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Strategically placed at the gateway to the Italian peninsula, Milan and the surrounding region of Lombardy have been the subject of constant disputes over the centuries. Celts, Romans, Goths, Lombards, Spaniards and Austrians have all ruled the city at some stage of its history and for the most part, the city has capitalised on its position and has emerged today as the undisputed economic and cultural powerhouse of a united Italy, not without occasionally fighting back against foreign dominators.

Milan’s origin goes back to 400 B.C., when Gauls settled and defeated the Etruscans against Celts who were about to overrun the city.


In 222 B.C. the city was conquered by Romans and it was annexed to the Roman Empire, getting the name of Mediolanum. It became a permanent Latin colony in 89 B.C. after few attempts to rebellions. By 42 B.C. Rome had exerted its hold over Cisalpine Gaul (that means 'Gaul this side of the Alps') sufficiently to make the city officially part of its Italian territories. In his reorganisation of Italy in 15 B.C., emperor Augustus made Milan the capital of Transpadania region, including the towns of Como, Bergamo, Pavia and Lodi and extending as far west as Turin. Due to its strategic position (it was placed between the Italian peninsula and those areas beyond the Alps where Roman interests were widespread) the name changed into Roma Secunda. From 292 A.D. Mediolanum became the effective capital of the western emperor. It was a very important center for the consolidation of the new Christian religion. Some Milanese churches (like San Lorenzo, Sant'Ambrogio and Sant'Eustorgio) have early Christian origins.

After 313 A.D., the year of the Edict of Tolerance towards Christianity issued by Constantine the Great, many churches were built and the first bishop, St Ambrose, was appointed: Ambrogio was such an influential person that the church became the Ambrosian Church (7 December is a holiday to honour Sant’Ambrogio, the Milan's patron). Although Milan became less important as the Roman Empire declined. The city suffered the invasion of Lombards who first sacked (539 A.D.) and then conqueered it in 569 A.D. . The capital of the Roman–Barbaric kingdom of the Longobards (569-774 - from whom the region Lombardy takes its name) was instead Pavia. Milan's rebirth just began with Carolingian rule in the 8th century.

The bishops used the Lombard influence to built an alliance with the emperor Ottone of Saxony (who was the crowned king of Italy in the church of Sant’Ambrogio) and got even more powerful. The Church was given precedence over the landed nobilty, whose power was consequently reduced and, allied with the 'cives' (city–dwelling merchants or tradesmen), the clergy became the effective rulers of Lombardy's increasingly wealthy cities from around the start of the new millennium. At the beginning of the year 1000 the archbishop of Milan became the most powerful person in Northern Italy. In 1117 Milan became a municipality after a series of political difficulties and it acquitted itself of the archbishop. Milan also expanded by declaring war to other cities of the area. During this period the city was governed by democratic laws and built the Palazzo della Ragione as a seat fo its political self–rule.