John Bagnell Bury's
The Invasion of Europe
by the Barbarians
The Lombard Invasion of Italy
The Origin of the Lombards—Changes in South Germany—The Lombard Migrations—The Advent of the Avars—The Destruction of the Gepidae—The Lombard Settlements in Italy—The Lombard Polity
The Origin of the Lombards
THE Roman Emperor Justinian [A.D. 527-565] had hardly resumed the administration of Italy in his own hands, the Roman citizens had scarcely got rid of the foreigners who had been established in their midst, when a new host of invaders descended into Italy, to establish a dominion of a very different kind from that of Odovacar and Theoderic. The people who now appear on the scene are the Langobardi, who during the past four centuries have been moving about in central Europe in a way which it is very difficult to trace. We meet them at an early stage of German history, bestriding the banks of the lower Elbe, in the reign of Augustus. They are one of the peoples who feel the might of that emperor's stepson Tiberius. In the second century, at the time of the great migratory movements in Germany, they leave their northern home, and move southwards towards the banks of the Danube. In the time of the Marcomanni War (under Marcus Aurelius) they try to enter
 Pannonia, but are repelled. From this time to the fifth century their name disappears entirely from our Roman records. But their own traditions professed to tell their history during this period. Those traditions are preserved in a document known as the Origo gentis Langobardorum, dating from the seventh century; and in our main authority for Lombard history, the Historia Langobardorum of Paul the Deacon, who wrote before the end of the eighth century. Many attempts have been made to disentangle the movements of the Langobardi from these traditions, but none of them seems very successful; and, while I do not despair that it may still be possible to determine the history which underlies those traditions, I think we must content ourselves for the present with saying that the Langobardi lived and moved in the regions north of the Danube for the three centuries after the reign of Marcus Aurelius; and that they were necessarily included in the Empire of Attila. After the destruction of the Rugian power by Odovacar (487), it is said that they occupied the Rugian land on the north bank of the Danube over against the province of Noricum; but about 505 they were subdued by the Heruls and forced to move into the campi patentes, which must mean some part of the low plains of Hungary (which the Hungarians call the Alföla); between the Danube and the Theiss. Here they were neighbours of the Gepids who had occupied Dacia and part of Pannonia; and here they lived tributary to the Heruls for three years, and then about 508 they rose in rebellion and in a great battle they broke utterly the power of the Heruls. This war is described by the Greek historian Procopius as well as by Paul the Deacon. The Heruli or Eruli (the  name is not improbably the same as jarl or earl) a people whose wanderings are no less perplexing in those of the Langobardi themselves. After the break up of the Hun Empire they moved in the same geographical area as the Langobardi, north of the middle Danube. The war with the Langobardi almost extirpated them; the small remnant that escaped were partly settled by the Emperor in Moesia, and partly received into the kingdom of the Gepids. During the next sixty years the chief factor Langobardic history was antagonism to the Gepids, and it was this mutual hostility of these peoples which led Justinian to offer the Langobardi settlements in Noricum and western Pannonia, to be a counterpoise to the Gepids, who were continually harassing and encroaching on the imperial provinces south of the lower Danube. During this period the Langobardi appear as useful and sufficiently loyal federates of the empire, not only helping it against the Gepids but also sending auxiliaries to fight against the Ostrogoths in Italy.
Changes in South Germany
I must pause to point out some changes which had taken place, in these critical years, in the south German lands—the lands of the upper Danube. We saw that the Alamanni, after their defeat by the Franks, had settled in Rhaetia and the land which came to be generally known as Swabia. Their eastern boundary was fixed as the river Lech, on the banks of which is the city of Augsburg.
Now the future of the lands east of the Lech, and southwards to the Brenner, was decided about the year 500. These lands were occupied then by the  Marcomanni and Quadi, who had been the leading peoples in the great German war of Marcus Aurelius. Their home was in Bohemia. Bohemia was originally a Celtic land: the name Bohemia is Boio-heim, the home of the Boii, a Celtic people. This was the name given by its German neighbours; but about the time of the Christian era it became a German land, being occupied by the Marcomanni.
