Alboin: Wikis


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See The Lost Road for J.R.R. Tolkien's use of this name.
King of the Lombards
Assassination of Alboin.jpg
Assassination of Alboin, King of the Lombards (1859) by Charles Landseer
Reign 560/565 c. – 28 June 572
Born 530s
Died June 28, 572
Place of death Verona, Italy
Buried Verona
Predecessor Audoin
Successor Cleph
Consort Chlothsind
Offspring Albsuinda
Royal House Gausi
Father Audoin
Mother Rodelinda

Alboin (died 572) was king of the Lombards, and conqueror of Italy. He succeeded his father Audoin about 565.

The name Alboin literally translates to "elf-friend", cognate to Old English Aelfwine and Old High German Albwin, Elbwin.


His father's rule

The Lombards under king Wacho had migrated toward the east in Pannonia taking advantage of the difficulties that the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy had suffered following the death of its founder Theodoric in 526. His death circa 540 brought his son Walthari to the throne, but since the latter was still a minor the kingdom was governed in his stead by Alboin's father, Audoin, of the Gausian clan. Seven years later the king died, giving Audoin the opportunity to crown himself and overthrow the reigning Lethings.[1]

Alboin was probably born in the 530s[2] by Audoin's marriage to Rodelinda, his first wife. She may have been the niece of the king Theodoric the Great betrothed to Audoin by the Emperor Justinian.[3][4] Like his father Alboin was raised a pagan, but he took as his first wife the catholic Chlothsind, daughter of the Frankish king Chlothar. This marriage, which took place shortly after the death of the Frankish ruler Theudebald in 555, was part of Audoin's decision to distance himself from the Byzantines, the Lombards' previous allies that had been mostly unhelpful when Audoin was involved in a war with the Gepids that ended in 552. The Franks' alliance was important exactly because of their well-known hostility toward the Byzantines, thus providing the Lombards with more than one option.[5][6]

In the previously mentioned clash with the Gepids Alboin first distinguished himself on the battlefield, killing in a decisive battle Thurismund, son of the Gepid king Thurisind. This brought to the Emperor Justinian's intervention so that the equilibrium between the rival powers in the region could be maintained.[7] After the war, according to a tradition reported by Paul the Deacon, Alboin, in order to obtain the right to seat at his father's table as was customary had to ask for the hospitality of a foreign king and have him donate his weapons; for this initiation he went to the court of Thurisind, where the Gepid king gave him Thurismund's arms.[2][8] Walter Goffart believes it is probable that in this narrative Paul was making use of an oral tradition, while remains skeptical that it can be defined exactly as an heldenlied (i. e. "heroic song").[9]

Reign in Pannonia

Alboin rose to the throne after the death of his father in an uncertain date spanning between 560 and 565.[6] As was customary among Lombards, he rose by election by the tribe's freemen; his choice was natural, as it was common usage to select their king from the dead sovereign's clan.[10][11] A new war erupted with the Gepids in 565, now led by Cunimund, Thurisind's son. The responsibility for beginning the new conflict is uncertain, as the sources are divided: the Lombard Paul the Deacon accuses the Gepids, while the Byzantine historian Menander Protector places the blame on Alboin, and according to Austrian scholar Walter Pohl more correctly.[12] The Gepids obtained the support of the new Byzantine Emperor Justin II in exchange for the promise of ceding him the region of Sirmium, seat of the Gepid kings. As a result, Alboin was defeated.[6][12][13][14]

Placed in dire constraints and faced with the danger of annihilation, Alboin made in 566 an alliance with the Avars under khagan Bayan, but under harsh conditions: the Avars demanded a tenth of the Lombards' cattle, half of the war booty and once the war had been ended all the lands held by the Gepids. The Lombards had also played on the hostility existing between Avars and Byzantines, claiming the latter were allied with the Gepids; but Cunimund, when he tried to counter the new menace by asking once again help from the Emperor, found the Byzantines angered with the Gepids by their unfaithfulness in previously observing the obligation of ceding Sirmium to them, and attempts to mollify Justin II with tributes failed. As a result, the Byzantines maintained themselves neutral in the war.[6][15]

