Winged Victory of Brescia
(a Greek statue of 3rd century BC, modified in the 1st century by adding the wings).
Various myths relate to the founding of Brescia: one assigns it to Hercules while another attributes its foundation as Altilia ("the other Ilium") by a fugitive from the siege of Troy. According to another myth, the founder was the king of the Ligures, Cidnus, who had invaded the Padan Plain in the late Bronze Age. Colle Cidneo (Cidnus's Hill) was named after that version, and it is the site of the medieval castle. This myth seems to have a grain of truth, because recent archaeological excavations have unearthed remains of a settlement dating back to 1,200 BC that scholars presume to have been built and inhabited by Ligures peoples. Others scholars attribute the founding of Brescia to the Etruscans.
The Gallic Cenomani, allies of the Insubres, invaded in the 7th century BC, and used the town as their capital. The city became Roman in 225 BC, when the Cenomani submitted to the Romans. During the Carthaginian Wars, 'Brixia' (as it was called then) was allied with the Romans. During a Celtic alliance against Rome the city remained fateful to the Romans. With their Roman allies the city attacked and destroyed the Insubres by surprise. Subsequently, the city and the tribe entered the Roman world peacefully as faithful allies, maintaining a certain administrative freedom. In 89 BC, Brixia was recognized as civitas ("city") and in 41 BC, its inhabitants received Roman citizenship. Augustus founded a civil (not military) colony there in 27 BC, and he and Tiberius constructed an aqueduct to supply it. Roman Brixia had at least three temples, an aqueduct, a theatre, a forum with another temple built under Vespasianus, and some baths.
When Constantine advanced against Maxentius in 312, an engagement took place at Brixia in which the enemy was forced to retreat as far as Verona. In 402, the city was ravaged by the Visigoths of Alaric I. During the 452 invasion of the Huns under Attila, the city was besieged and sacked. Forty years later, it was one of the first conquests by the Gothic general Theoderic the Great in his war against Odoacer.
In 568 (or 569), Brescia was taken from the Byzantines by the Lombards, who made it the capital of one of their semi-independent duchies. The first duke was Alachis, who died in 573. Later dukes included the future kings of the Lombards Rothari and Rodoald, and Alachis II, a fervent anti-Catholic[anti-Catholic=Arian or anti-Christian=heathen], who was killed in battle at Cornate d'Adda in 688. The last king of the Lombards, Desiderius, had also held the title Duke of Brescia.
In 774, Charlemagne captured the city and ended the existence of the Lombard kingdom in northern Italy.
Notingus was the first (prince-)bishop (in 844) who bore the title of count (see Bishopric of Brescia). From 855 to 875, under Louis II the Younger, Brescia become de facto capital of the Holy Roman Empire.
Later the power of the bishop as imperial representative was gradually opposed by the local citizens and nobles, Brescia becoming a free commune around the early 12th century. Subsequently, it expanded into the nearby countryside, first at the expense of the local landholders, and later against the neighbouring communes, notably Bergamo and Cremona. Brescia defeated the latter two times at Pontoglio, then at the Grumore (mid-12th century) and in the battle of the Malamorte (Bad Death) (1192).
During the struggles in 12th and 13th centuries between the Lombard cities and the German emperors, Brescia was implicated in some of the leagues and in all of the uprisings against them. In the Battle of Legnano the contingent from Brescia was the second in size after that of Milan. The Peace of Constance (1183) that ended the war with Frederick Barbarossa confirmed officially the free status of the comune. In 1201 the podestà Rambertino Buvalelli made peace and established a league with Cremona, Bergamo, and Mantua. Memorable also is the siege laid to Brescia by the Emperor Frederick II in 1238 on account of the part taken by this city in the battle of Cortenova (November 27, 1237). Brescia came through this assault victorious. After the fall of the Hohenstaufen, republican institutions declined at Brescia as in the other free cities and the leadership was contested between powerful families, chief among them the Maggi and the Brusati, the latter of the (pro-imperial, anti-papal) Ghibelline party. In 1258 it fell into the hands of Ezzelino da Romano.
