During the Early Middle Ages, Italy endured sociopolitical collapse and barbarian invasions, but by the 11th century, numerous rival city-states and maritime republics, mainly in the northern and central regions of Italy, rose to great prosperity through trade, commerce and banking, laying the groundwork for modern capitalism. These mostly independent statelets served as Europe's main trading hubs with Asia and the Near East, often enjoying a greater degree of democracy than the larger feudal monarchies that were consolidating throughout Europe; however, part of central Italy was under the control of the theocraticPapal States, while Southern Italy remained largely feudal until the 19th century, partially as a result of a succession of Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Angevin, Aragonese and other foreign conquests of the region. The Renaissance began in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe, bringing a renewed interest in humanism, science, exploration and art. Italian culture flourished, producing famous scholars, artists and polymaths. During the Middle Ages, Italian explorers discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery. Nevertheless, Italy's commercial and political power significantly waned with the opening of trade routes that bypassed the Mediterranean. Furthermore, centuries of infighting between the Italian city-states, such as the Italian Wars of the 15th and 16th centuries, left the region fragmented, and it was subsequently conquered, exploited, and further divided by European powers such as France, Spain and Austria.
Hypotheses for the etymology of the name "Italia" are numerous. One is that it was borrowed via Greek from the OscanVíteliú 'land of calves' (cf.Latvitulus "calf", Umbvitlo "calf"). The bull was a symbol of the southern Italic tribes and was often depicted goring the Roman wolf as a defiant symbol of free Italy during the Social War. Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus states this account together with the legend that Italy was named after Italus, mentioned also by Aristotle and Thucydides.
The name Italia originally applied only to a part of what is now Southern Italy, according to Antiochus of Syracuse, the southern portion of the Bruttium peninsula corresponding to the modern province of Reggio, and part of the provinces of Catanzaro and Vibo Valentia. But by his time Oenotria and Italy had become synonymous, and the name also applied to most of Lucania as well. The Greeks gradually came to apply the name "Italia" to a larger region, but the Peninsula and its borders expanded over time.
It was during the reign of EmperorAugustus that the term was expanded to cover the entire peninsula until the Alps. The islands of Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily and Malta were added to Italy by Diocletian in 292 AD.