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Scientific Area » Longobard History » 2nd Process of Ethnic Group Formation

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The first evidences of assimilation/integration of the local culture by the Longobards (second process of ethnic group formation) can be found in the end of the 6th century, when the monarchical institution grounds its roots in the territory, after consolidation. First of all, it defines the kingdom boundaries in the Alpine areas (conquest of the Comacina Island, ca. 590) through military campaigns; then it fixes the borders with the Byzantines along the po river (conquests of Brescello, Mantua, Monselice in 602/603).
indeed kings, court and high aristocracy (in other words, the elites) soon recognize the necessity of assimilating the life style of the now subjected ruling classes.
The foundation of churches and monasteries is among the earliest evidences of an unceasing evolution which will gradually modify their own original culture.
Contacts with the local roman civilization gradually induced the Longobards to convert to orthodox Christianity. Previously, only a few groups had adhered to Arian Christianity during their sojourn in Hungary. thanks to her vast culture, and her personal relationship with Gregory the Great, queen Theodelinda became the great promoter of conversion.

Subsequently, the efforts of the catholic Church on the one hand, and the policy of matrimonial alliances implemented by the Longobards on the other (the marriage of Authari to Theodelinda is significant in this respect) led even those who had tenaciously adhered to the ancient cults as public affirmation of ethnic belonging to progressively convert to catholicism.

Conversion to christianity, however, never implied the total loss of Longobard cultural traditions. At least until the beginning of the 8th century, traditional funerary rites survived. Conversion to christianity is signaled, in all areas occupied by Longobards, by the dissemination of the cult of Saint Michael.
The most significant example is the shrine of Monte Sant’Angelo on the Gargano, a major pilgrimage destination for Longobards as well as a site kept under careful control by rulers-as the Germanic names and the runic characters inscribed within the monumental complex indicate.

Among these there are the names of members of Pavia and Benevento dynasties who contributed to the internationalization of both worship and pilgrimage.

The integration in the roman-Mediterranean and christian context developed more and more strongly and radically, causing a real change in Longobard society both from the political, social and cultural point of view. The final “product” of such a process of integration/acculturation gives to History and culture a real civilization which is able to:

    a) rule over a wide territory through a branched and complex system of power (duchy and kingdom), and through social and territorial composite structures;
    b) reform its own religious beliefs and life customs;
    c) create a new artistical language meeting the new civilization’s requirements, which, exploiting middle eastern experiences as well, retrieves and revises the classical tradition forms.

In this way it produces artworks and monuments which stand out for their extraordinary originality and which represent the physical heritage of their civilization.

Above all, there was a distinct evolution toward a monarchical organization. The idea of the king as a temporary military leader connected to a war period gradually gave way to a sovereign that could institutionally represent the whole people and a territorial dominion vis-à-vis the Byzantine empire, the papacy, and the Merovingian kingdom across the Alps. the sovereign set up an administrative structure to govern the territory, especially establishing a fiscal system founded on loyalty to the court.
New public offices were established, which are mentioned in royal documents: the gastaldi, royal chancellors, judges and notaries to which one must add, in the eighth century, the gasindi.

During the transformation process, the influence of local traditions as well as of christianity is equally relevant on manufactures (brick, goldsmith’s, building industries), on cerimonies (throne ascension), on rituals (gradual reduction of grave goods, use of shrouds for the bodies deposition in burials), on all types of economical activities and self-image investment (mortuary chapels, donations, adoption of brocade clothes and Byzantine jewells), on cultural and juridical expressions (scriptoria, rotary’s edict, notarial acts).

A revealing evidence of the influence of roman culture on Longobard society is Rothari’s Edict, issued from the royal palace of Pavia in 643. Written in Latin, the Edict devotes the first pages to the ancestral culture of the Longobards and the genealogy of their kings, but combines that to recent laws, in a single corpus as romans did. practices and traditions heretofore transmitted orally were thus congealed into written norms. These written laws mark the end of Germanic sagas and barbarian practices, transporting Longobard society into a clearly defined context of laws and institutions.
The roman influence transmitted to the Germanic society a culture of law. A warrior population was thus transformed into a stable society, based on landholding, marriage, and hereditary rights.

Among the most significant creative responses of the Longobard acculturation there are uncountable and monumental building works, which are enriched with frescos, sculptoric decorations and forniture of great prestige. they are authentic image promotions commissioned by the Longobard monarchy and aristocracy.
Such a zeal in building construction attracted artists, lapicides, goldsmiths, illuminators to urban centers and castels, causing an exceptional artistical revival which is visible today in the worship architecture, protagonist of an exponential growth (indeed, of the prestigious dwelling constructions of the elites, often described by the ancient sources, just scanty and highly unfrequent material evidences have come to us).
Between the 7th and the 8th century, the construction of churches and monasteries increased exponentially in both urban and rural areas; examples are in Cividale, Brescia, s. Giovanni in Castelseprio, Spoleto, and Benevento. through endowments and concessions, the last Longobard sovereigns sought to capture the benevolence of the religious ruling class; achieve control over agricultural production and the work of craftsmen in rural courts and, in general, over the population and the economy.
From the middle of the 7th century, also the number of private churches started growing -establishments for the burial of aristocrats who funded them. the earliest of these burials continued the traditional practice of including the weapons that defined the social status of the deceased. Gradually, ritualistic weapons replaced the actual ones, adequately preserving the link with ethnic traditions. the number of symbolic objects buried with the corpse-mostly decorations for belts, combs and jewels decreased, while at the same time becoming more precious, often made of gold.

