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 it was during the reign of Emperor Augustus (end of the 1st century BC) that the term was expanded to cover the entire peninsula until the Alps.The Italic tribe known as the Latins formed the Roman Kingdom, which eventually became a republic that conquered and assimilated other nearby civilisations.Ultimately the Roman Empire emerged as the dominant power in the Mediterranean basin, conquering much of the ancient world and becoming the leading cultural, political and religious centre of Western civilisation.Italian culture flourished at this time, producing famous scholars, artists and polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli.Italian explorers such as Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci and Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery.
The long and triumphant reign of its first emperor, Augustus, began a golden age of peace and prosperity.
The country plays a prominent role in regional and global economic, military, cultural and diplomatic affairs, and it is both a regional power Italy is a founding and leading member of the European Union and the member of numerous international institutions, including the UN, NATO, the OECD, the OSCE, the WTO, the G7, G20, the Union for the Mediterranean, the Council of Europe, Uniting for Consensus and many more.
As a reflection of its cultural wealth, Italy is home to 53 World Heritage Sites, the most in the world, and is the fifth most visited country.
These mostly independent statelets, acting as Europe's main spice trade hubs with Asia and the Near East, often enjoyed a greater degree of democracy and wealth in comparison to the larger feudal monarchies that were consolidating throughout Europe at the time, though much of central Italy remained under the control of the theocratic Papal States, while Southern Italy remained largely feudal until the 19th century, partially as a result of a succession of Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Angevin, and Spanish 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.