site's logo and link back to the English-speaking home page decorative picture arrow back

The Lombards

pages decorative bandeau, reminder of the one of the main entry home page and the localized home page

Although Charlemagne, in 774 A.D., had become King of the Lombards, putting an end to the rule of that last Barbarian people in western Europe, the history of this people may be of interest. The 'Longobards,' or 'Langobards,' were German Barbarians, one among those people which, beginning in the 5th century, were tumbled upon into the western part of the Roman empire by both the motion of the Wisigoths and the Asiatic Huns. The name 'Longobards' came from the long bard they were bearing. They had moved from their original settlement along the Elbe, near the Baltic Sea -maybe coming then from Jutland- to the lands left free by the Heruli who had moved into Italy under their king Odoacer. During a time, they settled in Pannonia and Noricum -nowadays Hungary and Austria- like allies of Byzantium -under Justinian- against the Gepidae. After having eventually won over these with the help of the Avars, the Longobards, under their king Alboin, gathering a set of various German people, like Saxons, Suevi, or Ostrogoths and some other people like remnants of the Gepidae, or Bulgars, just poured into Italy on April 1st, 568. This invasion was the last of any German people in the West. It put a final end to the survival of the Roman customs in Italy, where the people, despite the rule of the German Heruli and Goths, had managed to maintain their Roman habits and culture. Italy however remained the country to 'Roman continuity and antiquizing renaissances 'during the Early Middle Ages as close links to Byzantium also existed

The advance of the Longobards was swift into Italy due to the rivalries between the Greek chiefs there. After two ephemerous Barbaric states -the Heruli (476-493; King Odoacer was the leader of mercenaries made up of Heruli, Rugii, and Scyrri), and the Ostrogoths (493-553)- Italy had been conquered back by the Byzantines, with their famed general Belisarius and Narses. The Byzantine's official in Italy was the 'exarch,' ruling from Ravenna. After Alboin was assassinated, the invasion was completed by a more crual chief still, Clefi, as the Byzantine exarch had no choice but to shut himself up in Ravenna. A real flight of Italian administrators occurred. The regime the Longobards installed in Italy was of the usual kind among the Barbarians, as a king, with nobles, local leaders, and members of the court, shared among themselves the domains taken from the imperial properties or from private individuals, submitting the former people of Italy to tribute. The difference was that the Longobardic rule was of the harsh and military kind, with a neat ethnic preference for the conquerors and the military functions. Due to this strict separation however, the Italian inhabitants managed to preserve a kind of autonomy and culture because the Longobards did not have any rules nor governing methods for the local peoples and as they were using the ones already in place. The Longobards, on the other hand, were still pagan, or Arians, that is heretic Christians. Christianity was another reason for the local culture and institutions to survive against the Longobardic rulers, as Lombards eventually gave up their specificity, was it in terms of clothes or their language, for example. At its largest extension, the Lombardic kingdom came to include the whole of Northern Italy and nearly all the southern, except Calabria and a coastal strip West, with Naples or Gaeta. The kingdom was divided into 36 duchies. The capital was Pavia. Between 500 and 700 A.D., Lombards had allied with the Avars, as military outposts manned with Lombards and Avars have been found in central Italy, guarding against the Byzantines. War wounds found on skulls is showing how the Lombards mastered advanced surgical interventions as Byzantine weapons of the time included Byzantine maces, battle-axes along with swords. Graves of such outposts are also proving that the Lombards had a tolerant approach to leprosy, sufferers of which usually were ostracized. Some leper warriors thus were called to combat, probably under the influence of the inflexible militarized Avars who called healthy and sick alltogether to contribute

Queen Theodolinda, a Frank and a Roman Catholic, married king Autari, then king Agilulf by the end of 6th century A.D., winning the latter to the faith. She founded St John at Monza, where the iron crown of the Longobardic kings was kept, as she protected St Columbanus to found Bobbio and missionarize. As the Lombards had progressively swept down to the duchy of Beneventum, and anarchy and Arianism had come back, some form of order came back about 660 under Grimoald, the duke of Beneventum, who converted back to Christianity. Beginning by 670 A.D. once the new Bavarian dynasty firmly installed, Lombardy definitively passed to culture. When Charles Martel was to send his son Pippin to the court of Liutprand by 735, Pavia was a cultural center which had been constructed by clerics, some of them eastern monks who had come like missionaries. Poets, architectes and physicians were found in the city. It was Liutprand however, king in 712, who was the greatest king of his people, and a moderate one and a Roman Catholic, allowing more rights to the Church and the Roman influence in his kingdom. The Lombards, however, never came entirely to pass to the influence of Romanity. The history of the Lombards came just part of the history of the Italian peninsula, along with the Pope in Rome, the peoples who were seeking his protection, and the challenged or waning rule of the Byzantines. As the popes in Rome were gaining more power over Italians due to the enstrangement of the Byzantines, they just came head on against the Lombards. The Lombardic threat eventually became so harsh and threatening that the pope progressively appealed to the Franks, beyond the Alps, for help. It is Pippin the Short who came first to defeat the Lombards as it was Charlemagne, during the campaign of the 770s, who put a definitive end to the rule of the Lombards in Italy. Pavia was captured after a 10-month siege, and the son of King Desiderius was captured in Verona. Desiderius himself was sent to France and shut up in a monastery as his son managed to flee to Constantinople. The Lombard kingdom thus came to a end in 774 A.D., with Charlemagne taking the iron crown, and the title of King of the Lombards. The kingdom and its various duchies was incorporated into the Carolingian system, with the counts, vassals, the 'missi dominici' and 'scabini.' The Lombard dominions retained the old Lombard laws as edicted under King Rothari about 636 A.D. and his successors. The northern regions of the Longobardic rule came to fall under the sway of the German emperors after 964, as the duchy of Beneventum was eventually conquered by the Normans in the 11th century. Beginning as soon as by the 9th century A.D. and based upon the antique, Roman tradition or even Etruscan altogether with a demographic expansion, northern Italy eventually turned a land of cities with their surrounding countryside

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 3/4/2019. contact us at
Free Web Hosting