The German period of the history of Bohemia lasted for about five hundred years; then its German folk migrated, and it was occupied by Slavs.
When the Marcomanni and Quadi appeared in the regions of the river Inn and the upper Danube, they were designated by the people of those regions as Bojuvari or Bojovares, "people from the land of the Boii" in fact Bohemians. From this name of the German settlers, indicative of their old home, the land was called Bajovaria, Bavaria. This is the origin of Bavaria. You see how the name is curiously derived from the same Celtic people who gave their name to Bohemia.
We cannot say how the Langobardi were affected by this migration which resulted in the making of Bavaria. I must now point out an important change of another kind with which the Langobardi are connected. It was probably in the course of the fifth century that the German speech in south German lands underwent a change which produced what is known as High Dutch or High German. This change seems to have worked from Burgundy in the west to Bohemia in the east; later on it extended northwards. The chief characteristic of this linguistic change was the shifting of the consonants, known as the "second shifting". The "first shifting", which is  emulated in Grimm's famous rule, had affected all the Germanic tongues; the "second shifting", formulated in the same rule, was confined to certain geographical limits, and the language, so modified, afterwards spread beyond those limits. It is in consequence of this shifting, which may have been going on about the year 500, that the Germans say Gott, zehn, and thal, where we say god, ten and dale. But whereas in the first ancient, prehistoric shifting all the explosive consonants had been affected alike, according to the same rules, the second historical lifting was only partial; some of the consonants escaped altogether.
It especially concerns us now that the Langobardi came under the influence of this change. Their language, as they spoke it in Italy, exhibits the consonantal shifting which is the characteristic mark of High German. This fact is very important, because; is one of the data which enable us to determine approximately the date of that shifting. It must have been prior to the migration of the Lombards into Italy, because the Lombard language must have been affected by it while they were still in contact with the geographical region when the change originated and was consummated. If the shifting did not begin till the end of the sixth century, till after the Lombards had departed for Italy, it is inconceivable that it could have affected their speech beyond the mountains.
The Lombard Migrations
Let us now resume in a few words the meagre outline of Lombard history up to the eve of their  invasion of Italy. Their earliest historical seats were close to the mouth of the Elbe, between the East Germans and the West Germans. There they were neighbours of the Angles and the Saxons, and the memory of this ancient Lombardy was preserved in the Middle Ages in the name of the Bardengau on the lower Elbe. Migrating southward in the second century, they lived and moved obscurely in the regions of Austria and Hungary for more than two hundred years till they were included in the Empire of the Huns. Living in the neighbourhood of High German peoples, their tongue underwent the change which produced the High German language. At last the Emperor Justinian admitted them into the provinces which they had in vain sought to enter nearly four hundred years before when the Emperor was Marcus Aurelius. They were now federates and subjects of the Empire.
The Advent of the Avars
Towards the close of the reign of the Emperor Justinian, a hundred years after the fall of the Huns, another Asiatic people, ethnologically akin to the Huns, resembling them in character and manners, arrived on the scene to take their place. These were the Avars. They were not destined to create as great an empire as that of Attila, but they formed a strong power in the Danube lands which played towards the Empire a similar part to that which the Huns had played, and were a very important factor in the political situation during the second half of the sixth century. We first hear of the Avars in the fifth century, when they still lived beyond the Volga. In  the reign of Justinian they moved westward; conquered the Sabiri and various other peoples north of the Caucasus, gradually moved across the steppes of southern Russia, till they reached the Dnieper and then the Danube. But in the course of this movement they seem to have left a portion of their people in the region between the Caspian, the Black Sea, and the Caucasus. There is at the present day a people called Avars in Lesghistan. It is a remarkable fact that these Lesghian or Caucasian Avars have a number of names and words which are identical with the names used by the ancient Huns, and this is an argument for the otherwise probable view that the Avars were a people very closely related to the Huns.