In 567 the allies made their final move against Cunimund, with Alboin invading the Gepids' lands from the north-west while Bayan attacked from north-east. Cunimund now acted in an attempt to avoid that the two armies could meet, moving against the Lombards and clashing with Alboin somewhere between the Tibiscus and Danube rivers. In the bloody battle that ensued the Gepids were crushed, with their king slained by Alboin and Cunimund's daughter Rosamund taken captive. The full destruction of the Gepid kingdom was completed by Bayan's Avars that overcame the Gepids in the east. As a result, the Gepids ceased to exist as an independent people, parly absorbed by the Lombards and partly by the Avars.[6][14][16] Also, since he had lost at an uncertain date before 568 his first wife Chlothsind, he married Rosamund as a mean to obtain the loyalty of the remaining Gepids.[17]

Preparatives and departure from Pannonia


Despite having destroyed their enemies, Alboin had to admit that while they had not increased much their power they were now faced by a much stronger rival at their borders than the Gepids, i.e. the Avars.[18][19] This was probably the decisive factor in convincing Alboin that it was time to move on[19], even if probably already before the last clash with the Gepids a decision was maturing to leave for Italy, a country thousands of Lombards had seen in the 550s when hired by the Byzantines to fight in the Gothic War.[6]

Also the Lombards knew they could count on the weakness of the many problems Byzantine Italy had been facing since it had been taken from the Goths: plague and conflict had remained endemic, religious opposition against the Centre was strong and the able governor of the peninsula, Narses, had been recently recalled.[20] Despite this, in the eyes of the Lombards Italy remained a rich land which promised great booty for his warriors[18][21], permitting Alboin to gather together a horde which included not only Lombards, but many other peoples of the region, including Heruli, Suebi, Gepids, Thuringii, Bulgars, Sarmatians, surviving Romans and a few Ostrogoths. But the most important group were other than the Lombards the Saxons, of which 20,000 participated to the trek. Since they were tributaries to the Frankish king Sigebert, a sign that Alboin had obtained for his adventure the support of the Franks.[6][22]

Exactly how large was the heterogeneous group gathered by Alboin it is impossible to say, and many different estimates have been given. Neil Christie mentions as the highest estimate mentioned at 400,000 circa, but considers more realistic a 150,000 number, which would all the same make the Lombards more numerous than the Ostrogoths on the eve of their invasion of Italy; Jörg Jarnut proposes a 100,000 – 150,000 as an approximative measure, and Wilfried Menghen in Die Langobarden 150,000 - 200,000, while Stefano Gasparri cautiously judges the peoples united by Alboin to be somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000.[21][22][23][24]

As a cautionary move Alboin strengthened his alliance with the Avars, signing with them what Paul calls foedus perpetuum (i.e. "perpetual treaty") and in the 9th-century Historia Langobardorum codicis Gothani in a similar vein is written pactum et foedus amicitiae (i.e. "pact and friendship treaty") and added that the treaty was put down on paper. By the conditions accepted by the parties, the Avars were to take possession of Pannonia and the Lombards were promised to be given military support in Italy when in need; also, for a period of 200 years the Lombards were to maintain the right to reclaim their former territories if the plans to conquer Italy failed, thus leaving Alboin with an alternative open. From a strategic point of view this accord had also the advantage of protecting Alboin's rear, as an Avar occupied Pannonia would have made it difficult for the Byzantines to bring forces in Italy by land. The agreement was to prove itself a success as for the whole history of the Lombard Kingdom Lombard-Avar relations were almost uninterruptedly friendly.[25][26][27]

It can't be completely excluded that together from the promise of a rich land to migrate to and fear of the neighboring Avars may have been subject to an invitation by Narses. According to a controversial tradition reported by several medieval sources, Narses out of spite for having been removed by Justinian's successor Justin II called the Lombards in Italy. Often dismissed as an unreliable tradition[24][28], it has been studied with attention by others, in particular by Neil Christie; in this interpretation, the tradition could reflect a formal invitation by the Byzantine state to settle in northern Italy as foederati, possibly to help protect the region against the Franks, an arrangement that may have been disowned by Justin II after Narses removal.[19][29][30][31]