In 1311 Emperor Henry VII laid siege to Brescia for six months, losing three-fourths of his army. Later the Scaliger of Verona, aided by the exiled Ghibellines, sought to place Brescia under subjection. The citizens of Brescia then had recourse to John of Luxemburg, but Mastino II della Scala expelled the governor appointed by him. His mastery was soon contested by the Visconti of Milan, but not even their rule was undisputed, as Pandolfo III Malatesta in 1406 took possession of the city. However, in 1416 he bartered it to Filippo Maria Visconti duke of Milan, who in 1426 sold it to the Venetians. The Milanese nobles forced Filippo to resume hostilities against the Venetians, and thus to attempt the recovery of Brescia, but he was defeated in the battle of Maclodio (1427), near Brescia, by general Carmagnola, commander of the Venetian mercenary army. In 1439, Brescia was once more besieged by Francesco Sforza, captain of the Venetians, who defeated Niccolò Piccinino, Filippo's condottiero. Thenceforward Brescia and the province were a Venetian possession, disrupted by the French conquest in 1512.
Early Modern era
Map of Brescia in the early 18th century.
Brescia has had a major role in the history of the violin. Many archive documents very clearly testify that from 1490 to 1640 Brescia was the cradle of a magnificent school of string players and makers, all styled "maestro", of all the different kinds of stringed instruments of the Renaissance: viola da gamba (viols), violone, lyra, lyrone, violetta and viola da brazzo. So you can find from 1495 "maestro delle viole" or "maestro delle lire" and later, at least from 1558, "maestro di far violini" that is master of violin making. From 1530 the word violin appeared in Brescian documents and spread in later decades throughout north of Italy, reaching Venezia and Cremona.
Early in the 16th century Brescia was one of the wealthiest cities of Lombardy, but it never recovered from its sack by the French in 1512.
The dome of the New Cathedral.
The "Sack of Brescia" took place on February 18, 1512, during the War of the League of Cambrai. The city of Brescia had revolted against French control, garrisoning itself with Venetian troops. Gaston de Foix, recently arrived to command the French armies in Italy, ordered the city to surrender; when it refused, he attacked it with around 12,000 men. The French attack took place in a pouring rain, through a field of mud; Foix ordered his men to remove their shoes for better traction. The defenders inflicted heavy casualties on the French, but were eventually overrun, suffering 8,000 – 15,000 casualties. The Gascon infantry and landsknechts then proceeded to thoroughly sack the city, massacring thousands of civilians over the next five days. Following this, the city of Bergamo paid some 60,000 ducats to the French to avoid a similar fate.
The French occupied Brescia until 1520, when Venetian rule resumed. Thereafter, Brescia shared the fortunes of the Venetian republic until the latter fell at the hands of French general Napoleon Bonaparte.
In 1769, in the Brescia Explosion, the city was devastated when the Bastion of San Nazaro was struck by lightning. The resulting fire ignited 90,000 kg (198,416 lb) of gunpowder stored there, causing a massive explosion which destroyed one-sixth of the Brescia and killed 3,000 people.
19th century and later
In the Napoleonic era, Brescia was part of the various revolutionary republics and then of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy after Napoleon became Emperor of the French. After the end of the Napoleonic era in 1815, Brescia was annexed to the Austrian puppet state known as the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia.
Brescia revolted in 1848; then again in March 1849, when the Piedmontese army invaded Austrian-controlled Lombardy, the people in Brescia overthrew the hated local Austrian administration, and the Austrian military contingent, led by general Haynau, retreated to the Castle. When the larger military operations turned against the Piedmontese, forcing them to retreat, Brescia was left to its own resources. Still, the citizens managed to resist recapture by the Austrian army for ten days of bloody and obstinate street fighting that are now celebrated as the Ten Days of Brescia. This prompted poet Giosuè Carducci to nickname Brescia "Leonessa d'Italia" ("Italian Lioness"), since it was the only Lombard town to rally to King Charles Albert of Piedmont (and to the cause of Italian Unity) in that year.
In 1859, the city was conquered by the Italian troops and Brescia was included in the newly founded Kingdom of Italy.
The city was awarded a Gold Medal for its resistance against Fascism in World War II.
On 28 May 1974, it was the seat of the bloody Piazza della Loggia bombing.