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The Langobards, "Long-beards," also known in modern literature as Lombards or Longobards, were not among the many large tribal and confederate groupings who assailed the Roman Empire in its last centuries in the West. Although Langobards are recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus in his first-century ethnographic survey, Germania (chap. 40), and noted as "famous because they are so few," later Roman sources pass minimal comment on them, as the Langobards did not force the Rhine or Danube as the Alemanni or Goths achieved in the third and fourth centuries a.d. Although much is written now on ethnogenesis (the creation and formulation of new powers such as the Franks) in these crucial centuries, the Langobards stand out for their antiquity and resilience: Indeed, Tacitus describes how they were a tribe "hemmed in . . . by many mighty peoples, finding safety not in submission but in facing the risks of battle"—this helping them to persist as a name into the Early Middle Ages unlike other tribes listed by Tacitus, as, for example, the Reudingi and Eudoses. Archaeologically, the Langobardic presence in the early Roman imperial period is somewhat uncertain, although urnfields (cremation cemeteries) along the lower Elbe and in Lower Saxony, featuring weaponry as well as Roman imports, are attributed to the tribe. It is disputed how far the archaeological data inform on territory and ethnicity, but indications of change and demographic loss are suggested for the third century. Later textual sources argue for a southeastwardly migration of the Langobards toward Bohemia and thence the Middle Danube. It is doubtful that this movement can be easily tracked through a distinctive cultural residue, such as burial goods, yet any "migration" will have involved much more than the movement and carrying of a name: ancestral bonds and badges of identity and belonging to the Langobardic name should have been preserved through language, titles, artifacts, and ritual, even if these also evolved with time.

Although knowledge of the earliest phases of Langobardic development and history-making remains somewhat insecure, a sixth-century prominence is well attested through both text and archaeology. A contemporary source, the Greek historian Procopius, records alliances forged in the 530s–550s a.d. between the Byzantine emperor Justinian and the Langobards in the context of the Byzantine-Gothic War in Italy (a.d. 534–555). The Langobards in the second quarter of the sixth century occupied the northern portions of former Roman Pannonia (western Hungary); southern Pannonia was largely ceded, along with much tribute, by Justinian to secure the landward passage of imperial troops to Italy. Langobardic soldiers also fought in the Byzantine armies in Italy, and various chiefs became imperial officers, serving in the Balkans and even in Persia. Procopius records the Langobards as Christian and Catholic allies in the 540s, although Arianism and paganism remain evident into the seventh century.

The late-eighth-century Langobardic historian and poet Paulus Diaconus, writing chiefly for the court of Charlemagne, provides much of the documentation for the subsequent Langobardic occupation of large parts of Italy in opposition to the Byzantines. The Byzantines, who had only defeated the Ostrogoths in the peninsula after a disastrously long and drawn-out conflict, appear little able to counter the Langobardic migration of a.d. 568, despite calling on Frankish support and using gold to buy off Langobardic dukes. Numbers involved in the migration are disputed, but a military component (that is, adult males) is estimated at about forty thousand. By c. a.d. 610 the Langobards held the bulk of northern Italy except for the coastal zones of Venetia and Liguria, and they had limited the imperial forces to a central Italian land corridor linking Rome and Ravenna; the king was based first in Verona, then Milan, and finally settled in Pavia. Territories were divided up chiefly among dukes based in towns and fortresses. Further territorial gains were made in the mid-seventh and mid-eighth centuries when the Byzantine capital Ravenna was occupied. With the ejection of Byzantine rule in central and northern Italy, papal Rome successfully appealed to the Carolingian Frankish court, culminating in Charlemagne's conquest of the regnum Langobardorum in a.d. 774. Powerful Langobardic principalities nonetheless endured in central southern Italy, notably focused on Benevento.

Ninth-century Benevento marked a significant Langobardic cultural flourish: in addition to the Langobard's major palace and religious foundations in the city itself, Langobardic princes and elites contributed strongly to monastic seats, notably San Vincenzo al Volturno, which had been founded c. a.d. 703 by three Langobardic brothers and monks. The ninth century witnessed substantial remodeling and aggrandizement of the abbey through Langobardic and Frankish patronage. In particular, excavations have revealed the extensive use of elaborate wall paintings; San Vincenzo also featured a major scriptorium producing high-quality manuscripts, some still extant. In northern and central Italy, eighth-century Langobardic churches and monasteries are attested by text, art, architecture, and archaeology, such as in the royal or ducal cities of Pavia and Verona. Exquisitely ornamented monasteries such as the Tempietto at Cividale and San Salvatore at Brescia survive to reveal not just religious fervor by the Langobardic elites but also a major cultural renaissance, prominent before direct Carolingian influence.

