During the Iron Age Este was a major centre of the Veneti and later, during the 2nd century BC, it became a Roman colony. In the Late Antiquity, Este was wrecked by barbarian invasions and arose again only after the 10th century, when Azzo II d'Este built a castle there and named himself and his family after it.
The House of Este held the city until 1240, when they moved their capital to Ferrara. Este was conquered twice by Ezzelino da Romano III, in 1238 and 1249, and disputed during the 14th century by the Scaligeri, the Carraresi and the Visconti, until it surrendered spontaneously to Venice in 1405.
Under the Republic of Venice, Este went through a period of economic growth, interrupted only by the plague of 1630. After the fall of the Republic and the Napoleonic Wars, the town, with the whole Veneto region, became part of the Austrian Empire, until it was annexed by the Kingdom of Italy as a consequence of the Third Independence War of 1866.