The beginning of the 20th century is often considered to be the golden age of Italian mathematics. Together with Germany and France, Italy was one of the three "mathematical powers" of the world. Things have changed in the period between the two world wars. The authors describe events that influenced Italian mathematics such as the rise of fascism to power in the 1920's, the anti-Semitic laws, and international isolation of Italy in the late 1930's. The main characters of Italian inter-war mathematics were V. Volterra, F. Enriques, T. Levi-Civita, F. Severi, L. Tonelli and M. Picone. We learn about their relationships, ambitions, political opinions and of course their professional interests. Mathematical research was concentrated around three disciplines, which had a long tradition in Italy: algebraic geometry, analysis and mathematical physics. While still producing important results, the Italians found it too difficult to maintain the high level that they had reached at the beginning of the century. This fact was perhaps related to a certain lack of interest in new theories such as functional analysis, modern algebra and topology, which flourished in other countries.