views updated May 21 2018


MILAN. Milan and the rich agricultural district around it have constituted an important economic pole of Europe since the late Roman Empire. The rich agricultural plain in which Milan sits is irrigated by summer rains, and glacial runoff from the Alps feeds rivers that are complemented by a network of navigable canals. Wealthy Milan instigated resistance against the Holy Roman emperors in the Middle Ages. Early in the fourteenth century, Milan's institutions were seized by the noble house of Visconti. Giangaleazzo Visconti (c. 13511402) added most of northern Italy to his dominions by 1400. With his death, the duchy shrank to include modern-day Lombardy, the Italian-speaking valleys in the Alps to the north, and the districts of Parma and Piacenza. The duchy passed to a Visconti sonin-law, Francesco Sforza, in 1447. Like those of his forebears, the duke's citadels kept subject cities in check, but his grip weakened nevertheless. A French royal marriage contracted to give legitimacy to the Visconti dynasty had the unintended consequence of providing King Louis XII (ruled 14981515) with a claim to the territory. Annexing the region to his kingdom in 1515, King Francis I (ruled 15151547) erected French-style institutions, such as the senate of sixty members invested with legislative and judicial powers, that operated with little royal interference. The imperial conquest of Milan in 1523 marked the onset of a new phase. Emperor Charles V (ruled 15191556) awarded Milan to his son Philip (and thereby to Spain) in 1540 but retained the ultimate authority over it as the Holy Roman emperor. Great projects of fortification around each of the cities and the permanent provision of Spanish garrisons removed the threat of new French invasions.

Politically, the territory was composed of nine city-statesMilan, Pavia, Lodi, Cremona, Como, Novara, Tortona, Alessandria, and Vigevanoeach with its own autonomy and tax base. Considerable power was vested in both a landed aristocracy and a judicial and professional nobility living and practicing in the large cities. They were joined by new families residing in Milan, purchasing fiefs from the Spanish crown. Important political decisions were taken by the king in Spain, through his Council of Italy, and were dispatched to his representative, the governor of Milan. This Spanish governor ruled with a cluster of important officials in a secret council, dealing with justice, taxation, and provisioning; the commander of the citadel, the commanders of cavalry and artillery, and a handful of royal appointees were also members. Milanese and Lombards comprised almost half of this personnel. From Milan, the Spanish governor could forestall any menacing activity by France or by Italian princes in northern Italy. The governors of Milan were often asked to arbitrate border disputes between states, to better reinforce Spanish influence. The governor enjoyed great leeway to prepare for war or cultivate alliances in the peninsula. Milan was the terminus of several strategic routes protecting the Spanish empire; one avenue led from Spain via water to Finale Liguria and Genoa; another coastal route connected Naples and Sicily with northern Italy. Finally, Milan was the staging area for troops destined for the Spanish Netherlands, who marched north through Savoy or Swiss Alpine valleys to Alsace and the Rhine Valley.

Wealth and population bolstered the strategic interest of the duchy. Milan's population reached 120,000 inhabitants in 1600, with about a million people in the duchy overall. Milan produced silks, fine woolens, weapons and armor, and myriad other products besides. Cremona was a producer of cotton fabrics, while Como, Pavia, and Lodi had textile industries of their own, exporting their products beyond Italy. The rural plain of Lombardy was one of the most advanced agricultural districts anywhere in Europe. Milan was also an important center of religious direction. No single individual had as great an impact on the Catholic Reformation as Carlo Borromeo (15381584), the nephew of Pope Pius IV and cardinal and archbishop of Milan. King Philip II (ruled 15561598) nominated loyal notables to religious benefices, but he did not have access to the church money in Milan that he had in Spain. Madrid initially tried to stop the flow of ecclesiastical revenues toward Rome but was challenged by Borromeo. The Milanese rejected the importation of the Spanish Inquisition in 1563, but they embraced the papal version of the same tribunal. Several governors clashed with the church's representatives, but the Milanese clergy would not give way, and the Spanish government instructed its officials to respect papal exemptions. The multiplication of religious schools made the city one of the most literate in Europe, and it vied with Venice, Florence, and Rome for cultural primacy.


As everywhere in Italy, the onset of the Thirty Years' War in 1618 abruptly ended the economic and political stability of Milan, which was strategic in shifting Spanish resources of men and money to the Austrian Habsburgs. Milan was threatened, however, by the Mantuan fortresses of Casale Monferrato and Mantua. When a French branch of the Gonzaga dynasty, which had ruled Mantua and its environs for centuries until 1627, inherited the duchy of Mantua, Spain mobilized to eject them from it in 16281630, with mixed success. War inflicted lasting damage on the manufacturing economy. Lucrative markets in Germany and France became inaccessible. Many urban workshops moved their low-skilled operations to the countryside. The more resistant silk industry found it difficult to compete with new international competitors, such as Lyon in France. Much of the raw silk produced by Lombard peasants and transformed into thread in local mills was sent to France to be worked there. The Lombard economy was already in trouble when the bubonic plague of 1630 struck the region. It killed half the population of the city and roughly a quarter of the population of northern Italy. The sudden decline in population took the buoyancy out of the rural economy. The Lombard agricultural economy recovered earlier than most others, thanks to rich resources for livestock and the fertility of the soil. Nevertheless, prices and living standards declined throughout the seventeenth century and beyond. Over several generations, the number of noble families in Milan and other towns was sharply reduced.

