Napoleon in Italy: A Legacy of Institutional Reform?

39 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2018 Last revised: 8 Jan 2021

See all articles by Giovanni Federico

Giovanni Federico

European University Institute

Mark Dincecco

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Date Written: January 8, 2021


The economic consequences of French conquest and rule in Italy remain unclear. Recent GDP estimates suggest that the early 1800s were characterized by a short-lived rebound, interrupting a long-run decline from the 1720s to the 1870s. We evaluate the extent to which French rule can help explain this rebound. Similarly, we study to what extent the economic policy of the post-1815 "Restoration" era can explain the return to a downward economic trajectory. Finally, we analyze the legacy of institutional reforms initiated during the Napoleonic era for modern economic growth in the late nineteenth century. Overall, our analysis draws a distinction between the short run and the long run. The evidence suggests that the short-run economic and social costs of French rule in Italy outweighed any economic gains. By improving the underlying institutional environment, however, Napoleon's economic legacy may have been beneficial to long-run development, but only after several decades and the establishment of further institutional reforms, pioneered by Piedmont from 1848 onward, and adopted throughout Italy after the political unification of the peninsula in 1861.

Keywords: Napoleon, Italy, Economic Development, International Trade, Market Integration, Fiscal Capacity, Political Institutions, Parliamentary Government

JEL Classification: N23, O11, O43, P48

Suggested Citation

Federico, Giovanni and Dincecco, Mark, Napoleon in Italy: A Legacy of Institutional Reform? (January 8, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Giovanni Federico

European University Institute ( email )

Badia Fiesolana
Via dei Roccettini 9
I-50016 San Domenico Fiesole, Tuscany 50014

Mark Dincecco (Contact Author)

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )


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