The Lombards

Created by: Isabel Teeters

Origin of the Lombards:

The Germanic Lombards (Langobards or Langobardi) originated in and above northern Silesia (now western Poland) as part of the Suevi confederation of tribes. They were also known by their original ethnic name, the Winnili. The later name of that part of the tribe that migrated out of Scandinavia was the Langobards, or 'hound clan'. Their founder is sometimes named as Sceafa Longbeardum, the Sceaf of Angeln.

The Lombards played little part in the downfall of the Roman empire. They migrated south to Pannonia (modern Hungary) in the sixth century. They enjoyed peaceful relations with the Eastern Empire under their king, Wacho. It was at this time that they converted to (Arian) Christianity. Sometime after the year 540, under Wacho's successor, they became federates of the Empire. Under the terms of the agreement, the assisted Justinian in his wars against the Franks and the Ostrogoths.

The Sweep Through Italy:

They became familiar with the Po Valley and its incomparable fertility during their campaigns for Justinian. In the 560s, their new king Alboin found support from Constantinople when Pannonia was under pressure from the Advars, but he received less than he had hoped for. He decided that the best hope for his people was in Italy itself; the lands which they had recently helped the Empire to reconquer from the Ostrogoths.

Alboin led a host of Lombards, Gepids, and Sarmatians, in 568. Others, such as the Bavarians, Saxons and Taifali joined the invasion en route. As they advanced, the vacuum left behind them was filled by Avars, Bulgars and Slavs. Quickly, Alboin seized Aquileia and much of the Venetian plain. He had taken Milan and was largely in control of the Po Valley, within a year. He swept southwards into Tuscany and had reached Rome itself by 575, with only a few fortified cities and mountain strongholds remaining.

The Murder Of Alboin:

Alboin was murdered in 572. Forcibly, he had married the Gepid princess, Rosamund, the daughter of King Cunimund, and it was she who had him killed, after he had made her drink from her father's skull. Cleph, his successor, was also murdered soon afterwards. For the next decade the Lombards were ruled by an alliance, as a federation under the command of one Zaban, who ruled from Pavia.

The Lombards behaved in the worst traditions of barbarian conquerors; mudering landlords and seizing their lands, plundering the countryside and taking the cities for themselves. Italy had no government authority and the Emperor was powerless to intervene. Justinian's triumph had achieved nothing. Instead he replaced the stable and relatively friendly Kingdom of the Ostrogoths with a barbarian anarchy.

The Lombard Kingdom:

It was not until about 580, after the Lombards had made a couple of abortive attacks on eastern Gaul, that the Byzantines armies in Italy begain to recover. Under this threat, and with the prescence of hostile Slavs and Avars in Istria, the Lombards re-established a unified monarchy under Authari, son of Cleph. Under Authari and his son Agilulf, a new Lombard kindom began to take shape.

Under the influence of the Bavarian princess, Theudelinde, the Lombards gradually began to covert to Catholicism, although their kings initially resisted this.

Under Agilulf the Lombard Kingdom expanded into central Italy and was consolidated in the north. He reached a settlement with the Franks and put down a rebellion before resuming the struggle with Byzantium. Several years of fighting followed before, with the Empire accepting it could never recover the whole of Italy, the situation stabilized. Catholicism was well-established amongst the Lombards by the 680s, which helped the Empire to swallow an enduring peace.

The Lombards' power reached its peak during the reign of King Liutprand, but after his death, the Popes began to see the possibility of enlisting the help of the Franks in overthrowing them. In 755, at the direct invitation of the Pope, Pepin the Short invaded Italy and defeated the Lombard King Aistulf. Lombard rule in Italy was all but over, being finally destroyed in 773 by Pippin's son, Charlemagne.