Barbarian Kingdoms in Italy 1

Barbarian Kingdoms in Italy – The Lombard Conquest Part 1


This detachment from the East and approaching the West, this identification of the peninsula within the Roman-barbarian world itself is accentuated after 568 (see alboin), when the Lombards, already settled in today’s Hungary under the dominion of the Heruli, then allies of Theodoric in destroying that kingdom, settled in Noricum by permission of Justinian, ie at the gates of Italy, broke through the passes of the Julian Alps (see Longobards). With them, Germanism disappeared from the East and strengthened in the West. When Forum Iulii  was occupied  and immediately after Milan, a new phase of life began for the people of the peninsula. Unlike the other barbarians, they came, not as federates and friends of the empire and pushed back by it, but as enemies and conquerors. More barbarians  of the Goths, and more firm in the frameworks of their old Germanic constitution, proceeded without regard, neither for the empire, nor for the Italian populations, nor for the churches.

According to, different and opposite judgments were pronounced on the conduct of the Lombards in the early times. But it can now be admitted that the new invaders, unlike the Ostrogoths, treated the Romans as a thing of conquest. Certainly the church reporters of the time exaggerated. In Pavia, Alboin entered  laesionem ferens null and void , and the people, after so much misery, felt their hearts lifted to new hope. Certainly, too, most of the bishops remained in their seats and some received benign treatment. Probably, as always in these invasions, plebs, peasants, serfs were indifferent and perhaps expected benefit. Also, here and there,  possessores. And Gregory the Great complains that some of them fled from Corsica and Campania to the Lombards of Tuscia and Benevento, out of hatred of the Byzantines. But it is also true that, especially with Clefi, Alboin’s successor and during the interregnum that followed Clefi, there was a real massacre of  potent, that is of rich and high-ranking people: which was another blow given to the old aristocracy, already beaten by the military and peasant reaction of the century. III-IV and the bureaucratic despotism of the empire, and the replacement of an almost entirely Germanic aristocracy for the old one of Roman origin. It is also true that, in the face of the predatory Lombards and Aryans and supporters of schismatics, there was a large exodus towards the places less affected by the invasion. Paolo who was in charge of the church of Aquileia fled to Grado. Not a few Milanese took up residence in Genoa. Other people sought the protection of that bishop and the Greek duke in Rome and Ravenna. The coasts and islands of Tuscany, the Apulian and Neapolitan coasts also had to welcome fugitives. The same had happened and was taking place along the Dalmatian coasts, where Split was born. There was certainly now the first wave of migration towards the islands of the Venetian estuary. In short, as an outflow towards the peripheral countries, easier to keep connected with the empire and defended: an outflow that either gave the first origin to new cities or blooded and revived pre-existing cities, while others decayed or disappeared forever. At the same time, where, especially along the border between Greeks and Lombards, corps of troops with their dukes and magistri militum , new castles were built, some of which later became cities. So Ferrara. And all this represented a first and tenuous shift in the old and solid urban backbone of the peninsula.

In the early days, the conquest was rapid, up to Benevento and beyond. But in the meantime the resistance of the Byzantines was being organized. Ravenna, Rome, Naples were consolidated in their hands. Little cohesion and strength, among the Lombard dukes; and some entered the service of the empire, the others tried to settle within the territories assigned to them. The collisions with the Franks, who tended to overflow on Italy, were added. From Byzantium, solicitations and stimuli arrived: and there was also an alliance between the Franks and the emperor Maurice. Thus threatened in their internal structure and by the surrounding forces – Greeks, Franks, Church -; few and isolated in the midst of a large and hostile population, even if unwilling to war, the Lombards returned to appoint a single leader. That was the son of Clefi, Autari.

At this time, the Lombard districts, the duchies, have already been established: most of them, in upper and middle Italy, where they are grouped into larger nuclei, such as Austria, Neustria, Tuscia, which are those most frequently mentioned, although they are, apparently, not large administrative and political divisions, but distinct geographical regions. Only very roughly do the duchies or  judiciariae  seem to respond to previous civil or religious divisions. Yes, they have a  civitas in the center : but not every  civitas it is the center of a duchy. It can be thought that the Lombards, at first, took the cities on the basis of their order, as they settled there: but then many movements took place in the old circumscriptions, both civil and ecclesiastical. It is also certain that the memory of the old circumscriptions, linked to interests of all kinds, did not fade: on the contrary, the tendency to bring the new circumscriptions back on the line of the old ones immediately manifested itself. In this event, the hierarchy of the cities changed considerably. Some gained, others lost their importance: also in relation to the extent of Lombard settlements, which were numerous in some regions (Friuli, Brescia, Pavia, Lucca, Pistoia), scarce elsewhere. Some cities had a long eclipse, such as Padua; some other changed location. Milan, former capital of the Western empire, fell;Ticinum ), formerly a Gothic center of considerable importance, became the capital of the kingdom in 540 after the fall of Ravenna, the place of the extreme Gothic defense against the Byzantines. They too, it seems, placed the vicar of Italy there and resisted there for three years in Alboino: this explains the lasting impression that the fall of that city left on the Lombards. And now, after the death of Alboin (572), Pavia is chosen as the permanent capital of the new kingdom.

Barbarian Kingdoms in Italy 1