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The Iron Crown with which Lombard rulers were crowned.

The Lombards (Latin Langobardi, whence the alternative names Langobards and Longobards) were a Germanic people originally from Northern Europe who settled in the valley of the Danube and from there invaded Byzantine Italy in 568 under the leadership of Alboin. They established a Lombard Kingdom, later named Kingdom of Italy, which lasted until 774, when it was conquered by the Franks. Their influence on Italian political geography is apparent in the regional appellation Lombardy.


Early history

Legendary origins and name

Paul the Deacon was the primary source for the study of the Lombards.

The fullest account of Lombard origins, history, and practices is the Historia gentis Langobardorum (History of the Lombards) of Paul the Deacon, written in the 8th century. Paul's chief source for Lombard origins, however, is the 7th-century Origo Gentis Langobardorum (Origin of the People of the Lombards).

The Origo tells the story of a small tribe called the Winnili[1] dwelling in southern Scandinavia[2] (Scadanan) (The Codex Gothanus writes that the Winnili first dwelt near a river called Vindilicus on the extreme boundary of Gaul.)[3] The Winnili were split into three groups and one part left the native land to seek foreign fields. The reason for the exodus was probably overpopulation.[4] The departing people were led by the brothers Ybor and Aio and their mother Gambara[5] and arrived in the lands of Scoringa, perhaps the Baltic coast[6] or the Bardengau on the banks of the Elbe.[7] Scoringa was ruled by the Vandals, and their chieftains, the brothers Ambri and Assi, who granted the Winnili a choice between tribute or war.

The Winnili were young and brave and refused to pay tribute, saying "It is better to maintain liberty by arms than to stain it by the payment of tribute."[8] The Vandals prepared for war and consulted Godan (the god Odin[2]), who answered that he would give the victory to those whom he would see first at sunrise.[9] The Winnili were fewer in number[8] and Gambara sought help from Frea (the goddess Frigg[2]), who advised that all Winnili women should tie their hair in front of their faces like beards and march in line with their husbands. So it came that Godan spotted the Winnili first, and asked, "Who are these long-beards?" and Frea replied, "My lord, thou hast given them the name, now give them also the victory."[10] From that moment onwards, the Winnili were known as the Langobards (Latinised and Italianised as Lombards).

When Paul the Deacon wrote the Historia between 787 and 796 he was a Catholic monk and devoted Christian. Therefore, he thought the pagan stories of his people "silly" and "laughable".[9][11] Paul explained that the name "Langobard" came from the length of their beards, that the Latin word longus meant Lang and barba meant Bart.[12] A modern theory suggests that the name "Langobard" comes from Langbarðr, a name of Odin.[13] Priester states that when the Winnili changed their name to "Lombards", they also changed their old agricultural fertility cult to a cult of Odin, thus creating a conscious tribal tradition.[14] Fröhlich inverts the order of events in Priester and states that with the Odin cult, the Lombards grew their beards in resemblance of the Odin of tradition and their new name reflected this.[15] Bruckner remarks that the name of the Lombards stands in close relation to the worship of Odin, whose many names include "the Long-bearded" or "the Grey-bearded", and that the Lombard given name Ansegranus ("he with the beard of the gods") shows that the Lombards had this idea of their chief deity.[16]

Archaeology and migrations

From the combined testimony of Strabo (AD 20) and Tacitus (AD 117), the Lombards dwelt near the mouth of the Elbe shortly after the beginning of the Christian era, next to the Chauci.[17] Strabo states that the Lombards dwelt on both sides of the Elbe.[18] The German archaeologist Willi Wegewitz defined several Iron Age burial sites at the lower Elbe as Langobardic.[19] The burial sites, are crematorial and are usually dated from the 6th century BC through the 3rd AD, so that a settlement breakoff seems unlikely.[20]The lands of the lower Elbe fall into the zone of the Jastorf Culture and became Elbe-Germanic, differing from the lands between Rhine, Weser, and the North Sea.[21] Archaeological finds show that the Lombards were an agricultural people.[22]

Distribution of Langobardic burial fields at the Lower Elbe Lands, according to W. Wegewitz

The first mention of the Lombards occurred between AD 9 and 16, by the Roman court historian Velleius Paterculus, who accompanied a Roman expedition as prefect of the cavalry.[17] Paterculus described the Lombards as "more fierce than ordinary German savagery."[23] Tacitus counted the Lombards as a Suebian tribe,[24] and subjects of Marobod the King of the Marcomanni.[25] Marobod had made peace with the Romans, and that is why the Lombards were not part of the Germanic confederacy under Arminius at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in AD 9. In AD 17, war broke out between Arminius and Marobod. Tacitus records:

Not only the Cheruscans and their confederates... took arms, but the Semnones and Langobards, both Suevian nations, revolted to him from the sovereignty of Marobod... The armies... were stimulated by reasons of their own, the Cheruscans and the Langobards fought for their ancient honor or their newly acquired independence. . . "[24]

In 47, a struggle ensued amongst the Cherusci and they expelled their new leader, the nephew of Arminius, from their country. The Lombards appear on the scene with sufficient power, it seems, to control the destiny of the tribe which, thirty-eight years before, had been the leader in the struggle for independence, for they restored the deposed leader to the sovereignty again.[26] In the mid 2nd century, the Lombards also appear in the Rhineland. According to Ptolemy, the Suebic Lombards settled south of the Sugambri,[27] but also remained at the Elbe, between the Chauci and the Suebi,[28] which indicates a Lombard expansion. The Codex Gothanus also mentions Patespruna (Paderborn) in connections with the Lombards.[29] By Cassius Dio, we are informed that just before the Marcomannic Wars, 6,000 Lombards and Ubii crossed the Danube and invaded Pannonia.[30] The two tribes were defeated, whereupon they desisted from their invasion and sent as ambassador to Aelius Basaus, who was then administering Pannonia, Ballomar, King of the Marcomanni. Peace was made and the two tribes returned to their homes, which in the case of the Lombards were the lands of the lower Elbe.[31] At about this time, Tacitus, in his work Germania (AD 98), describes the Lombards as such:

To the Langobardi, on the contrary, their scanty numbers are a distinction. Though surrounded by a host of most powerful tribes, they are safe, not by submitting, but by daring the perils of war.

From the 2nd century onwards, many of the Germanic tribes of the era of the Tiberian emperors started to unite into bigger tribal unions, resulting in the Franks, Alamanni, Bavarii, and Saxons.[32] The reasons why the Lombards disappear, as such, from Roman history from 166–489 could be that they dwelt so deep into Inner Germania that they were only detectable when they appeared on the Danubian banks again, or that the Lombards were also subjected into a bigger tribal union, most probably the Saxons.[33] It is, however, highly probable that when the bulk of the Lombards migrated, a considerable part remained behind and afterwards became absorbed by the Saxon tribes in the region, while the emigrants alone retained the name of Lombards.[34] However, the Codex Gothanus writes that the Lombards were subjected by the Saxons around 300, but rose up against the Saxons with their king Agelmund.[35] In the second half of the 4th century, the Lombards left their homes, probably due to bad harvests, and embarked on their migration.[36]

Lombardic migration.

