The Lombard tribes came out of the north and east of Europe in the sixth century, under their king Alboin. They settled in northern and central Italy, an area which came to be known, if you can believe it, as Lombardy. The river Po drains from the Alps in the west to the Adriatic in the east, and most of the major Lombard cities, including Milan and the Lombard capital Pavia, sat along the river or its tributaries. The only outposts of the non-Lombard rule were the papal areas and the regions of the Exarchate of Ravenna, which were a part of the eastern Roman empire.
As with all of the Germanic “barbarians,” the Lombards remained pagan through the seventh century. Barbatus of Benevento (admittedly to the south) records that “the people of Benevento indulged in many idolatrous behaviors, including veneration of a golden viper and a local tree.“
As the eighth century opened change was afoot in Lombardy. At the death of the old king Cunipert, “the years from 700 to 712 were a time of deep instability.”1.Noble, Republic of St. Peter, p.24. His death set off a dynastic battle for the kingdom, as his young son Liutpert ruled with the help of his “tutor” Ansprand. The duke of Turin, by the name of Raginpert, took advantage of the regency and seized the throne. Ansprand fled to Bavaria and his relative duke Theodbert, who ruled there. Raginpert ruled only briefly before dying in battle, but his son Aripert II ruled until 712. Aripert helped assure his rights by personally drowning the young Liutpert in 702. In 711 Ansprand the tutor returned from Bavaria with a large army, and fought Aripert near Pavia. Aripert fled when the battle turned against him, and, most ironically, drowned at a river crossing. Ansprand enjoyed the fruits of his victory for only a few months before dying himself. His son Liutprand ascended to the throne, and became the greatest of the Lombard kings, ruling from 712 to 744.
Liutprand early’s life was not auspicious. Most of his family was killed or maimed in 702, during the battles when Ansprand was exiled. Liutprand married, probably while in exile, the Bavarian duke Theodo’s daughter Guntrud. Theodo died in 716, after Liutprand had taken the throne for himself.2.While his father-in-law might have died, Liutprand would not have wanted to offend the family honor. Another of Theodo’s daughters got pregnant by a certain Emmeram the missionary, so her brother mutilated Emmeram and left him to die at a crossroads. Fouracre, Charles Martel, p.104. Liutprand first allied himself with Charles Martel in 724, when the Lombards are recorded supporting Charles on an eastern campaign.3.Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, p.25. Liutprand even adopted Charles’ son Pepin, and made him an heir. After Emperor Leo III kicked off the Iconoclast Controversy in 726, which was opposed by Pope Gregory II, Liutprand took the opportunity to snatch up some Byzantine possessions. In 728 Liutprand granted pope Gregory II some lands in and around the town of Sutri, which is known as the Donation of Sutri. Liutprand fell seriously ill from 735 – 736, and his nephew Hildeprand was named co-ruler. After his recovery in 736 he crossed the Alps to help Charles Martel fight the Muslims in Arles. But then the Byzantine Emperor offered Liutprand aid in his efforts to regain the southern duchies, but only if Liutprand would oppose the pope. From 738–741 Liutprand and the pope butted heads about the dukes of Spoleto and the Benevento. In 739 the pope wrote to Charles Martel requesting aid against the Lombards. Liutprand put down the revolt of the dukes, but his enemies found protection in Rome. Martel mediated between the pope and Liutprand, until both Charles and the pope died in 741. Liutprand made peace with the ascendant pope Zachary, and relinquished the lands he had take in his dispute with Gregory III. Liutprand died in 744. His was the greatest reign in Lombardy, and the last time the kingdom was truly united. Among his other accomplishments Liutprand added much to the Lombard laws.
Liutprand’s nephew Hildeprand (the Useless), who had been co-ruler since 735, ruled for only a few months before duke Ratchis of Friuli overthrew him.
Ratchis ruled for five years, until 749, when his weak leadership led the dukes to elect his brother Aistulf as king, and forced Ratchis into the monastery of Monte Cassino. It is not recorded if Ratchis and Carloman, Martel’s son, who also joined Monte Cassino when the secular world proved to be too great a burden, hung out together on the hill.
Aistulf was successful in conquering some of the Italian provinces, but in 754 Pepin came to Lombardy in response to Stephen II’s call for aid.4.Also remember that Grifo had been killed on his way to Lombardy to make trouble the previous year, Fredegar Continuations, ch.35, p.103. Pepin’s arrival with overwhelming might forced Aistulf to accept humiliating conditions, and, seeing which way the wind was blowing, several provinces allied themselves with Pepin. Aistulf made and broke several vows of obedience to Pepin before he died in a hunting accident in 757. Desiderius, whom Aistulf had made duke of Istria and Tuscany, became king.
Ratchis returned from Monte Cassino and tussled with Desiderius, before Desiderius, with the support of pope Stephen II, put down the revolt. Ratchis returned to his mountain home for good.
Desiderius sought to expand Lombard power, and inevitably came into conflict with the popes. Pope Stephen III convinced the dukes of Spoleto and Benevento to ally with Pepin. Desiderius actually appointed an antipope in 768, but nothing ever came of it. The big news that year was the ascension of Charlemagne to the throne of the Franks. Desiderius married his daughter Desiderata to Charlemagne in 770, over the objections of Stephen III. The marriage might have been an attempt by Charlemagne’s mother Bertrada to build an alliance, along with Bavaria, against Carloman.5.Davis, Liber Pontificalis, n.76, p.102. But the death of Carloman freed Charlemagne of the need for a Lombard connection, and he repudiated Desiderata. Relations soured between the kings, particularly when Carloman’s widow Gerberga fled to Desiderius. Desiderius adopted her children, declared them lawful heirs, and then disputed with pope Adrian I about his lack of support for the children. Charlemagne invaded in 773 in support of pope Adrian, and against Carloman’s heirs. Desiderius was beseiged and defeated in 774, and he and his wife exiled to a monastery in Gaul. His son Adalgis fled to Constantinople, and fought unsuccessfully to reclaim the throne throughout his life. Desiderius died around 776.
Charlemagne took the title rex Langobardorum. He was eligible for the title, due to Liutprand’s adoption of his father Pepin, but it was the first time a Germanic king had adopted the title of a kingdom he had conquered. He kept the Lombard laws, but replaced the dukes with counts, as in the Frankish model. He ruled northern Italy through the rest of the 8th century. The southern duchies became nominally independent, but subject to Carolingian interference. Two centuries of independent Lombard rule had come to an end.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Noble, Republic of St. Peter, p.24.|
|2.||↑||While his father-in-law might have died, Liutprand would not have wanted to offend the family honor. Another of Theodo’s daughters got pregnant by a certain Emmeram the missionary, so her brother mutilated Emmeram and left him to die at a crossroads. Fouracre, Charles Martel, p.104.|
|3.||↑||Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, p.25.|
|4.||↑||Also remember that Grifo had been killed on his way to Lombardy to make trouble the previous year, Fredegar Continuations, ch.35, p.103.|
|5.||↑||Davis, Liber Pontificalis, n.76, p.102.|