History Files


European Kingdoms

Italian Peninsula





Lugano is located between Lake Como and Lake Maggiore, on the Swiss side of the modern border with Italy, to the south of the Alps. Situated on the northern shore of Lake Lugano, this small city lies around sixty kilometres north of Milan. The area has been occupied since the Stone Age, and was Etruscan territory between the fifth and second centuries BC, closely bordered by the Lepontii tribe of Celts in Ticino. The Romans moved in during the first century BC, and the region fell to the Lombards in the sixth century AD. Throughout much of its medieval existence, Lugano alternated between being the property of Como or the duchy of Milan. During the fifteenth century it enjoyed some measure of autonomy under its own counts, before being swallowed up by Milan once again and ultimately being absorbed by Switzerland.

The name Lugano seems to originate from its location beside the lake of the same name, although this is far from certain. Proto-Celtic 'luko' means lake, but the name might also originate with proto-Celtic 'Lugu' (the god Lugos, Lugh, and other spellings), or proto-Celtic 'louko' ('white'). Using 'Lugh' would be the second strongest possibility after 'lake'. However, given the clever humour of the Celts, the name might be a pun: both on the god and on the word lake. The name uses a 'g' instead of a 'k', but both letters are pretty interchangeable. The cognate in Latin is 'lacus', 'a lake'. This seems to have been used by the Romans in the same way the Gauls used the word 'nemos' for a designated holy grove. Therefore, the meaning of 'wood' can be proposed as an extension of its original meaning. That original meaning could possibly have been 'light' (in Latin this is 'lux lucis'), with the same root as used in the name of Lug the god.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson.)

AD 724 - 1297

In documents that are disputed in terms of their authenticity, Lombard King Liutprand cedes various properties in Lugano to the Church of Saint Carpophorus in Como. The area is referred to as Laco Luanasco until at least the mid-ninth century, while in 874 the town itself is called Luano. The modern name of Lugano comes into use in 1189. The town remains under the rule of the Rusca family in Como, which lies approximately midway between Lugano and Milan, at the very foot of Lake Como (in modern Italy, just inside the border with Switzerland).

1297 - 1302

Lugano is taken from the bishopric of Como and becomes the property of the lord of Milan, Matteo Visconti. The struggle for power in Italy between the Papist Guelfs, which in Rome are led by the Orsini family, and their opponents, the Imperialist Ghibellines which are led by the Colonna family, is intense in this period. It also influences the struggle for power between Como and Milan.

Lake Lugano
Lugano, nestling on the northern shore of the lake, was a natural spot for a settlement

1302 - 1411

Como once again gains control of Lugano, although the former is under the control of the Visconti from 1335, replacing the once-dominant Rusca family.

1411 - 1416

Lugano is again under the administration of the duchy of Milan.

1416 - 1434

Como regains Lugano for the second and final time. In 1417 the town secures important freedoms with a series of statutes that are modelled on those of Como. This make Lugano effectively independent.

1434 - 1501

The duke of Milan secures Lugano permanently, but now with the counts of Lugano providing regional control. The dispossessed Rusca family is compensated with the ownership of Locarno.

Counts of Lugano (Sanseverino)
AD 1434 - 1467

While operating within the duchy of Milan, the county had its own local rulers during the fifteenth century. Details of the counts themselves are extremely sketchy, and there seems to be little general information available at all about the country during this period.

1434 - 1447

Luigi I


The bridge over the River Tresa, approximately nine kilometres to the south-west of Lugano, has been mentioned in records since the ninth century. The area on either side of the bridge contains the villages of Lavena and Ponte Tresa (both of which had originally been settled by the Ligurians and Celts and which bear Celtic names). More recently, this area has been fought over by Como and Milan, part of their incessant rivalry for domination in northern Italy. Now the Visconti duke of Milan gives the villages to Luigi.

1447 - 1461



Milan's brief flirtation with republicanism exists despite a legitimate claim by the heir, the French duke of Orleans. He is unable to effect his claim and finds his title being usurped by the adventurer, Francesco Sforza, who marries the illegitimate daughter of Filippo Visconti, the last duke of Milan. Francesco seizes Milan and pronounces himself the new duke on 25 March 1450.

1462 - 1464

Barnabo / Barnabas


Francesco / Francis I

Probably Duke Francesco I Sforza of Milan.

1464 - 1467

Antonio / Anthony

1464 - 1467

Luigi II

1464 - 1467

Francesco / Francis II

Same as Francesco I?

1464 - 1467

Ugo / Hugo Sanseverino

Counts of Lugano (Non-Dynastic)
AD 1467 - 1513

While operating within the duchy of Milan, the county continued to enjoy a series of local rulers during the mid and late fifteenth century, although details of their lives are brief to the point of obscurity.

1467 - 1475

John Albairate

1475 - 1479

Ugo / Hugo Sanseverino

Restored. Previously count in 1464-1467.


Ottaviano Maria Sforza / Octavian Sforza

Son of duke of Milan. Opposed to Ugo. Drowned.


The son of Duke Francesco of Milan and his wife, Bianca Maria, Ottaviano opposes Ugo's restoration. Supposedly this is for two years, but the nineteen year-old Ottaviano Maria Sforza drowns near Rivolta d'Adda in 1477 while attempting to escape arrest. He has no issue, so his claim to the county passes to one of his brothers.

Ottaviano Maria Sforza by Botticelli
The ill-fated Ottaviano Maria Sforza was painted in oils by Botticelli

1479 - 1482

Roberto / Robert Sanseverino

1482 - 1484

Ascanio Maria Sforza / Ascanius Sforza

Brother of Ottaviano. Bishop of Pavia, Cremona & Novara Pesaro.

1484 - 1501

Ludovico Maria Sforza / Louis / Ludwig

Brother. Duke of Milan (1494-1501). Died 1508.

1499 - 1501

The French invade Lugano, ending a period of rebellions and uprisings that have been taking place against the ruling overlords, the dukes of Milan. It also introduces a new dynamic in the perpetual struggles between Como and Milan, with the Swiss Confederation now also becoming involved, while France occupies Milan itself and ousts the native duke.

1501 - 1503

Following the death of Lodovico, the county passes temporarily to Switzerland.

1503 - 1513

Lugano is occupied by the duchy of Milan for just a decade.


Lugano again becomes the property of Switzerland, this time permanently. Between 1513-1798, it falls within the Bellinzona district, but it loses the villages of Lavena and Ponte Tresa to Milan in 1583. Following the French invasion of Switzerland in 1798 under Napoleon Bonaparte, it is transferred to the canton of Lugano within the Helvetic republic between 1798-1803. The canton of Lugano is renamed Ticino in 1803.