The migration route of the Lombards, from their homeland to "Rugiland" in 489 encompassed several places: Scoringa (believed to be the their land on the Elbe shores), Mauringa, Golanda, Anthaib, Banthaib, and Vurgundaib (Burgundaib).[37] According to the Ravenna Cosmography, Mauringa was the land east of the Elbe.[38]

The crossing into Mauringa was very difficult, the Assipitti (Usipetes) denied them passage through their lands; a fight was arranged for the strongest man of each tribe, the Lombard was victorious, passage was granted, and the Lombards reached Mauringa.[39] The first Lombard king, Agelmund, from the race of Guginger, ruled for thirty years.[40]

The Lombards departed from Mauringa and reached Golanda. Scholar Ludwig Schmidt thinks this was further east, perhaps on the right bank of the Oder.[41] Schmidt considers that the name is the equivalent of Gotland and means simply "good land."[42] This theory is highly plausible, Paul the Deacon mentions an episode of the Lombards crossing a river, and the Lombards could have reached Rugiland from the Upper Oder area via the Moravian Gate.[43]

Lombardia along the Middle Danube, mid sixth century

Moving out of Golanda, the Lombards passed through Anthaib and Banthaib until they reached Vurgundaib. Vurgundaib is believed to be the old lands of the Burgundes.[44][45] In Vurgundaib, the Lombards were stormed in camp by "Bulgars" (probably Huns)[46] and were defeated; King Agelmund was killed. Laimicho was raised to the kingship afterwards; he was in his youth and desired to avenge the slaughter of Agelmund.[47] The Lombards themselves were probably made subjects of the Huns after the defeat, but the Lombards rose up against them and defeated them with great slaughter.[48] The victory gave the Lombards great booty and confidence, as they "... became bolder in undertaking the toils of war."[49]

In the 540s, Audoin (ruled 546–565), led the Lombards across the Danube once more into Pannonia, where they received Imperial subsidies, as Justinian encouraged them to battle Gepids.

Kingdom in Italy

Invasion and conquest of the Italian peninsula

Coin of Cunipert (688-700), king of the Lombards, minted in Milan.

In 560 a new, energetic king emerged: Alboin, who defeated the neighbouring Gepidae, made them his subjects, and, in 566, married the daughter of their king Cunimund, Rosamund. In the spring of 568, Alboin led the Lombards, together with other Germanic tribes; (Bavarians, Gepidae, Saxons[50]) and Bulgars, across the Julian Alps with a population of around 400,000 to 500,000, to invade northern Italy due to their expulsion from Pannonia by Avars. The first important city to fall was Forum Iulii (Cividale del Friuli), in northeastern Italy, in 569. There, Alboin created the first Lombard duchy, which he entrusted to his nephew Gisulf. Soon Vicenza, Verona and Brescia fell into Germanic hands. In the summer of 569, the Lombards conquered the main Roman centre of northern Italy, Milan. The area was then recovering from the terrible Gothic Wars, and the small Byzantine army left for its defence could do almost nothing. The Exarch sent to Italy by Emperor Justinian II, Longinus, could defend only coastal cities that could be supplied by the powerful Byzantine fleet. Pavia fell after a siege of three years, in 572, becoming the first capital city of the new Lombard kingdom of Italy. In the following years, the Lombards penetrated further south, conquering Tuscany and establishing two duchies, Spoleto and Benevento under Zotto, which soon became semi-independent and even outlasted the northern kingdom, surviving well into the 12th century. The Byzantines managed to retain control of the area of Ravenna and Rome, linked by a thin corridor running through Perugia.

When they entered Italy, some Lombards retained their native form paganism, while some were Arian Christians. Hence they did not enjoy good relations with the Catholic Church. Gradually, they adopted Roman titles, names, and traditions, and partially converted to orthodoxy (7th century), not without a long series of religious and ethnic conflicts.

The whole Lombard territory was divided into 36 duchies, whose leaders settled in the main cities. The king ruled over them and administered the land through emissaries called gastaldi. This subdivision, however, together with the independent indocility of the duchies, deprived the kingdom of unity, making it weak even when compared to the Byzantines, especially after they began to recover from the initial invasion. This weakness became even more evident when the Lombards had to face the increasing power of the Franks. In response to this problem, the kings tried to centralize power over time; but they lost control over Spoleto and Benevento definitively in the attempt.

Langobardia major

Langobardia minor

Arian monarchy

A Lombard shield boss from northern Italy, 7th century.

Alboin was murdered in 572 in Verona by a plot led by his wife, Rosamund, who later fled to Ravenna. His successor, Cleph, was also assassinated, after a ruthless reign of 18 months. His death began an interregnum of years, the "Rule of the Dukes", during which the dukes did not elect any king, and which is regarded as a period of violence and disorder. In 584, threatened by a Frankish invasion, the dukes elected Cleph's son, Authari, king. In 589, he married Theodelinda, daughter of the Duke of Bavaria, Garibald I of Bavaria. The Catholic Theodelinda was a friend of Pope Gregory I and pushed for Christianization. In the mean time, Authari embarked on a policy of internal reconciliation and tried to reorganize royal administration. The dukes yielded half their estates for the maintenance of the king and his court in Pavia. On the foreign affairs side, Authari managed to thwart the dangerous alliance between the Byzantines and the Franks.

Authari died in 590. His successor was Agilulf, duke of Turin, who in 591, also married Theodelinda. He successfully fought the rebel dukes of Northern Italy, conquering Padua (601), Cremona and Mantua (603), and forcing the Exarch of Ravenna to pay a conspicuous tribute. Agiluif died in 616; Theodelinda reigned alone until 628, and was succeeded by Adaloald. Arioald, who had married Theodelinda's daughter Gundeberga, and head of the Arian opposition, later deposed Adaloald.

His successor was Rothari, regarded by many authorities as the most energetic of all Lombard kings. He extended his dominions, conquering Liguria in 643 and the remaining part of the Byzantine territories of inner Veneto, including the Roman city of Opitergium (Oderzo). Rothari also made the famous edict bearing his name, the Edictum Rothari, which established the laws and the customs of his people in Latin: the edict did not apply to the tributaries of the Lombards, who could retain their own laws. Rothari's son Rodoald succeeded him in 652, still very young, and was killed by the Catholic party.

At the death of King Aripert I in 661, the kingdom was split between his children Perctarit, who set his capital in Milan, and Godepert, who reigned from Pavia. Perctarit was overthrown by Grimoald, son of Gisulf, duke of Friuli and Benevento since 647. Perctarit fled to the Avars and then to the Franks. Grimoald managed to regain control over the duchies and deflected the late attempt of the Byzantine emperor Constans II to conquer southern Italy. He also defeated the Franks. At Grimoald's death in 671 Perctarit returned and promoted tolerance between Arians and Catholics, but he could not defeat the Arian party, led by Arachi, duke of Trento, who submitted only to his son, the philo-Catholic Cunipert.

Catholic monarchy

Lombard domination at its greatest extent under Aistulf and Desiderius, ca. 750–785.