New French invasions after 1635 had remarkably little impact on Spanish domination, partly because Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin treated Italy as a sideshow. Lombard city and peasant militias performed valuable services, as in the siege of Pavia in 1655. Spain enjoyed the ongoing support of Milanese elites and held on until the peace of 1659 with only a few thousand troops sent from home. Under Louis XIV (ruled 16431715), Italy receded from French policy objectives. Piedmont shielded Milan from a French attack in the War of Devolution (16671668) and the Dutch War (16721678). In the War of the League of Augsburg (16881697), which united Europe against the French king, Piedmont constituted the battlefield in Italy, while Spanish Milan contributed troops to the common effort.


Between 1649 and 1659, imperial (Austrian Habsburg) troops sent to help Spain resist France began to take control of imperial fiefs in Lombardy. In 1690 an imperial army sent to fight France imposed Austrian claims on northern Italy. During the War of the Spanish Succession (17011713), the Austrian cause triumphed at the battle of Turin in 1706, and Austria replaced Spain as the ruling power in Lombardy. In 1707, in 1734, and again in 1748 substantial slices of the rich plain and the Alps were shifted to Piedmontese control as the duchy shrank to a wedge of central Lombardy. Initially, Vienna ruled the duchy through the same institutions as before, a viceregal governor and a special council for Italian territories. However, renewed Spanish efforts to recover the duchy almost succeeded twice, in the Wars of the Polish Succession (17331738) and of the Austrian Succession (17401748). To Empress Maria Theresa (17171780) it underscored the need to make Lombardy contribute more to the central government.

The Austrian solution was to create new administrative bodies that paid no attention to the concerns of local aristocrats. Vienna compiled an innovative land register on which to assess taxes, giving state officials instead of private businessmen the task of raising the money. Landowners' assemblies in the countryside reduced the jurisdiction of city nobles. By the 1780s Emperor Joseph II (ruled 17651790) abolished many of the former magistracies and guilds, replacing them with departments of Austrian ministries. Religious institutions managed by Lombard aristocrats were also closed down as the state asserted its control over charity and education. These measures were in large part prompted or applauded by Italian intellectuals gathered around Pietro Verri (17281797) and Cesare Beccaria (17381794) with their journal Il Caffè. With Venice, the city was the most active center of the Italian Enlightenment.

Milan never recovered the manufacturing rank in Europe that it had held before the Thirty Years' War and the outbreak of bubonic plague. Austrian manufacturing subsidies helped plant some new textile industries on the English model in the city, but the vast rural industry springing up in the hinterland, across the modern provinces of Milan, Varese, and Como was more important to the future. The region's agriculture kept pace with the rising populationa massive conversion to maize and rice cultivation provided new staplesbut autonomous peasants and sharecroppers were reduced to the status of landless day laborers. In 1796 Milan and its state still figured as a rich prize to French armies under Napoleon and was the logical place to create the capital of a new kingdom of Italy.

See also Borromeo, Carlo ; Habsburg Dynasty ; Italy .


Boer, Witse de. The Conquest of the Soul: Confession, Discipline and Public Order in Counter-Reformation Milan. Leiden and Boston, 2000.

Capra, Carlo. "The Eighteenth Century. 1: The Finances of the Austrian Monarchy and the Italian states." In Economic Systems and State Finance, edited by Richard Bonney, pp. 417442. Oxford and New York, 1995.

Grab, Alexander. "Enlightened Despotism and State-Building: A Case of Austrian Lombardy." Austrian History Yearbook 1920 (19831984): 4372.

Headley, John M., and John B. Tomaro, eds. San Carlo Borromeo: Catholic Reform and Ecclesiastical Politics in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century. Washington, D.C., 1988.

Klang, Daniel M. Tax Reform in Eighteenth-Century Lombardy. New York, 1977.

Moioli, A. "De-Industrialization in Lombardy during the Seventeenth Century." In The Rise and Decline of Urban Industries in Italy and the Low Countries: Late Middle AgesEarly Modern Times, edited by Herman van der Wee, pp. 75120. Louvain, 1988.

Riley, R. "The Stato di Milano in the Reign of Philip II." Ph.D. diss., Oxford University, 1977.

Stella, Domenico. Crisis and Continuity: The Economy of Spanish Lombardy in the 17th Century. Cambridge, Mass., 1979.

