The first human settlements documented with certainty date back to the Neolithic period (III millennium BC) and reveal ethnic and cultural ties between the first inhabitants of the Aosta Valley and those of present-day Swiss Valais.
Numerous archaeological finds testify to the continuity of the population in the Bronze and Iron Ages.
The penetration of the Celts, between the eighth and fifth centuries, and their integration with the indigenous people gave rise to the population of the Salassi, with whom the Romans clashed during the second and first centuries BC, during the expansion campaigns towards Gaul and Helvetia.
The subjugation of the Salassi, in 25 BC, led to the foundation of the colony of Augusta Prætoria (today’s Aosta / Aoste), of which there are considerable monumental testimonies, and to the construction of the roads leading to the Piccolo and Gran San Bernardo hills. The progressive Christianization of the region is witnessed starting from the 4th century; in the 5th century Aosta was a bishopric.
In the sixth century, the Aosta Valley was the scene of disputes between the Goths and Burgundians, then between the Lombards and the Franks. It entered the Frankish kingdom permanently starting in 575, and followed its events until the fall of the Carolingian Empire (888), when it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Burgundy together with the nearby transalpine regions, now belonging to France and Switzerland. At the fall of the Burgundian dynasty (1032) the Valle d’Aosta was subject to Count Umberto, progenitor of the family of the counts (later dukes) of Savoy, whose descendants progressively strengthened their power over the region in the following centuries, subduing the local lords and granting numerous franchise cards to urban and rural communities.
From these concessions an important political particularism originated, which was favored by relatively prosperous economic conditions, thanks to the traffic through the Alpine hills. The numerous castles, towers and strong houses that dot the Valley date back to this period, built by the aristocratic families, among which the Counts of Challant excelled.
The first half of the 16th century was marked by a profound crisis of the authority of the Dukes of Savoy, which favored the development of local political bodies and accentuated the political particularity of the region.
The restoration of the Savoy monarchy under Duke Emanuele Filiberto (1559-1580) began a process of centralization of power in the person of the sovereign, which was accentuated under his successors, who became king of Sardinia in 1720 and culminated in 1770, with the ” repeal of local government bodies.
Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries the socio-economic conditions of the Aosta Valley worsened, mainly due to the decline of trade, epidemics (in 1630 the plague killed two thirds of the population) and wars (from the French occupation of 1630 to the Napoleonic campaigns).
Among the characteristic aspects of the period considered are to be noted: the development of mining and iron and steel activities (which, however, were not sufficient to remedy the shortcomings of the local economy) and the foundation (especially in the second half of the eighteenth century) of a large number of schools of village, which contributed in a decisive way to the literacy of the humble classes, often forced to emigrate seasonal to integrate the meager incomes of the traditional agro-pastoral activity.
Occupied in 1796 by revolutionary troops and incorporated into the French Republic in 1798, the Aosta Valley was part of the French Empire from 1804 to 1814.
With the Congress of Vienna and the restoration of the Savoy monarchy it returned to the reconstituted Kingdom of Sardinia, which was transformed in 1861 into the Kingdom of Italy, with the annexation of most of the Italian peninsula and the loss of Nice and Savoy, annexed to France.
During the wars of the Risorgimento and the First World War, the blood tribute paid by the Aosta Valley was heavy. The formation of the Italian state led to the emergence of political and cultural problems for the Aosta Valley, linked to its political and linguistic particularity, which worsened during the fascist regime. The fascist authorities encouraged massive immigration from all Italian regions, while the indigenous population underwent a process of forced Italianization or was forced to emigrate for economic or political reasons.
In 1945, the liberation from Nazi-Fascism resulted in the Italian state obtaining a particular regime of both political and administrative autonomy – sanctioned by a constitutional law in 1948 – which allowed for considerable economic and social development.