Religious strife remained a source of struggle in the following years. The Lombard reign began to recover only with Liutprand the Lombard (king from 712), son of Ansprand and successor of the brutal Aripert II. He managed to regain a certain control over Spoleto and Benevento, and, taking advantage of the disagreements between the Pope and Byzantium concerning the reverence of icons, he annexed the Exarchate of Ravenna and the duchy of Rome. He also helped the Frankish marshal Charles Martel to drive back the Arabs. His successor Aistulf conquered Ravenna for the Lombards for the first time, but was subsequently defeated by the king of the Franks Pippin III, called by the Pope, and had to leave it. After the death of Aistulf, Ratchis tried once again to be king of the Lombardy but he was deposed in the same year.

After his defeat of Ratchis, the last Lombard to rule as king was Desiderius, duke of Tuscany, who managed to take Ravenna definitively, ending the Byzantine presence in northern Italy. He decided to reopen struggles against the Pope, who was supporting the dukes of Spoleto and Benevento against him, and entered Rome in 772, the first Lombard king to do so. But when Pope Hadrian I called for help from the powerful king Charlemagne, Desiderius was defeated at Susa and besieged in Pavia, while his son Adelchis had also to open the gates of Verona to Frankish troops. Desiderius surrendered in 774 and Charlemagne, in an utterly novel decision, took the title "King of the Lombards" as well. Before then the Germanic kingdoms had frequently conquered each other, but none had adopted the title of King of another people. Charlemagne took part of the Lombard territory to create the Papal States.

The Lombardy region in Italy, which includes the cities of Brescia, Bergamo, Milan and the old capital Pavia, is a reminder of the presence of the Lombards.

Later history

Italy around the turn of the millennium, showing the Lombard states in the south on the eve of the arrival of the Normans.

United Principality of Benevento, 774–849

Though the kingdom centred on Pavia in the north fell to Charlemagne, the Lombard-controlled territory to the south of the Papal States was never subjugated by Charlemagne or his descendants. In 774, Duke Arechis II of Benevento, whose duchy had only nominally been under royal authority, though certain kings had been effective at making their power known in the south, claimed that Benevento was the successor state of the kingdom. He tried to turn Benevento into a secundum Ticinum: a second Pavia. He tried to claim the kingship, but with no support and no chance of a coronation in Pavia.

Charlemagne came down with an army, and his son Louis the Pious sent men, to force the Beneventan duke to submit, but his submission and promises were never kept and Arechis and his successors were de facto independent. The Beneventan dukes took the title princeps (prince) instead of that of king.

The Lombards of southern Italy were thereafter in the anomalous position of holding land claimed by two empires: the Carolingian Empire to the north and west and the Byzantine Empire to the east. They typically made pledges and promises of tribute to the Carolingians, but effectively remained outside Frankish control. Benevento meanwhile grew to its greatest extent yet when it imposed a tribute on the Duchy of Naples, which was tenuously loyal to Byzantium and even conquered the Neapolitan city of Amalfi in 838. At one point in the reign of Sicard, Lombard control covered most of southern Italy save the very south of Apulia and Calabria and Naples, with its nominally attached cities. It was during the ninth century that a strong Lombard presence became entrenched in formerly Greek Apulia. However, Sicard had opened up the south to the invasive actions of the Saracens in his war with Andrew II of Naples and when he was assassinated in 839, Amalfi declared independence and two factions fought for power in Benevento, crippling the principality and making it susceptible to external enemies.

The civil war lasted ten years and was ended only by a peace treaty imposed by the Emperor Louis II, the only Frankish king to exercise actual sovereignty over the Lombard states, in 849 which divided the kingdom into two states: the Principality of Benevento and the Principality of Salerno, with its capital at Salerno on the Tyrrhenian.

Southern Italy and the Arabs, 836–915

Andrew II of Naples hired Saracen mercenaries for his war with Sicard of Benevento in 836. Sicard responded with like. The Saracens initially concentrated their attacks on Sicily and Byzantine Italy, but soon Radelchis I of Benevento called in more mercenaries and they sacked Capua in 841. The ruins of that city are all that is left of "Old Capua" (Santa Maria Capua Vetere). Consequently, Landulf the Old founded the present-day Capua, "New Capua", on a nearby hill. The Lombard princes in general, however, were less inclined to ally with the Saracens than their Greek neighbours of Amalfi, Gaeta, Naples, and Sorrento. Guaifer of Salerno, however, briefly put himself under Muslim suzerainty.

A large Muslim force seized Bari, until then a Lombard gastaldate under the control of Pandenulf, in 847. Saracen incursions then proceeded northwards until finally the prince of Benevento, Adelchis called in the help of his suzerain, Louis II. Louis allied with the Byzantine emperor Basil I to expel the Arabs from Bari in 869. An Arab landing force was defeated by the emperor, after a brief imprisonment by Adelchis, in 871. Adelchis and Louis were at war for the rest of the latter's career. Adelchis regarded himself as the true successor of the Lombard kings and in that capacity he amended the Edictum Rothari, the last Lombard ruler to do so.

After Louis's death, Landulf II of Capua briefly flirted with a Saracen alliance, but Pope John VIII convinced him to break it off. Guaimar I of Salerno fought against the Saracens with Byzantine troops. Throughout this period the Lombard princes swung in allegiance from one party to another. Finally, towards 915, Pope John X managed to unite all the Christian princes of southern Itay against the Saracen establishments on the Garigliano river. That year, in the great Battle of the Garigliano, the Saracens were ousted from Italy.

The Lombard principalities in the tenth century

The independent state at Salerno inspired the gastalds of Capua to move towards independence and, by the end of the century, they were styling themselves "princes" and there was a third Lombard state. The Capuan and Beneventan states were united by Atenulf I of Capua in 900. He subsequently declared them to be in perpetual union and they were only separated in 982, on the death of Pandulf Ironhead. With all of the Lombard south under his control save Salerno, Atenulf felt safe in using the title princeps gentis Langobardorum ("prince of the Lombard people"), which Arechis II had begun using in 774. Among Atenulf's successors the principality was ruled jointly by fathers, sons, brothers, cousins, and uncles for the greater part of the century. Meanwhile, the prince Gisulf I of Salerno began using the title Langobardorum gentis princeps around mid-century, but the ideal of a united Lombard principality was only realised in December 977, when Gisulf died and his domains were inherited by Pandulf Ironhead, who temporarily held almost all Italy south of Rome and brought the Lombards into alliance with the Holy Roman Empire. His territories were divided upon his death.

Landulf the Red of Benevento and Capua tried to conquer the principality of Salerno with the help of John III of Naples, but with the aid of Mastalus I of Amalfi Gisulf repulsed him. The rulers of Benevento and Capua made several attempts on Byzantine Apulia at this time, but in late century the Byzantines, under the stiff rule of Basil II, gained ground on the Lombards.

The principal source for the history of the Lombard principalities in this period is the Chronicon Salernitanum, composed late in the century at Salerno.