Finally, donations and bequests to churches and monasteries gradually replaced the ancient tradition of funerary furnishings. the donations are testimony to the intention of the aristocracy to leave a favorable impression and long-lasting memory, guaranteeing continued prayers for their souls, and lit candles in family chapels and oratories.

The architectural evolution is equally extraordinary also in Longobard private buildings, where materials were generally pilfered from ancient buildings, but mounted together with solid building techniques -as several partially preserved houses in Benevento indicate. The process of cultural transformation which characterizes the early Middle Ages is mature and rich in innovations and premises in the 7th century. By that time the revival subsequently named after Liutprand (729-744) explodes, being cast in the carolingian world after Desiderius death (renovatio). There it will reach its greatest expression through the creation of a europe-wide artistical and cultural movement. Liutprand, a christian king, tried to annex the exarchate Byzantine territories and to conquer Rome. He widened the norms of rotary’s edict – as Grimoald and later on Ratchis and Aistulf already did – with rules promoting a greater respect for women, now heirs of the paternal patrimony as well as sons. He regulated the commercial exchanges along the Po with the Comacchio traders (715), imposing duties on the river ports of the padanian cities.
Furthermore, he stands out for his aggressive politics against papacy, being able of mediations as well in a historical context where the land power was being reorganized on aristocratical grounds, with a nearly strenghtening his control over the territory through the management of the great monastic foundations. Just in Brescia area we owe him and his queen Ansa the foundations of the great monasteries of S. Salvatore di Brescia and S. Salvatore di Leno. They were equipped with lands which, thanks to their goods variety, ensured them an effective control over raw materials and production.
That peak of artistic and cultural achievement, however, also marked the beginning of the decline.

The thirty years of great political instability which had origin in Liutprand’s death came to an end in 774 to coincide with charlemagne’s victory on the last Longobard king, Desiderius.
The reasons for the end of the Longobard kingdom should be found in the unceasing contradictions among different religious traditions (arians and christians), in the inner tensions of the Longobard hierarchy, which caused the end of the Pavia dynasty, favouring the Friulian aristocracy, in the expansionistic will directed towards the unification of the peninsula, and perhaps in the less strenght of the army.
But most of all, they can be found in the non-alliance with clerical world and Papacy, who resorted to Franks’ protection as a reaction to the Longobards military attacks. The alliance of 754 between Pope Stephen II and Pepin the Short, king of Franks, who had guaranteed prompt intervention in Pope’s favour in case of Longobards aggression, was then premise and ground of Charlemagne’s invasion of Italy. The carolingians were, however, unable to achieve control of the southern Longobard territories.

In the years following the fall of the northern kingdom, the Longobards conferred on Arechi, duke of Benevento and son-in-law of king Desiderius, the title of prince and continuator of Longobard culture and tradition. The Duchy of Benevento survived in this new configuration for three more centuries, until the normans conquered it in 1076.

By the way, some cultural aspects of the Longobard heritage still lasted for centuries. cases of application of Longobard law are still recorded at the height of Middle Ages; the same for what concerns toponimy. Manifold evidences of their domination are mostly visible in toponymy and linguistics.

The region of Lombardia itself was named after this population.

Paul the Deacon, the great Longobard historian, compiled the history and traditions of his people in the Historia Langobardorum. Written in Latin in the late VIII century and composed in the Benedictine monastery of Montecassino, the Historia related that history from its early beginnings to culmination, tinged with a vein of nostalgia. Son of an aristocratic family from Cividale del Friuli, Paul embodies the tormented history of a highly fractured barbarian society that was involved in a prolonged conflict with the Byzantines, but that eventually developed, just before it was conquered by Charlemagne, into a roman-Longobard society with a single religion and a unified culture.

As Julius Schlosser remarked in his dense volume Magistra Latinitas und Magistra Barbaritas (1937), the Longobards and the other “Barbarian” people offered a significant contribute to the civilization of lateancient and early medieval period. Indeed, the heritage of the Longobards, together with greek, roman, etruscan and oriental traditions, with reciprocal influences and connections, is the result of what Braudel has called “cultural pollen”. It involved the Mediterranean civilizations and contributed to create the socio-cultural identity of modern Europe during the centuries, a Europe made of cultural diversity and ethnical mixture.

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