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The 11th century saw a reaction against the control of the German emperors.

They eventually conquered the entirety of the region, calling the new province Cisalpine Gaul— "Gaul this side of the Alps"— and may have given the site its Latinized Celtic name of Mediolanum: in Gaulish *medio- meant "middle, center" and the name element -lanon is the Celtic equivalent of Latin -planum "plain", thus *Mediolanon (Latinized as Mediolānum) meant "(settlement) in the midst of the plain".

In 286 Diocletian moved the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Rome to Mediolanum.

In 402, the city was besieged by the Goths and the Imperial residence was moved to Ravenna.

In 452, it was besieged again by Attila, but the real break with its Imperial past came in 538, during the Gothic War, when Mediolanum was laid to waste by Uraia, a nephew of Witiges, King of the Goths, with great loss of life.

It was from Milan that the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, granting tolerance to all religions within the Empire, thus paving the way for Christianity to become the dominant religion of the Empire.

Constantine was in Milan to celebrate the wedding of his sister to the Eastern Emperor, Licinius.

He chose to reside at Nicomedia in the Eastern Empire, leaving his colleague Maximian at Milan.

Maximian built several gigantic monuments, the large circus (470 x 85 metres), the thermae or "Baths of Hercules", a large complex of imperial palaces and other services and buildings of which fewer visible traces remain.

In addition, another theory links the name to the boar sow (the Scrofa semilanuta) an ancient emblem of the city, fancifully accounted for in Andrea Alciato's Emblemata (1584), beneath a woodcut of the first raising of the city walls, where a boar is seen lifted from the excavation, and the etymology of Mediolanum given as "half-wool", Milan appears to have been founded around 600 BC by the Celtic Insubres, after whom this region of northern Italy was called Insubria.

According to the legend reported by Livy, the Gaulish king Ambicatus sent his nephew Bellovesus into northern Italy at the head of a party drawn from various Gaulish tribes; this Bellovesus was said to have founded Mediolanum (in the time of Tarquinius Priscus, according to this legend).

A fire destroyed the storehouses containing the entire food supply, and within just a few days Milan was forced to surrender.

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