Norman conquest, 1017–1078

The diminished Beneventan principality soon lost its independence to the papacy and declined in importance until it was conquered by the Norman conquest of southern Italy, who, first called in by the Lombards to fight the Byzantines for control of Apulia and Calabria (under the likes of Melus of Bari and Arduin, among others), had become rivals for hegemony in the south. The Salernitan principality experienced a golden age under Guaimar III and Guaimar IV, but under Gisulf II, the principality shrunk to insignificance and fell in 1078 to Robert Guiscard, who had married Gisulf's sister Sichelgaita. The Capua principality was hotly contested during the reign of the hated Pandulf IV, the Wolf of the Abruzzi, and, under his son, it fell, almost without contest, to the Norman Richard Drengot (1058). The Capuans revolted against Norman rule in 1091, expelling Richard's grandson Richard II and setting up one Lando IV.

Capua was again put under Norman rule by the Siege of Capua of 1098 and the city quickly declined in importance under a series of ineffectual Norman rulers. The independent status of these Lombard states is generally attested by the ability of their rulers to switch suzerains at will. Often the legal vassal of pope or emperor (either Byzantine or Holy Roman), they were the real power-brokers in the south until their erstwhile allies, the Normans, rose to preeminence. Certainly the Lombards regarded the Normans as barbarians and the Byzantines as oppressors. Regarding their own civilisation as superior, the Lombards did indeed provide the environment for the illustrious Schola Medica Salernitana.

Social structure


The Lombardic language is extinct. The Germanic language declined beginning in the seventh century, but may have been in scattered use until as late as about the year 1000. The language is only preserved fragmentarily, the main evidence being individual words quoted in Latin texts. In the absence of Lombardic texts, it is not possible to draw any conclusions about the language's morphology and syntax. The genetic classification the language is necessarily based entirely on phonology. Since there is evidence that Lombardic participated in, and indeed shows some of the earliest evidence for, the High German consonant shift, it is classified as an Elbe Germanic or Upper German dialect.

Longbardic fragments are preserved in runic inscriptions. Among the primary source texts are short inscriptions in the Elder Futhark, among them the "bronze capsule of Schretzheim" (ca. 600). There are a number of Latin texts which include Lombardic names, and Lombardic legal texts contain terms taken from the legal vocabulary of the vernacular. In 2005, there were claims that the inscription of the Pernik sword may be Lombardic.

Migration Period society

The Lombard kings can be traced back as early as circa 380 and thus to the beginning of the Great Migration. Kingship developed amongst the Germanic peoples when the unity of a single military command was found necessary. Schmidt believed that the Germanic tribes were divided according to cantons and that the earliest government was a general assembly that selected the chiefs of the cantons and the war leaders from the cantons (in times of war). All such figures were probably selected from a caste of nobility. As a result of wars of their wanderings, royal power developed such that the king became the representative of the people; but the influence of the people upon the government did not fully disappear.[51] Paul the Deacon gives an account of the Lombard tribal structure during the migration:

. . . in order that they might increase the number of their warriors, confer liberty upon many whom they deliver from the yoke of bondage, and that the freedom of these may be regarded as established, they confirm it in their accustomed way by an arrow, uttering certain words of their country in confirmation of the fact.

Complete emancipation appears to have been granted only among the Franks and the Lombards.[52]

Society of the Catholic kingdom

Lombard society was divided into classes comparable to those found in the other Germanic successor states of Rome: Frankish Gaul and Visigothic Spain. Most basically, there was a noble class, a class of free persons beneath them, a class of unfree non-slaves (serfs), and finally slaves. The aristocracy itself was poorer, more urbanised, and less landed than elsewhere. Aside from the richest and most powerful of the dukes and the king himself, Lombard noblemen tended to live in cities (unlike their Frankish counterparts) and hold little more than twice as much in land as the merchant class (a far cry from the provincial Frankish aristocrat who held a vast swathe of land hundreds of times larger than the nearest man beneath him). The aristocracy by the eighth century was highly dependent on the king for means of income related especially to judicial duties: many Lombard nobles are referred in contemporary documents as iudices (judges) even when their offices had important military and legislative functions as well.

The freemen of the Lombard kingdom were far more numerous than in Frankland, especially in the eighth century, when they are almost invisible in the surviving documentary evidence for the latter. Smallholders, owner-cultivators, and rentiers are the most numerous types of person in surviving diplomata for the Lombard kingdom. They may have owned more than half of the land in Lombard Italy. The freemen were exercitales and viri devoti, that is, soldiers and "devoted men" (a military term like "retainers"); they formed the levy of the Lombard army and they were, if infrequently, sometimes called to serve, though this seems not to have been their preference. The small landed class, however, lacked the political influence necessary with the king (and the dukes) to control the politics and legislation of the kingdom. The aristocracy was more thoroughly powerful politically if not economically in Italy than in contemporary Gaul and Spain.

The urbanisation of Lombard Italy was characterised by the città ad isole (or "city as islands"). It appears from archaeology that the great cities of Lombard Italy — Pavia, Lucca, Siena, Arezzo, Milan — were themselves formed of very minute islands of urbanisation within the old Roman city walls. The cities of the Roman Empire had been partially destroyed in the series wars of the fifth and sixth centuries. Many sectors were left in ruins and ancient monuments became fields of grass used as pastures for animals, thus the Roman Forum became the campo vaccinio: the field of cows. The portions of the cities which remained intact were small and modest and contained a cathedral or major church (often sumptuously decorated) and a few public buildings and townhomes of the aristocracy. Few buildings of importance were stone, most were wood. In the end, the inhabited parts of the cities were separated from one another by stretches of pasture even within the city walls.

Lombard states

Religious history


The earliest indications of Lombard religion show that they originally worshipped the Germanic gods of the Vanir pantheon while in Scandinavia. After settling along the Baltic coast, through contact with other Germans they adopted the cult of the Aesir gods, a shift which represented a cultural change from an agricultural society into a warrior society.[citation needed]

After their migration into Pannonia, the Lombards had contact with the Iranian Sarmatians. From these people they borrowed a long-lived custom once of religious symbolism. A long pole surmounted by the figure of a bird, usually a dove, derived from the standards used in battle, was placed by the family in the ground at the home of a man who had died far afield in war and who could not be brought home for funeral and burial. Usually the bird was oriented so as to point in the direction of the suspected site of the warrior's death.[citation needed]


While still in Pannonia, the Lombards were first touched by Christianity, but only touched: their conversion and Christianisation was largely nominal and far from complete. During the reign of Wacho, they were Roman Catholics allied with the Byzantine Empire, but Alboin converted to Arianism as an ally of the Ostrogoths and invaded Italy. All these Christian conversions only affected, for the most part, the aristocracy; for the common people remained pagan.[citation needed]

In Italy, the Lombards were intensively Christianised and the pressure to convert to Catholicism was great. With the Bavarian queen Theodelinda, a Catholic, the monarchy was brought under heavy Catholic influence. After an initial support for the Three Chapters, Theodelinda remained a close contact and supporter of Pope Gregory I. In 603, Adaloald, the heir to the throne, received a Catholic baptism. During the next century, Arianism and paganism continued to hold out in Austria (the northeast of Italy) and the Duchy of Benevento. A succession of Arian kings were militarily aggressive and presented a threat to the Papacy in Rome. In the seventh century, the nominally Christian aristocracy of Benevento was still practising pagan rituals, such as sacrifices in "sacred" woods. By the end of the reign of Cunincpert, however, the Lombards were more or less completely Catholicised. Under Liutprand, the Catholicism became real as the king sought to justify his title rex totius Italiae by uniting the south of the peninsula with the north and bringing together his Italo-Roman subjects and his Germanic into one Catholic state.

