- A Germanic people who first appear in the sources in the first century a.d., settling along the Elbe River, the Lombards, or Langobardi (Long Beards), developed a reputation for being an especially fierce people. Although they suffered occasional setbacks, they won numerous victories over other barbarian peoples, and at the same time were skilled diplomats, able to maintain good relations with the Avars, Byzantines, and Franks. They are best known, however, for their invasion and conquest of much of Italy, which undermined the efforts of the emperor Justinian to reestablish imperial power in Italy. Although pagan or Arian at the time of the invasion, the Lombards were able to establish good relations with the bishops of Italy and eventually converted to Catholic Christianity. Their efforts to unify the Italian peninsula under a Lombard king caused the popes in Rome great anxiety. The Lombard struggle with the papacy contributed to the formation of the papal states and the destruction of the Lombard kingdom in 774 by Charlemagne, whose aid had been sought by the pope.The origins of the Lombards remain obscure, and the early Roman and medieval texts add little to our knowledge of the earliest period. The first mention of the Lombards was made by Tacitus (c. 56-c. 120) in the Germania, who placed them along the lower Elbe River. Later Roman and early medieval writers placed them in lower Austria by the fifth century and then south of the Danube River in Pannonia (modern western Hungary and eastern Austria) in the sixth century. Paul the Deacon, the eighth-century historian of the Lombards, placed their origins in Scandinavia and then traced their migrations into Pannonia. His version of the history, however, follows the standard pattern of migration that most late Roman and early medieval historians ascribed to various barbarian tribes. The period between the first appearance of the Lombards and their settlement in Pannonia is uncertain; the archeological records suggest that theirs was a pastoral existence. They also seem to have developed a fairly well-organized tribal structure and a reputation for fierceness that was later justified in their contacts with Rome and other barbarian peoples.However that may be, by the end of the fifth century it is most likely that the Lombards had moved into Pannonia; in the next century they were led by the vigorous king Audoin (r. 546-560/1). By the time of Audoin, the Lombards had become a force to be reckoned with and had defeated the Heruls and Gepids in battle. Audoin had gained such renown that he was able to arrange his marriage to a grand-niece of Theodoric the Great, the Ostrogothic king of Italy, a marriage that may have been the inspiration for the Lombard invasion of Italy. Indeed, it was Audoin's son, Alboin, who led the Lombards into Italy.After distinguishing himself in battle against the Gepids during his father's lifetime, Alboin continued to wage war as king in his own name. Although defeated by the Gepids in 565, Alboin rejoined battle two years later after forming an alliance with the Avars. His victory led to the destruction of the Gepids and death of their king at the hand of Alboin, who made a goblet of his rival's skull and and then married his rival's daughter. After his victory over the Gepids, according to tradition, Alboin entered Italy at the invitation of the disgruntled Byzantine general Narses. Although Narses's invitation may have played a part in the invasion, Lombard awareness of the weakened state of Italy, brought about by the Gothic Wars and divisions in the church, as well as possible family connections, surely also played a role. After settling affairs in Pannonia, Alboin entered the peninsula in 568 with up to 150,000 followers; he quickly conquered much of northern Italy and may have even threatened Rome. Alboin's success in Italy, however, was cut short by an assassination plot involving his wife, who had grown tired of seeing her husband drink from her father's skull.Mounted soldier in cast bronze (The Art Archive/Bargello Museum Florence/Dagli Orti)The death of Alboin reveals two of the weaknesses of the Lombard system, the tradition of elective kingship and a powerful noble class. A new king did emerge immediately in the wake of the assassination; Cleph (r. 572-574) was elected, but he was then assassinated in his turn. This was followed by a ten-year period in which no king was elected and the dukes ruled throughout Lombard Italy. The dukes also continued the subjugation of Italy, spreading south into Tuscany, Beneventum, and Spoleto,. There was, however, little effort to intermingle with the Italian population, and the Lombards both kept themselves separate from and continued to oppress the native population. Their warlike tendencies also led them north in an attempt to conquer Burgundy, an almost fatal mistake. The Lombard dukes faced the might of the Merovingian Franks in