The origins of Verona are disputed. According to some theories it was a city of the Euganei, who were obliged to cede the city to the Cenomani in about 550s BC. Other scholars link its foundation to the presence of the Arusnati in the area, a people of uncertain origins, perhaps connected to the Etruscans: the name would have meant "Venetian city on the river" in the latter's language. Pliny the Elder attributed instead the foundation to the Raetians.
Relationships between Verona and Ancient Rome were usually of friendship or alliance. In the 1st century BC the citizens founght alongside the Romans against the Teutones and Cimbri invaders. The city derived importance from possessing the main ford on the Adige in the area.
Verona became a Roman colony in 89 BC, and then a municipium in 49 BC; the city received the franchise in 59. The former ford was replaced by two bridges, one of which, the Pothumius Bridge, acted also as aqueduct and as dam for setting naval battles in the Theater. The city also had a forum, not far from the current Piazza delle Erbe and, outside the walls, the famous Arena. Its strategical importance lay in its position at the junction of four main roads: the Via Gallica, from Turin to Aquileia, the Via Claudia Augusta, from Modena to Germany, Via Postumia, from Liguria to Illyria, and the Vicum Veronensis, which connected the city to Ostiglia.
Due to its leading position in northern Italy, Verona was often involved in civil Roman wars: famous figures who fought here include Vespasian and Vitellius (69), Philip the Arab and Decius (249), Carinus and Sabinus Iulianus (283), and Constantine the Great, who defeated here Ruricius Pompeianus after a long siege (312). The city was also frequently residence of emperors. In 265 emperor Gallienus, to improve safety, extended the walls to include the Arena.
In the first centuries, Verona slowly converted to Christianity, sometimes being nearer to heretical positions like those of Arius or Fotinus. With bishop St. Zeno the orthodox doctrine imposed definitively (see Ecclesiastical history of Verona).
After the definitive fall of the Western Empire (476), Verona was one of the strongpoint of Odoacer, whose government was well remembered in the city. Here he tried his last stand against the Ostrogoth army sent against him by the Eastern emperor, and led by Theodoric the Great.
With the taking of Verona (489) the Gothic domination of Italy began; Theodoric built his palace there, and in Germanic legend the name of Verona is linked with his. This city remained in the power of the Goths all through the Gothic War, with the exception of a single day in 541, when an Armenian officer effected an entrance. Dissensions which arose among the Byzantine generals in regard to booty enabled the Goths to regain possession. In 552 the Byzantine general Valerian vainly endeavoured to gain an entrance, and only the complete overthrow of the Goths brought about its surrender.
In 569 it was taken by Alboin, King of the Lombards, in whose kingdom it was, in a sense, the second city in importance. There Alboin himself was killed by his own wife in 572. The dukes of Treviso often resided there. At Verona Adalgisus, son of Desiderius, in 774 made his last desperate resistance to Charlemagne, who had destroyed the Lombard kingdom. Verona was then the ordinary residence of the kings of Italy, the government of the city becoming hereditary in the family of Count Milo, progenitor of the counts of San Bonifacio. From 880 to 951 the two Berengarii resided there: Berengar II made it the seat of a frontier March which replaced the March of Friuli. At various times, the march of Verona was under the control of the Duchy of Carinthia and at other times not. From 951 to 975, both Carinthia and Verona were under the control of the Duchy of Bavaria.
The reign of the son of Mastino, Alberto, as capitano (1277-1302) was one incessant war against the counts of San Bonifacio, who were aided by the House of Este. Of his sons, Bartolomeo, Alboino and Can Grande I, only the last shared the government (1308); he was great as warrior, prince, and patron of the arts; he protected Dante, Petrarch, and Giotto. By war or treaty he brought under his control the cities of Padua (1328), Treviso (1308), and Vicenza.
Cangrande was succeeded by Mastino II (1329–51) and Alberto II, sons of Alboino. Mastino continued his uncle's policy, conquering Brescia in 1332 and carrying his power beyond the Po. He purchased Parma (1335) and Lucca (1339). After the King of France, he was the richest prince of his time. But a powerful league was formed against him in 1337 — Florence, Venice, the Visconti, the Este, and the Gonzaga. After a three years war, the Scaliger dominions were reduced to Verona and Vicenza. His son Cangrande II (1351–1359) was a cruel, dissolute, and suspicious tyrant; not trusting his own subjects, he surrounded himself with Brandenburg mercenaries. He was killed by his brother Cansignorio (1359–1375]]), who beautified the city with palaces, provided it with aqueducts and bridges, and founded the state treasury. He also killed his other brother, Paolo Alboino. Fratricide seems to have become a family custom, for Antonio (1375–1387), Cansignorio's natural brother, slew his brother Bartolomeo, thereby arousing the indignation of the people, who deserted him when Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan made war on him. Having exhausted all his resources and having been defeated at the Battle of Castagnaro, he fled from Verona at midnight (19 October, 1387), thus putting an end to the Scaliger domination, which, however, survived in its monuments.
Verona was ruled by the Carraresi of Padua from 1402. Guglielmo (1404), natural son of Can Grande II, drove out them with the support of the people, but died ten days after. Verona therefore submitted to Venice (1405). The last representatives of the Scaligeri lived at the imperial court and repeatedly attempted to recover Verona by the aid of popular risings.
From 1490 to 1516, the city was in the power of the Emperor Maximilian I, who aimed to made it the capital of the renewed German kingdom in northern Italy. In that period Verona also suffered for a plague (1511–1512), who killed 13,000 inhabitants. With the treaty of Bruxelles (December 1516), Maximilian gave the city to his grandson Charles V of Spain, who in turn ceded it to France. The latter finally gave it back to Venice, who started a program of fortifications that made Verona their main stronghold on the mainlaind, its garrison including half of their troops.
The peace led to a period of economic, cultural and artistic splendour for Verona. The city was embellished by a great number of palaces, churches and convents, many designed by architect Michele Sanmicheli. The population rose to the 55,000 of 1626, but another plague in 1630 reduced it again to some 20,000.
Verona was occupied by Napoleon in 1797, but on Easter Monday - in the Veronese Easters - the populace rose and drove out the French. It was then that Napoleon put an end to the Venetian Republic. Verona became Austrian territory when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio on October 12, 1797. The Austrians took control of the city on January 18, 1798.
It was taken from Austria by the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805 and became part of Napoleon's Kingdom of Italy, but was returned to Austria following Napoleon's defeat in 1814, when it became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia.
In 1866, on the anniversary of the defeat of Königgrätz, the Austrians evacuated Verona, their strongest fortress in Venetia, which thus became Italian. In 1882 the city was struck by a large flood, which led to the construction of banks that changed the face of the ancient city, weepeing away the mills and the landing places on the river.
During World War II Verona was one of the most bombed cities in the area, due to its strategic position and the presence of ministries of the Republic of Salò. In April 1945 the fleeing Germans destroyed all the bridges. Verona was awarded a Gold Medal for Military Value for its support to the partisan war during the conflict.