Storrs, Christopher. "The Army of Lombardy and the Resilience of Spanish Power in Italy in the Reign of Carlos II (16651700)." War in History 4 (1997): 371397 and 5 (1998): 122.

Gregory Hanlon


views updated May 09 2018


napoleon's influence
nationalism and revolution
italy's "moral capital"
urban growth
changing city

When Napoleon I (r. 1804–1814/15) entered Milan in May 1796, he came into a walled city of some 140,000 inhabitants. The Lombard countryside began just outside the city walls and there was little industry of note inside. Milan was a trade and religious center—above all for the crucial silk industry—as well as a place of strategic and cultural importance. By the time Italy entered World War I in 1915, the city's population had risen to more than 500,000 and was to be boosted further by the conflict. Milan's walls had been demolished and the urban periphery was beginning to dominate the city center. Smokestacks dominated the first industrial belt and the city possessed a powerful socialist movement, a Socialist Party mayor, a burgeoning working class, and a trade fair of worldwide importance. This rapid development had taken place against the background of occupation by two foreign powers, the Risorgimento, and the slow growth of local and national democracy. By 1915, Milan could lay full claim to being the "moral capital" of Italy, a city where production, work, and exchange were such as to make it the economic and financial powerhouse of the new Italy.

napoleon's influence

Napoleon's rule over Milan was brief but revolutionary. The presence of the French encouraged patriot groups to organize and spread propaganda. The semi-autonomous powers Napoleon granted Milan under the Cispadane and Cisalpine Republics encouraged self-rule and helped to create a domestic political class. Moreover, Napoleon intervened to reshape the urban fabric of the city. The French built an amphitheater—the Arena—that would later host the first game of the Italian football team in 1910, as well as modern palaces (above all the vast Foro Bonaparte complex). The world-famous Brera Art Gallery was enriched by Napoleon by raiding churches and galleries in Italy and even the Louvre, and his statue still stands in its courtyard.

After the French were briefly thrown out of Italy in 1799, Napoleon returned in 1800 and made himself king of the Kingdom of Italy in 1805 in a pompous ceremony held in the city's cathedral (whose facade he had completed). The capital of this kingdom was Milan, and Napoleon set himself up in the Royal Palace. Construction of a triumphal arch facing Paris, through which Napoleon could enter the city, was begun; unfortunately for Napoleon, the arch was not completed until 1838 under the Austrians, although Napoleon III (1808–1873) and the new king of Italy were able to pass through it on their own entrance into Milan in 1859. French rule modernized Milan in other ways. Administrative and legal systems were instituted that are still, in part, in place, especially the prefects that link national and local government.

nationalism and revolution

Napoleon's reign ended in 1814, and the Austrians then ruled over Milan for the next fifty-five years. The 1820s saw the genesis of the nationalist movement in Milan, particularly around the brilliant historian and political activist Carlo Cattaneo (1810–1869) who advocated a federalist version of an Italian nation-state while identifying the roots of the city's industrial revolution in the rural resources of Lombardy that linked organically with the services, markets, and technical expertise of the city. After a series of abortive and sometimes farcical attempts at patriotic rebellion, the Milanese rose up against the Austrians in March 1848. The spark for the revolt was a monopoly over tobacco and snuff, which was merely symptomatic of the way the Austrians taxed the Milanese to the hilt. As revolution spread across Italy and Europe, the Milanese defeated the 13,000-strong Austrian army on the streets and liberated the city during the Five Days; an event still celebrated every March in Milan and marked by a huge monument and ossuary in the city center. Some four hundred Milanese were killed in the fierce fighting, and Cattaneo himself was right at the center of events. The Austrian field marshal Joseph Radetsky (1766–1858) regrouped and re-took Milan after a series of battles some five months later. The movement's failure to link up with the countryside, and the lack of a powerful and radical social base, had proved to be its undoing. Nonetheless, the Milanese would not have long to wait. In 1853 an abortive rising inspired by Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872) was brutally repressed, but in the years 1859 to 1861, the city's hinterland was at the center of a series of battles that eventually led to its incorporation in a unified Italy under the Savoy monarchy.

italy's "moral capital"

Italian Milan began to lay the foundations for its future role as an industrial powerhouse. Water power in the countryside was utilized for agricultural production and later as a crucial energy source: "white coal." Impressive engineering works to tap into this potential were constructed across Lombardy, particularly in the Adda and Ticino valleys. In the 1870s, the first important industries began to form in Milan. Pirelli set up its first factory in 1872, and by the 1890s had become an enormous concern producing rubber and other goods on the northern edge of the city. The creation of a commuter railway service—the northern railways—with Swiss investment helped with the mobility of freely available cheap rural labor from the countryside. Meanwhile, a building boom in the city attracted investment and thousands of construction workers. Milan also consolidated its position as a market and commercial center. Five international exhibitions held in the city between 1871 and 1906 helped to create a dynamic entrepreneurial class linked to European markets. Technical and scientific advances were stimulated by the milieu around the city's highly modern Politecnico—a kind of technical university first set up in 1863—and the private Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi, opened in 1901.

