History of Brescia


See Brescia guide for highlights and historic monuments

The town of Brescia is situated at the outlet of an important Alpine Valley, the Trompia Valley. Unlike Bergamo to the west it developed in the flat country at the foot of the mountain - this location reveals the importance that the city has had since ancient times for the control of the Trompia Valley and the surrounding countryside.

The oldest nucleus of the city was on the hill named Cidneo that stretched towards the plain - in ancient times the plains were covered by swamps and marshes. It was here that first the Ligurians and then the Etruscans established themselves.

Roman times in Brescia

At the beginning of the 4th century BC Brescia and its territory was occupied by the Gauls 'Cenomani' tribe and the city became their capital. Soon after, due to their relations with the Romans, Brescia was slowly Latinized, as shown by the the evidence of some Latin communities that settled in the area to the south-west of the hill.

The city is remembered in some verses by the Latin poet Catullus, who calls it 'Brixia'. Under Julius Caesar (49 B.C.) Brescia became a Municipium and its citizens were granted Roman citizenship, then under Emperor Augustus, Brescia was inserted into the 'Tenth Region' and gained the title of 'Colonia Civica Augusta'.

Middle Ages in Brescia

The early Middle Ages was a period of great difficulty for Brescia. At the time of the barbarian invasions the city was taken by Alaric, Attila and Odoacer, and finally by the Byzantines under Narses. The Byzantine occupation lasted until 568 AD, when the city was occupied by the Longobards.

The last years of the Longobards domain were hard for Brescia with struggles against Charles the Great and involving several characters that have became famous through Italian literature (Manzoni) such as King Desire, Ermengarde, and Adelchis.

Laws of Duke Rothari

Among the Longobard dukes governing the city were Duke Rothari (636 A.D.), author of a famous "Edict", which established, for the first time in the history of barbaric peoples, some laws written for his people.

The years around the year 1000 were marked by the struggles among various Italian Seignories for the domain of the city: the battles between Berenguer, Marquis of Friuli, and Guido from Spoleto; and the conquest of Arnulf from Carinthia.

In 1167 Brescia, like Bergamo, made the famous 'Oath of Pontida' against the emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Struggles against the Emperor being finished, Brescia, like the other Italian cities, was initially governed by the Vescovi-Conti (Lord-Bishops) and then transformed itself into a Municipality, but the political life of the city was constantly troubled by numerous struggles among the noble families (Martinengo, Casaloidi, Confalonieri) for the Government of the municipality itself.

From 1300 Brescia was again contended by numerous Italian Seignories; in 1332 it was conquered by Mastino della Scala, Lord from Verona; then by Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1401) and by the soldier of fortune Pandolfo Malatesta (1404), and finally, around 1440 by the Venetians, who governed Brescia in the midst of continual battles against Italian and foreign conquerors, until the fall of “Serenissima"(1797).

Later, in the Napoleonic age, Brescia was inserted in the so-called 'Cisalpina Republic', and at the fall of Napoleon, the city was occupied by Austrian troops. During the ‘Risorgimento’ (uprising leading to Italian reunification), Brescia distinguished itself against the Austrians (1848), and with its fidelity to Giuseppe Garibaldi, who in 1859, came to the town and entrusted it to Vittorio Emanuele II.

Since the unification of Italy, Brescia has shown a considerable economic vitality, both in industrial and agricultural renewal.