Beneventan Christianity

The Rule of Saint Benedict in Beneventan (ie Lombard) script.

The Duchy and eventually Principality of Benevento in southern Italy developed a unique Christian rite in the seventh and eighth centuries. The Beneventan rite is more closely related to the liturgy of the Ambrosian rite than the Roman rite. The Beneventan rite has not survived in its complete form, although most of the principal feasts and several feasts of local significance are extant. The Beneventan rite appears to have been less complete, less systematic, and more liturgically flexible than the Roman rite.

Characteristic of this rite was the Beneventan chant, a Lombard-influenced chant which bore similarities to the Ambrosian chant of Lombard Milan. Beneventan chant is largely defined by its role in the liturgy of the Beneventan rite; many Beneventan chants were assigned multiple roles when inserted into Gregorian chantbooks, appearing variously as antiphons, offertories, and communions, for example. It was eventually supplanted by the Gregorian chant in the eleventh century.

The chief centre of Beneventan chant was Montecassino, one of the first and greatest abbeys of Western monasticism. Gisulf II of Benevento had donated a large swathe of land to Montecassino in 744 and that became the basis for an important state, the Terra Sancti Benedicti, which was a subject only to Rome. The Cassinese influence on Christianity in southern Italy was immense. Montecassino was also the starting point for another characteristic of Beneventan monasticism: the use of the distinct Beneventan script, a clear, angular scrip derived from the Roman cursive as used by the Lombards.

Art and architecture

During their nomadic phase, the Lombards created little in the way of art which was not easily carried with them, like arms and jewellery. Though relatively little of this has survived, it bears resemblance to the similar endeavours of other Germanic tribes of northern and central Europe from the same era.

The first major modifications to the Germanic style of the Lombards came in Pannonia and especially in Italy, under the influence of local, Byzantine, and Christian styles. The conversions from nomadism and paganism to settlement and Christianity also opened up new arenas of artistic expression, such as architecture (especially churches) and its accompanying decorative arts (such as frescoes).


The Basilic autariana in Fara Gera d'Adda.

Few Lombard buildings have survived. Most have been lost, rebuilt, or renovated at some point and so preserve little of their original Lombard structure. Lombard architecture has been well-studied in the twentieth century, and Arthur Kingsley Porter's four-volume Lombard Architecture (1919) is a "monument of illustrated history."

The small Oratorio di Santa Maria in Valle in Cividale del Friuli is probably one of the oldest preserved pieces of Lombard architecture, as Cividale was the first Lombard city in Italy. Parts of Lombard constructions have been preserved in Pavia (San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro, crypts of Sant'Eusebio and San Giovanni Domnarum) and Monza (cathedral). The Basilic autariana in Fara Gera d'Adda near Bergamo and the church of San Salvatore in Brescia also have Lombard elements. All these building are in northern Italy (Langobardia major), but by far the best-preserved Lombard structure is in southern Italy (Langobardia minor). The Church of Santa Sofia in Benevento was erected in 760 by Duke Arechis II. It preserves Lombard frescoes on the walls and even Lombard capitals on the columns.

Through the impulse given by the Catholic monarchs like Theodelinda, Liutprand, and Desiderius to the foundation of monasteries to further their political control, Lombard architecture flourished. Bobbio Abbey was founded during this time.

Some of the late Lombard structures of the ninth and tenth century have been found to contain elements of style associated with Romanesque architecture and have been so dubbed "first Romanesque". These edifices are considered, along with some similar buildings in southern France and Catalonia, to mark a transitory phase between the Pre-Romanesque and full-fledged Romanesque.

Visual arts




  1. ^ Priester, 16. From the Old Germanic Winnan, meaning "fighting", "winning".
  2. ^ a b c Harrison, D. & Svensson, K. (2007). Vikingaliv Fälth & Hässler, Värnamo. 978-91-27-35725-9 p. 74
  3. ^ CG, II.
  4. ^ Menghin, 13.
  5. ^ Priester, 16. Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, I, 336. Old Germanic for "Strenuus", "Sybil".
  6. ^ Priester, 16
  7. ^ Hammerstein, 56.
  8. ^ a b PD, VII.
  9. ^ a b PD, VIII.
  10. ^ OGL, appendix 11.
  11. ^ Priester, 17
  12. ^ PD, I, 9.
  13. ^ Pohl and Erhart. Nedoma, 449–445.
  14. ^ Priester, 17.
  15. ^ Fröhlich, 19.
  16. ^ Bruckner, 30–33.
  17. ^ a b Menghin, 15.
  18. ^ Strabo, VII, 1, 3. Menghin, 15.
  19. ^ Wegewitz, Das langobardische Brandgräberfeld von Putensen, Kreis Harburg (1972), 1–29. Problemi della civilita e dell'economia Longobarda, Milan (1964), 19ff.
  20. ^ Menghin, 17.
  21. ^ Menghin, 18.
  22. ^ Priester, 18.
  23. ^ Velleius, Hist. Rom. II, 106. Schmidt, 5.
  24. ^ a b Tacitus, Ann. II, 45.
  25. ^ Tacitus, Germania, 38-40; Tacitus, Annals, II, 45.
  26. ^ Tacitus, Annals, XI, 16, 17.
  27. ^ Ptolemy, Geogr. II, 11, 9. Menghin, 15.
  28. ^ Ibid, II, 11, 17. Ibid.
  29. ^ Codex Gothanus, II.
  30. ^ Cassius Dio, 71, 3, 1. Menghin 16.
  31. ^ Priester, 21. Zeuss, 471. Wiese, 38. Schmidt, 35–36.
  32. ^ Priester, 14. Menghin, 16.
  33. ^ Ibid. Menghin, 16.
  34. ^ Hartmann, II, pt I, 5.
  35. ^ Menghin, 17. Codex Gothanus, II.
  36. ^ Zeuss, 471. Wiese, 38. Schmidt, 35–36. Priester, 21–22. HGL, X.
  37. ^ Hammerstein, Bardengau, 56. Bluhme. HGL, XIII.
  38. ^ Cosmographer of Ravenna, I, 11.
  39. ^ Hodgkin, Ch. V, 92. HGL, XII.
  40. ^ Menghin, 19.
  41. ^ Schmidt, 49.
  42. ^ Hodgkin, V, 143.
  43. ^ Menghin, Das Reich an der Donau, 21.
  44. ^ K. Priester, 22.
  45. ^ Bluhme, Gens Langobardorum Bonn, 1868
  46. ^ Menghin, 14.
  47. ^ Hist. gentis Lang., Ch. XVII
  48. ^ Hist. gentis Lang., Ch. XVII.
  49. ^ PD, XVII.
  50. ^ The latter esteemed to be around 100,000 in total, basing on the number of 26,000 warriors given by Paul the Deacon. The Saxons abandoned Italy after Alboin's death in 573. See Paolo Cammarosano, Storia dell'Italia medievale, pp. 96-97
  51. ^ Schmidt, 76–77.
  52. ^ Ibid, 47 n3.


