- In nearly all independent cities of northern and central Italy, the chief administrative and judicial official. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the emperor appointed thepodestà; after the 13th cen-tury the citizens of the commune themselves appointed him. The podestà normally convened the governing council and prepared its agenda, but the council had ultimate authority, and he was merely the head of the administrative and judicial system. Quite early, it became usual to prohibit appointment of local men. It seemed safer to bring in a citizen from another Italian city who would not have family and political ties to local factions. Legislation forbade the podestà to re-ceive gifts or even to be the dinner guest of a citizen. Terms of office were short, usually six months or a year, and the podestà was not nor-mally granted a second consecutive term. University training in law was desirable but not essential. Noble rank was ordinarily required. In the larger cities, the duties of the office were limited to judicial matters-control of the local police and the courts.Although the office of podestà was powerful, the shortness of the term and the civilian nature of the office usually prevented the office-holder from acquiring independent political authority. Only one of the dynasties of Italian signori, the Este rulers of Ferrara, used the office of podestà as a springboard for seizing power. The other high office normally given to foreigners, the military position of capitano del popólo, was the usual institutional avenue leading to despotic gov-ernment. The ruling princes of the 15th century often abolished the of-fice of podestà and brought the judicial and police power under their di-rect control. The title podestà was also used for purely judicial officers in smaller, subordinate cities lying within the larger territorial states.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.