Visconti was the family name of two important Italian noble dynasties of the Middle Ages. Two distinct Visconti families are known: the first one (chronologically) in the Republic of Pisa in the mid twelfth century, who achieved prominence first in Pisa, then in Sardinia, where they became rulers of Gallura; the second and most important one rose to power in Milan, where they left a permanent historical mark ruling the city from 1277 to 1447 and leaving several collateral branches still extant.
Any link between the two families in Pisa-Gallura and Milan has yet to be proved.
In 1212, there was complete anarchy in Pisa as various factions, pro- and anti-Visconti, warred over the political authority. In mid-January 1213, William I of Cagliari led a coalition of anti-Visconti forces to victory in battle near Massa over the combined forces of Lucca and the Visconti under Ubaldo. Afterwards, Pisa divided power between four rectores, one of which was a Visconti. The Visconti of Sardinia continued to take a part in Pisan politics to the end of the century, but their influence there was greatly diminished after 1213.
In Sardinia Eldizio had married a daughter of Torchitorio III of Cagliari, who became the mother of Lamberto and Ubaldo. In 1207, Lamberto married Elena, the heiress of Barisone II of Gallura, thus securing control over the northeastern corner of Sardinia with his capital at Civita. In 1215, he and Ubaldo established their hegemony over the Giudicato of Cagliari in the south of the island as well. Through advantageous marriages, Lamberto's son, Ubaldo II, even secured power in Logudoro for a time. By mid century, Pisan authority was unopposed in Sardinia thanks to the Visconti, who were allied by marriage with the other great families of Pisa (Gherardeschi and Capraia) and Sardinia (Lacon and Bas-Serra).
The Visconti of Gallura used a cock as their symbol (Gallura meaning 'land of cocks'), whereas the later Visconti of Milan used a serpent swallowing a Saracen, or, according to another version, on the contrary giving life to a child. This symbol is still closely connected with Milan.
The family, once risen to power, loved to claim legendary versions about its origins. Fancy genealogies were "cool" at the time, while established facts reflect quite sober and almost humble beginnings in the lesser nobility. The branch of the Visconti family that came to rule Milan was originally entrusted with the lordship of Massino (nowadays Massino Visconti), a hamlet in lovely position over Lago Maggiore, where they were in charge since the twelfth century as archiepiscopal vassals.
It is thought that the Milanese Visconti had their origins in a family of capitanei (cfr. the modern surname Cattaneo) whom archbishop Landulf of Milan (978-998) had granted certain feudal holdings known as caput plebis (at the head, likely in geographical and not hierarchical sense, of the pieve, an ecclesiastical lesser subdivision). A document from the year 1157 says the Visconti were holders of the captaincy of Marliano (today Mariano Comense); late chronicler Galvano Fiamma confirms this version. Decades before that, surely before 1070, they had gained the public office of viscount, to be later inherited down the male line (Biscaro, ASL, "I maggiori dei Visconti di Milano"). Soon the family dispersed into several branches, some of which were entrusted fiefs far off from the Lombard metropolis; the one which gave the Medieval lords of Milan is said to be descended from Umberto (d. in the first half of the 12th century).
The Visconti ruled Milan until the early Renaissance, first as Lords, then, from 1395, with the mighty Gian Galeazzo who almost managed to unify Northern Italy and Tuscany, as Dukes. Visconti rule in Milan ended with the death of Filippo Maria Visconti in 1447. He was succeeded, after a short-lived republic, by his son-in-law Francesco I Sforza, who established the reign of the House of Sforza.
|Descendants of Uberto Visconte ( † mid-13th century)|