In the 1880s, what literary critic Vittorio Spinazzola has called "the only serious ideological myth, not empty and rhetorical, elaborated by the Italian bourgeoisie after unification, the myth of Milan, the myth of the 'moral capital,' began to take shape" (p. 317). The 1881 Expo was a key component of this myth. This huge explosion into the public sphere covered an area of 162,000 square meters, and more than eight thousand businesses were represented in rooms of "new machines" and "galleries of work." But what was the content of the idea of a "moral capital"? On the one hand, Milan was the true capital because Rome was not—the myth was a negative assessment of the contribution of Rome and the south to Italy's industrial progress. Milan was modern, industrious, hardworking, honest, productive; Rome was corrupt, unproductive, lazy, and premodern. Rome was the political capital, Milan the real driving force of the nation, its moral heart. On the other hand, the myth was also a celebration of these values in themselves—a series of character traits and concrete realities pertaining to the Milanese worker, entrepreneur, and industrialist—modernity, hard work, thrift, legality, the self-made person. In Milan, D. Papa wrote that "here by day there is always much to do: people go, come back, rush, make themselves busy, they study and they work" (cited in Rosa, p. 42). In addition, Milan was a moral capital because of its cultural strength: it was home to the greatest opera house in the world—La Scala—and the intellectual establishments and classes, including the newspaper Corriere della Sera, the publishing houses and universities, the writers and poets, and scientists and engineers.

Milan was seen as a city of urban planning, of order, of productive intellectuals, the only real Italian city and the only European city in Italy—a city not of no government, but of good government. That not everything was reduced to money and work and the moral "correctives" introduced by the most powerful urban socialist reformist movement in

Italy—with its vast network of welfare and educational institutions such as the Società Umanitaria—meant that capitalism, it was argued, had a human face in Milan. The moral capital ideal was thus an organic mix of dynamism, modernity, gesellschaft-values, paternalism, collective enterprise and humanity. For all these reasons, and despite the dark side of Milan revealed in journalistic inquests, "Milan," as historian Giovanni Rosa has written, "was convinced, just twenty years on from Unification, that it really was the 'moral capital of Italy"' (p. 21).

Milan also played a key role as a financial center, with the institution of modern investment banks such as the Credito Italiano, whose sumptuous offices dominated the new financial district near Piazza Cordusio. Milan's stock exchange—the most important in Italy—was opened nearby in 1808 and moved to large premises in 1809 before a special palace was built to accommodate it, also in Piazza Cordusio, in 1901. Milan's commercial mix was complemented by its extraordinary network of small, specialized shops and by the highly popular consumer cooperative movement.

urban growth

The city was also freed up and expanded in the nineteenth century. Huge walls (extending eleven kilometers) had been constructed around Milan in the mid-sixteenth century and remained the boundaries of the Comune di Milano until 1873 when the Corpi Santi, so-called because the bodies of the first Christian martyrs were buried in the ring outside the city walls, was incorporated into the city. Immigrants flooded into the city from the hinterland and across Lombardy, as well as from as far away as Apulia, to work in the new factories that mushroomed across the city. More than 250,000 immigrants came to Milan between 1871 and 1914. Industrial development after the 1890s was rooted in the key areas of metalwork and mechanical industries (Falck, Breda), rubber (Pirelli), munitions (Ansaldo), cars (Alfa Romeo), and chemicals (Carlo Erba). As a result, Milan was a workers' city at the outbreak of World War I. The 1911 census showed that out of an "active" population of 153,000, some 103,000 were workers.

This rapid expansion was not without its problems. Poverty and frustration led to violent bread riots in May 1898 that were put down with cold brutality by the cannons of General Fiorenzo Bava-Beccaris. A state of siege was declared, and indiscriminate arrests hit the reformists—who had opposed the riots—and even some local priests. Alongside the capillary organizations of the reformist movement—inspired by the trade unions and Socialist leaders Filippo Turati (1857–1932) and Anna Kuliscioff (1854–1925)—a revolutionary syndicalist movement began to emerge. September 1904 saw the first general strike in Italy originate in Milan, called by the Chamber of Labor that had briefly fallen under control of syndicalists. Milan had been the first Italian city to set up a Chamber of Labor in 1891. General strikes also swept across Milan in 1906 and 1913. "Red Week" of June 1914 found strong support in the city, and the revolutionary interventionists of the "Radiant May" in 1915 took to the streets to demand—successfully—Italian entry into the war.

The reformists were also very active. Socialists and trade unionists set up local libraries, employment offices, credit associations, "popular" universities, schools, mutual-aid societies, cooperatives, theaters, and newspapers, and constructed working-class housing and formed unions. This organic and hegemonic activity built on the Milanese traditions of craft organizations, skilled work, and artisan socialism. Milan was the innovative urban center of reformist strength from the 1890s onward, the "jewel in the crown" of the gradualist movement. The roots of these ideas of gradualism and integration both formed and built upon such trends in the Milanese working class and middle classes.