Burgundy, a might enhanced by an alliance with the Byzantine Empire. The Lombards paid dearly for their expedition north and were nearly destroyed by the Merovingians. It was this experience, at least in part, that led to a restoration of the kingship, as the dukes joined together to elect Cleph's son Authari (r. 584-590) king. His reign was noteworthy for his marriage to Theudelinde, a Bavarian Catholic princess, recovery of much of the territory lost to the Franks and Byzantines, and efforts to strengthen the Lombard kingship.During the seventh century, Authari's successors built on his legacy, continuing to strengthen the monarchy and to preserve their ethnic identity. They also expanded Lombard control in Italy, but introduced important changes in the government and religion of the Lombards. Both developments are evident already during the reign of Authari's immediate successor, Agilulf (r. 590-616), whom Authari's widow, Theudelinde, chose to be king and her new husband. Agilulf stabilized the Lombard frontiers in Italy, limiting imperial territory in the process. He also introduced the practice of early designation of royal successors, identifying his son, Aldoald (616-626), as the heir while the boy was still young. Although an Arian Christian, Agilulf had his son baptized a Catholic and allowed his Lombard subjects to baptize their children as Catholics.This concession was surely made in deference to Theudelinde, who exercised great power and influence, was courted by Pope Gregory I, and was a patron of the Irish Catholic missionary, St. Columban. Indeed, it was during the reign of Theudelinde and Agilulf that Columban established the famous monastery of Bobbio. Theudelinde's efforts on behalf of the Catholic faith failed, however, and when, according to Paul the Deacon, her son went insane, the new king, Ariald (r. 626-636), was an Arian Christian. Indeed, the reaction against Theudelinde, which may have been motivated by the Lombards' desire to maintain their own identity, lasted two generations and continued into the following reign. The reign of Rothari was characterized not only by the promotion of Arian Christianity, but also-and more importantly-by the codification of the Lombard laws. The laws revealed both Germanic tradition and Roman legal practice and show the ambivalent attitude the Lombards had toward the Romans.Although indebted to both their Ostrogothic and Roman predecessors in ruling Italy, the Lombards introduced their own customs and social and political arrangements in Italy, as Rothari's laws demonstrate. The most significant aspect of the Lombards' rule in Italy was their effort to retain their ethnic identity, which led to their limited intermingling with the native Italian population as well as their preference for Arian Christianity. Their political system was organized around a king, whose capital was, eventually, established in the city of Pavia. The king came increasingly to rely on taxes and revenues from his royal estates and remained the leading figure in the kingdom, assisted at court by a growing bureaucracy and a number of officials appointed by the king. The dukes were the next most important power in the kingdom and numbered as many as thirty-five during the kingdom's existence. They were sometimes independent of the king, as were the dukes of Spoleto and Beneventum, and were great powers in their own right, who were often elected to the kingship. At the bottom of the social hierarchy were half-free peasants, slaves, and freedmen, but the most important class was that of the arimmani (Lombard word for soldiers). The arimmani were free men who were responsible for serving in the Lombard military and were essential to the success of the Lombard kings.Despite the successes of Rothari and other early seventh-century kings, the Lombards faced turmoil during the latter part of the century. They suffered from internal dissent brought on by religious differences and the ambition of the dukes. Moreover, the Lombards faced foreign invasion by the Merovingians and by the Byzantines during the reign of King Grimoald (r. 662-671), who also had to evict invading Avars from part of Lombard Italy. There was a major rebellion in the north during the reign of King Cuncipert (r. 680-700), which the king suppressed, enabling him to bring a group of northern bishops under his control. It was also during this period, that the Lombards, under King Aripert I (r. 653-661), converted to Catholic Christianity from the Arian faith of Rothari and some earlier Lombard kings.The turmoil of the late seventh century gave way to the high point of Lombard history in the eighth, under the great kings Liutprand, Aistulf, and Desiderius, whose very success led paradoxically to the demise of the Lombard kingdom. The first of these kings, Liutprand, exploited the turmoil in Italy brought on by the Iconoclastic Controversy in the Byzantine Empire. The controversy