The church was a major influence in international politics, in the internal affairs of regions, in fostering a sense of identity at the level of local communities, and in giving individuals a sense of location and purpose within a greater scheme of things. The church had always played an important international role in European society. Medieval Europe bore little relation to its modern counterpart, composed of individual well-defined nation-states. In the Middle Ages, Europe consisted of an aggregate of generally small principalities, city- states, and regions, often defined and given a shared sense of identity more by language and historical factors than by any sense of common political identity.
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At the start of the fourteenth century, for example, Italy was little more than a patchwork of independent city-states and petty principalities. These were consolidated into six major political units during the fifteenth century: the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, the Papal States and the three major city-states of Florence, Venice, and Milan. The modern nation- state of Italy was the result of the Risorgimento of the nineteenth century. In much the same way Germany, destined to play a particularly significant role in the events of the age, consisted of a myriad of tiny territories. Even as late as the opening of the nineteenth century, there were still thirty-two German states and territories, which were only finally united into the German empire in the later nineteenth century