There are five orders of knighthood awarded in recognition of service to the Italian Republic. Below these sit a number of other decorations, associated and otherwise, that do not confer knighthoods. However, the former Royal House of Savoy also continues to award knighthoods in three orders of chivalry previously recognised by the Kingdom of Italy.
The degrees of knighthood, not all of which apply to all orders, are Knight (Cavaliere abbreviated Cav.), Officer (Ufficiale abbreviated Uff.), Commander (Commendatore abbreviated Comm.), Grand Officer (Gr. Uff.), Knight Grand Cross (Cav. Gr. Croce) and Knight Grand Cross with cordon. Italian citizens may not use within the territory of the Republic honours or distinctions conferred on them by non-national orders or foreign states, unless authorised by decree of the President of the Council of Ministers. The use of awards of the Holy See (including the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre) is subject to permission,[nb 1] while the use of those of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is unregulated.
The Order of Merit of the Italian Republic effectively replaced as national orders the Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation (1362), the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus (1572) and the Order of the Crown of Italy (1868), which the sovereign, as fons honorum, did not abdicate. Today these continue merely as dynastic orders of the former Royal house in exile. While their bestowal is suppressed by law in Italy, the use of those decorations conferred prior to 1951 is permitted, exclusive of any right of precedence in official ceremonies.
The Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana (OMRI), instituted in 1951, is the highest ranking honour and most senior order of the Republic. It is awarded in five degrees for "merit acquired by the nation" in the fields of literature, the arts, economy, public service, and social, philanthropic and humanitarian activities and for long and conspicuous service in civilian and military careers. Save in exceptional circumstances, no one may be awarded a rank higher than Knight in the first instance (two well-known exceptions are for musicians Luciano Pavarotti, who was first awarded a Commander in 1976, and Claudio Abbado, who was awarded a Knight Grand Cross in 1984).
The Ordine Militare d'Italia, until 1947 the Military Order of Savoy (1815),[nb 2] is awarded for distinguished wartime conduct of individual personnel (or units of the armed forces) that have "proven expertise, sense of responsibility and valour." The lowest of its five degrees may also be awarded for peacetime actions. Recipients of the Ordine Militare di Savoia were transferred and retain their existing insignia and seniority.[nb 3] The badge bears the inscription Al Merito Militare—1855; the Savoy cross and letters V.E. substituted with R.I. and 1947, the date of the promulgation of the constitution.
The order is bestowed by decree of the President of the Republic, head of the order, on the recommendation of the Minister of Defence. Today there are just 14 living recipients. The associated Medal of Military Valour, established in 1932, is subdivided into gold, silver and bronze categories.
The Ordine al Merito del Lavoro is awarded to those "who have been singularly meritorious" in agriculture, commerce and industry. It was first instituted by Royal Decree on 9 May 1901, replacing the Ordine Cavalleresco al Merito Agrario, Industriale e Commerciale which had been created by Royal Decree on 1 March 1898.[nb 4] The order is open to all Italians, at home and overseas. Each year, on 1 June 25 new Knights of Labour are invested. The badge bears the inscription Al Merito del Lavoro—1901.
The order is bestowed by decree of the President of the Republic, head of the order, on the recommendation of the Minister of Economic Development (successor to the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Craftsmanship). The associated Star of Merit for Labour, established in 1923,[nb 5] confers the title of Master of Labour.
The Ordine della Stella d'Italia was originally instituted in 1947 as the Star of Italian Solidarity, to recognise those expatriates and foreigners who made an outstanding contribution to the reconstruction of Italy after World War II.[nb 6] The badge bears the inscription Solidarietà Italiana encircling a depiction of the Good Samaritan. The order is bestowed in three degrees by decree of the President of the Republic, head of the order, on the recommendation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 2011, it was reformed and the emphasis shifted to the preservation and promotion of national prestige abroad.
The Ordine di Vittorio Veneto was instituted with a single rank of Knight in 1968, "to express the gratitude of the nation" to those decorated with the Cross of War who had fought for at least six months in World War I and earlier conflicts.[nb 7] A small annuity was granted in favour of those recipients who did not enjoy an income above their tax allowance. The order was bestowed by decree of the President of the Republic, head of the order, on the recommendation of the Minister of Defence. Lying dormant, it was formally abolished in 2010.
