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History of Milan: the beginning

The founding of Milan dates back to the end of the VII century and the beginning of the VI century before Christ and this is actually the only fact that we know for sure. There are a few legends and myths about the founding of the city and about the origin of its name.

The city’s name

The Latin name of Milan is Mediolanum and its etymology is still uncertain. According to the Roman historian Titus Livius at the beginning of the VI century before Christ Ambigato, the king of a Celtic tribe, sent his two grandsons to colonize other territories. Segoveso settled in the region that we now call Friuli (a region North-East of Italy) while Belloveso crossed the Alps and stopped when he arrived in the Pianura (plain, flat land) Padana. Belloveso decided to found a new colony right there where he saw a wild boar just for half covered in hair. Since that particular animal was also engraved on his shield, Belloveso believed that it was a sign by Belisama, the Celtic goddess of light. According to this myth the word Mediolanum could have two different meanings. It could mean in the middle (medio) of the flat land (lanum) or half-woollen since the word medio could also mean half and lanum could be the Latin word for wool.

The symbol of BC’s Milan

This last interpretation refers to the mythological animal we have just described and even though it has been dismissed by most of the scholars the wild boar has been the symbol of the city for centuries. A bas relief reproducing this animal can still be seen on the walls of the Palazzo della Ragione in Piazza dei Mercanti. A third interpretation of the word Mediolanum asserts that the city was initially a sanctuary, since the Celts used to erect monuments to their gods. This last theory has been endorsed by the archeologists who found the ruins of a Roman temple dedicated to Minerva there where the Duomo cathedral is. The Romans identified Minerva with the Celtic goddess Belisama.

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