The Iron Crown with which Lombard rulers were crowned.

The Lombards (Latin: Langobardī), also referred to as 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 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 Bassus, 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 recorded as active during the Principate 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]

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]

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 Cunincpert (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 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 Justin 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. By the time Paul the Deacon was writing, the Lombard language, dress and even hairstyles had all disappeared.[51]

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[]

  • Duchy of Spoleto and List of Dukes of Spoleto
  • Duchy of Benevento and List of Dukes and Princes of Benevento

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 591. 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. Agilulf died in 616; Theodelinda reigned alone until 628, and was succeeded by Adaloald. Arioald, who had married Theodelinda's daughter Gundeperga, 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 Haripert 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 Cunincpert.

Catholic monarchy[]

File:Italy under Aistulf.gif

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[]

Lombard Duchy of Benevento in the 8th century AD

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.

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

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 shrank 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" (c. 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 c. 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.[52] 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, [the Lombards] 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.[53]

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[]

  • Kingdom of Italy and List of Kings of the Lombards
  • Principality of Benevento and List of Dukes and Princes of Benevento
  • Principality of Salerno and List of Princes of Salerno
  • Principality of Capua and List of Princes of Capua

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.

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.


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.

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 anti-Rome party in the Schism of 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 (i.e. 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.


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  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. ^ "The New Cambridge Medieval History: c. 500-c. 700" by Paul Fouracre and Rosamond McKitterick (page 8)
  52. ^ Schmidt, 76–77.
  53. ^ Ibid, 47 n3.