Culturally, Milan also played a central role. Apart from La Scala, where many operas by Giuseppi Verdi (1813–1901) and Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924) were premiered and which remained the most celebrated opera house in the world, there were the publishing industries and newspapers. The city created the most important newspaper in Italian history, Il Corriere della Sera. Founded in 1876 by textile magnates the Crespi family, the Corriere became a model for all other newspapers and a school of journalism for all the most important writers who worked for the press. The journalistic milieu in the city center, near the paper's head offices, was matched by the cultural and literary milieu elsewhere, ranging from Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873) and Stendhal (1783–1842) in the early to mid-nineteenth century, to the futurist painters, poets, and architects who worked in Milan in the early part of the twentieth century. Milan also set up one of Italy's first silent film industries on the edge of the city in the same period.

changing city

The city's infrastructure matched its economic wealth, with modern electric power, extensive tram commuting systems, train networks, and the canals, which were still a key part of urban transport. Urban growth ate up the countryside, absorbing into the city's fabric the rural buildings that had marked the plains. Villages became part of Milan in a matter of years, and rural work coexisted alongside Fordist factory production. By the time of the outbreak of war in 1915, the city was a heaving mass of workers and worker-peasants, many of whom had maintained their links with the countryside. Political ferment in the city was to transform Italy (and Europe) in the wake of the conflict, as Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) set up his pro-war and revolutionary nationalist paper in the city in 1915: Il Popolo d'Italia. The world's first fascist movement was to be formed in the city in March 1919 under his leadership, and Mussolini himself would take control of the whole country in 1922.

See alsoNaples; Rome; Trieste; Venice.


Antonioli, M., et al., eds. Milano operaia dall'800 a oggi. Rome-Bari, 1993.

Bell, Donald Howard. Sesto San Giovanni: Workers, Culture and Politics in an Italian Town, 1880–1922. New Brunswick, N.J., 1986.

Borghi, F. Milano negli ultimi cinquant'anni di storia italiana, 1871–1921. Milan, 1923.

Cattaneo, C. L'insurrezione di Milano e la successiva guerra, edited by L. Ambrosoli. Milan, 2001.

Consonni, G., and G. Tonon. "Alle origini della metropoli contemporanea." In Lombardia: il territorio, l'ambiente, il paesaggio. Vol. 4: L'età delle manifatture e della rivoluzione industriale, edited by C. Pirovano, 89–164. Milan, 1984.

Davis, John A. Conflict and Control: Law and Order in Nineteenth Century Italy. London, 1988.

Davis, John A., ed. Italy in the Nineteenth Century. Oxford, U.K., 2000.

Decleva, E. "L'Esposizione del 1881 e le origini del mito di Milano." In Dalla stato di Milano alla Lombardia contemporanea, edited by S. Pizzetti, 181–211. Cisalpino-La Goliardica, 1980.

Della Peruta, F. Milano: Lavoro e fabbrica, 1815–1914. Milan, 1987.

Foot, John. Milan Since the Miracle: City, Culture, Identity. Oxford, U.K., 2001.

Ginsborg, Paul. "Peasants and Revolutionaries in Venice and the Veneto, 1848." Historical Journal 17, no. 3 (1974): 503–550.

Granata, I., and A. Scalpelli, eds. Alle radici della democrazia: Camera del Lavoro e Partito Socialista nella Milano di fine Ottocento. Rome, 1998.

Laven, David, and Lucy Riall, eds. Napoleon's Legacy: Problems of Government in Restoration Europe. Oxford, U.K., 2000.

Lyttelton, A. "Milan, 1880–1922: The City of Industrial Capitalism." In People and Communities in the Western World. Vol. 2, edited by Gene Brucker, 256–257. Homewood, Ill., 1979.

Meriggi, M. Amministrazioni e classi sociali nel Lombardoveneto 1814–1848. Bologna, 1983.

Morris, Jonathan. The Political Economy of Shopkeeping in Milan, 1886–1922. Cambridge, U.K., 1993.

Rosa, G. Il mito della capitale morale: Letteratura e pubblicistica Milano fra Otto e Novecento. Milan, 1982.

Spinazzola, V. "La 'Capitale Morale': Cultura milanese e mitologia urbana. Belfagor 3 (1981): 317–327.

Tilly, Louise A. Politics and Class in Milan, 1881–1901. New York, 1992.