The March

The great migration started on Easter Monday on April 2, 568. The decision to combine the departure with a Christian celebration can be understood with a view on Alboin's recent conversion to Arian Christianity, as attested by the presence of Arian Gothic missionaries at his court.[19][32] The conversion was mostly due to political considerations: it probably was meant to consolidate his host's cohesion and distinguish them from the Catholic Romans; also, it was meant to connect Alboin and his people with the Gothic heritage, and hopefully obtain this way the support of the Ostrogoths serving in the Byzantine army as foederati.[6][33] In this context, it has been speculated that Alboin's migration could have been partly the result of a call from surviving Ostrogoths in Italy.[19]

The season chosen for leaving Pannonia was surprisingly early: generally Germanic peoples before beginning a migration waited for autumn, so that they could do the harvesting and replenish their granaries for the march. The reason behind the spring departure could be the anxiety induced by the neighboring Avars, despite the friendship treaty: nomadic peoples like the Avars waited for the fall to begin their military campaigns, as they needed enough forage for their horses. A sign of this anxiety can also be seen in the decision taken by Alboin to ravage Pannonia: this created a sanitary cordon that interposed itself between the Lombards and the Avars.[26][31]

The road followed by Alboin to reach Italy has been a subject of controversy, as is the length of the trek: according to Neil Christie the Lombards divided themselves, with a vanguard scouting the road, probably following the route PoetovioCeleiaEmonaForum Iulii, while the wagons and most of the people proceeded slowly behind because of the goods and chattels they brought with them, and possibly also because they were waiting for the Saxons to join them on the road. By September raiding parties were looting Venetia, but it was probably only in 569 that the Julian Alps were passed, more precisely, the Lombards according to eyewitness Secundus of Non on May 20 or 21 at the Vipava Valley.[6][21][23] But the 569 date for the entry in Italy is not void of difficulties, and Jörg Jarnut believes the conquest of most of Venetia had already been completed in 568. According to Carlo Guido Mor, a major difficulty stands in explaining how Alboin could have reached Milan on September 3 assuming he had passed the border only in the May of the same year.[24][32]

Invasion of Italy

Foundation of the Duchy of Friuli

The Lombards penetrated in Italy without apparently meeting any resistance from the milites limitanei, or border troops; the Byzantine military resources available in the land were scant, and of dubious loyalty, and the border forts may well have been left unmanned. What seems certain is that archaeological excavations have found no sign of violent confrontation in the sites that have been excavated. This sticks with Paul the Deacon's narrative, who speaks of a Lombard takeover in Friuli was actuated "without any hindrance".[34]

The first town to fall in the Lombards' hands was Forum Iulii (Cividale del Friuli), seat of the region's magister militum.[6] Alboin chose this walled centre close to the frontier to be capital of the Duchy of Friuli and made his nephew and shield bearer Gisulf dux (i.e. duke) of the region with the specific duty to defend the borders from eventual Byzantine or Avar attacks from the east. Gisulf obtained from his uncle to personally choose for his duchy those farae, or clans, that he preferred.[24][35][36]

Alboin's decision to create a ducatus and designate a dux were both important innovations: since then, Lombard had never had duces nor had duchies based on a walled town. The innovation adopted was part of Alboin's loan of Roman and Ostrogothic administrative models, as in Late Antiquity the comes civitatis was the main regional authority, with full administrative powers in his region. But the shift from comes to dux and from comitatus (i.e. county) to ducatus (i.e. duchy) was not of no importance, as it signaled the progressive militarization of Italy.[36] The selection of a fortified town as the centre for the new duchy was also an important change from the time in Pannonia: while previously urbanized settlements had been ignored by the Lombards, now a considerable part of the nobility settled itself in Forum Iulii, a pattern that repeated itself regularly among the Lombards in the other duchies.[37]

Conquest of Mediolanum

From Forum Iulii Alboin next reached Aquileia, the most important road junction in the north-east[38] and the administrative capital of Venetia. The imminent arrival of the Lombards had a considerable impact on the city's population, as the Patriarch of Aquileia Paulinus escaped with his clergy and his flock to the island of Grado in Byzantine-controlled territory.[6][39]

From Aquileia Alboin took the Via Postumia and swept through Venetia, taking in rapid succession Tarvisium (Treviso), Vicentia (Vicenza), Verona, Brixia (Brescia) e Bergomum (Bergamo). The Lombards faced difficulties only at Opitergium (Oderzo), that he decided to avoid, as he avoided tackling the main Venetian towns located closer to the coast on the Via Annia, like Altinum, Patavium (Padova), Mons Silicis (Monselice), Mantua and Cremona.[6][38] The invasion of Venetia generated a considerable level of turmoil and spurring waves of refugees from the Lombard-controlled interior to the Byzantine-held coast, often led by their bishops, causing the birth of new settlements like Torcello and Heraclia.[40][41][42]

