plebiscite, which elected to declare Italy a republic by a narrow margin. Today Italy is known for its rich culture and cuisine, and the curious antics of its prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
First French Empire - Napoleone “Napoleon Bonaparte” Buonoparte, was perhaps the greatest Emperor of the French. Born a French citizen on the Italian island of Corsica, he was a leader from the most unlikely of places, and the empire he forged was the largest not-Russia entity in Europe until the Third Reich. As a young man during the French Revolution, he joined the army as an artillery officer in defense of the republic and first showed his great prowess as a general fighting the British army that had landed in the south of France. After a significant adventure in Ottoman Egypt, he returned to Paris with great acclaim, although the revolution was falling apart and its principles were endangered. Napoleon was elected consul for life by the government, paralleling the exploits of Julius Caesar in leading by conquering. At its greatest extent, the Napoleonic Empire directly ruled France proper, the old Kingdom of Savoy (Savoia) and most of north/central western Italy, Spain in its entirety, the low countries, and the so-called Illyrian province, consisting of Venice’s old Dalmatian and Istrian littorals. In addition, the non-Austrian states of the Holy Roman Empire were conquered by France and re-organized into the Confederation of the Rhine, a French satellite state. Other satellites included the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, a “Kingdom of Italy” which did not include even half of Italy, and the Parthenopean Republic, which was the Neapolitan half of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Napoleon’s empire took a turn for the worst when his Grande Armée of 600K men invaded Russia, which was disastrous for the Corsican generalissimo. He lost around 85% of his forces to Russia and the Russians. Napoleon never fully recovered from this campaign, and after being ousted from France by the other Great Powers of Europe, he returned from his exile in Elba to lead the French army for 100 days. He was utterly defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, caught between the Prussian and English armies. The greatest contributions of Napoleon to Europe were an absolute paranoia of French power second only to Russia, the spread of the Enlighted ideals of the French Revolution and a fervent sense of nationalism amongst the intelligentsia of other countries as they realized the full and awesome power of a nation united at war.
France (Medieval) - One of the largest and most power states of the Middle Ages, France was the textbook example of a feudal state. The French king ruled over mainly the city of Paris and most of metropolitan France, while the rest of the country was ruled by dukes and other vassals, like Normandy and Orleans. Something resembling France was formed from West Francia, one of the partitions of the Frankish ruler Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire, ruled by Charles, or a Phillip, or a Louis. This trend of partitioning among heirs continued until the above situation existed. Some vassals were so autonomous they could launch their own military campaigns, such as William of Normandy, who conquered England. Since England and France were both ruled by French dynasties, succession issues were inevitable, and so the Hundred Years’ War ensued in the 1300’s. It was victory for France, and drove the English out of the continent, save a few ports in Aquitaine and the city of Calais.