The first embassy of the Avars to Constantinople was in the last years of Justinian. Their chief at this time was Baian—the Attila of the Avars. He was determined to push his power and conquest very much farther to the west. When he reached the Danube, his way was blocked by the imperial power to the south, and by the power of the Gepids in Dacia. But he pushed forward in the north, and perhaps extended his power over the Slavonic peoples who during the past centuries had been steadily pressing westward to the Elbe. Certain it is that about the year 562 an Avar host invaded Thuringia and was defeated by the Franks. The Gepids were the great obstacle to Baian's designs; they showed no signs of fleeing before the Avars as the Visigoths had fled before the Huns. But their days were numbered. They had on both sides foes who desired their destruction—the Avars on the east, the Langobardi on the west.
The Destruction of the Gepidae
It was about the year of Justinian's death (565) that Alboin succeeded to the kingship of the Lombards. Alboin saw in the power of the Avars a means of crushing the Gepids. He proposed a compact to Baian. He said: "Let us join hands and destroy these Gepids who lie between your lands and mine. If we conquer them, you shall have their lands and half the spoils". This alliance sealed the fate of the Gepids. They were conquered in a great battle, of which the date is about 567, and politically annihilated. This was the end of another of the great East German peoples, who, though less famous than Goths and Vandals, had played a considerable part in the Danubian lands. A new period in the history of Dacia ensued. That country now passed into the hands of the Avars, who soon extended their power farther west.
The destruction of the Gepids seems to have been, on the part of the Lombard king, prompted by hatred and vindictiveness, not by policy. He slew Cunimund, the Gepid king, in the battle with his own hand; afterwards he took Rosamund, his daughter, to wife, and, according to a doubtful tale, fashioned her father's skull into a drinking cup to be used at solemn banquets. But no sooner had the extirpation of his hated neighbours been completed and his passion of vengeance satisfied than he determined to leave his home in Pannonia and seek a new home in Italy. He may perhaps have come to the conclusion that the Avars would not be more agreeable neighbours than the Gepids had been. He is said to have made the Avars the conditional inheritors  of his Pannonian territory. He said: "If we Lombards conquer Italy, you shall have all our territory in Pannonia; but you must promise that, if we fail, you will restore it to us". However this may be, Pannonia, on the departure of the Lombards, was occupied by the Avars apparently without consulting the Emperor.
Our authorities tell us that the Lombards were always few in numbers, and this fact explains some circumstances in their history. When they decided to attempt the conquest of Italy, they did not go forth alone. They took to themselves partners and allies. Men of various races followed their standards, but their chief allies were Saxons—a host, it is said, of 20,000 Saxons with their wives and children. The historian calls the Saxons their old friends—referring to the fact that they had in ancient days lived in proximity on the lower Elbe. It would seem to be implied that they had maintained relations with one another in the intervening period. It may be observed that in law and custom there were many points of community between the Lombards and the Saxons. After the conquest of Italy, the Saxons wished to live in their portion of the conquered territory independently and according to their own laws. But the Lombards would not tolerate this arrangement. They insisted that their confederates should live subject to Lombard rule and Lombard laws. Rather than submit to abandoning the laws and customs of their fathers, the Saxons left Italy, returned north, and sought to settle in Swabia, where after a protracted struggle they were nearly extirpated by the Franks.