The Sardinian orders of the Most Holy Annunciation, of Saints Maurice and Lazarus and the Military and Civil orders of Savoy were continued on the unification of Italy in 1861. These were augmented during the Liberal period by the Order of the Crown of Italy, the Chivalrous Order of Agricultural, Industrial and Commercial Merit, the Colonial Order of the Star of Italy and later, by the Civil and Military Order of the Roman Eagle. In contrast to the Republican orders, the feminine style Dama is used for women.
The origins of the Ordine supremo della Santissima Annunziata date from 1362, when Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy, instituted the Order of the Collar, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Eventually, it became a requirement for a person to have already received the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus before being admitted. The highest ranking honour of the Kingdom of Italy and limited to 20 Knights; it continues to be awarded by the Sovereign Head of the order, the head of the House of Savoy, in recognition of "eminent services in high military positions, to those who have distinguished themselves in senior positions in the civil service and to those who, as private citizens, have brought distinction upon Italy as exemplary benefactors of the nation or of mankind or have rendered particularly noteworthy services to the former Royal house."
The Ordine militare e religioso dei Santi Maurizio e Lazzaro was formed in 1572 by a union of the original Order of Saint Maurice (1434) and the Italian foundation of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem (1142).[nb 8] Eventually, it became a requirement for a person to have already received the Order of the Crown of Italy in at least the same degree before being admitted. The order continues to be awarded by its Grand Master, for "significant contributions to science, literature, the arts, industry, trade, scholarship and research, the liberal arts, the professions, public service and other worthy fields of endeavour, which bring honour and greatness to the House of Savoy and benefits to humanity."
The formerly associated Maurician Medal for Military Merit of ten lustrums (fifty years), established in 1839,[nb 9] was one of the few medals not suppressed by the Republic, becoming the Maurician Medal of Merit for ten lustrums military career in 1954.
The Ordine della Corona d'Italia was founded in 1868 by King Vittorio Emanuele II, to commemorate unification.[nb 10] The order was awarded more liberally than the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus and could be conferred on non-Catholics as well. It continued to be awarded for civilian and military merit by the head of the former Royal house in exile (acting as King of Italy) until the demise of the last reigning monarch in 1983. It was replaced by his successor with the Order of Merit (falling within the Civil Order) of Savoy in 1988.
The Ordine Civile di Savoia was founded in 1831 by the King of Sardinia, Charles Albert, Duke of Savoy, to reward those virtues not belonging to the existing Military Order of Savoy. Admission, limited to 70 Italians, was in the personal gift of the monarch and, as such, it continues to be awarded, rarely, by the head of the House of Savoy to those who "have by their long and diligent efforts, become outstanding members of society, or who have contributed greatly to the common good," among the scientists, lettered, administrators, engineers, architects, artists, authors and publishers of discoveries and to the teachers of sciences and letters and the managers of education.
The FascistOrdine civile e militare dell'Aquila Romana founded in 1942 with civil and military divisions[nb 11] was formally abolished in 1944;[nb 12] although it continued to be awarded in the short-lived Italian Social Republic with, from February to April 1945, the Order of the Patron Saints of Italy.
^ abLaw No. 178 of 3 March 1951Istituzione dell'Ordine "Al Merito della Repubblica Italiana" e disciplina del conferimento e dell'uso delle onorificenze (Institution of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and discipline of the conferment and the use of honours), published in Gazzetta Ufficiale No. 73, 30 March 1951 (in Italian).
^Law No. 316(1) of 1 March 1967Nuove norme per la concessione della "Stella al merito del lavoro" (New rules for the concession of the Star of Merit for Labour), published in Gazzetta Ufficiale No. 133, 29 May 1967 (in Italian).
^Law No. 13 of 3 February 2011Modifiche ed integrazioni al decreto legislativo 9 marzo 1948, n. 812, recante nuove norme relative all'Ordine della Stella della solidarieta' italiana (Changes and additions to Legislative Decree No. 812 of 9 March 1948 establishing new rules for the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity), published in Gazzetta Ufficiale No. 49, 1 March 2011 (in Italian).
^Legislative Decree No. 66 of 15 March 2010Codice dell'ordinamento militare (Code of Military Ordinances) Article 2268 para. 596, published in Ordinary Supplement No. 84 of Gazzetta Ufficiale No. 106, 8 March 2010 (in Italian).
^Law No. 203(1) of 7 March 1954Medaglia Mauriziana al Merito di dieci lustri di carriera militare, published in Gazzetta Ufficiale No. 116, 21 May 1954 (in Italian), as amended by Law No. 1327 of 8 November 1956.