Ezzelino III da Romano

16th century woodcut of Ezzelino III da Romano.

Ezzelino III da Romano (April 25, 1194 October 7, 1259) was an Italian feudal lord in the March of Treviso (in the modern Veneto) who was a close ally of the emperor Frederick II and ruled Verona, Vicenza and Padua for almost two decades. He became infamous as a cruel tyrant.


Early life

Ezzelino was son of Ezzelino II da Romano, ruler of Bassano and other fiefs in the Veneto, and Adelaide degli Alberti di Mangona, who came from a family of counts in Tuscany. At the age of four years, he was sent as a hostage to Verona. Nothing else is known about his childhood or education. In 1213, he took part in the siege of the castle of Este, which belonged to his father's archenemy, marquis Azzo VI of Este, who died in 1212, and later to his son Aldobrandino. According to the chronicler Rolandino of Padua, the young Ezzelino already showed a keen interest in siegecraft and acquired a hatred of the Este which would last his entire life.

Rise to power 1226-1239

Coat of Arms of Ezzelino III da Romano.

When Ezzelino II retired to a monastery in 1223, his possessions went to his sons Alberico, who got the castles and villages in the contado of Vicenza (including the important centre of Bassano) and Ezzelino, who got the possessions in the contado of Treviso. In 1226 Ezzelino intervened in a faction struggle in Verona and aided the Veronese factions of the Monticuli and Quattuorviginti against their enemies, the so-called pars comitis ("party of the" count), which was headed by the Veronese count Richard of San Bonifacio. From this time onwards Ezzelino became an important factor in Veronese politics. In 1226/1227 he was podestà of the city.

At this time control over Verona was highly important because Emperor Frederick II was in conflict with the Second Lombard League, an alliance of cities in Northern Italy. Whoever controlled Verona, could block the Brenner pass and thereby prevent the arrival of reinforcements for Frederick from Germany. Ezzelino initially favoured the Lombard League which could block the Brenner in 1226 and emerge victorious from its first confrontation with the Emperor. Later, however, Ezzelino and his brother Alberico changed sides when it became apparent that the League favoured their enemies in the March, the Este and San Bonifacio. In 1232 they struck an alliance with Frederick and received an imperial privilege of protection. However four years passed before Frederick could personally intervene in the March of Treviso. The years 1232-1236 were therefore very hard for Ezzelino and Alberico, who were assaulted by many enemies, primarily the San Bonifacio, the Este and the city of Padua.

In 1236 Frederick finally arrived in the March. Since Ezzelino and his Veronese allies, the Monticuli and Quattuorviginti had gained control of Verona in early 1236, the emperor could bring reinforcements - among them 3000 German knights - from across the Alps into the March. In a campaign that began in November 1236 Frederich and Ezzelino, who was becoming an increasingly important ally of the emperor, subjugated all the important cities of the March of Treviso (Vicenza was conquered in November 1236, Padua and Treviso surrendered in February/March 1237).

In 1236 Ezzolino married Selvaggia, Frederick's natural daughter, who was thirteen years old at the time. Ezzelino conquered Verona and, by treason, Padua, seizing the position of podestà of that city. He was one of the protagonists in the Ghibelline-Imperial victory of Cortenuova (1238), and was named Imperial viceroy for the March of Treviso. His long-lasting struggle against Azzo VII, the new duke of Este after 1215, ended with the total defeat of the latter, and the annexion of many territories for Ezzelino.

Last years

After a pacification attempt by Frederick, when the emperor set off again, Ezzelino attacked the Este, submitting Treviso (even if his brother's fief), Belluno and Feltre. Ezzelino was now lord of all lands between Trento and the Oglio river. He had acquired a reputation for cruelty and merciless use of torture against enemies and alleged plotters in the cities he ruled.

In 1249, five years after Selvaggia's death, he married Beatrice di Buontraverso.

In 1254, four years after Frederick II's death, he was excommunicated by Pope Innocent IV, who also launched a crusade against him. He reconciled with his brother and allied with other seignors of the Veneto and Lombardy, attacking Padua, which resisted, and Brescia, which was instead sacked after an easy victory of his German knights over the crusade army.

In 1258 he launched a broad Ghibelline offensive in Lombardy and Veneto along with Oberto Pallavicino of Cremona. In 1259 he assaulted the castle of Priola, near Vicenza, and had all the defenders mutilated. After a failed attempt to assault Milan itself, he was wounded by an arrow in the course of the Battle of Cassano d'Adda. He had to retreat but was captured near Bergamo. He killed himself during his prisony in Soncino.


Much of what we know about Ezzelino comes from a literary tradition that was embroidered over the course of centuries. Despite the brevity of his reign, Ezzelino’s reputed cruelty became symbolic of tyranny. Poets and chroniclers living in recent memory of his tactics used his name to evoke the sense of arbitrary power and the moral transgressions it enabled. Fourteenth century authors raised the level of accusation, insisting that Ezzelino’s parentage was demonic.

Rolandino of Padua's Chronicle of the Trevisan March (c. 1262) charts the rise and the fall of the da Romano family, introducing Ezzelino as a young man throwing stones at the home of the family rival. The extremely partisan political work follows the fortunes of Padua under the tyrant's iron grip up to the commune's liberation by the Guelph League.

Albertino Mussato's Ecerinis (c. 1315) portrays Ezzelino as the son of the Devil. The Latin verse play introduces Ezzelino's mother, who provides testimony of the tyrant's infernal sire.

In Dante Aligheri's Divine Comedy, his soul is consigned to Hell, where Dante encounters him in the Seventh Circle, First Ring: the Violent against their Neighbors (Inferno, XII, 109). His younger sister Cunizza is also cited by Dante, in Paradise, IX, 31-33.

Before Ezzelino, the seizing of political power in city-states throughout the Middle Ages had been based on real or pretended inheritance claims, or else were directed against infidels and the excommunicated. But with him, as the historian Jacob Burkhardt relates, "Here for the first time the attempt was openly made to found a throne by wholesale murder and endless barbarities, by the adoption in short, of any means with a view to nothing but the end pursued."[1] The example set by the success of this kind of ruthlessness was not lost on the future tyrants of late Middle Age and early Renaissance Italy.

See also


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