The Lombard Settlements in Italy
The first thing to be noticed about the Lombard conquest in Italy, which began in 568, is, of course, the fact that it was only partial. The Lombards never ruled the whole of Italy, like the Ostrogoths. They never held Rome or Naples; they never held Ravenna until just before the fall of their own kingdom. Italy, throughout the Lombard period, was divided between the Imperial and the Lombard powers. In the second place, the territories of the two powers were not compact and continuous; they were scattered through each other; the Imperial possessions were not confined to the south nor the Lombards to the north. The main outline of this distribution of the peninsula between the Empire and the invaders was decided almost immediately. Alboin entered Italy in 568 and died in 572; during these four years the Lombards occupied, roughly speaking, the north of Italy, including both inland Liguria and inland Venetia; in the centre they conquered Tuscany and a large territory along the Apennines which became known as the Duchy of Spoleto; in the south they won also a large territory which became the Duchy of Benevento. But in the north the sea-coast of Liguria remained imperial, and likewise the sea-coast of Venetia, including the island settlements, which were soon to grow into Venice. After the death of Alboin very little further extension of Lombard power was made until the reign of Agilulf at the beginning of the seventh century. His reign may be considered the second period of conquest; but his acquisitions were chiefly cities in the north, such as Padua and Mantua, which were within the  lines of the Lombard realm, as marked out by Alboin. The third period of conquest comes forty years later, in the reign of Rothari, who won maritime Liguria. Some thirty or forty years later again—the date is not quite certain—a Duke of Benevento conquered Otranto and the heel of Italy. This is the general outline of the extension of Lombard territorial dominion. Imperial Italy consisted of: in the north-east, Venice and a district reaching from north of Ravenna to the south of Ancona; in the centre, the Ducatus or Duchy of Rome; in the south, the Duchy of Naples, the toe of the peninsula, and for a long time the heel. Ravenna continued to possess the importance which it had held under the later emperors and under the Ostrogoths; it was the seat of government of the exarch, the imperial governor who controlled imperial Italy, uniting military and civil powers. It is to be observed that the north-eastern territory, which may be called in a special sense the exarchate of Ravenna, is separated by the Apennines from the Duchy of Rome, and at this point the two Lombard duchies of Tuscany and Spoleto met. This circumstance marks a weak point in the Imperialists' position, but it was partly mitigated by the fact that they held the strong and important citadel of Perusia on this line, and it helped to link the two frontiers of their territory.
The failure of the Lombards to win the whole of Italy is in all probability to be attributed largely to the smallness of their numbers, to which I have already referred. But there is another very important consideration. The Lombards seem to have been born landlubbers, though they had once lived near the mouth of the Elbe. They never took to the sea; they  never created even the most modest fleet. This put them at a hopeless disadvantage for attacking such towns as Rome and Ravenna. The Lombards could reduce a strong inland town like Ticinum by blockade. Alboin took Ticinum after a blockade of three years. Theoderic reduced Ravenna, when it was held by Odovacar, in three years, but he did it with the help of a fleet of cutters. If the Lombards had had the instinct and sense to make themselves even a small fleet, their successes might have been considerably greater. This defect explains the fact that they never made any conquest in the island of Sicily. I may observe here that since the fall of the Vandals, the sea-power of the Roman Empire held complete control over the western basin of the Mediterranean up to the beginning of the eighth century, when the Saracens began to dispute it.
The Lombard Polity
Having seen the limits of the Lombard conquest, we must now briefly examine their social and political system. In the first place, how did they deal with the Italian population, how did they deal with the proprietorship of the soil? These questions have been variously answered. I must emphasise the fact that the Lombards, though they were federates of the Emperor in Pannonia, nevertheless, when they invaded Italy, did so without any regard to the federal bond. They came as undisguised enemies; they made no pretence of forming settlements as federati. In this respect, they are strongly contrasted with the East German peoples: even the Vandals made a compact with the imperial government. We might then expect  to find that the rule and administration of the Lombards would be similarly out of relation to Roman institutions, and this indeed is what we find in Lombard legislation. The Edict or law code of King Rothari, which was drawn up in the middle of the seventh century, is like the Salian law—and in contrast with the Visigothic and Burgundian law—thoroughly Germanic from beginning to end. But the question is: Was there a dual system? While the Lombard conquerors lived by the law as laid down in Rothari's lawbook, did the Roman subjects live by their own Roman law, as they had lived under the Ostrogothic regime, and as the Gallo-Romans lived under the government of the Merovingians? There is no doubt that this was partly the case so far as personal law was concerned: the evidence is meagre, but there are one or two passages in the laws which can hardly be otherwise explained. In Rothari's law code there is hardly a reference to Roman subjects, hardly an indication of any difference of nationality, no provision for mixed suits. The inference is that mixed suits would come before a Lombard court and be judged by Lombard law. Troya and others hold the view that all the Roman population was reduced by the conquerors to the condition of serfs, or aldii. There were three classes in Lombard society: freemen; aldii, or half-free, who were bound to the soil, and correspond to the leti among the Franks; and thirdly slaves. The theory in question holds that all the Roman freemen were reduced to the condition of aldii and included in the second class. This view sounds very improbable. The solution which I believe to be the right one has been given by Professor Vinogradov in a book which he published a good many years ago at St. Petersburg,  but of which the results are still little known in western Europe. I will summarise them.