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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

LOMBARDS, or Langobardi, a Suevic people who appear to have inhabited the lower basin of the Elbe and whose name is believed to survive in the modern Bardengau to the south of Hamburg. They are first mentioned in connexion with the year A.D. 5, at which time they were defeated by the Romans under Tiberius, afterwards emperor. In A.D. 9, however, after the destruction of Varus's army, the Romans gave up their attempt to extend their frontier to the Elbe. At first, with most of the Suevic tribes, they were subject to the hegemony of Maroboduus, king of the Marcomanni, but they revolted from him in his war with Arminius, chief of the Cherusci, in the year 17. We again hear of their interference in the dynastic strife of the Cherusci some time after the year 47. From this time they are not mentioned until the year 165, when a force of Langobardi, in alliance with the Marcomanni, was defeated by the Romans, apparently on the Danubian frontier. It has been inferred from this incident that the Langobardi had already moved southwards, but the force mentioned may very well have been sent from the old home of the tribe, as the various Suevic peoples seem generally to have preserved some form of political union. From this time onwards we hear no more of them until the end of the 5th century.

In their own traditions we are told that the Langobardi were originally called Winnili and dwelt in an island named Scadinavia (with this story compare that of the Gothic migration, see Goths). Thence they set out under the leadership of Ibor and Aio, the sons of a prophetess called Gambara, and came into conflict with the Vandals. The leaders of the latter prayed to Wodan for victory, while Gambara and her sons invoked Frea. Wodan promised to give victory to those whom he should see in front of him at sunrise. Frea directed the Winnili to bring their women with their hair let down round their faces like beards and turned Wodan's couch round so that he faced them. When Wodan awoke at sunrise he saw the host of the Winnili and said, "Qui sunt isti Longibarbi ?" - " Who are these long-beards?" and Frea replied, "As thou hast given them the name, give them also the victory." They conquered in the battle and were thenceforth known as Langobardi. After this they are said to have wandered through regions which cannot now be identified, apparently between the Elbe and the Oder, under legendary kings, the first of whom was Agilmund, the son of Aio.

Shortly before the end of the 5th century the Langobardi appear to have taken possession of the territories formerly occupied by the Rugii whom Odoacer had overthrown in 487, a region which probably included the present province of Lower Austria. At this time they were subject to Roduif, king of the Heruli, who, however, took up arms against them; according to one story, owing to the treacherous murder of Rodulf's brother, according to another through an irresistible desire for fighting on the part of his men. The result was the total defeat of the Heruli by the Langobardi under their king Tato and the death of Roduif at some date between 493 and 508. By this time the Langobardi are said to have adopted Christianity in its Arian form. Tato was subsequently killed by his nephew Waccho. The latter reigned for thirty years, though frequent attempts were made by Ildichis, a son or grandson of Tato, to recover the throne. Waccho is said to have conquered the Suabi, possibly the Bavarians, and he was also involved in strife with the Gepidae, with whom Ildichis had taken refuge. He was succeeded by his youthful son Walthari, who reigned only seven years under the guardianship of a certain Audoin. On Walthari's death (about 546 ?) Audoin succeeded. He also was involved in hostilities with the Gepidae, whose support of Ildichis he repaid by protecting Ustrogotthus, a rival of their king Thorisind. In these quarrels both nations aimed at obtaining the support of the emperor Justinian, who, in pursuance of his policy of playing off one against the other, invited the Langobardi into Noricum and Pannonia, where they now settled. A large force of Lombards under Audoin fought on the imperial side at the battle of the Apennines against the Ostrogothic king Totila in 5 53, but the assistance of Justinian, though often promised, had no effect on the relations of the two nations, which were settled for the moment after a series of truces by the victory of the Langobardi, probably in 554. The resulting peace was sealed by the murder of Ildichis and Ustrogotthus, and the Langobardi seem to have continued inactive until the death of Audoin, perhaps in 565, and the accession of his son Alboin, who had won a great reputation in the wars with the Gepidae. It was about this time that the Avars, under their first Chagun Baian, entered Europe, and with them Alboin is said to have made an alliance against the Gepidae under their new king Cunimund. The Avars, however, did not take part in the final battle, in which the Langobardi were completely victorious. Alboin, who had slain Cunimund in the battle, now took Rosamund, daughter of the dead king, to be his wife.

In 568 Alboin and the Langobardi, in accordance with a compact made with Baian, which is recorded by Menander, abandoned their old homes to the Avars and passed southwards into Italy, were they were destined to found a new and mighty kingdom. (F. G. M. B.) The Lombard Kingdom in Italy. - In 568 Alboin, king of the Langobards, with the women and children of the tribe and all their possessions, with Saxon allies, with the subject tribe of the Gepidae and a mixed host of other barbarians, descended into Italy by the great plain at the head of the Adriatic. The war which had ended in the downfall of the Goths had exhausted Italy; it was followed by famine and pestilence; and the government at Constantinople made but faint efforts to retain the province which Belisarius and Narses had recovered for it. Except in a few fortified places, such as Ticinum or Pavia, the Italians did not venture to encounter the new invaders; and, though Alboin was not without generosity, the Lombards, wherever resisted, justified the opinion of their ferocity by the savage cruelty of the invasion. In 57 2, according to the Lombard chronicler, Alboin fell a victim to the revenge of his wife Rosamund, the daughter of the king of the Gepidae, whose skull Alboin had turned into a drinking cup, out of which he forced Rosamund to drink. By this time the Langobards had established themselves in the north of Italy. Chiefs were placed, or placed themselves, first in the border cities, like Friuli and Trent, which commanded the north-eastern passes, and then in other principal places; and this arrangement became characteristic of the Lombard settlement. The principal seat of the settlement was the rich plain watered by the Po and its affluents, which was in future to receive its name from them; but their power extended across the Apennines into Liguria and Tuscany, and then southwards to the outlying dukedoms of Spoleto and Benevento. The invaders failed to secure any maritime ports or any territory that was conveniently commanded from the sea. Ticinum (Pavia), the one place which had obstinately resisted Alboin, became the seat of their kings.

After the short and cruel reign of Cleph, the successor of Alboin, the Lombards (as we may begin for convenience sake to call them) tried for ten years the experiment of a national confederacy of their dukes (as, after the Latin writers, their chiefs are styled), without any king. It was the rule of some thirty-five or thirty-six petty tyrants, under whose oppression and private wars even the invaders suffered. With anarchy among themselves and so precarious a hold on the country, hated by the Italian population and by the Catholic clergy, threatened also by an alliance of the Greek empire with their persistent rivals the Franks beyond the Alps, they resolved to sacrifice their independence and elect a king. In 584 they chose Authari, the grandson of Alboin, and endowed the royal domain with a half of their possessions. From this time till the fall of the Lombard power before the arms of their rivals the Franks under Charles the Great, the kingly rule continued. Authari, "the Longhaired," with his Roman title of Flavius, marks the change from the war king of an invading host to the permanent representative of the unity and law of the nation, and the increased power of the crown, by the possession of a great domain, to enforce its will. The independence of the dukes was surrendered to the king. The dukedoms in the neighbourhood of the seat of power were gradually absorbed, and their holders transformed into royal officers. Those of the northern marches, Trent and Friuli, with the important dukedom of Turin, retained longer the kind of independence which marchlands usually give where invasion is to be feared. The great dukedom of Benevento in the south, with its neighbour Spoleto, threatened at one time to be a separate principality, and even to the last resisted, with varying success, the full claims of the royal authority at Pavia.

