The Lombards Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Taking their name from the Latin, Langobardi, the Lombards included a series of Germanic tribes that originated in northern Europe and moved south, invading Italy in 568 and establishing the kingdom of Italy from 568 until 774, when they were overwhelmed by the Franks.

Political Considerations

Taking their name from the Latin, Langobardi, the Lombards included a series of Germanic tribes that originated in northern Europe and moved south, invading Italy;Lombardic invasions Italy in 568 and establishing the kingdom of Italy from 568 until 774, when they were overwhelmed by the Franks;vs. Lombards[Lombards] Franks. The name subsequently became associated with the region of Lombardy in modern-day northern Italy.LombardsGermanic tribes;LombardsLombardsGermanic tribes;LombardsItaly;Lombard domination

The origins of the Lombards are described in the seventh century book Origo gentis Langobardorum Origo gentis Langobardorum (seventh century; origin of the Lombard people), which was used by the eighth century writer known as History of the Langobards (Paul the Deacon) Paul the DeaconPaul the Deacon Paul the Deacon for his Historia gentis Langobardorum (Paul the Deacon) Historia gentis Langobardorum (after 796; History of the Langobards, 1907). These books state that the Lombards originated in parts of southern Scandinavia–as is seen in the nature of their gods–but owing to the pressure of the population on scarce land, they moved south into modern-day Germany. The Greek geographer StraboStrabo (Greek historian) Strabo (64 or 63 b.c.e. -after 23 c.e. ) noted that they were living near the mouth of the Albis River (River Elbe), which is borne out by archaeological evidence.

Military Achievement

It is clear that from the time of the Roman emperor AugustusAugustus (Roman emperor)Augustus (r. 27 b.c.e.-14 c.e.), the fierce fighting spirit of the Lombards was well known to Romans, with further information coming from the Roman historian Velleius PaterculusVelleius Paterculus (Roman historian)Velleius Paterculus. It has been suggested that the Lombards had made a treaty with the Romans that kept them out of the Teutoburg Forest, Battle of (9 c.e.)Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 c.e. They started consolidating their military strength, and by the mid-second century, the Lombards were living along the west bank of the River Elbe, through to the Rhineland, and focusing on expanding the lands under their control, which gradually came to threaten the power of the Roman Empire.

Their main military achievements were that they were able to take advantage of the weakness of Byzantine Italy, invading in 568 under King AlboinAlboin (Lombard king)Alboin (r. 565-572), who had succeeded to the throne after a power struggle. Alboin had led the Lombards to victory over the GepidsGepids, an eastern Germanic tribe, and his success caused the Romans to enlist his help in defeating King TotilaTotila (Ostrogothic king)Totila of the Ostrogoths, a victory that took place in 552.

It was after this that Alboin recognized the weakness of the Romans, and he allied with the SaxonsSaxons and invaded the Italian peninsula, taking Venice and then advancing into Liguria, taking Tuscany. His forces were never strong enough, however, to take fortified cities such as Rome and Ravenna, and Alboin’s victory led to his ruling much of Italy for three and a half years, until he was assassinated in 572. In spite of this, the Lombards remained in control of much of Italy until 774, when CharlemagneCharlemagneCharlemagne led the Franks;Italian invasionsFranks against them on the pretext of coming to the defense of the papacy.

Weapons, Uniforms, and Armor

In the first century c.e., the Lombards, in common with most of the other Germanic tribes, were armed with swords, axes, spears, and shields–wielding their long Swords;longswords Spatha (sword)(spatha) like their axes, to cut and harry opponents rather than to stab and slash as the Romans did, although many wore Daggers;Lombard daggers Scramasax (sword) (scramasaxes) as well. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Scabbards scabbard was often attached to a belt slung over the shoulder and then secured to the belt around the waist. The Shields;Lombard shield, usually relatively small and round, made from bronze rather than wood–and with a spike Umbo (spike) (umbo) on it–was used to take blows from the opponent and was good for combat in which the numbers were evenly matched or the Lombards were more numerous than their enemy. In close combat, or when the Lombards were outnumbered, their shields were not as good as the Roman shields, which protected more of those who bore them.

The use of Horses and horse riding;Lombardhorses by the Lombards is an issue debated by historians, with the Lombard law issued by King AistulfAistulf (Lombard king)Aistulf stating that all wealthy Lombard warriors should have a horse, and those who were unable to afford a horse should be able to use a bow and arrow. The Ostrogoths were known to deploy dismounted archers, and this was probably the case with the Lombards as well.