In the first place Alboin took no general measures respecting the treatment of the conquered population: he died before he had completed the work of conquest. His successor Cleph contented himself apparently with the drastic measure of slaying or driving from Italy many powerful men among the Romans. After his death there was an interregnum of ten years, during which power was in the hands of the dukes; and they found it necessary to organise the conquest. What they did is thus described by Paul: Reliqui vero per hospites divisi ut tertiam partem suarum frugum Langobardis persolverent, tributarii efficiuntur. "The rest of the Roman population are distributed among the Lombard hospites, and have to pay them a tribute one-third of the produce of their lands." In other words, the institution of hospitalitas is revived in its older form; the proprietors yield a third of their produce, they have not to give up a third of their land. When he comes to the end of the interregnum, the historian Paul again deals with the condition of the subject population in a short sentence which has been much discussed and variously explained. Populi tamen adgravati per Langobardos hospites partiuntur. There can, I think, be no doubt that this expresses in an abridged form the same fact which was stated in the previous passage. "The subject peoples are distributed among the Lombard hospites"—i.e. among the Lombards whom they have to maintain as guests. The simple meaning is that when the royal power was revived at the end of the interregnum, the same thing was done as had been arranged before by the dukes in the several duchies. In other words, the plan of dealing  of the Roman proprietors, adopted by the dukes, is organised anew, systematically, throughout the kingdom.
These general measures affected all the Roman land proprietors directly. They themselves, not their lands, were divided among the Lombards, to whom they had give a certain part of the produce, which was regarded as a tributum. Thus they remained proprietors; but they were tributarii. They were not bound to the soil: this is proved by the position of the tertiatores, descendants of these proprietors in the Terra di Lavoro in the eighth century. Hence the view that the Roman possessors passed into the class of Lombard aldii or serfs cannot be correct. They must have belonged to the class of Lombard freemen. It is possible that, as Vinogradov suggests, they formed a class of freemen known as homines pertinentes, mentioned in some of the Lombard laws and distinguished from the aldii. While the Roman proprietors were included in the free class, their coloni or serfs would naturally be included in the Lombard serf class, the aldii, and the Roman slaves would pass into the same class as the Lombard slaves.
To sum up: the main principle of the Lombard system was uniformity of government; the same territorial laws and administration applied to the conquered as to the conquerors, and these territorial laws and administrative institutions were Lombard, not Roman. The Roman population (while their personal relations were regulated by Roman law) passed according to their various social classes into the corresponding classes of the Lombard society, there was, however, one important difference. The free Roman proprietors had to pay a tribute of a third their produce to those Lombards to whom they  had been assigned, and as tributarii they were dependent. You see then that the condition of the Romans under Lombard rule, though it was not so bad as some investigators have held, was very much harder than in those German kingdoms which were federate states, or had commenced as federate states, the Ostrogothic, the Visigothic, and the Burgundian.
Were there then no Lombard landed proprietors in the Lombard kingdom? Was all the land in the hands of the Italian natives? No. In cases where the proprietors had been slain or banished—and there were many such cases—the estates passed into the hands of the dukes or the king. These rulers made grants to their followers to reward their services and secure their loyalty. The principle on which these grants were made was in the interests of those who received rather than of those who granted. They were grants in perpetuity; no limits of time were imposed. Hence every estate granted by a duke tended to exhaust his capital. Moreover no conditions were attached to the grants, which conferred full proprietary rights. In the course of time the Lombard rulers came to recognise the defects of this system. Accordingly we find King Liutprand in the eighth century granting lands on long leases. We also find him conceding the practical enjoyment of an estate without any legal agreement or prescription. Such an estate could be resumed at any moment unless the occupier could prove that his actual tenure exceeded sixty years. From its very nature this mode of tenure left few traces of its existence—for its basis and essence was the absence of legal documents.
In the next lecture I hope to deal with the character of the legislative administration of the Lombards.
Continue to Lecture 15
[The Lombard Law]
Table of Contents