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MEDIOLA´NUM (Μεδιόλανον, Pol.; Μεδιολάνιον, Strab., Ptol.: Eth. Mediolanensis: Milano, Milan), the chief city of the Insubres in Cisalpine Gaul, and for a long period the capital of Cisalpine Gaul itself. It was situated about midway between the rivers Ticinus and Addua, in a broad and fertile plain, about 28 miles from the foot of the Alps at Comum, and the same distance from the Padus near Ticinum (Pavia). All ancient writers concur in ascribing its foundation to the Gauls, at the time when that people first established themselves in the plains of Northern Italy. Livy, who has given the most detailed account of the settlement of the Cisalpine Gauls, tells us it was founded by the Insubres, who called it after a village of the same name in their native settlements in Transalpine Gaul (Liv. 5.34; Strab. v. p.213; Plin. Nat. 3.17. s. 21; Just. 20.5.) There can be little doubt that Strabo is correct in saying that, previous to the Roman conquest, it was rather a village than a town, as were indeed all the other Gaulish settlements. It was nevertheless the chief place of the Insubres, and is mentioned as such several times in the history of the wars of that people with the Romans. Thus, in the campaign of B.C. 222, after the battle of Clastidium, it was attacked and taken by the Roman consuls Claudius Marcellus and Cn. Scipio. (Pol. 2.34; Eutrop. 3.6; Oros. 4.13.) On this occasion it was taken by assault with apparently but little difficulty, and this confirms the statement of Strabo that it was an open town. Again, in B.C. 194, a battle was fought near it, between the Roman proconsul L. Valerius Flaccus and the combined forces of the Insubrians and Boians, under a chief named Dorylacus, in which the Gauls are said to have lost 10,000 men. (Liv. 34.46.)

No other mention of Mediolanum occurs previous to the Roman conquest, nor have we any precise account of the time at which it passed under the Roman yoke, or that at which it was admitted to the Roman “civitas.” We can only infer that it must have submitted, together with the rest of the Insubres, about 190 B.C.: its citizens doubtless received the Latin franchise, together with the other Transpadane Gauls, in B.C. 89, and the full Roman franchise in B.C. 49. [GALLIA CISALPINA Vol. I. p. 945.] Mediolanum thus passed into the condition of a Roman municipium, but it did not as yet enjoy that degree of importance which it subsequently attained. Strabo calls it in his time a considerable city (Πόλις ἀξιόλογος, v. p. 213), and Tacitus reckons it among the “firmissima Transpadanae regionis municipia;” but neither he nor Pliny give any indication of its possessing any marked superiority over the other municipal towns with which they associate its name. (Plin. iii, 17. s. 21; Ptol. 3.1.33; Tac. Hist. 1.70.) It is evident, however, that under the Roman Empire it increased rapidly in prosperity, and became not only the chief town of the Insubres, but the most important city in Northern Italy. We learn from the younger Pliny that it was a place where literature flourished, and young men from the neighbouring towns were sent for their education. (Plin Ep. 4.13.) It was the native place of the emperor Didius Julianus, as well as of Septimius Geta. (D. C. 73.11; Spartian. Did. Jul. 1, Get. 3.) At a later period, A.D. 268, it was there that the usurper Aureolus took refuge after his defeat by Gallienus on the Addua, and was for some time besieged by the emperor, till a sedition in his own camp ended in the death of Gallienus, and his brother Valerianus. (Eutrop. 9.11; Treb. Poll. Gall. 14 ; Vict. Caes. 33, Epit. 33.) Shortly after Aureolus was compelled to surrender the city to Claudius, who had been elected to succeed Gallienus, and was put to death by order of the new emperor. (Treb. Poll. Claud. 5.)

But it was the establishment of the imperial residence at Mediolanum that raised that city to the highest pitch of prosperity. Its central position, which rendered it a peculiarly suitable head-quarters from which to watch the movements of the barbarians, and the progress of the wars with them, whether in Gaul, Germany, or Pannonia, was undoubtedly the cause of its selection for this purpose. Augustus himself is said to have sometimes repaired to Mediolanum with the same view (Suet. Aug. 20); and the constantly increasing dangers from these quarters led subsequent emperors from time to time to follow his example; but Maximian appears to have been the first of the Roman emperors who permanently fixed his residence there (about A.D. 303) [p. 2.304]and thus at once raised it to the dignity of the capital of Northern Italy. From this period the emperors of the West made it their habitual abode (Eutrop. 9.27; Zosim. 2.10, 17, &c.), until the increasing fear of the barbarians induced Honorius, in A.D. 404, to take refuge in the inaccessible marshes of Ravenna. Maximian is said to have adorned the city with many splendid public buildings (Vict. Caes. 39); and it was doubtless at this period that it rose to the splendour and magnificence which, about the middle of the fourth century, excited the admiration of the poet Ausonius, who assigns it the sixth place among the cities of the empire. The houses are described by him as numerous and elegantly built, corresponding to the cultivated manners and cheerful character of the inhabitants. It was surrounded with a double range of walls, enclosing an ample space for the buildings of the city. Among these were conspicuous a circus, a theatre, many temples, the palace or residence of the emperor, a mint; and baths, which bore the name of Herculean, in honour of their founder Maximianus, and were so important as to give name to a whole quarter of the city. The numerous porticoes which were attached to these and other public buildings were adorned with marble statues ; and the whole aspect of the city, if we may believe the poet, did not suffer by comparison with Rome. (Auson. Clar. Urb. 5.)