As to horses, certainly the royal bodyguards and retainers had their own horses, and when fighting the Franks the Lombards used horses more often in battles. In May, 2008, archaeologists working on a sixth century site at Testona archaeological digTestona, near Turin, uncovered the grave of a twenty-five-year-old Lombard warrior who had been buried with his horse. The skeleton of a hunting dog was also found nearby. Although there was heavy reliance on horses, it seems that, like the Anglo-Saxons, the Lombards used their horses largely for getting to battlefields and around battlefields, with much of the fighting taking place on foot, although some fighting on horseback was inevitable. Certainly a surviving letter from Lupus of Ferrières to Bishop Pardulus of Lyon in 849 noted that the writer was unable to carry out his duties as an Infantry;LombardCavalry;Lombardinfantryman and cavalryman, suggesting that Lombard fighters were trained in fighting both on foot and on horseback.

Although chiefs wore some Armor;Lombardarmor (often only breastplates), for much of their period in Italy the Lombards, who relied heavily on their speed and mobility on the battlefield, did not do so. However, a gilded copper repoussé helmet plaque from the late sixth century depicting King AgilulfAgilulf (Lombard king)Agilulf does show guards to a king wearing armor in plates–possibly iron or leather, and with helmets that have plumes on their tops. Some carvings of Lombard civilians show them wearing tunics with belts, in the Roman fashion, but it appears that warriors wore much heavier tunics, sometimes protected by leather pads, and also trousers that were tied up with leggings.

Military Organization

Regarding the military organization of the Lombards, it is known that certain families owed their position in society to their being related to the bodyguards of the king; these bodyguards were well trained and fought as a cohesive unit in small engagements. By the eleventh century, the men in this unit were often dressed in chain Chain mail;LombardMail;Lombardmail and were influenced in their military planning by their battles with the Normans.

In larger battles the Lombards relied on numbers of less well-armed men drawn from villages, either as volunteers or as conscripts. In the periods of the barbarian invasions, these warriors were involved in regular fighting and could form themselves into effective fighting units with ease. As time progressed, however, and the Lombards came to control much of Italy, their military organization became more relaxed; this is what allowed them to be overwhelmed so easily by the Franks.

Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

Before the sixth century, the Lombards formed themselves into large raiding parties and skirmished extensively with the rival Germanic tribes. However, for the invasion of Italy they had to form a much stronger military unit in order to be able to defeat their opponents. In battle, they relied heavily on mobility, and often a large proportion of the soldiers were cavalry–Lombard leaders tending to downplay the importance of archers. This battle strategy often involved the Lombards charging their opponents, with the aim of forming a wedge in the enemy lines.

As the Lombard kings changed from being invaders to being rulers who governed large areas in Italy, the tactics in battle changed, with more and more Lombards fighting on foot. By the eleventh century, the Lombards had started to adapt to new military tactics, and in battle they tended to revert to the Norman tactics of a shield wall for the infantry, with the cavalry, backed by archers, sent against their opponents.

Medieval Sources

There are a number of sources on the Lombards, the most well known being that by Paul the DeaconPaul the DeaconPaul the Deacon, Historia gentis Langobardorum (Paul the Deacon) Historia gentis Langobardorum, which in turn drew heavily on the Origo gentis Langobardorum from the seventh century. Other information comes from a range of contemporary accounts, such as that in the Codex Gothanus Codex Gothanus, which dates from about 830. Further descriptions come from Frankish, Norman, and other accounts by the Lombards’ adversaries.LombardsGermanic tribes;LombardsItaly;Lombard domination

Books and Articles
  • Christie, Neil. The Lombards: The Ancient Longobards. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995.
  • Halsall, Guy. Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, 450-900. London: Taylor and Francis, 2003.
  • Nicolle, David. Italian Medieval Armies, 1000-1300. New York: Osprey, 2002.
  • Pohl, Walter, ed. Kingdoms of the Empire: The Integration of Barbarians in Late Antiquity. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1997.
Films and Other Media
  • Barbarians 2: Lombards. Documentary. History Channel, 2007.

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Armies of Christendom and the Age of Chivalry

Crusading Armies of the West

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