John Foot


views updated Jun 27 2018


MILAN , city in Lombardy, N. Italy. The presence of Jews in Milan in the Late Roman period is attested by three Jewish inscriptions, two of which refer to the "father of the community." In 388, *Ambrose, bishop of Milan, expressed regret for failing to lead his congregation in burning down the synagogue which instead had been destroyed "by act of God." It was soon rebuilt, but about 507 was sacked by the Christian mob, whose action was condemned by the Ostrogothic ruler Theodoric. The community presumably continued in existence, though there is little evidence in succeeding centuries except for vague references to Jewish merchants and farmers in the tenth century. With the spread of Jewish communities through northern Italy in the 13th century that of Milan was also revived, but in 1320 the podestà issued a decree expelling the Jews. In 1387 Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti granted privileges to the Jews in the whole of *Lombardy; these were confirmed by Francesco Sforza and his successors. An important court Jew was Elia di Sabato da Fermo, who in 1435 became the personal physician of the duke Filippo Maria Visconti. When in 1452 Pope Nicholas v approved the Jewish right of residence in the duchy, he specifically authorized the construction of a synagogue in Milan. Pope Pius ii demanded a levy of one-fifth on the possessions of the Jews to subsidize a Crusade (1459), but was opposed by Duke Francesco Sforza. In 1489, under Ludovico il Moro, the Jews were expelled from the entire Duchy. They were soon readmitted, except to Milan itself where a Jew could only stay for three days. Similar conditions continued under the last Sforza dukes and after 1535, when the Duchy of Milan came under Spanish rule. In 1541 Emperor Charles v confirmed that Jews were allowed to live in various towns of the territory, but not in Milan. Thus, when the Jews were finally expelled in 1597, there were none in Milan itself.

Jews began to return to Milan at the beginning of the 19th century, when Milan was the capital of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. An area for a Jewish cemetery was bought already before 1808. In 1820 around seven families lived in Milan; in 1840, there were already 200 Jews there. Jews came to Milan from the neighboring Kingdom of Sardinia to study at the university, as the learning centers were open to Jews. In 1848 some Jews were active in the rebellion against Austrian rule. In 1859 Milan became a part of the new Italian kingdom and the Jews received full rights. In 1870 there were more than 700 Jews in the city.

The first synagogue was built in 1840 in Via Stampa. In 1892 the synagogue of Via Guastalla was erected, designed by the architect Luca Beltrami.

Because of the great commercial and industrial development around Milan which now followed, the city became a center of attraction for new immigrants. In 1920, 4,500 Jews resided in Milano. In the same year the Jewish school was founded.

[Attilio Milano /

Samuel Rocca (2nd ed.)]

Holocaust Period

Already after World War i, Jews from Central and Eastern Europe established themselves in Milan. However, only after Hitler assumed power did many refugees arrive from Central Europe; this flow continued illegally during the first years of war. In 1938 no fewer than 12,000 Jews were living in Milan. Between 1939 and 1941 around 5,000 Jews escaped to Palestine or the United States. During the autumn of 1943, the Germans carried out an anti-Jewish raid in the course of which the community synagogue was completely destroyed, after it was damaged during a bombardment. Many Jews were captured and killed by the Germans in the towns and villages where they had taken refuge. In all, 896 Jews were deported between 1943 and 1945. The biggest massacre took place at Meina on the shores of the Lake Maggiore, where 16 Jews were murdered at the end of September 1943.

Contemporary Period

At the end of the war, 4,484 Jews were living in Milan and were joined temporarily by many refugees from camps in Lombardy. The soldiers of the Jewish Brigade with the help of such members of the community as Raffaele *Cantoni, operated a refugee center at Via Unione 5. Most of the refugees continued on illegally to Palestine under the British Mandate. A number of Jewish immigrants came to Italy after 1949 from Egypt and, to a lesser degree, from other Arab countries; 4% came from Israel. The Jewish population of Milan in 1965 numbered 8,488 persons out of a total of 1,670,000 inhabitants, with the Sephardi and Oriental element predominating. In the 1950s and 1960s assimilation was widespread, especially among the Italian element, with the proportion of mixed marriages fluctuating around 50%. Still Milan emerged in this period as one of the leading and most prosperous communities in Europe. The most dominant and important figure of this period was the philanthropist Sally *Mayer, who was the president of the community from 1946 to his death in 1953. His son, Astorre Mayer, who for years presided over the Italian Zionist Federation and was honorary consul general of Israel, succeeded his father as president of the community. After the *Six-Day War (1967), some 3,000 Jews, who fled persecution in Egypt, and above all in Libya, sought refuge in Italy. In 1967 there were 8,700 Jews in Milan. Jews from Iran and Lebanon arrived in Milan in the 1970s.

[Sergio DellaPergola /

Samuel Rocca (2nd ed.)]

On January 27, 1993, the Contemporary Jewish Documentation Center (cdec) inaugurated in Milan the largest Jewish videotheque in Europe with 700 titles including *Holocaust documentaries found through research in East European archives. The cdec archives and research facilities will be totally renovated thanks to donations by Eliot Malki, an Egyptian Jewish businessman who came to Milan in the 1970s. It included a modern conference center. The synagogue on Via Guastalla was restored and celebrated its 100th anniversary. Jewish silver ceremonial objects stolen during World War ii were returned to the synagogue by the Milan Fine Arts and History Department.