The kingdom of the Lombards lasted more than two hundred years, from Alboin (568) to the fall of Desiderius (774) - much longer than the preceding Teutonic kingdom of Theodoric and the Goths. But it differed from the other Teutonic conquests in Gaul, in Britain, in Spain. It was never complete in point of territory: there were always two, and almost to the last three, capitals - the Lombard one, Pavia; the Latin one, Rome; the Greek one, Ravenna; and the Lombards never could get access to the sea. And it never was complete over the subject race: it profoundly affected the Italians of the north; in its turn it was entirely transformed by contact with them; but the Lombards never amalgamated with the Italians till their power as a ruling race was crushed by the victory given to the Roman element by the restored empire of the Franks. The Langobards, German in their faults and in their strength, but coarser, at least at first, than the Germans whom the Italians had known, the Goths of Theodoric and Totila, found themselves continually in the presence of a subject population very different from anything which the other Teutonic conquerors met with among the provincials - like them, exhausted, dispirited, unwarlike, but with the remains and memory of a great civilization round them, intelligent, subtle, sensitive, feeling themselves infinitely superior in experience and knowledge to the rough barbarians whom they could not fight, and capable of hatred such as only cultivated races can nourish. The Lombards who, after they had occupied the lands and cities of Upper Italy, still went on sending forth furious bands to plunder and destroy where they did not care to stay, never were able to overcome the mingled fear and scorn and loathing of the Italians. They adapted themselves very quickly indeed to many Italian fashions. Within thirty years of the invasions, Authari took the imperial title of Flavius, even while his bands were leading Italian captives in leash like dogs under the walls of Rome, and under the eyes of Pope Gregory; and it was retained by his successors. They soon became Catholics; and then in all the usages of religion, in church building, in founding monasteries, in their veneration for relics, they vied with Italians. Authari's queen, Theodelinda, solemnly placed the Lombard nation under the patronage of St John the Baptist, and at Monza she built in his honour the first Lombard church, and the royal palace near it. King Liutprand (712744) bought the relics of St Augustine for a large sum to be placed in his church at Pavia. Their Teutonic speech disappeared; except in names and a few technical words all traces of it are lost. But to the last they had the unpardonable crime of being a ruling barbarian race or caste in Italy. To the end they are "nefandissimi," execrable, loathsome, filthy. So wrote Gregory the Great when they first appeared. So wrote Pope Stephen IV., at the end of their rule, when stirring up the kings of the Franks to destroy them.

Authari's short reign (584-591) was one of renewed effort for conquest. It brought the Langobards face to face, not merely with the emperors at Constantinople, but with the first of the great statesmen popes, Gregory the Great (590-604). But Lombard conquest was bungling and wasteful; when they had spoiled a city they proceeded to tear down its walls and raze it to the ground. Authari's chief connexion with the fortunes of his people was an important, though an accidental one. The Lombard chronicler tells a romantic tale of the way in which Authari sought his bride from Garibald, duke of the Bavarians, how he went incognito in the embassy to judge of her attractions, and how she recognized her disguised suitor. The bride was the Christian Theodelinda, and she became to the Langobards what Bertha was to the Anglo-Saxons and Clotilda to the Franks.

She became the mediator between the Lombards and the Catholic Church. Authari, who had brought her to Italy, died shortly after his marriage. But Theodelinda had so won on the Lombard chiefs that they bid her as queen choose the one among them whom she would have for her husband and for king. She chose Agilulf, duke of Turin (592-615). He was not a true Langobard, but a Thuringian. It was the beginning of peace between the Lombards and the Catholic clergy. Agilulf could not abandon his traditional Arianism, and he was a very uneasy neighbour, not only to the Greek exarch, but to Rome itself. But he was favourably disposed both to peace and to the Catholic Church. Gregory interfered to prevent a national conspiracy against the Langobards, like that of St Brice's day in England against the Danes, or that later uprising against the French, the Sicilian Vespers. He was right both in point of humanity and of policy. The Arian and Catholic bishops went on for a time side by side; but the Lombard kings and clergy rapidly yielded to the religious influences around them, even while the national antipathies continued unabated and vehement. Gregory, who despaired of any serious effort on the part of the Greek emperors to expel the Lombards, endeavoured to promote peace between the Italians and Agilulf; and, in spite of the feeble hostility of the exarchs of Ravenna, the pope and the king of the Lombards became the two real powers in the north and centre of Italy. Agilulf was followed, after two unimportant reigns, by his son-in-law, the husband of Theodelinda's daughter, King Rothari (636-652), the Lombard legislator, still an Arian though he favoured the Catholics. He was the first of their kings who collected their customs under the name of laws - and he did this, not in their own Teutonic dialect, but in Latin. The use of Latin implies that the laws were to be not merely the personal law of the Lombards, but the law of the land, binding on Lombards and Romans alike. But such rude legislation could not provide for all questions arising even in the decayed state of Roman civilization.' It is probable that among themselves the Italians kept to their old usages and legal precedents where they were not overridden by the conquerors' law, and by degrees a good many of the Roman civil arrangements made their way into the Lombard code, while all ecclesiastical ones, and they were a large class, were untouched by it.

There must have been much change of property; but appearances are conflicting as to the terms on which land generally was held by the old possessors or the new corners, and as to the relative legal position of the two. Savigny held that, making allowance for the anomalies and usurpations of conquest, the Roman population held the bulk of the land as they had held it before, and were governed by an uninterrupted and acknowledged exercise of Roman law in their old municipal organization. Later inquirers, including Leo, Troya and Hegel, have found that the supposition does not tally with a whole series of facts, which point to a Lombard territorial law ignoring completely any parallel Roman and personal law, to a great restriction of full civil rights among the Romans, analogous to the condition of the rayah under the Turks, and to a reduction of the Roman occupiers to a class of half-free "aldii," holding immovable tenancies under lords of superior race and privilege, and subject to the sacrifice either of the third part of their holdings or the third part of the produce. The Roman losses, both of property and rights, were likely to be great at first; how far they continued permanent during the two centuries of the Lombard kingdom, or how far the legal distinctions between Rome and Lombard gradually passed into desuetude, is a further question. The legislation of the Lombard kings, in form a territorial and not a personal law, shows no signs of a disposition either to depress or to favour the Romans, but only the purpose to maintain, in a rough fashion, strict order and discipline impartially among all their subjects.

