Described by Livy as one of the Capitae Etruriae (Etruscan capitals), Arezzo (Aritim in Etruscan) is believed to have been one of the twelve most important Etruscan cities—the so-called Dodecapolis, part of the Etruscan League. Etruscan remains establish that the acropolis of San Cornelio, a small hill next to that of San Donatus, was occupied and fortified in the Etruscan period. There is other significant Etruscan evidence: parts of walls, an Etruscan necropolis on Poggio del Sole (still named "Hill of the Sun"), and most famously, the two bronzes, the "Chimera of Arezzo" (5th century BC) and the "Minerva" (4th century BC) which were discovered in the 16th century and taken to Florence. Increasing trade connections with Greece also brought some elite goods to the Etruscan nobles of Arezzo: the krater painted by Euphronios ca 510 BC with a battle against Amazons (in the Museo Civico, Arezzo 1465) is unsurpassed.
The commune of Arezzo threw off the control of its bishop in 1098 and was an independent city-state until 1384. Generally Ghibelline in tendency, it opposed Guelph Florence. In 1252 the city founded its university, the Studium. After the rout of the Battle of Campaldino (1289), which saw the death of Bishop Guglielmino Ubertini (it), the fortunes of Ghibelline Arezzo started to ebb, apart from a brief period under the Tarlati family, chief among them Guido Tarlati, who became bishop in 1312 and maintained good relations with the Ghibelline party. The Tarlati sought support in an alliance with Forlì and its overlords, the Ordelaffi, but failed: Arezzo yielded to Florentine domination in 1384; its individual history was subsumed by that of Florence and the Medicean Grand Duchy of Tuscany. During this period Piero della Francesca worked in the church of San Francesco di Arezzo producing the splendid frescoes, recently restored, which are Arezzo's most famous works. Afterwards the city began an economical and cultural decay, which fortunately ensured that its medieval centre was preserved.
In the 18th century the neighbouring marshes of the Val di Chiana, south of Arezzo, were drained and the region became less malarial. At the end of the-century French troops led by Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Arezzo, but the city soon turned into a resistance base against the invaders with the "Viva Maria" movement, winning the city the role of provincial capital. In 1860 Arezzo became part of the Kingdom of Italy. City buildings suffered heavy damage during World War II; the Germans made a stand in front of Arezzo early in July 1944 and there was fierce fighting before the town was taken and liberated on 16 July by the British 6th Armoured Division. The Commonwealth War Graves cemetery is located to the North West of the city where 1,266 men are buried. Pope Benedict XVI visited Arezzo and two other Italian municipalities on Sunday, May 13, 2012.