[Lisa Palmieri-Billig]

At the outset of the 21st century the community numbered around 6,500 Jews. The main school, sponsored by the community, is named after Sally Mayer. Besides the synagogue in Via Guastalla, which follows the Italian rite, there are seven other synagogues and houses of prayer of the Italian, Persian, Lebanese, and Ashkenazi communities, as well as a rest home for elderly people. The journal of the Jewish Community is Il Bollettino della Comunita' di Milano.


Milano, Bibliotheca, index; Kaufmann, in: rej, 20 (1890), 34–72; Ferorelli, in: Vessillo Israelitico, 63 (1925), 227–38, 337–39; A. Sarano, Sette anni di vita e di opere della communita' israel-itica di Milano (1945–52) (1952). add. bibliography: O. Meron, "The Decline of Jewish Banking in Milan and the Establishment of the S. Ambrogio Bank (1593) – Were the Two Interrelated?" in: Nuova Rivista Storica, 74 (1990), 369–85; idem, "Demographic and Spacial Aspects of Jewish Life in the Duchy of Milan during the Spanish Period," in: wcjs, 10 (1993), 37–47; D. Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europei (1993); J.N. Pavoncello, "Le origini della comunità di Milano," in: Israel (Feb. 22, 1968), 3; L. Picciotto-Fargion, Gli ebrei in provincia di Milano 1943/45Persecuzione e deportazione (1992); S., Simonsohn, History of the Jews in the Duchy of Milani–iv (1982–86); A. Tedeschi Falco, Lombardia, Itinerari ebraici (1993), 55–71. See also bibliography to *Lombardy.


views updated May 17 2018


Type of Government

The city-state of Milan came to dominate much of northern Italy during the medieval era as both a flourishing center of trade and a stronghold of the local nobility. Early in this period Milan tried a form of communal republicanism, but after 1277 it became one of Italy’s signori-ruled cities, in which the reins of government were held by a local aristocratic family.


Milan is the gateway to the Italian peninsula and the first important city south of the Alps, which kept it relatively isolated from northern Europe during the early centuries of human history. The Celts who lived in the area, which the Romans called Mediolanum, became part of the Roman Empire province Gallia Cisalpina by 194 BC. In early Christian times, Milan emerged as an important ecclesiastical center, and its first bishop, Saint Ambrose (339–397), eventually became the city’s historic patron. The area was later subdued by the Lombards, followed by a period of Carolingian rule, which passed to the Germans and then the Holy Roman Empire. However, a corrupt clergy came to dominate the city, and their control incited deep resentment among Milan’s growing class of merchants and tradesmen. In 1176 the Lombard League forces of Milan and other northern Italian city-states defeated an army of the Holy Roman Empire, and seven years later the cities won their right to self-rule in the Treaty of Constance.

Government Structure

The terms of the 1183 Treaty of Constance included a provision that granted Milan and other Italian city-states within the Holy Roman Empire the right to be governed by their own laws and under magistrates of their own choosing. They also secured the right to go to war, conclude peace treaties, and form military alliances. The former office of consul—a local authority placed in charge by the Holy Roman emperor—evolved instead into the credenza, a twelve-member executive council, which controlled the city’s patronage appointments and finances. The members of the credenza were drawn from the local nobles, but chosen by a general assembly of merchants, artisans, and tradesmen for one-year terms. Not surprisingly, some credenza officials tried to remain in office longer, but their disregard for the rules led to a popular uprising in 1221 in which the nobles were driven out of the city; a subsequent agreement specified that all government offices were to be divided equally between members of the nobility and the popolo (people).

At this point in Milanese history, both nobles and commoners began forming internal alliances and societies to further their cause, and then forming cross-alliances. The merchants formed Motta, a type of guild, and eventually allied with the nobles to establish the Podestà Sorresina. Meanwhile, the tradesmen formed the Credenza de St. Ambroglio. These two entities appointed their own magistrates and abided by their own laws. Finally, another general assembly was called and a Credenza candidate, Martino della Torre (d. 1263), was chosen to rule as the podestà (unofficial mayor). The della Torre family’s tyrannical reign ended in 1277, when Ottone Visconti (1207?–1295), the archbishop of Milan, was named lord of the city, and the Viscontis remained in firm control for the next 173 years. In the 1450s the Sforza noble family seized power in Milan and held it for another century.