emerged because of the decision of Leo III, the Isaurian, to eliminate the use of icons in worship, alienating the papacy, which was already disenchanted with the empire for its failure to protect Italy. Liutprand moved quickly to improve his control of the kingdom and expand its boundaries at the expense of the empire. Although an aggressive and expansionist king, Liutprand strove to maintain good relations with the pope. A Catholic Christian, the king tried to cooperate with Rome even though the popes felt threatened by his efforts to control Italy. His mixed success is demonstrated by the efforts of Pope Gregory III to forge an alliance with the Carolingian mayor, Charles Martel, against the Lombards-Charles was reluctant because of his own ties with Liutprand-and the treaty Liutprand signed with Pope Zachary, who nonetheless promoted ties with the Carolingians.Liutprand's successor, Aistulf, was the most aggressive and bloodthirsty of the Lombard kings. According to one contemporary source, Aistulf was a "shameless Lombard king" who possessed "pernicious savagery" and cruelty (Davis 1992, 55). In keeping with Lombard tradition, he sought to unify the peninsula under his authority, and therefore posed a great threat to papal territories in central Italy. He seized Ravenna, the imperial stronghold in Italy, from the Byzantines and ended the imperial presence there. The victory over the empire, however, forced the popes to find a new protector and brought about the beginning of the end of the Lombard kingdom. Pippin the Short, recently crowned king of the Franks, agreed to come to the aid of the pope and invaded Italy twice in the 750s to restrain Aistulf. Although Aistulf signed treaties guaranteeing the safety of the pope and his lands, the Lombard king nonetheless frequently broke them. He surely would have violated his last agreement with Pippin had Aistulf not died in a hunting accident in 756.Aistulf was succeeded by Desiderius, the final Lombard king of Italy. His reign began well and was supported by the pope himself. Moreover, Desiderius enjoyed good relations with the Carolingians, who formed an alliance with the Lombard king against the duke of Bavaria. Benefiting from the unrest in the Frankish kingdom at the death of Pippin, Desiderius forged a marriage alliance with the Carolingians, joining his daughter to Charlemagne. But the marriage was repudiated by the great king shortly after, and the growing threat posed by Desiderius to the papacy led Pope Hadrian I to seek aid from Charlemagne, who invaded Italy in 773 and by the next year had conquered the kingdom. Charlemagne assumed the iron crown of the Lombard kingdom and incorporated Lombard Italy into his growing empire. Although the Lombard kingdom came to an end in 774, its memory is preserved in the region of Italy that still bears the name Lombardy.See alsoAistulf; Alboin; Arianism; Avars; Carolingian Dynasty; Charlemagne; Charles Martel; Desiderius; Franks; Gregory the Great, Pope; Gregory III, Pope; Hadrian I, Pope; Justinian; Liutprand; Merovingian Dynasty; Narses; Ostrogoths; Paul the Deacon; Pippin III, Called the Short; Rothari; Theodoric the Great; Theudelinde; Zachary, St.Bibliography♦ Christie, Neil. The Lombards: The Ancient Langobards. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.♦ Davis, Raymond, trans. The Lives of the Eighth-Century Popes (Liber Pontificalis): The Ancient Biographies of Nine Popes from a.d. 715 to a.d. 817. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1992.♦ Drew, Katherine Fisher, trans. The Lombard Laws. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1973.♦ Goffart, Walter. Barbarians and Romans, a.d. 418-584: The Techniques of Accommodation. 1980.♦ Hallenback, Jan T. Pavia and Rome: The Lombard Monarchy and the Papacy in the Eighth Century. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1982.♦ Herrin, Judith. The Formation of Christendom. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.♦ Llewellyn, Peter. Rome in the Dark Ages. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1996.♦ Paul the Deacon. History of the Lombards. Trans. William Dudley Foulke. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1974.♦ Riché, Pierre. The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. Trans. Michael Idomir Allen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.♦ Scholz, Bernhard Walter, trans. Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard's History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972.♦ Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. The Barbarian West, a.d. 400-1000. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.♦ Wickham, Chris. Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society, 400-1000. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981.♦ Wolfram, Herwig. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.
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