The early history of Monaco is primarily concerned with the protective and strategic value of the Rock of Monaco, the area’s chief geological landmark, which served first as a shelter for ancient peoples and later as a fortress. Part of Liguria’s history since the fall of the Roman Empire, from the 13th to the early 15th century the area was contested for primarily political reasons. Since that point, excepting a brief period of French occupation, it has remained steadily under the control of the House of Grimaldi.
The Rock of Monaco served as a shelter for the area’s early inhabitants from the end of the Paleolithic period, approximately 300,000 BC, evidence of which has been found in a cave in St. Judist’s Gardens. According to the accounts of historian Diodorus Siculus and geographer Strabo, the area’s first permanent settlers were the mountain-dwelling Ligures, who emigrated from their native city of Genoa, Italy. However, the ancient Ligurian language, which probably was Indo-European, is not directly connected to the Italian dialect spoken by the modern inhabitants of Liguria, nor to the modern Monegasque language.
The Phocaeans of Massalia founded the colony of Monoikos, named for its Ligurian inhabitants, in the 6th century B.C. in the area now known as Monaco. Monoikos was associated with Hercules, venerated in this location alone as Hercules Monoecus (i.e. the lone-dweller). According to the “travels of Hercules” theme, also documented by Diodorus Siculus and Strabo, both Greeks and native Ligurian people asserted that Hercules passed through the area.
The modern port is still sometimes called the “Port of Hercules”. The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia wrote, “From ancient times until the nineteenth century the port of Monaco was among the most important of the French Mediterranean coast, but now it has lost all commercial significance.”
After the Gallic Wars, Monoecus, which served as a stopping-point for Julius Caesar on his way to campaign in Greece, fell under Roman control as part of the Maritime Alps province (Gallia Transalpina). The Roman poet Virgil called it “that castled cliff, Monoecus by the sea” (Aeneid, VI.830). The commentator Servius’s use of the passage (in R. Maltby,Lexicon of Ancient Latin Etymologies, Leeds) asserts, under the entry portus, that the epithet was derived: dictus autem Monoecus vel quod pulsis omnibus illic solus habitavit (“either because Hercules drove off everyone else and lived there alone”), vel quod in eius templo numquam aliquis deorum simul colitur (“or because in his temple no other of the gods is worshipped at the same time”).
No temple to Hercules has been found at Monaco (see also Lucan 1.405.), although the rocky ground and dense conurbation make future excavations unlikely.
The port is mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History (III.v) and in Tacitus’ Histories (III.42), when Valens was forced to put into the port (Fabius Valens e sinu Pisano segnitia maris aut adversante vento portum Herculis Monoeci depellitur).
Monaco remained under Roman control until the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476. The city was then under the domain of Odoacer until his fall at the hands of the Ostrogoths in the late 5th century. Monaco was recaptured by the Romans during the reign of Justinian in the mid 6th century and was held until its capture by the Lombards in the 7th century. Monaco then passed hands between the Lombards and Franks. Though these raids left the area almost entirely depopulated, the Saracens were expelled in 975, and by the 11th century the area was again populated by Ligurians. In 1191, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI granted suzerainty over the area to the city of Genoa, the native home of the Ligurians. On June 10, 1215, a detachment of Genoese Ghibellinesled by Fulco del Cassello began the construction of a fortress atop the Rock of Monaco. This date is often cited as the beginning of Monaco’s modern history. As the Ghibellines intended their fortress to be a strategic military stronghold and center of control for the area, they set about creating a settlement around the base of the Rock to support the garrison; in an attempt to lure residents from Genoa and the surrounding cities, they offered land grants and tax exemption to new settlers.
The Grimaldis, descended from Otto Canella and taking their name from his son Grimaldo, were an ancient and prominent Guelphic Genoese family. Members of this family, in the course of the civil strife in Genoa between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, took refuge in Monaco, accompanied by various other Guelphic families, most notably the Fieschis. François Grimaldi seized the Rock of Monaco in 1297, starting the Grimaldi dynasty, under the sovereignty of the Republic of Genoa. The Grimaldis acquired Menton in 1346 and Roquebrune in 1355, enlarging their possessions. Since then the area remained under the control of the Grimaldi family to the present day, except when under French control from 1793 to May 17, 1814.
The principality was re-established in 1814, only to be designated a protectorate of the Kingdom of Sardinia by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Monaco remained in this position until 1860, when by the Treaty of Turin, Sardinia ceded to France the surrounding county of Nice (as well asSavoy). With the protectorate, that lasted nearly half a century, Italian was the official language of Monaco. During this time there was unrest in the towns of Menton and Roquebrune, which declared independence, hoping for annexation by Sardinia and participation in the Italian Risorgimento. The unrest continued until the ruling prince gave up his claim to the two towns (some 95% of the country), and they were ceded to France in return for four million francs. This transfer and Monaco’s sovereignty was recognised by the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861.
Designated as a protectorate of the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna after Napoleon’s defeat, Monaco’s sovereignty was confirmed by the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861. France accepted the existence of the Principality of Monaco, but annexed 95% of its former territory (the areas of Menton and Roquebrune). Monaco’s military defense since then has been the responsibility of France.
The Prince of Monaco was an absolute ruler until the Monegasque Revolution of 1910 forced him to proclaim a constitution in 1911.
The famous Casino of Monte Carlo opened in 1863, organized by the Societé des Bains de Mer (“Sea-bathing Society”), which also ran the “Hotel de Paris”; taxes paid by the S.B.M. have been plowed into Monaco’s infrastructure. Economic development was spurred in the late 19th century with a railway link to France. In July 1918, a treaty was signed providing for limited French protection over Monaco. The treaty, written into the Treaty of Versailles, established that Monegasque policy would be aligned with French political, military, and economic interests. One of the motivations for the treaty was the upcoming Monaco Succession Crisis of 1918.
While Prince Louis II’s sympathies were strongly pro-French, he tried to keep Monaco neutral during World War II but supported the Vichy French government of his old army colleague, Marshall Philippe Pétain. Nonetheless, his tiny principality was tormented by domestic conflict partly as a result of Louis’ indecisiveness, and also because the majority of the population was of Italian descent; many of them supported the fascist regime of Italy’s Benito Mussolini. In November 1942, the Italian Army invaded and occupied Monaco, setting up a fascist puppet government. Soon after in September 1943, following Mussolini’s fall in Italy, the German Army occupied Monaco and began the deportation of the Jewish population. Among them was René Blum, founder of the Opera, who died in a Nazi concentration camp. Under Prince Louis’ secret orders, the Monaco police, often at great risk to themselves, warned in advance those people whom the Gestapo planned to arrest. The country was liberated as German troops retreated. The current ruler, Prince Albert II, succeeded his father Prince Rainier III in 2005. Prince Rainier, in turn, had acceded to the throne following the death of his grandfather, Prince Louis II, in 1949.
The revised Constitution of Monaco, proclaimed in 1962, abolished capital punishment, provided for female suffrage, established a Supreme Court to guarantee fundamental liberties and made it difficult for a French national to transfer his or her residence there. In 1993, Monaco became an official member of the United Nations with full voting rights. In 2002, a new treaty between France and Monaco clarifies that if there are no heirs to carry on the dynasty, the Principality will remain an independent nation, rather than be annexed by France. Monaco’s military defense, however, is still the responsibility of France.
The principality’s mild climate, attractive scenery, and gambling facilities have made Monaco world famous as a tourism and recreation centre.
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