A federation of north Italian cities formed in 1167 to resist the attempts of the Holy Roman Emperor frederick i barbarossa (1152–90) to organize and consolidate imperial rule in northern and central Italy. It was a defensive alliance of changing membership, and became active during the century and a half following its foundation whenever emperors attempted to enforce imperial rule in Italy. Although the League theoretically never claimed independence of the Empire, its very reason for existence was to defend communal autonomy against the emperor.
At the Diet of Roncaglia (November 1158), Barbarossa made it clear that the reconstruction of imperial administration and rule in Italy constituted a major part of his program for restoring the Empire, shattered by the investiture struggle. He undertook military operations against recalcitrant north Italian cities, the foremost among them being Milan. These cities created numerous coalitions to defend their de facto autonomy. One of the important confederations, the League of Verona (1164), comprised Verona, Vicenza, Padua, and Venice. Frederick's enemy, Pope alexander iii (1159–81), sided with the allied cities. During the spring and summer of 1167, other alliances which included Cremona, until then a loyal imperial city, were concluded. Earlier historians called the League of Pontida (April 7, 1167) the origin of the Lombard League, but this was only one of many coalitions.
By Dec. 1, 1167, the Lombard League had taken shape. Its 16 members included the adherents of the leagues of Verona and Pontida. The signers protected their individual interests by special provisos, but all were bound to make war, truce, and peace only by unanimous consent. The League arrogated to itself such imperial prerogatives as the right to raise and support an army and to hear judicial cases on appeal. At League meetings each member acted through a rector, ordinarily chosen from among the chief communal magistrates. On Dec. 1, 1168, the League strengthened its organization and established regulations to prevent discord among its members.
In defiance of Frederick, the League founded a new city (1168) named Alessandria in honor of the pope. At Legnano (1176) the League army inflicted a crushing defeat on Frederick. This induced him to negotiate with Alexander III the Truce of Venice (1177), a six-year truce that included the League members. In 1183 at the "Peace of Constance" (technically an imperial privilege, not a "peace"), although Frederick reasserted some imperial prerogatives, the League and other allied communes won imperial recognition of their autonomy. The regulations of Roncaglia were set aside. The emperor ceded the communes considerable self-government, including authority to exercise regalian rights, raise armies, make alliances, and wall themselves. This concluded the League's greatest era, though it was revived (with fluctuating membership) whenever imperial rule threatened to become a reality in northern Italy. It actively opposed Emperor frederick ii (d. 1250) after 1226, and supported his papal opponents gregory ix and innocent iv. The military fortunes of the League and its Guelf allies varied. Although defeated at Cortenuova (1237), they received solace from the victory at Vittoria (1248). The League was revived (1310–13) and joined a coalition against the Emperor henry vii.
Bibliography: g. voigt, Storia della lega Lombarda … (Milan 1848). c. vignati, Storia diplomatica della lega Lombarda (Milan 1867). c. manaresi, Atti del comune di Milano fino all'anno 1216 (Milan 1919). e. jordan, L'Allemagne et l'Italie aux XII e et XII1 e siècles (Paris 1939). g. treccani degli alfieri, ed., Storia di Milano, v.4, Dalle lotte contro il Barbarosa al primo signore (Milan 1954).
[w. m. bowsky]