Alboin pointed west in his march invading the region of Liguria and reaching its capital Mediolanum (Milan) on September 3, 569, already abandoned by the vicarius Italiae (vicar of Italy) entitled with the administration of the diocese of Annonarian Italy. Together with him had left the archibishop Honoratus, his clergy and part of the laity, all finding a safe haven in the Byzantine port of Genua (Genoa). The fall of Milan was a significative moment, to the point that Alboin counted the years of his reign from the capture of the city, according to an interpretation assuming the title of dominus Italiae (Lord of Italy). This success also meant the collapse of Byzantine defenses in the northern part of the Po plain, with large movements of refugees to Byzantine areas.[2][6][43][44]

To explain the swiftness and the ease of the initial Lombard advance in northern Italy several explanations have been advanced. It has been said that the towns' doors may have been opened by the betrayal of the Gothic auxiliaries in the Byzantine army, but generally the main issue was that Italy wasn't felt by Byzantine as a vital part of their empire, especially in a situation which saw even the survival of the empire put in danger from the attacks of Avars and Slavs in the Balkans and of the Sassanids in the east. Al this was part of a policy put in practice by Justinian's successors to reorient eastward the core of the Empire's polices.[44][45][46]

Impact of the migration on Annonarian Italy

The impact of the Lombard migration on the Late Roman aristocracy was disrupting, especially since it combined itself with the previous Gothic War, which had been concluded in the north only in 562, when the last Gothic stronghold, Verona, was taken.[47] Many possessores (wealthy) lost either their life or their goods, but the exact entity of the spoliation of the Roman aristocracy is a subject of heated debate.[45][48][49]

As for their clergy, it also was heavily hit: the Lombards were mostly pagans, and displayed little respect for church property and the clergy. Many left their sees to escape from the Lombards, like the two most senior bishops in the north, Honoratus and Paulinus; but most of their suffragan bishops in the north searched an accommodation with the Lombards, like the bishop of Tarvisium Felix who reached in 569 the Piave river to parley with Alboin, obtaining in return for his act of homage the respect of his church and its goods. It seems certain that many sees maintained through the turmoil of the invasion and the following years an uninterrupted episcopal succession. This type of action may have been imitated in many occasions, as the northern Italian bishops were deeply alienated from the papacy and the empire due to the religious dispute involving the "Three chapters". At least, they were certain in Lombard territory to avoid imperial religious persecution.[45][50][51] A more thoroughly pessimistic view has been kept by Pierre Riché, who on the ground of the disappearance of 220 bishops' seats feels the mgration was a crippling catastroph for the Church.[52]

In general, according to Walter Pohl the regions directly occupied by Alboin were those that suffered less devastation and maintained both a relatively robust survival rate of the towns; where instead the occupation of the territory took place under the command of autonomous military bands interested mainly in raiding and looting the country, the impact was more severe and rarer the cities with their bishoprics that survived.[53]

Siege of Ticinum

Alboin found the first attested case of stiff resistance in the town of Ticinum (Pavia), that he started besieging in 569 and was to capture only after a three years long siege. The town was of strategic importance, placed at the meeting of the Po and Ticino rivers and connected by river to Ravenna, capital of Byzantine Italy and seat of the Praetorian prefect; also, its fall would have cut direct communications between the garrisons stationed on the Alpes Maritimae and the Adriatic coast.[6][24][54][55][56]

Alboin was careful to maintain the initiative against the Byzantines, mopping up by 570 their last defenses in northern Italy except for the coastal areas of Liguria and Venetia and a few isolated inland centers. During his kingship also the Lombards passed the Apennines and plundering in Tuscia, but it is not fully agreed among historians if this took place under his guidance and if this was anything more than simple raids; according to Herwig Wolfram it was probably only in 578 – 579 that Tuscany was conquered, while Jörg Jarnut and others place this event to have been at least started if not completed under Alboin.[2][22][24][41][56]

