The expansion of Italians abroad is in its first period of an essentially collective character: in this sense, that it is not so much a question of the action of single and specific individuals, but of that of groups and associations or even states. The expansion of states is in fact the Venetian, Genoese and Pisan expansion in the Mediterranean in the 12th and 13th centuries, which ended with the formation of communities (neighborhoods, etc.) directly connected with the metropolises. Expansion of groups, on the other hand, is that in central-western Europe, where it is not the figure of a single merchant that matters, but rather the formation of the universitas lombardorum , p. ex. in France, and of commercial-banking companies which for a considerable period almost held the monopoly of banking and financial operations in France, England, etc.
This first collective characteristic form takes over and in part accompanies it between the end of the century. XIV and the first half of the XV a second form of cultural expansion (Petrarca, Cola di Rienzo, Enea Silvio Piccolomini), which is instead primarily the work of single individuals.
With the sec. XV the collective economic-commercial expansion declines; and instead between the century. XV itself and the XVI assumes considerable importance political emigration.
According to usaers, the two factors of the expansion of the century. XIII and XIV and political emigration were related to an intense autonomous life of the Italian states. And at the beginning of the modern age, with the first continuous diplomatic relations between the European states, a dense group of ambassadors (first of all the Venetians and Florentines) brought influence to all the courts of Europe of the Italian culture and spirit. When this autonomy decays, there is an individual exodus, no longer a collective one: the cultural, artistic, literary expansion, already begun previously, spreads. But in addition to this we have at the same time one of soldiers and politicians who do not find employment and outlet at home due to the diminished importance of individual Italian states and go abroad to offer services and place the sword and wits at the disposal of foreigners: Montecuccoli, Prince Eugenio and other men of war for the Empire; Mazzarino and Alberoni for France and Spain.
The collective cement that unites Italians abroad returns to be stronger in the age of the Risorgimento. The political exiles constitute various centers (Paris, London, Brussels), gather in various cenacles to operate for the benefit of the distant homeland, most notably Mazzini. Once unity is achieved, political emigration ceases, this gives way to the emigration of the masses of workers, pushed out of the homeland by economic necessities, apparently a mass phenomenon, in reality of detached individuals, because the spiritual cohesion is too scarce. and morals among emigrants. Great merit of Fascism has consecrated every care and energy to reform, to strengthen the conscience of Italians abroad, aiming to overcome the dangerous atomism that emigration encouraged.