Political Parties and Factions

The Visconti and Sforza families governed Milan for nearly three centuries. The former group came from Pisa, and went on to add large amounts of territory to Milan’s holdings, but the Viscontis were known as a rather vicious, unstable bunch. Kidnappings, imprisonment, and even fatal poisonings among Visconti brothers, uncles, and nephews marked their years in power. One of their more respectable members, however, was Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351–1402), who expanded Milan’s holdings to include nearly all of northern Italy. Under him, Milan became a duchy, thanks to his purchase of a ducal title from the Holy Roman emperor Wenceslas (1361–1419) in 1395. The Sforzas were a more estimable clan and emerged as one of the leading families of the Italian Renaissance. They were great patrons of the arts and initiated many building projects in Milan. They also prided themselves on their administrative skills. Under the Sforza dukes, the system of local and ducal offices were reformed and became a model of efficiency. The Sforza era was also notable for the formation of one of the first permanent armies in Europe.

Major Events

In 1330 Azzo Visconti (1290–1354) was made the perpetual lord of Milan. He was succeeded by an uncle, who annexed the Republic of Genoa in 1353 and gave Milan access to that seaport city’s maritime trade. In 1454 the Peace of Lodi was signed between Milan and Venice, which ended their long battle for regional dominance, but war erupted again in 1508 in northern Italy with the onset of the War of the League of Cambrai, which lasted eight years and involved the Holy Roman Empire, the Papal States, Venice, France, and several other powers. It ended with French control of Milan.


The duchy of Milan existed as an independent territory of the Holy Roman Empire until 1797, when Napoléon I (1769–1821) invaded; it later became part of Austria and was folded into the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, which lasted until the unification of the Italian peninsula in 1866. The city never again regained the regional dominance of its medieval period, but it did return to influence as one of Europe’s leading financial services centers in the modern era.

Abulafia, David, ed. Italy in the Central Middle Ages: 1000–1300. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Brougham, Henry Peter. Political Philosophy. Whitefish, Mont: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

Lubkin, Gregory. A Renaissance Court: Milan under Galeazzo Maria Sforza. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.


views updated May 18 2018


An important Italian city since Roman times, Milan emerged in the early Renaissance as one of the five major powers in Italy. During this time the political and economic influence of the Milanese city-state could be felt throughout Europe. But the power and prestige of Milan faded in the 1500s, when it became part of the Habsburg empire.

Society and Economy. Located in the fertile Po Valley, Milan occupied a strategic position between Italy and northern Europe. Agriculture played an important role in the city's economy, but commerce brought it prosperity. Milan gained fame for the arms and armor it produced, as well as for luxury goods such as silk, satin, and velvet.

Throughout the 1300s, members of the Visconti family shared control of the region. Giangaleazzo Visconti came to power in 1378 and soon turned Milan into a city of great wealth and power. As lord and duke, he enlarged the Milanese state considerably. However, he died of the plague* in 1402, and the years after his death were marked by conflict.

Francesco Sforza returned Milan to its greatness when he became duke in 1450. He was a skilled statesman who formed profitable alliances with the Medici family of Florence, the king of Naples, and the kings of France. These unions enabled Sforza to rebuild the administrative and military power of the state.

Culture and the Arts. Although other cities enjoyed greater renown in the arts, Milan was identified with some of the leading literary and artistic figures of the Renaissance. The poet and scholar Petrarch spent time at Milan's court when the Visconti family began assembling a great library in the 1300s. Milan was also a major musical center during this time. The dukes supported a famous choir, which attracted important composers and singers from across Europe.

Milan became an attractive place for artists as well. The cathedral of Milan, begun in 1386, was Milan's largest and most important center of artistic activity. Because city officials wanted the cathedral to be the finest in Europe, they hired many famous sculptors and architects to work on its statues and stained-glass windows.

The Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci spent most of the 1480s and 1490s in Milan. He painted The Last Supper, one of the world's great frescoes*, on the walls of a Milanese convent. He also entered a competition to design the dome for the cathedral of Milan but withdrew before the judges reached a decision.

In the late 1500s, Milan emerged as a center of the Catholic Reformation in Italy. The bishop of Milan, St. Charles Borromeo, emphasized preaching, religious instruction, and education for the people of Milan.

(See alsoArt in Italy; Catholic Reformation and Counter-Reformation; Italy. )

* plague

highly contagious and often fatal disease that wiped out much of Europe's population in the mid-1300s and reappeared periodically over the next three centuries; also known as the Black Death

* fresco

mural painted on a plaster wall


views updated Jun 27 2018

Milan (Milano) City in nw Italy; capital of Lombardy region. It was conquered by Rome in 222 bc. It was a free commune by the 12th century, and was a powerful Italian state under the Sforza family from 1447 to 1535, when the Spanish seized control. Ruled by Napoleon from 1796 to 1814, he claimed the city as capital of his Italian kingdom. It then fell to the Austrian Habsburgs before becoming part of Italy in 1860. Milan is Italy's leading commercial, financial, and industrial centre. Sights include Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper (1495–98) in the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie, a white-marble cathedral (1386–1813), and La Scala opera house. Industries: motor vehicles, machinery, electrical goods, textiles, clothing, publishing. Pop. (2001) 1,301,551.


views updated May 21 2018

Milan. See La Scala.