During the siege of Ticinum Alboin's difficulties in maintaining control over his people, always present, started to aggravate itself. The nature of the Lombard monarchy made it hard for a ruler to exert on hs people a degree of authority that could be compared to that held by Theodoric over his Goths; also, the structure of the army gave great authority to the military commanders, or duces, who lead each band (fara) of warriors. The difficulties encountered by Alboin in building a solid political entity was due to a lack of imperial legitimation, as differently from the Ostrogoths they hadn't entered Italy as foederati but as enemies of the Empire.[6][41][57][58]

These first signs of disgregation manifested themselves in the invasion of Frankish Burgundy held by king Guntram, which beginning from 569 or 570 was subject to yearly raids on a major scale; the attacks ended in disaster for the Lombards with Mummolus' victory at Embrun. Alboin had not been behind the attacks that had lasting political consequences, as they badly soared the previously cordial Lombard-Frankish relations and opened the door to an alliance between the Empire and the Franks against the Lombards, a coalition agreed to by Guntram in about 571.[6][2][58][56][59]

In this pattern of weakening of royal authority may also enter the conquest of much of southern Italy by the Lombards, an in current historiography a consensus has formed that Alboin played no role in these feats, which could have taken place in 570 or 571 under individual warlords. Also it is very far from certain that the Lombard takeover took place in those years, as very little is known of Faroald and Zotto's respective rise to power in Spoletium (Spoleto) and Beneventum (Benevento).[60][61][58][62]


Ticinum eventually fell to the Lombards in either May or June 572. Alboin had in the meanwhile chosen as his seat Verona, placing himself and his treasure in a royal palace built there by Theodoric. This may have been not a coincidence, but instead another attempt to link himself with the Gothic king.[6]

It was in this palace that Alboin was killed on June 28, 572. In Paul the Deacon, the most detailed narrative on his death, history and saga intermingle in a not easily extricable way. Much earlier and shorter is Marius of Aventicum in his chronicle, written about a decade after Alboin's murder: according to his words the king was killed by a cospiration led by his wife Rosamund and his subordinate Helmechis, who successively married the widow. Following the failure of their bid for power they escaped to Ravenna with part of the army with the help of the Praetorian prefect Longinus.[63][6][2][47]

In 572, according to the history of the Lombards (chapter 28) written by Paul the Deacon (Paulus Diaconus), the 8th century Lombard chronicler, Alboin ruled Italy for three and a half years until he was murdered at the instigation of his wife following a banquet in Verona. His wife, Rosamund, was the daughter of the king of the Gepids. Alboin slew her father and used his skull as a drinking cup (worn at his belt) and out of which he forced Rosamund to drink.

Rosamund met the king's valet, Helmechis, who suggested using Peredeo, a strong man, to accomplish the assassination. Peredeo refused to help, and that night mistakenly had intercourse with Rosamund, who was disguised as a servant. After learning that he had committed adultery with his king's wife, Peredeo agreed to take part in an assassination attempt in fear of the king's retribution. After the great feast, Alboin went to bed inebriated, at which point Rosamund ordered the king's sword bound to his bedpost, so that should he wake in the middle of the assassination attempt, he would be defenseless. Alboin did wake, only to find himself unarmed. He fended off his attackers temporarily with a footstool, but was killed. His remains were allegedly buried beneath the palace steps. Rosamund fled with her lover and Alboin's daughter by his first wife, Albsuinda, to Ravenna under the protection of the Byzantine emperor.

Italian conquests of the Lombards during the reign of Alboin.

In these few years the Lombards had established themselves in the north of Italy (henceforth Lombardy). But they had little practice in governing large provinces. Lombard warlords (which Latin chroniclers called 'dukes') were established in all the strongholds and passes, and this arrangement became increasingly characteristic of the Lombard settlement. Their power extended tenuously across the Apennines into Liguria and Tuscany, and southwards to the outlying Lombard dukedoms of Spoleto and Benevento. The invaders failed to secure any maritime ports or any territory that was conveniently commanded from the sea, such as Ravenna. Local inhabitants fled into the marshes and lagoons, where Venice had its beginnings.

After his death and the short reign of his successor Cleph the Lombards remained for more than ten years without a king, ruled by the various dukes.

The primary sources for the history of Alboin include Paul the Deacon, the Byzantine Procopius, and Andreas Agnellus (in his history of the church of Ravenna).


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Preceded by
King of the Lombards
565 – 572
Succeeded by

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