The transference of the imperial court and residence to Ravenna must have given a considerable shock to the prosperity of Mediolanum, though it continued to be still regarded as the capital of Liguria (as Gallia Transpadana was now called), and was the residence of the Consularis or Vicarius Italiae, to whose jurisdiction the whole of Northern Italy was subject. (Libell. Provinc. p. 62; Böcking, ad Not. Dign. ii. p. 442.) But a much more severe blow was inflicted on the city in A.D. 452, when it was taken and plundered by Attila, who after the fall of Aquileia carried his arms, almost without opposition, through the whole region N. of the Po. (Jornand. Get. 42; Hist. Miscell. xv. p. 549.) Notwithstanding this disaster, Mediolanum seems to have retained much of its former importance. It was still regarded as the metropolis of Northern Italy, and after the fall of the Western Empire, in A.D. 476, became the royal residence of the Gothic kings Odoacer and Theodoric. Procopius indeed speaks of it in the sixth century as surpassing all the other cities of the West in size and population, and inferior to Rome alone. (Procop. B. G. 2.8.) It was recovered with little difficulty by Belisarius, but immediately besieged by the Goths under Uraia, the brother of Vitiges, who, after a long siege, made himself again master of the city (A.D. 539), which he is said to have utterly destroyed, putting all the male inhabitants, to the number of 300,000, to the sword, and reducing the women to slavery. (Id. ib. 21.) It is evident, however, that the expressions of Procopius on this occasion must be greatly exaggerated, for, at the time of the invasion of the Lombards under Alboin (A.D. 568), Mediolanum already reappears in little less than its former importance. It was still the acknowledged capital of Liguria (P. Diac. Hist. Lang. 2.15, 25); and, as the metropolitan see, appears to have retained this dignity under the Lombard kings, though those monarchs transferred their royal residence to Ticinum or Pavia. In the middle ages it rapidly rose again to prosperity; and, though a second time destroyed by the emperor Frederic Barbarossa in 1162, quickly recovered, and has continued down to the present day to be one of the most important and flourishing cities of Italy.

The position of Milan, almost in the centre of the great plain of Northern Italy, just about midway between the Alps and the Padus, appears to have marked it in all ages as the natural capital of that extensive and fertile region. Its ready communications with the Ticinus on the one side, and the Addua on the other, in great measure supply the want which would otherwise have arisen from its not being situated on a navigable river; and the fertile plain between these two rivers is watered by the minor but still considerable streams of the Lambro and Olona. The latter, which is not noticed by any ancient writer, flows under the walls of Milan. The modern city contains few vestiges of its ancient splendour. Of all the public buildings which excited the admiration of Ausonius (see above), the only remains are the columns of a portico, 16 in number, and of the Corinthian order, now attached to the church of S. Lorenzo, and supposed, with some probability, to have been originally connected with the Thermae or baths erected by the emperor Maximian. A single antique column, now standing in front of the ancient basilica of Sant‘ Ambrogio, has been removed from some other site, and does not indicate the existence of an ancient building on the spot, Numerous inscriptions have, however, been discovered, and are still preserved in the museum at Milan. These fully confirm the municipal importance of Mediolanum under the early Roman Empire; while from one of them we learn the fact that the city, notwithstanding its flourishing condition, received a colony under Hadrian, and assumed, in honour of that emperor, the titles of Colonia Aelia Augusta. (Orell. Inscr. 1702, 1909, 3942, 4000, 4060, &c.; Zumpt, de Colon. p. 409.)

Mediolanum was the central point from which all the highroads of Italy N. of the Padus may be considered as radiating. The first and principal of these was that which led by Laus Pompeia to Placentia, where it joined the Via Aemilia, and thus became the direct line of route from Milan to Ravenna and Rome. Another main line was that by Novaria and Vercellae to Eporedia and Augusta Praetoria, which must have been the principal line of communication between Milan and Transalpine Gaul. A third road led in a southerly direction to Ticinum (Pavia), from which there were two lines; the one proceeding by Laumellum to Augusta Taurinorum, and thence over the Cottian Alps into the southern provinces of Gaul; the other crossing the Padus to Dertona, and thence across the Apennines to Genoa. A fourth line was that to Comum, from whence there was a much frequented pass by the Lacus Larius, and across the Rhaetian Alps into the valley of the Inn, thus opening a direct and speedy communication with the Danube. Lastly, a great line of highway led from Milan to Aquileia, passing through Bergomum, Brixia, Verona, Vicentia, Patavium, Altinum, and Concordia. The details of all these routes are given in the Antonine Itinerary and the Tabula Peutingeriana.


hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 20
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 1.70
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 46
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 34
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
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