From Rothari (d. 652) to Liutprand (712-744) the Lombard kings, succeeding one another in the irregular fashion of the time, sometimes by descent, sometimes by election, sometimes by conspiracy and violence, strove fitfully to enlarge their boundaries, and contended with the aristocracy of dukes inherent in the original organization of the nation, an element which, though much weakened, always embarrassed the power of the crown, and checked the unity of the nation. Their old enemies the Franks on the west, and the Sla y s or Huns, ever ready to break in on the north-east, and sometimes called in by mutinous and traitorous dukes of Friuli and Trent, were constant and serious dangers. By the popes, who represented Italian interests, they were always looked upon with dislike and jealousy, even when they had become zealous Catholics, the founders of churches and monasteries; with the Greek empire there was chronic war. From time to time they made raids into the unsubdued parts of Italy, and added a city or two to their dominions. But there was no sustained effort for the complete subjugation of Italy till Liutprand, the most powerful of the line. He tried it, and failed. He broke up the independence of the great southern duchies, Benevento and Spoleto. For a time, in the heat of the dispute about images, he won the pope to his side against the Greeks. For a time, but only for a time, he deprived the Greeks of Ravenna. Aistulf, his successor, carried on the same policy. He even threatened Rome itself, and claimed a capitation tax. But the popes, thoroughly irritated and alarmed, and hopeless of aid from the East, turned to the family which was rising into power among the Franks of the West, the mayors of the palace of Austrasia. Pope Gregory III. applied in vain to Charles Martel. But with his successors Pippin and Charles the popes were more successful. In return for the transfer by the pope of the Frank crown from the decayed line of Clovis to his own, Pippin crossed the Alps, defeated Aistulf and gave to the pope the lands which Aistulf had torn from the empire, Ravenna and the Pentapolis (754-756). But the angry quarrels still went on between the popes and the Lombards. The Lombards were still to the Italians a "foul and horrid" race. At length, invited by Pope Adrian I., Pippin's son Charlemagne once more descended into Italy. As the Lombard kingdom began, so it ended, with a siege of Pavia. Desiderius, the last king, became a prisoner (774), and the Lombard power perished. Charlemagne, with the title of king of the Franks and Lombards, became master of Italy, and in 800 the pope, who had crowned Pippin king of the Franks; claimed to bestow the Roman empire, and crowned his greater son emperor of the Romans (800).

Effects of the Carolingian Conquest

To Italy the overthrow of the Lombard kings was the loss of its last chance of independence and unity. To the Lombards the conquest was the destruction of their legal and social supremacy. Henceforth they were equally with the Italians the subjects of the Frank kings. The Carolingian kings expressly recognized the Roman law, and allowed all who would be counted Romans to "profess" it. But Latin influences were not strong enough to extinguish the Lombard name and destroy altogether the recollections and habits of the Lombard rule; Lombard law was still recognized, and survived in the schools of Pavia. Lombardy remained the name of the finest province of Italy, and for a time was the name for Italy itself But what was specially Lombard could not stand in the long run against the Italian atmosphere which surrounded it. Generation after generation passed more and more into real Italians. Antipathies, indeed, survived, and men even in the 10th century called each other Roman or Langobard as terms of reproach. But the altered name of Lombard also denoted henceforth some of the proudest of Italians; and, though the Lombard speech had utterly perished their most common names still kept up the remembrance that their fathers had come from beyond the Alps.

But the establishment of the Frank kingdom, and still more the re-establishment of the Christian empire as the source of law and jurisdiction in Christendom, had momentous influence on the history of the Italianized Lombards. The Empire was the counterweight to the local tyrannies into which the local authorities established by the Empire itself, the feudal powers, judicial and military, necessary for the purposes of government, invariably tended to degenerate. When they became intolerable, from the Empire were sought the exemptions, privileges, immunities from that local authority, which, anomalous and anarchical as they were in theory, yet in fact were the foundations of all the liberties of the middle ages in the Swiss cantons, in the free towns of Germany and the Low Countries, in the Lombard cities of Italy. Italy was and ever has been a land of cities; and, ever since the downfall of Rome and the decay of the municipal system, the bishops of the cities had really been at the head of the peaceful and industrial part of their population, and were a natural refuge for the oppressed, and sometimes for the mutinous and the evil doers, from the military and civil powers of the duke or count or judge, too often a rule of cruelty or fraud. Under the Carolingian empire, a vast system grew up in the North Italian cities of episcopal "immunities," by which a city with its surrounding district was removed, more or less completely, from the jurisdiction of the ordinary authority, military or civil, and placed under that of the bishop. These "immunities" led to the temporal sovereignty of the bishops; under it the spirit of liberty grew more readily than under the military chief. Municipal organization, never quite forgotten, naturally revived under new forms, and with its "consuls" at the head of the citizens, with its "arts" and "crafts" and "gilds," grew up secure under the shadow of the church. In due time the city populations, free from the feudal yoke, and safe within the walls which in many instances the bishops had built for them, became impatient also of the bishop's government. The cities which the bishops had made thus independent of the dukes and counts next sought to be free from the bishops; in due time they too gained their charters of privilege and liberty. Left to take care of themselves, islands in a sea of turbulence, they grew in the sense of self-reliance and independence; they grew also to be aggressive, quarrelsome and ambitious. Thus, by the nth century, the Lombard cities had become "communes," commonalties, republics, managing their own affairs, and ready for attack or defence. Milan had recovered its greatness, ecclesiastically as well as politically; it scarcely bowed to Rome, and it aspired to the position of a sovereign city, mistress over its neighbours. At length, in the 12th century, the inevitable conflict came between the republicanism of the Lombard cities and the German feudalism which still claimed their allegiance in the name of the Empire. Leagues and counterleagues were formed; and a confederacy of cities, with Milan at its head, challenged the strength of Germany under one of its sternest emperors, Frederick Barbarossa. At first Frederick was victorious; Milan, except its churches, was utterly destroyed; everything that marked municipal independence was abolished in the "rebel" cities; and they had to receive an imperial magistrate instead of their own (1158-1162). But the Lombard league was again formed. Milan was rebuilt, with the help even of its jealous rivals, and at Legnano (1176) Frederick was utterly defeated. The Lombard cities had regained their independence; and at the peace of Constance (1183) Frederick found himself compelled to confirm it.

From the peace of Constance the history of the Lombards is merely part of the history of Italy. Their cities went through the ordinary fortunes of most Italian cities. They quarrelled and fought with one another. They took opposite sides in the great strife of the time between pope and emperor, and were Guelf and Ghibelline by old tradition, or as one or other faction prevailed in them. They swayed backwards and forwards between the power of the people and the power of the few; but democracy and oligarchy passed sooner or later into the hands of a master who veiled his lordship under various titles, and generally at last into the hands of a family. Then, in the larger political struggles and changes of Europe, they were incorporated into a kingdom, or principality or duchy, carved out to suit the interest of a foreigner, or to make a heritage for the nephew of a pope. But in two ways especially the energetic race which grew out of the fusion of Langobards and Italians between the 9th and the 12th centuries has left the memory of itself. In England, at least, the enterprising traders and bankers who found their way to the West, from the 13th to the 16th centuries, though they certainly did not all come from Lombardy, bore the name of Lombards. In the next place, the Lombards or the Italian builders whom they employed or followed, the "masters of Como," of whom so much is said in the early Lombard laws, introduced a manner of building, stately, solemn and elastic, to which their name has been attached, and which gives a character of its own to some of the most interesting churches in Italy. (R. W. C.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also lombards



Lombards m. pl.

  1. Plural form of Lombard.

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