Although walled towns are attested as seats of power (for kings, dukes, lieutenants, and counts), related settlement archaeology remains extremely limited: houses are known in Brescia and Verona, for example, and traces of palaces are claimed for Brescia, Cividale, and Spoleto, but in terms of rural sites, specific Langobardic-period housing is barely known (with the picture even more scarce for Langobardic Pannonia). This deficiency, however, extends also to non-Langobardic sites, including Rome and Ravenna, where sixth-to-eighth-century secular structures remain to be fully identified archaeologically. Excavations at Brescia in particular have shown how towns were severely depleted c. a.d. 600, with open spaces, timber and rubble buildings, robbed classical structures, and burials intruding into the urban confines. Nonetheless, the identification of towns as seats of authority suggests continuity of population, with the bulk of these inhabitants being Italian/Roman and non-Langobardic.

This continuity of population has implications for the chief source of archaeological information for the sixth and seventh centuries, namely burials. Major excavated necropolises include Nocera Umbra and Castel Trosino in central and eastern Italy and Testona (near Turin) and Cividale in the north; a key aristocratic group lies at Trezzo sull'Adda near Milan. Although weapon burials are prominent (and with elite presenting quality "parade" items—gilded or silvered spurs, decorative shields—into the mid-seventh century), attention has increasingly been given to other artifacts, notably dress fittings, can help identify patterns of integration or acculturation between Langobards and natives. The discovery of workshops in Rome that were the source of manufacture for items used in Langobardic territories particularly demonstrates exchange networks in the seventh-century peninsula. These data complement texts such as the Langobardic law codes to provide an ever fuller and more complex image of Langobardic and Langobard-period society and culture.

See alsoCoinage of the Early Middle Ages (vol. 2, part7); Hungary (vol. 2, part 7).


Bona, Istvan. The Dawn of the Dark Ages. The Gepids and theLombards in the Carpathian Basin. Budapest: Corvina Press, 1976.

Brogiolo, Gian Pietro. Brescia altomedievale: Urbanistica ed edilizia dal IV al IX secolo. Mantua, Italy: Padus, 1993.

(Synthesis of the major excavations and archive data for late antique and early medieval [Langobardic] Brescia.)

Brogiolo, Gian Pietro, Nancy Gauthier, and Neil Christie, eds. Towns and Their Territories: Between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Transformation of the Roman World, vol. 9. Leiden: Brill, 2000. (Includes articles on the Lombards, their settlement and defense in Pannonia and Italy, and their eighth-century artistic culture.)

Brogiolo, Gian Pietro, and Sauro Gelichi. Nuove ricerche sui castelli altomedievali in Italia settentrionale. Florence: All'Insegna del Giglio, 1996. (Detailed discussion of sequences of fortifications, identifying Langobardic contribution.)

Brozzi, Mario. Il ducato longobardo del Friuli. Udine: Grafiche Fulvio, 1981. (Useful survey of sources and archaeology for one north Italian region.)

Christie, Neil. The Lombards: The Ancient Longobards. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.

Harrison, Dick. The Early State and the Towns: Forms of Integration in Lombard Italy,a.d. 568–774. Lund, Sweden: Lund University Press, 1993.

Hodges, Richard. Light in the Dark Ages: The Rise and Fall of San Vincenzo al Volturno. London: Duckworth, 1997.

McKitterick, Rosamond, ed. The New Cambridge MedievalHistory. Vol. 2, c. 700–c. 900. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995. (Contains key summary historical papers on eighth- and ninth-century Langobardic and Carolingian Italian society, government, and religion.)

Paroli, Lidia, ed. La necropoli altomedievale di Castel Trosino: Bizantini e Longobardi nelle Marche. Cinisello Balsamo, Italy: Silvana, 1995. (A series of papers with full illustrative support linked to reevaluating the finds and population as well as wider context of the well-known Langobardic cemetery of Castel Trosino.)

Roffia, Elisabetta, ed. La necropoli longobarda di Trezzo sull'Adda., Ricerche di archeologia altomedievale e medievale 12/13. Florence, Italy: All'Insegna del Giglio, 1986.

Wickham, Chris. Early Medieval Italy: Central Power andLocal Society, 400–1000. London: Macmillan, 1981.

Neil Christie