A Lombard was a member of the Lombards (Langobardi), who were an ancient Germanic
tribe and one of the later tribes that overran a part of the Roman Empire
. Much of what we know about the Lombards comes by way of Paul the Deacon
’s 8th century work “History of the Lombards
”, which detailed much of the Lombard myth
and history. The name, Lombard, is said to be a derivative of either the Lombard’s preferred weapon, the long halberd
, or of the words long beards. The former of the two is most often considered to be the correct theory. The Lombards are considered to be one of the most violent of the Germanic tribes and their conquests of filled with tales of destruction, pillage and despair. Their invasion would almost single handedly throw northern Italy backwards hundreds of years in culture
The Lombards were part of the Suebi tribe, an early Germanic tribe that had been settled primarily along the lower Elbe River in the 1st century AD. The first mention of their tribe comes from Tacitus, who wrote of them in “Germania”. Though the Lombards had some interactions with the Romans during the next few hundred years, they seemed to live a mostly peaceful existence. It would be the advance of the Huns that would change the Lombard role. When the Huns advanced into Western Europe, the Suebi were displaced and fled to Iberia. The Lombards seemed to detach from their original group about this time, for they did not settle with the Suebi in Iberia. They first show up again along the north side of the Danube River, in present day Austria. During this time some of the Lombards converted to Arianism, though the majority retained their previous beliefs.
In 546 a new king rose to throne, when King Audion began a new Lombard dynasty. The Lombards resurfaced to history in 547 AD, when Justinian I established them as federates in the Pannonia and Noricum region. It was during this time that the Lombards begin to develop an imperial structure, creating their own lines of counts and dukes. They also began to adapt the imperial military structure and used it to great effect when Audoin’s successor Alboin led them in destroying the Gepids, who lived to their east, in 567.
Following this period, with little to their north and the enemies to the east destroyed, the Lombards began to look towards the south for new lands to conquer. Albion led the Lombards south into Italy in 568 AD and they began to conquer the area with little effort. Within a year the majority of the large cities, north of the Po River, had fallen to the Lombards, the sole exception being Pavia, which fell in 572. Pavia would become the de jure Lombard capitol and the lands of northern Italy became the Lombard homeland. They used this base to spread their influence throughout Italy, conquering large parts of central and southern Italy. But Albion would be assassinated in 572 and only chaos would follow.
Following Albion’s death, the Lombards chose one Cleph to become their king, but his reign lasted less than three years. By 575 the Lombards were again leaderless and their power began to fracture. Those areas conquered over Albion and Cleph’s lives would fracture into more than 30 distinct duchies, each independent within their own small borders. But the power of the Lombard did not constantly decline during this period; they still spread their influence throughout Italy, albeit significantly slower than previously. The duchies of Spoleto and Beneveto were examples of Lombard expansion during this time, and though they were independent lands they were also a spreading of the Lombard grasp. After 9 years the period of turmoil would come to an end though.
In 584 a new leader would be chosen to revitalize the peoples, when Cleph’s son Authari became the king. Authari was partially chosen because of his line, but also partially because the Lombards had realized that they did indeed need a centralized ruler, especially after some of the independent Lombard duchies has managed to anger the powerful Franks to the west. Authari managed to stop the Lombard decline and to maintain order within their lands. And while some lands were lost to the Byzantine armies and to the Franks, he set the groundwork for his successor Agilulf to take most of those lands back.
It would be Authari who would establish the power of the Lombard king. Upon rising to the crown, the dukes his power rested upon were made to give up parts of their lands in order to sustain the king. Pavia itself became the true administrative center of the kingdom and the footing of the kingdom was overall centralized in a way as to force a continued monarchy.
During the 7th and 8th centuries AD, the Lombards reached the height of their power. As well as converting from Arianism and paganism, the Lombards finally began to see some Roman influence in their laws and in the civil and social culture. Among the larger achievements in this vein would be King Liutprand forming a code of law that linked the German and Roman laws and established a unified code for Lombard Italy. As well, Liutprand would accomplish the absorption of the previous independent Lombard duchies in Spoleto and Beneveto and the reduction of Byzantine strength on in southern Italy.
Under King Aistulf, Ravenna fell to the Lombards in 751 AD and the king then threatened an advance on the Pope, but his actions inspired a Frankish-Papal alliance. So it was that Pope Stephen II appealed to the Frankish King Pepin for help. When Pepin marched into the Lombard lands, all of what he seized was given to the Pope in the “Donation of Pepin”, these lands would go on to form the basis of the Papal States. Following Aistulf’s death, the next king, Desiderius, seemed determined to replicate his predecessor’s mistakes, when in 772 he renewed the advance on Rome.
The successor of Pepin, Charlemagne, intervened and by 774 the Lombards where smashed. Charlemagne took the title of “King of the Lombards” as his own, effectively ending any chance of the kingdom rebuilding and marking the first time one king took another’s “rank” following a conquest. The iron crown of the Lombards would itself be the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor in 951 AD, when it was used to crown Otto I. To the south, the sole remaining Lombard duchy of Beneveto would become a conquest of the Normans in the 11th century, completely ending any independent Lombard rule.
Lombard Culture and Legacy
Unlike the previous Germanic tribes that invaded Italy, the Lombards would leave a distinct mark upon the peninsula even to this day. Their initial invasion, though brutal, was not the true reason for the decline in Roman culture throughout the Lombard controlled areas; instead much of that lies on the early Lombard social structure. The Lombards, though a distinct minority in Italy, basically required that to be part of the civil and social structure of the kingdom one must be a Lombard. Even later in the kingdom’s history when Romans were allowed to become part of the upper structure, the Roman had to have been thoroughly “Lombardized”.
Lombard influence still hangs heavy over the area that became their heartland, north of the Po River. Here one can find a massive concentration of Germanic or Lombard names, sites and influence. Even here though, the simple fact that the Lombards were still such a small minority, their own culture and language was almost completely absorbed into the preexisting Roman culture by the end of the 8th century. This fact is shown most especially in the area of Liutprand’s code of law, published in 731 AD. While some parts of the code maintain distinctly German ideas, the majority is Roman law. This is not a surprising fact though, as administratively the Lombards had been moving towards more and more Roman ideas since they first began to interact with the Roman Empire as federates.
Lombard influence still exists to this day. One must only look to the area of Lombardy for proof, or look closely around cities like Milan. Though their conquest was bloody, and their kingdom relatively short-lived the Lombards succeeded where many Germanic peoples didn’t, in building there own heritage.
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