Corsicans - History and Cultural Relations



Invaded and colonized through the centuries by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Saracens, Tuscans, Genoese, Spaniards, English, and French, the original inhabitants of Corsica are known today only by their megalithic monuments. For the early seafaring empires of the Mediterranean, the islands were important stopping places in their commercial and military sea routes; of these groups, the Romans were the most influential rulers and provided the longest period of peace the Island has known in historic times. From the Romans, the pastoral Corsicans inherited the olive tree, the vine, new cereal crops, irrigation, the Latin language, and, eventually, Christianity, as well as a number of ports and towns along the coast. But the Vandal and other invasions of the Dark Ages destroyed most of the Roman settlements and pushed the Islanders inland, away from the coasts, which remained abandoned until modern times. In 1077 the pope gave Corsica to the bishop of Pisa, ushering in a half-millennia of conflict and competition between the European powers of Pisa, Genoa, Aragon, and France for control over the island. Throughout the seventeenth century, Genoa ruled unchallenged; However, the coasts were subject to virtually constant raids by pirates from northern Africa and Turkey, attacks which did not cease until the nineteenth century. The eighteenth century was marked by local rebellions, which weakened foreign domination, and by struggles between France, England, and Genoa for sovereignty. In 1755, Corsican nationalists declared independence, driving the Genoese to take refuge in the fortified coastal cities. In 1768 Genoa ceded the island to France, which defeated the nationalists, but the movement reemerged during the French Revolution, and Corsicans again declared their independence in 1793. The eighteenth century closed with skirmishes between nationalists, sometimes supported by the British, and the Napoleonic army, whose victory finally ensured that Corsica remained within French control. Since then, Corsicans have worked and fought along with France, in her civil service, military, colonies, and wars. Initially this peace encouraged a period of development and dynamism in the island: small-scale Industrialization began and the population grew to its highest levels ever, about 280,000-300,000. By the close of the last century, however, the trend was already slowing and reversing: competition from France's north African colonies undermined Corsican agricultural exports, industries began to close, and emigration accelerated. The combined effects of emigration and losses suffered during the two world wars brought the population level to its lowest point in modern times, about 150,000 in 1954. The postwar eradication of malaria in Corsica, endemic in the coastal areas at least since the Christian era, signaled Corsica's transformation into a modern society. Corsican modernization has been characterized by the underdevelopment and withering of traditional resources, especially agriculture; the widespread emigration of Corsicans; the immigration of Pieds Noirs colonists, followed by Sardinian and then North African laborers; the founding of a new, large-scale coastal agricultural industry, largely by the Pieds Noirs, with French government financing and North African labor, the development of a mass-tourism industry; and the growing importance of economic aid from the central French government in pensions, welfare, subsidies, etc. These developments have caused disillusionment and bitterness among many Corsicans, leading to the rise of a militant and occasionally violent nationalist movement. Beyond the general pattern, the turbulent history of the island has left the stamp of heterogeneity on Corsican culture: each part of the island evolved particular cultural patterns as a result of the various local experiences of subjection and local methods of accommodating and resisting the dominatore.

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