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the highest administrator in many city-communes in Italy from the 12th to the early 16th century; head of the executive and the judiciary. A podesta was elected for a term of six months to one year and was usually a citizen of another city. During the second half of the 12th century, Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa appropriated the right to appoint the podesta, making the podesta a representative of imperial power. After the battle of Legnano in 1176, however, the cities again secured the right to elect the podesta.
In the mid-13th century, the successful struggle of the popolani (townspeople) against the nòbili (noblemen residing in the city) led to a weakening of the podesta’s power and a strengthening of the capitani del popolo (commune heads) in Bologna, Florence, and many other cities. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the podesta retained only judicial functions and in the early 16th century was replaced by a board of judges. In Venice, Genoa, Florence, and other large medieval Italian city-states, the rulers of cities were also called podestas in the areas they controlled; they were appointed by the central government.
In 1926 a supreme administrative position called podesta was introduced in the cities of Fascist Italy, with appointments made by the government. After the Fascist regime collapsed, the position was abolished (January 1946).
V. I. RUTENBURG